In the final chapter of 2020, we must recommit to repairing our democracy

In the final chapter of 2020, we must recommit to repairing our democracy
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Thanksgiving week ushers in the final chapter of 2020 — when we put the old year in the rearview mirror and look to holidays and a new year. And yet we are seemingly unprepared to wrap gifts together, in the political sense, and to promise ourselves that as Americans we can move on. With so many monumental challenges, how do we put the past year into perspective to garner the strength to go forth?

Remember where we were at the start of 2020. 

In January, the U.S. Senate voted on articles of impeachment. Although President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE was acquitted on two counts, wounds were deep. America entered the year deeply divided, with social media, traditional media and politicians and pollsters defining the same set of facts differently and fading public confidence in media and government.


On the Democratic side, multiple candidates fought among themselves culminating in Super Tuesday, which winnowed down the field. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (I-Vt.) were still duking it out in January when Biden peeled away from New Hampshire and landed in South Carolina, where his bid for the presidency would be jumpstarted by the endorsement of Rep. Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnPelosi mum on when House will send impeachment article to Senate Biden to name Jaime Harrison to lead the Democratic National Committee: report Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment MORE (D-S.C.). Ultimately, Sanders, who continued to challenge Biden, stepped out of the way, and the party got behind one candidate. But it was bruising.

On the Republican side, President Trump ran unopposed, but some Republicans broke ranks, as demonstrated by efforts like the Lincoln Project. 

But the so-called Trump base deepened and broadened as the president maintained his relentless attacks on the press, the Democrats and blue states. Moderates and independents ultimately moved away from President Trump, but the final vote reflects continued disagreement, debate, division and polarization.

Three months into 2020, the global pandemic began to sweep across the country like wildfire. States had to delay primary voting, explore mail options and contend with an attack by President Trump on using masks, social distancing and science-based public health measures like testing. Mandatory stay-at-home orders, quarantines, economic closures and mixed messaging created fog and chaos as hospitals struggled to meet the needs of patients. The economic fallout was enormous, and unemployment rates skyrocketed. By the spring and fall of 2020, COVID was its own candidate in the race, with its own strength and timetable.

As if a bad movie was promising to get worse, George Floyd was choked to death in May 2020, reminding us of the systemic racism tearing apart America. Policing became another point of contention as we watched agonizing videos of other black men killed by police.


By the fall of 2020, confusion reigned in America and around the world as predictions ranged from landslides to red mirages, blue waves and warnings of riots and deadlock. Election Day became election week with counting marathons, charges of fraud and contentious debates. Only a few reporters seemed to understand the voters in “Trump’s America” and the issues animating their lives.

In the end, Biden emerged as a clear winner of the election with a strong message to a broken America about the need for healing and unity, along with a plan for contending with the virus.

The Biden-Harris team is preparing for its transition to power. But the saga continues now as Trump refuses to acknowledge the outcome and continues to create an alternate narrative — waging legal battles to challenge the election results. Republican voters remain skeptical. Seventy percent of Republicans now say they don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair, a stark rise from the 35 percent of GOP voters who held similar beliefs before the election.  

Once again, the world watches in sheer disbelief.

It is time to bring the year under control along with the pandemic. We cannot move forth into 2021 without a common commitment to close 2020 peacefully and productively. With a COVID surge and pandemic fatigue, we need to come to our senses and put aside political division. We must recognize the psychological damage to our citizenry, the unevenness of economic, political and social strife and the deep longing to recall a time when we all felt proud of our country. 

What needs to happen now is a concession by Donald Trump — not a disappearing act. We need all Americans to reach out, reflect and recommit to repairing our democracy.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.