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The Signal this week is the continued descent into either Shakespearean tragedy or Greek farce of the grand American experiment in democracy.
As the election nears, William Barr’s Justice Department has abandoned all pretense of impartiality and legality. In dropping charges against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, despite the fact that Flynn had already pleaded guilty not once but twice to the crimes of which he was accused, Barr has caved to Trump’s dictatorial whim.
Barr’s action was so shocking that, for a brief moment, it knocked the pandemic from the lead-story perch it has occupied, almost without interruption, since mid-March. Former president Obama averred that the rule of law was under threat as a result of Attorney General Barr’s move—an extraordinary intervention, given how careful Obama has been to stay out of the daily fray over the past three years. Meanwhile, Trump reacted with his usual Noise, a series of tirades against alleged crooked G-men and evil political figures determined to ensure his demise, who had wrongly ensnared Flynn in the first place, and how they would be getting their comeuppance soon.
In tweeting about this Tuesday’s special congressional election in Southern California (triggered by the resignation of Democratic Representative Katie Hill), Trump also continued to test-run two of his campaign themes: that the Democrats are going to try to steal the election through rigged vote-by-mail systems, and that by opening additional polling stations in poorer neighborhoods, they are making it somehow unfairly easy for minorities to vote.
Of course, this has been occurring in the shadow of the pandemic—which as of this writing has claimed nearly 80,000 lives and cratered the job market to an extent not seen since 1933. Instead of focusing on a full-court effort to get control of the spiraling public health and economic calamities, Trump spent much of the last week coordinating disinformation campaigns and vitriolic attacks on international responses to the disease.
While most of the world’s top leaders came together in a virtual summit to work out a global response to the pandemic, including raising money for a universally available vaccine and for shoring up the public health systems of poorer nations, Trump and his henchmen were nowhere to be seen. This one wasn’t hard—it didn’t involve long air travel or shaking hands with a bunch of strangers. It was online, for Christ’s sake! But neither Trump nor Pence—who ostensibly is in charge of the coronavirus task force—nor Secretary of State Pompeo nor any other administration official could be bothered to log in and represent the United States.
In a similar fit of pique, Trump’s team blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global cease-fire during the pandemic. Why? Ostensibly because the document mentioned the World Health Organization, which Trump is blaming for the failure of his own administration to respond with alacrity to warnings given out by… the World Health Organization. And perhaps US officials thought it would look bad to vote in favor of a global cease-fire just hours after US mercenaries were arrested in Venezuela after attempting to enter the country with plans to kidnap the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro.
Meanwhile, as the US public health crisis worsens, making attempts to rush the restart of local economies a dangerous game of Russian roulette, states and cities are staring down a financial catastrophe that will make 2008–9 look like a mild case of the sniffles. California, which has a $222 billion budget, and which, after a decade of careful curating of its finances, began 2020 with a $5.6 billion surplus and a rainy-day fund worth close to $20 billion, is now looking at a $54 billion deficit. New York City is looking to cut $1.3 billion in services. And the agencies that run the country’s great public transit systems are on the verge of financial collapse, with New York’s MTA needing $4 billion to survive the pandemic.
In response, the GOP-controlled Senate, along with Trump’s economic advisers, is increasingly advocating a “let them sink” approach. We need a huge federal intervention now to stanch the economic bleeding. Instead, Trump’s advisers have decided to, in their words, hit the pause button on more assistance.
Stay well, stay healthy, and stay focused on the Signal. Remember, everything is in play now, and Trump and his gang are playing for keeps.