16 of the Zillion Crazy Things That Happened in Politics This Year
Are we in some kind of wormhole or did all of this really take place in the last 12 months?
The year 2020 will be remembered as, if nothing else, a hellscape.
A raging pandemic causing large-scale suffering and death can do that. So too can a scorched-earth presidential campaign that results in the losing candidate latching on to a number of wild conspiracy theories to undermine the tenets of democratic governance.
Most people have no desire to relive terrible moments, let alone hellscapes. So, it’s quite possible that you, dear reader, will have exited out of this web page upon glancing through the introductory paragraph. But on the off chance that you’re a masochist who enjoys stories of pain, sorrow, drama, and political intrigue, well… You’re in luck. Here are 16, “Wow, this was really a LOOONG year?!?” moments from a hellscape year.
Yes. Impeachment happened in 2020. In fact, it kicked off the year. I know, it seems so long ago. The process went fairly predictably after passing the House, with Trump’s team trying to trigger Democrats and claiming the trial was the real electoral interference, while Democrats made the case that the president abused his office in an effort to get Ukrainians to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his family. The lone surprise came when Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined Democrats in voting to convict the president of abuse of power but not obstruction of justice. On-the-fence Republicans insisted that Trump would emerge chastened from the entire process. That did not happen.
2. The disaster that was the Iowa caucuses
In hindsight, the Iowa caucuses should have been a warning to us all that 2020 was going to be a total nightmare. The first contest of the political year devolved into a mess when a new vote reporting system implemented by the caucus for the first time completely collapsed on the night of the election. The mess up resulted in a days-long delay in the announcement of the final results. Both former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) declared victory—while Biden came in a distant fourth. While Buttigieg and Sanders were effectively denied a bounce, the chaos granted Biden a temporary reprieve from a potentially embarrassing defeat. But not for long!
3. New Hampshire’s primary
Once more, a disaster for the former vice president who seemed both lethargic on the trail and acutely aware that his chances of winning were slipping away. But this also was the first sign that there was no one else who would be taking his place as the anti-Bernie Sanders. Buttigieg did well again, but not enough to eke out a win. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) despite hailing from next door, fared poorly, the gender dynamics of her candidacy, at times, working against her.
4. Jim Clyburn saves Biden’s bacon
After losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the Biden campaign was on the ropes. But in South Carolina, redemption awaited courtesy of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and his vast network of support. Biden’s win there upended the race, caused several of his challengers to fall in line behind him and positioned Clyburn as a powerbroker who would continue to flex his muscles throughout the campaign and into the Biden presidential transition.
5. Coronavirus effectively ends the 2020 primary campaign
By mid-March, Sanders was vowing to fight on despite the consolidation of the rest of the field around Biden. Then, coronavirus ground everything to a halt. After cancelling events in Ohio, Sanders went home to Vermont and Biden to his now famous Delaware basement. But that didn’t actually stop the voting. Indeed, states scrambled to find safe ways for the public to cast their ballots in the remaining primaries, looking to avoid superspreader Tuesdays. Amid the rising panic was a newfound desire among Democrats to nominate a candidate who they felt could contrast well with Trump in trying times. Biden was their choice. And by April, Sanders was out.
6. Politicians cashing in on early COVID knowledge
In late January, after senators were briefed on the growing COVID crisis and the threat it posed to the U.S., at least two senators decided it would be a great time to unload some stocks. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) sold off significant amounts of stock after a Jan. 24 briefing with administration officials, before the markets in the U.S. tanked. They weren’t the only ones who appeared to be protecting their bottom line. As President Trump talked up the strength of the U.S. economy in early March, his then-acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was unloading hundreds of thousands of dollars in mutual funds as well.
7. White House COVID briefings become afternoon staples of misinformation
What began as an attempt by Vice President Mike Pence and the medical experts on the Coronavirus Task Force to brief the country about the measures being taken to prevent the spread of the virus were quickly hijacked by President Trump as opportunities to tout what a tremendous job he was doing. The spin often devolved into a circus of misinformation and grievance airing. Over the course of several months, Trump misled Americans about the deadly nature of the virus, touted cures that weren’t cures, contradicted doctors moments after they gave recommendations and, in one infamous incident, suggested that it was worth looking at the benefits of injecting people with bleach. The briefings finally stopped when it became clear they were toxic for the president’s re-election chances.
8. The “Church of Presidents” becomes a prop
In late May, the country exploded in anger over a video of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, who died as a result of that altercation. Anguished protests and rioting left major cities on edge and some with extensive damage. In Washington, D.C., on May 31, a fire was set in St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as “the church of presidents.” It was extinguished, but the 200-year-old structure was damaged and like most of D.C. that following day, boarded up. Instead of seeking to cool the national rage, Trump decided to tear gas it. On June 1, he had peaceful protesters who were chanting outside of the White House dispersed with tear gas so that he could stage a photo-op. For his brief field trip across the park, he was flanked by members of his cabinet, including General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was clad in fatigues. Once there, Trump held up a Bible in front of the boarded-up church. It was something out of a strong man’s fever dream and widely criticized. But that didn’t stop his campaign from setting it to music and tweeting it out shortly after the president returned to the White House.
9. Kamala Harris makes history
Early in the primary process, Biden had promised to choose a woman as his running mate. But who he would choose remained a parlor game throughout the summer. While in hindsight Harris may seem like the obvious choice, her decision to attack Biden over his opposition to school busing to integrate schools in the 1970s created some bad blood and hurt feelings among those closest to the Democratic nominee. Still, her credentials, as well as her friendship with Biden’s late son Beau, allowed her to mend fences with Team Biden and become the first Black woman on a major political party’s ticket.
10. The conventions go virtual… until they don’t
Dealing with a second wave of COVID infections nationally, Democrats decided to keep their convention largely online and on the TV. They revamped the schedule, did more pre-programing, and only had live speeches in front of sparse, masked audiences. Republicans went after the Democrats. And though much of their programming tried to whitewash the pandemic, a chunk of it flew in the face of prevailing public safety standards. Trump held his final night on the White House lawn, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a fancy fireworks display, and took the risk of spreading the disease. At least four attendees later tested positive. But that was nothing compared to what was to come.
11. RBG dies and is quickly replaced by her ideological opposite
The news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had succumbed in her long fight against cancer landed in Washington like a flaming meteor. With just over a month to the presidential election, Republicans swung into action before Ginsburg’s funeral arrangements had even been announced to the public. Democrats cried foul, noting that four years ago Mitch McConnell had refused to hold even a hearing for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee because it was an election year. And yet, days after Ginsburg’s death, her replacement, Judge Amy Coney Barrett was named in a Rose Garden ceremony that doubled as a superspreader event that infected many of the president’s staff and allies. Weeks later, she was confirmed to the court.
12. After a feral debate, Trump is diagnosed with COVID
The first presidential debate had barely begun, when Trump started yelling. He didn’t stop for 90 minutes. And when moderator Chris Wallace finally signed off, everyone breathed a sigh of relief that it was at last over. Days later, Trump revealed in a tweet that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. While Trump initially insisted his symptoms were mild, his condition worsened, resulting in a helicopter flight to Walter Reed Medical Center.
What followed were days of deliberately misleading press conferences about when the president fell ill and what his prognosis was. There were strange edited videos of Trump and a presidential joy ride through his well-wishers outside the hospital. Three days later, he left as he arrived, landing at the White House and lumbering up two flights of stairs before tearing off his mask and waving to the nearly empty South Lawn.
13. Recovered from COVID, Trump ignores the virus entirely
A week after his diagnosis, it became crystal clear Trump was never going to become an advocate for safe COVID practices. Rallies where few people wore masks in states where the virus was out of control were again common and Trump was back to mocking Biden for donning PPE in public. Through the rest of the fall, he ignored local curfews and crowd limitations determined to show strength as the positivity rate and death toll in the country ticked higher and higher.
14. Hello Hunter!
For months, Trumpland had been pushing stories on Hunter Biden and his alleged corrupt business practices abroad. It was the search for damaging information that had gotten President Trump impeached in the first place. With days to go before the election, the story finally broke. The New York Post had obtained the contents of a discarded Hunter Biden laptop. There was some serious mystery around how that laptop managed to miraculously fall in Rudy Giuliani’s hands. And there were questions about whether the contents of it were real, damaging, or relevant to the election. Ultimately, however, the story never broke through in mainstream media—much to the relief of the Biden campaign.
15. America votes, Biden wins a week later
Election night was not a thing this year. Voting took place weeks leading up to it. And counting of the ballots went on for days after it. All of which led to the spectacle of Biden trailing Trump in key states on Nov. 3, only to pull ahead as the fuller tallies came in. When it was finally called, the outcome was trending in the election of a fairly healthy win for the former VP. And a history-making outcome for his No. 2, who will soon become the first Black woman to be elected vice president.
16. And yet, the drama persists
Donald Trump was never the gracious loser type. And he’s reinforced that in the election’s aftermath. The president has protested the results, claimed rampant fraud, and directed his advisers to contest certification in a variety of ways. On occasion, that’s meant holding an odd press conference down the street from a poorly rated sex shop in northeast Philly. In others, it involved fanning the flames of protests in the nation’s capital, where members of the Proud Boys have made their presence felt. How it all gets resolved remains unclear. The president has a group of advisers surrounding him who are whispering about special counsels and martial law. He’s hinted that he wants to make a run for the presidency in 2024, with an event of some sort on the day of Biden’s inaugural. All this would come against the backdrop of a still-raging COVID crisis that was only starting to come under some control because of the disbursement of a vaccine. And yet, it would, in a way, be a fitting coda to a year that featured its fair share of political pettiness, unnecessary drama, and drawn-out suffering.