The Decline

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As President-elect Joe Biden seeks to pull the country together, it seems as if Donald Trump is coming apart.

His world as president with awesome powers at his disposal is ending and he apparently cannot deal with it. Assuredly sulking, probably feeling sorry for himself, he is spinning a fantasy of having won the election as more and more of his countrymen, including his loyal followers, are dying in a horrific resurgence of the virus and COVID-19.

The death toll among Americans hit a quarter of a million. More than 1,100 people are dying daily. Trump virtually has ignored the devastation the stubborn disease has caused as he focuses on himself, himself only. It’s unconscionable.

Fifteen days after he lost that historic election to Biden, he tweeted, unhinged yet again, “I WON THE ELECTION. VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY!” There has been no meaningful finding of voter fraud.

He still has not conceded the election to Biden, ignoring the former vice president’s pleas to make that declaration so the presidential transition can begin officially. The purposeful delay by a mean, vindictive and detestable president is preventing coordination between administrations to confront the pandemic. Biden already has formed a 13-member task force of experts to deal with the disease beginning on Day 1.

Trump seemed paralyzed with inaction but for his tweets, in some of them firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper and others for perceived disloyalty. In one, he falsely claimed credit for the vaccines being produced by the drug companies Pfizer and Moderna. They have been pronounced about 94 percent effective. If approved, they may be available to health care workers beginning next month.

At the same time, Trump has been challenging election results in several states, only to have the lawsuits thrown out. He tried to steal electors in Wayne County, Mich., home to Detroit. It’s majority Black.  Those acting on his behalf were accused of racism. They backed off and the theft attempt failed.

Trump has made few public appearances or scheduled meetings. He’s often gone to his golf club in Virginia, pictured driving a golf cart. All this seclusion while states scramble again, as they did in the spring, for equipment to deal with the virus as hospitals fill to capacity nationwide.

He doesn’t seem to care.

Again, there’s no central authority that can repel the shocking acceleration of the rampant disease; it’s being left on its own. Vice President Mike Pence was expected to have that role, but he’s been as absent as his leader. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert, said the country needs to take “a uniform approach” to combatting the plague, not leave it to states and cities.

“The duty of a president is to protect the national security of the United States, and this is the most prominent disease of mass destruction America’s ever faced, and we have a commander in chief who has run away from the problem and has made it worse,” Jack Chow, a U.S. health official under President George W. Bush, told The Washington Post. “We are on the verge of losing this pandemic.”

Congressional Republicans, mute and spineless backers of a volatile and irresponsible president, have been silent. This at a time when renewed lockdowns again have caused joblessness, people in cars backed up in long food lines and 12 million workers threatened with losing unemployment benefits the day after Christmas if Congress doesn’t act.

And the nationwide moratorium on evictions for those who have been unable to pay their rent or mortgage expires New Year’s Eve.

Andrew Stettner, the co-author of an unemployment report, told the Post in an interview:

“Nobody is talking about this. We’re just careening into this huge cliff and it’s like it’s not even happening. People are just totally, completely ignoring the situation at a time when things are getting worse before they’re going to get better in terms of public health. And that just really is going to constrain people’s ability to get a job when benefits run out.”

Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, a Democrat, called for a second round of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Congress passed in March.

“We’re going to need a robust federal support system to help our states and economies recover beyond the federal CARES funds that expire at the end of the year,” he told the Associated Press.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been no help. House Democrats passed a second virus relief package of $3 trillion in May. It sits in the Senate as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have tried to compromise on a smaller House bill of $2.2 trillion. McConnell has refused, willing to authorize only $500 billion.

His historically typical attempt to block Democratic aspirations is a clue to what will happen when the Biden administration takes hold and runs into the McConnell wall, as President Barack Obama did.

“Republicans played Russian roulette with American democracy by supporting the presidency of an aspirational authoritarian,” said the New York Magazine Intelligencer. “They’ll continue doing so by supporting his paranoid attacks on the electoral process. The reason they’re willing to weaken American democracy is very simple: They don’t care about democracy.”

Tom Friedman, the columnist for The New York Times, wrote: “A political party that will not speak up against such a reckless leader is not a party any longer. It is some kind of populist cult of personality.”

He wrote that this has been obvious since the Republican Party ended its nominating convention in August without a platform.

“It declared that its platform was whatever its Dear Leader said it was,” Friedman wrote. “That is cultlike.”

The inconceivable stranglehold Trump seems to have on one of the country’s two major political parties is as if he were king, unhinged or not. But 75 million people refused to bow.

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.