What a year! In US politics, 2020 resulted in an unprecedented election battle. The damage cannot yet be quantified, but one thing is clear: Donald Trump will continue to enjoy great power in the future.
It’s been a breathless year for Americans. Donald Trump set the pace, once again had his nation’s attention firmly under control, at least until developments broke out over him that he could not control himself.
There was the bitter election campaign and the subsequent struggle for the election, which Trump did not want to give up until the last days of the year. But America was already entering this grueling conflict as a battered, exhausted and deeply divided nation.
Photo series with 14 pictures
In 2020, long forgotten, the process for Trump’s impeachment began. It was only the third time in US history that the president had been tried. Trump could count on his party friends – the Senate quickly acquitted him without even hearing witnesses. The next day he proudly held the front page of the Washington Post up to the cameras in the White House: “Trump acquitted”.
Trump could not protect either the nation or himself
It was the beginning of February, and the president had already been warned internally about the danger of a new type of coronavirus. But he kept that to himself.
In February, the virus ate its way through the country unnoticed. In March, Trump repeatedly downplayed the risk at specially convened corona briefings. In April he advertised supposed miracle drugs. He weakened an invitation to wear masks at the moment of the announcement: “You can do that, but you don’t have to. I choose not to. ” He wasn’t even able to protect himself: in October the best protected man on earth spent four days in the military hospital after an infection.
April 2020: A hospital employee stands in the way of a corona counter-protest in Denver. (Source: Alyson McClaran / Reuters)
The president always saw the virus as a PR problem. He made no effort to formulate or implement a nationwide strategy. On the contrary: he encouraged protests against restrictions on public life by democratic governors.
This is one of the reasons why the USA hit it harder than comparable countries. At no point was the virus under control in America. At the end of the year, there were more than 340,000 Covid deaths.
Black Lives Matter vs. Law and Order
From the end of May – just as the Corona situation began to relax a little for a short time – the next crisis rolled through America. It was a video from Minneapolis that triggered them. 8 minutes and 46 seconds a white policeman kneels on the neck of the black George Floyd, who complained and pleaded, “I cannot breathe.”
George Floyd Memorial in Minneapolis: A video sparked protests across the country. (Source: Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
Floyd died and the video of a passerby sparked a riot in Minneapolis and protests across the country. It was about police violence against blacks, the legacy of racism and slavery: nothing less than America’s self-image. Southern generals monuments were torn from their pedestals. On the streets: many white people who thought it was time to be more honest with their own story.
Trump couldn’t do anything with it. He found no words for everyday racism and sent the National Guard to the cities, where violence mixed in with the protest. In Washington, he barricaded himself in the White House and forcibly let units clear his way when he tried to take a photo with a Bible in hand in front of a church. He spoke only about the minority demonstrating violently and went into the Law and Order campaign.
Photo opportunity with consequences: President Trump in front of St. John’s Church at the White House. (Source: Tom Brenner / Reuters)
But the calculation did not work: With the protest and his response to it, Trump slipped again significantly in the polls for the election – his values remained bad until election day. His opponent Joe Biden also condemned violent criminals, but he could talk about racism and discrimination at the same time.
Biden delivered what Trump couldn’t
At the age of 77, Biden had prevailed against left-wing candidates like Bernie Sanders in the primary campaign and scored two promises above all: He promised the exhausted nation that he would lead it back to a kind of normality. And he showed something that was very popular in the crisis year 2020: compassion.
Biden made an extremely cautious, mostly virtual election campaign because of Covid. He was particularly able to score with older voters and with the upper middle class in the suburbs – his gains in these groups ultimately gave him the election victory.
Biden after his victory speech on November 7th: America is voting against Trump, but not for the Democrats. (Source: Jim Bourg / Reuters)
This was less clear than the surveys had previously suggested. The “blue wave” that observers had predicted with reference to the party color of the Democrats simply did not come. The party was able to hold a majority in the House of Representatives, but lost nine seats. The majority in the Senate could not be regained – theoretically there is still a chance at the beginning of January if the state of Georgia holds the runoff elections for its two Senate seats.
A vote against Trump – not for the Democrats
In the end, the election was primarily a vote against Trump – and not for the Democrats. Biden’s victory was overshadowed by the strength of the Republicans and Trump’s campaign against the election result.
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What Trump did was as unprecedented as expected. Even before the election, he had promoted the story for months that the postal vote expanded by Corona would lead to fraud. When it became clear that in some of the contested states it would take days to count the postal votes, which are now primarily used by Democrats, the plan matured to declare oneself the election winner before the tide turned. At half past two on election night, Trump actually did the same from the White House.
He and his assistant Rudy Giuliani could not provide any evidence for an alleged election fraud. Nevertheless, he continued his story, even when Biden was proclaimed the winner by the media four days later, when one closely contested state after another certified the result, when all recounts and lawsuits were unsuccessful.
The stab in the back legend and its consequences
Trump anchored a stab in the back legend for that part of America that has him as a hero. In the weeks following the election, a majority of Republican MPs refrained from admitting that Biden had won the election. And a majority of the party’s electoral base also said they believed in Trump’s alleged electoral fraud. The damage done to US democracy cannot yet be quantified.
“Stop the Steal” protest in Washington in December: Trump’s stab in the back legend catches on his supporters. (Source: Erin Scott / Reuters)
For Joe Biden, governing will be difficult even without a majority in the Senate. The fact that tens of millions of Americans will not recognize him as president is likely to hinder him even more.
Despite everything, Biden systematically approached the transition to governance. He quickly appointed confidants to important ministerial and advisory posts. Unlike Trump, there are many women, Latinos and blacks represented.
The trenches are deeper than ever
The sequence showed his priorities: First, he presented foreign and security advisors – whose stated goal is for the USA to get involved internationally again after years of “America First”. Economic and health consultants followed – after all, the democrat inherits not only the corona but also a severe economic crisis.
Can Biden fulfill his greatest promise and finally restore normalcy? The first clues will come from the hearings of his appointed ministers in the Senate. The chamber must confirm the personal details. In any case, the political gap that he wants to fill is deeper than ever after 2020.
The sides can neither agree on how to deal with Corona nor on a similar look at America’s history – and now not even on a 2020 election result.
Trump as shadow president
Trump continues to set the tone for the Republican Party. By telling the alleged election fraud, he secured the power base for the first time after the White House. For a third of Americans, he remains the hero who could only be defeated by enemies with unfair means.
Trump is likely to announce his candidacy for the 2024 election shortly after leaving the White House. Whether he will really run again at the age of 78 is a secondary question. Just the announcement allows him to continue to collect donations and influence the party. In the four weeks after the election he was able to collect 175 million dollars for the fight against alleged electoral fraud.
Trump may initially take on a role as shadow president, who incessantly denigrates the work of his successor. Although an ex-president is said to be silent on day-to-day politics after leaving the White House, it would only be logical if the great taboo-breaker Donald Trump also violated this custom.