Because of his incontinent use of it, the rhetorical mustard that the president slathers on every subject has lost its tang. The entertainer has become a bore, and foretelling his defeat no longer involves peering into a distant future: Early voting begins in two states (South Dakota and Minnesota) 61 days from Sunday, which is 107 days before Election Day.
Never has a U.S. election come at such a moment of national mortification. In April 1970, President Richard M. Nixon told a national television audience that futility in Vietnam would make the United States appear to the world as “a pitiful, helpless giant.” Half a century later, America, for the first time in its history, is pitied.
Not even during the Civil War, when the country was blood-soaked by a conflict involving enormous issues, was it viewed with disdainful condescension as it now is, and not without reason: Last Sunday, Germany (population 80.2 million) had 159 new cases of covid-19; Florida (population 21.5 million) had 15,300.
Under the most frivolous person ever to hold any great nation’s highest office, this nation is in a downward spiral. This spiral has not reached its nadir, but at least it has reached a point where worse is helpful, and worse can be confidently expected.
The nation’s floundering government is now administered by a gangster regime. It is helpful to have this made obvious as voters contemplate renewing the regime’s lease on the executive branch. Roger Stone adopted the argot of B-grade mobster movies when he said he would not “roll on” Donald Trump. By commuting Stone’s sentence, Stone’s beneficiary played his part in this down-market drama, showing gratitude for Stone’s version of omertà (the Mafia code of silence), which involved lots of speaking but much lying. Because the pandemic prevents both presidential candidates from bouncing around the continent like popcorn in a skillet, the electorate can concentrate on other things, including Trump’s selection of friends such as Stone and Paul Manafort, dregs from the bottom of the Republican barrel.
“Longing on a large scale is what makes history,” Don DeLillo wrote in his sprawling 1997 novel “Underworld” about the United States in the second half of the 20th century. Today, there is a vast longing for respite from the 21st century, which — before the pandemic, two inconclusive wars and the Great Recession — began with a presidential election that turned on 537 Florida votes and was not decided until a Dec. 12, 2000, Supreme Court decision. Given Trump’s reckless lying and the supine nature of most Republican officeholders, it is imperative that the Nov. 3 result be obvious that evening.
This year, the pandemic will be an accelerant of preexisting trends: There will be a surge of early and mail voting. So, an unambiguous decision by midnight Eastern time Nov. 3 will require (in addition to state requirements that mailed ballots be postmarked, say, no later than Oct. 31) a popular-vote tsunami so large against the president that there will be a continentwide guffaw when he makes charges, as surely he will, akin to those he made in 2016. Then, he said he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million because “millions” of undocumented immigrants voted against him. Making a preemptive strike against civic confidence, Trump has announced that the 2020 election will be the “most corrupt” in U.S. history.
The 2020 presidential selection process began with Iowa’s shambolic Democratic caucuses, a result not of corruption but incompetence, an abundant commodity nowadays. It is scandalous that in many places casting a ballot requires hours of standing in line. Larry Diamond of the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford discerns another scandal:
“The hard truth is that there has been a rising tide of voter suppression in recent U.S. elections. These actions — such as overeager purging of electoral registers and reducing early voting — have the appearance of enforcing abstract principles of electoral integrity but the clear effect (and apparent intent) of disproportionately disenfranchising racial minorities. One example was the decision of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State (now Governor) Brian Kemp to suspend 53,000 predominantly African-American voter registration applications in 2018 because the names did not produce an ‘exact match’ with other records.”
This nation built the Empire State Building, groundbreaking to official opening, in 410 days during the Depression, and the Pentagon in 16 months during wartime. Today’s less serious nation is unable to competently combat a pandemic, or even reliably conduct elections. This is what national decline looks like.
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