Gary Stout

Gary Stout

As the fall and winter holidays came and went last year, celebrations were few, and the mood was dismal. There was uncertainty about new vaccines and how they would be utilized. 2020 was dominated by the news of how COVID-19 spread across the globe. 2021 focused on ending the pandemic through vaccine distribution.

During this holiday season, vaccinated families are able to plan for safe gatherings unthinkable in 2020. In the White House, sanity has returned to America, and a dystopian attempt to bring down the democratic electoral process was defeated. As a country, we celebrated the first Veterans Day in two decades when we were not engaged in a military conflict.

While the media remains focused on President Biden’s declining poll numbers, the real story on the first year of his administration should be the lack of bizarre tweets and over the moon chaos, so common under the leadership of Donald Trump. We have gone through a year when foreign dignitaries were not insulted, autocrats were not praised, government officials were not fired for expressing their opinions, white supremacists were not encouraged and minorities were not demeaned. Whether one agrees with Biden’s policies or not, it is gratifying to have qualified adults running the government.

The glass is only half-full because of the new challenges of a reopening world economy that has sparked inflation and bottlenecks in the supply chain. As oil prices rise to fuel the reopening economy, gas prices also rise. As large numbers of long-delayed container ships leave their Asian ports full of Christmas merchandise, American ports cannot process the large volume in an orderly manner. The surge in sales for electronic devices during the pandemic created an outsized demand for semiconductors that was further aggravated by Asian factories closed because of COVID. Now a shortage will last well into 2022.

The above challenges of transitioning to a new post-COVID economy with both feet in the information age are real, but temporary. Next year will see prices stabilize and bottlenecks resolved. Moreover, the Democrats’ new infrastructure legislation has provisions to build domestic semiconductor plants to end reliance on foreign supplies.

The pandemic continues to be a glass-draining event. Despite President Biden’s aggressive offensive against the pandemic, following the advice of his public health officials at every turn, COVID-19 has proven to be a persistent adversary. As of Nov. 27, 454 million doses of vaccine were administered for Americans, beginning at age 5. Efforts have been hampered by misinformation and anti-government hostilities that have encouraged more than 120 million citizens to refuse vaccinations. New variants of the virus have been able to gain a foothold and spread rapidly among the unvaccinated.

The battle against the pandemic has been exasperated by confusion over changing policies as new data is analyzed. This requires updated public health directives over masking, testing and booster shots. We all want the virus to be gone and a return to a pre-pandemic world. This result is not realistic, and we must adjust as the virus becomes endemic (here to stay, but under control).

So how is it possible to claim that the glass is half-full and filling up? For starters, the stock market is higher than it ever was under President Trump, and the S&P 500 has hit more than 50 record highs in 2021. More than 5.6 million new jobs have been created in Biden’s first nine months in office. Under his leadership, unemployment is down to 4.6% from an estimated 10%.

Wages for middle-class workers have increased in 2021 at the most accelerated rate in decades. Overall wages are up 6%, and hourly wages are up 11% this year, outpacing inflation by three times overall and five times overall for hourly wage earners. Economic growth is on course to hit a healthy 5% this year and 4% in 2022.

Democrats have passed an infrastructure bill to secure broadband internet and better roads, bridges, electric power and drinking water for all Americans. Despite fierce Republican opposition, Congress is within striking distance of securing better child-care assistance, free pre-kindergarten and lower drug prices, as well as requiring the ultra-rich to pay more in taxes.

Unfortunately, Republicans have done their best to keep the glass from filling up. Their efforts over the past year have focused on the lie that Democrats stole the national election. They label initiatives designed to ensure American excellence as socialism. They criticize the withdrawal from Afghanistan, negotiated by Trump, while opposing the resettlement of Afghan refugees. They complain about too many business “help-wanted” signs in a booming economy. Lastly, they oppose vaccine mandates that would shorten the pandemic.

On a personal note, I was reminded that the glass is half-full and that gratitude is in order as I sat in Heinz Hall last weekend listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Older patrons trooped in with masks on faces and vaccination cards in hand to view the magnificent Christmas tree and to take in the return of live concert music. We were treated to a 40-minute Nicolo Paganini violin concerto featuring an 18-year-old Spanish prodigy, Maria Duenas. Her performance was beyond words.

There is much that is good in this world, and the glass is slowly filling up. I hope we all experience some uplifting moments this holiday season to remind us why the journey is worth all the trouble.

Gary Stout is a Washington attorney.

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