A month-by-month review of the best and worst (mostly worst) of 2020.
2020 was a year when time lost all meaning and traditional markers of change — graduations, seasons, parties, holidays — blurred into an indistinguishable slideshow of Zoom calls.
Each month, it seemed, another unavoidable news story exploded onto the headlines, dominating attention, commanding every facet of our collective attention.
This year, each month seemed to have its own color, its own unique tune of horror that required both countless headlines and its own array of memes. As E. Alex Jung writes for Vulture, "Nothing made sense this year — unless you were on the Internet." Each catastrophic event, with its mind-blowing amounts of human suffering and its cataclysmic historical implications, took on new meaning when refracted through the mirror of social media.
So far in 2020 we have: - World War III meme - Australia’s fires - Trump impeachment - Prince Harry steps down - K… https://t.co/ZqMmUj9sWB— Nick Hinton (@Nick Hinton)1595305835.0
In some ways, this year brought us closer together; in other ways, it tore open the last semblances of any illusion that we're all in the same struggle, instead revealing the brutal inequalities that define our society. When all faced with the same roster of calamities, it became clear that some people could suffer through while losing little save for the opportunity to go bar-hopping on Saturday nights, while others were pushed off the brink into the precipice of disaster (that is, if they hadn't already been swimming through the fetid ruins of the capitalist dream).
So, this list is not meant to be a universal summary of the way 2020 was horrifying. No list could ever summarize what 2020 or what a history of inequality and human greed has done to individuals around the world this year.
Instead, it's my reflections on the ways certain events seemed to dominate our collective consciousness in ways few events ever have before, let alone in such rapid succession.
Ed Marky is a real one.
Massachusetts senator Ed Markey might look like your average outdated boomer, but make no mistake—Markey is a legend.
Markey may be 74 years old, but he's been fighting the good fight for a long time, serving as one of the most progressive members of Congress for over four decades. He co-sponsored the Green New Deal alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernies Sanders, strongly advocates for single-payer healthcare, and believes in preserving an open Internet. In short, this dude is the real deal.
Marianne Williamson enrages some, makes others laugh, and inspires still others to form occult task forces. Could she be the only one who could meet Donald Trump on her own terms?
Objectively, Marianne Williamson had a fantastic night at the latest Democratic debate. She gained the largest number of Twitter followers afterwards, after all, and was the most Googled candidate of the night.
Perhaps this is because Williamson may be the most intriguing character of all the progressive Democratic candidates. With her aura of patchouli and residual dust from the astral plane, detectable even through the TV screen, she's the most memeable candidate (Elizabeth Warren and her plans are a strong second). She's also perhaps the most out-there, even compared to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. If Warren and Sanders are marooned on the far left, Williamson has transcended direction, and she intends to bring America with her.
Regardless of how her campaign pans out, Williamson has undeniably made waves. She's the first political candidate to bring non-mainstream spirituality directly into her platform, and she's done it at the perfect time.
Four years ago and earlier, she would've seemed as absurd a candidate as Donald Trump—but we all know how that worked out. Today, qualifications for the presidential office matter less than one's star power and ability to inspire a movement, and Williamson seems to have the star power (if not the ability to commune directly with the stars).
Image via NewYorker.com
In all seriousness, out of all the candidates, she may be the most similar to Donald Trump, in that she exists in the same realm of humorous implausibility as he does. Like Trump, she could be a reality TV fixture. She posts memes, is popular in fringe online forums, inspires occult task forces, and generates massive quantities of loathing and disbelief. She fits into the glitchy landscape of ironic and disillusioned online discourse and is bizarre enough to capture and hold the public's attention.
Like Trump, she's also bringing race directly into the conversation—though for the opposite reasons. Where Trump used racist ideas to win the presidency, Williamson has brought systemic reparations into the discussion. "We need to realize that when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with," she said. "That great injustice has to do with the fact there were 250 years of slavery followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism." She followed this statement with some unusually cogent statistics. "If you did the math of the 40 acres and a mule, given that there were 4 to 5 million slaves at the end of the Civil War—they were all promised 40 acres and a mule for a family of four. If you did the math today it would be trillions of dollars."
Her articulate commentary about reparations was a high point in an otherwise discouraging debate that mostly revolved around the same arguments, with moderators and candidates circling around Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. While the Democratic party ate itself, Williamson—placed as far to the left as could be—stood on the outside.
None of these points are reasons to elect her. She is definitely not an experienced politician—she's a self-help guru, spiritual advisor, and occasional activist. Her platform's main points include a potential Department of Peace "as a first step to dismantling our systemically entrenched perpetuation of violence," movements towards sustainable agriculture in order to reestablish "humanity's spiritual connection to nature," and of course, fighting Donald Trump and his battalion of "dark psychic forces" with love.
Image via USA Today
Her ideologies are absurd, and not based in (our) reality. She may be promoting an individualistic, dangerous brand of New Age spirituality that promotes an unhealthy fixation on the self. Still, she's arriving at a time when many Americans feel they are already living in an absurd, delusional world, and when they're seeking broader, more creative solutions.
Arguably, Williamson and Bernie Sanders are the only presidential candidates who have proposed changes to the sources of America's problems, not quick fixes that remain within its current, shattered structure. Where Sanders is proposing a revamp of the American economic system, Williamson is wisely proposing a different kind of recalibration—one that cuts to the sources of racial tension, the sources of pollution, the sources of neoliberalism, and the roots of the sicknesses that are costing Americans so much in health care costs.
In her distance from the here-and-now, she is undefinable, without order or direction. In her removal from the real world, she is quintessent: untouchable, and difficult to pin down. Depending on how you see it, she's absurd, enlightened, out of touch, awake, a crackpot, or a witch.
She would probably make a very poor president. But by bringing her messages of spirituality and structural healing to the table, she's changing the rules of the game.
Image via The Bulwark