On Wednesday, we will see the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States of America. It also will be the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in our nation. It was on that fateful day of Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in the state of Washington that the first person was diagnosed with the scourge that has plagued us for the last year.

We desperately want to forget the worldwide pandemic that has now claimed nearly 2 million victims. We want to forget the pain of having our world turned upside down with so many of our lives put on continuous hold. We want to forget the destruction of our economy and the suffering of our people.

We want to forget the year of seemingly never-ending social and political violence. We want to forget the upheaval, rioting, and massive damage to our neighborhoods and businesses swirling around the necessary calls for more social justice. We want to forget the bitter presidential election that culminated with a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by forces of an incumbent president who would not accept defeat.

Forgetting this most unpleasant past year seems very tempting, but it would be a serious mistake. We cannot face the future effectively without our recent history in mind. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana stated in 1905 in his work, “Reason in Common Sense, Vol. 1,” “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But in remembering this disastrous past year, what have we really learned from it?

Newsletter signup for email alerts

We have learned that we do not all suffer in the same ways. Some have more economic cushion than others. For many, every step during the pandemic has been like bone on bone. For others, it has been more of an inconvenience than a life-and-death struggle. While some bitterly complain about not being able to eat and drink at their favorite bars and restaurants, others are having a difficult time putting food on their kitchen tables.

We have learned more about our humanity and collective souls. By putting so many more of us closer to death, the pandemic has made us understand life and each other better. We more easily see the pain that others have to face due to social and racial injustice, and we are more open to discuss necessary changes.

We have learned that politicians will exploit our fears and use the pandemic for their own selfish agendas. So many of these pandemic politicians repeated a falsehood that the pandemic would magically disappear after the 2020 election. Others used the pandemic to speedily change voting procedures that would improve their chances of being elected.

We are rapidly approaching a crossroads of history. There is a sign post before us pointing in different directions. Many are yearning to go back to normal, but was pre-pandemic society the paradise we think it was? Was there liberty and justice for all?

We can also choose a different path, a path that leads to more equity. This will be a much more challenging direction to walk since it will require real work and the willingness to improve our society.

On the same road to more equity is voting integrity. Millions of people still believe there are issues with a number of our states’ voting processes. There is nothing wrong with each state addressing those concerns through their legislative bodies. We do want to restore full confidence in our future elections.

The era of the coronavirus and the political and social upheaval that paralleled it are slowly coming to an end, but it’s going to take a long time to recover from these twin disasters. We need to start reflecting on what direction we should take. We need to learn from these events and build a better world. We need to work together and cannot rely on pandemic politicians to save us.

Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for nearly three decades at Inver Hills Community College and is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.