2020 is One of the Top 5 Contenders for Craziest Year in American HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: Donald Trump, 2020 Election, 2020, COVID-19
The news that the president himself had contracted the coronavirus, just days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg triggered a high-stakes Supreme Court battle in the middle of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of modern life, raised a number of questions for the American people. Among them, “Do we have the strength to survive this?" “How have we so angered the gods?” and, of course, “Is this the most deranged year ever to occur in American history because it certainly feels that way?”
Without the therapeutic or spiritual skills to answer the first two questions, I set off to answer the third, conducting a rigorously unscientific survey of historians to provide you with the four years in American history that rival 2020.
A group of scholars graciously offered their assistance, even though, as Stanford professor emeritus Jack Rakove gently explained, “Craziest year is not exactly a category that historians ordinarily deal in.”
The year 2020 is looking like a strong contender, having so far clobbered us with President Trump’s impeachment, a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans and collapsed large swaths of the economy, massive protests that broke out in dozens of cities after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by police, wildfires that devastated millions of acres across the West Coast, and an increasingly bitter election that may threaten the stability of democracy. (In fact, things have been so nuts in 2020 that giant hornets with shark fin-like spikes that can puncture beekeeping suits and kill humans — aptly named murder hornets — barely registered in the national consciousness.)
But history is long, with plenty to teach us and perhaps even some hope to offer.
“This isn’t the only terrible year,” said Adriane Lentz-Smith, a professor of history at Duke University. “It’s not even the only year when people couldn’t imagine an end to terribleness.”
Not exactly a rallying cry, but it’s something.
Other contenders are: 1861, 1919, 1932, and 1968--ed.
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