The Forest for the Trees

President Trump and his ardent supporters are unable to see any other reason that he possibly could have lost the election than widespread voter fraud, which of course is being repeatedly shown in courts to have no basis in fact. Meanwhile, something that’s both widespread and replete with basis in fact – COVID-19 – is almost certainly the main reason Trump lost the election.

Elections in the United States are often quite predictable. It is extremely difficult for an incumbent to lose, and equally difficult for a party to hang on for more than eight years. The elder George Bush bucked the latter trend but couldn’t secure a second term. Since then, we bounced back and forth between three eight-year stints – the Democrat Clinton, the Republican Bush, and the Democrat Obama. That alone made it likely that whoever the Republicans ran in 2016 – including a ham sandwich – would win. And the data suggest that the ham sandwich should have won a second term as well.

Trump has a troublingly extensive “base”. And beyond that, partisans invariably vote by and large for their party. So going into 2020, Trump was the favorite to win a second term. The economy, myopically defined by the size of tax refunds and various stock indices, was doing well enough that any crusade to bring more compassion and reason back into the White House was likely to fail in favor of personal interests – per usual in American politics. And then came COVID-19.

To be fair, COVID-19 has proven a formidable enemy to the entire world. Nobody was going to combat it without experiencing some level of failure. But the degree to which our nation has failed is staggering. I don’t need to go into numbers here – common sense makes the series of missteps by the current administration abundantly clear. Dismantling an office that was dedicated to this very type of crisis before it ever hit. Failure to establish firewalls on international travel for months after the first stage of the outbreak in Wuhan. Failure to invoke the right measures to make testing and PPE widely available early in the spread, which derailed any hopes of successful contact tracing and containment. And politicization of simple things like masks and social distancing.

These failures allowed the outbreak to get sufficiently out of control that the economy began to suffer – and THAT is why Trump lost the 2020 election. It’s the economy, stupid – a cliche for sure, but cliches rarely become cliches unless they’re true. If Trump had handled the COVID-19 crisis even marginally adequately, the electoral map in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and maybe even Michigan would have looked a lot more like 2016. It might have been nothing more complicated than delivering the consistent message to wear a mask. Trump Nation would have responded, lives would have been saved, fewer businesses would have gone under, and vote margins might have shifted just a few hundred thousand votes.

At this very moment, we are again nearing a terrifying hospitalization crisis I wrote about months ago. Despite the good news about the vaccines, their widespread availability is still months away. Meanwhile, Trump is spending all of his time bouncing between Twitter and whichever attorneys are being asked on this particular day to make fools of themselves in court. And his devoted supporters are gearing up for big Thanksgiving get-togethers, where they can commiserate and spray saliva over multiple bottles of cheap wine about how the election was rigged and COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. All the while ignoring that their completely and continually wrong response to COVID-19 is the singular reason they won’t be celebrating a second Trump term.

Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go…

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