Thursday, April 30, 2020


Last Thursday, Bloomberg Businessweek published a story about Wuhan, where normal life is starting up again, if you stretch the definition of "normal."
Every workday at Lenovo’s tablet and phone factory on the outskirts of Wuhan, arriving employees report to a supervisor for the first of at least four temperature checks. The results are fed into a data collection system designed by staff. Anyone above 37.3C (99.1F) is automatically flagged, triggering an investigation by an in-house “anti-virus task force.”

... Before returning to the site, staff members had to be tested both for the virus and for antibodies that indicate past illness, and they had to wait for their results in isolation at a dedicated dormitory. Once cleared, they returned to work to find the capacity of meeting rooms built for six reduced to three and the formerly communal cafeteria tables partitioned off by vertical barriers covered in reminders to avoid conversation. Signs everywhere indicate when areas were last disinfected, and robots are deployed wherever possible to transport supplies, so as to reduce the number of people moving from place to place. Elevators, too, are an artifact of the Before Times; everyone now has to take the stairs, keeping their distance from others all the way.
You can call this totalitarian or dystopian, but if you want to stop transmission of the virus until we have a vaccine or effective treatments, you need to do this, or have an alternative that works as well.

So with all this going on, at workplaces and elsewhere, do people feel safe in public? No.
But inasmuch as citizens can return to living as they did before January, it’s not clear, after what they’ve endured, that they really want to. Shopping malls and department stores are open again, but largely empty. The same is true of restaurants; people are ordering in instead. The subway is quiet, but autos are selling: If being stuck in traffic is annoying, at least it’s socially distanced.
See also this tweet:

Angry Fox-addled protestors in Michigan and elsewhere may have no fear of the virus, but normal people do, especially if they're older. The president and the plutocrats want the economy opened, and in much of America they'll get their wish, even though we're still experiencing more than 2,000 deaths a day from COVID-19, at a time when the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted we'd be at 1,266.

So the right can force the economy open, but many people won't venture out to participate.

What happens then? The anti-lockdown propagandists will begin to say that anyone who's reluctant to shop is a cowardly liberal who wants America to fail. On the left, we're used to being called enemies of the people. But they're about to start demonizing the healthy-but-frightened elderly, as well as people with small children who worry about being lost to them for weeks in intensive care, or worse. They're about to demonize anyone who has okay odds of surviving Russian Roulette with the virus but decides not to take the chance.

Shopping will be patriotism. Legitimate fear will be treason. They're not messing around.

Every ordinary citizen who endorses this is a moral monster.


Reuters, Axios, CNN and The New York Times are among the news outlets reporting that President Trump lashed out at his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, for reporting on polls showing Trump trailing Joe Biden in key battleground states. In his usual fashion, Trump insists that he doesn't believe the bad news while blaming other people for the fact that it's bad.

“I don’t believe the polls,” Trump said. “I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don’t think that they will put a man in who’s incompetent.”
The Times:
Mr. Trump, according to multiple people familiar with the exchange, erupted during a phone call with his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, two days after he was presented with polling data from his campaign and the Republican National Committee that showed him trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, in several crucial states.

He lashed out at Mr. Parscale and said it was other people’s fault that there had been fluctuations in a race they had all seen as his to lose just two months ago. At one point, Mr. Trump said he would not lose to Mr. Biden, insisted the data was wrong and blamed the campaign manager for the fact that he is down in the polls, according to one of the people familiar with the conversation. Mr. Trump even made a threat to sue Mr. Parscale, mentioning the money he has made while working for the president, another person familiar with the call said, although the threat did not appear to be serious.
I'm fascinated by the fact that "all" involved in the campaign saw the race as "his to lose just two months ago." There's more on that sense of confidence in the Times story.
In the phone call last week, ... Mr. Trump demanded to know how it was possible that a campaign that had been projecting strength and invincibility for two years was polling behind a candidate he viewed as extremely weak and, at the moment, largely invisible from daily news coverage.
"Projecting strength and invincibility for two years"? Trump's numbers were awful for most of the past two years -- in fact, for most of his presidency (though they've never been at late-second-term-Bush levels).

I keep telling you that Trump's job approval numbers are actually somewhat better than they've been for most of his presidency. He's currently at 44.9% approval in the Real Clear Politics average; that's down from 47.4% on April 1 -- but it's a level he never reached between February 9, 2017, and the end of 2019.

And the same is true for Trump's numbers against Joe Biden. Real Clear Politics says that Biden is beating Trump by 6.3 points, but the lead was double digits at various points in the fall of 2019. Early polls aren't worth much, but Biden has beaten Trump in nearly early survey going back to 2017, frequently by landslide margins.

It appears that Trump thinks he's invincible because his rally crowds assure him he is. Aides have been trying to tell Trump that he should end his daily briefings, but, according to CNN, "Trump has complained to aides that his restricted travel has hurt his numbers, not the briefings." And we have this:
"Hopefully in the not too distant future we'll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other. I can't imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full, every six seats are empty for every one that you have full, that wouldn't look too good. No, I hope that we're going to be able to do some good old fashioned 25,000-person rallies where everyone's going wild because they love our country," the president told reporters during a business roundtable discussion.
Trump is an egomaniac, but his egomania doesn't come naturally -- it needs constant reinforcement, which it's not getting now. (The briefings give Trump the opportunity to humiliate people, and that helps. And today Trump is on a massive tweetstorm, with a couple dozen tweets posted in the past hour.)

Meanwhile, the campaign has to mollify the president with polling news that isn't so bad, according to the Times.
In an effort to buoy his spirits, some Trump advisers have flagged for him surveys that are rosier than most Republican internal polling, including a recent CNBC poll that showed him virtually tied with Mr. Biden in six battleground states, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin....

On Tuesday, Mr. Parscale, who had not seen Mr. Trump in person in a month, flew to Washington from Florida to pay an in-person visit to the president, according to three people familiar with the meeting, and they patched up the dispute. Mr. Parscale showed Mr. Trump new campaign polling data in which the president’s standing had climbed, according to a person familiar with the visit.
Who knows what Parscale and his team had to do to the poll wording to get the numbers back up. But they had to do it, because the toddler president is cranky, and I'm sure that threat to fire Pascale wasn't completely in jest. (In June of last year, Trump fired several pollsters because their numbers showed then that the president was losing badly to Biden -- not exactly evidence that there have been two years of invincibility. Other pollsters were retained at the time, presumably because their numbers made Trump look better.)

And yes, in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century, what's important to Trump is having people around who are "buoying his spirits."

All this is happening -- Trump throwing a tantrum and saying Make my numbers go up NOW NOW NOW! -- even though the president is capable of thinking more than ten minutes ahead. The Times reports:
But Mr. Trump, increasingly anxious about losing the election, has also told his advisers he is worried about hitting Mr. Biden too hard too soon, fearing that they could risk knocking him out of the race altogether. Mr. Trump has continued to see himself as able to determine the outcome of the Democratic primary contest, aides said, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Trump thought he could will the coronavirus into non-existence, so I suppose it's no surprise that he thinks he can single-handedly nullify the results of the Democratic primaries.

But this, at least, suggests that Trump can think ahead:
For now, Mr. Trump’s campaign is not airing television ads, the only kind the president cares about. The president nixed a series of ads the campaign was set to air that tried to portray Mr. Biden as close to China; one adviser said this was because Mr. Trump thinks it is too early for such a tough blow.
Or does it?
Another adviser said the concern was more basic: Mr. Trump did not like the visuals in the ads, which featured images of Mr. Biden when he was younger.
If I'm reading that right, he rejected the Biden ad because Biden looked young. In this election, only Trump is allowed to look young! Even in footage from decades ago!


Wednesday, April 29, 2020


Right-wingers believe there's a double standard in the reporting of scandals involving politicians. Here's part of a Washington Examiner editorial:
Without a shred of evidence that Brett Kavanaugh had ever even met Christine Blasey Ford, the news media decided the then-Supreme Court nominee was guilty of an unconscionable sexual assault four decades ago. Kavanaugh went overnight from being understood to be a consummate legal star, women’s advocate, and faithful family man, to being depicted as a sleazy drunkard and would-be rapist.

Now, with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, facing an accusation of sexual assault, the media are demanding that an accusation against a leading public figure should be supported by far more evidence.

By any objective standard, the accusation from former Senate staffer Tara Reade that Biden sexually assaulted her is stronger than Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh. This does not mean Biden is guilty and should be disqualified. But it does highlight the grave injustice done to Kavanaugh.
The accusation against Biden hasn't been the subject of saturation coverage in the mainstream media. I understand why conservatives are complaining. But what they regard as differential treatment works out just fine for the Republican, on both sides of the divide.

The coverage of the Kavanaugh story didn't hurt his chances of becoming a Supreme Court justice. Lockstep Senate Republicans voted for him the way they always planned, and now he'll be on the Court for decades, just like Clarence Thomas. The right-wing media and Republican rank-and-file remained monolithically in his corner. He was regarded as clearly innocent in large part because he was the subject of so many mainstream media stories.

Do Republicans really want the Tara Reade story to have saturation coverage? If that happened, Biden might produce evidence disproving the charges, or might be pressured to step aside quickly -- which would lead to some chaos in the Democratic nominating process, but also might lead the party to coalesce swiftly around another nominee. (Democrats have been much better at avoiding angry rifts this year than most of us expected.) I don't think the GOP really wants to find itself in mid-May running against an energetic and well-liked Democrat who has none of Biden's weaknesses or baggage.

No, this is working out just the way the Republican Party wants it to. The slow build of the story seems to have lulled Biden into believing that it will disappear as a news item, the way sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump always disappear. (That won't happen, and there'll come a time when Trump will add a Tara Reade riff to his stump speech, or maybe even to his coronavirus grievance-airing, although I think that moment is more likely to come in the late summer and fall). The mainstream press is feeling the need to make up for the lack of early coverage, so there's a long New York magazine think piece here, a Washington Post editorial there, a Daily Beast story scrutinizing the women's movement's response to the story over there. Now it's a drip-drip-drip with MSM buy-in. In other words, it's Hillary Clinton's emails and Uranium One all over again. Those slow-simmering stories worked like a charm for the GOP.

This scandal can get Trump reelected. Joe Biden needs to realize that it will consume him unless he can persuade us that he's innocent. It won't just go away.


If we'd had a different president, even a different Republican president, the response to the coronavirus pandemic probably would have been very different. Mistakes might have been made, and I suspect that any Republican president would be acceding now to the business community's demands for a premature reopening of the economy. But the initial response by, say, President Jeb Bush probably wouldn't have been wall-to-wall denial combined with partisan attacks on believers in science.

Why did President Trump respond the way he did? He clearly didn't want to believe bad news as the 2020 election approached. But he wasn't alone, as Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reports.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, shared Trump’s view that the media and Democrats were hyping the crisis for political purposes. And for both of them, the biggest worry was how the response to the coronavirus might impact the health of the economy. According to sources, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a fierce China hawk, and deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a former China-based Wall Street Journal reporter who’d covered the 2003 SARS pandemic, argued to officials in mid-January that the White House needed to shut down incoming flights from China.

Kushner pushed back. “Jared kept saying the stock market would go down, and Trump wouldn’t get reelected,” a Republican briefed on the internal debates said....

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic, and Trump agreed to broadcast an Oval Office address to the nation. But even then, Kushner advised Trump to tread lightly. One source briefed on the internal conversations said Kushner told Trump not to declare a national emergency during the address because “it would tank the markets.” The markets cratered anyway, and Trump announced the national emergency later in the week.
We're used to the idea that Trump engages in magical thinking -- he thinks he can just wish away all the bad stuff that might prevent him from getting what he wants. Trump thinks this way because, emotionally, he's a child.

But Kushner had the same idea, and for all his faults, no one thinks of him as a whiny toddler. (An icy sociopath, maybe, but not a pre-schooler.) Did Kushner think the markets wouldn't tank if a pandemic reached America and the president never acknowledged it?

And why did both of them believe that an economic crash would destroy Trump's chances of being reelected? They don't have to be diligent students of history to understand why that's absurd -- they just have to look at a well-known event in our recent past: 9/11.

Before 9/11, Rudy Giuliani had middling poll numbers in New York City; afterward, he was a local and national hero, even as the city suffered. George W. Bush's poll numbers also skyrocketed. Voters don't expect leaders to make a crisis go away; they want leadership and empathy. That's what they thought they were getting from Giuliani and Bush, at least at first.

It's not just Giuliani and Bush -- even Jimmy Carter got a significant poll bump at first when Iran took U.S. hostages.

Governors are polling well in the coronavirus crisis. For the most part, it's not because they're promising that good news is just around the corner.

Would pro-Trump voters have immediately abandoned him once the economy started to suffer? On the economy, they're not abandoning him now. Even in election polls in which he loses to Joe Biden, Trump beats Biden on who'd do a better job with economy, because the public has concluded (regrettably) that he's been a great economic manager. The public blames the virus for the current downturn, not Trump.

Trump could have taken the pandemic seriously and been in a very strong position in his reelection fight, while also saving lives. But he thought denial was a better strategy. It was a dumb mistake -- and Jared Kushner shares the blame.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


I'm sure you can see Stephen Miller's hand in this:
President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested that state and local bailout money from the federal government could hinge on whether the immigration policies of the individual governments seeking relief align with Trump administration priorities....

“... We’d have to talk about things like sanctuary cities, as an example. I think sanctuary cities is something that has to be brought up where people who are criminals are protected, they are protected from prosecution.”

He continued: “I think that has to be done. I think it’s one of the problems that the states have. I don’t even think they know they have a problem, but they have a big problem with the sanctuary situation.”
But I also see Miller's hand in this:
President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday mandating that meat production plants remain open to head off a food supply shortage, according to one person familiar with the coming action, despite mounting reports of plant worker deaths due to covid-19.

Trump will invoke the Defense Production Act under the order, which will classify the meat plants as essential infrastructure that must remain open, said the person, who was not authorized to disclose details of the order. The government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance, according to the person. Trump is expected to sign the order, first reported by Bloomberg, as early as today....

The government order would keep meat companies from using the most effective weapon available to protect their employees — closures.

At least 20 meatpacking plants have closed in recent weeks because of coronavirus outbreaks, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents thousands of workers in meat plants across the country, said Tuesday at least 17 workers in the industry have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and at least 5,000 have been directly affected by the virus.
Remember what the meat industry's labor force looks like. The Guardian's Mike Elk told us in 2018:
Meatpacking is dangerous, fast-moving work that relies on undocumented workers. Census data indicates that one-third of meatpacking jobs are done by immigrants, although that percentage is probably much higher due to underreporting, especially in the current environment of low unemployment where employers are scrambling to find workers.
Trump thinks this sells to his base, and he obviously doesn't want to be a president presiding over food shortages in an election year -- but Miller knows that the result of this policy, assuming it isn't reversed or neutered by companies or unions, will be the deaths of more immigrants. The prospect of that makes Stephen Miller happy.

If this does happen, you know that protective equipment will never be provided, or will be provided spottily at best. People will die if this policy is carried out -- and that will be the policy working as intended.


In this clip from yesterday, what the hell was President Trump saying?

I've said many times that I don't believe the president is experiencing a significant mental deterioration -- he's just stupid and incurious, and his mental sharpness isn't improved by hours and hours of cable news chatter every day. But I agree with those who say that Trump is using prescription drugs, probably to prevent him from having hyperactivity moments like this:

In the first Trump tweet above, he seems as if he's saying, "I love everybody," like a sentimental drunk, or someone on molly or mushrooms who's having increased feelings of emotional connection.

But is Trump capable of that? I don't buy it. Trump loves only himself.

He's saying, "Hello, everybody." When you watch it in context, you see that he's talking to assembled CEOs. He's not muttering to himself (though he does seem to be slurring his words). The moment is about twenty seconds in.

It would be fascinating if Trump's drug regimen brought out a tender little boy, one who's capable of love for humanity. But I don't think that little Trump with human feelings ever existed.

Monday, April 27, 2020


In my blog email account, I've been getting messages from a group called Liberate America.

(A public version of that message is here.)

Note the name in the last paragraph: Frank Scurlock. I've subsequently received emails from him on another subject.

What sort of man is Frank Scurlock, this great believer in freedom from public health measures and great admirer of Mr. and Mrs. Trump?

He's the son of John Scurlock, an engineer who invented the bouncy castle, and whose wife, Frances, founded the first bouncy castle rental company. Son Frank expanded the business and made a great deal of money.

But that's not all he's known for, at least in New Orleans.
New Orleans mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock is facing a misdemeanor count of lewd conduct in Santa Monica, California, where he is accused of masturbating in an Uber vehicle in February.

Scurlock, whose splashy campaign ads have pledged to “Uberize” the New Orleans Police Department, was allegedly caught masturbating by a driver taking him to a hotel in West Hollywood on Feb. 10, Santa Monica Chief Deputy City Attorney Terry White said.
Scurlock, needless to say, lost the mayor's race.
New Orleans mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock, the eccentric entrepreneur who helped amass a family fortune estimated to be worth more than $100 million, did not win yesterday’s primary election. He wasn’t even close. But Frank Scurlock still managed to make Louisiana history, spending a grand total of $345,206.33, almost entirely money he lent his campaign, and garnering an abysmal 385 votes (0.47%).

Put another way, Scurlock spent an astronomical $920 per voter, shattering the previous record of $196 per voter set by John Georges during his 2010 campaign for New Orleans mayor.
Scurlock subsequently acknowledged guilt in the Uber masturbation case.
Santa Monica prosecutor Autumn Rindels said in an email that Scurlock entered the plea to a charge known as lewd and dissolute conduct in public. He was ordered to serve one year of summary probation and "ordered to follow all mental health directives, including mental health counseling and taking all prescribed medication," Rindels said in an email.
Well, I guess it's good that he found something new to try his hand at.


Whenever there's a COVID-19 vaccine, some right-wingers seriously intend to make it another battle in the culture war.

I'm posting this even though I agree with the following response (I'm omitting the name of the tweeter, who keeps his account private):

She probably will get the vaccine, as, I suspect, will Trump surrogates Diamond and Silk, even though they insist they won't accept any vaccine linked to Bill Gates. I imagine professional grifter Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran a stunt campaign for Elizabeth Warren's Senate seat ("Only a real Indian can defeat the fake Indian") and is now a vaccine truther, might surreptitiously get one. Maybe even right-wing preacher Curt Gentry will get one, even though he says that the still-nonexistent vaccine is "from the pit of hell."

But they're undoubtedly helping to persuade a number of people not to get it, or reinforcing some people's preexisting suspicions -- folks like this person:

Why does this have to be part of the culture war? It isn't a case of "both sides have retreated into their opposing camps," unless you consider it a partisan stance to want to get a vaccine in order not to die or kill someone. There are sensible people on one side and conspiracy-addled menaces to society on the other. We have to hope there aren't enough of the latter to be dangerous.


This seems like another misstep.
White House aiming for Trump pivot from virus to economy

After two months of frantic response to the coronavirus, the White House is planning to shift President Donald Trump’s public focus to the burgeoning efforts aimed at easing the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

... Trump is expected to begin to highlight his administration’s work in helping businesses and employees. Aides said the president would hold more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future recovery package.
We all know that Trump's poll numbers have been slipping, and he was not impressing voters even before Disinfectantgate. But why this, when polls continue to show that voters are more afraid of the coronavirus's health effects than they are of the virus's economic impact?

I know that having meet-and-greets with CEOs is easy, while overseeing a nationwide crash program to increase testing and tracking would be hard. I know that Trump would rather project a positive image than perform a difficult task.

But I keep thinking about the big blue number in the lower right-hand corner of this chart:

In polls, Joe Biden is running 15 points better against Trump than Hillary Clinton did among voters 65 and older. Why would that be?

I'm 61. I'm in good health -- but I have no idea what would happen to me if I contracted the virus. Maybe Donald Trump assumes he'll never die, but I don't. Until now, I assumed it wouldn't happen for a while. I don't know if that's a reasonable assumption anymore.

Of course older people are worried. But Trump, the Power of Positive Thinking guy, doesn't want people to worry. He wants them to go back to work and shopping, because that's what his rich donors want. He wants a roaring economy again, because it never occurs to him that presidents can get reelected in tough times, if they're seen as doing all they can to minimize the pain. Instead, Trump is telling Americans -- especially the worried elderly -- to ignore the pain. Ignore the danger. Ignore their own completely understandable fear of death.

Trump really might lose a portion of his elderly base in November if he continues to pretend this fear isn't real.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


There was a fact mentioned in a Washington Post story this week that deserves more attention.
[President] Trump at times has compared the death toll from covid-19 to the toll from the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. The CDC estimates that more than 12,000 people died of that virus from April 2009 to April 2010.... That’s an estimate, based on observed illness totals and documented deaths. It’s similar to the annual estimates the government compiles to determine how many people died from the seasonal flu.... In the 2018-2019 flu season, for example, the CDC estimates that roughly 34,000 people died of the flu, a figure that could be as low as 26,000 or as high as nearly 53,000.

It’s a scientific estimate that is higher than the observed death toll. (Only about 7,000 flu deaths were directly recorded that flu season.)
I've emphasized the last two sentences of this passage because your right-wing relatives probably believe that the dangers of COVID-19 are being exaggerated, and that it's no more deadly than the seasonal flu. William Bennett spoke for these people.
Fox News contributor Bill Bennett offered perhaps the most high-profile comments on this in recent days, doubting this is even a “pandemic.”

“If you look at those numbers, and see the comparable, we’re going to have fewer fatalities from this than from the flu,” Bennett said, citing the latest projections. “For this, we scared the hell out of the American people, we lost 17 million jobs, we put a major dent in the economy, we closed down the schools ... shut down the churches, and so on. You know, this was not and is not a pandemic.”
People who believe this believe that the COVID-19 death numbers are being bumped up to make the disease seem worse than it is. They're responding to reports that some people are being classified as COVID-19 casualties based on the likelihood that the disease caused their deaths, without a firm diagnosis. (New York, for instance, added more than 3,700 people to its COVID-19 death toll who are presumed to be victims but were never found to be positive for the virus.)

But being suspicious of this -- as Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Brit Hume, Mark Levin, and other right-wing media stars are -- and arguing that this proves that the flu is just as bad every year as COVID-19 requires you to believe that flu deaths are counted very, very strictly. In fact, as noted above, only 7,000 flu deaths were recorded as flu deaths in 2018-2019, and yet the CDC assumes that roughly five times as many Americans died of the flu that season.

If there are good-faith reasons to assume that the flu kills far more people every year than the number of people who are officially recorded as flu fatalities, then there are good-faith reasons to classify some people as COVID-19 casualties even if they were never subjected to a test for the coronavirus that was positive (especially when so many Americans can't get tested at all).

Your right-wing relatives believe that the authorities never make assumptions about flu deaths, and believe that the authorities are making all kinds of unjustified assumptions about COVID-19. They're wrong.

I believe this report from the Financial Times, which argues that our current numbers are a significant undercount.
The death toll from coronavirus may be almost 60 per cent higher than reported in official counts, according to an FT analysis of overall fatalities during the pandemic in 14 countries.

Mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods....

To calculate excess deaths, the FT has compared deaths from all causes in the weeks of a location’s outbreak in March and April 2020 to the average for the same period between 2015 and 2019....

According to the FT analysis, overall deaths rose 60 per cent in Belgium, 51 per cent in Spain, 42 per cent in the Netherlands and 34 per cent in France during the pandemic compared with the same period in previous years.

Some of these deaths may be the result of causes other than Covid-19, as people avoid hospitals for other ailments. But excess mortality has risen most steeply in places suffering the worst Covid-19 outbreaks, suggesting most of these deaths are directly related to the virus rather than simply side-effects of lockdowns.
Not only is this far worse than the seasonal flu, it's far worse than the official death tolls suggest. But your right-wing relatives will never believe that.


The Washington Post has published an analysis of all the coronavirus briefings President Trump has conducted. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that they've been angry, self-indulgent, and filled with misinformation.
The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60 percent of the time that officials spoke, according to a Washington Post analysis of annotated transcripts from, a data analytics company.

Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows....

Trump has attacked someone in 113 out of 346 questions he has answered — or a third of his responses. He has offered false or misleading information in nearly 25 percent of his remarks. And he has played videos praising himself and his administration’s efforts three times....
But there one phrase in the piece that jumped out at me.
The briefings have come to replace Trump’s “Keep America Great” campaign rallies — now on pause during the global contagion — and fulfill the president’s needs and impulses in the way his arena-shaking campaign events once did: a chance for him to riff, free-associate, spar with the media and occupy center stage.
Fulfill the president's needs and impulses. The phrase doesn't just describe the real reason for the briefings -- it describes all of America's political life at the national level in the Donald Trump era. It's been the main purpose of national politics since January 2017: to fulfill Trump's needs and impulses, or, for those who want to buck the tide, to refuse to do so.

I wish Joe Biden would expound on this:

I was reading a Washington Post story about President Trump's coronavirus briefings and a phrase caught my eye. It said that the purpose of the briefings was to "fulfill the president's needs and impulses." In the midst of the greatest health crisis of our lifetime, this is what we're supposed to care about -- fulfilling Donald Trump's needs and impulses.

But this has been true from the very beginning of his presidency. Every day, it's all about him. Every day, we're supposed to make him feel better. We're all supposed to feed his ego. That's what Donald Trump thinks the job of the president is. To be flattered. To be praised. To be surrounded by yes-men and yes-women who say, "Oh, Mr. President, you're doing a spectacular job! Keep up the good work!" Reporters are supposed to do this. The American people are supposed to do this. Donald Trump wants to be president so we can shower him with adulation.

But that's not the point of the presidency!

Folks, when I'm president, the purpose of my presidency will be to do what's right for the American people. My purpose will be to strengthen this country. That will be my goal, every day -- not to gratify my own ego.

I'm not in this to fulfill my own needs and impulses. I'm doing this for our country. If you're tired of a presidency that's nothing but a massive ego trip, then I'm asking for your vote.

Would it make a difference? I have no idea. But even though it would be stating the obvious, I feel that we're numb to what Trump has done. It's gone on for three and a half years, and we have a hard time remembering that the presidency wasn't always this way. People need to be reminded that we don't owe the president this indulgence.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Axios reports that The Daily Briefing Show might be going off the air.
President Trump plans to pare back his coronavirus press conferences, according to four sources familiar with the internal deliberations.

He may stop appearing daily and make shorter appearances when he does, the sources said — a practice that may have started with Friday's unusually short briefing.
We're told that aides and allies were trying to talk Trump out of holding the daily briefings even before Thursday's fiasco.
A number of Trump's most trusted advisers — both inside and outside the White House — have urged him to stop doing marathon televised briefings.

They've told him he's overexposed and these appearances are part of the reason polls aren't looking good for him right now against Joe Biden.

"I told him it's not helping him," said one adviser to the president. "Seniors are scared. And the spectacle of him fighting with the press isn't what people want to see."

... These conversations were underway before Trump suggested that researchers investigate whether doctors could cure coronavirus by injecting people with disinfectant. But a source said it finally seems to have dawned on Trump, after this incident, that these briefings aren't helping him. The CDC and other public health officials responded obliquely to the comment by telling people not to drink bleach.
But do you think Trump will cede the stage? Do you think he could bear to do that?

Either Trump will change his mind and keep the show going ("One source cautioned that decisions like this one are never final until they're final," the Axios story tells us) or he'll pivot to another venue for ego gratification.

As a New York Times story noted earlier this week, Trump feels trapped in the White House, and the briefings were the best part of what he regards as his unpleasant life.
The daily White House coronavirus task force briefing is the one portion of the day that Mr. Trump looks forward to, although even Republicans say that the two hours of political attacks, grievances and falsehoods by the president are hurting him politically.

Mr. Trump will hear none of it. Aides say he views them as prime-time shows that are the best substitute for the rallies he can no longer attend but craves.
Yup, and as NBC News reported this week, there are plans to send Trump out on the road.
With a “frustrated” President Donald Trump growing restless after weeks of nationwide shutdowns, his top aides and campaign officials are exploring ways to start venturing outside of Washington for events in the coming weeks.

... senior advisers are actively considering plans for the president to visit health care workers, first responders and Americans whose jobs have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The timing of any travel remains unclear but the White House sees the week of May 4 as a target for the president to start leaving Washington “in a safe and responsible way,” modeling day trips after those of Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to both Colorado and Wisconsin this week.
One of those Pence trips was for a commencement speech at the Air Force Academy, so now Trump has sprung a visit on West Point.
For President Trump, who adores the pomp and precision of military ceremonies, this was the year he would finally get one of the special perks of being president — delivering the commencement address at West Point, the only service academy where he has not spoken.

But the graduation was postponed because of the coronavirus, the cadets were sent home and officials at the school were not sure when it would be held or even whether it was a good idea to hold it.

... last Friday, the day before Mr. Pence was to speak at the Air Force ceremony in Colorado, Mr. Trump, never one to be upstaged, abruptly announced that he would, in fact, be speaking at West Point.

That was news to everyone, including officials at West Point, according to three people involved with or briefed on the event.... With Mr. Trump’s pre-emptive statement, they are now summoning 1,000 cadets scattered across the country to return to campus in New York, the state that is the center of the outbreak.
Great -- they'll all be getting on airplanes, which will fly into New York. What could go wrong?

Trump is also insisting there'll be a Fourth of July gathering in D.C. just like the one he had last year.
President Donald Trump said Fourth of July celebrations on the National Mall are scheduled for this year despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the White House press briefing Wednesday, Trump said he still planned to hold the Salute to America event.

"On July 4th, we'll be doing what we had on the Mall, as you know. We're going to be doing it. Last year was a tremendous success," he said.
But won't reality put a check on all these plans? It should, but it might not.

Remember when Trump wanted to reopen the country on Easter Sunday, April 12? Advisors persuaded him to abandon that campaign. But then he got restless and wanted a reopening by the end of the month. Then he criticized Georgia governor Brian Kemp for taking him literally. (Some Georgia businesses are now reopening, many with frightened workers.) Clearly Trump will want to declare this crisis effectively over every couple of weeks until he's done it for the last time and abandoned us to whatever the virus does to us.

Note what's happening now: COVID-19 is still rampant in much of the country, but because of lockdowns and social distancing, the number of new cases in America may have plateaued. Daily deaths have declined in the worst American hot spot, New York State. If we believe the model of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, we'll have fewer than 1,000 deaths a day nationwide by May 2 and fewer than 100 deaths a day by May 21 (though that assumes a continuation of current social distancing practices).

If deaths drop below 1,000 a day soon, I think Trump will simply declare victory and try to reopen the country yet again. He might be talked out of it once more. But I think he'll hit the road in May, probably at outdoor events with social distancing or indoor events with limited attendance, at least at first. He's desperate.

How reality will respond to this is hard to say. But he'll be out there in May, and it will encourage other people to declare the crisis over. I wonder if the result will be that we won't even have a sustained seasonal dip in infections and deaths. Or maybe the effects of the weather on the virus will make Trump seem reasonable for a while -- maybe even for much of the summer. Maybe his poll numbers will even rise -- until the virus, in a country that, I'm sure, still won't be testing or tracking enough, comes roaring back.

Friday, April 24, 2020


I've said on a couple of occasions that I suspect the president promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 for some reason other than personal profit -- I understand why so many people assumed he must have been doing it because sales of the drug would earn him money, but the evidence didn't seem to be there, and even Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, who's a fierce Trump critic, doesn't believe Trump's small investment in a mutual fund that includes a hydroxychloroquine manufacturer is sufficient explanation for Trump's actions, because the potential profits are too meager.

Well, now we have more possible evidence that Trump wasn't hyping the drug for personal profit:
A top Health and Human Services official who said he was transferred from his post for pushing back on "efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections" felt pressured to rush access to chloroquine treatments for the coronavirus after President Donald Trump had a conversation about it with a mega-rich donor, a source close to the doctor told NBC News.

Dr. Rick Bright said he was instructed to implement a national program aimed at expanding access to the drug without proper controls and despite the lack of peer-reviewed clinical data on the drug's effectiveness following a conversation Trump had with Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, the source said.

Ellison, one of the president's top supporters in the tech industry, is a member of the White House economic recovery task force. He hosted a big-money fundraiser for Trump at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, in February.
If this is correct, then Trump isn't a kleptocrat -- he's just an ordinary bootlicking politician who'll say or do whatever a big-money donor wants. This is true even though Trump is supposedly a rich guy who doesn't need the campaign cash (which doesn't prevent him from trying to raise boatloads of it).

We know that Trump is completely lacking in empathy and doesn't care about the tens of thousands of people who are suffering and dying as a result of this pandemic -- all he cares about is personal gain. But as it turns out, he's not even out for that much gain. He doesn't seem to want to make a dime off this drug. All he wants is to please someone richer than himself and to be reelected. That's how little it takes to override the interests of the American people, as far as Trump is concerned.


President Trump is stupid, ill-informed, morally corrupt, and perhaps the greatest living exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which causes people with low ability to believe that they have the highest possible ability levels.

But beyond all this, Trump is uniquely unsuited to be president because he's incapable of facing uncomfortable truths. As I've noted here many times, Trump grew up on Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking, and still practices its tenets. Let me quote Michael Kruse's 2017 Politico story on this:
Trump and his father were Peale acolytes—the minister officiated at at the first of Donald Trump's weddings—and Peale’s overarching philosophy has been a lodestar for Trump over the course of his decades of triumphs as well as the crises and chaos. “Stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale urged his millions of followers. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.” ... Trump, who used this self-confidence to blow right past a series of seemingly fatal gaffes and controversies to win an election last fall that polls said he couldn’t and wouldn’t, in this respect has been a prize Peale pupil—arguably the most successful Peale disciple ever.

... Is Trump’s relentlessly optimistic insistence on his own version of reality an asset, a sign of admirable grit for a politician desperate to score some legislative victories? Or is it a sort of self-delusion that risks embarrassment, or worse, in the highest-stakes geopolitical arena?
If the answer to that wasn't obvious before yesterday, it certainly is now.

Trump's remarks yesterday about killing the coronavirus in the human body with light or injections of disinfectant were the work of a stupid man who spends most of his waking hours mindlessly watching television, and who can't absorb information in depth, through reading or by any other method.

But he made the remarks primarily because he has a compulsive need to say, Look! There's a ray of hope! Everything will be fine soon!

Here's what happened.
Trump made the remark after Bill Bryan, who leads the Department of Homeland Security's science and technology division, gave a presentation on research his team has conducted that shows that the virus doesn't live as long in warmer and more humid temperatures. Bryan said, "The virus dies quickest in sunlight," leaving Trump to wonder whether you could bring the light "inside the body."

"So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it's ultraviolet or just a very powerful light — and I think you said that hasn't been checked because of the testing," Trump said, speaking to Bryan during the briefing. "And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too."

He added: "I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that."
Trump can't bring himself to tell us the truth, which is that, yes, as Bryan had just said, transmission of the virus is impaired by sunlight, heat, and humidity, but summer and recommendations to move certain activities outdoors won't be the end of the crisis. Americans want accurate information, but Trump just wants to tell us a cheery story. He wants to be a pitchman selling the razzle-dazzle, because that's worked for him all his life and because that's what he responds to. He thinks we want happy talk, but happy talk is really what he wants.

And he'd like his entire team to sell the way he sells. I see that Mike Pence -- who hasn't appeared to be part of the problem during this crisis -- is offering false hope. In an interview with Rush Limbaugh yesterday,Pence said,
... as we track this data state by state, county by county, we’re getting there, Rush. And I truly do believe ... I truly do believe, if current trend lines hold, that by early June we could largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us, and begin to see our nation open back up and go back to work.
No, we won't "largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us" by early June. Our current social distancing practices will have reduced transmission. If we maintain most of that, and if we can ramp up testing and tracing (which might be possible, despite the Trump administration's failings, in a few states), and if we get an assist from the weather, and if we learn to treat COVID-19 better -- possibly with new treatments, possibly with new protocols (greater efforts to prevent blood clots? more attention to detecting "silent" oxygen deprivation?) -- then by summer the virus should be in abeyance. Not gone. And almost certainly ready to hit us full force in the fall.

By then, some people will prove to have at least partial immunity, whether or not they've been sick. But there won't be enough of them to confer herd immunity. We'll still be fighting this.

But Trump wants his people to say that happy days will be here again soon. So Pence complies.

And Trump will just keep talking that way too, because he can't help himself.


UPDATE: Carol Lee of NBC News makes clear that Trump is just sick and tired of all the Debbie Downers he's surrounded by.
“He wants to always be giving people hope and optimism. He certainly isn’t telling anyone to drink bleach or ingest disinfectant,” [an administration] official said.

... Trump’s promotion of light and disinfectant as a possible hope for curing a virus that’s killed some 50,000 Americans is part of a broader posturing that’s designed to make the country feel like the current situation is improving or soon will, officials said.

They said Thursday’s remarks are part the president's increasing irritation at his health advisers’ constant caution about possible treatments that he wants to promote and warnings about a future wave of the coronavirus. Even if Trump factors their advice into his scripted remarks, they can’t be sure he won’t ad lib to overcorrect what he sees as pessimistic guidance.
Trump simply can't tolerate pessimism, even when it's entirely justified.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


I am astonished to learn that a Trump White House has turned out to be a foul-mouthed bigot.
The new spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services in a series of now-deleted tweets made racist and derogatory comments about Chinese people, said Democrats wanted the coronavirus to kill millions of people and accused the media of intentionally creating panic around the pandemic to hurt President Donald Trump.

Michael Caputo, a longtime New York Republican political operative who worked on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, was appointed last week as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS, a prominent communications role at the department which serves a central role in the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic....

In a series of tweets on March 12, Caputo responded to a baseless conspiracy theory that the United States brought the coronavirus to Wuhan, China, by tweeting that "millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer and eat the ass out of anteaters."

He followed up at another user, "Don't you have a bat to eat?" and tweeted at another user, "You're very convincing, Wang." ...

On March 8, he said a Democrat may try to inflict hundreds of thousands of American deaths from the coronavirus....

That same day, Caputo retweeted conservative actor Nick Searcy saying, "Democrats are pulling for the virus to kill a lot of people."
Caputo has always been like this -- but a decade ago, when he was running the gubernatorial campaign of the very Trumpian Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino, Javier Hernandez of The New York Times described him as "impish."
He has hired strippers to embarrass a political opponent. He cycles through eight pairs of eyeglasses to make himself more difficult to recognize. And he readily shows reporters the scar from a bullet wound he says was the result of a drunken encounter with a rival in Russia.

Michael R. Caputo’s impish spirit and no-holds-barred campaign style have helped propel his boss, Carl P. Paladino, a relatively unknown real estate mogul from Buffalo, to the Republican nomination for New York governor and have Mr. Paladino now menacing the once seemingly unstoppable Andrew M. Cuomo.
Cuomo would go on to beat Paladino by nearly thirty points. But please continue with the puff piece, Mr. Hernandez.
Behind each outlandish advertisement, slingshot tactic and red-meat riff of Mr. Paladino’s campaign is Mr. Caputo, his campaign manager, whose high-octane brain plays foil to his candidate’s high-velocity mouth....

From Mr. Caputo’s mind have come blistering attack advertisements, including one that featured a fake photo of Mr. Cuomo, the state’s attorney general, shirtless in the shower and covered in mud, as part of an effort to portray him as a slimy politician.
That's not "blistering." That's infantile.

Here's more Caputo charm, as reported by The Buffalo News in 2016:
He can offer insightful political observations one moment, then in the next, make crude sexual references to a critic’s mother online.

Caputo recently labeled Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz “cowardly” and called a promoter for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz a “stupid bitch” on Twitter.
Of course, the man whose campaign he ran also had some problems with online communication.
Some of Paladino’s emails contain hardcore pornography. One contains a video clip involving bestiality. Other emails display an attitude of misogyny or blatant racism....

In December 2008, Paladino forwarded a message entitled “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal” including a video clip showing African tribesmen dancing in a village....

... an email marked as “XX” that Paladino annotated as “a keeper” to his recipients ... contained a 3MB .wmv video entitled “Miss France 2008 fucking” ...

One email entitled “demotivated” included several phony “motivational” posters....

It featured this:

Our political press finds these people "colorful" until it belatedly grasps that they aren't; The media used to treat Roger Stone the same way:

Stone, by the way, was Caputo's political mentor. No surprise there.


Yesterday I praised a New York Times story that listed many of the established right-wing groups that have been using big money to amplify the message of anti-lockdown protesters. The Times story cited groups such as FreedomWorks and ALEC. But left out of that story was another well-funded group that has also been aiding the demonstrators. A Washington Post story names that group:
The ads on Facebook sounded populist and passionate: “The people are rising up against these insane shutdowns,” they said. “We’re fighting back to demand that our elected officials reopen America.”

But the posts, funded by an initiative called Convention of States, were not the product of a grass-roots uprising alone....

The Convention of States project launched in 2015 with a high-dollar donation from the family foundation of Robert Mercer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican patron. It boasts past support from two members of the Trump administration — Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development.

It also trumpets a prior endorsement from Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida and a close Trump ally who is pursuing an aggressive plan to reopen his state’s economy....

For the Convention of States, public health is an unusual focus. It was founded to push for a convention that would add a ­balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
But a balanced budget amendment is just one of the goals of Convention of States. The complete list of amendments, if added to the Constitution, would result in an almost unimaginably radical transformation of America.

CoS wants to take advantage of the fact that Article V of the Constitution says a constitutional convention must take place if legislatures in two-thirds of the states call for one. Amendments passed in a convention would then have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

What does CoS want? Oh, just this:
... here are a few examples of amendments that can be proposed under our resolution.

* A balanced budget amendment.

* A redefinition of the General Welfare Clause (the original view was the federal government could not spend money on any topic within the jurisdiction of the states).

* A redefinition of the Commerce Clause (the original view was that Congress was granted a narrow and exclusive power to regulate shipments across state lines–not all the economic activity of the nation).

* A prohibition of using international treaties and law to govern the domestic law of the United States.

* A limitation on using Executive Orders and federal regulations to enact laws (since Congress is supposed to be the exclusive agency to enact laws).

* Imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court.

* Placing an upper limit on federal taxation.

* Requiring the sunset of all existing federal taxes and a super-majority vote to replace them with new, fairer taxes.
We know a balanced budget amendment would be a terrible idea -- it's the lack of a balanced budget amendment that allows the federal government to do the kind of spending that prevented the Great Recession from becoming a full-blown depression, and that's permitting the current emergency spending. But what about these other ideas?

What does CoS mean by "a redefinition of the General Welfare Clause"? Libertarians believe that the clause ("The Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes ... to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States") has been misinterpreted, and that a proper interpretation would make programs such as Social Security and Medicare unconstitutional.

What about a redefinition of the Commerce Clause? Here's part of a piece that appeared at the FreedomWorks website in 2015:
"To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes.”

The Commerce Clause is a short phrase of 16 words, none of which are difficult to understand. Despite this, the clause is one of the most misunderstood in the Constitution. Unfortunately, abuse of the Commerce Clause has justified a massive expansion of federal government interventions in the marketplace and in the lives of everyday Americans. From nationalizing labor laws to the EPA regulating mercury and carbon dioxide emissions, the expansion of the Commerce Clause has redefined the scope of government.
Term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court would leave lobbyists as the most experienced people in government -- the only folks in Washington allowed to serve for life. "Placing an upper limit on federal taxation" means placing an upper limit on rich people's federal taxation -- and also means starving the government of revenue, in order to force its shrinkage (or, to use Grover Norquist's metaphor, its death by drowning in a bathtub). And sunsetting current tax laws so they can be replaced with "new, fairer taxes" means ending progressive taxation altogether -- you pay an even greater percentage of taxes, while the rich pay an even smaller one.

This is the wish list. This is the long-term goal of some of the people who want to reopen America long before it's ready.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


The administration of our eleven-year-old president is laser-focused on saving lives:
The Pentagon is planning a multicity tour of the U.S. military’s top flight demonstration teams to “champion national unity” amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to defense officials and a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, the demonstration squadrons for the Navy and Air Force, will fly over some cities together and others separately, according to the memo. The flyovers will take place in the next several weeks “to thank first responders, essential personnel, and military service members as we collectively battle the spread of COVID-19.”

The mission, named Operation America Strong, was conceived by senior military officers in the Pentagon....
Bullshit. The mission was not "conceived by senior military officers in the Pentagon." It was conceived either by the president himself or by people in his White House who know precisely what gives him a thrill up his leg. (If they could throw him a military parade under the current circumstances, I'm sure they would. I bet he's asked whether it's possible.) This also dovetails nicely with the president's "never appeal to anyone outside the Fox News/talk radio core demographic" reelection strategy (which, to be fair, could actually manage to net him an Electoral College victory).

My favorite part of this story:
The appearances will not feature air-show stunts, and the teams will avoid flying over areas where people can congregate, [a] senior [military] official said....
They're not planning to do this where large numbers of people can see them? Really? Then what the hell is the point? Why would you have flyovers where people can't see them?

Oh, I get it: The whole point of this is to provide footage for Trump campaign ads. Well, all righty, then.


Earlier this week, New York magazine's Ed Kilgore wrote:
We’ve all pretty much assumed without thinking about it that November 2020 will mark the last presidential Election Day in which Donald J. Trump appears on the ballot. I mean, yes, some progressives have occasionally expressed fears that the 45th president will try to engineer some extra-constitutional coup that will keep him in office perpetually, but by definition that would preclude another Trump election campaign. If he loses, surely his act will have worn out its welcome, even among Republicans. And for true-blue MAGA folk, Mike Pence has been loyally, even sycophantically waiting in the wings, ready to inherit the movement, as his almighty predecessor retreats to Mar-a-Lago for a well-earned retirement.
On that last point, I've never accepted the notion that Pence will inherit the movement. When the MAGA crowd is looking for a Trump successor, it will almost certainly turn to someone who devotes as much time to trying to own the libs as Trump does, because lib-owning is the #1 thing Republicans want from government. The first nominee to succeed the president probably won't be a simpering flunky -- it will be a full-time lib-owner like Donald Trump Jr., Matt Gaetz, Tom Cotton, or Doug Collins.

Go on, Ed.
But the coronavirus has created at least the possibility of a different scenario. Suppose either the pandemic has not subsided before this fall, or the economy is still in shambles, with little sign of immediate revival. Trump would almost certainly lose — and then blame his defeat on a Chinese virus that was not his fault and that even he could not defeat (particularly with all the resistance he encountered from Radical Democrats and globalist elites). From his standpoint as the center of the universe, he would naturally feel aggrieved at having been robbed of a reelection all-but-guaranteed for him by the most awesome economic boom in the history of the world. And he would need the vindication of proving once again that he can bring back American greatness through the stable genius of his unique leadership. How long would he wait to launch another presidential campaign? Probably not much more than a week.

Yes, in July of 2024 Trump would turn 78, but that’s how old Bernie Sanders is right now. Particularly if Biden runs for a second term at 81, Trump’s age would not be a bar, though he might have to lay off the junk food for a while. Would Republicans reject him for a younger, fresher, undefeated candidate? I don’t know, but the odds against a third Trump GOP nomination would probably be lower than the odds he beat in 2016.
Well, sure -- but I was entertaining the possibility of a 2024 Trump run long before COVID-19. For example, I wrote this last September: "In fact, I think if [Trump] loses in 2020, he'll immediately declare his 2024 candidacy."

Why does the coronavirus make it any more likely that Trump would seek vindication by demanding another shot at the presidency? Even under normal circumstances, he would have declared his defeat a crime, a fraud, and a robbery. He would have blamed voting by undocumented immigrants and he would have blamed CNN and The New York Times. He would have blamed George Soros and Google search algorithms and Twitter and YouTube "shadow-banning." His base would have believed all of his excuses. So -- assuming he didn't fight to overturn the results, which I wouldn't assume -- yes, he'd probably have immediately declared himself a 2024 candidate even after losing a normal election.

The virus doesn't make this any more likely. It just gives him a new excuse.


I've complained about mainstream coverage of the anti-lockdown protests, but this New York Times story rejects the "purely spontaneous uprising" narrative:
The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests

An informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House, has been quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure to overturn state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The groups have tapped their networks to drive up turnout at recent rallies in state capitals, dispatched their lawyers to file lawsuits, and paid for polling and research to undercut the arguments behind restrictions that have closed businesses and limited the movement of most Americans.

Among those fighting the orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago. Also involved are a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials, a network of state-based conservative policy groups, and an ad hoc coalition of conservative leaders known as Save Our Country that has advised the White House on strategies for a tiered reopening of the economy....

Most of FreedomWorks’s 40 employees are working remotely on the effort, helping to connect local protesters and set up websites for them. The group is considering paid digital advertising to further increase turnout, and has been conducting weekly tracking polls in swing suburban districts that it says show support for reopening parts of country. It is sharing the data with advisers on the president’s economic task force and other conservative allies on Capitol Hill.

... The [Trump] administration recently formed an advisory group for reopening the economy that included Stephen Moore, the conservative economics commentator. Mr. Moore had been coordinating with FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Patriots and the American Legislative Exchange Council in a coalition called “Save Our Country,” which was formed to push for a quicker easing of restrictions.

... a letter [was recently] sent by groups including FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots and the anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List urging the Justice Department to consider intervening to block restrictions that the officials said were unconstitutional infringements on civil liberties.
Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

The Times story insists, however, that the protests originate in the grassroots ("The protests mostly appear to have been organized by local residents"). I suppose that's probably true. But you don't get the White House, prominent members of Congress, and Fox News all reciting the same talking points at the same time without this kind of coordination.

But if there is a spontaneous aspect to this, it's a sign of the difference between politics on the right and on the left. The Republican Establishment -- that's what ALEC, FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Patriots are -- is entirely in sync with grassroots right-wing anger, and is not at all concerned that the angry folks at the grassroots might be racist, anti-Semitic, potentially violent, or delusional about basic science. And the activists themselves don't think they're too cool to affiliate with these well-funded groups, or with mainstream GOP politicians. They love the president. They love Fox News. They'll take all the force multipliers they can get.

And then there are our activists, who aren't bigots or crazies. The Democratic-leaning establishment has traditionally resisted aligning with truly progressive groups, although that's changing. The bigger problem now, as Sean McElwee and Scott Lemieux have noted, is that progressive groups reject alliances with mainstream Democrats. The 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign, as Lemieux says, never tried "to convince a majority of the actually existing Democratic coalition to support it" and instead had dreams "of replacing that electorate with another." Sandersites regularly denounce mainstream Democrats online, and now threaten not to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, as a number of them did in 2016 (although McElwee says, "I think there are 50,000 Bernie-to-Trump voters, and they all have Twitter accounts. They’re an incredibly small portion of the electorate").

The media sources trusted by mainstream Democrats -- i.e., the outlets of the mainstream media -- don't pay attention to progressive activists the way Fox lavishes attention on far-right activists. That increases progressive activists' sense of alienation from mainstream politics.

Many left-wing activists feel alienated from mainstream politics. Right-wing crazies don't. That's because, much of the time, they're welcomed in.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes:
We are in the midst of the most significant national crisis most of us will ever see. By the time it’s over, Americans’ feelings about government will be transformed, as they come to understand that the question isn’t whether government should be “big” or “small” but whether it can do its job well and create security and opportunity.

Or this crisis will change very little, and a year or two from now we’ll be right back where we started, with all the weaknesses and pathologies we had before, as we find ourselves in the midst of a new conservative attack on government that succeeds in making us less secure and more unequal....

Democrats, I fear, are assuming that this crisis will naturally prove them right about the role of government, and they don’t actually have to do much for their vindication to occur.

“I think it could be paradigm shifting,” former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen tells The Post’s Dan Balz, and many Democrats surely agree. Republicans are being forced to accept trillions of dollars in government spending to rescue the economy, as well as the shared assumption that it’s government’s job to make sure we don’t all get sick and die.
People who think in poli-sci categories believe that ordinary citizens also think in poli-sci categories. But most Americans don't regard themselves as either believers in activist government or believers in laissez-faire government, just as they don't see themselves as interventionists or isolationists on foreign policy. They favor one side or the other when it suits them.

Right-wingers were interventionist when George W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq, then they weren't when Barack Obama wanted to intervene in Syria. Under Donald Trump, they're as confused as the president is -- they back him when he says he wants to withdraw from global commitments and they back him when he rattles sabers at Iran.

Similarly, voters like the domestic government interventions they like and dislike the ones they don't. "Small government" conservatives love Social Security, Medicare, and, at least for themselves and their families, Medicaid. They're happily accepting their $1200 checks during the coronavirus outbreak. Among non-conservatives, many people didn't like Obamacare until, gradually, they came to appreciate it. Would they like a single-payer system? They might not. Or they might not at first, and then they might like it.

Most Americans would probably be thrilled if the feds were efficiently improving access to tests, ventilators, and personal protective equipment, all while ramping up contact tracing and doing a better job of easing economic concerns. They're certainly expressing strong levels of approval for governors whose coronavirus efforts are activist. But it's quite possible that, apart from the crisis, many of these same people will enthusiastically respond to "shrink the government" rhetoric and vote against activist politicians -- and never regard these attitudes as contradictory.


Politico's Nancy Cook writes this, but I don't believe it:
President Donald Trump’s political fate now hinges on a simple premise: Everybody who needs a coronavirus test must be able to get a test.
I don't believe it for a simple reason: Trump's poll numbers may be declining, but they're still slightly better than they were for most of his presidency. Right now, in the Real Clear Politics average, Trump's disapproval exceeds his approval by 5.3 points. Between March 19, 2017, and February 17, 2020, that number never dipped below 6. It was frequently in double digits. A similar pattern is seen in the FiveThirtyEight average. It may be the case that Trump is headed back down to pre-COVID-19 (and pre-impeachment) levels, but I'm going to make the contrarian prediction that his approval rating won't drop below the low 40s, no matter how much he screws up or how bad the death toll and economic downturn become.

It pleases me, though, that Republican insiders disagree, according to Cook.
“If the testing does not get sorted out as soon as possible, it will be another nail in an almost closed coffin,” said one Republican close to the White House who argued messaging alone cannot solve the political challenge the pandemic presents for Trump.
Nevertheless, it appears that messaging is all the Trump team cares about (as usual).
The president and his team in the White House are rushing to counter perceptions and develop a coherent message about the nation’s ability to test Americans for the coronavirus quickly and broadly, a prerequisite governors and business leaders have outlined to successfully get the economy back on track.
The message is, as always, that Trump is perfect, any problems are other people's fault, and amazingly positive things will happen very, very soon.
“We are moving very rapidly,” Trump said about the testing at Monday’s White House briefing. “And we'll be doubling our number of daily tests if the governors bring their states fully online to the capability that they have. We have tremendous capability out there already existing.”

“We have testing coming in two weeks that will blow the industry away,” he said later in the Monday briefing.
Cook's sources -- like most of you, probably -- think the election will turn on how Trump handles the crisis between now and November.
“The biggest political narrative that threatens them now is that they were slow to respond to the virus — and testing is a key component of the ‘slow start’ narrative, especially with the early testing fiascos,” said a second Republican close to the White House, who argued the administration needs to spend the next four to eight weeks getting the coronavirus under control and reopening the economy without incident before voters make up their mind about Trump’s leadership.
But America won't get it under control in the next two months. The hasty reopenings in the red states will lead to more suffering and death.

Yet Trump's numbers won't change much. They never do. A slight majority of the country doesn't trust his leadership, but the minority that thinks he's an amazingly good president still might be enough to win the Electoral College, even if we have a six-figure death toll and an unemployment rate well into the double digits on Election Day. Trump will just keep arguing with reporters, identifying scapegoats (today it's immigrants, tomorrow it will be blue-state governors with ongoing lockdowns), and promising miracles (though he appears to have already moved on from hydroxychloroquine, which was found to be a bust in another study). The base won't abandon him, even though we'll probably never have all the tests we need -- tests for the sick, tests to trace infection patterns, tests for antibodies -- as long as he's president.