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A rocky start

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2021 - 12:00am

We were all looking forward to the end of 2020. For many, it was seen as somewhat of a victory to have made it to through a year that brought us all to our knees (in more ways than one). For others, the end of the year signaled a new hope, the start of a new year that would hopefully be better than the last. No matter how you looked at it, we were all very excited to be done with 2020.

Well, the celebrations may have been somewhat premature. 2021 has barely begun and already the first week of the new year has rocked the world. From increasing numbers of COVID cases in the country, mutated strains, travel restrictions anew, secret shipments of vaccines, to tragic deaths and trial-by-social-media, the first week of the year has already proven quite rocky for the country.

However, the news that really hogged the attention of the world last week was what happened in the United States. In what can only be called an all-out assault on democracy, millions around the world watched as pro-Trump loyalists stormed the nation’s Capitol and threatened the very democracy of the country.

I typically keep abreast of the news abroad – and in the US especially – because it will have an impact on the Philippines and on my immediate family here and living abroad. Last year when everything was going downhill, some of our US citizen relatives here considered returning to the States for the duration, but instead chose to ride out the lockdowns here. In the end, that looks like it was the right choice, at least for now.

The United States has been a powder keg for quite some time. To be fair to both sides, tension has existed all around. The country has shown signs of being divided way before the problems of 2020, but with all the issues and frayed nerves already exposed, the pandemic just pushed people over the edge. For all intents and purposes, it seemed the country was in a civil war with people arguing heatedly, and sometimes violently, for what they believed would be a better world.

From disregarding science, failing to institute an early response to COVID-19, and stoking the flames of division, outgoing President Trump set the stage for what will be a defining year for America. People are more divided than ever and it was only a matter of time before the proverbial cauldron bubbled over.

Back in November, we all waited with bated breath to see what the outcome of the elections would be and I think there may have been a collective sigh of relief around the world when it was announced that President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris won and would be sworn in as the nation’s new president by January.

But of course, the drama didn’t end there. Since November, the outgoing president has done everything he can to undermine the elections and insist that his victory was stolen. While he may have actually believed this to be true, court case after court case in various states tossed out claims of voter manipulation and fraud because there simply wasn’t any evidence. Recounts in various states also confirmed the same results – a Biden/Harris win.

Despite this though, the Trump camp moved forward, inciting their followers not to rest until they got the outcome they wanted. I do my best not to judge – there are good and bad apples in both the left and right parties. However, I think we can all agree that what happened last week was not okay and will remain a dark day in US history. Even from halfway across the world, we watched transfixed as insurrectionists broke windows and pushed their way into the Capitol building and occupied the chamber, putting lives at risk and threatening democracy with violence.

Many protestors who supported the Black Lives Matter movement earlier in 2020 were quick to note with sadness that the marauders were treated with kid gloves and given a wide berth, and that the bullets would have been raining down if the mob consisted of people of color. Native Americans who were tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets while peacefully protesting for clean water shared the same sentiments.

But the democracy survived, despite the fact that some people, including a police officer on duty, did not. After the siege, Republicans who had, just hours before, been challenging the Electoral College vote backed down and the House went straight back to work and did what they needed to do. That much was reassuring.

Hopefully, this low point will serve a bigger purpose and remind lawmakers of why they were elected in the first place and of what they and the people stand to lose if they don’t remain vigilant. It can also potentially give Biden an opening as he prepares to deal with the pandemic and healing a truly wounded and divided nation.

Meanwhile, back home here in the Philippines, we need to do some healing of our own. The next few weeks will see us cautious and praying, worried about spikes in cases due to the holidays and waiting for the government and LGUs to implement their vaccination roadmaps and programs. It’s going to be a long road, so hopefully we get started as soon as possible.

This year may not be a quick turnaround as I know many of us hoped for, but we have to continue to commit to do our best to make it better. That’s really the only way things will change – if we all do our part. The start may have been rocky – but it’s up to us to ensure that things get better.

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