The first Signal: the sheer, awful randomness of fate. The death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, as well as the other passengers and crew in that doomed helicopter over Los Angeles, is unfathomable.
Such things aren’t supposed to happen, not to 41-year-old men with four young kids, not to 13-year-old girls with their whole lives ahead of them. Senseless, premature death flies in the face of any idea of cosmic justice or order. I try to find some meaning amid the heartbreak—both that of Bryant’s family and of the broader public who viewed him as an icon—and I come up empty. I find myself at a loss for words.
Truth be told, I’ve found myself at a loss for words frequently over this past weekend.
The president of the United States tweets a clear threat against Representative Adam Schiff—“Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”—and the GOP stands silent. That one word, “yet,” is as menacing as anything Trump has said in his three years in office.
Day by day, tweet by tweet, the country retreats from its democratic premise, this great experiment in pluralism wilts a little more, and the prospect of violence in the political process grows, yet the grandees of the GOP, running scared of its base, declines to intervene.
Former national security adviser John Bolton lets it be known that Trump personally told him that releasing aid to Ukraine was tied to the latter’s announcement of an investigation into the Bidens—and the revelation is met with yawns from GOP senators.
Bolton wants to be a Senate witness, yet majority leader Mitch McConnell’s caucus is terrified that he will blow apart the GOP’s hear-no-evil/see-no-evil strategy. So they pretend his testimony is a nonstarter. The rapidity with which a great democracy has sunk into cultist politics is terrifying.
Lev Parnas produces an audio recording of Trump demanding that his acolytes “take her out,” referring to then–Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Trump sounds just like a Mafia don ordering a hit, yet the GOP meets this revelation of thuggery with silence. It’s now apparently acceptable for the president to “take out” ambassadors who stand in the way of his corrupt machinations.
Meanwhile, the deadly coronavirus turns out to be easily transmissible from one human to the next—and before a person exhibits any symptoms of the disease. That’s a recipe for a pandemic. And yet the World Health Organization, underfunded and overstretched, still hasn’t declared a global public health emergency.
From day one, the Trump administration has tried to cut US contributions to global public health initiatives. It has reduced funding to fight specific diseases, shredded the Centers for Disease Control’s global footprint, and pulled back on contributions to UN agencies. And now the world finds itself ill-prepared to tackle a public-health crisis.
The Noise? The foul sound of Mike Pompeo using the State Department press office to pursue a personal vendetta against a National Public Radio journalist and to accuse the media of being “unhinged.”