In 2005 historian David McCullough published the biography of an entire year. That year, 1776, truly was a worthy subject for a book. 1776 was a year of great momentum, a year of mighty deeds and high ideals, a year when men and women struggled against terrifying odds to found a nation by forcibly separating themselves from a mighty, implacable empire.
I can think of no other year since 1776 that deserves its own biography as much as this most recent one: the year two thousand and twenty — even though two thousand and twenty was a lousy year, even though it was nothing like 1776. If anyone ever does write a biography of that year it’s going to be a real downer.
Come to think of it, maybe biography isn’t the right word for it. Maybe autobiography would best describe 2020, because we all lived through it. We were all there. We all saw it with our very own eyes. We all agonized our way through it with our very own hearts. And no one can tell that story better than us.
And what a year it was. Whichever category you choose for 2020, biography or autobiography, it will have to remain one or the other, because, if it had been written as a work of fiction, no one would have believed it.
Stephen Colbert called two thousand twenty “the year that took years.” If ever a year was cursed, 2020 was it. But, when you stop to think about it, who better to preside over America’s lousiest year than America’s lousiest president? So it seemed fitting that Donald Trump would be president during 2020. Donald Trump, the little manbaby who mean-tweets hateful messages at people when they demonstrate substandard zeal in their support for him. Donald Trump, the crude, the ungracious, the liar, the stochastic terrorist. Donald Trump, the vindictive short-fingered vulgarian, was the perfect cynic’s perfect choice to preside over that fateful, hateful year.
After all, it was Donald Trump, the game show host, who parlayed a four hundred million dollar inheritance into a billion dollar loss, who believed that thermonuclear weapons were the solution to category 5 hurricanes, who recommended injecting disinfectants as a cure for coronavirus, who said that the noise from windmills causes cancer, who stared directly into the sun during a solar eclipse, it was Donald Trump, who was America’s most terrible President during America’s most terrible time. Oh, and speaking of 1776, Trump actually believed that America had airports during the Revolutionary War.
We sat helpless as the year 2020 unfolded, beginning when we watched this evil, petty, little, vindictive man, this criminal, this murderer, this rapist, acquitted by evil, petty, little, vindictive men and women, men and women for whom right and wrong was abbreviated R and D. Political hacks who could not drop their psychotic bias for one second, not even for the good of the country, not even for the sake of sanity, not even long enough to give the monster that stood before them what he really deserved. At his impeachment trial, Senate Republicans were so sure that Donald Trump was guilty of something that they refused to call any witnesses. Sometimes justice really is blind.
Just like we all knew they would, Senate Republicans acquitted the obviously guilty Donald Trump, simply because he was a Republican and for no other reason.
Adam Schiff predicted what would happen next. “He has not changed. He will not change,” said Schiff. “A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way. He has done it before and he will do it again. What are the odds if he is left in office that he will continue to try to cheat? I will tell you: 100%.”
Donald Trump complained bitterly that his impeachment trial interfered with his ability to perform his duties as president effectively. But the truth of the matter was Trump never functioned effectively as president before he was impeached, so there was absolutely no reason why he would function effectively after he was impeached.
Trump was — and remained throughout 2020 — the laziest, most ineffectual, most inept president America has ever seen. He ignored his security briefings, ignored almost all of the brain work needed to be an effective president, almost never read anything and preferred to play golf. He largely ignored his duties as president, preferring instead to take credit for the work of others. By the time his impeachment ended, along came the coronavirus pandemic, just in time for him to ignore and minimize and disregard that too.
Trump began by dismissing coronavirus as a hoax of the Democrats to discredit him and his administration. Then he claimed it would disappear by itself, in the Spring, “just like a miracle.” He encouraged Americans to attend Easter church services because the danger should be over by then.
It wasn’t until later that we found out he was lying. It wasn’t until later that we all heard Trump confessing to Bob Woodward just how bad coronavirus actually was. [clip from Trump confessing to Woodward.]
And as if that wasn’t enough, on the 25th of May, right smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic — which began right after the impeachment — a “peace officer” knelt on a man’s neck for eight and a half minutes until he died. Despite repeated, respectful, tearful pleas from George Floyd, a person of color, telling the cop who was strangling the life out of him that he couldn’t breathe, despite his calling pitifully for his mother, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin continued to kneel on Mr. Floyd’s neck until he was dead. He did it because he could, because no one would stop him.
This act triggered a nationwide response. The Black Lives Matter Movement was galvanized and once again in the news, and millions of ordinary citizens came out to participate in protests, the vast majority of which were peaceful.
Even Republicans were moved as they never had been before. Republican legislators called for immediate action to impose accountability on police departments so that kind of thing would never happen again. They stood as a single person to proclaim that no American citizen was ever again to be treated the way George Floyd was treated, that the Constitution and Due Process really did stand for something tangible and were not mere words …
Just kidding. Republicans did exactly what you’d expect them to. They said that because a small percentage of the Black Lives Matter protests were violent, all Black Lives Matter protests were to blame, and although Mr. Floyd’s murder was regrettable, nothing serious could be done about it until all protesting stopped.
By the way, it didn’t matter that some of the violence was from white supremacists. As far as Donald Trump and Republicans were concerned, the Black Lives Matter movement was a terrorist organization, and they took all of the blame. The white supremacists got off scot-free . In fact that’s what they referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as, a terrorist organization. They kept calling it that until everybody forgot the whole thing. And almost everybody did.
Yes, 2020 was one hell of a year. From the death of Kobe Bryant to the death of Dawn Wells of “Gilligan’s Island,” from murder hornets to California wildfires to category 5 hurricanes to the the gut-wrenching death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the vomit-inducing confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, from everybody in the White House getting coronavirus including Donald Trump to nobody in the Biden camp getting coronavirus including Joe Biden.
Then finally, on November third, two thousand and twenty, a bit of good news. We kicked their collective asses. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. became the President-elect, and Kamala Devi Harris became the Vice President-elect. And all of a sudden we dared to hope that maybe, just maybe the universe was swinging back to sanity again.
Then — after that — not one, not two but three coronavirus vaccines appeared, and our hope turned into certainty. We dared to believe that very soon now the world will become relatively safe again.
But like all good books, all interesting books anyway, 2020 had a plot twist. And what a plot twist it was. It turns out 2020 was the biggest political gift Donald Trump — or any politician for that matter — could ever hope for. 2020 was such an enormous gift to Donald Trump it would make you, if you were Trump himself, almost believe in God. If you were anybody else it would have certainly made you believe in the devil. Because 2020 was the year that could have given Donald Trump a second term. And Trump blew it.
Had Trump united Americans against the coronavirus and taken real measures to keep them safe, had he taken the death of George Floyd seriously, he could have sailed into November and defeated all comers. But because Donald Trump is stupid, he blew his only chance to keep himself in office and out of prison. I never thought I would hear myself utter these words, but thank goodness Donald Trump is stupid. Let’s make sure we never elect a man like Donald Trump to the presidency. Because next time we might now be so lucky. Next time he might really be a stable genius.
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