Unfathomable death, another blameless killing, and a reason to be very afraid.
The Raging Pandemic
We now have nearly 7.1 million COVID cases and upwards of 205,000 American deaths. Last week, California surpassed 800,000 cases. A rise in confirmed cases has been reported in 23 states.¹ Despite this, widespread rejection of and even open hostility toward mask wearing remains high. And just to provide clear evidence and comfort that the White House has our best interests at heart, the president last week claimed that he has the authority to override the U.S. Food and Drug Administration if the agency releases tougher standards for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.² Not relaxed standards, mind you, but tougher, more demanding standards, ones designed to keep us safe. Because, really, when it comes to a life-saving drug, who do you trust to know best? Trained and credentialed scientists following rigorous protocols or a guy up for reelection who has downplayed the virus from the start? Might that explain why only 39% of the country is willing to take the vaccine when it becomes available?³
Yet Another Killing Goes Unchecked
Even as the virus continues to ravage the country, impairing our ability to keep schools and businesses open, we must not overlook yet another horribly vivid example of the ability of police officers to shoot and kill unarmed Black people and walk free without accountability. Breonna Taylor was shot five times by police in her own home. According to the grand jury, that was acceptable. Or, at very least, the grand jury was hamstrung by something called ‘qualified immunity,’ a legal principle that provides government employees, including most police throughout the country, near-blanket immunity while performing ‘discretionary functions.’⁴ What the grand jury found unacceptable was the officer discharging his weapon indiscriminately in the neighborhood, those bullets hitting no one. A slap on the wrist for that; nothing for shooting an unarmed woman five times at close range. Such is the nature of the restrictive rules governing grand juries when qualified immunity is involved. Even so, let’s be clear: this will not stop until those who kill are punished. Until that day comes — and until police are not granted qualified immunity for their actions while on the job — people of color are in danger. The entire country is in danger.
The Stuff of Nightmares
Speaking of being in truly grave danger, a headline ran last week that few, in any, ever anticipated seeing in this country: As Trump Refuses to Commit to a Peaceful Transition, Pentagon Stresses It Will Play No Role in the Election.⁵ I am not entirely certain which part of that headline provoked more fear. That the president is threatening to remain in office following the election, regardless of the outcome. Or, that the armed forces deemed it necessary to announce that it will not get involved following the election.⁶ Have we suddenly become Libya? Rwanda? Belarus? Iran? Zimbabwe? A country that requires the military to enforce — or prevent enforcement of — the law? Have we fallen so far from democracy that the leadership of our armed forces can foresee a time in the near future in which its services might be needed to manage a domestic election — a presidential election, at that? It appears that we have.
There are reasons for this. The president is telling anyone who will listen — and everyone is listening, with some amplifying the messages (hello Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, OAN) — that mail-in voting is “a disaster,” that “the ballots are out of control,” and that the “only way we will lose is if the election is rigged.”⁷ He has directed his Postmaster General to reduce the effectiveness of the United States Postal Service to impair the delivery and return of mail-in ballots,⁸ encouraged North Carolinians to vote twice,⁹ has told his supporters to “supervise” polling places to “watch all of the thieving and stealing and robbing they [Democrats] do,”¹⁰ and is preparing legal arguments in selected states, those he must win, to undermine the validity of the results.¹¹ All without any evidence of systematic voter fraud, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.¹² There is also reporting — read this carefully — that the president’s campaign is exploring the idea of entirely ignoring the election results in selected states, should he not win the popular vote, and instead having Republican legislators in the state appoint Electoral College electors favorable to the president — rather than electors favorable to the state’s true winner.¹³ Yes, you read that correctly. A diabolical plan, to be sure. Give them credit for creativity. Such is the nature of desperation, criminality — and a pathological need for power. The idea is considered far-fetched and unlikely to succeed. Even so, it’s being seriously considered at this very moment. It would be naïve of us to think it is beyond the realm of possibility.
Most recently, and undoubtedly why the Pentagon made its statement, the president has repeatedly stated that he cannot and will not commit to leave office peacefully following the election. As he has put it, “We have to wait and see what happens,” adding, “I’m not sure the election can be [free and fair].”¹⁴ This from the president of the United States. In 2020. Said and texted repeatedly to his 60+ million supporters. Many of whom believe him when he says that the results cannot be trusted.¹⁵ Which, of course, is the point. Division and instability is his game. Tax evasion, as it turns out, is also part of his game.¹⁶
If you recall, he made the same incendiary threats prior to the 2016 election. All became moot after he won, though he still insists, without a shred of evidence, that 3 million votes for him were lost, making him the outright winner. Which, all things considered, is like a Super Bowl champion claiming, years after the fact, that the officiating was biased against them. But that’s our president. The most insecure, self-serving, lonely, desperately-in-need-of-love-and-affection individual ever to find his way to the Oval Office. He makes Tony Soprano seem emotionally rock-solid. If the president was not so polarizing, so divisive, so alienating, so destructive, so selfish, his sadness would be something that might break our hearts. As it is, it’s pathetic.
We are watching, in real time, the stepwise dismantling of our democracy. The president is, with or without the help of Russia, attempting to cause us to question the efficacy of our upcoming election. His personal lawyer, Attorney General William Barr, is at his side doing the same, promoting — without any evidence whatsoever — that the election may be invalid.¹⁷ Together, they are working hard to make us believe that our elections are rife with dishonesty, chicanery, and deceit. That Democrats will do everything possible to “steal” the election, despite absolutely no evidence to support this reckless charge. The president says these things for personal gain — and, just possibly, to divert our attention from a virus that is out of control — having killed more Americans than our last five wars combined,¹⁸ — and a floundering economy, with millions out of work. Because that’s all he has. His only leverage, such as it is, is to invalidate the results by having us believe that the election is “rigged.” It is not.
This election has become about far more than the selection of a president and others on ballots throughout the country. It is about character. Our character. About how we will choose to act in this moment, one defined by a pandemic, a failing economy, intensifying racial strife, and the administration’s assault on our most vital and cherished democratic responsibility: to elect leadership. It is about whether we will be dissuaded from voting, intimidated and/or convinced that voting is a waste of time. About whether we will abdicate a right and honor hundreds of thousands of Americans have given their lives to protect. About whether we will be bullied into submission. By our own federal government.
Regardless of who you support for the presidency, please vote. Know that your vote will be counted. Know that your voice will be heard. Know, too, that your voice is important. Despite what the president, the Attorney General, and others in the administration would have you believe. This remains the United States of America and voting, for the vast majority of us, is the single most patriotic thing we do. So, please, don’t be deterred. Be the patriot you are and vote. The sooner the better. Because under no circumstances do we want the military to rethink its position.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, September 27; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/ These data are from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the control of the White House, so who knows?