It’s finally the last week of the year and I can’t be the only one anxious to see 2020 end. With classes fully online in March and November because of the pandemic, teaching was a challenge. Even worse, I contracted coronavirus last month and quarantined before all SCSU classes went fully remote this semester.
Instead of reassuring posts to get me through quarantine, my Facebook wall reinforced this year’s hyper-partisanship: that contracting coronavirus happens when “you’re around R’s” and that the virus “is only the flu.” I didn’t even post on Facebook that I was positive. I recently mentioned these exchanges on WNPR’s “Wheelhouse” radio show , surprising many listeners.
Then politics and even the pandemic became personal, as we are experiencing much of this year’s discord among friends and family. The Trump effect and Biden backlash remain an ongoing saga and it speaks much about this era.
But last month’s election did see a historic voter turnout since it neared a record 68% of voters. Even the number of young voters (18- to 30-year-olds) participating in the elections increased significantly. In the past, it was often around 45%, whereas older voters (over 60) notched near 70%. This year’s election saw a record 53% of young voters turn out.
Anecdotally, a couple of students in my state and local government class volunteered for General Assembly candidates. And a military veteran admitted he had never voted before, but he did so while in my class. As much as I hated classes being online, he reminded me why I enjoy teaching. Engaging even one student to participate in elections is worth it.
Beyond the hyper-partisanship and elections, this year reminded me of the little things that we easily overlook. During my coronavirus recovery, I overslept and had ongoing migraines. But I was fortunate that I did not require hospitalization and that neighbors and friends helped me through it. One neighbor noticed I hadn’t taken out my trash cans or moved my car. A couple more called and brought vitamins, homemade soups, meals and baked goods as I live between two doctors, a professional chef and a baker. As an academic, I am accustomed to being a hermit but being one when you’re sick is terribly isolating, especially during Thanksgiving.
Maybe this year should be all about actual connections then and not just social media posts and abstract voting data. Social media and media reports constantly remind us of the era we’re living in. This year brought us the worst about politics amid a pandemic. But 2020 should also remind us that we were able to help one another through an election year and coronavirus.
So what does this year mean for 2021? It will be an election year in many municipalities. Hopefully, we can see similar voter turnout for local elections and more bipartisanship. But I highly doubt it, since past local races average less than 20% of voters in Connecticut’s cities and nearly double that rate in suburban and rural towns (although the Naugatuck Valley is an anomaly). But this should also be a reflective moment as to what we learned and what we have to look forward to next year. Maybe resolutions are in order then, as I certainly made some political changes this year.
Sometimes reflection, resolutions and change are good – even in politics.
2020 sparked more involvement through voting, political participation and relying on one another. Many of us were reminded that we can get through a pandemic as well as participate in national and state elections. It would be ideal to continue some of this spirit into next year for local races as we move closer to the end of the pandemic and hopefully a cooling off of hyper-partisanship.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is associate professor of political science and urban affairs and the School of Graduate and Professional Studies Interim Associate Dean at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. Wharton is a former chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee and Connecticut Republican State Central Committee member.
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