The year 2020 — now entering, mercifully, its final day — presented a whole spectrum of disasters: apocalyptic wildfires in Australia and California; protests and violence from the U.S. to Hong Kong to Thailand to Nigeria; a conventional war in the Caucuses; a likely Russian hack of American government departments so massive its implications are still far from clear; and hovering over all of it, the COVID-19 pandemic which shut the world down starting in February and has since sickened and killed millions worldwide.

And underneath it all there is a through line: governments failing to protect their citizens. From enacting insufficient, delayed, or incoherent measures to contain the spread of a deadly virus — a failure made apparent in comparison with the countries which did manage to get things mostly right — to failing to adequately regulate tech firms entrusted with priceless government networks and the enormous quantity of aggregate data of citizens, to failing to manage the increasingly sharp consequences of runaway climate change, the story of 2020 is largely one of societal resilience and individual heroism leavened by official incompetence or worse.

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