The Abyss

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

We’ve touched bottom. Fear of another four years of Donald Trump must be much of the impetus for the huge turnout at the polls and the overwhelming number of mail-in and absentee ballots.

This is the first time in decades of voting that I’ve been struck in the pit of my belly with fear because of an election and the potential of a chaotic aftermath. Trump is the cause of the fear – fear for my country – and not only because of his candidacy. It’s his repeated flagrant irresponsible warnings about the election. And what he will do if he loses.

He has said the election is “rigged.” He has said time and again that mail-in voting will lead to fraud even though fraudulent voting in this country is rare. He has told his armed, white buddies, the Proud Boys to “stand back, stand by.” That statement has stirred fear of post-election violence.

Worse, Trump has told us he doesn’t intend to abide by the results of the election if he loses, which he well might. The suggestion is he will challenge the outcome in close races in the courts. More than 200 of them, including the Supreme Court, have been packed with conservatives in the past two years.

Stirring fear and concern and being irresponsible has been a mainstay of his presidency, his trademark. That’s what he’s good at.

It could be direct, as when he threatened in August 2017 to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangered the United States. Or when he sought to withhold military aid to Ukraine if it didn’t give him dirt on Joe Biden he could use for his re-election campaign. Or when he threatened to withdraw from the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic.

I’ve written much about Trump and his attitude toward the coronavirus to the point of repetition. But it keeps coming back, getting worse, now killing 228,000 Americans, infecting nine million. And still Trump keeps saying it’s turning around. It’s as if the disease doesn’t exist for him even though he was hospitalized for it.

I’ve never encountered someone like this, an angry, apparently lonely individual acting as the embodiment of evil intent, someone out of Edgar Allen Poe.

What bothers me so much is that he didn’t even try to confront COVID-19 despite knowing its severity from the outset. His dismissal of the disease is incomparable, particularly when he had the boundless resources of his kingdom waiting to be called on.

Trump has not uttered or tweeted one word of sympathy for those who are ill or have passed on before their time. Nothing. His reaction to the pandemic, to the suffering, to the effect it’s had on the cratered economy, the jobless, the hungry says everything you want to know about him.

It’s as if we’ve all been characters in a horror movie for the past four years. It started the very first day of his presidency. It was when he whined about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, bristling at the suggestion President Barack Obama’s was bigger.

How unbelievable was it to witness the leader of the most powerful country in the history of the world going through a paroxysm over the size of a crowd. How sick. This is our new president? There was horror in that, too – as in, what have our countrymen and women elected to lead us?

As if to underscore the point of what we’ve been living through, The Washington Post published an opinion article Saturday by Stephen King, no less a symbol of horror.

“America is more set against itself than at any time since the Civil War, and Trump is the cause,” King wrote. “. . . He is that dangerous combination of low pressure and warm water around which hurricanes form.  . . .Yet Trump’s core support has shrunk very little – and it has hardened. The MAGA contingent is an apolitical rock packed into a Republican snowball.”

Wade Davis, an award-winning author who holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia, writes in conclusion of witnessing America going downhill.

“Odious as he may be, Trump is less a cause of America’s decline than a product of its descent,” he wrote in the Aug. 6 edition of Rolling Stone. “As they stare into the mirror and perceive only the myth of their exceptionalism, Americans remain almost bizarrely incapable of seeing what has actually become of their country. . . .

“In a complete abandonment of the collective good, U.S. laws define freedom as an individual’s inalienable right to own a personal arsenal of weaponry, a natural entitlement that trumps even the safety of children; in the past decade alone 346 American students and teachers have been shot on school grounds.”

The is a fear among us for the future of our country is genuine.

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.