2020 Goes Down the Memory Hole

The Trump Era in a nutshell
Seen on the streets of DC in 2020

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Donald Trump asks us as he and his deranged followers campaign for a repeat performance of his first term.

In March 2020, it seemed like the world had come to an end. Covid had arrived in America and with it, panic swept the nation.

The streets of Washington, DC, where I lived, were deserted. Seeing another person on the street was an occasion for fear, not happiness – could they be carrying the disease? Millions were out of work and a madman raged in the White House about injecting bleach while the dead stacked up in morgues.

That is the 2020 that Donald Trump would visit upon us.

It’s a tribute to the human capacity for forgetting that so few remember these bad times.

Why has 2020 been so willfully forgotten? Never did I imagine that my country would send an entire year down the memory hole but that is exactly what has happened.

No one wants to remember, which makes Trump’s calls so effective, as he compares the present to a past that never existed.

Were you better off four years ago?

Of course not.

Were you better off four years ago in your imagination?

Maybe, for the mind is capable of picking and choosing the sunniest of moments and bathing them in warm nostalgia. Four years ago, life was cheaper, you were younger and the nation was confident (in pretend land).

2020 is the year none of us want to remember, in its true horror.

2020 book
2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed by Eric Klinenberg

2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed is a book that I picked my way through, some of the stories being too raw, even now, four years later, to read. 

Eric Klinenberg gives us a kind of oral history, showing the impact of covid on New York City through the eyes of seven very different people. He shows us the early days of the epidemic as educators grappled with the impact of covid upon poor students. Demonstrates the disparate effects of the pandemic on the laptop and working classes. Shares the hopelessness of young people who lost the most precious resource of all – time. And even profiles a bar owner who turns into a MAGA cause celebre when he defies covid restrictions and reopens his bar.

In my naïveté, I believed that the experience of going through an epidemic would lead to a European-style social safety net, so that getting sick wouldn’t mean becoming homeless. Instead, big business got bailed out while the poor were given a pittance.

Covid did not bring us together in a spirit of shared sacrifice. Instead, after a few short weeks, we began to tear each other apart based upon party lines, this division driven by Donald Trump for political advantage. Democrats wore masks, got vaccinated and believed in science; Republicans eschewed masks and attacked the Capitol.

And now, four years later, 2020 is still with us as we battle over the memory of the year. Was it an imaginary golden time as Trump and his supporters would have us believe?

No. This is an extension of the Big Lie, a fabric of falsehoods that the Fox News Industrial Complex seeks to throw over our memories. The election was stolen, Trump is a billionaire, you were better off four years ago. All things some people wish were true but are not.

I remember 2020, the memories suddenly triggered by seeing a faded “stand six feet apart” sign or spotting someone in a mask. A time-warping, disconcerting emotion fills me followed by reassurance that those times are over (we hope).

So, so green
The National Mall in 2020, with all the museums closed.

I remember other moments, too, like when I met a friend at the Smithsonian Castle during the summer of 2020. With all the museums closed, the National Mall was so quiet that we could hear people talking a block away. I’ve never seen the grass look better, too. Untrodden by tourists, it was so green to be nearly luminescent.

That’s the problem with 2020. Too much happened. Covid. A military crackdown in DC. The joy of Victory Day as we dumped Trump. And countless other snippets of time as ordinary life was upended.

It’s a year that figures largely in my memoir, How I Became Red Bike Guy. Cursed to live in interesting times, I was determined to document 2020 and the haywire history of this era.

Now, in 2024, we battle over the past, like we battle over everything else.

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

red bike guy cover

From Inauguration Day 2017 to a night in 2023 when I yelled at Trump,  How I Became Red Bike Guy is an account of what life in the nation’s capital during a tumultuous time period. Experiencing the rise of a wannabe tyrant, and seeing his followers sack the Capitol, radicalized me and turned me into the person who would mock fascists from a red Capital Bikeshare bike. Get your copy today!

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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