“It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times: America in 2020,” was the title given to historian James Kratsas’ review of 2020 in a program sponsored by the WMU-Cooley Wellness Committee.
Kratsas, the former deputy director at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, discussed why the nation may be experiencing both the best of times and the worst of times and how history gives hope for the future.
Kratsas explained how the COVID-19 vaccine and the handling of the pandemic are significant historical achievements. “There is a sizable group who fail to acknowledge the existence and danger of COVID, but the majority of us are wearing our masks, washing our hands, practicing social distancing—not only to protect ourselves but also our loved ones and the public at large,” said Kratsas. “But there is evidence that these are the best of times—whereas vaccines typically take between 3 and 15 years, we have a vaccine in less than one year. A remarkable achievement, and its free. Can you imagine what the vaccine would go for on the open market?”
While acknowledging that society faces very serious issues, Kratsas provided historical context by illustrating the challenges facing the United States in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic. He said that President Woodrow Wilson downplayed the pandemic because he did not want to draw resources and attention away from World War I, which was ongoing. There was no vaccine. Half of the population was disenfranchised as women did not yet have the right to vote. And “50,000 white supremacists – members of the Ku Klux Klan- marched unopposed down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Explaining that things were just as bad 100 years ago, Kratsas said, “we survived and flourished as a nation.”
Kratsas, who worked for both Democrat and Republican presidents, offered suggestions that could help keep the nation moving forward in a positive way. He sadly noted that politics today has become entertainment, possibly surpassing the popularity of sports.
“To be truly informed you have to listen, and I don’t mean acting as though you are while composing your response while the other is talking,” said Kratsas. “Our republic is based on a citizenry that is well read and informed, not a knee-jerk populace. Why are headlines speaking louder than facts?”