We all saw this coming. We approached the New Year hoping the curse of 2020 would come to an end as we entered a politically stable, pandemic-free 2021. When I saw that insurrectionists were invading the Capitol on Jan. 6, I guess you could say I was initially shocked, but 2021 is a sum of problems we left lurking for years.
A century ago, signs promoting mask usage from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic warned of airborne disease spread before such science was largely understood, but we still face trouble today in asking people to mask up. The ongoing severity of the pandemic and the violent resurgence of white supremacy and anti-government movements illustrates a pattern in American history rather than a fluke of the new decade.
The lack of federal support halted the vaccine rollout across the U.S. and in Mississippi. While the second doses of the two-part vaccine are available to those who have received the first, the state currently cannot administer new first doses to anyone without an appointment — even to those over 65 years old or with pre-existing medical conditions. Families waited in line on the phones for hours in hopes of scheduling an appointment to protect their loved ones, only to have their hope delayed. Coordination between local, state and federal entities could have addressed the current logistical problems earlier, but as the pandemic grows greater, communications seem to have diminished from state leaders.
Even if vaccine rollout were as smooth as possible, public education efforts have been lacking in resolving mistrust of vaccinations. Growing anti-vaccine movements on social media and historical medical abuse toward marginalized communities have led over a quarter of Americans to say they do not want the vaccine when it is available to them. Though some have fears of unproven harms of the vaccination, many say that they do not want the vaccine because they do not believe that the pandemic is a real threat. The latter of this reasoning is no surprise when government officials planned large gatherings during a major surge and the President said the virus affects “virtually nobody.” The ongoing politicization of the pandemic, with state and federal officials minimizing the dangers of COVID-19 for months, has complicated the path to returning to normal.
While pandemic misinformation spreads online, violent far-right ideology also arose as a virulent force that is growing in popularity. Underestimating the rioters that invaded the Capitol sidelines the fact that government officials have legitimized their causes. Reps. Trent Kelly and Michael Guest met with the “Patriot Party of Mississippi” just hours before the event they promoted on Facebook, “Operation Occupy the Capitol,” took place. National Guard Troops from Mississippi are being summoned to Washington to protect against whatever mayhem is anticipated at President-elect Biden’s inauguration.
Social media sites have de-platformed those who incited violence at the Capitol, including President Trump, but this is merely trimming the leaves off of a deeply rooted tree of anti-government conspiracies. As early as 2016, Facebook research found that 64% of those who joined an extremist Facebook group did so because it was recommended to them by the platform. Now, millions are sucked into the QAnon conspiracy theory that directly contributed to the turmoil on Jan. 6.
While 2020 was often described as “unprecedented,” 2021 thus far — COVID-19 surge, far-right insurgency and all — has been predictable. Continued ignorance of the underlying problems so loudly burgeoning across the country brought us to now, where we are forced to listen.
Katie Dames is the opinion editor from Saint Louis, Mo., majoring in international studies.