As events whiz around us with dizzying speed, the title of a 60s musical taunts me. The overload is too much; it’s mind-blowing.
The week began with the New York Times exposé of the details of Trump’s financial fiascos and shady deals. We knew about the bankruptcies, but the extent of his losses belie his cultivated image of the savvy entrepreneur. Were his multi-million dollar losses evidence of ill-conceived, hubristic investments? Or were they deliberately contrived to evade paying income tax by neutralizing the income derived from his television show? That the president is a fraud and a swindler is “shocking, but not surprising,” the all-too-familiar reaction to every new revelation of his chicanery.
Tuesday’s presidential debate was anything but presidential. The president disdained even the pretense of decorum. He continually interrupted and talked over Biden to rattle him and prevent the national audience from hearing the former vice president’s ideas and proposals. Trump appeared to be goading Biden, pressuring him to stutter or stumble.
In Bret Stephens’s words, Trump was “crass and cruel, rough and rude, small and stupid.” He refused or was unable to empathize with Biden’s evident pain as he mentioned the loss of his son, rebutting Trump’s denigration of the military fallen. On a less personal level, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and their violent tactics.
Over seven million Americans have succumbed to COVID-19, and of those, almost 210 thousand have died. The president, who steadfastly scorned the urging of medical officials in his own administration to observe public safety measures like wearing a mask and social distancing, has now, inevitably, been infected himself. His willful carelessness in public and in the White House has spread the contagion among many in his entourage and who knows how many of the attendees at his rallies.
Many are gleefully enjoying the karmic retribution, but the consequences of Trump’s illness could have nasty repercussions for the nation. At a minimum, the Coronavirus will impinge on Trump’s campaign events at a time when he is falling behind in the polls. If he becomes incapacitated, Pence may take the presidential reins from the president, as stipulated by the 25th Amendment. If Pence also falls ill, Nancy Pelosi, as the Speaker of the House, is next in the line of succession.
If the President dies or if he is incapacitated, he will be taken off the ballot. But when Election Day is less than a month away and millions have already voted early, printing new ballots is out of the question. The name of the incapacitated or deceased candidate will remain on the ballot. The Vice President will not automatically take his place. Who will choose a replacement? The political parties? Congress? The state electors— whom will they choose if they are not bound to a candidate? There are many permutations, all alarming.
Even worse, however, are the nightmare scenarios Barton Gellman explores that may ensue if Trump loses and refuses to concede as he has threatened to do. Or suppose Trump and the gerrymandered Republican “majorities” in the Electoral College finagle a victory?
What happens next is, at this point, unknown, because this is a situation with no precedent. I won’t be the only one looking for a way to jump off the whirling implosion.