We’ve all seen films of schooling fish, how they move as one, dazzling the eye. This behavior has survival value. A predator can’t focus on any single fish, allowing the school to survive, even if one or two of them get picked off. The president’s strategy seems to be to put out so many outrageous, contradictory positions on so many issues that you cannot focus on any one of them before another one draws your attention from the first.
In the past several weeks, the White House has both attacked and adapted Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendations for face masks and social distancing. The president pulled the Republican National Committee nominating convention out of Charlotte because North Carolina’s governor insisted that attendees wear face masks and maintain social distancing. Then, he canceled the event in Jacksonville because Florida’s governor didn’t. He insisted that the White House had the COVID-19 situation well in control many times between February and mid-July; then he announces that it will get worse before it gets better. Having decided that attending a crowded convention hall is too risky for him, the president insists that it’s fine for children to attend crowded classrooms. His talking heads appear on TV shows and tell us that kids don’t get sick and spread the virus; they tell us that the few kids who will inevitably die of the virus represent an acceptable loss level. Earlier, they told us that losing a few senior citizens was an acceptable risk in exchange for opening the economy. Perhaps some diehard Trump supporters see things differently, but of all the things I’m willing to die for, helping Trump Hotel turn a profit is not one of them, and I am not willing to risk the lives of my nephews and nieces for Trump’s poll numbers.
Trump’s contradictory messages extend past the COVID-19 pandemic. For a person campaigning as the “law and order” candidate, Trump’s messaging on the rule of law have many of us wondering what he’s thinking. People in Portland might think that having heavily-armed Federal troops with no identifying information, firing tear gas, and randomly pulling citizens off the street and driving them away in unmarked vehicles isn’t law and order. Every American should know that “proactive arrest” isn’t law and order — it’s one of the reasons we fought the Revolutionary War. Trump rewarded Roger Stone for not “ratting him out.” Trump tried to stop Michael Cohen from writing a tell-all book, or else he’d be returned to prison. Judge Alvin Hellerstein saw Trump’s actions for what they are: retaliation, plain and simple. The federal judge refused to allow the president to “Trumple” on Cohen’s first amendment rights.
Trump’s supporters dismiss all that and say they don’t amount to a hill of beans. Trump and his daughter are on that all too real hill, peddling Goya beans to say “thank you” to presidential supporter Robert Unanue.
Trump has been accused of multiple ethical lapses, especially regarding using his position for personal gain. That and his ineffectual response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its many consequences was enough to create a large crack in the Republican coalition. In addition to many of the party’s most respected names declaring themselves “never Trumpers,” organizations like the Lincoln Project sprang up with just one objective: electing candidates who support the Constitution. This group is very clearly interested in restoring the Republican Party’s good name, and to do so requires removing every vestige of Trumpism, including all of his unwavering supporters. Their home page says, “Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort.” Another such group, Republican Voters Against Trump, RVAT, quotes one disillusioned Republican, saying, “I’d vote for a tuna fish sandwich before I’d vote for Donald Trump again.” I’ve been following politics since the days of Nixon and JFK. Never have I seen a political party this vehemently opposed to one of their own running for reelection as President. Not even the infamous 1968 Democratic convention was as toxic as this.
When large numbers of a president’s own party spend millions of dollars to defeat their own incumbent, it’s time to take notice, listen to what they’re saying and why they’re saying it. This election is not about whose candidate will sit on the Supreme Court — it’s about whether the Supreme Court will even matter in 2021 and after. It’s not about kneeling during the national anthem. It’s whether the country we’re celebrating is even recognizable as the land of the free. Ultimately, it’s about whether the states stay united.
You know what you need to do on or before Nov. 3. Just make sure you do.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org