US election 2020: The defining moment of the Trump presidency

Trump salutes the departing Marine One helicopter Image copyright Getty Images

What four years ago would potentially have been regarded as the defining moment of the Trump presidency?

For his red-capped supporters, perhaps it might have been the completion of a wall along the southern border, celebrated with a topping-out ceremony at which the Mexican president handed over a cheque to cover the costs of its construction.

Maybe it would have been the sight of China capitulating in a trade war or North Korea surrendering its nukes. Or, more fantastically, the spectacle of Hillary Clinton being placed in handcuffs as she was led off to a federal penitentiary, the "lock her up!" chant made real.

None of those things, of course, has come to pass.

Instead, future historians of Donald Trump's first - and possibly final - term in the White House will regard the coronavirus crisis as its defining event and the president's contraction of Covid 19 as its culminating moment.

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US election 2020: The night American democracy hit rock bottom

Trump at debate in Cleveland Image copyright Getty Images

When the first televised debates were held in 1960, the world watched two young candidates, John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon, respectfully engage in an intelligent and elevated discussion.

Mostly we remember those inaugural encounters for Nixon's flop-sweat and clumsily applied make-up.

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Mayflower at 400: What we all get wrong about the Pilgrim Fathers

Mayflower replica sails into Plymouth Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A Mayflower replica sailed into Plymouth in August

At a time when America is straining under the weight and contradictions of its history, along comes the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower dropping anchor off these shores. Already this year the country has been forced to confront the baleful legacy of slavery, and the systemic racism that grew from that Original Sin.

Statues memorialising heroes of the Confederacy have been toppled and removed. New landmarks have emerged, such as the words Black Lives Matter painted in fluorescent yellow letters on the doorstep of the White House.

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Trump's shortcomings make weak opponent Biden look strong

Joe Biden in White House in 2014 Image copyright Getty Images

My early take on Joe Biden was that the weaknesses that made it harder for him to secure the Democratic presidential nomination would ultimately make it easier for him to win the presidency.

At a time when the Democratic Party was lurching leftwards, his pragmatic centrism would be advantageous because hard-hat voters in the Rust Belt and Starbucks moms in the swing state suburbs would find it unthreatening. Nor was his inability to rouse a crowd necessarily a drawback.

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A letter to our newborn American daughter

An American flag flies in front of The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center as the sun sets in New York City on December 15, 2019 as seen from Bayonne, New Jersey Image copyright Getty Images

You were born on the third night of curfew and in the third month of the Covid lockdown, entering the world as around us an epic history swirled.

When your mother went into labour, police helicopters circled above our apartment building. Our midwife's assistant was questioned by officers outside the door. And when we looked out of our window shortly after your birth, a convoy of New York squad cars darted over the Brooklyn Bridge towards the towers of Lower Manhattan, lights flashing scarlet and blue.

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Coronavirus: New York becomes Ground Zero again

Sunset over Manhattan Image copyright Getty Images

The headlines seemed to be crowding in on us. The coronavirus had reached American shores.

It had come to the outer suburbs of New York. There were cases in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

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Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US - and its president

Man in Times Square Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The usually packed Times Square is empty

There are no fresh flowers at the 9/11 Memorial any more. An American altar usually decorated with roses, carnations and postcard-sized Stars and Stripes is sequestered behind a makeshift plastic railing. Broadway, the "Great White Way", is dark. The subway system is a ghost train. Staten Island ferries keep cutting through the choppy waters of New York harbour, passing Lady Liberty on the way in and out of Lower Manhattan, but hardly any passengers are on board. Times Square, normally such a roiling mass, is almost devoid of people.

In the midst of this planetary pandemic, nobody wants to meet any more at the "Crossroads of the World". A city known for its infectious energy, a city that likes to boast it never even has to sleep, has been forced into hibernation. With more cases than any other American conurbation, this city is once again Ground Zero, a term no New Yorker ever wanted applied here again. With manic suddenness, our world has been turned upside down, just as it was on September 11th.

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Trump impeachment trial: Is US politics beyond the point of repair?

Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell

The new decade in American politics has started with a hangover that keeps on getting worse - a quickening of the downward democratic spiral we have witnessed over the past 30 years.

So much of what has gone awry has been resident in the trial of Donald Trump.

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Joe Biden: A frontrunner stumbles in the age of #MeToo

Joe Biden Image copyright Alamy

The most damaging political scandals are usually those that draw attention to an existing vulnerability in a candidate's public persona.

The Hillary Clinton email controversy reinforced a reputation for evasion and also the sense the Clintons did not feel bound by rules that applied to lesser mortals.

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Bill Clinton acquittal: Echoes of a sex scandal 20 years on

A collage of Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump Image copyright Getty Images

The paradox of the Bill Clinton impeachment saga was that it made it easier for Donald Trump to become president and harder for his wife, Hillary. Twenty years after his acquittal, it's clearer to see how that seismic event shaped American politics and culture today.

In a quarter century of covering US politics, I only have ever got round to framing two newspaper front pages. The first was when President Bill Clinton was impeached in December 1998. The second was when he was acquitted at the conclusion of his Senate trial the following February.

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