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Will Whatley: To Better Days Ahead

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

I can’t remember the exact month, because this year has been insane, but sometime between June and September I started working a side gig at a college apparel store. I’d come down with a bad case of cabin fever, and the lack of social interaction during the first stretch of Covid quarantine had me eager to get out of the house. Besides, I got paid to talk college football with people so it’s less of a job than it is a hobby.

The job has exposed me to a wide swath of the general public. I’ve rang up people who scraped and clawed their way to rustle up enough money to buy their sweetheart something. I’ve helped women who wore diamonds as big as my eyes. I’ve dealt with shoplifters and big spenders, Gumps and Barners, the whole gamut of the Alabama experience really. Hell I work next to a barbecue joint, it might be as Alabama as it gets.

Long story short, I’ve seen how the pandemic and its results have been wearing on my fellow Alabamians from all walks of life and I know it’s been rough for all of us. Some folks have been quick to lose their temper and use the opportunity to unload their grievances on someone they feel is beneath them. Some folks just enjoy the social interaction from a safe distance. And it reminds me of the ups and downs we’re all experiencing right now.

Things are tough, no doubt, which is why I’m ready to burn down 2020 before I start celebrating 2021. Some Native Americans burn sage as part of a ritual to cleanse a space, so let’s fire one up and use it to light the fuse on the past year.

But first, let’s exorcise some demons. We all know that the coronavirus pandemic was the worst thing about 2020. But let’s explore some other low points of this uniquely disastrous year.

Second-worst thing of 2020: social unrest

The death of George Floyd lit the match of social unrest that had been simmering for years. It ripped apart old wounds and exposed new nerves that need to be addressed. These are issues that need both immediate and long-term attention because this was someplace we didn’t arrive to overnight. It’s something we need to reconcile so that we can move forward as a country. I hope our elected leaders, who are already tasked with numerous major issues, can find time in their schedules to address systemic issues that impede racial reconciliations.

Third-worst thing of 2020: the presidential election

The 2020 presidential election comes in as the clear runner-up to a global pandemic. No matter who you voted for, I think we can all agree that it was pretty rough. First there was the campaigns themselves, with all the ads on TV and social media and phone calls and whatnot. Then the debates occurred, and even then it seems like there wasn’t much debating. Then there was the final stretch that took us up to Election Day, which apparently extended for a few days. Honestly, the thought of doing this again in four years is already annoying me.

Fourth-worst thing of 2020: losing legends

Honestly, I had to remind myself of everything that happened this year because it’s felt like four years in one, but losing legends like John Prine, Little Richard, Kobe Bryant and Sean Connery was an extra twist of the knife. Prine was an under-appreciated singer-songwriter. Little Richard a rock-and-roll trailblazer, Bryant a basketball hero and Connery the living embodiment of a debonaire spy. While no death is less important than celebrity deaths, these seemed to put the cherry on top of the crappy ice cream sundae we ordered.

Now that we’ve shaken off the bad, let’s focus on the good:

Best thing of 2020: science

Let’s face it; science is an evolving art, so to speak. What we think can change from day to day depending on what we learn. But just because those targets may change doesn’t mean we throw out the process and the results. As the coronavirus has spread, we’ve learned that simple things like wearing masks and social distancing have a big impact on stemming the spread of the virus. While things may change, that doesn’t mean we discard it. Follow what the experts say and we’ll be on the path to handling this virus sooner rather than later.

Second-best thing of 2020: sports

One of my favorite times of year is college basketball tournament season. It’s the perfect excuse to hang out at your local sports bar and watch sports all day long. So it was a huge bummer when the 2020 college basketball post season was canceled. But sports endured. At first I was watching German soccer and Korean baseball, but most American sports were able to come back and play shortened seasons. For all the chaos surrounding 2020, it sure was nice to watch the Braves play. And props to my daughter’s boyfriend Freddie Freeman for winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. We expect more in the future Freddie.

Third-best thing of 2020: compromise

You can see it starting to bubble at the surface ever so slightly. After a, let’s say “strenuous,” presidential campaign, things seem to have centered between the two political camps. No doubt there will be outside voices weighing in, but it seems like we’ve been presented an opportunity to bridge some gaps and work towards some unity given the plethora of issues. It’ll take compromise to see us through this, but I truly believe we’ll find we stand at differing viewpoints dealing with similar issues and that things will be worked through so that everyone wins.

Best thing (for me) of 2020: “Wasted” by My Morning Jacket.

Outside of my family, one of the few bright spots of 2020 has been the various cultural projects that have arisen from these times of strife. One such project was “The Waterfall II” by My Morning Jacket, a hard rocking band from Louisville, Ky. They released their follow up to 2015’s “The Waterfall” unceremoniously as a sort of offering to the moment. While “Wasted” isn’t one of the lead singles off the album, it rocks plenty enough to distract you for a few minutes from all the chaos. Check it out if you’re so inclined.

Political outlooks:

Democrats: depending on what happens in Georgia on Jan. 5, the world could be your oyster. With command of the House, Senate and presidency, you have the chance to pass whatever legislation you can dream up. But there’s a delicate balance to strike here; pass too many progressive policies and you’ll find yourself losing your grip on power like the GOP did of the House in 2018. With the slim majorities you have in the legislative branch, it’s best to tread carefully. I don’t foresee that being an issue though as a centrist coalition is starting to form outside of the party extremes, but don’t think for a minute that it can’t happen.

Republicans: look, I know Trump losing had to sting but it’s over and has been over. Despite all the accusations and gnashing of teeth, nothing remotely credible has been unearthed in the dozens of lawsuits filed by a myriad of parties. But, the election results being what they are, there’s still optimism to embrace and the 2022 midterms will be here before we know it. If Georgia holds then Republicans will have maintained control of the Senate and gained 13 seats in the House, defying all expectations. President Trump has also indicated he’ll run again in 2024 so, for those who want it, you’ll still have the white knight leading the cavalry until then.

Alabama politics: things could get wild here soon. We’ll have elections for both a governorship and a U.S. Senate seat in 2022. As of now, there’s no reason to think the incumbents won’t run again. However, if one of those positions were to come open, all bets are off. There are eager candidates waiting in the wings who all have the bona fides to aspire to such offices, but it all depends on what happens. Does Gov. Kay Ivey ride off into the sunset? Does U.S Sen. Richard Shelby? There are lots of balls in the air, we’ll find out soon which one drops.

Look, we’ve all had a rough year. Some folks have had it worse than others. Be thankful for what you have and let go of all the bad things, we have a new year ahead of us. Instead of worrying about what has happened, let’s focus our energy into the opportunities presented to us and rage bigly.

Cheers, mates.

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