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A Marine stands guard outside the West Wing, signifying the president is in the Oval Office, as snow begins to fall at the White House on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

A Marine stands guard outside the West Wing, signifying the president is in the Oval Office, as snow begins to fall at the White House on Wednesday, December 16, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Final Days of Donald Trump, Absentee President

During which a petulant manchild tries to wear us out with his refusal to face reality.

Michael Winship

Pardon my silence these last few days, but the out-of-control firehose that is the Trump White House has upped the water pressure with increased insanity, mendacity and just plain idiotic behavior. It can overwhelm.

The soaking seems to get worse every hour and day that remains before the swearing-in of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and for me and many others, that sometimes creates a worn out feeling just from being flooded by all the nutty news. As the Stevie Smith poem goes, "I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning."

This generates a funny kind of writer's block—and believe me, I know what I'm describing is the mosquito bite-sized problem of a privileged white guy, especially when compared to the tremendous suffering so many of us have endured during the year. But fact is, the source of so much of our pain and fatigue, Donald Trump, is becoming more and more frantic even as the writing on the White House wall becomes impossible to obliterate with bombast and bullshit. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, Diaper Don—the clanging you hear isn't just in your head, it's the sound of more than 81 million voters who chose the "let's save democracy" option and cast you out.

"Trump prefers to use his remaining days not doing anything useful or patriotic but wrapped in a perpetual pout, aided and abetted by the GOP and the extreme right-wing media."

Yet amazingly and appallingly, the election madness goes on. Trump refuses to accept reality—publicly at least—with stories of ever more fevered plots on his part to overthrow the results and even refuse to vacate the Oval Office on January 20.

Trump wanted to make that madwoman Sidney Powell special counsel to investigate the election and Joe Biden. Rudy Giuiliani asked Ken Cuccinelli at Homeland Security if they could seize the voting machines. Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican wingnut from Wisconsin, held a committee hearing  last week to once again roll out every tired and rejected conspiracy theory. And Michael Flynn, the convicted but pardoned former Trump national security advisor, told Newsmax that when it came to the vote, the president "could order, within the swing states if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities and basically rerun an election each in those states."

Achtung, baby, what's a coup among pals? As per Jonathan Swan of Axios, "A senior administration official said that when Trump is 'retweeting threats of putting politicians in jail, and spends his time talking to conspiracy nuts who openly say declaring martial law is no big deal, it's impossible not to start getting anxious about how this ends.'" (Early Sunday morning, Trump denied the reports.)

Yet all of this sedition is catnip to many of Trump's tens of millions of followers who still view him as some sort of demigod (as opposed to a mere demagogue) who can do no wrong. They cling to this cultish delusion despite the more than 17 million cases and 316,000 Americans dead from COVID, and the catastrophe Trump and his friends have made of this entire worldwide crisis—including his followers' resistance to basic measures like masks and social distancing. He and they have increased the total death toll by untold numbers. 

This has been egged on by Trump and some of the ill-informed maniacs brought in to consult on this disaster, including the now-departed, infamous radiologist Scott Atlas and Paul Alexander, who briefly served as a senior advisor at the Department of Human Services. In emails, Alexander advocated herd immunity as the solution to the pandemic, writing, "So the bottom line is if it is more infectiouness [sic] now, the issue is who cares? If it is causing more cases in young, my word is who cares...as long as we make sensible decisions, and protect the elderely [sic] and nursing homes, we must go on with life....who cares if we test more and get more positive tests."

Meanwhile, a much needed but grossly underfunded $900 billion stimulus bill had to go through the Senate gauntlet of cruelty and hypocrisy, ringmastered by Majority Leader McConnell. Desperately strapped citizens are offered only $600 in relief. (It's been noted that $600 is what rich people think poor people think is a lot of money.) Additional cash will have to be a huge priority for the incoming Biden/Harris administration as it fights both the pandemic and the economic distress created in its wake for individuals, their families and struggling small businesses alike.

Just to add kindling to this Yule Log of misery comes the news of a massive Russian hacking of businesses and agencies throughout the United States government. On Friday, counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke, describing  this cyber threat as "the largest espionage attack in history," told CNN's Anderson Cooper, "What concerns me is the Russians have broken all the rules. This is getting not only into a few government offices, but in thousands of companies. It is what the military calls preparations of the battlefield. Putting back doors in thousands of important companies and agencies, so that if they ever want to come back, in the period of crisis, and destroy those networks, they have the access. That's the real problem."

But Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin's BFF, has failed to take action, tweeting on Saturday—in direct contradiction to Secretary of State Pompeo—"The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control."

He added, sounding like that whiner Jan on The Brady Bunch, "Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!)." And then he concluded, because he's so goddamned fixated, "There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA."

Good grief—all I want for Christmas is for Twitter and Facebook to suspend his accounts. As my friend journalist Steven Greenhouse responded, the tweet "looks very much as if it was ghost-written by Vladimir Putin."

So there it is. Trump prefers to use his remaining days not doing anything useful or patriotic but wrapped in a perpetual pout, aided and abetted by the GOP and the extreme right-wing media. While officially, presidential spokespeople-types say his laser-like gaze is still focused on making America great, "Those close to him paint a different picture, according to Josh Dawsey and David A. Fahrenthold of the Washington Post:

These days, Trump is spending most of his time in the residence, phoning allies, according to four people who have been in touch with him, and falsely tweeting that he won the election

Some of the president's top aides are urging him to stop litigating 2020. Advisers such as [David] Bossie have begun proposing scorched-earth tactics to cripple the Biden administration, so that Trump can better position himself ahead of 2024.

Swell. Rather than take any action to stop Russian interference or effectively stem the coronavirus, Donald Trump, as ever, lashes out and resorts to puerile petulance. He focuses solely on himself, his political future and revenge on his enemies while soaking up millions via his so-called legal defense fund and even threatening to veto the defense spending bill although, Julian E. Barnes of the New York Times reports, it "contains two dozen provisions to strengthen cyberdefenses. It gives the federal government the ability to actively hunt for foreign hackers trying to penetrate computer networks and establishes a national cyberdirector who would coordinate the government’s defenses and responses to such attacks."

"The activism of those stalwart volunteers working the phones and the streets to get out the vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and defeat multi-millionaires Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, each accused of insider trading, is a superb holiday gift."

Now I know this may seem a weary little missive for holiday time, but hope is not lost.

The good news, of course, is the vaccine—two of them so far with more in the pipeline, and thousands of frontline health workers already  getting the first jabs.

The bad news is, no surprise, that this administration seems not to have put together a thorough plan for distribution and now is saying that the second round of doses is being cut for the coming week. This despite Pfizer announcing, "We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses." Is this our absentee president's punishment of blue states or basic ineptitude—you decide. (On Saturday, four-star General Gustave Perna, chief executive officer of Operation Warp Speed, took the blame and apologized.)

But also look ahead to pushing through to the inauguration and the weeks and months to follow as we try to fix all the damage that the last four years have wrought. And look, too, to the days leading up to Georgia’s special election on January 5 for those two US Senate seats that will determine how big a swing of the bat the new administration can take—if willing—to make significant changes.

Early balloting already has begun—more than a million cast so far. The activism of those stalwart volunteers working the phones and the streets to get out the vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and defeat multi-millionaires Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, each accused of insider trading, is a superb holiday gift, suitable for the entire family.

So God Bless Us, Every One. Don't let the bastard wear you down. And if you live in Georgia, vote.


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Michael Winship

Michael Winship

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow at the progressive news outlet Common Dreams, where he writes and edits political analysis and commentary. He is a Writers Guild East council member and its immediate past president and a veteran television writer and producer who has created programming for America’s major PBS stations, CBS, the Discovery and Learning Channels, A&E, Turner Broadcasting, the Disney Channel, Lifetime, Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children’s Television Workshop) and National Geographic, among others. In 2008, he joined his longtime friend and colleague Bill Moyers at Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and their writing collaboration has been close ever since. They share an Emmy and three Writers Guild Awards for writing excellence. Winship’s television work also has been honored by the Christopher, Western Heritage, Genesis and CableACE Awards.

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