WASHINGTON — This is the awful reality of our situation: For the next six months — at least — we are trapped on a badly leaking ship captained by an utter fool.
If he cared a whit about the well-being of the nation he is supposed to lead, President Donald Trump would resign immediately. He would slink back to his gaudy apartment in Trump Tower, where he could look down at the new Black Lives Matter street painting on Fifth Avenue. Or he would flee to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, where his rounds of golf might be disturbed by the sirens of ambulances rushing COVID-19 victims to overburdened emergency rooms.
But it is absurd to imagine that Trump cares about anyone or anything but himself. He will not go voluntarily. So on Election Day he must be made to suffer a humiliating defeat, and on Inauguration Day he must be firmly escorted — bodily, if necessary — out of the White House.
This election is not about politics, ideology or even red-vs.-blue tribal identity. At this point, it’s about our collective survival.
I believe that Joe Biden will be a good president if he is elected and that circumstances will present him with the opportunity to be a truly great president, if he’s able. But any functioning adult would be an improvement over Trump, because he is not in fact a functioning adult. As his niece, Mary L. Trump, explains at length in her new book, he is more like a damaged child.
His callousness and refusal to admit error led us to where we are now with COVID-19 — beset by worsening, out-of-control spread of the virus at a time when other industrialized countries are cautiously returning to normal. There is nothing we can do about his past mistakes. But look at what the president is doing now — pushing hard for a nationwide reopening of schools with in-person classroom instruction, just like before the pandemic. If viruses had imaginations, that would be COVID-19’s fondest dream.
Trump’s hostility toward a national reckoning with structural racism is no surprise — not to those who recall his crusade for the death penalty after the arrests of the Central Park Five, who were ultimately exonerated; or his exploitation of the racist “birther” conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama, which vaulted him to political prominence. But look at how he is heightening racial tensions, rather than soothing them, by going out of his way to champion Confederate memorials and the Confederate flag and by turning “law and order” into code words for white nationalism. Even George Wallace, when he ran for president, was more circumspect.
If Trump had done all of this out of calculation, reasoning that it gave him the best chance of winning reelection, he would immediately change course. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll of registered voters released Wednesday showed him trailing Biden by 11 points, with 50% of respondents saying that under no circumstances would they even consider voting for Trump. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Trump down by a whopping 15 points.
Listening to the hour-long screed Trump delivered in the Rose Garden on Tuesday, I didn’t hear a canny politician trying to calibrate his positioning. I heard an angry, frustrated man who might actually believe the lies he tells to excuse his failures.
Trump is immensely powerful, bizarrely irrational and increasingly desperate. Perilous months lie ahead, and I fear that things are likely to get much worse before they get better.