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A terrible 2020 is ending with reasons for optimism

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One of the worst years in American history is winding down — and good riddance.

More than a quarter-million Americans dead in a pandemic. Large swaths of the economy crushed. Lives shattered, dreams destroyed. Our politics has left us more divided, I think, than at any time since the Civil War. Gun violence has soared this year, while poverty and hunger are increasing. Seventy-one percent of Americans, says a Gallup survey, are “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time.” There’s no sugar coating the fact that we have big problems.

And yet, beneath the headlines, there are things we can cheer — and be thankful for as another Thanksgiving arrives. Things that show our resilience as a nation, our determination to keep marching ahead and overcome our difficulties. Here are some:

Vaccines for Covid-19 are coming. A difficult and painful winter lies ahead, but tens of millions of Americans will soon be getting vaccines that are said to be at least 90% effective.

Our recent election was conducted peacefully with record turnout and fewer snafus than expected. It was nasty, yes, and there is much room for improvement, but let’s be thankful that it went as well as it did.

Our political system endures. The democratic norms — that we seem to have taken for granted for far too long — has been under severe strain in recent years. There is much room for improvement here as well, but let’s be thankful that it has proven to be resilient.

Our Constitution is a miracle. I used to work in the Soviet Union. Trust me, being able to write, complain and say whatever you want is an incredible thing. So is praying to the God of your choice. So is being able to own a gun. So is having the right to a fair trial and being judged by a jury of your peers. And so much more. The Constitution is really something.

America is at peace. For much of this still-young 21st century, the United States fought the two longest wars in its history — Afghanistan and Iraq — simultaneously. Both have largely been wound down, and although threats remain and will always require vigilance, we can be thankful that fewer of our brave servicemen and -women are in harm’s way today.

Entrepreneurs continue to do their thing. Through September, 147,769 patents have been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Japan, China, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan — combined — had 101,753. American innovation, it seems, is alive and well.

Risk-takers and innovators are creating new industries and job categories. Yes, people like Elon Musk — one part Henry Ford, one part Robert Goddard (investor of the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket) — grab headlines. But for every Musk, there are tons of people like Anthony Nighswander, president of Ohio-based APT Manufacturing Solutions, which builds and installs robotic equipment to help other manufacturers automate their assembly lines. He tells me business is booming, as high-tech innovators like him create jobs and transform the Rust Belt one town at a time.

We’re on the verge of huge breakthroughs that could transform, extend and enhance our lives. Driverless cars, bitcoin
BTCUSD,
+4.23%
,
even 5G? That’s so yesterday. Try these on for size: An unhackable internet, hyper-personalized medicine, anti-aging drugs and quantum computing that will solve problems at least a thousand times faster than the fastest supercomputer today. That’s just a partial list from the MIT Technology Review.

Cancer death rates continue to fall. The American Cancer Society reports “long-term drops in death rates in the four most common cancer types: lung, colorectal, breast and prostate. Progress in reducing lung cancer deaths has improved due to declines in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment. However, “progress in reducing colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers has slowed.”

There is broad agreement on certain key issues, which suggests the possibility for bipartisan action — and less rancor — in Congress. Two examples: While 93% of Democrats favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, you may be surprised to know that an overwhelming majority — 82% — of Republicans do as well. Pew also reports that as of 2019, “public support for legal abortion” remains as high as it has been in two decades of polling. Is it possible that Americans are less divided than we think? If so, I think this is something to be thankful for.

I can have both pumpkin pie and blueberry pie if I want on Thanksgiving. This is America. We can do whatever we want. Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention. Happy Thanksgiving.



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These money and investing tips are timed for a bull market that looks short on time

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can help you prepare your portfolio as stock buyers become more skittish and financial markets grapple with a less-friendly Federal Reserve — which savvy investors know not to fight.

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These money and investing tips can shine some light through the stock market’s ‘June gloom’

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