And it came upon a midnight clear during this holiday season that after weeks and months alternating between negotiation and inertia, Congress finally reached agreement with the White House and passed a new $908 billion relief bill that provided a stimulus payment of $600 to each qualified citizen.
Or so they thought. For lo, there rose a star in the East, albeit something more akin to a black hole sucking all the energy from the universe around it. Ah, good evening, Mr. President. I see you've brought your monkey wrench.
It was last Tuesday night when all of a sudden, Donald Trump declared that he might not sign the bill. This after he was nowhere to be seen during the actual negotiations, leaving them in the hands of his obeisant treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, while he, Trump, concentrated on his crazed pursuit of election vindication—vainly hoping time and again to overturn the legitimate, certified results.
In a videotaped message, a four-minute rant, Trump announced that he was opposed to the $600 payment and wanted Americans to receive more—$2000. He's right about that, $600 is puny recompense indeed for the tragedy of COVID and the economic devastation it has caused. But of course, he's the one who caused so much of our misery in the first place.
One in every thousand Americans now has succumbed to the virus. In Los Angeles County, the current epicenter of our plague, the disease takes the life of someone every ten minutes. And the Associated Press recently reported that 2020 will go down as the deadliest year in United States history—not only because of the coronavirus but also increased deaths (many COVID-related) from heart and circulatory disease, diabetes, dementia, vehicle accidents and drug overdoses.
Last week, "the CDC reported more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May, making it the highest number ever recorded in a one-year period.
Experts think the pandemic's disruption to in-person treatment and recovery services may have been a factor. People also are more likely to be taking drugs alone — without the benefit of a friend or family member who can call 911 or administer overdose-reversing medication.
But perhaps a bigger factor are the drugs themselves: COVID-19 caused supply problems for dealers, so they are increasingly mixing cheap and deadly fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, experts said.
We have spent the last ten months dealing with the fatal consequences of this pandemic, both direct and indirect, biological and financial. And while the arrival of at least two effective vaccines is the second best news of this entire year, "that triumph of scientific ingenuity and bureaucratic efficiency does not conceal the difficult truth," a crack team of Washington Post reporters write, "that the virus has caused proportionately more infections and deaths in the United States than in most other developed nations — a result, experts say, of a dysfunctional federal response led by a president perpetually in denial."
In a major investigative report, they note:
The catastrophe began with Trump's initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits—his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.
So yes, a $2000 payment to Americans would, at the very least, be a little over three times better than $600. But that isn't why Trump demanded it. He was trying to burnish his populist image and keep the base happy while simultaneously creating some more of the dreadful chaos in which he flourishes. The result of Trump's latest impulse? A delay in a bit of relief for hundreds of millions of Americans, more pain, more sacrifice, more loss. And eventually, he wound up signing the bill anyway. (As I write, the House has voted in a separate resolution to make the increase to $2000, but word is out on whether the GOP Senate will go along -- on Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked one attempt, there will be others.)
As we've come to learn and loathe this last four years, during any given week, something like Trump's truculence on the stimulus bill sadly seems business as usual. But as his days in office dwindle down to a precious few, he spends even more time off his rocker than on it.
In addition to his endless tweeting and plotting about overthrowing the election, add his veto of the defense authorization bill (which Congress is in the process of overriding), the ongoing pardons of cronies and villains while stepping up executions at Federal prisons, interfering with the presidential transition and his encouragement of right-wing protests in Washington next week (on the day Vice President Pence is to officially announce Biden as the next president)—while so far ignoring the Christmas Day suicide bombing in Nashville that tore apart large portions of a city block.
And all the while, he enjoys the holidays on his Florida golf course as his vice president skis in Colorado and Steve Mnuchin whiles away the hours at his Mexican vacation home. A pretty picture as poverty, sickness and death continue to ravage the nation to which they swore an oath.
Thank heaven, this soon will be at an end. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as my mother used to say. Donald Trump has betrayed the United States and the rule of law. He is a thug, a crumb and a louse, aided and abetted by a party and a significant segment of the populace who for whatever twisted reason find his hate and penchant for mayhem appealing. Pray for peace and reconciliation but do not forget.
At The Irish Times, the great Fintan O'Toole warns, "Stripped of direct power, [Trump] 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."
Donald John Trump is guilty of what Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro described a couple of weeks ago as "seditious abuse." Shapiro was talking about that bizarre Texas lawsuit that attempted to overthrow election results in four other states so that Trump could declare victory in the 2020 election, but the charge could be applied to virtually every action on every day he has held office.
What do you call Biden's inauguration? A good start but just a start, the beginning of a long hard road back to restore and make stronger what may be what Abraham Lincoln called "the last best hope" we have. Happy New Year.
Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship