After days of vote counting in key swing states, false accusations coming from President Donald Trump and his associates, and general anxiety across the nation, major news outlets on Saturday declared former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris the new president-elect and vice president-elect respectively. As Blavity previously reported, the news came as the media projected that Biden will win Pennsylvania, which puts him over the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election.
Even though the Trump campaign seems determined to pursue ridiculous legal challenges to the vote in Pennsylvania and other states, few believe that the final results will change. Biden’s win ends a long and unusual 2020 presidential campaign that occurred in a year unlike any other in American history.
As we mark Biden and Harris’ victory and the impending end of the Trump presidency, let’s look back on 10 of the most important moments from 2020 that led to this outcome and how Black people shaped the race each step of the way:
1. Black women prosecuted President Trump during his impeachment trial
With so much that's happened since the start of the year, some may forget that President Trump entered 2020 as an impeached president. Importantly, the crimes he was accused of committing centered around Biden, who was at the time one among many Democrats running for their party’s nomination.
Trump and associates like Rudy Giuliani clearly thought Biden was a threat, and they tried to pressure the president of Ukraine to manufacturer dirt on Biden’s son, Hunter, who had business dealings in the country. Trump using the power of the presidency to pressure a foreign leader to hurt a political opponent was an incredibly blatant abuse of power, and Democrats laid it all out in trial conducted by the U.S. Senate.
Among Trump’s harshest accusers during the trial were Representative Val Demings, who is also the former police chief of Orlando, and Senator Harris, previously California’s Attorney General. Nonetheless, Trump was acquitted in February by the Republican-controlled Senate, and Republicans later tried to revive the fake Hunter Biden scandal in the final weeks before Election Day, but the empty allegations never took off.
2. Biden won South Carolina based on the strength of Black voters
Biden quickly faded amidst a large crowd of Democratic candidates, as contenders like Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and even latecomer Michael Bloomberg eclipsed the former Vice President. Pundits wrote articles about why the Biden campaign had failed.
Meanwhile, Biden’s team consistently held out hope that their candidate’s support among Black voters would boost his chances. This bet on Black paid off big when Biden won a huge victory in South Carolina, the first southern state to hold a Democratic primary. Biden’s South Carolina win started a cascade of Black voter-led victories across the South and elsewhere, helping him eliminate his opponents one by one and secure the Democratic nomination. Although Biden had a few missteps along the way — let's hope he's retired the phrase "you ain't Black" — Black people continued to support, and occasionally school, the Democratic nominee and he acknowledged such in his acceptance speech.
3. COVID-19 wrecked America and hit Black people hardest of all
In January and February, President Trump consistently downplayed the danger of a mysterious flu-like illness that was first detected in China, even while privately confiding to journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the disease was much more infectious and deadlier than the flu. By March, infections and deaths from the coronavirus were spreading exponentially, the country had shut its borders to many countries, hospitals and entire states scrambled for medical supplies, important items disappeared from grocery store shelves, and large parts of the country shut down to slow the growing pandemic.
The U.S. would go on to lead the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the pandemic also created a massive economic crash as businesses and sometimes entire cities or states were locked down and millions of jobs disappeared. Both the health and economic aspects of the pandemic hit Black people hardest of all. Over 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have died of COVID-19. To make matters exponentially worse, Black unemployment rate went from being at a record low to peaking at over 16% and remaining in double digits throughout the rest of the year.
4. The Black Lives Matter movement became more widespread than ever
The May 25 killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, gruesomely captured on video, kicked off a series of protests in the U.S. and around the globe. The Black Lives Matter movement, founded by three queer Black women, is believed to be more widespread than any other in American and world history. Unfortunately, Floyd was neither the first nor last Black person to be killed or horribly injured by police or vigilantes. Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Jacob Blake and more either died or were severely injured by police this year.
In the midst of protests and activism, a number of significant, if often symbolic, changes were put in place. Anyone remember the day that Aunt Jemima syrup was a big deal? Additionally, previously radical notions like defunding or abolishing police forces entered mainstream conversation thanks to Black activists. Over time, both candidates had to deal with the BLM movement head on, with Biden addressing the reality of systemic racism while Trump sought to ignore racial disparities and deflect the conversation with his “law and order” rhetoric.
5. John Lewis died and left behind a legacy of fighting for the Black vote
Representative John Lewis was laid to rest this summer after a lifetime of fighting for the rights of Black people. In the months that followed, Biden and Harris would evoke the civil rights icon as they sought to mobilize and defend Black voters, while President Trump feuded with the congressman even after his death.
But perhaps most importantly, Lewis’ legacy continues to speak loudly after his death. For Democratic operatives, community activists and civil rights organizations, his defense of the Black vote became a rallying cry to make sure that as many Black people as possible were registered, enfranchised, informed and politically active. Activists like Stacey Abrams, who had been leading the fight for Black voting since disenfranchisement robbed her of the governor’s seat in Georgia, made sure that Black people could and would vote this year as never before. If Lewis is was watching now, I'm sure he'd be smiling.
6. Kamala Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president
Biden pledged in March to choose a woman as his running mate. As racial reckoning dominated the public consciousness this summer, many Black celebrities, politicians and voters argued that the moment demanded that a Black woman be on the ticket.
A number of exceptional women emerged as contenders, including Abrams, Denings and Susan Rice. But in the end, Harris emerged as the clear favorite. It was not a surprise, but it was a momentous occasion nonetheless, when Biden formally announced Harris as his running mate on August 11. Her addition to the ticket added an energy and an excitement that resonated in the Black and Indian American communities and across the nation as a whole. Harris is accomplishing a number of firsts with her election.
7. Republicans rushed to replace the Notorious R.B.G., and Black folks were not happy about it
Supreme Court Justice and feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18 after a long battle with cancer. The woman lovingly dubbed the Notorious RBG – a nickname that even Biggie’s son approved – left big shoes to fill. Even though Democrats such as Representative Maxine Waters urged the Senate to respect Ginsburg's dying wish to let the next president choose her replacement after the election, Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans rushed through a replacement. The Black community did not forget that these were the same folks who denied President Obama the chance to do so four years ago.
Groups including Black Lives Matter immediately objected to Republicans' choice of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who holds some questionable views on racial discrimination and many other things. Nevertheless, Barrett became the newest justice, along with pretty explicit acknowledgement from President Trump that he expected Barrett to side with him in a potential election dispute. Ginsburg's death and Barrett's confirmation fired up Republicans and Democrats alike, fueling everything from Jaime Harrison's near win against Lindsey Graham in the South Carolina Senate race to progressives' determination to retake the White House, the Senate and even the court system.
8. Trump told white supremacists to “stand back and stand by" so he needn't say much more
During the extremely messy first presidential debate, President Trump was asked to condemn white supremacy and declined to do so. That would have been bad enough, but not particularly surprising – ever since refusing to denounce former KKK leader David Duke and declaring that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, it was clear that Trump was happy to let racists support him. But Trump went beyond his usual remarks, telling the white supremacist group known as the Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by.” Many people, including the Proud Boys themselves, took this as an explicit endorsement of a white racist group by the President of the United States.
To Black people, the comment was a powerful sign of just how much we and everyone threatened by the president's racist agenda had at stake in this election. During the final debate, moderator Kristen Welker, who demonstrated yet again that Donald Trump is no match for an assertive Black woman, put the president on the spot for contributing "to a climate of hate and racial strife," allowing Biden to characterize Trump as "one of the most racist presidents we've had in modern history.”
9. Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19, returned to spread misinformation and virus to Black voters
President Trump took to Twitter in the early morning on October 2 to announce that he had contracted COVID-19. In the days to come, multiple Republican operatives and Trump associates, including his wife and son, also discovered that they had contracted the coronavirus. Trump’s COVID-19 infection sidelined the president from a week of campaigning, contributed to the cancellation of the second presidential debate, and made sure that the president’s dismal handling of COVID-19 continued to dominate headlines despite his attempt to shift focus to other issues.
By the time Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center – to host an event for people of color like we hadn’t been exposed to COVID-19 enough – it was clear that Trump had not learned anything from his own experience and that the pandemic would continue to be a huge campaign issue. This lack of lessons learned was on full display at this October 10 White House event. While telling the assembled crowd of Black and Latino Trump supporters about his accomplishments for their communities – and omitting how his mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis had more than wiped out any gains under his administration – Trump's people didn't even enforce social distancing to prevent these folks from contracting the coronavirus.
10. Black folks showed up and showed out during the election
Despite the efforts of politicians and activists to defend the Black vote, Democrats feared, and Republicans hoped, that the Biden campaign would be similar to that of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s, which failed to excite or mobilize Black voters. Early reports after Election Day even started to blame Black voters and activists for Democrats’ seemingly worse-than-expected performance this November.
But as more results started to come in, it became clear that Black people came out in record numbers, particularly in key swing states, and propelled the Biden-Harris campaign to victory. Democrats even have a chance of securing the Senate thanks to the work that Abrams, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Black voters in Georgia.
In short, the historic win for former Vice President Biden over President Trump would not have been possible without the efforts of countless Black Americans along the way and he knows it. This is a moment we earned and deserve to celebrate.