Alan Zendell, June 20, 2020
Every gambler knows that if you keep betting against house odds, you’ll eventually lose. In business, Donald Trump was a high stakes gambler, but he knew his lawyers would limit the damage when he lost, and he was adept at finding others to absorb the cost.
Trump has governed the same way, staking out risky positions and daring everyone to stop him. He tried to lock up children at the border, shut down immigration, kill Obamacare, deprive the LGBT community of basic rights, and intimidate North Korea. He initiated trade wars and withdrew from treaties and alliances. That’s a hell of a list, especially since each bet he placed was a loss.
Then, COVID-19 struck. Trailing Joe Biden in national polls, Trump believed a strong economy was his only path to re-election. He gambled again, denying the seriousness of the pandemic and forcing states to re-open prematurely. Health experts predict the result will be more outbreaks, new shutdowns, and greater damage to our economy. 120,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19, and based on results from countries that behaved more responsibly, at least 100,000 of those deaths were the price of Trump’s failed gamble.
Public health officials fear that his decision to resume mass campaign rallies will infect countless more Americans and cause another exponential increase in deaths. Trump knows it too, and he is requiring all attendees to sign a waiver of liability in the event they contract the virus. Such cynical disregard for the health of supporters who follow him like lemmings speaks volumes about his lack of concern for the rest of us.
The icing on Trump’s risk/reward cake is the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump didn’t pull the trigger when unarmed black men were killed by police, but given another opportunity to lead with compassion, rather than comfort the families of the victims or address the problem of police misconduct, he attacked the demonstrators, casting them as thugs and anarchists. Using a prison riot squad to disperse unarmed, peaceful protesters and his failed attempt to deploy the military were stark reminders of the Fascist tactics of the 1930’s.
With Trump denying that the virus remains deadly and encouraging people to resume normal activity, epidemiologists and modelers now forecast up to 250,000 pandemic deaths. Trump’s disapproval numbers are at an unprecedented high, and even Fox News now has him trailing Biden by double digits. Desperate to remain in power, Trump repeatedly claims the election is being rigged against him, signaling that if he appears to be heading for defeat, he will provoke a national crisis rather than concede.
That was always a possibility, but the pandemic and the BLM movement raised the stakes. Nations are most vulnerable when they are in distress and turmoil. With the president willing to endanger the lives of his own followers and risk turning an economic downturn into a Depression, are there any limits to what he will do to win?
One oft-expressed concern is that he might provoke an armed confrontation with Iran or North Korea. That’s a terrifying thought, but our military leaders recently demonstrated that they understand our Constitution and will not blindly follow wherever he leads. Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Mark Milley refused to deploy active duty soldiers in response to Trump’s attempts to portray BLM protests as an insurrection by the largely fantastical Antifa. At the same time former Defense Secretary James Mattis told The Atlantic the president was unfit. He specifically contrasted the Nazi Slogan, “Divide and Conquer” with “In Union There is Strength,” claiming Trump prefers the former and doesn’t even pretend to care about uniting us.
America took a step back from the brink that day, but Trump might still attempt to exacerbate and use our ongoing dual crises to his advantage. Remember that Hitler playbook? Trump’s endgame might be to declare a State of Emergency and demand special powers, among which are postponing or canceling the November election. Could he count on the loyalty his two Supreme Court appointments, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and his lapdog Attorney General, William Barr, all of whom are advocates of a strong Executive Branch operating relatively unchecked?
Trump has been confident that the presently constituted Court would have his back, but…not so fast, Donald. Conservative Chief Justice Roberts prevented him from completely dismantling Obamacare, and in November 2018, took the unprecedented step of rebuking Trump for attacking the independence of the Judiciary. And this week he sided against Trump’s attempts to deny basic human rights to transgender individuals and to terminate the DACA program by Executive Order.
I believe Roberts is sending Trump a message. The November election is widely seen as the most important one since the Great Depression. The surest way to kill our democracy is to interfere with and corrupt the electoral process. The Court is telling the president that if he expects them to support any attempt to do so, he’d best think again.