2020 In Review: Five People Who Got Us Through This Awful Year
First in a weekly series until this monstrosity of a year is finally over.
I have long argued that year-end laments about how truly terrible the previous year was and how much better the next year will have to be are illogical and absurd —foolish, but oddly optimistic. As I wrote way back in 2014, “it takes a certain sort of courage to believe that this year of heartbreak was unique, to be kicked in the face by humanity’s worst instincts over and over and over and think it’s just a blip, a bug rather than a feature.” The previous year always feels like it was particularly difficult because life is particularly difficult. Generally speaking, next year’s going to be as hard as last year. They all are.
2020, though, 2020 was a rough one. If 2021 isn’t better than 2020, I have to just assume that everyone died. (Which is, er, always a possibility?) So I think it’s acceptable, then, to look back at 2020 with righteous fury and irrepressible sadness. All years are bad. But this one was particularly bad.
But, to close out the year, I’d like to look at the positive, because … well, what choice do I have? I’m not going to reflect on the experiences we all went through in 2020, not only because they were miserable but also because we are all still going through them. Instead, I’m going to thank some people. Every Friday until the end of the year, I’ll shout out five people who got me through this wretched year. They may work in politics, or entertainment, or the arts, or any field in America or around the world. All that matters is that their contributions to the world in 2020 made it a little easier for the rest of us to make it through. We might not have made it without these people. They deserve, have well earned, some end-of-year love.
Also, send me your recommendations and nominees at email@example.com or in the Responses to this piece. Who has gotten you through this year?
Here are my first five:
The Bulgarian actress was unknown before showing up, almost mysteriously, in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, playing Borat’s heretofore unseen daughter. She instantly electrified the tired Borat concept and became not just the movie’s ace in the hole, but also its surprising heart. The Giuliani scene will live on forever, but what she does in this movie very much transcends that: She’s fearless and hilarious and committed and still doesn’t forget that we need to be cheering for her. We absolutely do.
This is an easy one, obviously, but he still deserves it. I’d argue a large part of the initial outpouring of goodwill toward Fauci was not just out of fear and desperation but also empathy; he obviously knew what the right thing to do was, he had to deal with the lunatic trying to stop him and yet still somehow found a way do the best he could while also conveying just how exasperating all this was. The lasting image of President Trump’s pandemic response will forever be Fauci with his face in his hands. We all knew exactly how he felt.
Another easy one, but basically, LeBron won NBA Finals MVP and his fourth championship right before his 36th birthday and spearheaded the biggest athlete-activist campaign of all time with More Than a Vote, which registered hundreds of thousands of voters and played more than a small part in voting Donald Trump out of the White House. Also he hosted a virtual graduation program with Barack Obama and fit in some Space Jam 2 filming. LeBron had a pretty active pandemic!
This was a terrific year for online comedy, from Sarah Cooper to James Austin Johnson’s amazing Trump impersonation to any video involving Rudy Giuliani, but I’m a sucker for Nick Lutsko, a Tennessee-based comedian whose hyperintense-energy and earworm-catchy songs have burrowed their way into my brain and refuse to leave. I love the political stuff — “RNC Theme Song,” if it were on Spotify, would really be the song that got me through 2020 — but I’ll also never look at a Spirit Halloween store the same again.
All I’ve wanted, really through all this pandemic, is for someone to just level with me and tell what in the world is actually going on. There have been many great writers who have done this, but no one has been more reliable than The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, who hasn’t written a word that wasn’t absolutely essential since all this began. Go back and read: He was right every time. And he’ll continue to be into 2021. And he’ll know what’s coming next, too.
Who are your nominees? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave them in the Responses.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.