Trump's COVID-19 crisis has brought out his inner authoritarian -- and his corruption is about to get much worse: columnist
Donald Trump (AFP / Nicholas Kamm)

In a column for the conservative Bulwark, popular novelist Richard North Patterson explained that, while Donald Trump has always exhibited authoritarian tendencies, his fading chances of being re-elected due to his bumbling response to the coronavirus pandemic have now brought out his ugliest side and that he no longer feels constrained from flaunting his corruption.

According to the author, "COVID-19 debilitates democracy: confining candidates, shutting legislatures, stifling peaceful assembly, curbing voter registration, and limiting personal engagement. As the pandemic proliferates, anxiety permeates an involuntarily passive populace. Donald Trump seems resolved to exploit this paralysis by squelching dissent, politicizing relief efforts, and corrupting the November election."

Now that the president has completely hijacked the daily White House task force press conferences to indulge in bullying reporters, lie without restraint and preen for his fans, Patterson said all bets are off and that the president has fully unleashed his inner-authoritarian with the help of sycophants in his own administration.

"The pandemic’s grip is diminishing the president’s own. His poll numbers are slipping; critical shortages of lifesaving resources underscore his mendacity and dereliction. His maladministration has empowered incompetents such as Jared Kushner and Larry Kudlow, the sycophantic pseudo-economist who fatuously lionized Trump’s performance: 'I know there are always a few glitches but I’d give it an A.'" Patterson wrote. "The 'glitches' include 15,000 dead—swiftly rising. Our economic catastrophe is turbocharging unemployment and cratering GDP with unprecedented celerity. Thousands of businesses will die; millions of Americans face fiscal ruin."

Of even bigger concern, he writes, is Trump's power grab as the country reels and people die.

"COVID-19 has metastasized his authoritarian pathologies. Trump’s nightly press briefings pervert a president’s obligation to inform and unify Americans in crisis —commingling grandiosity, lying, blame-shifting, and disinformation with attacks on our principal defense against untruth: an independent media," he explained. "Exposure enrages him. Under the cover of COVID-19 Trump continues to purge those who surfaced his effort to compel Ukraine’s president to assist his reelection by slandering Joe Biden. His dismissal of the Inspector General who sent the whistleblower complaint to Congress, Michael Atkinson—an explicit act of reprisal—followed that of three witnesses in his impeachment: Alexander Vindman, Gordon Sondland, and William Taylor."

Patterson notes that Trump appears to be on a path to making sure he is not held accountable for whatever is to come before the November election -- including over attempts to subvert the will of the voters.

"Trump’s message is inescapable: Those who question his handling of COVID-19 hazard their jobs. Leaving no doubt, he has ousted the leader of a watchdog panel charged with overseeing how his administration spends trillions in pandemic relief," he wrote. "This likely augurs a chilling politicization of pandemic relief: the misdirection of federal assistance to buttress red states, propitiate swing states, reward obeisant supplicants and punish governors who displease him."

"But Trump’s most obvious subversion of democracy is his blatant resolve to suppress turnout in November—thereby increasing the electoral impact of his fervent supporters," he continued by noting the president is dead-set on stopping mail-in voting when people are afraid to leave their houses due to health risks.

"For decades, Republicans have fought to suppress voting by minorities and the young. In denouncing provisions of the stimulus package intended to keep COVID-19 from lowering turnout, Trump was explicit: 'The things they had in there were crazy . . . levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,'" he continued, before adding, "This week, the Republicans’ contempt for democracy was on harrowing display. With Trump’s express encouragement, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature blocked the postponement of a statewide election. Their hope was that a reduced electorate would preserve a GOP partisan on the state’s Supreme Court. Brave in-person voters may die for the cause."

"For the presidency, one wonders, what worse might Trump do?" Patterson warned.

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