This week gives us twin points of hope in a dismal time.
On Monday morning, we saw the initial COVID-19 vaccinations administered to our heroic health care workers, a first step toward a broader national immunization against the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the nation.
Meanwhile, throughout the day, we witnessed electors in state after state after state record their Electoral College votes, confirming Joe Biden as our president-elect.
It’s hard to vaccinate a sprawling nation against a pandemic, but after a long, frustrating struggle, we have at least commenced the journey back toward normality. It will probably prove harder to inoculate a polarized electorate against the political contagion of conspiratorialism, daftness, or learned, cult-like feeblemindedness. The Electoral College vote has ended the last mote of doubt in this election, though exactly when the disaffected Republican realm will begin to re-embrace rationality is anybody’s guess. But there’s at least some small reason for optimism; on Tuesday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell actually ventured to the floor to recognize Biden’s victory — and only a month belatedly!
It’s a safe bet that President Trump never will.
On Monday, he behaved in typical attention-seeking fashion. Shortly after the Electoral College made Biden’s victory official, the president announced the imminent departure of Attorney General William Barr. This was supposedly a parting by mutual agreement. But Trump has grown embittered with his AG for — imagine — showing too much integrity. Barr had had the temerity to speak the truth about election results, saying the Department of Justice hadn’t seen fraud on a scale that would change the national results. Further, he had kept secret the DOJ’s investigation of Hunter Biden for possible tax evasion. For his part, Barr made an ally of unctuousness, his resignation letter wreathing his boss in flattery so fulsome as to render it difficult for Trump to disavow him without also seeming to reject the flowery praise he offered.
Speaking to the nation on Monday night, Biden dropped his politically strategic patience and cut through the cant, casting Trump’s machinations as a battle waged against the integrity and duty-doing dedication of state and local officials. Those officials, he said, knew the election had been honest and fair.
“They saw it with their own eyes and they wouldn’t be bullied into saying anything different,” he declared. We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude. They didn’t seek the spotlight, and our democracy survived because of them, which is proof once more that it’s everyday America infused with honor, character, and decency that is the heart of this nation.”
Biden rightly saved special scorn for the Republicans who signed on to the legally baseless lawsuit Texas filed to overturn the pro-Biden results in four swing states, a case the US Supreme Court treated with the terse dismissiveness it deserved.
The long weeks of Republican ducking, dodging, and dithering when it came to recognizing Biden’s victory was one thing. Supporting Texas’s beyond-this-legal-galaxy Hail Mary lawsuit was quite another.
Republicans who did can be fairly accused of putting party and power above Constitution and country. The best one can say of any of them is that they were so intimidated by Trump and his supporters that they put bowing and scraping over standing up for democracy.
Republicans obviously consider Trump a ferocious and fearsome gatekeeper they must placate on the road forward. Perhaps, but he seems just as likely to devolve into an angry troll muttering under the bridge. After all, when your conduct is duplicitous, self-serving, unpatriotic, and petty, time has a way of catching up with you. Further, lies and self-pity aren’t a particularly potent political potion to power a comeback.
Trump is no Grover Cleveland, the only president to bounce back from defeat to win a second term. Instead, he calls to mind James II of England. After his own ouster and thwarted comeback attempt, James fled for France, where Louis XIV lent him a royal residence, the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris. Surrounded by sycophants, the ousted monarch spent his days lolling about in the mossy reeds of his own bathos, historian Simon Schama tells us. Mar-a-Lago can’t hold a candle to the chateau, of course, but Trump certainly won’t suffer from a shortage of self-pity.
For the rest of the nation, recovery will take time. But this, at least, was a week when that healing started on two vital fronts.