There are two stories competing for the day’s headlines, day after day, and both come back to the same person, who remains, even in his final days in the Oval Office, at the center of everything.

Since Donald Trump is the main character, both stories are caught up in that same dark space between alternative facts and lies, between ignorance and demagoguery. In other words, deep, deep into Trump territory.

One is the pandemic — now at its worst point in its tragic history — which Trump completely ignores, even as his CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield says the next few months could be the “most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” which means that the economy will likely be in just as much danger. A lame-duck presidency is bad enough. This one is languishing in an otherwise needed ICU bed.

The other is Trump’s baseless charge that the 2020 election was rigged, a charge that was totally expected. The sad part is that tens of millions believe him, which is why the story can’t simply be discounted. And this lack of faith in the system leads directly to what may soon be the biggest story of all, whether enough people will trust in the vaccine when it becomes widely available.

Mike Littwin

For some time, Trump’s biggest concern on COVID has been whether America First could be translated into America First With the Vaccine. Great Britain trumped us on that — the matter of days being irrelevant to anyone but Trump, who desperately wanted to claim a Warped Speed victory. 

As for the rigged election, we can argue whether Trump is being delusional or cynical, but it doesn’t much matter. The fact that he has already lost 40 court cases, including from judges that he appointed, should matter, but not to as many people as you might think. 

Since Trump is Trump, the so-called rigging is the only thing he can talk or think about — other, I guess, than golf or pardoning his children and assorted cronies — and so the charade continues, with many millions of Trump cultists rooting him on. Not only has Biden won by 7 million votes, he’s also ahead in the Electoral College, 306-232, the same margin by which Trump beat HIllary Clinton, who conceded the next day.

Which brings us to a very strange point, in which I now must praise Ken Buck. No, seriously. I’m not clear why this even happened, but it turned out that Buck — the GOP state chair (for now) and noted right wing congressperson — was joined by three Republican county clerks on a Zoom conversation hosted by Caucus-Room, a conservative social media site.

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Buck’s purpose was to defend the legitimacy of Colorado’s voting system and came just hours after Donald Trump had released his 46-minute, lie-strewn rant about the rigging of the election. Trump has been talking about little else for weeks, but this one was so over-the-top crazy that I assumed the speech must have been written by Rudy’s star fraud witness Melissa Carone.

The election steal — this is my favorite bit — apparently has something to do with Hugo Chavez, who has reportedly been dead since 2013. But we all know how sneaky those Commies are. It could have been Chavez driving one of those unmarked vans that were, uh, dumping ballots.

Anyway, here’s what Buck said in his closing remarks, via The Denver Post: “I think it’s so important for us to understand that our votes are not being manipulated. So, to have some conspiracy theory in Colorado that something has been manipulated and the Russians or the Iranians or some group, George Soros or somebody else, is doing something to our system … I am convinced that’s not happening.” 

It shouldn’t have been necessary to say. I mean, Colorado’s voting system is generally regarded among the best in the country. But that didn’t sway much of the audience, some of whom called Buck — via chat room — a never Trumper and some who said they would work to vote the Republican clerks out of office. It got ugly, as Buck, a true Trump believer, must have known it would. If what Buck and the clerks said was true, that would mean Trump must be a liar, even though they were talking only about Colorado’s system.

And so Vickie Tonkins, chair of the El Paso County Republican Party, wrote, “I have no doubt that President Trump won … by a landslide!” and asserted that “President Trump will be in for 4 more years.”

This is where we are, at a time when Stephen Colbert’s on-the-money version of truthiness seems so innocent now.

To argue about a rigged election is to credit Trump’s lunatic campaign, but let me just point out that the Washington Post conducted a review of 10 swing states, including Colorado, and found that the much-maligned Dominion systems were used in 351 of 731 counties. Trump won 283 of those counties, 81% of the total. He won 79% of the counties that didn’t use Dominion systems. 

The reason I bring this up is not because most Republican officials can’t even bring themselves to call Biden president-elect or concede the obvious truth that Biden won the election. And it’s not even to praise a few of the Republican heretics like Mitt Romney, who said Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic has been “a great human tragedy,” in light of the fact that by February, doctors predict, more than 400,000 Americans will have died from COVID. Meanwhile we wait in hope that Mitch McConnel will allow a second stimulus package to pass through Congress.

No, the point here is that when the truth is found to be lies, Americans keep losing faith in institutions — now, more than ever because they’ve been encouraged to lose that faith by their president, who earlier in the week once again praised the loonies from QAnon while hinting that he may fire loyalist Bill Barr for having the nerve to say he couldn’t find any major issue with electoral fraud. 

Which leads directly to the question: Will people take the life-saving vaccines when they become available? As we argue about who should get the vaccine first, the harder question is who will take it? To clear things up, a friend of mine advises the only decision should be whether to take the shots in the left arm or the right.

When Jake Tapper interviewed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on CNN the other night, the most remarkable thing about the evening was how unremarkable it was. The only news was that Biden would keep on Dr. Fauci and that he will ask everyone to wear a mask for 100 days to help build a bridge to the time when the vaccines arrive in force. Fact checkers had the night off.

But Biden has his work cut out for him. According to a Pew Research poll, only 60% of Americans say they would definitely or probably take the vaccine when it’s available. And when you break down the numbers, 50% of Republicans are in the non-vaccine category. The good news is that the 60% is up from 51% in September. The bad news is that only 43% of Republicans say they believe the coronavirus is a nationwide threat.

Fortunately, former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton have all said they’ll take the vaccine publicly to encourage faith in the process. Joe Biden has also said he would take it, also publicly, as soon as Dr. Fauci said it was safe. 

And Trump? 

He hasn’t said. We know he has other issues on his mind, and apparently he hasn’t spoken to Dr. Fauci in months. Maybe he’s waiting to hear from Hugo Chavez first.

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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Mike Littwin

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