If I didn’t know better, and, sadly, I do, I’d be tempted to say that we are showing real signs of awakening from our long national nightmare.
It’s so easy to get lost in whatever is the opposite of superlatives when it comes to describing Donald Trump, but this has to have been the most difficult week of his presidency. And as the week ended, it got even worse— closing with the botched firing of the Manhattan U.S. attorney investigating Rudy Giuliani and then, of course, with the empty seats at the ill-advised campaign rally in Tulsa, where Trump admitted — I swear — that he had asked his administration to “slow the testing down” so there wouldn’t be, you know, so many recorded cases. His aides tried later to say it was a joke. If so, the joke’s on Trump.
Despite the many empty seats in the 19,000-seat arena, it wouldn’t have been a bad crowd for most candidates. But Trump had promised a sellout many times over, telling us 1 million people had sent in their RSVPs for the event. The campaign set up a huge overflow rally stage, where they were expecting 40,000 people. And yet, almost no one showed. If this was the campaign relaunch, you can see how it’s already taking water.
Empty seats, though, tell us Oklahomans were well aware that coronavirus stats are spiking there. Some people will die because of this rally, and the president will be responsible.
But if last week was terrible for Trump — and John Bolton’s tell-all would sink any other presidency — it was, at the same time, a reasonably good week for America. That is, if it’s possible to have anything resembling a good week during a still-dangerous pandemic that has claimed as many as 120,000 American lives and during our economic crisis.
As I write these words on Juneteenth, the day Donald Trump insists no one had heard of before he made it famous, it hit me — and I swear I could almost feel the blow — that we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of not one moral and social upheaval, but of at least three.
It’s almost as if it were somehow planned, that as long as we were finally confronting ourselves as a nation in matters of injustice, we might as well go all in.
Because even as we continue to work our way through the horror of the police killing of George Floyd, the Supreme Court made two stunning rulings last week, first on LGBTQ civil rights and then, in a more narrow reading, on the matter of DACA and the Dreamers.
And as Bob Dylan might have written, you don’t need a seismologist to know which way the earth shifts. The polling shows Americans approve of the protests, approve of Black Lives Matter and agree that police need significant restructuring. And even more polls show Americans agree that LGBTQ people should have their civil rights protected and agree that Dreamers belong in America and should have a pathway to citizenship.
Here’s how much the earth has shifted: In Colorado, in two weeks, the state legislature passed a remarkably tough and bipartisan police reform bill, which Jared Polis signed Friday.
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So, this is where the Trump nightmare stands. The polls are brutal. CNN had him down 14 to Joe Biden, and Trump, because he’s Trump, was threatening to sue the network. Meanwhile, a Fox News poll Friday had Trump down 12.
The Bolton book is even more brutal, not only for the many travesties it lists, but for the confirmation that Trump, in Bolton’s words, makes no decision without putting his reelection chances above all else. We kind of knew that. We definitely knew about the Ukraine quid pro quo. And why else announce a rally during a pandemic?
But Bolton, loathsome as he might be, has laid it out as no one has before. Much of what he has written is impossible to defend. Trump, in his Trumpian way, says the book is both full of lies and full of classified information — unless you’re Trump, it’s hard to argue both — but let’s just take the most egregious case, in which Trump asked China for help in getting re-elected by buying American farm goods and also approved of Xi Jinping building internment camps to lock away a million or so Uyghur Muslims. Trump has never gone that far himself — he has had to settle for putting some immigrant kids in cages — but you can see where he’d agree. As Bolton makes clearer than ever, Trump is an authoritarian fan boy.
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Speaking of indefensible, I’ll bet you know how Cory Gardner approached the revelations when asked by reporters. Say it along with me: “I haven’t read the book.” (Interestingly, the trying-to-be-new Cory now says he wants Juneteenth to be a federal holiday.)
Meanwhile, Trump seems to have lost even the Supreme Court — his Merrick-Garland-free packed Supreme Court — to the point that he now tweets: “Do you get the impression the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” (Quick answer. Probably. But what they really don’t like is what Chief Justice John Roberts called Trump’s “arbitrary and capricious” attitude in terms of the law.)
In the matter of the pandemic, which Americans, again, say overwhelmingly that Trump has mishandled, Trump returns to the arbitrary and the capricious. In an interview Thursday with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said the coronavirus is “dying out,” that tests are “overrated” and that people who wear masks are doing it to “spite” him.
And as if to test the assumption, Trump went to Tulsa, against all medical advice, for his campaign rally. He had been scheduled to do it on Juneteenth, but he learned, he said, from a black Secret Service agent that Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery. And then, as protests continue,, there’s the matter of Tulsa itself, where 99 years ago, it was the site of one of the worst white-on-black riots in American history, killing as many as 300 people as police joined in the murderous spree.
So, Trump moved the rally back a day. And the day had hardly begun when we heard the news that six Trump campaign staffers in Tulsa had tested positive. Then we saw the empty seats in the arena and that almost no one was wearing masks. Why didn’t he get his sellout? Trump, of course, blamed the media.
So how bad is it for Trump? Here’s how presidential historian Douglas Brinkley put it to the Washington Post: “I think Donald Trump has finally gotten his comeuppance. Right now, he is a grounded vessel, trapped by covid-19, by the social justice movement, by the Supreme Court saying he circumvented the law, and by Bolton saying that he’s an idiot — and maybe a treasonous one.”
“It’s a plague of locusts around Trump,” Brinkley added. “They’re piling up and starting to break his spine.”
I know Trump doesn’t actually read the Bible, outside of maybe Two Corinthians, but this is all Book of Job territory Trump is leading us through. But, in this case, it’s our faith — in ourselves — that is being tested.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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