This story was excerpted from the July 16 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
(CNN)"Is it going to be OK?"
President Joe Biden said this week that European leaders kept asking that question during his recent foreign trip as they struggle to overcome their fears for US democracy following the Trump years. The evidence of recent days is that things are very far from OK.
A flurry of new books painted a frightening picture inside the Donald Trump bunker in the last days of his presidency as a paranoid, vindictive, conspiracy-addled wannabe autocrat desperately tried to cling to power. In "I Alone Can Fix It," Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker report that the top US military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, feared Trump would try to use the military to stage a coup. The top brass hatched a plan to resign one by one to thwart illegal orders. In other words, the uniformed military was ready to defy a civilian commander in chief — in a reversal of constitutional order — to save the rule of law.
Those who hoped Trump's tyrannical threat passed when he left the White House on January 20 have been disappointed. Every day, the ex-President propagates lies that the election was stolen. In Arizona, his fans are holding a sham recount in a state he lost. Trump seems to be preparing a new run for president in 2024. And Republican state lawmakers are passing legislation that makes it harder for Democrats to vote and easier to steal elections.
On Thursday, the man who could be the next speaker of the House -- if the GOP takes back the chamber -- traveled to Trump's New Jersey golf estate to pay homage to the Great Leader in exile. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has decided his path to power relies on millions of Trump voters who believe the ex-President's lies. If that means palling around with a man who tried to destroy democracy, so be it.
A lot of people in Washington keep saying that recent revelations show how close the US came to disaster after the election. That's only part of the story. Trump's unhinged, malicious behavior actually shows the danger he will pose if he ever again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.
Dying for politics
Vaccine skepticism is one thing. Actively suppressing the lifesaving doses is another. But that's what's happening in the US.
Tennessee's immunization chief says she was fired for distributing a memo pointing out that state law allows some teenagers -- if judged sufficiently mature by doctors -- to get vaccines without parental consent.
Conservative TV shows are meanwhile packed night after night with misinformation about vaccines. Some hosts say they don't work. Others claim falsely that Biden is sending teams door to door to forcibly vaccinate people. The voluntary government vaccine effort is being compared to the Taliban, the Nazis, East Germany and a form of "medical apartheid."
Nearly 60% of American adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 70% have had one dose but the pace of inoculations is tanking even as cases of Covid-19 spike because of the highly contagious Delta variant. The worst-hit states are run by Republicans, and they have the lowest vaccination rates.
There are many reasons for vaccine hesitancy. They include misinformation, cultural suspicion of vaccines and antipathy to government advice. Some people think the pandemic is over or that they don't need a shot since they have already survived the disease. Others fear side effects from the shots. But it's undeniable that like everything else in the US, the vaccine effort has fallen afoul of politics.
The White House launched a new effort this week to combat misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. But it has an almost impossible task, given that a group of conservative media stars and pro-Trump politicians are keen to portray a government trying to save its citizens as a totalitarian threat to liberty. When a crowd at a conservative conference last week cheered as a panelist said the federal vaccine push was falling short, it was clear that many of Biden's opponents just want to deprive him of a political success.
But this isn't a game. Critics discredit vaccines that could save almost everybody's lives, since more than 99% of those now dying from the disease are unvaccinated. With infections skyrocketing, it looks like thousands will perish for politics.