Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “a house divided against itself cannot stand” speech on June 16, 1858, before the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Ill. He was the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and he lost to Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. The issue fracturing the nation was slavery. Lincoln went on to say that the union would not be dissolved and it would not fall, but “it will become all one thing or all the other.” This is exactly the predicament our country is in now. Facing the deadly COVID-19 pandemic with a divisive controversial minority president up for reelection, what nation will we chose to be in November?
As we know, Donald Trump rules by dividing us. Three and a half years into his presidency, it can’t be said he actually governs from the Oval Office. He rules by trickery, even cajoling his people to risk death by virus to create the illusion of a healthy “back to normal” economy to support his reelection. Everything about Trump is illusion. His fragmented, confusing double-talk from the podium created a disjointed, failed strategy for containing and then mitigating COVID-19. With over 80,000 Americans dead as I write and more dead when you read this, the virus is clearly winning. More Americans have died in the raging pandemic than gave Trump his razor-thin margin for his Electoral College win in 2016.
Trump’s happy talk has turned dangerous. According to him, we are “warriors” as he persuades us to buy into his dire need to get the economy moving again. He does not want to be a one-term president and will risk your life to win that second term. Leading by example, he will not wear a mask to convince his followers not to wear masks either, placing those of us who respect science in increased danger when we venture from our homes. A mask is a concession to the fact that the virus is deadly and real. Yet as COVID-19 invades his White House, he blows up at his staff for not protecting him when his military valet tests positive. The virus invaded his domain again when Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive.
His supporters do not see through this farce and extol the need to risk human life in order to get America back to work and “normal” again. Many Republican governors agree and can’t reopen quickly enough, disregarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines set by the Trump administration. Too many states are rolling the dice to please the president, and they fear his increasingly aggressive supporters willing to ignore logic, reason, and science because Trump says so.
Those of us not taken in by the lies, as we were not in 2016, are unwilling to participate in this madness but must face an increased threat of COVID-19 infection as mitigation efforts are curtailed. We are divided over a deadly virus that continues to kill us and led by a president who doesn’t seem to mind as long as his interests are served. A country can’t be more divided than that, or can it?
William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, makes it Department of Justice policy to prevent “overreach” by governors and local authorities who want to protect their citizens from the virus. Barr tells Americans they need to adapt, not cower at home, and fires off a memo to U.S. attorneys to monitor state and local policies and take action if correction is needed. He wants to protect your liberty to place yourself and everyone around you, if you are infected, in harm’s way. We don’t yet have sufficient testing nationwide to know if you are infected, but Barr will protect your freedom to not care about your family, friends, and neighbors. While we are preoccupied with life and death, Barr drops the government’s criminal case against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the FBI regarding Russia in January 2017. Flynn pleaded guilty to the charge in federal court, but Trump wants to rewrite history concerning Russia as it touches on his legitimacy as president, so Barr further erodes the rule of law in this country to comply.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is busy pushing through 37-year-old Justin Walker, a fellow Kentuckian and former clerk to Brett Kavanaugh, to a seat on the all-important Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. COVID-19 can wait. Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor and the head of fundraising for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., is to become the new postmaster general while Trump seeks to destroy the U.S. Postal Service either to get back at Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post as well as Amazon, or to make voting by mail impossible in November, and maybe a bit of both.
As a nation, divided by a minority Republican Party desperate to hold on to power and an immoral president, we have been pushed into the abyss by the self-serving bungling of the federal government’s response to the pandemic. The November election will determine if we climb out of the abyss or fall further into it. It is all of one or all of the other.
Susan SurfTone is a musician, former FBI agent, and regular contributor to The Advocate.