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A box of COVID-19 vaccines headed for UMC is rolled on a cart through the halls of the Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. UMC was the first hospital in Nevada to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (UMC/Courtesy)

You hear the line a lot just after Christmas, and it’s an especially common refrain as 2020 slides into the scarlet sunset. It’s been one long year that many of us would like to forget.

Whether we drown the memories in alcohol or sweat them out through exercise, meditate it all into nonexistence or pray it into submission, there’s no denying that surviving the coronavirus pandemic and even more toxic political season have provided about all the heartache, chaos and drama we can take. There’s no way to adequately reflect on the nearly 350,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

Add to that the snarling rise in white supremacist and right-wing militia activity in response to nationwide social justice demonstrations, and the prevaricator-in-chief’s weaponization of extremism for political purposes, and the fabric of our democratic society has been stress tested in the extreme.

It would be preferable to let all the heartache, meanness and tragedy flow down the river of time, but I guess my wish at year’s end is a little less Zen-inspired: We need to carry 2020 in our hearts and heads forever.

We should never forget this year, and never let those who have promoted lies about a fast-spreading virus and even more lies about supposedly widespread voter fraud to forget it, either. Donald Trump is only a gifted charlatan; it took a team effort at the highest levels of politics and business to put him in office and allow him to do so much damage.

Even now he schemes and stews in the toxic juices of his landslide loss, lashing out on social media, and giving lip service to seditious talk of declaring martial law. His Republican Party nationally — and most certainly in Nevada — refuses to turn in a new direction. Trump has hustled them, but like all Ponzi scheme victims they hold out hope of a payoff in the end that proves they weren’t a gaggle of rubes.

Let’s not forget that. The future of the nation is at stake.

This isn’t yet another jab at the Republican Party we once knew. Genuine conservative politics are an important part of our society’s ideological tug-o’-war. This isn’t that at all. This is the fascist tail wagging the dog of our democracy, and almost no one in the GOP has been willing to stand up and say so.

We have peered behind our society’s mask. We have seen the racist hate and white supremacy boil to the surface on our streets disguised as a love of country and the Second Amendment. We should never forget what it looks like and never accept any leader who tries to trade on it for political gain.

Depending on your source of informed media speculation, Trump’s great mess may be swept away on Jan. 20 as if Joe Biden will be pushing a broom at the end of a parade of elephants. The truth is likely quite different. We’ll be cleaning up after Trump for years to come.

Let’s remember how we got through 2020. It started with lies and denial and a lethargic response to a world health crisis on our own soil. It continued with lie after lie and political spin instead of real leadership.

It continued with more deception and politicizing about the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of racial justice in our society. Trump’s behavior was despicable, and largely met with silence from members of his own party.

And it also was a year that brought out the best in people, a year that saw undaunted courage on the front lines of a worldwide pandemic, the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1918. From nurses and physicians to first responders and store clerks, America rose to the task despite deadly political propaganda about wearing a mask and a medical and economic support pipeline that still flows too slowly.

Who needs to remember this plague year? I think we all do.

This isn’t exactly a column full of sunshine, but the new year brings new hope with the wide distribution of rapidly tested coronavirus vaccines and the possibility of national economic recovery without which Las Vegas as we have known it cannot function. 

This long year is one we’d rather forget, but I think we’ll always remember that our real superheroes wear no capes. They put in 12-hour shifts, risk grave illness and even death. All they ask is that we wear a damn mask and respect the social distance rules.

With that, I propose a toast to a new year and better days across cell phone, Zoom and FaceTime, too. Pick your poison, and play something you like. I’ll cue the Springsteen:

“Let’s take the good times as they go, and I’ll meet you further up the road…”

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

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