More than 400,000 Americans will soon be dead from the coronavirus pandemic, which by some standards could make 2020 the "deadliest year in U.S. history," with a 15% increase in fatalities from 2019.
This article was originally published at Salon
Public health experts have concluded that the actual number of people killed in the U.S. by the coronavirus is probably much higher. Many more Americans will have shortened lifespans from complications caused either directly by the virus or indirectly by the conditions of the pandemic.
The final year of Donald Trump's presidency has had such a negative impact that U.S. birthrates are predicted to decrease in 2021.
Unless immediate relief is offered millions of Americans may face eviction. More than 10 million Americans are now at least $5,000 behind in rent payments. There are long lines for free food and other essentials in cities and towns across the country, and all regions of America are experiencing near-record levels of unemployment and underemployment.
The country's already threadbare social safety net is about to collapse: In the midst of the holiday season, millions of Americans may not receive their unemployment benefits — perhaps even for several weeks — because of Trump's unconscionable delay in signing the coronavirus relief bill.
By comparison, the very richest individuals and corporations have become even wealthier and more powerful during the pandemic, while average Americans (as well as many small businesses) face financial ruin and deprivation.
Trump has been at his Florida resort since before Christmas, playing golf, sabotaging relief efforts and waging a last-ditch campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Such behavior should not come as a surprise: Many of the country's leading mental health experts have repeatedly warned that Trump is an apparent sociopath or psychopath who does not care if the American people live or die.
Ultimately, it appears that Trump is punishing the American people for voting him out of office.
He has even punished his own party by refusing to sign the coronavirus relief bill until Sunday evening. This delay did not reflect any care or concern for the American people — his demand for larger relief checks is clearly a political stunt — but rather an act of revenge against the Republican Party for failing to publicly support his coup attempt with more enthusiasm and vigor.
At the Guardian, former labor secretary and public policy expert Robert Reich explains the implications of Trump's anti-social and fascistic behavior :
Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to re-elect Donald Trump — 46.8% of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election — don't hold Trump accountable for what he's done to America.
Their acceptance of Trump's behavior will be his vilest legacy…. The appalling reality is that Trump may get away with it. And in getting away with it he will have changed and degraded the norms governing American presidents. The giant windows he's broken are invitations to a future president to break even more. Nothing will correct this unless or until an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize and condemn what has occurred.
Trumpism has left the United States in a condition where it is a morally and ethically undead country, shambling on by instinct and compulsion with no real direction or vision. President-elect Joe Biden will have to be a type of political sorcerer or exorcist to somehow heal America. Such a task is likely too great for any one person or presidential administration. A society-wide reconstruction project will be necessary.
Fintan O'Toole describes the broken state of America in Trump's last days in a new essay for the Irish Times:
The power of his instinct was that he knew how to tap into a hatred of government that has been barely below the surface of American culture since before the foundation of the US.
That instinct proved sufficiently well attuned that he got nearly 75 million votes in November, even while his malign incompetence was killing his own people. He got those votes, moreover, having made it abundantly clear that he would never accept the result of the election unless he won. They were votes for open autocracy.
This is his legacy: he has successfully led a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable endpoint: disdain for the electoral process itself.
In this end is his new beginning. Stripped of direct power, he will face enormous legal and financial jeopardy. He will have every reason to keep drawing on his greatest asset: his ability to unleash the demons that have always haunted the American experiment — racism, nativism, fear of "the government."
Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands. It is, for him, not goodbye but hasta la vista. Instead of waving him off, those who want to rebuild American democracy will have to put a stake through his heart.
As the clock counts down to Inauguration Day, what will Donald Trump do next in his criminal rampage of political revenge and destruction? In search of an answer to this question, I recently spoke with Michael D'Antonio, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the 2016 biography "The Truth About Trump." His forthcoming book (co-written with Peter Eisner) is "High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump."
D'Antonio is also a frequent commentator on CNN. His essays and other writing have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Esquire.
In our conversation, D'Antonio warned that Trump will do anything to stay in power and will accept any help, legal or otherwise, that he believes might enable his ongoing coup attempt to succeed. He also discussed why — with a few notable exceptions — the mainstream news media normalized Trump's presidency for years and refused to warn the public about the dangers presented by Trump and his incipient fascist regime.
Finally, Michael D'Antonio predicted that once Trump is finally deposed on Jan. 20, he will continue to be a looming, menacing presence in American life — perhaps by creating his own TV network and opening a theme park-style temple for his tens of millions of followers.
Donald Trump's coup attempt is ongoing. He recently met with his cabal in the Oval Office where they discussed using the military to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Why is this not the lead story at every news outlet in the country?
What Trump is doing is disgusting. The media's response to what is happening is puzzling. I suspect that the press is on the fence about when to pull the plug on paying attention to him. I do believe that the mainstream press went through a time period where it eventually decided that it had to confront Donald Trump for who and what he really is. In a way, they did cross the Rubicon, so to speak, and started describing him as a liar, and also tried to document what he was really up to.
I think the American press has also communicated that Trump is attempting to subvert the country's democracy and that he has attacked our democratic institutions. The major struggle has been between Trump — who is attempting to overturn an election, and through what is essentially a coup stay in power — and a court system that has so far stopped his coup attempt. But it is not time to take our eyes off the ball yet.
This is a very dangerous period where Trump is not only trying to continue to overturn the election but is also making a great effort to hinder Joe Biden as he comes into office and attempts to restore some sort of normalcy to the country and the presidency. Trump is doing things that no other president has done. I do not believe that we have had a more subversive and traitorous federal official in our history — and certainly since the Civil War. For the American press to ease up and place the scandal of Trump's meeting in the Oval Office, where martial law other parts of a coup plot were discussed, anywhere but on the front page is a mistake.
I've had lots of conversations with people in the mainstream press. They are trying to figure out what is the responsible thing to do in the public interest. But I must ask: Has the American news media served the public interest in the preceding four years?
If what Donald Trump and his agents are doing to subvert democracy were taking place in another country the narrative from the mainstream news media would be totally different.
Yes, if we were watching these events in another country there would be warnings of a coup. The United States ambassador might be raising alarms. The world community might be threatening sanctions. It may be that we are all so eager to put Trump and all that he has done to the country behind us that we are moving too quickly to do so.
There are so many examples of how the mainstream news media has failed in its responsibilities to hold Donald Trump accountable by speaking truth to power about his fascism, his racism and his violent assaults on the country's democratic norms and values. One of the greatest failings has been a refusal to describe Trumpism as a type of political cult. That framework might have helped people understand Trump's enduring power.
Many journalists are isolated. If you are a person who has never attended a Pentecostal church service, or has never known people who were in a cult, or has not tried to understand right-wing Christian evangelicals and the lifestyle that many of those people live, then you are not going to be able to recognize what Donald Trump has been doing. His campaign events and rallies are more like a religious crusade.
For most journalists, this is beyond their experience. It may well be that the separation of the journalistic community from the community of the faithful in conservative evangelical communities perhaps explains the anger felt by the evangelicals. They know that the mainstream press either doesn't get them or doesn't care to get them and may even look down on them. Therefore, when Trump says, "They hate you" and says that the press is "the enemy of the people," he has a ready and receptive audience.
The journalistic imagination of the mainstream media is very limited. Another example is the way they continue to be surprised by Trump's evil and cruelty and other aberrant behavior. Trump has been behaving this way for years in his public life. Why the perpetual surprise? Why do so many public voices keep asking questions about Trump and his movement to which they should already know the answers?
There is a great deal of fear in newsrooms of giving mental health professionals much leeway when discussing someone like Donald Trump. Part of this is a long tradition of hiding behind sourcing, the idea that you always have to have a source make the observation because a journalist is somehow not allowed to do such things.
That is a holdover from the ideal of a certain kind of fairness that came with an assumption that people are operating from some basis of goodwill. There was not any corner of the mainstream media that was prepared to deal with a person as malevolent as Trump, who was not operating out of any commitment to the country or to the oath of office. The press was paralyzed by the enormity of Trump's malevolence. Reporters kept waiting for the moment when they could say, "Oh, see, he is capable of something better. We were right not to declare him depraved." The mainstream news media waited so long for such a moment that now their judgment has become irrelevant.
It was so utterly apparent to anyone who bypassed the news and just watched Trump on television that he was fascistic, that he's a racist, that he's perfectly comfortable fomenting violence if he believes it's in his own interest to do so. Trump broke the minds of the national press. Trump and his behavior exceeded their imaginations. Even when there were mental health experts sounding the alarm from the very beginning about Donald Trump, such as Dr. Bandy Lee and others, the mainstream news media couldn't hear it.
With three weeks or so left until Biden is inaugurated, many journalists and other members of the chattering class are now speaking out against Trump, finally labeling him as a fascist and a white supremacist and a political criminal. But many of these same voices spent the last four years downplaying the threat of Trumpism and saying that those of us sounding the alarm about the danger he represented were exaggerating or hysterical. Now they want to be on the record to protect themselves from history's judgment. Am I being unfair?
There is an element of that. It may even be subconscious. I do believe it is unfair to say that nobody was speaking out about how dangerous Trump is. On the evening news programs, especially, there have been voices calling attention to Trump's harm and great danger. Impeachment spurred many journalists to start speaking out more boldly. Right now, there are journalists making their case against Trump and mourning about the fact that fascism found fertile ground here in this country. But yes, some in the press are making sure that they are on record before the end of Trump's term.
Many journalists were frozen by the shock of Donald Trump and his attacks on democracy and other unprecedented behavior. And it kept getting worse. But that is another amazing element to this saga, which is that while so many people were assuming there would be a moment when Trump would hit bottom and bounce up to a higher level and come closer to the norm, it just never happened.
I can't tell you how many times I spoke to editors who said, "This must be as low as he can get. Time to publish that piece saying Trump has finally hit the bottom." But if you have never been abused yourself — I mean really abused by somebody powerful — you may not understand what is happening. You might not even know that people like Donald Trump exist and that there will be no bottom, no "bouncing up" to normal.
The dominant narrative about Trump's coup attempt is that it has "failed" and he is "incompetent" so there is no real danger. How can we better explain to the American people how dangerous Donald Trump really is, even at this late stage of his presidency?
If Donald Trump could be a military dictator, he would eagerly assume that role. For me, the best way of explaining Trump is that he does not share common reference points for what life is really about. Love is not one of his reference points. Service to others is not one of his reference points. Joy, as you understand it, is not understood by him. All he knows is the pursuit of power through dominance over others. Trump will achieve that dominance through whatever means are necessary. If it is violence, then Trump will use it. If it's the law, he'll use it. If it's mere persuasion, that's fine too.
And because Trump wants to conserve his energy, he will use the least powerful means first and hope that serves his goals. But again, Donald Trump is not the kind of human being most people are used to dealing with. The individuals who do know how to deal with and control people like Donald Trump are in law enforcement, perhaps in the national security establishment and in the mental health field, because Donald Trump is closer to a psychopathic mob boss than anything else.
Let's be even more direct for purposes of clarification. If someone came to Donald Trump, be it a hostile foreign country, a criminal organization, military generals or other powerful forces, and they told him that they have a plan to keep him in power indefinitely, would he say yes or no?
Trump would say yes in a heartbeat. Anyone who arrived in the Oval Office with a plan for keeping him there would get a long hearing. Other people in the White House would have to keep such ideas from becoming actions. Donald Trump becomes desperate quickly.
Even though he has so much money and power he still somehow sees life as a constant battle for survival. That Trump thinks about life in such a way does not compute for most people, because they do not understand that Trump is disturbed. Once you accept how Trump thinks and lives, then you realize, "Well, if a guy with his resources and no human values thinks of life as a desperate fight for survival, God help the person he deems a threat."
Why was Donald Trump not impeached by the Republicans? They have gotten their panoply of horrible policies enacted by his administration. Why not impeach him and move on?
Donald Trump was not impeached because the Republican senators fear him and the members of his cult. What is quite interesting is that I do not believe that a single United States senator was in the cult, or is in the cult now. But they do fear Trump's cult. Therefore, the Republicans will continue to pay attention to what Trump says because he is such an effective demagogue. Donald Trump is going to continue to go around the country with his crusades. He will be holding rallies in the states of senators who disagreed with him. If there is a primary challenger, that person will make the pilgrimage to see the Dear Leader Donald Trump. Trump will then give them his endorsement.
Trump is a genius at escaping accountability. He is also a genius at setting the scene for whatever drama is about to take place. His entire life has been devoted to convincing people to be afraid of him, as well as convincing people to see in him something of themselves. When he campaigned in 2016, Trump persuaded those who voted for him that he was one of them. He showed the members of the Senate, who were Republicans, why they should be afraid of him.
Once Trump is removed from office, what do you think he does next? Elsewhere you have suggested that he may actually have his own TV network and theme park.
I believe that if Donald Trump does not have his own TV network, he will have something close to it. His children will have media outlets of some sort as well. I also believe that there will be a Trump headquarters in South Florida, and it will become a destination location for members of his cult and people who will feel compelled to go to TrumpWorld every year. They will visit the Trump presidential library and stay in a hotel that looks like the White House where every bedroom is a Lincoln Bedroom.
Visitors will maybe catch a glimpse of one of the Trumps in the TV studio. There will probably be tours of the Trump Leadership PAC offices. There will be a theater in TrumpWorld as well. There may even be a small stadium. TrumpWorld will be some combination of a presidential library, Dollywood and Scientology's gold base, and Trump will rule over it all. It will be very lucrative for him.
There is a narrative out there that naively suggests that Donald Trump will be tried and convicted for his crimes and then be put in jail. Your response?
I do not believe that Donald Trump will be put in prison. I also doubt that he will be criminally charged. I think there will be a deal involving a lot of money that has already been put in the bank. Trump's followers have already donated it. I doubt there is anything to prevent him from using that PAC money to keep himself out of prison.
I do think that some Trump entities will disappear. There may be a fire sale on the golf courses. Someone may buy the licensing deals for the hotels and change the name. They may lose some of their assets. But in the end Donald Trump is not going to jail. Moreover, none of Trump's inner circle are going to prison either. He was not convicted after being impeached because he understands the weaknesses of the Republican senators.
In the end, Donald Trump will likely not go to prison because he understands the American tradition that stands in the way of putting a former president in prison. America has a sense of itself which will not allow a former president to be imprisoned. Like so many sociopathic people, Trump takes advantage of the decency of others, who cannot bring themselves to deal with him in the way that he deserves.