I like to think of myself as a glass-half-full sort, looking for reasons to be optimistic even when events in this country seem to be circling the drain and democracy seems more fragile than ever. Realism does matter because, if you aren’t clear-eyed about the problems, how can you seek solutions? But, as a recovering journalist, I know that, given a choice between a positive news story and a negative one, competition demands the latter. The result? In the news biz, good news is no news at all. And, as we close the books on 2021, I really wish my pals in the news media would also look at the bright side of this past year, including – but not limited to – the accomplishments of the Biden administration.
For starters, we have been relieved by the return of decency to the White House: an ethics pledge for all executive branch appointees, no obvious corruption, scandal, Trumpian conflicts of interest or jaw-dropping stupidity. Despite the slimmest of majorities in Congress, there was a $1.9 trillion economic relief legislation to stave off COVID-driven downturn; restaurants, gyms and other businesses reopened; kids returned to school, helped by vaccinations and masking protocols.
The President signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, long needed and promised by previous administrations and for which this administration gets too little credit. We’ve also witnessed remarkably low (4.2 percent) unemployment, robust stock market, long-overdue pay increases for low-income jobs, quickly-inflated gas prices starting to come down and robust holiday sales (despite the incessant doom and gloom by Fox bloviators and their amen chorus in the GOP).
Biden has made climate change a priority (including a commitment to environmental justice considerations), reversed a slew of climate-damaging rules initiated by Trump, returned to the Paris Climate Accords, and is offering still more with the not-dead-yet Build Back Better bill deferred to 2022. In general, there has been a tentative rebuilding of our standing in the global community. The President has gotten 80 federal judges approved at the appeals and district courts, with 31 nominees awaiting Senate action.
Juries have worked to achieve accountability by convicting Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd murder, Kimberley Potter in the manslaughter case of Daunte Wright, Ghislaine Maxwell in the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking case. The Select Committee probing the January 6th attack on our democracy seems to be closing in on powerful people who incited the insurrection, federal courts have insisted that former President Trump’s records are not protected by executive privilege, and 50 riot participants have been sentenced, including one for five years.
We can agree that the Biden team blew the exit from Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. We can also agree that they should have done more to address the shortage of COVID tests or figured out how not to be played by Joe Manchin. We can reasonably worry that, with worrisome mid-term elections looming, time may be running out on pending voting rights legislation, the Build Back Better bill with its dramatic potential for saving our climate, and the life of that Select Commission. The Supreme Court, with its McConnell-rigged conservative super majority, poses a threat – and not just to a woman’s right to choose. Trump controls Republican invertebrates, and Trumpism lives. And, if gas prices are still high on Labor Day and inflation still overwhelms worker gains, watch out!
The news media can and should report on all of that. But they do us no service by ignoring or downplaying the things to be thankful for in 2021. And they’re professionally negligent in giving Republicans a free pass for their wholesale opposition to Build Back Better provisions that are enthusiastically supported by most of their own constituents.
The administration needs to do better at communicating its accomplishments. And we need to embrace the good things and be willing to tackle the challenges of 2022 with a spirit of optimism and, notwithstanding our COVID fatigue – a renewal of energy – in the interest of our kids and their kids. Have a happy, safe and healthy New Year everyone.