Most of America likely is not surprised by President Donald Trump’s post-election descent into ever deeper chaos, negligence and callous self-absorption. But that won't make it any easier to get through the next three weeks and change.
Even though deliverance is close, the anxiety of bracing for what will happen next is ever present. When it does happen, it is always a blow. It is always a shock, still, and it's not because we haven't been paying attention. We have, all too much. And frankly it’s a relief that so many of us continue to be so shocked.
It should never be shrugged off when a commander in chief offers pardons and clemency to convicted war criminals and white-collar criminals, cronies and allies and crooks with friends in high places. Especially when so many people are in prison due to old laws and requirements that have been overtaken by advances in brain science or new thinking on drug offenses, and that in some cases have been changed by states but not made retroactive. Especially when so many of those in prison are people of color.
US COVID response a tragic failure
It should never be shrugged off when a president flies to his luxury Florida golf club to hit the links after single-handedly upending months of painful negotiations for COVID-19 relief. Marie Antoinette had nothing on Trump. Don’t be fooled by his post-game insistence on $2,000 checks in every pot. He had months to make that demand and convince Republicans it was nonnegotiable. Instead, he made his move in a video three days before Christmas and two days after Congress finally agreed on a deal. This holiday season is now a time of fear and desperation for millions who are facing hunger, eviction and the end of unemployment benefits.
It should never be shrugged off when the leader of a great nation abandons his people in a pandemic, leaving them to disease and death and turning his brilliant, wealthy country into a global role model for failure. From testing, contact tracing and identifying mutations of the coronavirus, to shortages of personal protective equipment and inadequate, belated and sometimes nonexistent economic aid, the U.S. response has been a rolling tragedy of mistakes, inaction, confusion, false starts, false information, propaganda, lies and disrespect for science.
It should never be shrugged off when an entire political party betrays an entire country. Republicans elected and then kept in office a president they knew from the start was incapable of handling an emergency, protecting the general welfare of his fellow citizens, using his vast powers judiciously and nobly, or simply meeting a bare minimum standard of ethical behavior.
At the same time, if there were doubts about whether American democracy could withstand the stress test of a dishonest leader determined to scorch the earth on his way out of office, they have faded. We will keep our republic, at least for now.
Trump's pardons: Craven corruption and a separate justice system for allies
Nevertheless, that doesn’t dull the capacity to be terrified with each new Trump assault or tweet. We should never shrug off a president who spreads lies about votes and elections and has badgered the courts for weeks with futile attempts to overturn a free and fair election that he lost.
Waiting for truth and competence
To say America expects a lot of President-elect Joe Biden is to state the obvious, and so is saying we must keep our hopes in check. Who could write fast enough to list all that must be fixed, everywhere in government, and in what order, much less carry out the repairs? That’s true of the pandemic alone, before even considering the urgent needs of the economy, the environment, international relations, racial inequities, immigration, the rule of law, American ideals, and the nuts-and-bolts damage Trump has inflicted on federal agencies from A to Z.
As competence and honesty make a comeback, one can only hope that America will notice, and will never let a Trump happen again.
Until then, we are all Bart Simpson at the blackboard, writing Martin Luther King's words over and over: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump lies and incompetence should shock to the end. Never get numb.