So, after the Roger Stone commutation, it’s searingly obvious, if it wasn’t before, that the main reason the President of the United States wants to be re-elected is to avoid prison for the next four years. So proud to be an American!
As Barbara McQuade explained in a column for The Daily Beast over the weekend, Donald Trump commuted Stone’s sentence rather than pardoning him because with his sentence merely commuted instead of wiped clean, Stone retains his Fifth Amendment right not to spill. Stone has 30 years’ worth of stuff on Trump to spill, and he’d do it in a heartbeat if it meant avoiding time.
In the wake of that Supreme Court ruling for the Manhattan district attorney, Trump knows he’s a cornered rat. Someday, Cyrus Vance will get those tax returns. Trump knows this. Realizing now that he stands an excellent chance of moving from the White House to the big house, he's got to be sorry now he ever even did this. But the question for the rest of us is this: Assuming for the sake of argument that he does end up losing to Biden, how much more damage can he do to this country between now and next January?
It’s terrifying to contemplate. Let’s break it into two periods—the four months before the election, and the 10 or 11 weeks between the election and the inauguration.
In the first period, it looks like he’s just going to keep pretending the pandemic doesn’t exist. “We’re going to have to live with it.” Good God. This is like Mao telling the Chinese in 1960 of the famine that he created that well folks, you’re just gonna have to make the best of it.
In fact, Mao and his people pretty much did exactly that. If there was no food to be had in a village and someone had the temerity to point this out, that person was accused of “right-deviationist thinking.” The lingo is different among today’s Trumpists, but the impulse is exactly the same: sneer at the grim reality and accuse people who mention it of being ideologically unsound.
The economy is in the crapper. The Washington Post reported Sunday that there will be no “V-shaped recovery,” Crazy Eddie Kudlow’s vows notwithstanding. More and more economists are thinking we’re settling into a recession. Again, entirely Trump’s fault. If we’d had a serious national strategy back in early March and stayed on lockdown through June, say, we’d have flattened the curve and we’d be reopening now safely. But not in Trump’s America.
We are so fucked. Literally the worst country in the world at handling this. The. Worst. If the world still exists 100 years from now, and teachers across the planet ask their high-school students to name the most notorious example in history of a country failing to respond to a crisis, the answer will be the United States and the coronavirus. And we haven’t even seen the worst of it yet. Just wait until kids go back to school as Trump wants and thousands of schoolteachers get COVID.
So that’s between now and Election Day. The second period, after the election, has the potential to be far, far worse. We read speculation almost daily about Trump not accepting the election results if he loses and yes, that’s scary to contemplate. But no one ever talks about the opposite—that is, the result is so clear that he has no choice but to accept it. What will he do then?
Imagine with me: Trump has lost decisively, by 8 points, say. He’s lost the Electoral College something like 358-180, or maybe worse. Maybe he even loses one or two serious WTF states, like Alaska (yes, it’s close!). The Democrats have picked up seven or eight Senate seats and a handful of House seats. The rejection is wholesale and emphatic.
This is just as scary as the more-discussed “I’m not leaving” scenario. Trump will be sitting there in the White House, watching One America, boiling with rage at everything and everyone. He’ll burn the country down on his way out. He’s capable of anything. He may intentionally try to wreck the economy just to make Biden’s life that much harder. He may start a war. Or at least a race war. That’s actually frighteningly plausible. And remember, he won’t be the only person furious that he lost. And they have guns.
Every day that man is in the White House is a dangerous day for this country. For starters, hundreds of people are dying who didn’t have to die—who are dying because of Trump’s failures. And by the way, speaking of potential future prosecutions, is the president guilty of negligent homicide? Read this and tell me it doesn’t apply to Trump’s handling of the virus crisis: “Professional negligence—whenever the conduct of a professional while in the process or as a result of rendering services creates [a] circumstance that leads to the death of another individual, then that professional has committed negligent homicide.”
There’s one ray of hope. Maybe by Election Day, Vance will have flipped Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, and Trump will know this and know that the whole house of cards is about to cave in, in which case he might be on a plane to Russia on Nov. 4. If not, hide the wife and kids. He’ll go out of his way to make sure he leaves the country far worse than he found it.