Life in a Dickensian-Trumpian Tale of Hard Times -- at Christmas

By Jamie Stiehm

December 16, 2020 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Monday was a pretty good day in the life of 2020.

Coronavirus vaccines began all over. The Electoral College sealed Joe Biden's presidential win, no blood spilled. Stirred by the pandemic, the Senate rose from slumber to help hardships visited upon us, considering a COVID-19 relief package.

Hallelujah chorus, anyone? The $748 billion to $908 billion is real money. The 16 senators who met in the middle vowed not to go home for the holidays until it's done and dusted.

On the date George Washington died in 1799, Dec. 14, American democracy lived to fight another day. We survived a siege on civil institutions — the census, post office and press — from within. All are constitutional.

To tell you the truth, bells aren't ringing. They are tolling in hearts for the 300,000 lives lost. Life still feels glum as we count the days to Christmas.

Washington feels much like living inside Charles Dickens' 1843 classic, "A Christmas Carol." Donald Trump, the hateful president, is our own Ebenezer Scrooge. Central casting.

Inescapable, greedy Ebenezer, the defiant sinner. "Hard and sharp as flint ... The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek," Dickens wrote. "No wind that blew was bitterer than he."

The capital is a small town. You can't escape Trump's ugly temper here, the insults and lies he hurls every day into our square like a slugger's fastball. He gives new meaning to public dis-coarse.

There's a strange fascination with his brazenly breaking every rule in the book — and all not written in the book.

The new White House casualty is crafty Attorney General William Barr, who resigned after serving Trump's purposes extremely well. He ordered tear gas attacks on peaceful protests in June. However, he didn't play his part in countless court challenges to election results, making Trump livid.

Barr also directed executions to go forward as maskless White House holiday parties raged.

For our tale, let Barr be like Scrooge's past partner, Jacob Marley. "Old Marley was as dead as a door nail," Dickens wrote.

Barr is just as dead to Trump, though he saved him from getting nailed by the Robert Mueller investigation report. But that was, like, so 2019, before the impeachment trial. Trump "won" by 51 Republican senators' silence and compliance.

That trial was the winter of 2020. If Trump hadn't spent his time beating the Ukraine rap, maybe he'd have done something about the global pandemic unfolding in February. Then again, maybe not.

The other day, 126 House Republicans shocked even world-weary us by signing on to Trump's last gasp in court. Amazing disgrace. They are no better than Trump's legion of Proud Boys, night rioters who vandalized two historically Black churches in Washington over the weekend.

Meanwhile, back at the Senate, a striking sight in the dark sky: Republicans and Democrats reaching consensus at the end of the dreary year. Seen in the same room.

"We're the only game in town," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat, said. He led a bipartisan group to write a $908 billion emergency bill to take to congressional leaders and colleagues.

The legislation covers small business relief; rental, education and unemployment assistance; and aid for food programs and COVID-19 health care. It gives funding to the travel and public transportation sectors. Every penny of it is needed as a hard winter falls.

Passage depends on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., granting a vote and Trump's signature. The blue House will pass it.

Senators seemed jazzed to have the rare chance to do their job — legislating and compromising. That's the art of politics. But McConnell runs a tight floor, acting mostly on judges during a season of crisis.

Dickens came close to creating our Scrooge, but the bleak scale of the republic's 2020 suffering is writ large. Mankind was never the president's business: common welfare, charity, mercy, all that.

The grump-in-chief will dish out "Bah! Humbugs!" and coals and ashes as we count the time to high noon on Jan. 20. The worst is yet to come. For now, we have a minor miracle.

Said Virginia Democrat Mark Warner: "Sixteen senators came together. Let me enjoy the moment."

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit

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