In the first week of January 2020, the United States and Iran were on the brink of war. A week later, Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial began. In a normal year, those two events might have been among the defining moments, but this year, it’s hard to even keep track of them amid the chaos that followed.
Simply put, 2020 was a year of “news hyperinflation.” The U.S. experienced three of the most consequential events in recent history—COVID-19, the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, and the presidential election—in a cascade of overlapping crises.
Predictably, these three topics dominated Slate’s most popular stories of 2020, as readers sought to make sense of the unprecedented circumstances we all found ourselves in. The stories on this list are prime examples of Slate’s journalistic ethos. They offer a rigorously curious approach to decoding the news, cutting through the noise to explain what really matters.
1. Goodbye, Trumpworld
After Donald Trump lost his reelection bid, Slate’s writers bid farewell to the most nefarious members of his administration and inner circle. See ya!
By Various Authors, Nov. 7
2. America Is a Sham
The early days of the pandemic exposed the arbitrary cruelty of many of the rules that govern modern American society, as companies and government institutions changed supposedly unchangeable policies with ease.
By Dan Kois, March 14
3. Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide
As people protested the killings of Black Americans, law enforcement officers across the country responded by tear-gassing demonstrators, driving cars into crowds, and using force against civilians.
By Matthew Dessem, May 31
4. How Trump Killed Tens of Thousands of Americans
This behemoth of reporting is one of the most meticulous accounts of the human cost of Donald Trump’s (in)actions from the earliest days of the pandemic.
By William Saletan, Aug. 9
5. The Hamilton Movie Finally Lets All Fans Debate What Really Happens at the End
When the movie version of Hamilton landed on Disney+, it gave more people the chance to experience the musical beyond its soundtrack, including its ambiguous last moment.
By Sam Adams, July 2
6. Republicans Found a Way to Mail Checks and Still Screw People Over
The American government failed its citizens in many ways this year. Sending stimulus checks was one bright spot, but even that had major flaws.
By Jordan Weissmann, March 19
7. The Bible That Oozed Oil
“A small Georgia town, a prophecy about Donald Trump, and the story of how a miracle fell apart.”
By Ruth Graham, Feb. 27
8. The Store That Called the Cops on George Floyd Is Facing a Painful Reckoning
A teenage clerk at CUP Foods called 911, leading to tragedy. This in-depth feature looks at what happened on the ground as the store became a flashpoint for the grieving Minneapolis community.
By Aymann Ismail, Oct. 6
9. No, You Did Not Get COVID-19 in the Fall of 2019
Reporting on a new virus includes debunking inaccurate information that takes root, such as the baseless theory that COVID-19 was spreading undetected in California last fall.
By Jane C. Hu, April 10
10. Which Tech Company Is Really the Most Evil?
“The tech industry doesn’t intoxicate us like it did just a few years ago. Keeping up with its problems—and its fixes, and its fixes that cause new problems—is dizzying. Separating out the meaningful threats from the noise is hard.” That’s why we asked the experts to weigh in.
Entries compiled by Jonathan L. Fischer and Aaron Mak, Jan. 15
11. A Shot-by-Shot Analysis of the New Borat’s Giuliani Scene
An absurdist-yet-earnest investigation of what really happened in that hotel room where Rudy Giuliani stuck his hand down his pants in front of Borat’s daughter.
By Matthew Dessem, Oct. 22
12. Michael Jordan Is Exactly Who I Thought He Was
ESPN’s The Last Dance provided an inside look at Michael Jordan’s career. However, the doc failed to answer the question: What else is there to Michael Jordan besides basketball?
By Joel Anderson, May 17
13. Was Donald Trump Good at Baseball?
Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted that he could have played baseball professionally. Is that really true?
By Leander Schaerlaeckens, May 5
14. World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov on What The Queen’s Gambit Gets Right
The Netflix miniseries has been praised for its realistic depiction of elite chess gameplay. The Russian chess legend explains how he helped the show pull it off.
By Nitish Pahwa, Nov. 17
15. Melania Is Living Her American Dream
“What does Melania Trump want? Money. Like many of the qualities that lead people to declare Melania a cipher, an enigma, or even a ghost, the reality is likely as simple as that.”
By Laura Miller, June 18
Given the glut of news this year, there were many worthy stories and topics that weren’t represented in the top 15 list. Here are some standout Slate stories that didn’t make the cut but nonetheless made a mark this year.
The Biggest Problem in America, According to Its Prisoners
Slate and the Marshall Project teamed up to conduct a first-of-its-kind political survey inside America’s prisons, garnering responses from more than 8,000 incarcerated individuals. Here’s what they had to say.
By Aviva Shen and Katie Park, March 11
In High School, I Fell for an Actress 25 Years My Senior. She Changed My Life.
A chance encounter at the theater, an impulsive decision to move across the country, and the restless energy of a teenager champing at the bit to start living an adult life.
By Dan Kois, April 16
The David Duke Movement Wasn’t a Historical Oddity. It Was a Warning Sign.
The fourth season of Slate’s podcast Slow Burn focused on David Duke’s political rise and fall. The trajectory of the Klansman-turned-politician says a lot about our recent past, and our future.
By Josh Levin, June 10
Debt Nation: The Faces and Lives Behind America’s Student Loan Crisis
This project moves beyond numbers and statistics to show the incalculable burden student loans have placed on eight people’s lives.
By Rachelle Hampton, July 16
The Other Women in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Harvard Law Class
Before Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, she sat down for an interview with Slate to reflect on the nine other women in her law school class. These women’s remarkable stories and divergent experiences help contextualize RBG’s accomplishments.
By Dahlia Lithwick and Molly Olmstead, July 21
Liberty University Poured Millions Into Sports. Now Its Black Athletes Are Leaving.
This story weaves together many threads: the big business of college sports, the challenges of being a Black student at a predominantly white university, and the fallout from the religious right’s role in the culture wars.
By Joel Anderson, Aug. 2
What Do We Do When the Sky Is Orange?
On top of everything else, this year also featured catastrophic natural disasters intensified by climate change. In this dispatch from the Bay Area, a rumination on the dystopian realities of wildfire season.
By Lili Loofbourow, Sept. 11