Every US presidential election has its "October surprise." This time it was the announcement that President Trump and the First Lady had tested positive for the coronavirus. That puts the president hors concours in anything but a virtual way for at least 14 days. Considering that Biden is ahead in the polls, and that Trump's political strength lies in his galvanizing rallies, this is a major setback for him.
Trump may be lucky and recover quickly with no serious or lingering effects. He has so far made light of his experience. He would in any case, wouldn't he. Covid-19 is a weird virus, though. It can seem mild, then suddenly worsen, as it did for Boris Johnson. Either way, this disruptive event has me in a stock-taking mood. And I've tested positive, so to speak, for my own personal October surprise.
Before this happened, I sided with those who felt Trump was the lesser of two evils – Biden himself not the principal evil, but the forces that would guide him – and that it was better to vote for a badly flawed enemy of a pernicious form of progressivism than open the floodgates to socialism or worse.
I have changed my mind. It seems to me that for the good of the nation, the more important factor is that the win should be a decisive one – absolutely uncontestable. That's wishful thinking for Trump, but it could well happen for Biden, and we should hope for that outcome. Because if it does, half the country will breathe a huge sigh of relief and half the country will gnash their teeth in frustration, but the transfer of power will take place without incident. The BLM/Antifa riots will temporarily quiet down. The white supremacists will glower and mutter, but they will not take to the streets.
Here's the deal, man. A riven nation has had four years of disruption topped off by a pandemic, a recession and months of civil unrest. It can't take another drama of scale without imploding. And a contested election whose outcome wasn't known for weeks, and with Trump very possibly, even probably refusing to accept any result but a win for himself? It's too high a price to pay.
Although I have always found Trump to be an off-putting human being – childish, narcissistic, a bully, often cruel (see under war hero McCain), sexist, reflexively untruthful, and the list goes on – I overlooked all those off-putting traits in 2016 because Hillary Clinton came with baggage I found even more off-putting, and because I felt the disruption he brought to the progressive juggernaut overtaking the Democratic party was necessary and timely.
In spite of his personal failings, Trump's accomplishments are significant and undeniable: tax reform, the reshaping of the federal judiciary, a first step toward reform of the criminal justice system, the elimination of ISIS as a credible threat, to name a few. Most have been criticized or been shown under-appreciation in the mainstream media.
(To cite just one example, any Democrat president that broke the decades-long Middle East logjam with such spectacular results as his team did would have had 100 Nobel Peace Prize nominations, and gushing applause from the commentariat, rather than the at best grudging acknowledgements he received from most media outlets.)
Against all the good things Trump has done, however, he was faced with one existential test of presidential leadership, and he failed it miserably: Covid-19. He made himself and his political or personal feuds rather than the virus the story at every turn. Churchill was egotistical too, but not when it mattered.
So there's that. Then there is Trump's implied threat to resist a peaceful transfer of power, not to mention his disgraceful dog whistle to right-wing extremism in the first debate with Biden, which the Proud Boys interpreted as an endorsement. And much more along these apocalypse-teasing lines, perhaps meant simply to drive Democrats crazy, but perhaps meant seriously, since Trump is well known to be pathologically averse to losing in any "deal."
If Trump does scrape through to a tenuous, contested and court-declared victory, it will be four more years of hysteria over his "illegitimacy" and four more years of civil unrest. It will be a continuing crisis Trump may keep under literal control by brute force, but continual shows of force will not mitigate its fury, and will demoralize everyone. It would be a pyrrhic victory many Trump supporters would come to regret.
At this moment, I am recalling the old biblical story of King Solomon's wisdom in arbitrating the appeals of two women, both claiming to be the real mother of a baby. Since both seemed to be sincere, Solomon tested them by offering to cut the baby in half so both could "win" the argument. The false mother agreed, but the real mother could not, and asked Solomon to give the baby to the false mother that the child might live.
We've arrived at a Solomonic moment, folks. Only there is no wise king to settle the matter. So the nation is being pulled apart. It doesn't matter who the true mother is anymore. At some point, the baby will die.
And Trump supporters should not kid themselves that four more years of Trump would overturn the systemic cultural corruption of America's institutions, the principal hope of those classic liberals who hold their noses and support him. The universities, the federal and state bureaucracies, the media: virtually all are in thrall to the BLM party line of systemic racism, hideous whiteness and the narrative of America the inherently Bad. At best, as in his recent executive order ordering federal agencies to stop submitting staff to indoctrination sessions of Critical Race Theory, Trump is throwing sandbags on an eroding beach. No president can turn back a tide.
Think about it. For four years the leftie extremists have had Trump as a convenient magnetic pole for all their grievance filings. Let Biden win, and then the Democrats must own their own crazies. The internal battles for the soul of the party will be fascinating to watch. I for one confess to a thrill of Schadenfreude in anticipation of the gladiatorial argle-bargle we are likely to witness between the Menscheviks and the Wokesheviks in the blood-spattered arena of the Biden/Harris Coliseum. In four years' time, many horrified moderate Dems will be eager to entertain the prospect of a conservative, but non-ideological Republican president.
So, instead of wasting valuable energy making feeble excuses for Trump's egregious failings, and propping up a leader whose best days are behind him, anti-progressives should welcome the opportunity Trump's defeat would provide them. They should spend the newly available time trying to bring Trumpers and Never-Trumpers to the planning table. They should discuss renewal strategies. They should create a nurturing environment for the incubation of a solid phalanx of leadership prospects all Republicans can endorse, and all moderate Democrats can respect.
Patience, patience. After four years of Biden/Harris, a strong, (hopefully) middle-aged Republican contender with integrity, leadership qualities and a positive vision is going to emerge as the One most Americans have been waiting for.