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The vaccine rollout is slower than expected.

The presidential-election disputes may never end.

And who knows? Hilary/Hilaria Baldwin could suddenly decide she’s French.

Hilaire!

In ways large and small, both profound and trivial, this dreadful year of ours can certainly be followed by an even more dreadful one, despite all the enforced optimism of this long-awaited New Year’s weekend—swapped, of course, at a safe, masked, hand-sanitized distance.

Just because a glittering crystal ball drops at midnight in the no-go zone of Times Square, there’s no law that says 2021 has to be any better. You know the old expression: Sometimes it’s darkest right before the real calamities begin. What if 10-9-8-7-6 is just a televised countdown to the really, really bad stuff?

Read: A cruel winter: New York City restaurants struggle for survival amid second indoor dining ban

Dr. Anthony Fauci, with his trademark gentle gruffness, certainly raised that possibility this week when he said of the coronavirus pandemic that keeps defining our lives: “The worst is yet to come.”

Fauci had just been asked about a surge upon a surge. Or maybe it was a surge upon a surge upon a surge. Either way, so many people spent so much time with their relatives over the holidays, the deadly virus will soon be dancing a New Year’s jig. And millions of Americans still don’t seem to realize: This is an infectious disease. You get it from other people.

Still think things can’t get worse?

Then, you don’t remember all the hand-wringing last December when 2019 was being labeled downright cataclysmic. Locusts were swarming Ethiopia (really!) and the World Health Organization had just raised an eyebrow about a novel coronavirus in China’s ninth most populous city of Wuhan.

Sounded awful…for them.

You’d have to be as cheery as that wholesome castaway Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island” to look on the bright side now. Oh. Wait. Sorry. Dawn Wells, the talented actress who played the always chipper Mary Ann, was just tragically lost to the virus at the age of 82

No, it isn’t just that Times Square on New Year’s Eve has gone from somewhere no sane person would be caught dead to somewhere you can’t go even if you’re crazy enough to want to. It’s that despite all the happy talk, so many signs are pointing the other way.

Six-hundred dollars in stimulus money won’t rescue many struggling families.

President Donald Trump is skipping his $1,000-a-hangover New Year’s Eve bash at Mar-a-Lago. He’s rushing back to Washington, and, boy, does he sound mad! He’s president for another three weeks…at least, he adds.

New York is either a ghost town or a lawless free-for-all, depending on which tabloid you read. The stock market is an endlessly soaring rocket or maybe a bubble about to explode. Place your bets—on both markets—accordingly.

There’s a lot of this bad-to-worse-to-worst in history, things that seemed unbearable quickly getting even more so.

Soft rock got replaced by disco.

Kids watched too much television. Then, videogames and cellphones came along.

Pot gave way to crack cocaine.

It isn’t true that things can’t get better. It’s that sometimes the bottom is a whole lot deeper than our instruments can measure or that anyone ever imagined.

There’s no denying that 2020 totally stunk. More named hurricanes than any year ever. Fires burning four million acres out West. Rampant business closings. A presidential impeachment. The highest unemployment since the Great Depression. The relentless tedium of take-out food. 

Coronavirus update: U.S. sets record for COVID deaths, and California confirms second case of highly infectious new strain

And all that’s on top of the real tragedy, the 343,000 Americans—and counting—who have perished from the effects of COVID-19, a condition that divided the nation over something as obvious as face masks and some of our leaders insisted on calling a hoax.

It’s enough to convince you that things have to get better. Don’t they?

A whole new year is upon us. And really, what can we do but hope for the best?

Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.

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