This year, I have been a healthcare worker while also the sole caretaker of my 84-year-old homebound mother. 2020 has not been easy and there have been struggles and scares along the way, but by the grace of the universe we’re almost through to 2021. I’ve seen “essential” men and women do their best to care for others even though they were scared of what they might bring home to their loved ones. And I’ve seen idiots refuse to put a paper mask over their faces because of “freedom” or what some orange loser tweeted. When I think back on 2020, what strikes me are the wasted opportunities, the damage in both lost lives and damaged livelihoods, and how some did their best under trying circumstances as others confirmed their stupidity.
What will remain in the cultural zeitgeist when we think back on 2020? Will the public have learned anything to take forward?
The year 2020 will be remembered for the pandemic, but it also had a lot of fire and killer hornets, and the saga of Tiger King somehow transfixed a nation. Below are just some of the events that captivated Americans and people across the world during the longest year of our lives.
Jan. 13: Wildfires devastate massive swaths of Australia. By now, 28 people are already dead and the air quality in areas of the country make it hazardous to breathe. By the time the “Black Summer” is over, nearly 500 deaths will be attributed to the fires.
Jan. 21: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announces the first case of COVID-19 in the United States. The very next day, Donald Trump claims the situation is “totally under control.”
Jan. 26: Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna are killed in a helicopter accident that also kills seven others. The news causes an immense outpouring of grief and tributes to the retired NBA star and his family.
Jan. 31: The United Kingdom leaves the European Union after 47 years, completing the Brexit saga that had dragged on for nearly four years. The move has innumerable consequences for trade, borders, and the overall direction of Britain while also being a messy example of the consequences of nationalist sentiments taking hold in the western world.
Feb. 3: The Iowa Democratic Caucus becomes a debacle after an app problem delays results. Iowa Democrats only release partial results the next day; several days pass before former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is declared the winner. The problems were pinned on a “hastily built and reportedly insufficiently tested smartphone app” and fueled a push to replace the traditional caucus with a primary.
Feb. 9: Parasite wins the Best Picture Oscar, becoming the first non-English language film to win the category. The decision is criticized by Donald Trump, who laments that movies like Gone with the Wind and Sunset Boulevard aren’t winning awards.
Feb. 23: Ahmaud Arbery is murdered in Glynn County, Georgia, while running in a predominantly white neighborhood. His death, caught on camera, comes after two white men—a father and son—chase, confront, and harangue him. Arbery is ultimately shot three times in the chest. It takes nearly three months from this date—when the video is released—to spur police to arrest and charge Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, a former police officer, as well as the cameraman, William “Roddie” Bryan, Jr.
Feb. 24: A jury in a New York court finds Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape and sexual assault. In 2017, the numerous allegations against Weinstein helped amplify the #MeToo movement, giving victims a voice and causing a reckoning as various industries tackled sexual assault and untoward behavior in their ranks.
Feb. 29: The first COVID-19 death occurs in the United States. There are 70 cases of coronavirus diagnosed nationwide at this point.
March 9: Black Monday occurs as the U.S. economy begins to crack under COVID-19. The Dow Jones loses 2,000 points over the early implications of lockdowns, quarantines, and layoffs from the pandemic. Runs on supplies clear store shelves, with toilet paper becoming a highly desired commodity.
March 11: COVID-19 is declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. There are 1,678 cases within the United States and a death toll of 41.
March 13: Trump declares a national emergency over COVID-19 spread. On the same day, Breonna Taylor is killed in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police serving a no-knock warrant for a man already in custody.
March 20: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness debuts on Netflix, becoming a watercooler program for millions as they debate whether Carole Baskin murdered her husband and ponder the very weird world of private big cat reserves.
March 31: The number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States reaches 3,000. At this time, 75% of the American public is under some form of lockdown measure.
April 3: For the first time, the White House coronavirus task force and CDC officially recommend the public wear masks in public interactions. Over the ensuing months, the guidance would be undermined by Donald Trump and White House officials seeking to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic.
April 6: The total number of fatalities from the coronavirus hits 10,000.
April 16: The Department of Labor reveals that more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last four weeks; that’s equivalent to the entire population of Florida being jobless.
April 19: With professional sports shut down due to of COVID-19 concerns, ESPN’s The Last Dance, documenting the relationships, history, and final run of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, is released and immediately becomes a source of much sports “tea.”
April 27: The Pentagon releases videos of UFOs, confirming that the footage, which was previously leaked, was authentic.
May 3: Public concerns build over invasion of Asian “murder hornets” in the Northwest, placing already beleaguered bee populations at risk.
May 25: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd during a deadly arrest. While Floyd is lying facedown and handcuffed, Chauvin keeps Floyd pinned under his knee for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly gasps, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s subsequent death from the incident sets off worldwide protests after video of the incident goes viral; civil unrest across the nation lands the Black Lives Matter movement on the tip of the nation’s tongue.
May 26: For the first time, Twitter labels a tweet from Donald Trump with a warning, advising readers that the information he’s shared is misleading.
May 30: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 launches, carrying American astronauts into space and to the International Space Station for the first crewed launch from American soil since 2011.
June 1: As the George Floyd protests continue and grow, speculation is floated about the Trump administration using the U.S. military to quell unrest. This culminates with law enforcement and tear gas being used to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square so that Donald Trump can squeeze in a photo-op.
Pres. Trump walked from the White House, across Lafayette Park, to the historic St. John’s Church Monday night. In front of the boarded up building, damaged in protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, Pres. Trump held a bible in hand and posed for a photo with staff. pic.twitter.com/X40Re3Zori
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) June 2, 2020
June 15: The U.S. Supreme Court extends Title VII (workplace discrimination) protections to cover sexual orientation and transgender status.
June 20: Trump defies warnings and pleas against hosting large campaign rallies lacking social distancing. Instead, he persists, and the infamous Tulsa Rally occurs. Costing roughly $2.2 million to produce, the event, originally scheduled for Juneteenth, draws a sparse crowd and becomes an embarrassment for Trump. The rally is later linked to a spike in COVID-19 infections, including in former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who succumbs to the virus.
June 30: In a climate of intense pressure to reassess past racial injustices, the state of Mississippi at last decides to change its 126-year-old flag to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the design.
July 4: Kanye West announces his 2020 presidential campaign. Over 10,000 voters in Tennessee will vote for West, with more than 60,000 voting for him nationwide.
July 11: Trump wears a mask in public for the first time. Total deaths from COVID-19 at this date: 133,486.
July 17: Defense Secretary Mark Esper issues a policy change to effectively forbid Confederate symbols on U.S. military bases as demands for the removal of Confederate monuments and names from government installations peak. This reportedly pisses off Esper’s boss something awful since he’s spent so much time courting the “very fine people” vote. On the same day, civil rights icon and longtime Georgia Rep. John Lewis dies of pancreatic cancer at age 80.
July 30: Donald Trump suggests delaying the U.S. presidential election due to his objections to mail-in ballots, laying the early groundwork for undermining a potential loss to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Aug. 2: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 returns from space and achieves a successful splashdown off the coast of Florida.
Aug. 7: Cardi B’s and Megan Thee Stallion’s hit single “WAP” becomes an instant social media meme after its release. The sexually explicit track predictably engenders criticism from conservative circles; Ben Shapiro is humiliated after he reads the lyrics to denounce the song and makes some odd claims about female biological functions.
Aug. 11: Kamala Harris is chosen by Joe Biden to be his running mate. In November, she becomes the first woman, the first person of South Asian descent, and the first African American to be elected vice president of the United States.
Aug. 13: News breaks about widespread removal of United States Postal Service processing machinery, leading to public outcry and rising concern that the move is intended to delay delivery of mail-in ballots and disenfranchise millions of voters.
Aug. 19: Apple becomes the first company in history to be valued at $2 trillion. How that financial empire was built has long been the subject of criticism over Apple’s labor practices, and the human cost of iPhones. At year’s end, massive protests break out in India after an Apple contractor was accused of not paying workers and forcing employees to work overtime.
Aug. 23: Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, is shot in the back seven times by police officer Rusten Sheskey in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Three of Blake’s children were in the back seat of his vehicle at the time. While Blake survives and is partially paralyzed, his shooting reignites racial tensions nationwide, and protesting and unrest in American cities resurges anew.
Aug. 26: Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, travels to Kenosha with an assault rifle to “defend” property as an “American patriot.” The night ends with two protestors dead at his hands and another injured across two incidents, the second of which is caught on video. Tensions in Kenosha spark even more discussion of Black Americans’ concerns. Those concerns continue to spread through the public sphere; even the NBA is forced to address social justice issues after a short boycott by players.
Aug. 26: Jeff Bezos becomes the first person to reach $200 billion in wealth. The Amazon founder’s Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of cash multiplied thanks to COVID-19 restrictions that increased the public’s reliance on online shopping. However, what’s good for the company founder isn’t usually good for its workforce: The company admits in October that nearly 20,000 Amazon employees have been infected with COVID-19.
Aug. 28: Actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for his role as T’Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, dies at 43 after a secret battle with colon cancer, stunning both fans and colleagues. 2018’s Black Panther elevated issues of diversity in Hollywood and positive depictions of Black characters; it was the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist and the first to star a majority Black cast. In December, it is announced that Boseman’s character will not be recast.
Sept. 6: In California, wildfires ravage the state.
Sept. 9: A new book from Bob Woodward reveals the existence of recordings of Donald Trump admitting to downplaying COVID-19, comparing it to influenza while privately expressing concerns about its deadliness. The recordings were made seven months earlier.
Sept. 18: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg dies. Her death fundamentally alters the ideological composition of the Court—even before Donald Trump replaces her.
Sept. 22: The country hits the sad milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Sept. 29: The first presidential debate is held. The 90-minute debacle, presided over by Fox News’ Chris Wallace and widely condemned as a disgrace, features Donald Trump acting like a belligerent asshole who wouldn’t say a bad word about hate groups. Widespread disgust and calls to do away with the debate process lead to new rules for subsequent debates—including a mute button.
Oct. 1: Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announce they’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Trump is hospitalized as he begins to exhibit symptoms. The Rose Garden nomination of Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26 is thought to have been a superspreader event as coronavirus infections move throughout attendees, as well as White House staff.
Oct. 26: Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court thanks to Senate Republican hypocrisy. Her rushed confirmation brings back memories of Republicans who blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland after the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia—because it was an election year. The implications for abortion rights, marriage equality, worker rights, and the 2020 election become the stuff for pundits and non-pundits to argue over.
Nov. 3: It’s Election Day in the United States. High turnout, close battleground state results, and millions of mail-in ballots left to count means no presidential winner is called on Election Night. After Joe Biden calls for patience, Donald Trump claims victory in a wild late-night speech that’s decried as an attempt to undermine democracy.
Nov. 7: Joe Biden is projected to be the next president of the United States after winning the state of Pennsylvania. Crowds around the world celebrate the result while Republicans and conservatives either withhold congratulations or go all in with claims of fraud. As news of the projection spreads across the world, Donald Trump’s legal team desperately attempts to stop it. Rudy Giuliani gives a rambling, surreal speech disputing Biden’s victory in front of a Philadelphia landscaping business, tucked between a crematorium and an adult store.
Nov. 9: Drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech announce the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that is 90% effective in phase 3 trials. The news is greeted as a milestone and a light at the end of the dark tunnel that is the pandemic.
Nov. 18: 250,000 people have now died from COVID-19. Roughly 1,000 people die per day in the month of November.
Nov. 19: After making many unsupported claims of fraud and suffering various legal setbacks, the Trump legal team gives a press conference vowing to “release the kraken” and somehow hand the presidential election to Donald Trump. The event is also a debacle with no substantive evidence presented, but it’s best remembered for Rudy Giuliani’s hair dye running down his cheeks as he sweats in front of media cameras.
Nov. 26: Despite health warnings and restrictions, more than 4 million Americans travel during the Thanksgiving holiday. President-elect Biden gives a speech calling for unity among all Americans against the coronavirus, warning of a difficult winter ahead as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to surge; Biden urges us to be at “war” against the virus, not each other.
Nov. 27: The Trump administration approves new rules approving federal executions by hanging and firing squad. The move may be connected to the problems both states and the federal government have had in procuring the drugs necessary for executions by lethal injection.
Dec. 3: Warner Bros. announces it will release its entire slate of 2021 theatrical films concurrently on the HBOMax streaming platform. This follows a November decision to release Wonder Woman 1984 in theaters and on HBOMax on Christmas Day. The implications for an already damaged movie theater industry, now reeling from COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the impact on profit sharing for big-screen releases, become a source of conflict within Hollywood as many wonder whether it foreshadows streaming being the dominant form of film debuts as the days of movie theaters come to an end.
Dec. 4: Casey Goodson, a 23-year old Black man, is shot in the back and killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, while entering his home with a Subway sandwich in his hand. Goodson’s death is ruled a homicide, but no criminal charges have so far been pursued and the investigation is ongoing. That investigation is plagued with conflicting statements by officials and arguments among law enforcement as to which organization will be the responsible investigating body.
Dec. 10: Unemployment claims hit their highest levels since mid-September, signaling that hopes for a rapid economic recovery may be premature, and more trouble may be ahead.
Dec. 11: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas and supported by 126 Republican members of the House of Representatives attempting to overturn the result of the presidential election and subvert democracy. Promoted in the media by Donald Trump and his surrogates as “the big one” in their fraud accusations, the case’s demise is seen as a final nail in Trump’s legal challenges.
Dec. 14: On a very busy news day, Joe Biden is confirmed as the next president of the United States after receiving 306 votes in the Electoral College, while the total American deaths from COVID-19 pass 300,000. Additionally, the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are rolled out to healthcare workers, launching the first push to inoculate the public against the disease. In another reminder of the conversations sparked by 2020’s fight for racial justice, the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball announced the Cleveland team’s name will finally be changed after longstanding criticism of both the “Indian” name and Chief Wahoo mascot as being offensive to Native Americans. The move, like a similar decision made by the Washington Football Team to abandon its slur name in July, draws both praise and barbs, with Donald Trump and some conservatives decrying it as “cancel culture at work.”
And that’s as far as I go! Somehow, so many of us survived 2020 and lived to tell the tale of it. Again, this is an incomplete list, so feel free to add comments with anything I missed; let’s talk about happenings this year that were important or particularly connected to your lives.
The year is not over yet, but hopefully we’ll look back one day at the struggles, tragedies, and hardships of this year as just being a part of our long journey toward a better future. Sure, 2020 may have been a tough year for everyone—and the source of cataclysmic expectations so dark that some were expecting Cthulhu himself to rise out of the sea—but we’re still here, pushing on. Even through the darkest of events mentioned above, there were helpers, there were hopers; there were the courageous people who fought the flames of wildfires and the cruelty of racism, who insisted the votes of all people in their community be counted in the face of suppression, and held the hands of people suffering from disease.
Goodbye, 2020. I wish everyone a happy new year and a better 2021!