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OpinionColumnistsCathy Young

Taking stock and finding optimism

Kyle Rittenhouse is comforted by his lawyer as

Kyle Rittenhouse is comforted by his lawyer as he was acquitted of all charges Nov. 19 in the shooting of three men in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Credit: AP

As 2021 enters its homestretch and Thanksgiving is left behind, this is a good moment to take stock and survey the things for which we have to be thankful at the close of a turbulent year.

For one thing, despite alarming reports of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, it seems likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will begin waning in 2022. For all the cries about how wrong scientists and experts have been since the start of the pandemic, science actually has done a spectacular job of coping with a scary new virus and a complex disease. The vaccines work (not 100% — almost no medical intervention does — but well enough to make a huge difference). The booster shot works. New treatments offer further promise of making the disease manageable enough that, even for those in risk groups, a diagnosis will no longer be frightening. Will life return completely back to normal? Maybe not, but we will probably settle into a livable "new normal."

The economy is also back on track — even if polls show that the good news has yet to translate itself into a better national mood. The hand-wringing about killing our economy with drastic measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 has been proved wrong: Markets are far more flexible and resilient than the doomsayers realized. The past months have seen record economic growth and impressive job growth. The return of inflation tempers the good news, along with disruptions in the supply chain, but it has already slowed down and, so far, seems nowhere near the persistent inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s. Barring drastic reversal, the economic news in the coming months should be good.

Hopes that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency would restore the health of our public life were too optimistic: Republicans are not over their Trump dependence, and Democrats are having their own toxic romance with radical progressives. But at the very least, the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot has not, as many feared, signaled (so far) the start of a wave of political violence as a means of settling disputes. The democratic process still works.

So does, imperfectly, the justice system. The murder convictions in Georgia in the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger whom his white killers tried to detain on vague — and almost certainly racially based — suspicions of theft, show that despite racial disparities in the system "whiteness" does not confer impunity. Yes, the authorities were slow to file charges, partly because one of the suspects used his clout as a former police officer. Even so, in the end, a mostly white jury did the right thing.

So did the jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted, under a broad self-defense exception in state law, in the shooting of three men during a violent outbreak connected to a racial justice protest. Notably, while many were angered by the verdict, the protests this time were nonviolent.

Our public discourse still remains angry, extreme and polarized. But there are encouraging signs of interest in common ground. The mainstream liberal media, at least, seem to be making a genuine effort to pull back from the excesses of progressive groupthink. (Unfortunately, the right-wing media ecosystem remains entrenched in "stolen election" tropes.)

And, away from the political shouting matches, there remains plenty of comity and sanity in everyday life.

Let’s build on the good things we have, and do better.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a contributing editor at Reason magazine, are her own.