This January may be the most perilous month in modern U.S. history — a moment that will chart a course from which there will be no easy return.
The most powerful nation on earth is consumed by concurrent crises that have shaken the country to its foundation.
It starts, and ends, with a president who has abdicated his responsibility to lead during a once-in-a-generation pandemic; a man who seems singularly focused on upending the democratic institutions that granted him his power, and are now set to take it away.
Donald Trump has made it clear he cares about only one thing – holding on to the presidency. He has no regard for the consequences that might fall from it.
All the while, Americans get sick and die in unprecedented numbers.
It is a horrifying fall from grace for a global superpower.
The response to the pandemic alone is an abject failure. A nation that was supposedly better prepared than any other for a pandemic, crumpled.
COVID-19 is now so pervasive and uncontrolled, that models suggest 115,000 Americans will die in January alone. In the next 30 days, more than twice as many Americans will die then during the Vietnam war.
The president simply does not seem all that interested. Trump is too visibly obsessed with his own interests. If that means fomenting division, or violence, or ignoring his sworn oath of office, so be it.
The fact that the president is calling on his supporters to march on Washington and be “wild” without expressly calling for them to be peaceful is itself a stunning indictment of his priorities.
He has corrupted one of the country’s two political parties to the point that Republicans can no longer be accurately described as a pro-democracy party. His sycophantic enablers in Congress have indulged the authoritarian and fascistic flirtations coming from the Oval Office, simply because they feel it might benefit their own interests down the line.
That 10 former Secretaries of Defense felt the need to issue a joint statement reminding the world that there’s no role for the U.S. military in elections, suggests they either fear or have seen evidence of Trump poking around the edges of a military strategy to cling to power.
And Trump’s call to Georgia’s Secretary of State solidified a terrifying reality: The outgoing president is not simply trying to overturn the election as a fundraising or political ploy; he actually believes the debunked conspiracies about voter fraud rooted in the darkest corners of the internet.
All the while, his most powerful backers are playing a dangerous game, indulging his fake voter fraud claims while knowing full well that Joe Biden will be the next president.
The day Congress counts the electoral college votes is typically a pro forma affair. Even if there are objections from members of congress, they will not change the result, and Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The problem is that Trump, and his supporters, have been so conditioned to believe that there is still some way to overturn the result, that they’re in store for a grim reality check once congress confirms Biden’s win on Jan. 6.
The days that follow could mark an unprecedented period of danger and political instability in the world’s greatest democracy. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
All the while, Americans will continue to die and be infected by a virus that is spreading at an astonishing rate. They have not been vaccinated in the numbers promised by the man who wants credit for developing a vaccine. They face the threat of eviction, food shortages, and unemployment, on a scale unrivalled in nearly a century.
The damage to the economy and the American psyche from the pandemic will span years. The fraying of American democracy will take much longer to repair.
The post-Trump era will not reverse the damage done by the outgoing president. There is now an explosive lack of faith in the elections and systems that built the country – at least among republicans.
Trump’s single greatest accomplishment may be in undoing the system that elected him, for he has made it more palatable for a future president to smash through the guardrails of the constitution.
He may be equally remembered for allowing death and destruction to flow across the nation he is supposed to lead.
January 2021 is supposed to mark the beginning of a new, less awful year.
In the U.S. it may be remembered as a time when America took a sharp turn for the worse.
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.