Betting that things can’t get worse with Donald Trump has always been a losing proposition, and never more so than in these dying days of 2020. That’s the final, unambiguous, Signal of 2020.
Last week, Trump pardoned a who’s who of venal politicians (including ex-Representative Duncan Hunter and his wife), corrupt advisers (Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), relatives (Jared Kushner’s odious father), and child-killing mercenaries convicted of a massacre in Iraq.
There’s no “process” to this pardoning spree. Trump has bypassed Department of Justice protocols, arrogating to himself regal-like powers to reward cronies and (in Manafort’s case in particular) make good on his promise to protect those who went to the wall to protect him from potential criminal liability.
There is talk that Trump will issue pardons-in-advance to his children and to close advisers such as Rudy Giuliani. There is talk that Trump will try to pardon himself for any federal wrongdoing he might be accused of when he leaves office. There is also talk that he might issue these pardons in secret—magic, get-out-of-jail-free cards to be revealed by an indicted Trumpite, should they need a little extra help down the road.
None of this is about furthering the cause of justice or righting wrongs committed by overzealous prosecutors. Instead, it’s a game of transactional, strong-arm politics at its most infamous.
Meanwhile, thousands of Americans are dying of Covid-19 each day. Hospitals in Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest city, along with the rest of Southern California, are so swamped with patients that ambulances with critically ill patients are having to circle for hours before finding one that will admit them. Some hospitals are reporting that they are running low on oxygen supplies.
How has America’s president responded to this escalating crisis?
After decamping to Mar-a-Lago for the holiday weekend, Trump launched a Twitter barrage against the Supreme Court, Congress, Democrats, and the Justice Department, as he sought to maintain the fiction that he won the November 3 election. And he continued to position himself as an insurrectionist leader rather than a president, urging his supporters to protest in D.C. on January 6 against congressional ratification of the Electoral College vote.
When he wasn’t fascist-tweeting, he was playing golf.
And when he wasn’t playing golf, Trump was going out of his way to sabotage the painstakingly negotiated Covid relief package. On Christmas Eve, he pulled the rug out from under Congress, after huge, bipartisan majorities in both houses passed the bills authorizing $900 billion in spending to counter the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. With no warning, he suddenly announced that the legislation didn’t pass muster and that he wasn’t going to sign it. And until Sunday late evening, he didn’t. As of Saturday night, because of Trump’s inaction, millions of Americans—especially independent contractors who have qualified for unemployment insurance since March—who were relying on expanded benefits to tide them over into the new year were without financial assistance. And even though Trump belatedly signed the bill, the delay guarantees at least a temporary break in unemployment payments for those Americans whose benefits ran out on the 26th. Merry Christmas, America.
It wasn’t only the unemployed who were held hostage to Trump’s tantrums this past weekend. The Covid relief package includes $20 billion for vaccine distribution, eviction protections, moneys for public transit systems and arts institutions, aid to imperiled school districts, loans and grants to small businesses, and so on. All of that assistance was put into limbo by Trump’s shenanigans.
This isn’t governing in any recognizable sense. It is, pure and simple, hostage-taking. Trump, in a fit of rage over his having lost the election, is now trying to take the country down with him. He is corrupting the justice system, ginning up violent conflict in the nation’s capital, and—in withholding his signature for several days on legislation vital to the survival of countless small businesses and the well-being of tens of millions of citizens—showing just how far he’ll go to stay in the spotlight.
For Trump, it’s all about being center-stage, all the time. And if millions of people see a pause in their unemployment benefits as a consequence, well, that’s just the price that must be paid to keep the headlines focused on No. 45.