Last Thursday, bitterly divided Americans came together to bid good riddance to that annus horribilis, 2020. Like the traitorous Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth — who faced his execution with unexpected dignity and grace — nothing about 2020 became it like the leaving of it.
Yet while we’ve closed the book on that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, most of what made it awful won’t be going away anytime soon. Traumatic periods like 2020 tend to breed stories. As you read this, authors, academics, reporters, and pundits are writing two very different scripts of what happened in 2020. These competing narratives will determine not only how we evaluate the past year, but what happens in years to come.
Whether true or false, the stories we choose to believe often have real life consequences. American sociologist and Protestant theologian Peter Berger writes that “human life is narratively rooted; humans construct their lives and shape their world into homes in terms of these groundings and memories.” We make sense of our past by telling stories about it, and a widely accepted story may become history. “The past is malleable and flexible,” writes Berger, “changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.”
In other words, the story of 2020 is up for grabs.
The Democratic Story
The tale of 2020 that Democrats and the establishment media would like us to believe goes something like this:
Donald Trump — a dishonest, racist, hate-filled megalomaniac, who accomplished nothing of note in his four years — ignored the advice of scientists about COVID-19 until it ravaged the land. Luckily, under the bold leadership of Dr. Fauci and science-loving Democratic governors such as Cuomo, Newsom, Walz, and Whitmer, Americans bravely complied with shutdown orders and other COVID restrictions. Together, they worked from home, ordered online, and bent the curve, saving untold thousands of their fellow citizens.
Meanwhile, Republican legislators and other Trump supporters — in thrall to a cult of radical individualism headed up by their orange-hued leader — falsely claimed that such orders violated civil rights, made no sense, and hurt those they intended to help. These selfish monsters flouted social distancing orders and put profits ahead of people.
In the country’s darkest hour, Joe Biden—a wise, compassionate, and moderate statesman—declared that he would run for president and heal the nation’s soul. He modeled responsible behavior by constantly wearing a mask and conducting his campaign from his basement. Despite his low profile, he and his fearless running mate resoundingly defeated Trump in the freest and fairest election ever, which Republicans undermined with baseless accusations of fraud. Eventually, the country and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief at the defeat of Trump, anticipating a new age of unity (despite Trump’s fascist supporters), racial harmony, environmental healing, and international cooperation.
Since journalism is the “first rough draft of history,” most chapters of this story are already in circulation. The entire script will be reworked and resubmitted countless times over the next year. It will be regurgitated in books, articles, news shows, documentaries, and social media. Those who challenge its veracity will be smeared as villains and liars. The finished product will be ready for Democrats in the 2022 and 2024 elections.
The Republican Story
Obviously, 75 million-plus Trump voters — particularly those “deplorables” most financially devastated by shutdowns and restrictions — reject this narrative. For them, the Democratic narrative is little more than gaslighting. Their version of 2020 runs along these lines:
Since taking office in 2016, Donald Trump — the most open and accessible president of modern times — achieved countless accomplishments on behalf of the country, despite the deranged opposition of an unholy alliance of Democrats and the media. In the midst of a booming economy, the Chinese virus struck. Resisting Democratic calls to impose federal shutdowns and mask mandates, Trump followed the shifting advice of scientists on battling the virus. The president deferred to the states, encouraging Americans to protect themselves and others. He tried to calm fears, urging governors to keep their businesses, churches, and schools open. He passed a stimulus bill and oversaw the historic development of a vaccine in record time.
Predictably, Democratic legislators and blue-state governors blamed Trump, not China, for the spread of COVID. They politicized the shutdowns, unilaterally issuing irrational and often tyrannical orders, based on little or no data. They coddled criminals and criminalized law-abiding citizens. Their rash decisions likely cost more lives than they saved and scuttled the booming economy. Big business, tech companies, teachers’ unions, government workers, and the wealthy thrived as small business owners and their employees suffered.
The media cynically used the crisis to damage Trump’s political chances. They ignored the negative effects of the shutdowns, including business failures, mass unemployment, mental illness, suicide, and learning loss. Oligarchic corporations such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google censored those who questioned the efficacy of restrictions. Following the death of George Floyd, the media and Democrats condoned rioting and violent attacks on police, leading to dramatic surges in crime rates in Democratic-run cities.
In an attempt to obscure their embrace of far-left policies, Democrats nominated 77-year-old Biden, a once moderate, political hack from a bygone era, who quickly morphed into a progressive (if senile) version of his former self. In coordination with the DNC, the media stepped up attacks on Trump, while suppressing all negative news about Biden, including serious questions about his health and ties to corruption.
Ultimately, Biden “won” the election in a race Trump appeared to be leading until unprecedented mail-in voting, ballot harvesting, and outright fraud tipped the scales in key battleground states. (Paradoxically, Democrats lost badly in down-ticket races across the nation.) On January 20, Biden will take the reins of a country hopelessly divided by his and his party’s rhetoric and a viciously partisan media.
Hopes for a Sequel
Not surprisingly, Republicans scoff at the Democratic version of events just as Democrats heap scorn on the Republican account. The fact remains that millions of Americans haven’t yet decided which story to believe. Since history is usually written by the victors, progressives’ stranglehold on the media bodes ill for Republicans. On the other hand, it’s clear to most Americans that neither party emerged with an absolute victory in 2020. That means there is still a lot of unfinished business.
What I’m trying to say is that 2020 needs a sequel. (Only with respect to national politics. I don’t need to know what happened to the murder hornets.)
If Republicans manage to hold on to the Senate after the Georgia run-off elections and win the House in 2022, their 2020 narrative will begin to look like victory delayed, rather than ignoble defeat. If Trump or another Republican takes back the White House in 2024, history will view 2020 merely as a set-back in the ongoing populist reaction against an out-of-touch, “wokist” Democratic Party.
However, if Republicans continue to attack one another instead of standing together—if Trump spends his final weeks in office excoriating his (former?) party and its leaders—the opportunity for GOP to emerge as heroes in a Rocky III-like sequel is slim. Instead, a united Democratic party will be in charge of the script.
I know the sequel I’d like to see. And it’s not the one where President Kamala Harris and Vice President Rashida Tlaib win reelection in 2024, with Democrats in control of Congress.
I’m not into horror shows.