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24 December 2020

What I got right, and wrong, about the world in 2020

In the case of Donald Trump’s post-election assault on democracy, I wish I’d been less prescient.  

By Emily Tamkin

The thing that I got most wrong this year – and I didn’t put this in writing, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that I missed this entirely – was about a virus in Wuhan, China. I had no idea that the early outbreaks would herald the beginning of a global pandemic. I had no idea, if I am being very honest, that it would affect me not just as a piece of news, but a fact of life.

The first thing I got wrong in writing was for the New Statesman. I managed to be wrong in this publication’s pages even before I started on staff here, which feels like an accomplishment. In January, after the United States killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, I wrote for this publication about how the US has not yet learned lessons from the Iraq War. I believe its thesis largely holds up, but the piece also strongly implied that the two countries would escalate militarily. I still think that the story of 2020 could have been one of tension between the US and Iran were it not for the pandemic.

The thing about which I was most repeatedly wrong this year was my expectation that Donald Trump would win the US presidential election. Even when I wrote in October that I was beginning to doubt my long-held belief in a Trump victory, I caveated it by saying that, on the whole, I still thought Trump would win. I could say, “Well, I was right that it would be closer than people thought,” but that would be an annoying evasion of the reality, which is that I was wrong about this as well.

What I did get right, happily for me but sadly for my country, was that Trump would be entirely ungracious in defeat. I wrote that Trump, in casting doubt over mail-in voting and the legitimacy of the election, was himself a threat to our democracy and would make this a different kind of race, one that would set a terrifying precedent for our future even if Joe Biden won.

And I stand by that. I do not think that wondering whether it was an attempted coup (or a self-coup or autogolpe) was dramatic. I maintain that it is a reasonable question to ask when the leader of a country is claiming that he would have been re-elected were it not for widespread voter fraud that no one can prove.

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I predicted that Trump would try to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the election, and that he would try to run challenges through the legal system, right up to the Supreme Court, to see if his three appointed justices would help him (they didn’t). I also suggested that such conduct would have consequences, not least that millions of people would continue to believe Trump and follow his lead in distrusting the media as well as the very institutions and processes of democracy.

I wish I’d been wrong about all of that, too. But I wasn’t.

[See also: Republican senators have finally congratulated Joe Biden – but it’s too little too late]