The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
In conversation, many people have framed 2021 as the year that wasn’t. With COVID-19 vaccines introduced last December, many hoped that the pandemic would be in the rearview mirror this year and that things would return to some sort of new “normal,” whatever that looked like.
As 2021 comes to an end, it seems that the pandemic is far from over. The quick-spreading omicron variant has upended many year-end holiday plans, and worse, reminded us that living with COVID is our new normal.
Despite the availability of COVID vaccines in the U.S., which at the start of the year felt like a small miracle, inoculation rates remain stubbornly low in some parts of Maine and the country. Our hospitals remain overwhelmed with ICUs packed largely with unvaccinated COVID patients.
But, while the COVID pandemic, and its impacts on our health, families, communities, schools, jobs and travel, remained the dominant story of 2021, it certainly wasn’t the only one.
Politically, the year got off to a stomach-churning start. On Jan. 6, a group of people, many of whom said they were motivated by then-President Donald Trump and his claims that the 2020 presidential election results were illegitimate, stormed the U.S. Capitol. Some hoped to disrupt Congress’ certification of the official results, which showed Democrat Joe Biden winning the presidency.
Scenes of an angry mob scaling the Capitol walls, smashing windows, beating and crushing police officers, entering the Senate chamber, and gleefully overtaking some offices circulated on television and social media to a stunned nation. Through the work of a House commission that is investigating the events of that day, we are learning more about the serious intent of that day along with the culpability of Trump and his inner circle. Many questions remain to be answered, including about the possible culpability of some members of Congress.
Less than two weeks after the Capitol siege, under tight security, Biden was sworn in as the country’s 46th president. Trump did not attend. Yet, Biden’s inauguration reminded the world that American democracy endures even after attempts to undermine it. And, Amanda Gorman made poetry cool again.
Just days later, Trump was again before the Senate for an impeachment trial, this time for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riots. He was again acquitted as many Republicans remained loyal to the former president; Sen. Susan Collins was a notable exception. She was one of seven Republican senators to vote to convict Trump, the largest number from the same party as a president to vote for a conviction.
Also in Washington, 2021 was a year when Democrats and Republicans largely failed to come together to work on big issues. Legislation to solidify voting rights, to ensure women’s access to reproductive health and to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans, along with a big social spending bill, stalled in Congress. In November, lawmakers did finally passed a $1 trillion infrastructure package, the largest in the nation’s history, although investments to deal with climate change remain too small to meaningfully address the crisis that has already killed hundreds of Americans and destroyed homes and businesses this year.
Other environmental concerns also loomed large in 2021. PFAS, a group of chemicals that has been used in many applications including non-stick coatings and water-resistant materials, is increasingly being found in water, animals and our food. In December, hunters in Fairfield were warned not to eat deer killed there because of the contamination.
In early November, Maine voters soundly rejected a powerline corridor that would have brought hydroelectric power from Quebec through the state to Massachusetts. With the fate of the project now in the hands of the courts, Maine and New England must find other ways to diversify the region’s power supply, especially as a feared natural gas shortage contributed to a big increase in electricity rates for many Maine customers next year.
Disruption remained a theme in 2021 as millions of employees changed jobs, with some leaving the workforce for good, in what was dubbed “the great resignation.” This we ek, we learned that, between July 2020 and July 2021, Maine saw its biggest influx of new residents in decades. Time will tell if these newcomers stay in the Pine Tree State and Maine’s demographics – deaths still outnumber births – remain concerning.
If 2020 was a year of racial reckoning, that work continued, if at a slower pace this year. The Minneapolis police officer who suffocated George Floyd, setting off last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, was found guilty of murder. In Georgia, a jury found three white men guilty in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was jogging through their neighborhood. In both cases, charges were brought after video of the incidents were made public.
In July, a replica of one of Christopher Columbus’ ships arrived in Maine to take part in delayed bicentennial celebrations. The inclusion of a replica of a ship that never sailed to Maine and is a symbol of a hurtful — and often distorted — time in American history was the wrong choice.
We’d like to end our (incomplete) wrap up of the year on a positive note, but two ongoing epidemics warrant mention. This year is on track to be the most deadly on record in terms of overdose deaths. It is also a year when, despite a lot of attentio n, too many Mainers remain unhoused. Both epidemics look easy to fix on paper – provide more affordable housing and increase access to substance use and behavioral health treatment – yet both continue to claim too many lives.
As with any new year, there is much to be done in 2022, starting with the unfinished work of the last year.