We already knew that this fall’s campaign, with Donald Trump fighting for his political survival, would be crazy, overwhelming, and exhausting. But, no matter how much we’ve come to expect the worst, it’s still a shock when it happens. At least it should be. On Wednesday, Trump was asked what should have been a simple question: “Do you commit to a peaceful transfer of power?” There is only one answer to this question in America. The answer is yes. But not for Trump. “Well, we’re gonna have to see what happens,” he responded. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster.” Further pressed, he added, “We’ll want to have—get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very—we’ll have a very peaceful . . . There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
No wonder, then, that Washington has been in a full uproar for weeks over the constitutional crisis that may ensue after the vote, if the results are too close to call or if there is a winner and Trump doesn’t like who it is. In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, a week ago, Trump said he wants to make sure that a ninth, presumably loyal, Justice is in place before the election, in case the Court is where the outcome of the election ends up. And he appears to have the Republican votes in the Senate to make it happen.
So, yes, the prospect of the upcoming election should—and does—inspire dread. But so does the prospect of what tomorrow might bring from the President—and the next day, and the day after that. The election is still forty days from now. How will we get through the rest of this week? This month? Consider that the following are things that Trump has done in the course of this long, enervating, and not-yet-over September, every single one worthy of front-page scandal, of career-ending political damage for an American elected official:
He said “it’s an amazing thing” that the coronavirus “affects virtually nobody,” a few hours before the United States officially surpassed two hundred thousand deaths from the pandemic.
He said that Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the world’s premier infectious-disease agency, did not know what he was talking about regarding the timetable for a coronavirus vaccine. And that Redfield did not know what he was talking about in urging the public to wear masks, to prevent infection.
He said that “some people” don’t think mask-wearing is necessary during the pandemic. When pressed about who thinks this, at an ABC News town call, he said, “Waiters.” A couple days later, he was asked the same question. He again said, “Waiters.”
He said that there would be a vaccine in October. Or November. Or very soon. And that it would be available for everyone immediately. All of which is at odds with what the government’s top public-health officials have testified to under oath.
When told this week that the Food and Drug Administration would make standards as stringent as possible for approving the vaccine, in order to increase public confidence in it, he accused his own scientific agency of being “political.” He then said that the F.D.A.’s standards could not be implemented unless the White House approved them, and that the White House has not done so.
He said that U.S. deaths from COVID-19 would be “very low” if you just didn’t count those who had died in “blue states.” That is both inaccurate and very, very alarming coming from someone whose title is President of the United States. He also said that he would give himself an “A-plus” for his handling of the pandemic, and that he has saved “millions” of lives.
He said that the “Nov 3rd election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” and that Democratic governors may somehow steal ballots rather than let them be counted.
He said that climate change was nonexistent and also that it would just “start getting cooler, just you watch.” When told that the science does not agree with him, he said that the science is wrong. “I don’t think science knows, actually,” he added.
He touted a “super-duper” secret “hydrosonic” missile that the Pentagon is going to deploy—which may or may not be a new “hypersonic” missile.
He retweeted a gif calling his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, a pedophile. He retweeted a video that made it look as though Biden had played a song called “Fuck tha Police” at a campaign event, which, needless to say, he had not.
He told the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that Biden was on performance-enhancing drugs of some kind—“I think there’s probably, possibly, drugs involved,” he said—and then he elaborated on his theory during a campaign rally full of unmasked supporters. “Don’t underestimate him,” Trump told them. “Look, he’s been doing this for forty-seven years, and I got a debate coming up with this guy. No, it’s true. You never know, you never know. They gave him a big fat shot in the ass, and he comes out and for two hours he’s better than ever before.”
He compared himself to Winston Churchill. He compared himself to Abraham Lincoln. He said that Democrats are planning to “destroy suburbia” and put Senator Cory Booker in charge of it. He even said that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s last wish, as relayed by her granddaughter—that her Supreme Court seat not be filled by Trump—was a fabrication cooked up by his Democratic opponents.
This September seems to be the ultimate test of whether we really, truly, finally have run out of outrage. Reading back through this list, it’s hard to conclude anything else. When Ginsburg died, it took less than a day for Trump to announce that he would try to replace her before the election. I was not surprised in the least bit. When Trump—after complaining for months about a “rigged” election, just because he is behind in the polls—said on Wednesday that he would not agree in advance to a nonviolent transfer of power, his words were abhorrent but not at all revelatory.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the day the U.S. officially passed two hundred thousand deaths from the pandemic, Trump was asked why he had not said anything about the grim milestone. He listened to the reporter’s question, then turned away. “Uh, anybody else?” he asked. Because of all the horrors and lies that preceded it, and all that are sure to follow, the President’s callous disregard was not a major story but just another viral video in a news cycle full of them. Trump has succeeded in conditioning us to believe that the week’s news, while awful, is less so because the awfulness is so consistent. Awful is the new Trumpian normal, which is pretty amazing when you consider that the old Trump-era normal was already pretty bad. He has rendered us collectively incapable of outrage, just when we need it most. If we can’t be appalled at the President’s indifference toward two hundred thousand dead Americans, then there is nothing left that can horrify us. After all, the COVID-19 death toll so far is the biggest mass-casualty event in American history aside from the Civil War, the Second World War, and the 1918 flu pandemic.