The majority of the most memorable political dramas and scandals in recent American history did not happen during presidential election years (save, of course, for the 2000 Election).
Watergate, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and every presidential assassination attempt happened in off years. But as with quite literally everything else in this world, the coronavirus has changed that. Everything became a political cause célèbre this year, whether we liked it or not: the Cuomo Brothers Power Hour, Rudy Giuliani’s leaking head, Nevada’s municipalities??? We had no other choice but to care about these things and, while some were objectively scandalous, others were petty blips that we made into monsters because…. well, what else were we going to do back in May?
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Some of these moments were comedic and made us laugh at the universe’s cruel (yet impeccable) irony. Others held far larger, systemic implications and remain in our minds for their severity and seriousness. And no, none of them is just “the coronavirus.” That bitch has taken enough from us already.
All in all, these are the top ten unforgettable political moments in the most politically unforgettable year.
10. Governor Cuomo’s coronavirus press conferences
There was no thrill like the days where I woke up to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences in the morning and then watched him on his brother’s show at night. Everyone has cataloged the stages of quarantine thus far, and my mid-March to early May was easily defined by how much Cuomo Brothers Power Hour content I consumed.
9. President Trump contracting COVID-19
In the wee hours of October 3 —a day that will live in infamy not only for being an overused Mean Girls reference— the president announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus.
There are levels to this specific dramedy: the first is the comedic irony that the man who rarely wore a mask, held multiple massive superspreader events, and told the American people to drink bleach to stave off COVID then got COVID. The second is then the panic of, “Oh sh*t! This guy could actually die. He’s in his 70s, overweight for his height, doesn’t work out, appears to subsist solely off of fast food, and may have drunk bleach????”
The third, of course, was the seething anger that followed Trump getting exclusive experimental treatment and round the clock care, then going on about how we can all beat COVID if we just believed in the power of friendship or something.
8. Early PPE shortage and mask mandates
Back in the early aughts of this neverending year, we watched as healthcare workers, governors, and Dr. Anthony Fauci relayed horrifying stories from inside overwhelmed hospitals about how little personal protective equipment was available to medical personal as they tried to take care of their patients. Many wrapped themselves up in trash bags, wore diving goggles, re-wore masks because there weren’t any more available.
Before companies and individuals began producing masks in incredible quantities and with fervent speed, the American people were told we didn’t need to wear masks in our everyday life in order to make sure the existing quantity of masks were reserved for our front-line workers. While the intentions were good, this, unfortunately, helped inspire conspiracy theorists and anti-maskers who believe the masks are a violation of American freedoms and that the masks don’t since we were told at the start of the pandemic that we didn’t need them.
Now, of course, those of us who understand science (or who don’t understand science per se but understand that we are constantly discovering new information, especially when faced with a new disease such as the novel coronavirus) know that we should be wearing masks when we’re around others and maintain a safe distance apparent because COVID is an airborne illness. But the damage has been done amongst those who deny the severity of the coronavirus and effectiveness of PPE.
7. President Trump telling Proud Boys to “Stand Back and Stand By”
When asked at the first presidential debate if he would denounce far-right militia and white supremacist groups, with a specific mention of the Proud Boys, Trump instead told them to “stand back and stand by.” In response, the Proud Boys made this part of their new logo.
It’s no secret that Trump is racist. I understand that his supporters may not see it that way but it is hard to argue away claims of racism for a man who started his career with a lawsuit from the Department of Justice for violating the Equal Housing Act. Calling the president racist isn’t a political or partisan attack: it’s a statement describing his track record for discrimination against those who are not white.
Words like “stand back and stand by” from a man like Trump is akin to violence. It shows he not only won’t condemn white supremacy but that he doesn’t feel the need to protect all Americans.
6. November 3- November 7, 2020
When I learned about geography in middle school, never in my life did I expect to know so many counties in so many states that I had never been to. WHY DO I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT MARIPOSA COUNTY, ARIZONA???? I’ll tell you: because I watched nothing but cable news from Election Day until November 7th.
We knew that we were not going to have a result on Election Night because technically we never do, but I don’t think anyone realized their week was going to be filled with fantasies about John King and Phil Mattingly at the CNN magic screen or Steve Kornacki’s khakis. While these four action-packed days taught Americans more about municipalities and individual state voting guidelines than a map and a state constitution could have, they also showed how our political divide has us seeing the same information entirely differently.
5. Four Seasons Total Landscaping
I get that this might appear like a low-blow dig at the Trump Administration rather than a true political moment (and it kind of is). However, this bizarre press conference held by Rudy Giuliani on behalf of the Trump Campaign encapsulated the instability and insanity of how Trump’s team handled the election in a way not a single person will ever forget.
I won’t reiterate this hilarious episode (because we have all yet to forget it), but I will say that having the campaign book a press conference at the wrong Four Seasons feels like the physical embodiment of Trump’s Twitter page in the days following the election: we all know it’s wrong and yet someone still had to say it.
The frantic energy, the grandiose promises with no follow-through, and the pettiness are all things we expected if Trump lost. But that doesn’t make them any less hard to watch.
4. The death of the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett
Speaking of hard to watch, who else saw one of their heroes die when we needed them the most this year???
I didn’t think the universe would be so cruel as to take another icon in 2020 after Rep. John Lewis passed in July. And yet, in September, Supreme Court Justice and workout goddess Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, leaving the third opening on the court during Trump’s presidency. The president nominated Amy Coney Barrett, former handmaid, and current Karen. Too harsh?
Barrett’s confirmation was rushed through, even despite the fact that she did not know all five rights protected by the First Amendment. Senate Majority Leader and Grim Reaper Mitch McConnell (backed by his team of rootin’ tootin’ flippity floppers) confirmed a SCOTUS justice during an election year, something they all probably wish we would just forget.
3. The incredible number of LGBTQ+ elected officials
It just makes sense that in a representative democracy, those elected should actually represent the makeup of the population. It seems we’ve now entered an era where every election sees a new milestone of members from marginalized and underrepresented groups achieving representation in our legislative bodies.
This November, we saw nearly 800 openly LGBTQ+ candidates on ballots all over the country with 334 of them winning. Sarah McBride became the highest-ranking transgender official with her win for a Delaware State Senate seat, 13 genderqueer and nonbinary candidates ran with 31% of them winning their races, and “the LGBTQ candidate pool in 2020 was the most racially diverse in U.S. history,” according to Victory Fund data.
So many of these elected officials stand at the intersection of sexuality and race, and how there was an incredible number of elected officials of color who won their races this year. Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones made history as they became the first gay Black Americans elected to Congress.
For so long, our government has been run for the people but not necessarily by the people. The more we expand and protect voting rights to give a voice to all, slowly but surely the more representative our government truly becomes. It’s not a cure-all but sure feels damn good.
2. Racial unrest spurring social justice movements
This past May, the country watched as a police officer knelt on the neck of a Black man and killed him. In truth, we’ve been watching police officers, health care workers, neighbors do this same thing for centuries.
While something surely felt different about the undercurrents in our country and around the world with the social unrest and justice movements that erupted this year, we can’t act like we’ve done enough: in the months following George Floyd’s murder, the rate at which Black Americans were killed by police officers has, in fact, increased.
2020 feels a little late to start reckoning with the racial inequalities and inequities that have been a part of this country since its very founding. But it takes a lot more than posting a black square on Instagram to get at the root of the racism that is engraved in this country’s identity. May this year be a starting point for systemic change to our systemic evils.
1. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s victory, with Harris making history
This year, on a whim, I decided to coach field hockey at my high school. I was home and looking for something fun to do, so why not? Long story short: I think I got more out of the experience than the girls did. I got to watch firsthand how the rising generation of TikTok Gen Z e-kids existed in the world and was incredibly inspired.
All of this to say: I was in the parking lot after our last game (a stunning win) when I found out Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won. Something about it felt poetic, like one of those moments where I was going to remember where I was when I heard the news. But it didn’t just feel like a win for two people: it felt a win for the 52%-55% of eligible young voters who cast a ballot in this election. Not to mention that we now have our first female, Black, and South Asian vice president ever. Sorry— Madame Vice President.
We watched states like Georgia go blue due to the tireless work of voting rights activists like Stacey Abrams, the return of a “blue wall,” and Pennsylvania flip thanks to the cast of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” It was the most secure election in modern history and it saw the highest voter turnout ever recorded. The significance and the weight of this election are staggering.
In a shit for brains year that we spent mostly inside and apart from others, the Biden-Harris win felt like something that could finally bring us back together as a country. If nothing else, it got me revved up to phonebank around in Georgia!
This year was entirely unforgettable in a way that made everything vaguely forgettable. (Did it really happen or was this all just a dream?) The most we can ask of 2021 is that it calms down even just a little so that we can all catch our breaths and try to remember if we actually watched “Tiger King” or just read about it on Twitter.