NASA astronaut Jessica Meir strikes a superhero pose in the weightless environment of the International Space Station. Credit: Courtesy of NASA

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With the year we are having, people everywhere are turning to the warm, comforting embrace of tradition to get them through the tough times. And as I always like to say in December, there is no finer tradition than my annual declaration of superlatives for the year that was in these pages. Thus I give to you, the 2020 Conifer Awards.

Coolest accomplishment by a Mainer award

For the second year in a row I am giving this award to a remarkable woman, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. Born in Caribou, I gave her the award last year for being a part of the first all-female spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

This year she gets it for being named one of the 18 astronauts named to NASA’s Artemis team. Artemis is a program that will send human missions to the moon in 2024, and Meir has a shot at being the first woman to walk on the moon. That’s awesome.

Biggest villains of the year

There are certainly a lot of potential choices this year, but to hand out this award, I think we need to acknowledge COVID-19’s impact and legacy on the world, and assign some blame. That blame should reside in one place, above all others.

The Chinese Communist government attempted to hide and cover up the COVID-19 outbreak, and their insular paranoia and governmental incompetence resulted in a failure of containment. China blocked critical information from going to the World Health Organization, as well as to their own scientists early in the outbreak, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Biggest success

On the other side of the COVID coin is Operation Warp Speed. The program sought to help promote the creation and mass production of a variety of vaccines to fight COVID, and allow for much faster approval and then distribution to the general public.

President Donald Trump said in May that he expected that a vaccine would be ready by the end of the year, a statement that caused him to be mocked and ridiculed, and repeatedly fact checked by traditional news sources, who routinely dismissed the notion.

Maine received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine Monday, the same day the first shot was given to a nurse in the United States. So much for that fact check.

The most obnoxious phrase of the year award

Sticking with the COVID theme, this one ends up being a tie between “the new normal” and “these uncertain times.” To the admakers, journalists, talking heads, radio personalities and everyday people of this country, I beg you, please stop. Just stop.

The “Wait, that happened this year?” award

In January, basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his young daughter died in a plane crash. In a year overwhelmed with pandemics and presidential elections, it can be easy to think that this happened a long, long time ago.

The stupidest panic of 2020 award

For a brief, ever so innocent time, the biggest problem we thought we had this year was the invasion (or barely significant arrival) of the Vespa mandarinia, or the Asian giant hornet, popularly dubbed the “murder hornet” to the United States. People freaked out, and then they forgot it ever happened.

The biggest political earthquake award

With all due respect to the presidential election, it was a non-electoral event this year that truly shook the ground beneath our feet. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, long feared by progressives, finally happened this year. Trump’s subsequent nomination and later confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett for her seat gave him three Supreme Court appointments in four years, and solidified a six-to-three conservative majority on the court for a generation.

Still think the 2016 election wasn’t important?

Biggest failure

For this award, we need to turn our attention locally to the candidacy of Sara Gideon. By the end of the campaign, after leading in every single public poll conducted on the race during 2020 — often times significantly — Gideon was running positive “it will be the honor of a lifetime” ads, the hallmark of a candidate who is certain they are going to win trying not to cough up the ball at the end of the game.

But the end of the game came, and she lost by more than eight points to Susan Collins, despite outspending Collins by $30 million.

The worst year ever award

OK, I admit, this one is easy. Can anyone really doubt that 2020 “deserves” the nod in this category?

And those, ladies and gentlemen, are your 2020 Conifer Awards. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...