Wissot: Welcome to the freak show
I was having dinner last month in Santa Fe with my two adult daughters who live there. It was the first time my wife Alyn and I had left Colorado since pandemic pandemonium struck in March.
As the subject at the dinner table turned to the virus and the election, one of my daughters asked me if I thought we would be OK. Reflexively, I said we would, but more to reduce any anxiety she might be feeling than out of any great sense of confidence on my part.
The truth is I don’t know if we will be OK. I know the virus won’t be with us forever. What I don’t know is when forever will end and how many more people will become infected, hospitalized and die until that occurs.
I also believe that we will conduct an election in November and that either Donald Trump will be re-elected or Joe Biden will replace him as president. What most troubles me is whether the president will carry through on his threat to declare the election rigged if mail-in ballots are counted after Election Day which will definitely be the case because states representing 65% of the Electoral College votes do accept ballots received after that date.
I didn’t tell my daughters this, but I fully realize that I am sailing in uncharted waters for which my prior life experiences offer me no navigational guidance. It’s not that I haven’t lived through national crises before.
I worried after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. I worried during the AIDS epidemic when a ravaging disease was threatening to erase an entire generation of gay men. I worried right after 9/11 when further terrorist attacks seemed potentially imminent. I worried as I watched the stock market implode in 2008 and saw my financial future placed in serious jeopardy.
But nothing, and I mean absolutely, positively, unequivocally nothing, prepared me for the haymaker that simultaneously hit our health, economic and political systems with a severity worthy of a digit on the Richter scale. The numbers are staggering when it comes to COVID-19 deaths, jobs lost, businesses shuttered, unemployment claims filed, not to mention social life as we once knew it placed on prolonged pause.
But adding to that already high degree of uncertainty is that the information the public needs to assess the risks of going to work or sending kids to school has been so politicized by the president that trust in knowledgeable nonpartisan health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci has been tarnished by shameful doubt.
All of which brings me to the first presidential debate held in Cleveland on Tuesday, or as I prefer to call it, the freak show. In a sordid mess worthy of an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show” with the only theatrics missing being the two candidates cursing and hurling chairs at one another, the once dignified debate format we have employed for the past 60 years was sullied, scarred, stained beyond recognition.
The only thing this debate had in common with the very first televised debate between JFK and Richard Nixon in 1960 was that like them, both Trump and Biden wore suits and ties. Other than that, this debate debacle could have been scripted by one of Trump’s favorite organizations, the WWE. Hulk Hogan had to be impressed.
There were so many low points during the debate that picking my favorite cringe worthy highlights is difficult. Biden called Trump “a racist, a clown, and the worst president we’ve ever had.” Trump, for his part, provoked Biden into telling him “Will you shut up, man” and questioned his intelligence when he said, “You’re not smart, Joe.”
But two terrible moments stand out in particular. The first was when Trump encouraged his supporters to monitor Election Day polling places for instances of fraud. Leaving aside for a second that it is a federal crime for unappointed individuals to enter polling places to monitor an election, what Trump was calling on his supporters to do is precisely what dictators in Haiti and Belarus and Zimbabwe have been doing for decades in order to stay in power.
The second moment was when Trump refused to condemn his white supremacist supporters when asked to by both moderator Chris Wallace and Joe Biden. The best Trump could do was to tell them to “stand back and stand by.” While “stand back” could be construed as a call for restraint, “stand by” can only be interpreted as wait for your marching orders from me.
The orderly transition of presidential power has been a hallmark of American democracy since George Washington established the precedent in 1797. We achieved our independence from George III by defeating the British in the American Revolution. Washington having successfully led the country in war against a monarchy had no desire to become George I of the United States, an act of noble humility that would be totally foreign to Donald Trump.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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