Editor’s Letter, December 2020: History Has Its Eyes on You

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people living, dying, fighting, and struggling in hard times are just regular Americans doing the best they can under the circumstances.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Some of you might be thinking that the best thing about 2020 is it’s almost over. I can’t argue. It’s been a daunting, draining year of upheaval thanks to an invisible virus we still don’t know much about or have under control, and it divided us as much as brought us together.

The only comparable year in my life is 1968. I was a kid and remember watching news reports from burning cities on our black-and-white TV and seeing the nuns console a schoolmate whose brother had been killed in Vietnam. It was the year marginalized Americans—youth, communities of color, the poor—challenged the government’s lies about Vietnam and demanded a seat at the political table. Two charismatic leaders giving their movement legitimacy and hope, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, were assassinated. President Johnson, who had championed civil rights but expanded the war, decided not to run for reelection, and repulsive Richard Nixon won the White House.

There were earlier years when Americans must have felt as lost as we do now: the Great Depression of the late 1930s, the influenza pandemic in 1918–1919, the Civil War. Those times are studied in high school history classes, as is 1968, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people living, dying, fighting, and struggling in those times were just regular Americans doing the best they could under the circumstances.

One day high school kids will have a chapter in their U.S. history books devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021 (and hopefully not ’22 or ’23). Maybe their virtual reality classroom will include this month’s Cincinnati Magazine, and they’ll learn a little about what day-to-day life was really like. As you’ll see in “Best of the City,” it wasn’t all bad. People stepped up to help each other during the pandemic, got creative to keep schools and businesses going, and found ways to distract themselves from boredom and isolation. What’s still to be written is how we carry that strength and resiliency forward into the new year.

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