On June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump rode down that escalator to announce his unlikely candidacy, it’s possible that not even those most alarmed by the prospect of a Trump presidency — however remote — could have seen this coming.
It’s possible they would have imagined that even Donald Trump — as president in a moment of extreme national peril — would have made a genuine effort to rise to the occasion. Surely, he would at last be compelled to shift emotional gears, from the familiar single-minded focus on “me first” to an unfamiliar, but determined, commitment to “we first.”
Unfortunately, anyone entertaining such thoughts would have been dabbling in delusion, a kind of magical thinking that chooses to willfully ignore a lifelong pattern of behavior. It should have been clear, for example, that there is no empathy gear to which Donald Trump can switch. As always, he’s totally locked in.
So here we are. Trapped in Trumpworld, enveloped by chaos, uncertainty and grief. And, most ominous, there is no obvious way out for the foreseeable future due to the absence of responsible leadership and being held accountable for what results from it. If Mr. Trump can’t lie or buy his way out of a problem, he’s lost. And neither of his signature moves is going to defeat the coronavirus.
MAGA, the movement to “make America great again,” has given us an America that is now the object of world pity and ridicule. In just a few short years, we’ve taken the down escalator on a ride to dangerous depths of division, decline and despair. And Mr. Trump, forever blame-shifting, bears the lion’s share of blame for this state of affairs.
Stunning but not surprising — those four words are a recurring theme among the non-delusional as the casualties of this era continue to grow. Those casualties, which include our core values like truth and the rule of law, have with the pandemic and Trump’s failure to respond now expanded to encompass the needless, avoidable deaths of countless Americans.
When he hasn’t been denying its existence or wishing it away, Mr. Trump has described the virus as the invisible enemy, and himself as a “wartime president,” intent on conquering it. But this has been a wartime president like no other. Instead of doing his job and leading a coordinated national response to the pandemic, he has outsourced the work to state and local officials. Instead of meeting the moment, he has run away from it.
So here we are. In the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century, we are suffering the consequences of a shambolic presidency at its worst. With no unifying plan or strategy to follow, governors and mayors are left to fend for themselves. The process is incoherent, the results spotty at best.
Besieged daily by mixed messages, with Mr. Trump and his minions trying to discredit expert scientific opinion, the public is divided and confused, its response and behavior lacking any shared sense of purpose and resolve.
So it’s no accident that, with only 4 percent of the world’s population, America has 25 percent of the world’s coronavirus-related deaths.
Back on March 30, before the number of fatalities was to reach its current alarming level, a Boston Globe editorial cited the Trump administration’s incompetence as the primary cause of preventable suffering and death, declaring that Mr. Trump “has blood on his hands.” Also in March, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner suggested a case could be made that the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis could leave him open to a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
If anything, President Trump’s ineptitude looks exponentially worse now, four months and some 150,000 American deaths later. Having proved unwilling and unable to prosecute a war against the virus, he is now trying to distract us by deliberately intensifying a different kind of war — the culture war. Having put up the white flag in surrender to the virus, he is now waving the flag of white grievance. He has retreated to his comfort zone, believing that with the economy in disarray and trailing Joe Biden badly in the polls, this is his only remaining path to re-election.
And this is hardly surprising. When Mr. Trump is in trouble, this is where his instincts invariably take him. So in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder, he attacks peaceful protesters rather than honestly address the institutional racism that fuels them. He resorts to “law and order” rhetoric, long established code language to incite his political base.
Fact is, the only war he’s interested in fighting is against the most disadvantaged and vulnerable among us, especially people of color. That’s why, in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic, he seems more concerned with protecting Confederate statues than the lives of Americans. Even as the case for removing those divisive symbols gains broad public support.
But what we need most to remove is Mr. Trump himself. And we need to do so decisively. If he should suffer a resounding defeat in the upcoming election, and returns to New York in disgrace, he will be greeted by the sight of a large Black Lives Matter mural, painted on Fifth Avenue right in front of Trump Tower.
His political career, having been launched on the false and racist “birther” claim against the first African-American president, would end with Mr. Trump coming full circle, facing a kind of poetic justice.
Even Bill Barr won’t be able to protect him from that.