We can’t possibly have 1 more year like 2020, right?

Friday, December 31, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 53

What the hell happened to 2021? I don’t mean that in the “Where did it go?” sense. It went the same place all years go, into the dustbin of history. (Points for anyone who recognizes the Barney Fife allusion.)

And as anyone of sufficient vintage can attest, each year disappears a little faster than the previous one. Like a bicycle picking up speed as it hurtles downhill on a rocky, dirt road, destined to toss its hapless rider into a ditch at the bottom.

Analogy courtesy of youthful indiscretion and the force of gravity, Mena, Arkansas, circa 1962.

What I mean is, what happened to the promise of 2021? This time last year, things appeared to be trending decidedly upward. Chief among the reasons for optimism: The Food and Drug Administration had issued emergency use authorizations for two vaccines against COVID, two bright, shining lights at the end of a long, dark tunnel of despair.

Just what everyone had been hoping against hope for had arrived: A miracle, scientific advance in the war against an invisible biological menace. Nobody’s keen to have needles stuck in them, but given the alternative ... line up!

On the political front, a new president, a steady hand of long tenure on the national scene, was sure to bring an end to the four years of chaotic incompetence from the White House resident.

Best of all, 2020, a chief contender for worst year ever, would be behind us. Surely things would get better.

So, what happened just six days into 2021? A group of wackos mounted a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol to thwart the certification of the presidential election results.

Results that had already been duly verified and affirmed along every step of the way. Results that, nevertheless, 147 Republicans in the House or Senate disputed, including every Republican representative from Tennessee and Mississippi, my two homes.

Response to the attack at the time was almost uniformly negative. But revisionist history by Republicans since has sought to recast the assault as nothing more than an exercise in citizen oversight, true democracy in action. Patriotism, even.

Small wonder that only two House Republicans are taking part in the select House committee investigating the uprising. Both are now pariahs among the red caucus.

And speaking of that House committee: Does anyone expect any real consequences to result?

As for those vaccines: Many people did line up to take them. But too many have continued to refuse. Republican officials, notably in the Tennessee General Assembly, have employed pretty much every available weapon to block or cast doubt on both shots and masks, including what could only generously be called misinformation.

The result: Wave after wave of infections, from the original coronavirus strain to two subsequent variants, Delta and Omicron. (How many Greek letters will we end up using?)

Maybe I’m being too cynical. Maybe it’s a mistake to be focusing on the health and welfare of our people and our republic. Maybe I’m overlooking the many achievements 2021 had to offer unrelated to those concerns: Some new restaurants opened in Nashville. Ole Miss won 10 football games. The cats responded well to their expensive prescription food.

And that deep cleaning at the dentist’s office wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Thank you, nitrous oxide.

In the midst of conducting my personal assessment of 2021, an online network I’m not sure why I’m still a member of, LinkedIn, posed a question via email: “What would you consider a win this year?”

“We want to know what you accomplished this past year,” it went on, “whether it was a new job, a new role, a new talent or simply finding a way to maintain work/life balance.”

Well, let’s see. No new job. No new role. Does returning to the Y constitute a way of maintaining a work/life balance when, in point of fact, I really do no work? Does struggling to learn some basic guitar chords – and how to get from one to another in a timely fashion – qualify as a new talent?

Perhaps. But I suspect the best answer any of us still kicking can offer to the LinkedIn query about 2021 is this: We survived it. And 2022 will surely be better. Right?

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com