Tom Campbell


As we popped the cork to toast the new decade, we anticipated that 2020 would be an exciting year, filled with interesting developments – some good and perhaps even rambunctious. Nobody could have predicted the four crises we would face.

We expected the elections would be the headliner for the year. State leaders had long lamented that our state had little voice in selecting presidential nominees, so they designated primary elections to be held March 3, instead of our traditional May date. In 2020 North Carolinians would vote for the president, but also a U.S. Senator, congressional representatives, governor and Council of State members, three Supreme Court Justices, five Court of Appeals judges, 170 legislators and a host of local officials.

As it turned out North Carolina’s voice wasn’t significant in naming the presidential nominees, but our state was in play and it wasn’t until December that all races were decided. But the rancor and ugliness were exacerbated by huge advertising expenditures that underscored the hyper-partisanship, distrust and division within the state – feelings still evident at year’s end.

When we voted March 3, few had heard of COVID-19, but within weeks it was on everyone’s lips. The governor halted in-class attendance of schools and initiated a lockdown of all but essential activities. Virtual learning, telecommuting, telemedicine and online ordering quickly became buzzwords.

It wasn’t surprising that a strong backlash surfaced, mostly from Republicans who believed Gov. Roy Cooper was using the pandemic to further his re-election efforts. Others refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the virus and objected to having anyone tell them what to do. Cooper faced protests, lawsuits and legislation over using his emergency powers but reinforced by Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, his conservative approach kept hospitals from being overwhelmed and kept death rates low.

As more businesses partially reopened and people became fatigued with restrictions, community spread ramped up in November and at year’s end, we face shortages of ICU beds, large numbers with the virus and almost 7,000 deaths. The vaccines developed to help end this pandemic now are met by large numbers unwilling to take the shots.

The March 13 killing of Breonna Taylor and May 25 death of George Floyd added a third crisis. Protest demonstrations throughout our state, sometimes accompanied by looting, violence and counterprotests, stirred the flames of racial unrest. Confederate statues and named buildings became symbols of longstanding racial prejudice. Racism moved from the front page, but not from the consciousness of those demanding equality and justice.

All three pointed to the most serious and dangerous crisis of all: the loss of trust. We have lost trust in just about every sector and most people. George Schultz, the former Secretary of State said, “Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was – the family room, the school room, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room – good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.” The breakdown of trust, if not restored, can lead to anarchy.

In summary, 2020 was the year we bumped along in the wilderness from one crisis to another. My Methodist pastor wife, Lib, said in a recent sermon, “Wilderness is a place where desolation and fatigue live, a place where emptiness and grief and fear meet hope. All the weariness of 2020 is like the wilderness was to all those wandering in Judea a long time ago.”

Few will be sad to say goodbye to this year. Our prayer is that 2021 be the year we leave the wilderness and once again restore trust, hope, health and happiness.

Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer. Contact him at