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The truth on trial at Trump’s second impeachment

While watching Saturday's events in the U.S. Senate and the gamut of public reaction to them, I thought about the disconnect that takes place between the reality of events and the way they're perceived from the outside looking in, especially by the media.

Back in the fall of 2007, I was elected president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and within days was on a plane to Los Angeles where contract negotiations were ongoing between the Writers Guilds East and West and the studios and networks. The talks broke down. Thrown into the deep end of the pool, I was suddenly one of the leaders of an ultimately successful 100-day strike that made headlines around the world. It ended in February 2008, exactly thirteen years ago this week.

I can tell you from personal experience that being at the center of a major news story can be humbling. There are moments of excitement and drama for sure, but it can be discomforting and disorienting as well, and quite revealing when it comes to human nature and the foibles of journalism. Few really understand what it's like to be in the vortex of a news storm.

As a journalist myself, I was stunned on a daily basis by how much misinformation about both the negotiations and the strike was reported by the media, almost all of whom had little or no access to what really was going on behind closed doors—and so relied too much on embellishment, baseless speculation, cherry-picking facts and an overdependence on selective leaks from both sides.

A minor example but one reflective of the problem: At one point early on in the strike, a major Hollywood agent arranged for negotiators to meet secretly at an undisclosed location away from the press—in the hope that our isolation would create some sort of breakthrough.

In truth, we were at a hotel and the secret held. Unfortunately, no progress was made and the strike continued. But a few days later, a reporter wrote a story about the failed talks and proudly announced that he knew precisely where we all had been hiding.

He then proceeded to name the wrong hotel.

This kind of thing, although it may seem trivial, always makes me worry about my own reporting and commentary, the fear that I'm always just about to make some great clanking error or misinterpret the facts. It's happened before. And while in pieces like this I'm not hesitant to pass judgement, to express my own opinion and beliefs, I'm always just a bit wary when journalists or anyone active in social media announce that they know exactly what was going on in various individual's minds and in closed-door meetings.

Often they do, and sometimes they don't. But despite uncertainty, none of this stops many from jumping up and down in anger and righteous indignation when a decision occurs that they don't like, even if—knowingly or not—they've twisted what really happened.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying I'm uneasy categorizing just what went down Saturday in the U.S. Senate chamber and the adjoining cloakroom and conference and caucus areas. Why did the Senate pass a bill to call witnesses in the trial of Donald Trump, only to scrap the idea in exchange for reading into the record a statement from Washington State's Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler?

Granted, it was an important piece of evidence. During the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, she was told by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy about a frenzied phone call he just had had with President Trump. "Kevin, they're not my people," Trump lied.

"Yes, they are," McCarthy replied. "They just came through my windows and my staff is running for cover. Yeah, they're your people. Call them off."

McCarthy's plea for help was rebuffed by Trump who allegedly said, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."

At the same time, Trump was tweeting attacks on Vice President Pence for not overthrowing the results of the Electoral College in the presidential election. Constitutionally, Pence could not have done so even if he wanted, but Trump's taunts were feeding the ugly mob's desire to hang Pence for treason. He was evacuated from the Capitol with minutes if not seconds to spare.

At the end of her statement, Congresswoman Herrera Beutler said, "To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time."

Crickets. That's all that she and the Democratic impeachment managers heard in return, which may be one of the reasons Democrats retreated on the call for witnesses. It's said that people close to Vice President Pence who had been approached by impeachment managers about testifying suddenly "went cold" and disappeared or refused to get involved. And we know that McCarthy himself soon was running off to Trump begging forgiveness for telling the truth, a cardinal sin.

There were other problems—some Republicans threatened to sabotage any attempt to pass any of Joe Biden's legislation or make confirmations if the trial continued and Trump's defense team said it might call hundreds of witnesses if the Democrats called even one or two—a hollow threat but indicative of a truth—that summoning witnesses could have extended the trial for weeks, even months. As per Mike DeBonis and Tom Hamburger at The Washington Post:

It was not a standard trial where evidentiary motions could play out for months with no ill effects. Senate Democrats, not yet a month into their majority, were eager to get on with President Biden's agenda, and extending the trial could alienate the small group of Republicans who had signaled they might convict. And calling any witness promised to be an extended affair: The trial rules called for a deposition process to precede any Senate testimony, and there was the possibility witnesses could go to court and further extend the timeline.

Democrats were attacked from the left for caving on witnesses and from the right who denounced this legitimate prosecution of Trump's incitement of the assault. Already the conspiracy mill, including Wisconsin's appalling Senator Ron Johnson and others, is ginning up stories that range from assertions that the January 6 attack wasn't really all that dangerous, or that it was antifa infiltrators that caused the trouble, or that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held back security to allow the riot to happen and make Trump and Republicans look bad.

You see what I mean—from the outside looking in, you can put all manner of spin to reality. The late Pat Moynihan said you can have your own opinions but not your own facts—sadly, in this media-laden world that's no longer the case. The truth is out there, alright—way, way out there for some. Moynihan's adage has given way to Mark Twain's "Get your facts first, then you can distort 'em as you please." Or the quotation from Voltaire that Democratic head impeachment manager Jamie Raskin used in his closing argument: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

No matter who, what or why, the Democrats, led by legal wizard Raskin, presented an impeccable, airtight case for Trump's guilt. Not even Trump's lawyers or the Republican senators who lounged about the chamber doodling and texting as if they were juvenile delinquents in detention hall could counter the effectiveness and truth of the prosecution's evidence and arguments. That seven GOP members voted guilty was both proof and a miracle on the order of loaves and fishes—but under the current circumstances there was no route to a two-thirds majority in favor of officially convicting Trump and denying him further government work.

In the words of former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, "The 57–43 margin wasn't enough to convict under the Constitution. It wasn't enough to formally disqualify Trump from ever again seeking office in the United States." And yet, he continued, "It will do as a solemn and eternal public repudiation of Trump's betrayal of his oath of office…

It's not half against half. It's a clear American majority—including a sizable part of the Republican Senate caucus—against a minority. And even many of the senators who voted to acquit went on record to condemn Trump as an outlaw and a seditionist.

Which brings us to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who claimed the impeachment trial was unconstitutional because Trump was no longer president—a situation McConnell himself created by delaying the proceedings until after Joe Biden's swearing in. It's so typical of the man who in 2016 refused Barack Obama's choice of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court because it was an election year but then turned around in 2020 and forced through the nomination of Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

When it comes to scruples, Mitch has been running on empty for decades; his lust for power is his fossil fuel. On Saturday, McConnell voted to acquit Donald Trump but minutes later made a speech condemning Trump as "practically and morally responsible for provoking the events" of January 6:

The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instruction of their president. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth. The issue is not only the president's intemperate language on January 6… It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe, the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was somehow being stolen by some secret coup by our now-president.

Quite a speech, or it would have been had McConnell shown the moral fortitude on Saturday to vote against Trump. Every once in a while I hope there's still a molecule of decency somewhere in his turtle soul, a sliver of the young man who interned for Kentucky's legendary Senator John Sherman Cooper, supported the Equal Rights Amendment, collective bargaining and campaign finance reform. But no.

To paraphrase that old Statler Brothers song, Mitch has been trying to have his Kate and Edith, too. At this he usually excels. He came out swinging in his speech against Trump, his rival for control of the national GOP, but by choosing acquittal simultaneously tried not to completely alienate the rabid Trump base which has been snapping at the heels of the seven Republicans who voted to convict.

(Louisiana and North Carolina Republicans already have censured their GOP senators who supported Trump's conviction and Pennsylvania's Washington County Republican chair Dave Ball attacked that state's Senator Pat Toomey with the deathless pronouncement, "We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing." I'm not making this up.)

But if McConnell thought that his vote to acquit might cut him some slack, he had a rude awakening. On Tuesday, Trump went after him with his patented, pistol-packing petulance, declaring, "Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again." Oh snap.

Politico reported, "A person familiar with the crafting of the statement confirmed that it could have been far worse. An earlier draft mocked McConnell for having multiple chins, the person said."

Multiple chins. God help us, the Mar-a-Lago Mean Girl is back and open for business.

But sticks and stones, etc. For one thing, President Biden is doing a deft job of rising above it, staying above the fray, keeping his focus on COVID relief and beyond. For another, the lawsuits against Trump and his bad boys are well underway. Investigations in New York State, the District of Columbia and now Georgia—over the ex-president's attempts to tamper with the state's presidential vote—are ongoing and it's yet to be determined how the U.S. Department of Justice will become involved, too, if at all. Biden promises to be hands off.

Nancy Pelosi and others seek an independent, bi-partisan 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6 attack, all the people involved and events leading up to it. And you can anticipate a dumpster load of tell-all books revealing what we've suspected all along -- that for all the things we know Trump and cohorts were doing, there was much, much worse going on. We came this close to the complete and utter destruction of American democracy and until the right-wing spell of the cult breaks, we're still far from safe

In the coming weeks and months, everything in the media to which you expose yourself must be carefully read, thoughtfully heard, seen and interpreted. Look out for the ways facts are manipulated, seek out those whose reporting and opinions you trust as fair. Be a critical and discerning audience, educate yourself in citizenship. Above all, journalists, readers and viewers alike need to exercise what so many claim is that most American of all qualities: common sense.

Republicans don't know much about history -- but that won't stop them.

Years ago, when I was back in Washington for a couple of years, writing a series for public television, I lived for a while on Capitol Hill, a couple of blocks behind the Supreme Court. In the morning when I went to work, I would walk to a nearby Metro subway station, look at the Capitol dome and sometimes stare across the Potomac to Virginia.

During the Civil War, I'd think, the Confederacy was right there, just a mile or two away. So close, and yet they were never able to carry their flag onto Capitol Hill until this January 6, when rioters assailed the seat of government, some of them carrying the Stars and Bars, the banner of the Confederate States of America. Five were killed.

Now the US Senate is about to try former President Donald Trump once again, this time on a single act of impeachment for inciting that riot—a vain attempt to overturn the results of the fair and honest election that rejected Trump for a second term of office. Despite the evidence, and just as they did a year ago, almost all the Republicans in the Senate will vote to acquit their corrupt and feckless leader.

That's because in an echo of Dixie, they have adapted a new version of their "Southern strategy," that tactic dating back to 1968, when Republicans discovered that by blowing dog whistles of white supremacy and bigotry, they could flip some of those states of the former Confederacy over to Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan, Bush father and son and yes, Donald Trump.

The new version is slightly different. In this one, they don't imitate the old white segregationist politicians like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. No, now they act like those all-white juries of the deep South in the fifties and sixties that would, time after time—and despite all the evidence—find the murderers and rapists of innocent black men and women not guilty. Watch as they do it again on behalf of their mad dog savior Donald Trump. The overwhelming facts mean nothing when getting back their death grip on power and control is at stake.

As you know, this attitude of ignoring or distorting reality permeates right-wing media as well. Tuesday night, the cremated remains of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, murdered at the age of 42 during that January 6 mob riot, were brought up the Capitol steps and into the rotunda to rest in honor.

CNN covered the somber ceremony live. So did MSNBC. Fox News did not. Over there, after a blitzkrieg of commercials, Sean Hannity was acting out his usual extremist nonsense, ranting about "the People's Republic of Los Angeles" and "the People's Republic of New York," among other falsehoods.

A few minutes later, President and First Lady Biden arrived at the rotunda to pay their respects. MSNBC and CNN were there. On Fox, Laura Ingraham briefly acknowledged the Bidens' presence but spent most of her airtime not honoring the slain policeman but trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci and beginning a story about homicides in Chicago with the phrase, "The BLM-fueled crime wave…" Black Lives Matter, you see, is just one more manifestation of the imaginary socialist plot to take over America. No wonder their viewers think the world's aflame, a cynical awful place where progressives plotting evil lurk at every corner pizzeria.

By the way, Officer Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was a Trump voter in 2016, although The Washington Post reports, "Those who encountered Sicknick said his political views did not align neatly with one political party." He was against impeachment but supported gun control.

There hasn't been an official explanation yet as to exactly how Sicknick died but he was attacked and killed while resisting the crazed crowd brainwashed by Trump. They were lied to by him and other Republicans, conspiratorial right-wing media like Fox, OAN and Newsmax and alt-right social media. They fell for the phony scenario brewing for weeks that Joe Biden had stolen the election and that a violent uprising would change the results. They sought to hang Vice President Pence, shoot House Speaker Pelosi and bodily harm other members of the House and Senate, including New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota's Ilhan Omar and Michigan's Rashida Tlaib.

But now, as the Senate prepares for Trump's second impeachment trial next week, too many Republicans continue pretending January 6 never happened, that the slate should be wiped clean and history rewritten. Time to move on, they say. In fact, just a couple of hours after all of their lives were in serious jeopardy, six Republican senators still refused to certify the vote of the Electoral College that gave the presidency to Biden. And a week later, when the House passed its single article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting the 1/6 insurrection, all but ten of the GOP members voted against it and many Republican senators declared the whole thing unconstitutional.

If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, Republicans and their allies covering it up and trying to erase the memory are prideful cowards condemned to seeing their once Grand Old Party dissolve into a mud puddle of mendacity, conspiracy fantasies, hatred and fear. What's left of what once was a past distinguished by occasional acts of bravery, grace and tolerance has become a toxic sludge of fascism and intolerance, much of it because they are afraid of one man, a blustering fool who no longer holds office but retains great cult-like control of their party.

"History will tell lies, sir, as usual." So says British General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne in George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple" as he rides off to what he knows will be an ignominious defeat in Saratoga at the hands of American patriots. But what we're observing now goes beyond prevarication or the boastful exaggerations of victors and lamentations of the losers; this is a twisting of facts and the concocting of false narratives that in other times would have been derided and dismissed as the cheap fakery it is.

Republicans have slid so far down the memory hole of Orwell's 1984 they have to reach up to touch bottom. They throw authenticity down into the hole's incinerator flames and create a new reality that's fictitious but which serves the needs of those who lust for power and control over all else. "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake," Winston, the protagonist of 1984, is told. "We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing."

And so you have House minority leader Kevin McCarthy accepting QAnon fanatic, now-Representative Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and denouncing her exclusion from committee assignments, despite her theories of Jewish space lasers, political assassination, 9/11 truthers and mass shootings as false flag operations. Nutty as those beliefs are (and on Thursday, she disingenuously tried to back away from them a bit), they confer influence because Trump likes her, she raises a ton of campaign cash and her followerspart of Trump's base—are urged by her to think these theories are the only explanation for their difficult lives. That, and the existence of people of color, of course.

Reducio ad absurdum. These days, the GOP even welcomes such facetious and absurd silliness as Eric Trump telling Hannity that there "has never been a more beloved political figure in our country's history" than his dad. Because that works for them, too (By the way, Eric said this during that time Tuesday when Hannity was ignoring the arrival of Officer Sicknick's remains at the Capitol. So much for Blue Lives Matter).

Meanwhile, the rest of us are supposed to buy into the GOP's big con because, you know, unity. Every time truths are spoken that Republicans don't like, they claim that it's for sure dividing the country further.

So brazen are the attempts at manipulation of truth whether present or past, that in the last months of his term, President Trump and his sycophantic crew appointed a Presidential Advisory 1776 Committee, charged with creating "a definitive chronicle of the American founding." The report partly was a response to The New York Times' award-winning 1619 Project, charting the history of slavery in the United States and our continuing record of racial discrimination.

With little regard for the facts and not a single professional historian on the panel (but with plenty of conservative activists and educators), and with time quickly running out for the Trump White House, it was decided to release their findings on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, months before the report was supposed to be completed and just two days before the Biden inauguration—timing that was either a stroke of haste, pure ignorance or malign spite—you make the call.

In any case, much of what the commission had to say was lost in the shuffle of last-minute Trump pardons and inauguration news but as per Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at The Huffington Post:

The 45-page report reads in places like a right-wing manifesto: It makes excuses for slavery and the Three-fifths Compromise that declared slaves counted as less than full humans. It decries socialism and "identity politics," celebrates the right to bear arms and calls the anti-abortion movement one of the nation's "great reforms…"
"The Trump commission's report also rails against socialism as leading people down a "dangerous path" of wealth redistribution and cites '"anti-Communism" and "the Pro-Life Movement"— or anti-abortion movement — as some of the "great reforms" of the country's history."

The report compares progressivism to fascism, seeking to "centralize power under the management of so-called experts." There are twice as many references to Christianity as of racism, no footnotes or citations, and not a single mention of Indigenous people, especially not the notion that upon our arrival, ninety percent of them quickly were wiped out by disease, murder, forced relocation, and other assorted territorial encroachments.

Many wondered what President Biden would do with the report. It didn't take long to find out. Within minutes of his swearing-in, an executive order wiped out the 1776 Committee. And shortly after, all evidence of its existence, including the panel's preposterous report, was removed from the White House website.

Via his Department of Education, the new president should lead an effort figuring out how to restore civics classes and revive the history curriculum that once taught young Americans how to be thoughtful, participating citizens by learning their past. This also should help them develop the kind of critical thinking that, when presented with the facts, responds with skepticism and debate but not in the belief of every crackpot version of reality that beckons to them from their televisions, radios and laptops. As we've seen, such an alternative truth—the real fake news as it were—can only lead to the violent end of American democracy.

For a party that used to preach responsibility and reason, the Republicans have devolved into an asylum for the proponents and hangers on of screwball revisionism fraudulent theories and the vicious overthrow of government. Don't know much about history but I do know that if the GOP have their way there will be little room for rational solutions that can help us. The angry braying mob has little use for those answers, but an embrace of practicality at every level of legislative action that leads to tangible progress could peel some of them away. Otherwise, we may be heading into more dark days echoing the fearsome years when our Capitol stood so close to enemy forces just across the river.

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

Trump the child king spends his final days throwing an extra ton of trauma-inducing tantrums

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

As we come to the end of four rotten years, Trump spends his final days throwing trauma-inducing tantrums

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 -- doubtful.)

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

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