Year in Review: 2020

By Moe White –

Local, national, and global news and events that changed our lives, made us cry, and also dance in the streets.

Perhaps more than any other word, “rage” was the theme for 2020: the Covid-19 pandemic has raged for 10 months, and Donald Trump raged even more as voters across the country told him, “You’re fired!”

Pandemic reality vs. denial

The pandemic has exposed many of the cracks in our healthcare system, including dangerous shortages and shortcomings. In short supply are: beds for patients who need isolation; PPE for healthcare providers and patients; respirators and other specialty equipment; insurance coverage for more than 10 million Americans.

It also exposed the true nature of the Trump administration and, frankly, the entire Republican Party. As journalist Robert Woodward established in his interviews with Donald Trump last spring, the president knew in January that Covid-19 would be a devastating pandemic, and he chose to do nothing about it. He was scared that knowledge, or fear, could hurt the economy, which he hoped to ride to a second term.

Trump’s disdain for the health and safety of American citizens was shared by all members of his administration and family, who apparently hoped that nobody would notice that tens of thousands of Americans were falling ill and dying. When the pandemic hit NY and other “blue” states, son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner held back what he called “our” respirators, knowing that vast numbers of American citizens in Democratic-led states would die. “They’re not our people,” Kushner told his pandemic task force, literally comprised of his old fraternity brothers.

How bad is it? So far we’ve lost as many citizens as all the American deaths of World War II. Imagine a World Trade Center bombing EVERY DAY. Imagine TWO Pearl Harbor attacks EVERY DAY. Imagine another Vietnam—58,000 dead Americans—every two months. And the reaction from the Trumps?

I really don’t care, do U?

Melania Trump’s infamous jacket was emblematic of something far more pervasive, destructive, and insidious than simply not caring; it highlighted a sadistic, cruel, perverted pleasure in actively doing harm to the American people. That sadism pervades the entire Republican Party. SD Governor Kiristi Noem still refuses to impose any protective measures even as one out of 750 of her state’s citizens have died—so far. Similar devastation has hit ND, Idaho, and other Republican-led states: thousands of residents die, and Republican leaders say they really don’t care.

At the national level, the Republican-led Senate refuses to provide help for those in need, unless the people offer permanent legal protection for corporations that deliberately, carelessly, or recklessly expose their workers to Covid-19.

Joe Biden in front of flag
President-elect Joe Biden

Elections have consequences

The other story of 2020 is, of course, the election. Not just the presidential election, which Joe Biden won in a landslide with 306 Electoral College votes: a margin of victory of more than 7 million popular votes and the highest percentage of the vote against an incumbent president since Franklin Roosevelt ousted Herbert Hoover in 1932.

But Democrats lost several seats in the House and fell short in regaining hoped-for control of state judicial and legislative bodies. Here in North Carolina, Republicans remain in control of the legislature, cut Democrats’ dominance of the NC Supreme Court from 6-1 to 4-3, and took over several statewide Council of State offices. Tea Party Republican Mark Robinson became the state’s first Black Lieutenant Governor.

The new “Lost Cause”

The wins by Republicans seem to have pumped up their hubris to unprecedented levels. They have fallen into lockstep with President Trump, who refuses to accept the results of the election. Eighteen state attorneys general, supported by 126 Republican members of Congress (including seven from NC), appealed to the Supreme Court to throw out the election results altogether and declare Trump the winner.

When the suit was dismissed by a unanimous Court—including Trump’s three appointees—the chairman of the Texas Republican party called for secession, while other Republicans threatened militia-style insurrection. Clearly the new “Lost Cause” of maintaining Trump as president for life, despite the will of the people, is the same as the old “Lost Cause”: White Supremacy.

A few good men

A quotation often attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke asserts, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Sadly, in the past year, we have learned that there are no good men among the Republicans who might have done something to stop Trump. There are numerous weaklings, hypocrites, quislings, and turncoats; there are countless dwarves scared of retribution should they speak out; a few opportunists determined to grasp power for as long as they can abuse it; and quite a few active supporters of his proto-fascism; but there are no good men among them.

The good local news

Meanwhile, here in our constitutional republic:

Asheville voters elected an all-woman City Council for the first time in history, led by Mayor Esther Manheimer and Vice-Mayor Sheneika Smith; also for the first time, three members, including Smith, are African American.

Buncombe County Democrats benefited by a state court’s ruling that the legislature’s new district lines were an illegal partisan gerrymander designed to strengthen rural Republican influence over the County Commission. Under redrawn new district lines, District 1 incumbent Jasmine Beach-Ferrara faced appointed Republican incumbent Anthony Penland in eastern Buncombe’s District 2, covering Swannanoa, Oteen, and Black Mountain. She beat Penland handily (59.6%-40.4%).

In the southeast of the county, including Biltmore Forest, Fairview, and parts of Candler, two-term Republican incumbent Joe Belcher lost to Democratic newcomer Parker Sloan (58.5%-41.5%). And rural Leicester Democrat Terri Wells handily defeated Republican Glenda Weinert (60.2%-39.8%) in District 1, designed to encompass downtown as well as much of the north, northeast, and northwest of the county.

As a result, where there had been a 4-3 Democratic/Republican split, the new Commission has a 6-1 Democratic majority. The lone Republican is incumbent Robert Pressley, who challenged Chair Brownie Newman but will retain his seat for two more years after Newman defeated him 57.8% to 42.2%.

Ironically, despite the rejected gerrymandering, the previous 4-3 Commission breakdown (57.1% – 42.9%) better represented the actual partisan division among voters, at least as shown in this cycle (59.0% – 41.0%).

Farewell to Vance

Following the nationwide uprisings over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and numerous other African Americans at the hands of police (active duty or retired), Asheville and Buncombe County finally took action. The bodies appointed a joint commission to help determine the fate of the Vance Monument, erected more than a century ago to honor NC’s Civil War governor, post-war Senator, and avowed racist and white supremacist. After several months of deliberation, which included reaching out to the Vance Birthplace Historic Site in Reems Creek Valley—which had no interest in taking the obelisk—the committee recommended that the monument be demolished.

A parallel group, meanwhile, studied possibly renaming the Vance Elementary School, and recommended that Asheville City Schools rename the campus for renowned Black educator Lucy Herring.

Hello to Reparations

The City also voted in July to offer reparations to Black residents, as partial atonement for generations of systemic racism. The city plans to fund programs geared toward increasing homeownership and business and career opportunities for Black residents. Weeks later, Buncombe County passed a resolution along strictly partisan lines apologizing for the county’s role in slavery and supporting reparations for Black people who live here.

vaccine-covidSurges, then vaccinations, yet to come

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over. Going into the winter months, the third, and worst, surge is on its way. Already the nation is suffering the effects of optimism and carelessness over Thanksgiving, with more than 3,000 deaths per day (and rising), and, at press time, 300,000 American citizens dead. The Christmas and New Years holidays promise more of the same. With 16,000,000 cases and another 200,000 every day, the coming surge promises a bleak winter.

The good news is that Pfizer’s vaccine has been approved for emergency use, likely to be followed by Moderna’s the week before Christmas. But manufacturing enough doses (two per person), distributing them around the country, and getting them to all residents who are willing to be vaccinated, will be a huge undertaking for the incoming Biden administration. Only when President Biden takes office will he be able to establish a national program for distribution, and it will then take a minimum of six to eight months to be available to everyone.

2021—You can’t get here soon enough!


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