But even as Trump’s brazen bid to subvert American democracy keeps gobbling up headlines, it is his appalling handling of the pandemic that seems poised now to etch itself more lastingly into the history books.
It was just as well.
Trump’s petulance worsens pandemic pain
When the lame duck president speaks about the pandemic, he only further undermines scattershot efforts to contain it. That Trump skipped out of a side-session focused on pandemic preparedness with world leaders at the G20 virtual gathering on Saturday surprised no one. It’s unlikely he was missed. All the while, states and cities around this country reported record-high numbers of infections as hospitalizations mounted — setting off alarm bells over a collapse of an overwhelmed health care system. And that’s before millions of Americans begin their ill-advised holiday travels ahead of Thanksgiving this week.
The trickle down effects of inaction in Washington, DC, are being felt most acutely at the state and local level, where even officials who acknowledge the extent of the crisis are hesitant to take bold action and implement the kind of drastic measures proven to help curb the spread of the virus.
“You shut nonessential workplaces or indoor dining, you’re basically putting a bullet in them,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said on Friday about the absence of federal aid, suggesting that something like a “two-week pause” is effectively out of the question without a capital boost from Capitol Hill.
Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, ripped Senate Republicans over their hesitance to act — a contrast with the body’s relatively swift passage of the initial $2 trillion package back in March.
“With more than 12 million cases, over a quarter million Americans dead, more than 60 million unemployment claims filed since March, 8 million people have been pushed into poverty, and over one hundred thousand businesses shuttered, the same exact Senate has recessed without even the notion of hope of relief for Americans destined to die more likely from homelessness than a raging pandemic,” Nelson said. “Anyone musing politics makes inaction explainable better just resign now and let the patriotic essential workers take the reins.”
“Months ago, Michigan received funds through the federal CARES Act, and we used that funding to quickly support front line workers, improve testing, ensure adequate PPE, provide additional support to out-of-work Michiganders, and deliver assistance to local businesses that are struggling through no fault of their own,” the Michigan Republicans said in a joint statement. “We once again face a time in our state when additional support would go a long way to help those same residents who need our help.”
Trump retweeted the statement on Saturday morning, but ignored the request for help and focused on pumping air into his deflating campaign to upend the election.
“This is true, but much different than reported by the media,” Trump said. “We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!”
But with a handful of local and state certification deadlines early next week, it has become plain that — like with so many other promises — Trump’s pledge to reveal some kind of massive, coordinated fraud will never materialize.
Shortly before news of the Pennsylvania case’s embarrassing defeat began to spread, Trump retreated to more hospitable territory — the Wild West of social media — to engage in a round of coronavirus whataboutism. He pointed to the toll of the pandemic on other countries and attacked the media for not reporting on the efficacy of emerging therapeutics.
“The Fake News is not talking about the fact that ‘Covid’ is running wild all over the World, not just in the U.S.,” he wrote, before referencing, presumably, the portion of the morning’s international summit he took part in. “I was at the Virtual G-20 meeting early this morning and the biggest subject was Covid. We will be healing fast, especially with our vaccines!”
Those vaccines, though promising, are still months away being made available to millions of desperate Americans, tens of thousands of whom are projected to die before they arrive.
Trump allies out to undermine Biden
Mnuchin himself, in a letter to the Federal Reserve, acknowledged that the lending programs “clearly achieved their objective.” But he still demanded the return of the nearly half-trillion dollars, a move that brought objections from corporate leaders — hardly a hotbed of anti-Trump resistance — and the Fed, which said it preferred “that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”
The reasoning for the decision, some experts said, appeared to be a bid to hamstring the incoming administration.
“This appears to be a political move by Team Trump to limit what President-elect Joe Biden can do next year to boost the economy,” Jaret Seiberg, financial services and housing policy analyst for Cowen Washington Research Group, wrote in a research note, “especially if Congress fails to pass a big stimulus.”
And with the balance of the next Senate currently up for grabs, with Democrats needing to sweep the January runoff elections in Georgia to win control, the prospects for a package sizable enough to match the needs of the country are, at best, uncertain.
So too is it for Biden and his transition team, which remains locked out of the agencies it is poised to take over after the inauguration, and cut off from information that could help in planning its way out of the current shambles. Emily Murphy, the Trump appointee who heads the General Services Administration, has given no indication of when, or if, she plans to exercise her power to acknowledge Biden as the “apparent” winner, which would open up crucial lines of communication and avail the President-elect’s team to millions of dollars in federal funds.
“The nation faces too many challenges to not have a fully funded and smooth transition to prepare the President-elect and Vice President-elect to govern on Day One,” a transition official told CNN.
But no amount of money can buy access to the classified briefings typically granted within days to election winners. Biden — and the country — appear condemned to wait for Trump to set aside his wounded pride and concede to reality.
The wait continues. The surge of death and despair does, too.