There’s a pretty popular adage on the internet that 2020 is the worst year ever, that it feels like it has dragged on for years, that things keep getting worse, that nothing is sacred. Donald Trump escaped removal from office. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and dozens of other Black people were killed by police, sparking nationwide protests. Murder hornets. Beirut. Chadwick Boseman. Alex Trebek. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All in the same year, and all while we deal with the pandemic that, covertly, tells us that this isn’t 2020’s fault. We’re still stuck in 2019.
After all, the most defining events of 2020 are the coronavirus pandemic and the presidential election, and both have their roots in 2019. The illness caused by the coronavirus is even called COVID-19, coronavirus disease of 2019, something historians are going to have to grapple with if we keep up with this 2020-centric view.
Donald Trump’s Senate trial was in 2020, but his impeachment wasn’t. He was impeached in 2019. Joe Biden secured the Democratic nomination and presidency in 2020, but his candidacy began in 2019. Murder hornets? Yep, believe it or not, that was actually 2019, too. The deaths that were the catalyst for the widespread police violence protests were in 2020 but it’s not like 2019 was a year of peace and love for policing and the public.
And, of course, on December 31, 2019, the People’s Republic of China formally notified the World Health Organization that there was a pneumonia of unknown cause in the country. On the cusp of 2020, the coronavirus vowed to keep the world cemented in 2019.
The signs that a new year approaches are not calendar based. Rather, it’s the coming Biden administration, the promise of a workable COVID-19 vaccine, and sweeping changes across the country to police oversight.