Which of these two situations should the president of the United States be more worried about right now?
• On Wednesday alone, states documented 1,421 coronavirus deaths and another all-time high number of positive tests as media outlets reported shortages or impending shortages of ICU beds in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.
• There is an almost entirely imaginary possibility that Joe Biden’s evident presidential-election victories in Midwestern swing states might be invalidated by courts on the basis of some fraud that has not yet been discovered—a possibility so remote that Republican dirty-tricks guru Karl Rove is urging his party to give up on it in the right-wing editorial section of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal.
I’ll give you negative five guesses which one is attracting the attention of President Donald Trump! He’s sent 10 tweets about alleged fraud in the past 24 hours, several of which have been flagged by Twitter for making claims that the service is generously labeling as “disputed.” The White House has made no movement since Nov. 3 toward an agreement on another COVID stimulus/relief bill—legislation that could, in theory, provide support for overburdened hospitals, and for businesses that will likely need to be shut down again. As the Daily Beast reports, Trump’s refusal to concede is also preventing the Biden transition team from coordinating with the pharmaceutical companies and state governments that will be involved in vaccine distribution.
Biden, meanwhile, gave a speech this week about how wearing a mask is a good way to prevent the spread of the virus and help the economy recover. But the public stage remains primarily occupied by the president’s half-assed coup attempt, which other Republicans are indulging and encouraging in public while referring to it privately as “performance art.”
Speaking of the rest of Trump’s party: On Nov. 3 a small but crucial number of Joe Biden supporters in Maine voted for Republican Susan Collins for Senate. This pattern may extend itself in the two upcoming runoff Senate elections in Georgia; Republicans are leading slightly in the polls in both despite Biden having apparently won the state, and if their leads hold, the GOP will retain a Senate majority. Some voters believe that having different parties control the presidency and the Senate is a good thing because it requires both sides to come together on reasonable compromises.
In the past, that did happen, sometimes, allegedly (thanks, in part, to the tradition of buying off individual legislators with special funding earmarks for their pet projects, a practice now banned in the name of good government). At present, though, there is a regrettable gap between the civics class ideal of divided government and the reality of an anti-government Republican Party gnarled by conspiracy theories and the perverse incentives of right-wing media. What swing voters have not realized is that for GOP senators, the choice between hyping Trump’s alternate-universe reelection and working with Biden on COVID plans isn’t a choice at all. To do something constructive in the face of disaster would be to betray their ideology of opposition to cultural liberalism, their strategic goal of setting a Biden administration up for failure, and their tactical interest in keeping Trump and his supporters excited and engaged through the Georgia runoffs. So, outside the theater of presidential performance art—and inside it too, in fact—the virus continues to do its work.