No one’s going to claim that 2020 was a fantastic year — except perhaps, I don’t know, Charles Manson or Voldemort — but boy, was it a year ripe with political intrigue. If you can ignore the backdrop of hundreds of thousands dead (which you shoudn’t, but the president seems to manage fine) then you might even call it comedy.
But who were the real political heroes and villains of the piece this year, the ones who made audiences gasp and opponents tremble? I’ve gone to the trouble of collating a list. Feel free to angrily tell me who I missed off on Twitter.
Villain: Rudy Giuliani
Recast as “Leaking Robot with Authoritarian Views #3” from his former role of “America’s Mayor”, Rudy made one hell of a comeback this year when he threw his lot in with Donald J Trump. Once upon a time, when we closed our eyes and imagined Rudy, we saw a serious-faced man standing at a makeshift lectern in front of the wreckage of the Twin Towers, urging New Yorkers to stay strong. He even released a book in 2002 titled Leadership, which obviously none of us read but everyone agreed was probably very good and very earnest. If any of us had bothered to actually get past the cover, presumably we’d have realized it was a parody, with an announcement in the epilogue that he was about to transform into one of the most dedicated pieces of character performance art the world had ever seen. Alas, we did not, and so we were taken by surprise.
To turn round public perception of yourself so spectacularly that an image of you standing nobly in front of the World Trade Center is pasted over in America’s collective memory by your farts being parodied on SNL is an achievement. And that was only one of Giuliani’s inglorious 2020 moments. There was the time he appeared on Borat 2, literally with his hands down his pants, in a scene that even Sasha Baron Cohen himself — a clearly much inferior character actor — said left him “concerned” (Giuliani denies any inappropriate behavior during filming and says he was just tucking his shirt in.)
There was the time he caught Covid-19 not long after criticizing the idea of wearing masks in public. There was the time he said during an interview that “truth isn’t truth” and then doubled down on it. And, of course, the piéce de la resistance: the time he organized a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping — that inglorious garden center sandwiched between a crematorium and a decrepit adult book store called Fantasy Island — just as the election results were called for Joe Biden. Here in Philadelphia, he said, undeterred by journalists getting distracted by the Actual Results, “Will Smith’s father voted twice since he died.” It was a scandal. Dead people voted for Biden in droves.
Presumably Rudy chose Four Seasons Total Landscaping for this conference so attendees could look upon the crematorium where Democrats reanimated the corpses of locals and consider the damage that has been done to democracy. “Listen, you,” Kamala Harris presumably whispered to the magically resurrected, “I don’t know if you were a registered Democrat in the past, but Antifa has some great benefits planned for the undead, while Trump would rather have you burned.” The zombies obediently nodded their heads and shuffled down to the ballot box as Kamala high-fived George Soros in the background. And nobody would have questioned it, if Giuliani hadn’t gotten the word out! In a valiant fight with one branch of that zombie army, it’s said he lost a large portion of his brain.
The fact that this press conference managed to overshadow another one where Giuliani leaked brown fluid and nodded along to presumed fellow character actor Sidney Powell as she waxed lyrical about the deceased Hugo Chavez hacking voting machines in favor of renowned communist Biden is a real achievement. I think we can all agree that if Giuliani doesn’t get his Oscar this time around, something has gone terribly wrong among the Academy.
Hero: Nancy Pelosi
Not everyone is a fan of the Speaker of the House, but there’s no denying that Pelosi has her moments. She started out this year by ripping up Trump’s State of the Union speech while Mike Pence stood and applauded like a seal at SeaWorld beside her. Pence then went on Fox and Friends to say he “wasn’t sure if she was ripping up the speech or the Constitution”, though the VP has graciously stayed quiet while the president denied democratic election results, allowed Black Lives Matter protesters in DC to be tear-gassed so he could get a photo-op in front of a church, and floated the idea of bringing in martial law for states that didn’t vote for him.
Pelosi — whose best Trump quotes include “I’m a mother of five and a grandmother of nine, and I know a temper tantrum when I see one” — didn’t just manage to take control of the news cycle with some of her better stunts this year. She also managed to get through a bipartisan second coronavirus stimulus bill, despite initially fierce resistance from unconfirmed Dementor Mitch McConnell, which gave Americans a much-needed economic boost at the end of 2020 as Covid-19 continued to ravage the country.
Villain: Mitch McConnell
Speaking of "Moscow Mitch", he’s also had a great year. Former critics fell over themselves to pat him on the back after he managed to formerly acknowledge the new president-elect and vice president-elect on the Senate floor weeks after the election, which is something we used to call “just below the bare minimum” and now call “stunning and brave”. Nevertheless, credit where credit’s due: Mitch’s turn toward reality was a wake-up call for other Trump-loving Republicans who had joined Trump in his delusions about overturning the results, many of whom then started quietly slinking away from the president’s side. If the loss of over 50 court cases and a civil war-style case being thrown out by your own appointed judges on the Supreme Court won’t do it, then it turns out Mitch’s jelloid acquiescence will.
It’s not all losses for Mitch, though! Back on true pantomime villain form, he did successfully block workers from getting mandatory paid sick leave when they test positive for Covid-19 in the second stimulus package. Presumably the opponent he beat in Kentucky stood on a platform of eating squealing puppies alive on the Senate floor for every day of 2021.
Hero: Stacey Abrams
Abrams briefly seemed like she might be Biden’s VP pick earlier this year, and although she didn’t make the final cut, it’s clear her political capital skyrocketed in 2020. After losing the Georgia governor’s race in 2018 during an election allegedly marred by racially motivated voter suppression, Abrams spent less than half a second feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she set up a group targeting voter suppression, wrote a book, and starred in a documentary. She campaigned relentlessly for Joe Biden in her home state, and Georgia ended up turning blue for the first time since 1992.
Abrams will be central to campaigning again for the Democrats in the runoffs in January. If she helps turn the tide there and the Senate is wrested from the hands of the Republicans, it will change the face of Biden’s presidency. It’s hard to underestimate the importance and the dedication of Abrams in a red state many told her was impossible to turn. No snark for you, Stacey! You go, Glenn Coco!
Villain: Ivanka Trump
Ah, the legitimizer-in-chief, the smiling face of the Trump regime. If you haven’t read the Vanity Fair article written by her former best friend at Upper East Side heiress enclave Chapin School, well, you’re missing out on a treat. Stand-out scenes include one where the author reminisces about recommending a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in working class Maine to Ivanka, who shoots back with, “Why would you tell me to read a book about f**king poor people?” and one where Ivanka says she “can’t talk to” her friend anymore since she’s “really turned into a Marxist” during an argument about whether or not affordable housing is necessary.
At the Republican National Convention in August, Ivanka unironically called her father “champion of the American worker” and “defender of common sense”. A few months later, Daddy would throw his lot in with a bunch of ragtag semi-lawyers who floated the idea of Biden being part of a conspiracy mainly orchestrated by Venezuela to win an election by hacking into voting machines but also by dumping truckloads of ballots outside mainly Democrat-voting constituencies in swing states.
“My father isn’t deterred by defeatist thinkers,” Ivanka continued on that summer evening. “The word ‘impossible’? It only motivates him.” No doubt she imagined her words being superimposed over images of cheering farmers in Wisconsin rather than images of MAGA2020 tanks rolling into New York and California, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Whether it’s appearing unmasked at a superspreader event or claiming that lockdowns just aren’t her kind of science, Ivanka has been the good cop to her father’s bad, always in pursuit of the same aim. Presumably, we haven’t seen the back of her: now she’s in this deep, it’s hard to imagine she won’t dip her toe in the political pond herself in 2024 or 2028.
“America doesn't need another empty vessel who will do whatever the media and the fringe of his party demands,” Ivanka said when she rounded off her speech in August. “Fox News is virtually unwatchable,” tweeted the president in November, when the network reported on the actual election results. “Watch OANN, Newsmax or virtually anything else!” Well, you know what they say about empty vessels, Ivanka — they make the most noise.
Hero: Brian Kemp
I know, I know. How can I call a staunchly right-wing conservative and Trump admirer a hero? Is it necessary to scrape the barrel this aggressively? The answer is: yes. Yes, it is.
Kemp, once endorsed by the president and now Republican Governor of Georgia, seems to have been gifted a conscience during the election campaign. While the president leaned heavily on him to try and help “change” the results in his home state, Kemp said that there was nothing wrong with the voting systems in Georgia and the results had to be expected. In a usually red swing state unexpectedly turning blue, that had to be more than a little hard to swallow.
In the weeks since then, Kemp has been the subject of chants, ridicule and rants at Trump rallies, and the right wing of the Republican Party has formally forsaken him. In the style of a desperate boyfriend who just feels like pure sh*t and wants her back, he tweeted that he’d “had a great time at the White House Christmas party” in early December, only to be publicly spurned by Trump legal adviser and favored conspiracy theorist Jenna Ellis, who replied simply, “Really?”
Although his entire political trajectory would be most comfortably at home on the r/SadCringe subreddit, it has to be said that Kemp has pivoted to bringing in proper coronavirus precautions in Georgia and is now attempting to set up a responsible vaccination program. Most Improved Award goes to you, Brian; better late than never.
Villain: Sidney Powell
Bursting onto our screens dressed in leopard print and lies, “maybe even a bit much for Trump” lawyer Sidney Powell perfectly channeled Cruella de Vil huffing glue in November. Her claims that Hugo Chavez might have burst out his grave and dragged Biden to victory led to her being briefly dumped from the Trump legal team days after she’d been announced as a part of it, but guess what, folks? She’s returned!
As more seasoned legal advisers and other assorted Trump backers crawl back into the sewers from whence they came, Sidney spent the past weekend having multiple meetings with Trump at the White House. Last week, she even reportedly had a screaming row with Rudy Giuliani about how her ideas needed to be more realistic and less, well, terrifying. One can only assume the former New York mayor wants the release of the Kraken to be put on hold.
Needless to say, when Rudy Giuliani is the “stickler for rules” in your buddy cop movie, you know you’ve gone beyond flirting with surrealism.
Hero: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Not everyone has been a fan of AOC this year: even fellow ‘Squad’ member Ilhan Omar appeared to join forces with Rand Paul to criticize her for “jumping the vaccine line” earlier this week. But AOC predicted the problems with Latino voters Biden would encounter on the election trail, ran regular Q&A sessions about politics on social media throughout lockdown, and used her vaccination as an opportunity to do outreach to communities of color who have reported higher rates of vaccine skepticism.
And say what you like about the Bronx-based liberal (she danced at college one time! I know!) but she sticks by her principles. She made an impressive endorsement speech in support of Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency at the Democratic National Convention, and she campaigned tirelessly for the Biden/Kamala ticket afterwards. The fact that she makes Republicans so mad is reason alone to love her. She’ll make a great opponent to Ivanka in 2028.
Villain: Marjorie Taylor Greene
It’s all going down in Georgia this year, and Greene was very much a part of the chaos: the Republican businesswoman is now headed to Congress to represent Georgia as one of the first QAnon conspiracy-believing members.
Greene, who once said that Holocaust survivor George Soros collaborated with the Nazis, stood against a neurosurgeon and won, because this is America. She also referred to “Q”, the fictional character who supposedly tells in-the-know Republicans about a global pedophile conspiracy run by liberals, as a “patriot”.
Greene has also in the past questioned whether the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High school shooting was a “false flag” and whether Charlottesville was an “inside job”.
Now do you see why I had to put Brian Kemp down as a hero?
Hero: Fox News
Again, the bar is exceedingly low this year. Fox News comes out as a reluctant hero in this list for acknowledging the democratic election results and refusing to do a One America/Newsmax by encouraging the president’s delusions. Even Tucker Carlson said he wanted to see some proper evidence of election fraud, for God’s sake. This is a guy who called the Black Lives Matter movement “poison”!
Of course, there’s nothing actually heroic about what you see on Fox — but they did step up their game in the past six months. The first presidential debate was hosted by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, and yet somehow, much to Trump’s chagrin, turned out to be an actual debate which asked both candidates equally hard questions. And in March, Fox invited Bernie Sanders, the supposed king of socialism himself, to a town hall that ended surprisingly well for him.
Who says leopards can’t change their spots, eh? Well, apart from Sidney Powell. Those leopard spots are staying right where they are.
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