2020 Needs Its Own History Book. Here’s Our First Draft.


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A disease, global in reach but intimate in its cruelty. A nation plunged into economic ruin. A president raging and incompetent. Society's unforgiving disparities revealed like never before. What a year to be putting out a weekly news podcast. On this week's episode of the Mother Jones Podcast, our last for 2020, the entire production team joins host Jamilah King to reflect on the year and replay what we thought were the most meaningful moments from our coverage. It seemed the best way—both personal and journalistic—to chart these extraordinary events.

We start as the coronavirus catches fire. In March, producer Molly Schwartz followed reporter Noah Lanard to document how restaurants in Flushing, Queens, faced imminent collapse. As our producer James West recovered from his own bout of COVID, he turned to Peter Staley, a prominent AIDS activist who worked (and sparred) with Dr. Anthony Fauci in the early days of that epidemic. Staley's scathing indictment of Trump's inaction is haunting still. "The deaths are all on his head," he said. "The blood is all on his hands. The people dying now are Trump deaths."

Soon, the unequal impact of coping with quarantine became painfully apparent. Learning from home was hard enough, but Molly found that remote education in a place known as the "valley of the telescopes"—in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, where WiFi is outlawed to preserve the integrity of a massive radio telescope—was a complete disaster.

But other historic fissures were soon to crack open anew. The death of George Floyd in May at the hands of the Minneapolis police was broadcast to the world and "pushed nearly anyone with a political conscience into physical action," Jamilah wrote soon after, in a painful but galvanizing personal essay we turned into radio.

Anger indeed was a 2020 touchstone. Trump's chief enabler Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, upon the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, began ramming through a new conservative justice. "His entire vision for the Trump presidency has been to pack the courts," reporter Ari Berman explained during a podcast about this unfolding democratic emergency. Jamilah recalls this breathtaking hypocrisy: "It was a moment that kind of signaled that 'we're done'," she says. "We're done, being run over and being dictated to."

And that was the sentiment that turned out, finally, to hold. Election Day 2020 was a picture of democracy in action. In the swing state of Arizona, long a laboratory for anti-immigrant laws, reporter Fernanda Echavarri documented a new group of activists determined to turf Trump from office, a coalition that became emblematic of Joe Biden's ultimate victory in November. "It really was this full circle," Fernanda says of the effort to flip Arizona. "Young, old, rich, poor, people came together and said, 'We're not going to have this here in Arizona anymore. And not only that, we're not going to have this country be run by somebody like this anymore.’” And come January 20, 2021, it won't be.

"It was great for me to be reminded that change takes time," Jamilah says, neatly summarizing this tumultuous, tragic, unnerving, historic year.