As Joe Biden continues to lead the polls, Donald Trump has decided that scaring voters into reelecting him or else he leaves America in a position where Democrats can't save the economy from a depression is his best choice for winning in November.
President Trump seems to believe that stirring up “American carnage” benefits him. He imagines he’ll be better off as things get worse for the rest of us. Is that a winning strategy?
It would be a mistake to overestimate Trump’s ethics (non-existent) and to underestimate his political talent (considerable). He beat down the Republican establishment and defeated a favored opponent in 2016. Four years ago, he knowingly took advantage of foreign interference in the campaign. Back then, Americans wondered whether the Russian intervention was about Trump or about chaos. It was about both.
Chaos was the plan. The worse for America, the better for Russia.
Today, Trump faces a totally different situation in this campaign than he did in 2016, and he knows it. Four years ago, he did not have to win. Had he lost, he could have claimed victory, mocked Hillary Clinton on Twitter, and schlocked his way to retirement. The carefree attitude he evinced back then is notably absent today. The advisers of 2016 are now convicted felons or charged with felonies. By now, Trump himself has been thoroughly investigated, and the prosecutors are lining up. Only the office of the presidency saves him, as he understands.
Like all authoritarians, he aims to die in a comfortable bed rather than in prison. He cannot bear to lose, and he is smart enough to know he is losing. Since he cannot coast and expect victory, he has two options: the democratic one of making things better to attract votes, and the lawless one of courting strife.
He is certainly not making things better. He let covid-19 spread on the logic that it would spare “his people,” but does nothing now even though it is killing his constituents. He could save countless lives by modeling good hygiene, but he will not. He could improve the economy by insisting on meaningful unemployment compensation, but he will not. A democratic politician would work against pestilence and depression; Trump understands that rage can be redirected.
The worse, the better: from the Leninists to the Putinists, one tyrannical tactic has remained the same — let people suffer, transform the anger into killing, blame an invisible conspiracy for your own deeds, and then try to pick up the pieces.
If Trump goes down, he's leaving America an ungovernable wasteland with massive unemployment, deep in the throes of a deadly pandemic, and on the edge of a white supremacist race war. He has now given up on improving anything before the election.
President Trump told reporters at a Labor Day briefing on Monday that he is "taking the high road" by not meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats to negotiate the next coronavirus stimulus package.
Why it matters: Unemployment benefits have expired for millions of Americans, but House Democrats and the White House are no closer to a deal — while nearly one in eight households are struggling to get enough to eat.
What he's saying: "I don't need to meet with them to be turned down," Trump told reporters. "They don't want to make a deal because they think if the country does as badly as possible ... that's good for the Democrats."
"I am taking the high road. I'm taking the high road by not seeing them," he added.
If he goes down, he's taking millions of us with him. And he could coerce millions of votes this way.
He knows the only thing awaiting him is Hell.
He wants us to make the journey with him.