Slipping Away

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

Donald Trump didn’t receive the Nobel Peace Prize but he did get to impersonate fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as he spoke to his fans from the White House balcony at high noon Saturday.

The American Il Duce (Italian for The Leader) doesn’t speak Italian but delivered his usual standard campaign bundle of lies and cut them to about 20 minutes in his first in-person appearance since he returned Oct. 5 from a four-day hospital stay suffering COVID-19. It’s said he’s not now contagious.

Soapboxes and stages, not balconies, are more of a mainstay for American political leaders. But Trump’s occasional penchant for jutting his chin is so reminiscent of Mussolini’s similar posture and how he addressed his people from a balcony outside his office above Rome’s Piazza Venezia. Their girth is comparable.

As Hitler’s fascist partner, Mussolini, a true orator, wound up being dragged through the streets, his dead body hanged upside down amidst World War II.

Though he didn’t get the Nobel, for which Trump was nominated by a Norwegian right-winger (maybe he didn’t make enough peace beyond Bahrain and the United Arab that normalized relations with Israel), his consolation prize was being unleashed from his White House crib to appear before his public, contagious or not, to stop him from ranting about being locked up.

Trump’s balcony performance in blue suit, white shirt and blue and white striped tie was staged after a week of confusion about the contagion factor, a duel with his rival Joe Biden about attending an Oct. 15 debate, which eventually was canceled, and his nixing then approving negotiations about a second virus relief package, which is stalled.

He bragged from behind a lectern on the balcony that he had “great poll” numbers in several battleground states. But The Washington Post said he was behind Biden nationally by an average of 53 percent to 42 percent of all polls. He just likes to make things up, numbers included.

The latest polls show Trump support collapsing nationwide “as he alienates women, seniors and suburbanites,” The New York Times reported Friday. It said private Republican surveys indicated “he is repelling independents” in solidly red states that include Montana, Kansas and Missouri so that Biden “has drawn closer.”

That could be because of his disastrous performance dealing with the virus and his incredibly antagonistic showing during the “debate” with Biden.

“There are limits to what people can take with the irresponsibility, the untruthfulness, just the whole persona,” said former Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who served notice he’s voting for Biden, the Times reported.

The virus and its follow-on dreaded COVID-19 appears to be the No. 1 topic on American minds and could be the deciding factor in the election. But Trump still is dismissing it despite its being America’s worst health calamity in a century.

“People are going to get better like I did,” he told Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio show Friday, a day when the Post said 850 Americans had died. “And I recovered immediately.” Of course, few people receive the intensive care and experimental drugs that he did. They should.

More than 213,000 Americans have died and another 7.5 million have been infected with the virus. About 44,000 Americans contract the disease daily as it spikes through much of the country for the second time.

Yet Trump still insists on dismissing the seriousness of the virus; said his infection was a “blessing from God,” —  whatever that means – and claimed immunity and still his campaign recklessly conducts indoor rallies with surrogates. ABC News reported Oct. 7 that 34 White House people and others have contracted the disease.

“When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent,” said the highly respected, authoritative New England Journal of Medicine in an editorial Oct. 7. It was founded in 1812.

“We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs,” it said.

The president has been getting it from all sides as his critics have become less reticent in holding back their opinions of him, his administration and his irresponsible and irrepressible behavior, much of it juvenile. The criticisms have become more blatant, more strident the more he trails Biden in the polls.

Trump made the mistake of calling Republican strategist Steven Schmidt a ”total loser” and a “blathering idiot” in a tweet. Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential candidacy against President Barack Obama, is a founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Its clever biting ads have gone viral.

Schmidt fired back in a lengthy scorching Facebook against Trump:

“Everyone is laughing at you. You are a joke. A splendid moron turned deadly clown.” And:

“We hear from the White House and the campaign every day. They are betraying you. They are looking to get out alive and salvage careers and their names.” And:

“It’s almost over now. You are the greatest failure in American history. You are the worst president in American history. Disgrace will always precede your name. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will grow up ashamed of their names.” And, finally:

After labeling Donald Trump Jr. a loser, Schmidt closed with, “But it is you who will be remembered as America’s greatest loser. You will be crushed in the election!”

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.