If you have not yet realized that we are upon one of the most consequential political weeks of 2020, you are more than forgiven. It’s not like things have been quiet around here.
Just this weekend, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani came down with a case of COVID-19 so muscular that it shut down the Arizona state legislature from thousands of miles away. Rudy, you see, just spent two maskless days there trolling the halls for electoral mischief. Apparently, he may have left behind more than his card. For those playing along at home, Giuliani is the latest of the at least 40 people within Trump’s inner circle who have become infected with the virus.
For his part, Donald Trump spent his weekend in Georgia delivering an endless tirade of personal gripes, hollow boasts and creaky old conspiracies in an effort to “help” the Republicans win the twin-bill Senate runoff in January. Trump’s own ceaseless blather about rigged elections has birthed a boycott-the-vote movement among his base that has endangered the GOP candidates, a galactic irony that puts the Senate in play.
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Trump mentioned those two GOP candidates, Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, a handful of times, but spent the vast bulk of his remarks nailing himself to a whole forest of crosses. “We’re all victims,” he puled more than 90 minutes into his rant. “Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they’re all victims, every one of you.”
That right there — the grievance, the sense of shared victimhood — is the lightning in a bottle Trump captured four years ago. It is the juice that energized his campaign, as well as his sacking and plunder of the Republican Party. Four years later, he still tries to wield it, and the crack and sizzle of it still inspires total devotion from his most loyal followers. Beyond his base, however, the noise of Trump’s complaining diminishes, like the sound of someone grousing over a toothache in a slowly descending elevator.
Meanwhile, the calamity of COVID edges closer to claiming 300,000 lives as the pandemic rages unchecked from one coast to the other. While Trump spent the weekend sputtering empty rage at his maskless idolators in Georgia, hospitals across the country passed the breaking point of new admissions, and the wobbly underpinnings of our shabby health care system have begun to groan and snap. Medical professionals are also passing the breaking point, all too aware that the worst of this latest spike is still yet to come.
It is into this bleak context that the towering garbage fire known as the United States Congress comes into play. One could not possibly imagine a worse “hero” to rush to the rescue of a dying country, but if Congress doesn’t get a few major things done on Capitol Hill in the next run of days, the lowering darkness could well become a permanent midnight for tens of millions.
Instead of prioritizing these life-saving bills, Congress may agonize without success over the defense budget, which is now in peril because Trump wants military bases named after Confederate traitors and slavers to retain their names, and because he wants to use the bill to attack his “enemies” in Big Tech. To this end, he has threatened to veto the defense bill. Given the low priorities of the average Congressperson, they may prioritize fixing the war money over helping people and keeping the lights on.
The desperately needed COVID relief bill remains stuck in Mitch McConnell’s teeth, where it has resided since House Democrats passed it in the springtime. A smaller compromise bill has been placed on the table by a bipartisan clutch of lawmakers, and all the players are making optimistic noises about it.
Yet as Bernie Sanders has noted, the proposed “targeted” bill falls far short of what is needed to actually address the crisis. Also of concern: If they pass this smaller, not fully effective bill, it is likely McConnell and his newly reborn Republican “deficit hawks” will balk at spending any more money afterward. Passing this bill is their strategic “out” to avoid a larger bill down the line, and hypocrisy can take a number. The damage to come from an insufficient bill will land on Joe Biden’s desk, which I wager is most of the GOP’s motivation here.
Furthermore, McConnell continues to insist that a corporate liability shield be included in any relief legislation. This slippery piece of work has thus far proven to be a dealbreaker for Democrats, and for good reason: The meat-packing industry specifically has contributed vastly to the spread of COVID in the Midwest, due entirely to their utter lack of regard for worker safety and worker’s rights. McConnell wants to give them a free pass so they can dodge the consequences of squeezing literal meat out of sick and defenseless employees.
Finally, the curtain comes down (again) on Friday if a bill to fund the government does not pass. Congress is kicking around a number of options, including a one-week stopgap or a three-month continuing resolution. The latter would punt the can beyond Inauguration Day when, it is thought, the mayhem volume will have diminished.
In the last weeks of the worst year, the worst people are tasked to do mortally important work for a country on the rack. Capitalism will win, of course; the question is how much more we the people will lose.