You may find yourself staring at images of mobs storming the United States Capitol. And you may find yourself watching fellow citizens assault law enforcement officers in the name of a baseless conspiracy, and you may find yourself looking at those beautiful halls of our democracy getting trashed. And you may ask yourself, how did we get here?
The past four fractious years have split us in two. Americans now live on two completely different political planets, with two seemingly irreconcilable points of view. If you’re a Trump supporter, you saw his presidency as four awesome years of owning the libs, beating back the Deep State and watching the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln make America great again. If you’re not, you just lived through four hellacious years of watching norms, laws, the country’s standing in the world—even the foundations of democracy itself—be devastated by an amoral narcissist who didn’t care how much damage he left in his wake.
Editing POLITICO’s Cartoon Carousel, a weekly compilation of cartoons from across the political spectrum, I’ve seen the hardening of these divides in real time. As liberal cartoonists sketched Trump’s presidency as a mounting series of horrors, their counterparts on the right turned the celebrity businessman into a kind of crusading folk hero. The differences were never more extreme than they were last Wednesday, as a band of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to stop Congress from certifying the election results.
Cartoons usually have a special way of enraging partisans, but they can also do the opposite—offer an opportunity to consider what our estranged, but still fellow, Americans are thinking and feeling. Leaving aside the question of what’s actually based in reality, we’ve created a visual timeline of these tumultuous years that hopefully offers a window into these two opposing views—the red planet versus the blue planet—and just how far apart they are.
Trump takes office with a “drain the swamp” message, and falsely claims to have the biggest inaugural audience in U.S. history. The next day, enormous crowds protesting the president at the Women’s March eclipse his inauguration’s attendance.
Trump and Russia
As the FBI investigates whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, many Democrats seize on the Steele dossier, a shocking political opposition report funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign that alleges Trump has extensive ties to the Russian government and cooperated with Moscow to damage Clinton during the campaign.
After a counterprotester is brutally killed during the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Trump lays blame for the violence on both sides and says that there were also “very fine people, on both sides.”
Trump orders the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Northern Syria, leaving longtime U.S. allies the Kurds without support.
Trump announces sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and on other goods from China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Japan, among other countries.
Trump and Kim Jong Un
The commander in chief and the North Korean leader trade threats, with Trump warning that more threats from Kim “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination
During Kavanaugh’s contentious Supreme Court nomination hearings, Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. He denied the allegations.
The Mueller Report
As Trump tries to shut down the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia, his allies brand the probe a “witch hunt.”
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Trump demands Congress greenlight an additional $8.6 billion in new funding for his signature policy, the wall—more than six times what Congress set aside for border projects the previous year.
Trump continues his crackdown on illegal immigration, promising to send thousands of asylum seekers back to Mexico. Meanwhile, a poignant image of a father and daughter who drowned trying to cross from Mexico to the United States spreads across social media.
While the left seized on the outright falsehoods and wild spin coming from the White House podium, the right chafed at what they perceived as unfair, overhyped coverage from cable news.
Democrats begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, and (most) Republicans fight them the whole way.
Covid Part I
A pandemic arrives. Trump supporters accuse Democrats of overhyping it; anti-Trumpers accuse the president and anti-lockdown protesters of making it worse.
George Floyd Protests
After George Floyd is killed by a policeman, anti-racist protests erupt across the country. While the protests are overwhelmingly peaceful, some conservatives focus on incidents of looting in some cities. Liberals, meanwhile, call out the armed far-right agitators and private militia members who showed up, in some cases, to encourage violence.
A Racial Awakening
Many see the anti-racist movement sweeping the country as long overdue; others fear its consequences.
Covid Part II
In September, Trump says of the staggering death toll from Covid-19, “it is what it is.”
The 2020 Election
On November 3, 2020, Americans cast their ballots to determine our next president.
The Election Aftermath
After Trump’s loss, his allies refuse to accept defeat. With the country seemingly as divided as it’s ever been, many fear what will come in the next four years.
The Capitol Riot
Encouraged by the president, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying U.S. presidential election results in favor of Biden.