It is customary this time of year for opinion columnists to review their performance and offer a mea culpa where appropriate. My list is long enough that I thought I’d get an early start.
My biggest mistake is actually four years old, which can be explained but not, as it turns out, justified. On the eve of Election 2016, I wrote that we’d survive as a nation no matter who won, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I did not say we’d be fine. Mere survival seemed a fairly safe bet and, so, I gambled all my chips on our system of checks and balances.
Writers often say they write the books – or columns – they need to read. Though I had been consistently critical of Trump since the first rumor surfaced that he might run for president, I had become convinced six weeks before Election Day in 2016 that he was going to win. This insight was based upon my familiarity with his base – the folks Clinton called “deplorables.” But I thought we’d get through it OK. That proved to be a mistake.
Every time Trump did something objectionable, Twitter would remind me of my earlier error. The checks and balances conceived by the creators of our republic and in which I had placed my faith weren’t nearly as strong as I had believed. They’ve only eroded further under Trump, leaving us at the end of his term, literally, not surviving.
No one could have predicted the coronavirus pandemic. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Trump mishandled matters during the early stages of the virus when swift, decisive actions might have made a difference. We now know that he is that bad a human being and that lousy a leader. We’ve come not to expect just worse from him but the worst. If once I thought that he’d be at least rational – or I viewed his rallies as harmless sideshows – I’ve been thoroughly disabused of such notions.
Not much could be worse than hosting superspreader events and refusing to wear a mask or urging people not to fear the virus because, after all, he caught it and was treated by the best doctors in the world. It isn’t much of a leap from that kind of behavior to 49% of Americans saying they would not get the coronavirus vaccine if it were available today. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all who are vaccine-resistant are Trump supporters. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a Venn diagram showed a significant overlap. Trump’s only modest shot for redemption for his performance on the virus is to get the vaccine in a very public way and encourage others to do the same. It’s not too late to change minds and save lives.
In the meantime, the bonds of trust between leaders and citizens are nearing an irrevocable breaking point. Trump’s call to overthrow the 2020 election has exposed the underbelly of the GOP. There’s nothing some Republicans won’t do to hold on to power, even at the expense of the country’s dwindling chances to unite in common cause.
For Pete’s sake, people: What is wrong with you?
What’s wrong is Trump, was Trump, forever-will-be Trump. His effort to overthrow the election was almost certainly doomed because there simply is no evidence to support his claims of voter fraud. Facts still matter. But the mess he’ll leave behind in less than 40 days won’t be tidied up soon, if ever. I’d like to un-write that column. To anyone who may have read it and found solace in my words, I apologize.