That Was the Year That Was…the Worst

Joel BellmanBy Joel Bellman      December 24, 2020

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That Was the Year That Was…the Worst
Illustration: Hermann Mejia, Mad Magazine
In 2020, Americans have reaped what they sowed in the 2016 presidential election. If 2020 was…” a Google search term, it already has more than 20.7 billion entries. Memes have compared it to everything from a barbed-wire hula hoop to a murder-hornet piñata. Here’s a look back at the kind of year Queen Elizabeth once called an annus horribilis, “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” In January, things were looking up for me as Donald Trump became only the third American president to be impeached for his efforts to blackmail the president of Ukraine into helping smear his most-feared opponent, Joe Biden. Nobody expected the Senate to actually convict and expel him, but I hoped at least that it might chasten Trump enough to discourage future mischief. But Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “When you strike at a king, you must kill him,” as King Donald gleefully tweeted after the Senate slammed through his acquittal without evidence or witnesses in early February. Far from being humbled, as I hoped, the proceedings only emboldened Trump to new extremes of recklessness. On the campaign front, as the year opened, I had also been buoyed by the prospect of an inspiring Democratic candidacy that would land a crushing blow to Trump’s Reign of Terror. After his acquittal, however, Trump fueled the media narrative of his own invincibility, as the crowded Dem field seemed to be stumbling out of the starting gate. Had they failed to learn the lessons of history and doomed to repeat it? I began to feel a rising panic that 2020 could become the “Groundhog Day” of presidential campaigns. But, here, can I get an “Amen!” for Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)? It was the House majority whip’s crucial endorsement in February, just ahead of his state’s primary jump-started the stalled Biden campaign and powered the Super Tuesday sweep that virtually cleared the field and propelled Biden into the nomination. Just as the Democrats were getting it together, the nation’s health and prosperity were rapidly coming apart. The coronavirus epidemic that had quietly simmered since late December finally boiled over, and officials across the country, imposed closures and lockdowns as the World Health Organization officially declared a global pandemic. Governments hit the brakes, and the world economy screeched to a halt. Trump, meanwhile, had gone from coverup, denial, lies, and disinformation to full-on revenge. He attacked Democratic governors and mayors, refused blue-state assistance, flouted public health protocols, dispensed nonsensical advice promoting ineffective remedies like hydroxycholoroquine or lethal quack cures like injecting bleach, and openly incited violence and insurrection against elected officials simply trying to protect their constituents. We began panic-buying cleaning supplies. Physical and social isolation at home induced anxiety, insomnia and depression; as schools closed and kids were confined to online learning at home, family ties began to fray. Both routine work meetings and the most important life events were equally flattened into the bleak sterility of Zoom calls. One friend had to postpone her wedding; a cousin canceled her bat mitzvah, another her college graduation party; two of my friends lost their husbands, and one his father; I joined other online mourners at their “Zoomerals.” Economic insecurity has laid its cold hand on more friends than I can count. At the end of May came the shocking murder of George Floyd, and the nearly nine-minute bystander video of a Black man slowly killed in broad daylight by a white police officer forced a racial reckoning that we haven’t seen since the Rodney King riots of 1992. As local and state elected officials grappled with civil unrest on top of economic collapse on top of global pandemic, Trump saw his re-election prospects slipping away. But instead of addressing racial issues with sensitivity and compassion, he reverted to apocalyptic fear mongering and incitements to violence. His campaign strategy relied on groundless personal attacks on his opponent, accompanied by a sustained effort to suppress the vote by impugning the integrity of mail-in voting and defunding the post office, while complicit Republican local election officials tried to hinder in-person voting by limiting polling places and imposing onerous ID requirements. In September, tragically, we lost Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to cancer, and Senate Republicans saw fit to “honor her legacy” with a stunningly hypocritical, yet entirely predictable power play—jamming through a far-right successor only days ahead of the election, after stalling for nearly nine months and ultimately denying Obama his 2016 court appointment to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia. Incensed by Trump’s brazen attempts to steal the election, I volunteered for the first time as a Los Angeles County poll worker for the five days leading up to Election Day. My co-workers and our voters showed me the very best side of American democracy, and Biden’s victory by week’s end helped vindicate my wavering faith in the system. Nobody expected Trump to concede gracefully. But few could have anticipated his month-long scorched earth campaign against the election results, with its wild conspiracy theories, baseless charges of fraud, slanderous attacks on election officials, and dozens of futile lawsuits. And in the most monumental grift of his career yet, since the election he has raised more than $207.5 million from his followers—with most of it earmarked not for battling imaginary vote fraud, but for underwriting his own political activities and lifestyle. Nobody expected Trump to concede gracefully. But few could have anticipated his month-long scorched earth campaign against the election results, with its wild conspiracy theories, baseless charges of fraud, slanderous attacks on election officials, and dozens of futile lawsuits. And in the most monumental grift of his career yet, since the election he has raised more than $207.5 million from his followers—with most of it earmarked not for battling imaginary vote fraud, but for underwriting his own political activities and lifestyle. Yet more than 300,000 Americans are dead of COVID-19 as worried health officials watch their available ICU beds dwindle close to zero. If 2020 were a bouquet, it would be corpse flowers.
Joel Bellman

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