It’s that time of year, when most luckier-than-me journalists are on vacation and your news is filled up with 2019-in-review articles about the Top 10 music releases you’ve never heard (what exactly is Afro-Malaysian fusion surf punk, anyway?) and the Top 10 movies you haven’t seen yet. But when the going gets tough, the tough don’t look back, they look forward. I’ve already been thinking ahead for 2020 because the daily dreamland surrounding our impeachable 45th president has helped us avoid contemplating the worst that’s yet to come.
You might remember the phrase annus horribilis, which Queen Elizabeth once invoked to describe a horrible 12 months for the royal family, and which I’m pretty sure is Latin for “miserable pain in the butt." Despite my grim headline, I’m still hoping 2020 won’t be America’s worst year -- I saw the horrific assassinations and chaos of 1968 through the eyes of a child, and I also hear 1861 was no picnic -- but there’s real reason for concern. Here’s a scenario for the coming 366 days that’s both a worst case and all too plausible.
Jan. 31: After a cursory impeachment trial that lasted just four days, President Trump is not removed in a 46-54 vote, with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin joining every Republican in rejecting the two articles. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- under pressure from moderate House Democrats -- had transmitted the articles to the Senate with few real concessions from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to allow the Dems’ impeachment managers to call any witnesses. Even GOP senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins voted against removal, although Collins said the president’s conduct had “concerned” her.
Feb. 2: The Dallas Cowboys edge the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIV because I warned you everything will be horrible.
Feb. 3: Pete Buttigieg narrowly wins the Iowa caucuses in the closest four-way race in Democratic history, with each major candidate claiming some sort of “victory.”
Feb. 4: Declaring “the great national hoax of impeachment is over,” Trump stuns the nation with a State of the Union address that lasts for two hours and 13 minutes -- promising “the swift sword of sweet vengeance” against his rivals and announcing that new aid money approved for Ukraine will be diverted to build border wall in Arizona.
Feb. 5: Instead of Trump’s speech, the morning papers are dominated by two scoops -- the Washington Post obtaining a previously withheld scrawled June 25, 2019 note from Trump to chief of staff Mick Mulvaney ordering last year’s Ukraine aid held “until Biden,” while the New York Times uncovers a shocking quid pro quo involving Trump and the Saudi royal family. A frustrated Rep. Adam Schiff shrugs at a gaggle of reporters. “We already tried impeaching the guy,” he said. “You tell me how to stop him.”
Feb. 29: Black voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary deliver Joe Biden his first win, sticking with the former Barack Obama vice president even after he lost not only Iowa but New Hampshire (where Elizabeth Warren rallied women voters) and Nevada (won by a labor-backed Bernie Sanders). This sets the stage for a Super Tuesday where Biden will sweep the South while Sanders pulls off a big upset in California.
April 17: High schools and college campuses are shuttered across America and around the world for a massive climate strike, dedicated to the victims of Australia’s wildfires and spring’s record flooding in the Midwest. An alliance led by the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion vow to shut down summer’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee unless the party endorses the Green New Deal.
June 6: After the Virgin Islands stage the final Democratic caucus, pundits are stunned by a four-way virtual tie that leaves no candidate even close to the 1,919 pledged delegates needed to claim the nomination. Experts blame the party’s proportional allocation of delegates, a heavily front-loaded schedule, and divergent visions among the party’s diverse voting blocs on how to defeat Trump. An AP survey gives Sanders a five-delegate lead. Mike Bloomberg, who won just 37 delegates, announces $150 million ad campaign to urge the convention to pick him as a compromise.
June 7: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard leaves the Democrats and announces she will accept the Green Party nomination for the presidency, vowing to focus on college campuses and support for a Green New Deal. Her campaign immediately gains 500,000 new social media followers, most brand-new to Twitter. Meanwhile, Rep. Justin Amash agrees to run on the Libertarian ticket, creating a third-party dynamic similar to 2016.
July 13: Two days after Hurricane Hillary ravages the Gulf Coast, nervous Democrats (is there any other kind?) descend on Milwaukee for what’s certain to be the first “brokered” political convention since the mid-20th century. They are joined by thousands of youth climate protesters, a contingent of Bikers for Trump, and 11 long-haired Friends of Jesus in a chartreuse micro-bus.
July 15-16: As expected, Sanders has the most votes on the first ballot yet falls short of the nomination. That allows 758 so-called superdelegates of party elites to vote on the second ballot, and their overwhelming preference for Biden propels the former vice president into the lead. Before the next day’s third ballot, Biden announces a deal in which Buttigieg becomes his running mate and Bloomberg agrees to spend $500 million on the fall campaign. Denouncing “the billionaire’s bargain,” Sanders delegates storm out and merge with furious climate protesters in the streets of Milwaukee, clashing with both a pro-Trump mob and with police trying to quell the riot. The mayhem stuns the nation and draws immediate comparisons to the violent 1968 Democratic convention that cost the party that election.
Aug. 26: After most GOP primaries had been canceled, Trump is nominated in Charlotte on a voice vote. Despite the Democratic chaos and strong support for Gabbard among bitter Sanders supporters and youth climate activists, Trump is dragged down by an unexpected economic downturn that falls hardest on Rust Belt battleground states. Polls show a virtual tie between Biden and Trump going into the fall.
Oct 6: With Trump refusing to debate, the election is largely fought through a flurry of dubious postings and ads on Facebook -- which passively stays on the sidelines even as the site is flooded with untraceable dark money -- and a sea of Twitter bots. Black internet users are inundated with ads attacking Biden for comments on school busing and race in the 1970s -- some are so-called deep fakes to invent even more outrageous quotes -- and urging them to stay home. College voters are overwhelmed by Gabbard videos. Running mate Buttigieg is attacked with vicious homophobia. Trump is leading by two points.
Oct. 27: The New York Yankees win the World Series and Kanye’s “Lord Donald” is at No. 1 for the ninth week because remember I told you that everything is terrible.
Nov. 3: A rattled America goes to the polls. The president has been brought back to earth by a 1,500-point drop in the Dow on the Friday before Election Day, release of a 2007 tape showing a purported elevator assault, and a last-minute collapse in Gabbard support. A record turnout is dampened by voter-roll errors in predominantly black precincts in North Carolina and Florida that create massive lines, discouraging many.
Nov. 3-4: Exit polls showing a Biden victory are discarded as results pour in that look remarkably similar to 2016. Although the Democratic ticket won five million more popular votes than Trump and narrowly claimed the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the president goes over the top when the networks call Michigan for him at 3 a.m. A disconsolate Democratic strategist tells MSNBC: “This didn’t have to happen. We had four years to see all of this coming -- the Russian bots, the “fake news” on Facebook, the ability to hack into our election system, the dirty tricks and third-party treachery that divided Trump’s opponents. In the end, we all chose this outcome -- because we chose to do nothing.”
Nov. 7: A CNN panel discussion on Trump’s second-term cabinet is interrupted by a shocking breaking news report. The Intercept has obtained a massive cache of leaked Russian communications and computer logs showing -- in painstaking and indisputable detail -- how a military unit stationed in St. Petersburg and reporting directly to Vladimir Putin deleted thousands of mostly black voter records in North Carolina and Florida and, even more shockingly, altered vote tallies in and around Detroit, changing the outcome in Michigan.