Forget Russiagate. Forget the Muslim ban. Forget Charlottesville. Forget Hurricane Maria. Forget attacking our allies and embracing dictators. Forget gutting environmental protections. Forget children in cages. Forget Putin in Helsinki. Forget the racism and the sexism, the stories of abuse and of tax fraud. Forget the obstruction of justice and the impeachment. Forget even the failure of leadership that initially caused the COVID crisis and its economic aftershocks.
In fact, forget the first 44 months of Donald Trump's presidency. Bad as they were, the worst in the history of the American presidency, you don’t need them to make the case that Trump must be defeated on November 3. Just focus on the last few weeks, Trump’s meltdown in the homestretch of the campaign.
We’ve never seen anything quite like it before—the stunning abuses, the shocking revelations, the criminal bad judgment, the outrageous behavior, the lies followed by more lies, and the manifest unfitness for the presidency associated with Donald Trump since September. Trump’s closing arguments all seem to be against… Trump.
We do not even have to go back as far as September 3, when The Atlantic magazine broke the well-researched story that contained the stunning revelation that Trump had referred to America’s war dead as “suckers” and “losers,” that he stood among the hallowed graves at Arlington and asked a father who lost his son, “What was in it for them?”
Instead, we can start just about a month ago, September 23, when the president of the United States did the most un-American thing imaginable: He refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power in the wake of the upcoming election. Appalling as the statement was, it was just one among many he has made this fall trying to delegitimize the election, to suppress the vote, to support Russian disinformation campaigns, and to create an opening for him to contest the results regardless of the demonstrable will of the American people.
Declaring himself an enemy of democracy is nothing new for Trump, however, so perhaps that is one of the reasons that story has been overshadowed by another: Trump’s on-going depraved indifference to American lives as manifest in his reckless handling of the latest chapters in the COVID crisis—the one tied to the White House followed by the rapid and deeply worrying resurgence of the disease nationwide.
On September 26, President Trump hosted an event on the South Lawn of the White House to formally announce his choice of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat on the United States Supreme Court vacated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This event, where guests mingled indoors and out without benefits of masks or social distancing, turned into a super-spreader event that produced more cases of COVID on the White House grounds—34 so far—than had been recorded that week in many countries, such as Australia, New Zealand or Taiwan, which, for example, with 23 million citizens, saw only eight cases.
Despite the access to the best scientists in America, Trump’s White House ignored the basic common-sense precautions that had saved millions of lives elsewhere—as they had since the beginning of the outbreak.
The day after the Coney Barrett event, The New York Times broke the story that Trump’s tax returns revealed him to be not only a terrible businessman but once again a liar and a likely tax cheat. Then, just three days later, Trump tested positive for COVID. It could have been a turning point. Trump could have learned from the experience, exhibited empathy for the 7 million who have had the disease in America or the families of the nearly 230,000 who have died of it. But as we saw, day after day, he only repeated the errors of judgment and compounded the outrages that had made his handling of COVID since January the catastrophe it has been.
As he has done since he first objected to testing, saying he did not want the bad numbers it might produce, Trump hid information about when he caught the disease, when he was tested, and the details of his diagnosis. He turned his physicians into spin doctors despite the national security risk inherent in withholding data on his health or on the causes of the rapid spread of the disease through the White House. He embraced the dangerous advice of unqualified hacks like radiologist Dr. Scott Atlas who recklessly bad-mouthed the use of masks and talked up dangerous, discredited ideas like herd immunity.
Soon after Trump’s arrival at the hospital, he went on a joy ride to visit a crowd of supporters across the street from the hospital in which he was staying, exposing his Secret Service detail yet again to risk (and producing fury from within the Secret Service community). Rather than using the moment to promote common-sense precautions against the disease, he actually said “do not fear COVID.” It was precisely the same message minimizing the very real risk that helped make America’s outbreak one of the world’s worst. Then, he returned to the White House and staged an event on the White House balcony… again exposing those around him to risk as he sent a terrible signal by removing his mask.
In the days since, he has behaved wildly erratically. He pulled out of talks over a COVID relief package, then desperately tried to get them started when he realized the damage his Tweeting-on-steroids had caused. He called the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, a “monster”—more sexism and racism from him. He tweeted again that the elections would be unfair. He announced new rallies despite the health risks involved for all in attendance. From the White House reports emerged of staff living in fear for their families as sound COVID precautions were discouraged. Trump even stepped up his critique of respected COVID experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, despite Fauci’s widespread popularity and credibility (much greater than Trump’s).
On October 10, we were reminded of the fiasco of Trump’s foreign policies as North Korea revealed its biggest ICBM ever and, in so doing, also revealed the emptiness of Trump’s charade with Kim Jong Un. The same day the Taliban endorsed Trump’s re-election.
The next day, without support, Trump announced he was no longer contagious. Recognizing the danger of such a pronouncement, Twitter labeled the Tweet misleading. And then came the debate that was off and then on again as a town hall. What did we get from Trump on that stage a week ago Thursday night? More attacks on the experts, an indefensible assertion that masks could actually be dangerous, and a failure to denounce crazy conspiracy mongers like QAnon, who assert that Democrats are baby-eating pedophiles. No, really. Unbelievably, that’s where the president of the United States has brought American politics. That was followed by a weekend of rallies that had fact-checkers working overtime, with CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale counting another 66 false or misleading statements from Trump.
This past week has seen an administration effort to promote a story about Biden so preposterous that journalists across the Rupert Murdoch Trumpian propagandaverse have repudiated it, the president’s attorney humiliated by a fictional Kazakh reporter, and the president’s director of national intelligence aiding foreign efforts to destabilize our elections by misrepresenting the objectives of our adversaries. On October 21, Columbia University released a study attributing 130,000-210,000 COVID deaths to the mismanagement of the administration. Then another debate in which the president had to be muzzled by a mute button and another torrent of lies from Trump that pushed fact-checkers to near exhaustion.
It has been just a few weeks. But they have produced outrage after abuse after self-inflicted wound after outright lunacy. If you were in doubt about whether to vote to re-elect Trump before this period began, you cannot be now. He has thrown into stark relief the choice we face. He does not care about the American people, even those closest to him, even his own family and staff, much less the supporters he is willing to put at risk as they pack, maskless into rallies. He does not care about our national security to the extent our enemies are cheering him on. He lies. He misleads. He rejects science. He is seeking to destabilize our election, and he refuses even to promise he will honor the will of the American people.
As a consequence, throughout this crucial period in the campaign, Trump has lagged Democratic candidate Joe Biden badly, nearly in double digits nationally and in almost all of the nine battleground states. Democrats unnerved by the prospect of four more years of Trump have led an unprecedented wave of early voting. Unlike in 2016, thus far he has not shown any ability to close the gap with Biden and, notably, Biden’s positive ratings have remained above 50 percent. He is more popular than the president because the president has been so good at reminding America of how bad he really is.
It may go down as the worst campaign by an incumbent in U.S. political history. Nonetheless, the past month has also shown that that is no reason for supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris to be complacent. Trump has made it clear he does not seek to play fair. His Russian intelligence friends are hard at work on his behalf. GOP lawyers and GOP-appointed judges are doing all in their power to suppress the vote.
In the end, no matter how badly Trump behaves, until the final ballots are counted, the outcome remains in doubt. For that reason, there is only one way to ensure this remarkable collapse is the last chapter of the Trump presidency. Put the effort to defeat Trump into the history books as well—as being the most effective, relentless, disciplined voter mobilization campaign ever.
For the next few days, don’t focus on Trump’s latest offense or gaffe. Instead, plan your vote, help others to vote, donate your time, and in the end, vote to put an end to this dark chapter in American political history.