2021: The year sanity returned after COVID-19, political turmoil

MIDDLE ISRAEL: There are still several excruciating months ahead. Even so, I now can see the curtain going down on this century’s most absurd, unsettling and despairing year.

PART OF AN electronic board displaying market data is seen at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in November. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
PART OF AN electronic board displaying market data is seen at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in November.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
With my corona vaccination scheduled by a click of the mouse for 12:50 Monday, I arrived at 12:42, mentally prepared and electronically equipped to spend at least an hour waiting in line.
Surveying the lobby and corridors where masked nurses came and went within a crowd of several dozen seated patients, I picked a number: 479. Searching for the sign that indicates which number is already in, I found it flashing three red digits right above my head: 478.
The number made no sense, but seeing a handwritten sign that read “corona injections,” I went through the door and asked whether I was in the right place.
“You are,” said a nurse from behind her desk, pointing at the chair where I now sat, ready to read a long article on my smartphone, only to hear the said nurse announce my name on a loudspeaker. I lifted my hand and said “That’s me,” but she was already calling another citizen’s name.
A minute later she asked me to enter the door to her right. The nurse within that room asked for my HMO plastic ID, swished it through its reader, asked me if I had allergies, showed me the vaccine’s liquid container, and how he inserts the syringe to the exact prescribed quantity.
He then stuck the needle in my arm, told me the next vaccination’s date and also printed it out for me before discharging me with the instruction to sit in the lobby for 15 minutes and only then leave. Unrolling my sleeve as I emerged from his room, I looked at the smartphone to see what the time was. It was 12:51.
A strange sensation went through my body. I was hearing a forgotten but familiar sound.
No, it was not about the vaccine’s chemistry, nor about the plague’s biology. It was about its psychology; about a long-overdue encounter with the sound that last year vanished from the public sphere’s every layer: the sound of sanity.
IN A YEAR when schoolyards, airports, malls, stadiums and entire downtowns emptied worldwide, mankind scrambled for a measure of normality.
With weddings, funerals and all other life-cycle events reduced to miniatures of what they once were, we gradually got used to routine’s demise.
Our many improvisations – espresso in a disposable cup on a stool outside a café; a bar mitzvah boy’s Torah reading on Zoom; online museum tours, book launches and shiva calls – gradually added up to a new routine, peppered with a daily dose of political madness.
Now, as the needle with Pfizer’s liquid pricked my arm, it was as if a button had been pressed and life as we knew it before 2020’s medical mayhem, economic confusion and political insanity suddenly emerged through the mist.
Yes, 2021 was only three days old, and echoes of 2020’s madhouse – a new full-scale lockdown, a seventh ministerial resignation, and one last bravado from Donald Trump – were still audible. Even so, I now could see the curtain going down on this century’s most absurd, unsettling and despairing year.
True, there still are several excruciating months ahead of us. The global war on the virus will progress at varying speeds, with mutations challenging epidemiologists and logistics defying some governments, but the bottom line will be that 2021 brought the pandemic’s defeat.
Will the plague change the way we work and spend? Of course it will. At work, many meetings and conferences that were previously held physically will become virtual, while after work many households will initially spend less, especially on travel and vacations. Will we immediately and sweepingly cease to wear masks? We won’t. But will theaters, stadiums, restaurants and cafés reopen? They will.
In fact, the current economic paralysis will end faster, and its aftermath will be happier than those of previous economic earthquakes like 1929 or 2008, because 2020’s crisis was not about structural financial ailments. Instead, this recession is about one circumstance – the pandemic – and once that cause is removed, recovery will be triggered automatically, and with vigor.
For a glimpse of this future, just take a look at the commodity markets, where oil’s price since the vaccination’s emergence last fall has climbed steadily, from $36.8 per barrel in November to $50.1 this week – a trend that means crude is now well on its way to its pre-plague level of $59.
When traders pay more for oil, it is not because they are trying to serve a cause or impress a master. It’s because they are betting on increased demand, in this case because they sense an imminent industrial rebound worldwide.
Economics, then, is the second reason after medicine for which 2021 is set to heal 2020’s trauma. Finally, and crowning the two, will be politics.
The elapsed year saw politics spin out of control, both in America and here.
Yes, there were big differences between the two arenas’ events. Donald Trump denied the pandemic’s medical reality and misunderstood its political meaning. Benjamin Netanyahu quickly grasped the medical situation, accepted its executive challenge, and detected its political opportunity.
However, political recklessness in both realms was similar, as their leaders abused their democratic systems and hammered at their institutions with equal audacity and zeal – Trump by libeling the electoral process, Netanyahu by libeling the judiciary, and both men by defaming the press.
The year 2021 will see this nightmare’s end. It will be recalled as the year in which a balanced, seasoned and patriotic American replaced the rabble-rousing narcissist who hurt the American nation more than any American leader since Jefferson Davis.
In Israel, the humbling of Benjamin Netanyahu is also underway. With his former loyalists Gideon Sa’ar and Ze’ev Elkin now saying to his face that he placed his personal issues above the national interest, Netanyahu is set to emerge from 2021 the way Donald Trump entered it.
This, at least, is how I felt as I drove away from the infirmary where I bid 2020 farewell.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.