Once again, America is getting a vivid demonstration of why George W. Bush—despite starting two seemingly endless wars, driving the nation into recession, and generally handing over his government to the worst people imaginable—will not come down in history as America’s worst president. When Bush left office at the end of 2008, he spent his last few months not just cooperating with Barack Obama’s transition team, but moving to address some of the issues created by the deregulatory disaster—including bailing out much of the auto industry. It wouldn’t matter much, since Mitch McConnell was already meeting with congressional Republicans to set making Obama a one-term president as their primary goal. Within two years, those same Republicans would not just be blaming Obama for the recession, but running ads about how he gave billions to “Government Motors.” Still … it at least seems that Bush was willing to throw a bandaid at the gushing wound his policies had created.
In 2020, Donald Trump is not just continuing to place the nation at risk of absolute dissolution by attacking its most fundamental institution, he has a backup plan that’s almost as terrible. If Trump fails to convert the nation into another of the single-party dictatorships he has so admired around the world, he intends to leave behind a system so broken that no one can fix it. And for once, he’s doing a really good job.
In this case, the pandemic is giving Trump exactly the “magic” that he wants. Through the simple expediency of not getting of his ass for months, Trump has continued to scale the coronavirus from disaster to catastrophe to just short of existential threat. None of which was preordained. Just a few short weeks ago, the news was full of stories about how countries like France, which suffered so greatly in the pandemic’s initial surge, were once again seeing a flood of new cases. Then those stories disappeared. That’s because prompt action on the part of the French government cut their rate of daily cases by more than two-thirds in just a couple of weeks. But in the United States, cases have continued to explode exactly because Trump has done less than nothing. He has not only refused to issue any new guidelines, but has undermined vaccine news with talk of conspiracies while the head of his coronavirus task force has urged people to defy social distancing mandates set by states.
As CNN notes, creating hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths may seem like a pretty big fire, but it’s not the only one that Trump intends to set. Trump is making moves in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and potentially in Iran, not out of an intention to deliver increased national security, but to intentionally create instability. Trump has ordered the latest acting Defense Secretary to engage in cyber warfare with China. He’s looking to make new terrorist designations that would hogtie future diplomatic actions. And, of course, he’s rushing through massive arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia that could completely upset the balance in a region that’s been notoriously fragile.
All of this reflects something that Trump did immediately after the 2016 election—he began running for 2020. That’s exactly what Trump is doing again. Except this time he is using his ability to wreck the government to position himself for a run in 2024. Trump’s plan breaks down to: Try to destroy democracy now, but if that doesn’t work, make sure the nation is so broken that you can destroy democracy next time. How Republicans will handle this is best summed up by what the Senate did in its last hours before going on a break — completely shatter past traditions by continuing to hand lifetime appointments to unqualified judicial nominees put forward by the loser of the national election.
Trump is doing everything he can to leave Joe Biden a nation that is sick and divided at home, weak and besieged abroad. And he’s doing it for the same reason he decided to not engage in a serious attempt to stop COVID-19. He believes that a little death and disaster will be good political strategy.