After a tumultuous 2020, many Americans were searching for a return to normalcy, a life free from bombastic political battles, a lingering fear of a deadly pandemic, racial strife, and deep concerns about the nation’s very democracy. It was a central goal of President Joe Biden, who campaigned in 2020 to bring the nation back to the life it had before the pandemic – and particularly before Donald Trump. With the central figure in America’s political and cultural wars defeated and gone, the idea was that the nation could finally mend relations abroad and within its own borders.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Trump was defeated but has not disappeared, with the former president and millions of his supporters continuing to claim, falsely, that the election was stolen from Trump and that Biden was not legitimately the commander-in-chief. The pandemic crisis has abated – and then it hasn’t. And now Americans are facing a New Year with no idea whether they are truly immune from the coronavirus. The economy is much better – if you are looking for a job. Not so much if you shop for groceries. And in so many arenas, there was a cruel and disturbing whiplash factor, trends reversing as quickly as they developed.

And that, it seems, is the new normal as the timeline turns to 2022: unpredictability and the stark knowledge that the nation’s problems are not conquered but in various stages of crisis and dormancy.

Some highlights of the 2021 challenges that will shape 2022:

It looked like 2021 couldn’t be worse than 2020. And it wasn’t. But of course it was sometimes the case. The development of safe and effective vaccines was a game-changer, allowing businesses and schools to reopen and provide mental and emotional relief to Americans who had washed their mail packages and feared a trip to the grocery store.

Then the delta variant hit, bringing a new wave of infections and another battle in the ongoing war between vaccine advocates and those who refuse to be vaccinated. Delta looked like it could decline – and the vaccinations continued at a brisk pace, but not as quickly as medical professionals and the Biden administration wanted. The development of a promising new treatment for the coronavirus has added hope, as has the approval of vaccines for children 5 years and older.

The light at the end of the tunnel began to dim with the discovery of the omicron variant, a mutation in the coronavirus that is much more transmissible but which appears to be less dangerous than previous variants. That meant more restrictions on international travel and more anxiety for Americans as a holiday season approached – one they hoped was genuinely more in the pre-pandemic style of close family reunions.

While the new variant is serious and must be taken very seriously, “We have the tools” to fight it, says Anthony J. Santella, director of the doctoral program in health sciences at the University of New Haven. “People can get the vaccine. They can get boosters. The eligible ages have changed now. I am more optimistic and hopeful than a year ago.” Santella predicts that by mid-2022, COVID-19 will be endemic, not pandemic. But “it can be a rough and bumpy six months.”

The year in photos: 2021

Millions of Americans seemed to collectively expire when Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election (after an extended count and recount of the ballots – a record number of whom were dismissed due to the pandemic). In fact, the election itself, regardless of the outcome, appeared to be a victory: despite fears of transmission of the virus, people were able to vote, and a record 72.7 million votes cast – 17 million more than in 2016.

But while the election was over, the fight over it was not. Trump challenged the results (in court, where he lost, and in the public arena, where he convinced millions of Americans to believe his fraud claims unfounded). He came to a dangerous and historic head on January 6, when thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, some of them threatening to hang then Vice President Mike Pence, d ‘assault or kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stop the formal (and pro-forma) counting of the Electoral College’s votes.

After a late – and lukewarm – call from Trump for the rioters to return home, Congress reconvened in the evening and certified Biden’s victory in the wee hours of the morning. But that, too, did not end concerns about America’s very democracy, with pundits fearing that Jan. 6 was just a dress rehearsal for another effort to overthrow the democratic election in 2024.

“We are cold to the bone that a coup succeeds next time”, three retired US military generals wrote in a threatening column in the Washington Post in mid-December. Congress is considering measures to strengthen voting rights, but the prospects for the package, which is expected to be passed by the Senate in January, are bleak.

Congress has met in the past during a time of national crisis, putting aside partisan differences after events such as the September 11 attacks threatened the nation. This was not the case after the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol, as some GOP lawmakers – despite having been at the Capitol when it was under siege – dismissed the day’s events as a sightseeing tour that got out of hand. Partisan fighting has reached a new, very personal nadir. Rep. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has had her committee assignments cut after supporting comments that appeared to physically threaten Democrats. Arizona’s GOP Representative Paul Gosar has been censored for posting an anime video that showed an avatar of him beheading a comic book version of fellow Democrat, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City. Further feuds raged as sitting lawmakers refused to wear masks, as House rules require.

In the 50-50 Senate, there is little bipartisan work, with Republicans maintaining a disciplined united front against Democrats, who can only pass legislation if they get the support of every member of their party as well as the decisive vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden’s State Department suffered as few ambassadors were confirmed – a stalemate that improved after the Senate, threatened with loss of vacation time, confirmed 30 candidates.

“It will be maybe six rough and bumpy months.”

Biden secured the passage of two major bills, the American Recovery Act, to provide aid related to coronaviruses, and the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which provided $ 1.2 trillion to rebuild roads and bridges, expand broadband access and replace toxic water pipes. But internal Democratic fights frustrate its national agenda. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia all but killed what had appeared to be productive discussions of the “Build Back Better Act,” a large-scale domestic spending bill. The White House response to Manchin’s withdrawal from support, in which press secretary Jen Psaki almost called him a liar, saying the senator personally delivered an entirely different message to the president himself.

“Manchin’s dishonest betrayal of his own promises means that Biden’s first year in office is going to end on a bitter note,” Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said in his “Message Box” blog. One possibility, Pfeiffer suggests, is another rule-breaking measure – to clear the filibuster of the Senate. This will likely be an agenda item in early 2022.

America has finally ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan, a promise Biden made in his campaign. But it was a mess. A terrorist attack at Kabul airport during the withdrawal killed 13 US servicemen. Meanwhile, vulnerable Afghans and some Americans were unable to leave the country before the August 31 deadline.

Public outrage over the chaotic withdrawal faded over the months and other issues took their place. This does not mean, however, that the situation in Afghanistan has improved.

“This will be an ongoing problem on the ground in Afghanistan,” said retired Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, senior member of the Defense Priorities group. “Whether this translates into a problem for the United States and the American people, I have serious doubts.” More worrying, he says, are threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine and China’s aggression against Taiwan.

It could have been a year of healing after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer and the widespread protests that followed. There was a trial in 2021, and the officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted and sent to jail. The 2020 death of Georgian Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was jogging when he was arrested and shot dead, drew attention in 2021, and three men were convicted of his murder.

But the incidents – along with other reports of racial violence and police abuse against blacks – have reminded the country that even as the nation moves towards majority minority status, racism remains a painful and unresolved issue. . A bipartisan effort to pass a federal police reform bill in the wake of Floyd’s death collapsed in early summer, and it seems unlikely that he will be resurrected in 2022.

If the 2020 job story was “You’re laid off,” the 2021 theme was “I’m quitting,” as Americans tired by the pandemic quit jobs that were either too low paying or too risky for their comfort. Overall, the economy has performed very well, with record job growth and the lowest number of new jobless claims in more than half a century. The economy has created some 6 million new jobs – more than any president chaired in his first year. Unemployment has also dropped dramatically.

But for many American families, job growth has been overshadowed by high inflation. Prices at the end of November were 6.8% higher than the previous year. Gas prices have also skyrocketed. Interruptions in the supply chain – a consequence of the pandemic – meant fewer items on store shelves and online just as Americans began vacation shopping.

Supply chain bottlenecks eased in December, but inflation did not. Keeping those numbers under control – along with COVID-19 infections – will be a major task for Democrats as they head into a very difficult midterm election season.