Crucial moments on the 2020 election trail
Photos: AP Images
Biden Enters the Race
It happened on April 25, 2019. The former vice president, then already 76, released a video declaring his candidacy for president of the United States. In his announcement video he cited what he claimed was Trump’s reaction to the neo-Nazi riots at Charlottesville as his reason for entering the race. At that point there was still a plethora of talented and charismatic candidates in the race, from Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke to Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker. While his opponents treated the elderly Biden with respect, they clearly expected to steamroll him in the primaries in a generational change of the guard.
Some may not remember what exactly happened on March 3, Super Tuesday. For one, it came at the same time the coronavirus broke out across the United States, which claimed the lion’s share of media attention. Secondly, the same week also saw elections in Israel. The Democratic primaries didn’t receive the media and public attention they would have in an ordinary year. But Super Tuesday was essentially
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, after a meeting at the White House, Tuesday, June 30, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)the moment the Democratic Party closed ranks behind Biden, with all but one of the moderate candidates dropping out to endorse him in the days before Super Tuesday.
It all happened so fast. Two weeks earlier Biden was still reeling from dismal performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, and seemed on the verge of going down as the biggest paper tiger in political history. But on Super Tuesday he came back to sweep ten of the 14 states contested, effectively ending the campaigns of Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren. With that, Biden opened a lead over Bernie Sanders that the latter couldn’t overcome.
In that respect, the race was similar to 2016. But while in 2016 Sanders fought to the end, wearing down Clinton’s campaign, this time around Sanders acted very differently. In April he bowed out of the race and endorsed Biden. The former vice president’s victory was a done deal by early spring, allowing the party to turn its attention to the general election.
Less than a year ago we thought the most memorable event of the past four years would be the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives’ impeachment of Trump on charges of colluding with the Russians. Many pundits said that the public would perceive the impeachment as a political witch hunt and it would help Trump in the election. That was a tumultuous time in America — in the parlance of last year — before the coronavirus arrived and changed the world forever.
In January the American public began hearing the first reports of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, China; the first official case in the US was reported in February. The government promised that the overall health risk to the American public remained low, and that it was prepared for every scenario. But there were no known treatments, and soon deaths from the virus sent the world reeling.
The United States stock market plummeted 25% even before the virus’s peak. Panicked civilians emptied the shelves of their supermarkets, hoarding food and toilet paper, and America’s supply chain was broken. A friend of mine who lives in Los Angeles told me that for weeks, his parents had to send him toilet paper in the mail because it simply wasn’t available in Los Angeles. Those were dark and frightening days, as business and schools closed one by one, the stock market collapsed, and the unemployment rate skyrocketed — all within a matter of weeks or even days.
President Trump demonstrated leadership, ordering a travel ban on China and the European Union, and declaring a 15-day national lockdown. At first, Trump performed daily coronavirus briefings and won praise for his response. He also supported an aid package that sent $1,200 to every citizen in order to get the economy rolling again. But later, he disregarded recommendations and repeatedly mocked people for wearing masks in public.
He began casting doubts on Dr. Fauci’s judgements, said about the virus: ‘it is what it is,” and made clear that he didn’t take responsibility for the situation. In recordings from February released later he was heard telling journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the virus was dangerous, but didn’t want the public to panic.
Black Lives Matter
On June 6, the entire world was in shock. The footage of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for eight minutes, during the latter’s arrest for using a counterfeit $20 bill, sparked a wave of protests and riots across the United States. Many protests in the big cities escalated into violence, including widespread looting of businesses and destruction of shops and police cars.
Two months later, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, another black man — Jacob Blake — was shot by police. This incident was also caught on video and led to mass outrage. Violent riots broke out in Kenosha. Shops were looted, cars went up in flames, and a 17-year-old minor named Kyle Rittenhouse entered the city armed with an assault rifle to help defend businesses. He ended up using it to kill two rioters after he was mobbed by a crowd.
All this ignited anew the racial tensions in America and in particular the concerns about police violence toward African Americans. Trump reacted by promising to restore law and order if reelected, an echo of his promises during the 2016 campaign. After images of the violence began to dent the Democrats’ lead in the polls, Biden also began issuing condemnations of lawlessness, along with calls for national unity.
A New Middle East
Announced on August 13, the Abraham Accords were a significant foreign policy achievement for the president, who in an ordinary year would have been able to focus the campaign on foreign policy and on his commitment to bring American troops home from the Middle East. But this year, Americans’ attention was focused primarily on domestic issues — the coronavirus, health insurance, the economy, and law and order. Normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE and the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court are the most memorable achievements of the Trump administration this year.
The Supreme Court Vacancy
It was Erev Rosh Hashanah. On September 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at 87. Almost immediately, Republicans began the process of confirming her successor, conservative Appeal Court judge Amy Coney Barrett.
The Supreme Court now has six conservatives and three liberals, a direction that could shape its rulings for decades. The decision to confirm Barrett ten days before the election awakened the ire of Democrats, who threatened to pack the court if they regained the Senate. Biden evaded questions on whether he would pack the court. He said he would appoint a commission to study the issue, if elected.
Trump Gets Coronavirus
On Friday, October 2, at 1 a.m., President Trump announced to his 88 million followers on Twitter: “Tonight, the First Lady and I tested positive for coronavirus.” The news shook up America, the world, and the campaign.
Later that day Trump was rushed to Walter Reed Military Hospital in Maryland, from where he continued to post upbeat videos throughout his recovery. Upon his release from the hospital four days later, he controversially urged the public to “not let the virus dominate you.” This message drew criticism given that 220,000 Americans had already died of the virus. Many of them hadn’t had access to the top medical care available to the president, and even many who did weren’t as lucky as him.
Trump was released from the hospital and after a few more days of recuperating resumed the massive rallies that have defined his campaign. Since then, he’s also taken to boasting that he’s now “immune” from the virus. He tried to divert attention from the coronavirus and even mocked the incessant coverage of it in the media, but in the final analysis, the virus is still here and as strong as ever. Even Trump, an expert in political spin, couldn’t scrub the issue from the headlines. And in a certain measure, his diagnosis helped return the topic to the agenda in early October, a month in which he hoped to divert the public attention to other issues.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 834)
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