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Bill Straub: Yes, the flag is still there — let the church bells ring from sea to shining sea

There came a poignant moment during the inauguration ceremony for the new president of the United States of America, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., when Lady Gaga, singing the National Anthem, turned her gaze upward toward the Stars and Stripes hovering above the platform and emphasized the phrase, “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

Normally those words wouldn’t have attracted much attention. The anthem, after all, is sung around the nation a thousand times a day with variable success, though rarely performed up to the standard provided by Lady Gaga. And there usually isn’t much reason to be concerned about the permanence of the red, white and blue.

That notion was disrupted two weeks ago when marauders, egged on by the unctuous outgoing president of the United States, one Donald J. Trump, whose name will forever live in infamy, stormed and violated the very building where the inauguration was being conducted. They, in fact, sought to desecrate a flag on display in the Capitol and replace it with one bearing the name Trump.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

The damage wrought by these brigands – mostly white, radical right wing and delusional – brought into focus, at least for a time, the fragility of the great American experiment and whether the four long years of the Trump administration had transformed the U.S. into just another two-bit joke of a nation along the lines of a Banana Republic where the mob often rules.

On Inauguration Day it can be said the flag thankfully was still there, but it seems the ceremony was met more with relief than joy. Most Americans certainly embraced Joe Biden as the new president and wished him well. But even more, an astounding number, were simply comforted by the dismissal of Trump, who slithered away to his Mar-a-Lago fortress, skipping the peaceful transfer of power and adding yet another chapter to his turbulent history as the worst president this nation ever conceived.

It’s incredible, looking back, that a man like Trump, an obviously disturbed and vile sociopath with White Nationalist leanings that he barely deigned necessary to disguise, could somehow become the leader of the free world. He was twice impeached by the House – one case, resulting from the Capitol assault, still pending – with his political survival assured only by the kindness of a Republican Senate that chose to ignore his obvious high crimes and misdemeanors in the first instance.

The great George Carlin once noted, “In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.” Trump‘s ascendance is Exhibit A. When the nation’s founders established the rules, it’s very unlikely they anticipated that the keys to their beautiful creation would one day be bestowed to an immoral grifter like Trump.

Even more curious, almost 63 million Americans in 2016, and another 74 million and change in 2020, thought that this walking, talking hazardous waste site would make an appropriate commander-in-chief. Some of the veneration reached cult status, with his literally millions of admirers dutifully consuming any words that spewed forth from his sick mind, leading to unsettling incidents like the one at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump during his tenure lied constantly. The lies were great and small, exasperating and comical. The last official count of his fabrications over four years, according to The Washington Post, reached an astounding 30,573. They were all told with one goal in mind – to induce people to love Trump as much as Trump loves his narcissistic self. The whoppers started rolling in on Inauguration Day 2016 when he angrily sought to dismiss claims that the crowd at his swearing in was smaller than the one gathered at the ceremony for his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. It ended in tragic circumstances, with Trump insisting that the 2020 presidential was “rigged,’’ riddled with fraud, illegally stolen from him and that the results must be blown asunder, thus providing him with a second term. He voiced those incantations and more to the invading horde on the morning of Jan. 6, sparking an uprising that resulted in five deaths.

He pitted one American against another, insisted there were “fine people’’ on the side of White supremacy, used Latinos as a scapegoat for the nation’s ills and sought to extend the White patriarchy that has suppressed the voices of women and African-Americans for centuries. He was abusive toward those with whom he differed, never missed an opportunity to enrich himself and displayed no commitment to the concept of democracy, constantly seeking to guide the nation toward self-beneficial authoritarianism.

The man proved a threat to the very institutions he was duty-bound to protect, a real threat to the American way of life. On top of that, he was simply a terrible chief executive.

Trump’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic is a bright, shining example of his costly and ultimately tragic ineptitude. Shortly before he left office, the number of individuals who perished as a result of COVID-19 in the U.S. reached 400,000, a total expected to reach a half million by the end of February.

Now, to be truthful, tens of thousands of Americans, perhaps more, were fated to die as a result of the disease which flourished for want of a vaccine. It is a hideous plague that was certain to upend the apple cart to a terrible extent.

Trump made it worse than it ever should have been, mostly, it seems, through neglect, leading to untold deaths. He intentionally downplayed the dangers, scoffed at wearing a mask to hinder the spread and left it up to the states to wage a war that should have been the responsibility of the federal government. He sought praise for implementing travel bans for individuals entering the U.S. from China, the site of the outbreak – an initiative that was only partially implemented – and took credit for the ultimate development of a vaccine when all praise should have been directed at medical scientists.

Once a vaccine was made available, Trump and the federal government dreadfully went AWOL, leaving distribution and inoculation policies to the states, which didn’t possess the wherewithal to proceed with any efficiency. So as of Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control reports that almost 36 million doses of the various vaccines have been distributed but only 16.5 million have been administered.

So the disease has continued to spread at a frightening pace. Trump, apparently bored with the endeavor, threw up his hands long ago and acted like it was resolved. Biden has already said the full force of the federal government will be employed to get the vaccine into people’s arms, multiplying the number if places that it is available, increasing personnel and enhancing distribution.

Nothing fancy, really, just doing what needs to be done, something Trump simply ignored.
Trump’s obvious failure in this regard cost people lives. Yet untold numbers have elevated him to sainthood and will do all within their power to render Biden’s life miserable over the next four years with an eye toward sending their savior back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2025.

Biden, who is as decent as Trump is revolting, may not become a great president. He is, after all, 78 years old and the nation may be dancing to a different tune than the one that plays in his ear. The only guarantee is he can’t possibly be worse than his predecessor.

In October 1812, with the always vicious Russian winter rapidly approaching, Napoleon I opted to evacuate his Grande Armee from Moscow and head for French-occupied Lithuania. The people of Moscow, upon Bonaparte’s approach, had abandoned the city, only to return to set it afire, forcing the French from their comfortable accommodations into the cold before fleeing the scene entirely in defeat.

Tchaikovsky famously celebrated the occasion with the “1812 Overture.” In his telling, the church bells in the city of Moscow were sounded in victory and joy, a signal to the populace to return home and begin the process of rebuilding a sadly damaged city.

It’s time for the church bells to be sounded in America from sea to shining sea.

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