President Donald J. Trump has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center. He is now paying the price that so many others have paid for his disregard of science. We wish him well and a full and speedy recovery. We also recognize it is important, approximately one month before the presidential election, to reflect on the impact Trump’s disregard and mismanagement has had on the American democracy.
In his inaugural address on January 20, 2017, after talking about crime, gangs and drugs in our inner cities, Donald Trump declared, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
It did not. Over the course of his presidency Trump has done virtually nothing to end what he labeled that “American carnage.” What Trump has done, instead, has been to wreak his own form of American carnage.
Trump’s American carnage has engulfed this nation and destroyed lives and livelihoods. It has eaten at the heart and soul of our democracy, vilified the innocent, and pitted citizen against citizen.
Trump’s American carnage comes in words and deeds. It drags reality, sensibility, and civility into the murkiness of the swamp. It creates and churns in chaos.
Trump’s American carnage has been going on since he began his first campaign for the presidency. Examples of it abound. Virtually no one and nothing is free from its deleterious effect.
Books have been written about it. Recent ones include: After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency by Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith; It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump by Stuart Stevens; and the well-publicized Rage by Bob Woodward.
That’s rage, not courage. There are no profiles in courage from the Trump presidency. There are only profiles in carnage.
We addressed Trump’s carnage on: the branches of government, federal government agencies, the Republican Party; the free press and media; immigration; voting; and civic life in an earlier blog. In this new piece, we highlight some of Trump’s carnage related to COVID-19; climate change; and, those in the military service. And we go into depth examining Trump’s full-frontal assault on the presidential election process.
Trump confessed to Bob Woodward that he knew that COVID-19 was “deadly stuff” but that he deliberately “played it down.” His defense of that action was that he didn’t want “to create panic.”
Trump instead launched a personal disinformation campaign. He repeatedly asserted that COVID-19 would have a minimal impact in America and would someday magically disappear. He had no national plans put in place to manage the response to it.
As a result of this, there was no national panic — only millions of cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths. One projection is that there will be more than 400,000 deaths by the end of the year.
This is an American tragedy brought on by Trump’s carnage. A study by Columbia University released in May found that if social distancing had begun one week earlier in March than it did, that would have saved 36,000 lives. Two weeks earlier would have saved 54,000 lives and reduced the number of cases by one million. At the time the study was done, there had been approximately 93,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases in the U.S.
Trump did not make the coronavirus pandemic disappear. But he has made coverage of COVID-19 disappear by waving his presidential magic wand, not having any more regular White House updates on it, and barely mentioning it as one of the items discussed in briefings or on the campaign trail.
Trump is also waving his presidential magic wand in an attempt to make climate change and climate change science disappear as well. During a briefing convened while he was in California to look at the devastating impact of wildfires there, he advised not to worry about what climate scientists said because “It’ll start to get cooler.” When he was challenged that climate scientists would not agree with his assessment, he responded, “I don’t think science knows actually.”
Trump knows, though. He also knows that those who fought in battle and gave their lives in World War I and are buried in a cemetery in France are not war heroes. In his opinion, they are “losers” and “suckers”.
Numerous press sources confirm Trump saying things like this about veterans. He and his surrogates deny it, however. Trump also denies that he ever called Vietnam War hero Senator John McCain, who spent five and one-half years as a prisoner of war a “loser,” even though there is a videotape of him doing so.
Trump can’t wave his presidential magic wand and make that videotape disappear. Nor, unfortunately, can we wave a magic wand and make Trump disappear.
We can vote him out of office, however. Doing so is critical because our American democracy, our democratic republic cannot survive four more years of Donald Trump’s American carnage.
Evidence and commentary supporting this cataclysmic assessment comes from a variety of sources, including Donald Trump himself, the Donald’s niece Mary Trump, and Bob Woodward.
On September 15, Donald Trump made the mistake of participating in an ABC Town Hall where, instead of getting soft-ball questions and adulation from Fox News interviewers, he got tough questions and rebuttals from everyday citizens in the audience and moderator George Stephanopoulos. Trump’s unscripted responses demonstrated his manifest ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, and a level of incompetence that jeopardizes the future of this nation.
During that Town Hall, Trump once again asserted that the coronavirus would go away. This time he said that would happen because of herd mentality. He meant herd immunity.
There is a herd mentality. That is the province solely of Trump supporters who have sworn blind allegiance to their master, who has rounded and roused them all up.
That mentality, while a political touchstone for him, will do nothing to curtail the pandemic. In fact, it might very well make it worse as many of those supporters violate the basic protocols (wearing masks, etc.) for flattening the curve.
During the Town Hall, Trump also said in reply to one questioner that he didn’t “play down” the pandemic. He actually “up-played” it. As is so often the case, the opposite of what Trump said is true.
Trump is a golfer. He must know that you should not play it down or play it up. According to the rules of golf, you should play the ball as it lies. Trump gets the lying part but not much else in terms of how he manages and behaves on the golf course or in life.
One more lie that Trump has been advancing for some time, that he propagated again in the Town Hall, is that he and the Republicans have a health care plan ready to roll out. He said that plan, which he has called spectacular in the past, would address pre-existing conditions.
The fact is that there was no plan. That is why on September 24, a little less than two weeks after the Town Hall, Trump signed an executive order stating that is the policy of the United States that those with pre-existing conditions would be protected.
That may the policy, but there are no substantive or financial provisions for covering that protection. This egregiously misleading order was more a presidential sleight of hand than waving of the presidential magic wand. As a result, these conditions that Trump tried to get rid of with the unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he is now asking the Supreme Court to invalidate, might in reality be eliminated rather than protected.
If the Affordable Care Act was struck down, it would eliminate the guarantee of coverage for tens of millions of people with pre-existing conditions, thus leaving them in worse condition. Because of the carnage wrought by Donald Trump and those around him, the entire country is already in a much worse condition.
In an interview with Washington Post, Mary Trump stated that one of the reasons she wrote her “tell-all” memoir about her uncle Donald and family is that she was compelled to do so by “watching the country’s leadership devolve into ‘a macro version of my incredibly dysfunctional family’.” Ms. Trump, who is a clinical psychologist, titled her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.
We do not know whether Bob Woodward would agree with Mary Trump’s assessment that Donald Trump is the “World’s Most Dangerous Man.” We do know that after doing more than eighteen hours of interviews with Trump, Woodward concluded, based upon the evidence he secured, that Trump was the “wrong man for the job.” And because of his concern for the future of the country, he unequivocally stated this at the end of his book, Rage.
Woodward took it one step further in his 60 Minutes appearance with Scott Pelly on Sunday September 13. During his interview, Woodward said, “And one of the things that President Trump told me, ‘In the presidency, there’s always dynamite behind the door.’ The real dynamite is President Trump. He is the dynamite.”
That dynamite has already exploded and caused great carnage to this country and its citizens. But it appears the biggest explosion may be yet to come, through Trump’s efforts to “rig” the outcome of the upcoming presidential election in his favor.
Trump asserted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention that the only way he could lose this election was if it was rigged. Again, the obverse of what Trump says is true.
Trump understands that the only way he can ensure he wins is to rig the election process. Much has been written about his railing against mail-in ballots as massively fraudulent and the efforts to restructure the U.S. Postal Service through means such as eliminating mail drop boxes, automated mail processors, and staff overtime to make mail-in more difficult. Those are blatantly transparent efforts to reduce the number of votes that come in for Joe Biden.
There is absolutely no evidence that supports the assertion of massive voter fraud. Study after study by reputable groups such as the Brookings Institution show only isolated and individual instances of ballot tampering. As for the Post Office restructuring, that created such a ruckus and pushback from both sides of the aisle that the administration has promised no more interference and prompt delivery of mail-ins.
What has been done to date in an attempt to manipulate the election process is scary. What Barton Gellman projects might be on the way in his recent article for The Atlantic is horrific.
In his lengthy article, Gellman spells out Trump’s pre-election activities and then posits what could be done during the election and post-election. The primary election-related activities during the election itself would be to call federal personnel out to polling places, allegedly to prevent voter fraud, but actually to cause voter intimidation. And to encourage his supporters to confront voters at polls in primarily Democratic areas as they come to vote.
The turning out of supporters might sound a little far-fetched, but it has already happened. In Fairfax, VA in mid-September, Trump supporters disrupted early voting by forming lines, waving signs, and forcing voters to walk around them to get into the polling place.
Gellman points out that the reason Trump is so fearful of mail-in ballots is that for the past several national elections there has been a “blue shift,” with mail-in ballots trending toward Democrats. He also notes that surveys indicate that many more Democrats than Republicans plan to vote by mail.
Because of this, post-election Trump would have legal teams at each major Democratic polling site to subject all mail-in ballots to intensive scrutiny in order to invalidate as many as possible. Gellman notes that during the primaries this spring, Republican lawyers in Pennsylvania did a dry run in order to develop a protocol to eliminate ballots that had flaws such as missing signatures and signatures in the wrong place. He observes that nationally in the primaries this year over ½ million mail-ins were ruled ineligible.
Scrutinizing mail-ins might not seem inappropriate. And it isn’t, if reviews are done appropriately, with both Democrats and Republicans examining and agreeing on each ballot.
This is where the plot turns problematic, however. Gellman presents a hypothetical of Trump having a slight lead on election day in the results in the swing states that will determine the election. As the mail-ins are counted, that lead begins to disappear and it becomes obvious that Biden will prevail and get enough electoral votes in these states to be declared the national winner.
That’s where Gellman predicts that Trump and his lawyers would step in and declare the process fraudulent in those key swing states. He notes that Republicans control both legislative chambers in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin
He then conjectures that there would be two slates of electoral voters from each such state. One based upon the vote count and voters and the other selected by the legislators, and both would show up to vote on December 14.
The story descends from there as Gellman describes and details a slippery slope during what he labels the period of “The Interregnum” from election day on November 3 to the casting of electoral votes in states on December 14, to their confirmation in Washington DC on January 6. Gellman details a hellish situation with a legal donnybrook and a national crisis in this period and the Supreme Court getting involved.
How does the story end? Gellman and others are uncertain. The one thing that can be said is if this plot is allowed to unfold, it will not bode well for the future of our American democracy. If it goes this route, Donald Trump and his cohorts will have lit his sticks of dynamite and blown it up.
Some might read Gellman’s article as a totally impossible doomsday scenario. But Gellman is not alone in his analysis. Frank Bruni of the New York Times depicts a very similar scenario in his September 27 op-ed.
Indeed, these scenarios would definitely seem impossible with any prior President of the United States. With Trump involved, they do not only seem impossible. They seem probable. That is because he has continuously proven that with him there can be no hope for normalcy, decency, or redemption.
Trump reinforced this assessment in the first presidential debate, which he turned into a bizarre debacle like nothing ever seen before in these debates through his shrill self-serving shenanigans. Trump refused to abide by the rules of the debate, constantly interrupting moderator Chris Wallace and his opponent Joe Biden with innuendoes and inanities.
When asked, he refused to say that he would accept the election results. Instead he called the mail-in ballot process a “fraud and a sham” and declared, “This is a horrible thing for our country. No, this is not going to end well.”
Trump also refused to denounce white supremacists. And, when Proud Boys, a hate group of white supremacists, were mentioned specifically, he said they should “Stand back and stand by.” This was a shot across the bow for what to expect if he does not win the election.
Trump’s classless and clueless performance in the one and one-half hour debate was not revelatory. It was the Donald Trump we have grown to know and expect — and must be prepared to confront in order to ensure his radical and reckless rhetoric does not become reality.
What has become a personal reality for President Trump is COVID-19. In his remarks at a Rose Garden briefing on September 28, one day before the debate, Trump once again reiterated the country is “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus.
Just four days later on October 2, Trump rounded that corner and the coronavirus was there to meet him. Early in the morning, he sent out a tweet announcing that both he and his wife Melania had been diagnosed as having COVID-19.
Trump is currently in isolation and according to the White House has “mild symptoms.” We wish him a full and speedy recovery and a return to the campaign trail.
When and if he does, the American public must be prepared to seize the initiative on the election. This must be the case because as Barton Gellman comments, “Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede.” Don’t take Gellman’s word for that — take Donald Trump’s.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that he would not commit to a “peaceful transition of power.” He has stated only, “We’re going to have to see what happens.”
What can happen to make Trump see what he will not see and commit to an orderly and peaceful transfer of power? The answer to that is nothing.
What can happen, though, is Trump can be neutralized by voters exercising their rights to speak out and to vote Trump out in an overwhelming manner. Unlike the Proud Boys, patriotic Americans do not need to “stand back and stand by.” They need to “stand up and turn out.”
Gellman suggests considering voting in person, working in the polls, talking to your friends and contacts to help them understand the electoral process, and that it is normal for things not to be decided on Election Night. We second those actions.
Gellman also calls on those involved with and managing the electoral process to ensure that it is adhered to and not is not torn and ripped asunder. This is also essential for a peaceful and orderly transition.
At the end of the day, though, it must be our American voices that matter in this most critical election. This is why on Election Day, November 3, 2020, the American people must vote Trump out of office.
Then, on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, they can raise their voices and say, “Trump’s American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Those words will attest that our national nightmare is over and our new political leaders and we concerned citizens can begin rebuilding our democracy.