Jay Gatsby, eat your heart out! Your bottle-and-bird shindies will pale in comparison to the grand bacchanalia that promises to be 2021.
So says newsletter scribbler Andrew Sullivan, who isn’t ordinarily given to flights of bubbly expression. In “Why 2021 is Going to be Epic,” Sullivan ditches his dyspepsia and goes full-on good-time Andy waxing about the new year. His argument in nuce: Trump is gone, the COVID-19 vaccine is here, the economy’s E.K.G. is stabilizing, so put on your boogie shoes, party pants, and sequin dinner jacket for a high old time.
“Next year is going to be epic. It will be a year of rapid economic growth, extraordinary medical triumph, huge psychological relief, mind-numbing political normalcy, and pent-up social liberation,” he crows. Then, for added but unnecessary effect, the 57-year-old Oxford grad cringely appropriates the Zoomer vernacular: “It will be lit.” Ah, yes, lit like Heidegger reading night at the local java bar. Próst!
Sullivan rattles on about how 2021 will resemble the exaggerated bender featured in early-aughts sex comedies. The normally dour commentator contends that after ten months of being cooped up indoors, and without the nonstop threat of the Propecia beast in the White House, America will make the Dionysus and Maenads affair look like a church coffee hour. With a healthy aggregate savings rate thanks to forced prodigality, and the President swiping checks from Uncle Sam’s checkbook and mailing them out en masse, we’re prepared for a spending orgy of ducks and drakes, without skimping on the foie gras, of course.
Is Sullivan swot up to something the rest of us don’t know? He’s confident enough in his conjecture, to be sure. And there is a sense that next year will be better than the pneumonic hellscape that was the previous twelvemonth. Facebook feeds are brimming with eagerness for a more salubrious year. Headlines like “Things Will Get Better. Seriously.” and “After a Catastrophic 2020, the Big Story of 2021 Could be a Hopeful One” in major newspapers reflect a wider wish for jollity. A collective lobotomy is in demand: to excise part of the hippocampus storing agonizing 2020 memories.
But Sullivan’s optimism seems unwarranted. For one, the COVID-19 vaccine, miracle of engenuity that it is, isn’t being dispersed at a rate rapid enough to imagine a real return to normalcy in 2021. Logistics of vaccinating three-hundred-million-odd people always posed a challenge. But we slipped at the starting gun for a marathon—and because nurses, who are normally rosy-cheeked, starched, and selfless, were selfish enough to not want to spend Christmas poking up seniors. Making up for lost time will cost us more time.
On the second count, the hoped-for economic renaissance isn’t just contingent on Walmart having an ample and ready supply of Pfizer’s inoculum. Just as convalescence comes after an infection’s peak, job-market recovery is sequelae of the disease afflicting it. That disease is power-mad politicians, and the de-jure lockdowns they’ve imposed on private business.
Consider: there are not one but two proven coronavirus vaccines. A third is near completion. Yet a handful of states just reinstated shutterings on certain indoor activities like dining. Widespread COVID immunity has yet to be priced in to the political calculus. Surely, we aren’t so gleefully foolish as to think our elected officials will toss the ring of power into Mt. Flu after tasting the auctoritas it brought. You’d have better luck solo scaling the Chrysler building naked than asking someone like Governor Andrew Cuomo to relinquish the plenary control he was gifted at the pandemic’s outset.
Set aside the pandemic, as tall of an epistemological order as that is. Sullivan is still pleased that Donald Trump will soon be repairing to his Florida links club. He’s not alone: the entirety of the power loci by the Potomac is exuberant over getting their town back (Sullivan, keeping up his Gen-Z airs, naturally lives in Adams Morgan.) The entire city bellowed a collective HURRAH! when Joe Biden was designated president-designate, followed by so much communal champagne drinking and unencumbered public embrace, you’d think the Kaiser, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden were vanquished by U.S. forces in one fell stroke.
Washington is already rebuking Trump on his way out, flexing its irredentistic muscles. The President’s veto of the bloated military-funding bill that circumscribed his authority to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Germany was overridden by a congressional supermajority. “The full U.S. Congress delivered a resounding rebuke to President Trump’s reckless assault on America’s military and national security by overriding his senseless veto of the National Defense Authorization Act,” Nancy Pelosi gloated, with zero self-awareness over conflating “national security” with forever war.
Likewise, Trump’s request for upping the $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 was also spiked thanks to some deft political maneuvering by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who appended a few extraneous measures to the bonus bill to scrub any Democratic support. McConnell assailed the boost bump as “socialism for the rich”—a funny claim for someone who shepherded through a garanguan, novel-series-size bill that included a full three-martini-lunch tax deduction and $40 million for the Kennedy Center, the hoity-toityist theater in the Western hemisphere.
So America starts this stellar year by blowing a few trillion on Capital Grille meals and no visible end to the longest war in our history. Meanwhile, a new COVID-19 strain is tearing through the country. There’s scant indication that mandatory coronavirus closings will be lifted any time soon. The empire has struck back against a populist usurper, and Washington has returned to its cookie-pushing, self-indulgent ways.
Even Joe Biden dropped his campaign message of genteel normalcy, recently warning that the “next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, a very tough period for our nation.” Guess we now know why he called off his inaugural parade: nobody wants to watch an apocalyptic ticker-tape cortège.
If 2021 was supposed to be a West Egg extravaganza, we’ve skipped the carefree debauchery and gone right to the hangover stage. Ah, well, better to take it with soda water and a slice of cucumber. The thing about new years is they inevitably arrive, for good or bad. Perhaps keep the Dom Perignon corked this time. Popping it in 2022 may be safer. Hell, you might be able to do it inside an actual restaurant.