The past week has offered the most clarifying hours of American politics since the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Four years ago, President Donald Trump's unlikely victory put the world on notice that the U.S. was slamming the brakes on the 21st century. Last weekend, the White House and Congress defined the 2020 election in the starkest terms yet.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Sunday that the White House has given up trying to prevaricate the coronavirus into submission. With new cases spiking across the country, the president's oft-repeated fairy tale about "rounding the turn" against the virus was murdered and dumped in an unmarked grave. "We're not going to control the pandemic," Meadows said. "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations."
Meadows' white flag was preceded by Bloomberg News uncovering more White House infections, this time among the staff of Vice President Mike Pence. At long last, the White House message on the virus was consistent and coherent: There is no White House policy, and there never will be.
If he becomes president in January, Joe Biden would nationalize mask-wearing, testing and tracing, and procurement of PPE and any subsequent vaccine. In the meantime, White House personnel — the president first and foremost — will continue to spread the virus at densely packed public events.
Clouds of obfuscation also parted in the Senate. On Sunday Democrats waged an unsuccessful filibuster of the Amy Coney Barrett juggernaut, which will give conservatives a 6-to-3 supermajority on the Supreme Court.
The Democratic Party's left has been increasingly incensed about the Senate's anti-majoritarian structure and reality — the GOP majority represents millions fewer Americans than the Democratic minority. Moderates now seem to be rejecting the anti-majoritarian bent of the Senate and the courts, as well. Eliminating the filibuster and enlarging the Supreme Court are no longer fringe excitements.
"I don't want to pack the court," said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats. "I don't want to have to do that. But if all of this rule breaking is taking place, what does the majority expect. What do they expect?" Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of the Trumpiest states in the union, said he would oppose Barrett's nomination, tweeting Monday: "Instead of helping the American people, Senate Republicans chose to exercise raw political power & push through a Supreme Court confirmation 8 days before the election, further dividing our country."
Sen. Tom Carper, a moderate from Biden's home state of Delaware, told The New York Times that addressing climate change after decades of Republican stalling may require institutional change. "Getting rid of the filibuster — that shouldn't be the first thing we should lead with," Carper said. "But Republicans should have in the back of their minds that it could come to that."
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that she would seek the speaker's gavel again in January. Pelosi no doubt envisions major legislation on health care, climate, taxes and more. With a less lethargic Senate partner — that is, a Senate without the filibuster — Congress could become a high-volume legislative factory.
Finally, the weekend also brought an unsurprising but nonetheless harrowing report from Axios. If Trump remains in power, Axios reported, he plans to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The full Trumpification of the intelligence agencies and law enforcement will be Trump's first order of business.
There are no questions left in the 2020 election. A single, frenetic weekend answered them all. All that remains is to learn whether democracy or authoritarianism gains the upper hand on Nov. 3.