Who’s that battered old man making his way down shuttered streets, facemask hanging from an ear, IV pole dragging at his side. A poignant figure. Didn’t he used to be someone?But wait, look. He’s not walking, he’s marching. Like he’s got his old strut back. As if he just remembered who he is.That was the picture that came to mind on Monday. We were like America of old. And I’m not sure we’re fully seeing it. But on that day our Constitution did what it was built to do, prevail. And our scientific genius and spirit of invention asserted themselves as national features that still endure.So here’s to you, Dec. 14, 2020. You provided a very good ending to a very bad year.On that day the winner of the 2020 election was formally declared president-elect by the Electoral College. This would normally be a formality, but this year it had—let’s call it deeper than usual resonance. Presidential electors met and voted throughout the day in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The vote was 306-232. It was done as in the past, in an orderly manner without great incident.For all the postelection threats and accusations the system held. It turns out some words in a 4,543-word document that was ratified 232 years ago, on June 21, 1788, still had the last say.
The second big thing that happened Monday: the human and scientific miracle of the first Covid-19 vaccines began that day to arrive at American medical centers and be administered to health-care professionals. You saw the pictures of nurses getting the shots from doctors, and health-care workers in Boston dancing in the hospital parking lot. It was beautiful. Shipments of the Pfizer /BioNTech vaccine carried about three million doses, and they arrived—this is so American—by UPS and FedEx. I don’t know why that pleases me so much, but it does. I keep wondering who signed for the delivery.All this was done against the odds, against scientific history—no vaccine had ever been developed and produced so quickly—and by a country battered by illness. People slept in their offices to get this thing done. The ability of drug companies to shift focus, reorient research and development, race for an answer—all this is a triumph of medical science, of manufacture and distribution. They retrofitted factories to ensure manufacturing capacity even before the Food and Drug Administration approved the inoculations. The sheer scientific brain power involved, the level of organization demanded, all came at record speed. Billions came from the U.S. government; big profits will be made. I don’t care. This was a kind of greatness. We all decry Big Pharma, and high prices, and opioids. We like to hate them. I like to hate them. But look what they did.Our country got pummeled by an illness, and we did this. Really there must be more to us than we think (emphasis added).