Well, certainly in Presidential History.
President Trump’s behavior this week has been all but incomprehensible. Perhaps, it’s the steroid, Dexamethasone, that the doctors at Walter Reed reportedly prescribed to aid the President in his recovery from COVID-19. Small wonder he says he feels the best he has felt in twenty years. He may feel that way, but he certainly doesn’t act that way. The common side-effects of this drug, according to the Mayo Clinic, are Mood Changes (highs and lows), Aggression, Agitation, Anxiety, Irritability, Depression, and Nervousness. His judgment, following the COVID-19 super-spreader White House reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, is to rush into additional possible super-spreader events taking place at the White House, and rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania. Good luck to all concerned.
President Trump’s petulant, temporary abandonment of pandemic relief negotiations with Congress was nonsensical. He tells the American people that if they want the $1.6 trillion relief bill he supports they’ll first have to reelect him to office. That left the Democrats offering $2.4 trillion if the people elect their guys instead of President Trump and his guys. He quickly walked back his walkout. Someone, perhaps Ivanka or Jared, must have shouted to him, “what in the world were you thinking?”
And, speaking of what were you thinking, what kind of reasoning could have possibly motivated the President to turn in a debate performance that was beneath what a reasonably mature ninth grade debater would turn in. It was breathtaking. The President accomplished absolutely nothing in the debate with Biden other than to substantially elevate the former Vice President. That is exactly what one doesn’t want to do in a political debate.
The President’s angry and ridiculous excuses for refusing to participate in a virtual debate with Biden next week, only bolster the notion that if he can’t rant he can’t debate. Actually, the severe limitations on large gatherings and cheering at the debates make them pretty virtual exercises anyway.
The President’s contention that Biden would sit behind a desk with computerized cheating assistance is lame, and it bolsters the feeling by many that he, the no-nonsense, tough guy, is afraid to face Biden again. And he may be. Sarcasm, name calling and crude interruptions are a technique that has served Trump well for decades. But it has run its course. People have grown weary of it. The novelty has worn off. And to a great extent, so has the novelty of President Trump.
And, many are asking, why is the President refusing to release the date of his last COVID–19 test before he became symptomatic. He is fueling speculation that he may have knowingly already tested positive before flying off to a fundraising event in New Jersey and then going off to debate Joe Biden last week.
The school-yard name-calling directed at both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is far beneath his office. Indeed, it is far beneath the norms expected of reasonably mature teenagers. And yet his tantrums continue unabated. The President and his Party are serving up an enormous smokescreen about nearly non-existent mail-voting fraud while engaging in a concerted, muscular effort to legally suppress voting in areas of the country where likely Democratic voters reside.
Anyone who is politically savvy knows that suppression of opposition voters is, and has long been, a major tactic in political strategy and that voter fraud is minuscule by comparison. Nonetheless, President Trump has made it clear that he is prepared to allege voter fraud in order to cloud the outcome of the election should it not go his way. He has also made it clear that he expects the election to be decided by the Supreme Court. He knows the nation is stressed, and he seems determined to keep it that way.
Meanwhile, several states are engaging in quite blatant voter suppression shenanigans, and it has become de rigeur Republican election strategy in many areas of the country. It is particularly true in those areas with large non-white voting populations. It is an insidious practice and often escapes widespread public attention. Worse, it is usually legal.
For example, Greg Abbott, the Republican Governor of Texas, ordered all Texas counties to close absentee voting drop boxes as long as there is one site per county left. The strategy would have voters among the nearly five million residents of Harris County (think Houston) converging on the same drop-box if they wish to cast an absentee ballot in person. That might make sense for Loving County, Texas, with a population of 169 souls. Still, the decision makes no sense for large Texas counties, such as Harris County, where, coincidentally, seventy percent of the residents are non-white. Texas has been an aggressive closer of voting precincts. This year Texas closed down nearly 600 voting precincts, ninety percent of which were in areas with majority African American and Latino voters. About these outrages, President Trump and the Republicans are conspicuously silent.
Kentucky reduced polling locations from 3700 to under 200 during the primaries this year, and Jefferson County which hosts the state’s largest Black population was left with only one polling station.
Sadly, I could go on for many more pages. Voter suppression is an attractive and frequently legal means to tip the balance of an election. When politicians and their consultants review campaign strategies, voter suppression is often on the table. In recent decades, the practice seems to be overwhelmingly utilized by Republicans, just as it was a mainstay of Democratic strategy throughout the south well past the middle of the twentieth century. Underrepresented, or poorly represented, minorities are invariably the target. Voter suppression is a common strategy when contemplating available alternatives for influencing elections. It is an effective strategy, and it is outrageous. That the President fumes every day about mail-in voter fraud, which is demonstrably rare, while remaining silent about carefully conceived plans to suppress voting is equally outrageous.
None of this is surprising. The President is in serious trouble, but by no means is an election victory totally out of reach. However, the path back to the White House has grown very narrow for Trump, much more limited than in 2016. The reality compounds his problem. What worked for him four years ago will not work again. He cannot bluster his way back into the White House. Indeed, to win he has to present an aura of confidence and cool-headed control. Instead, he is projecting panic, mean-spiritedness, and a shocking lack of candor.
Many people believe, deep down inside, that his lack of candor and priority of self over country has cost tens of thousands of American lives. His anger may appeal to those who are primarily motivated by anger. Still, most Americans know this combat that pits everyone on one side of center against everyone on the other side of center is a disaster for the country. Most understand that. The President doesn’t.