This article is part of The DC Brief, TIME’s political newsletter. register here to get stories like this delivered to your inbox.
History is recorded in random eras. Some are informed largely by cultural cues associated with specific leaders, others by seismic shifts. We marked the end of such an era with funeral of Queen Elizabeth II just this week. Other chapter titles frame history through social resets, as was the case with the Russian revolutions of 1917the commotion of 1968or even the arrival at 2008 of a supposedly post-racial United States with the Obama era. All were undoubtedly problematic bookends, but our rudimentary understanding of history as a series of events strung together in sequential order leads us to embrace these signposts with too little objection.
Well, it’s not pretentious to say that 2020 can be used as a starting point for the next era of modern history scholars: a reboot that began with a devastating a pandemicoverdue self-examination of race, President campaign which split the country in half and the acceleration of misinformation and conspiracy theories which resulted in a literal coup experience on January 6, indelible code just days after the end of 2020. The year was as consistent as any since 2001, and many celebrated its end with a little more relief than usual. Yet we cannot escape it. The recording keeps skipping. Headlines keep being recycled. It’s like Shirley Bessey’s earworm repeating, “It’s all just a bit of history repeating itself.”
It may not budge from 2020, a year in which workers and employers redefined their relationship, communities dramatically redrawn amid massive internal migration, and neighbors confronting each other over decades of inequality. It was also the year that half the country turned out to be in denial about the results of the presidential election, a conspiracy theory whose support is now on the entrance exam to join the modern Republican Party, and a cohort may graduate responsible for our elections heading into the 2024 races.
In a way, this tragic cycle led to the presidency of Joe Biden ice, or at least the perceptions of what it achieves and what it doesn’t achieve. Try as we might, Washington seems determined to repeat the news cycles of 2020 ad nauseum. Debates about the pandemic and its end, mixed with endless arguments about the Jan. 6 uprising, haunt D.C. — and the makers of Biden’s legacy. Donald Trump remains splashed out front pages as well as front pages as he faces mounting legal liability problems. Trump desired stumble to offer their mentor and prove they can be the most brutal of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border. And the resulting Trump campaign-style rallies prompt supporters to raise their hands in loyalty like a soundtrack that repeats the conspiracy theory in the QAnon theme song.
Let’s unpack the last note. While Qanon was born in the bowels of the internet in 2017, Trump came into play in 2020. leg with his followers seriously. At his weekend rally in Youngstown, Ohio, former Pres appear to drop all pretense and fully embrace a movement that believes he is waging a personal war against satanic child-trafficking liberals, will return to power any day now and retaliate by executing his enemies on live broadcast. A week after promoting an image of himself wearing a Q needle on his social media site Truth Social, he spoke at his rally over tune that was indistinguishable from the QAnon theme song. His fans responded by raising their index finger in a I nod to QAnon’s slogan “Where We Go One, We Go All.” It was like open i hug as did the former president QAnonavailable to the FBI warned it can become a violent movement. It was, frankly, chilling.
So where does this stasis leave in 2020 politics? It’s not clear. The loop seems unbreakable for now, when stories as impactful as Biden’s victories on infrastructure and climate changethe Covid-19 pandemic is waning hold on of the country, and Ukraine steel strength against Russia’s invasion should be a bigger part of the national conversation. However, the narrative seems stuck in the conditions of 2020. Sometimes this is simply a function of the controlling powers of history, at least until those responsible for writing the conventional histories prove themselves unworthy of that power. After all, racism certainly didn’t end in 2008 with the election of Obama, no matter how vehemently some pundits argued at the time. 2020 fever will be gone; it’s up to Americans to decide if that will happen soon or if they’ll be humming the QAnon jingle as they head back to the starting line for 2020.
Think about what matters in Washington. Sign up for the DC Brief newsletter.
More must-see stories from TIME