At long last, it stands before us: the Last Week, the longest week, 40 miles of bad road between what we don’t know and what we will find out once the 2020 election deal goes down. Every second drops with the bone-cracking slowness of a cat’s long, insouciant yawn. I find myself staring off into space for moments at a time, snapping back to the jittery stew of anticipation and dread roiling my gut. I am simply terrified, for a thousand reasons.
Four years ago, former FBI Director James Comey had just ripped the scab off the “But Her Emails” Benghazi “scandal” that had followed Hillary Clinton with the sound of someone banging a hollow gourd with a stick. Said someone, of course, being Mike Pompeo, or Trey Gowdy, or Jim Jordan, or any of a retinue of jabberjaws who obligingly put the ball on the tee for Comey. Comey did not miss the fairway, and here we are.
The state of play is far weirder and more perilous now than it ever was in 2016. Despite the bonfire of the last four years, and especially the last eight months, the GOP and its conservative media allies have successfully kept a disturbingly large swath of the country in thrall to a man who has been picking their pockets even as he spits in their eyes.
Trump has several narrow yet fully present avenues to victory next week, all of which include the abject devotion of his base in some combination with voter suppression, intimidation, the threat or reality of violence at the polls and elsewhere, and the final fracturing of a political system which reached its breaking strain some time ago. This is not a bug of the Trump re-election campaign. It is a dashboard feature.
Naturally, those who have dutifully carried Trump’s water are finding out what that loyalty is worth. A whole planeload of Fox News executives and on-air personalities are headed to quarantine because they were exposed to COVID- 19 by someone who attended one of Trump’s maskless suicide-is-painless rallies that are so often highlighted on, you guessed it, Fox News. “Those who were exposed,” reports The New York Times, “include Jay Wallace, the president of Fox News Media; Bret Baier, the chief political anchor; Martha MacCallum, the anchor of Fox’s 7 p.m. show, ‘The Story’; and Dana Perino and Juan Williams, two hosts of ‘The Five.’”
Far more impactful is the invasion by COVID of Mike Pence’s office. Scant hours after Trump groused about the media’s coverage of the pandemic at one of his panic rallies, Pence announced that his chief of staff, his body man and three other staffers had tested positive. No word on whether Pence — head of the White House COVID Task Force, remember — has tested positive; the White House is bunkered down and refusing to answer any queries on the matter.
As of yesterday, however, Pence was scheduled to personally attend the Senate vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett today, despite having been almost buttered with COVID in his own office. Senate Democratic leadership has asked Pence to steer clear of the vote: “Not only would your presence in the Senate chamber tomorrow be a clear violation of CDC guidelines, it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”
I’m so old, I remember when another Barrett-themed occasion attended by members of this administration became a superspreader event that put the president in the hospital. Wait, I’m not old; that was two weeks ago.
Some in the White House are having trouble managing the strain, and have started flipping out in public. Most notably this weekend was Chief of Staff Mark Meadows getting ragdolled by Jake Tapper live on CNN. “We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows finally blurted after a merciless barrage of questions. “Mark Meadows just got destroyed on CNN by Jake Tapper,” tweeted former White House spokesman Anthony Scaramucci. “So much so that Trump had someone call into the control room and pull him.”
Eight days before the vote, and any lingering illusion that Trump and his people have even the vaguest handle on this thing, which is now daily breaking infection records across the country, has fallen to dust. The truth is too huge for even professional liars like Meadows to keep behind their teeth.
I believe Trump and his inner circle want COVID to be as bad as possible now, so as to dampen voter turnout next week and further damage the country if Biden should take the reins this year. No other explanation fits the evidence. I believe this whole nightmare is a falling dagger of fascism that must be turned aside before it lands a mortal blow.
It comes to this: I wish everyone involved nothing but health and long life, but if Pence and that planeful of Fox News notables have become infected due to Trump’s deliberate negligence, we very much may all bear witness next week to the president of the United States metaphorically dragging the sick or dead bodies of his vice president and most loyal media supporters across the finish line with him as he shrieks, “They’re fine, everything’s fine, rounding the turn!”
That is where we’re at, and these will be the longest eight days of our lives. Stout hearts.
Update 1:30 pm ET: Vice President Pence will not be presiding over the senate vote on Barrett today after all. He will be campaigning in Minnesota instead.