Memo to GOP: Shit Is Now Real. Adjust.

Not to alarm you or anything, but Dr. Anthony Fauci testified to a Senate committee today and said we’re in big trouble.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, gave a dire warning Tuesday in a Senate committee hearing held as coronavirus infections surge in many parts of the United States.

We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned,” Fauci said in response to questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on what the overall U.S. death toll is likely to be.

It’s official now; Americans are barred from Europe. Not that I was planning to go anywhere this year, but still, this ought to bother people. Just about everybody else can go to Europe, including very likely the Chinese.

Here is why we’re banned from Europe:

From CNN as of 6/30/2020. Source for data: Johns Hopkins University

A lot of beaches and other summer attractions that might have been opened by July 4 are now going to be closed, because governors opened their states way too soon; and because selfish, entitled Americans can’t be bothered to wear masks or maintain distance or even just bleeping stay home; and because Donald Trump is president. That last reason is the main one. (See David Frum at The Atlantic, “This Is Trump’s Plague Now.”) And I am truly sad for business owners who will lose a major part of their annual revenue because of pandemic closings. But, damn. It didn’t have to be this way. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people to take this disease seriously.

See also James Fallows, “The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything,” also at The Atlantic, about the utterly catastrophic failure of the Trump Administration to respond to the pandemic. Note that it is still failing. It isn’t even trying now.

There have been several new developments in the Russian bounty scandal, including a new story from the New York Times about money transfers between Russia and the Taliban. The evidence for the bounty on U.S. soldiers may be circumstantial, but there’s a lot of it, and it appears that portions of the military and intelligence communities are taking this accusation seriously. Is it possible they are mistaken? Yes, but we don’t know that.

What is beyond dispute at this point is that (1) there is a credible accusation that Putin offered bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, (2) that the White House was told about this months ago, and (3) the Trump Administration has made no response whatsoever except to deny that Trump knew about it. Today Trump has been frantically retweeting statements from John Ratcliffe — Director of National Intelligence and a former right-wing Republican wackjob congressman from Texas — declaring that Trump didn’t know about the Russian bounty story. Well, he knows now. Is he doing anything yet? Not so far.

See also Ben Mathis-Lilly at Slate — Trump Spent the Day He Was Supposed to Have Learned About Russian Bounties Praising His Own Response to the Coronavirus.

What was Trump doing on Feb. 27 instead of reading the brief? According to the transcript of a White House Black History Month event held that Thursday, his attention was mainly occupied by the idea that he hadn’t gotten enough credit for preventing a coronavirus outbreak in the United States. “We have a situation with the virus. We’ve done a great job. The press won’t give us credit for it,” he said, describing the United States’ response to the threat as an “incredible achievement” on which his administration was “doing incredibly,” “doing great,” had done an “incredible job” and a “fantastic job,” and was “prepared like we never have been prepared.” At the time, there were 15 known cases of the virus in the country, a number he predicted “will soon be down to three or four.” (There have been an additional 2.59 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. since this prediction.) Said Trump: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

That’s what. In the meantime, Trump has stirred up some mini-scandals by retweeting videos with white supremacist messages. Like he doesn’t have anything else to do.

Yesterday Greg Sargent wrote a column describing what Trump’s allies think should be done to re-energize Trump’s campaign for re-election.

Trump and his top officials have sought to cast civil unrest as fundamentally left-wing in origin, badly distorting the true nature of the protests, and playing down the role of domestic right wing extremism in the disorder.

As one Trump ally suggests to Politico, things will improve once Republicans “start defining Biden” with “resources” and “consistent messaging.”

But note the underlying premise here: that the Trump campaign has not adequately communicated to voters that Biden would be too weak to control a country that’s spiraling out of control.

Throughout, the theme is that if the Right can just amp up the messaging to make Joe Biden look weak and demonize Black Lives Matter as leftist terrorists, then Trump can cruise to victory in November. Tucker Carlson, for example, is quoted as saying that the pandemic should be helping Trump’s re-election by showing the public that he was right about China. If it’s not helping Trump then the message needs to be clarified. Just the message. Not much we can do about that pandemic, I guess.

So my memo to the GOP is: Shit is now real. People can see that for themselves. You can’t bullshit it away.

Stuff to Read

Be sure to read Carl Bernstein’s From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump’s phone calls alarm US officials. It begins:

In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America’s principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials — including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff — that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

The calls caused former top Trump deputies — including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials — to conclude that the President was often “delusional,” as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.

This is fascinating. For a long time it seems Recep Erdogan had Trump on speed dial, calling him twice a week for long chats. Trump was abusive to allies, particularly women leaders such as Angela Merkel and Theresa May.

Here’s a fun read — Who’s the most galling, captivating character on our screens this summer? It’s Karen — and she’s everywhere.

Greg Sargent, Why Fox News thinks the ‘cognitive decline’ attack on Biden will work

Fox News has been relentlessly pushing the line that Joe Biden might be suffering from dementia. … So why does Fox News think this contrast will play well for Trump?

You don’t have to look far for the answer to this. It came at the Tuesday briefing, from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Under questioning about whether Trump had read briefing papers reporting on intelligence concerns about Russia allegedly paying bounties to Taliban-linked militias, McEnany actually said this:

 

The very act of saying something so preposterous suggests high confidence that it will be widely believed by Trump supporters. If large swaths of the Trump-supporting Fox News audience are prepared to believe this, of all things, then there’s pretty much no chance that they’ll see the monumental flaws in Trump’s temperament that much of the rest of the country sees.

Trump’s approval/disapproval numbers keep getting worse for Trump, in spite of White House press secretary Barbie’s best efforts.

Pounding on the Door

We can start with a bit of good news — this morning in a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana abortion law that required any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Chief Justice Roberts voted with the liberals, while the usual suspects — Scalia, Thomas, Gorsuch, and BeerBong — said screw precedent and voted to keep the law. However, Kevin Drum points out that Roberts’s written decision leaves room to possibly allow other abortion restrictions to stand.

And I’ve just seen that Paul Waldman agrees. Roberts certainly wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, Waldman writes, just not right now.

Roberts has an ideology, but he is not an ideologue. He is an extremely savvy political operator, one who carefully sides with liberals when he determines that it is necessary to save the Republican Party from itself. Which is what he just did.

Roberts knows that the timing could not be worse for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, or even to gut it without explicitly overturning it, as conservatives wanted to do with this case. The party that nurtured and raised him up is in a position of extraordinary peril, and if it is not restrained, it could destroy its political prospects for years or even decades, which would dramatically undermine the conservative legal project to which Roberts is devoted. He isn’t going to let that happen.

If the Louisiana law had been upheld, Waldman continues, we all know good and well that every state Repubican legislature in the U.S. would go on an abortion-restriction binge. And doing this just months before a presidential election could trip a backlash that could eviscerate many Republicans’ election or re-election chances. If Trump wins another term, and especially if the Senate stays in Republican hands, it’s a sure bet that Trump will put more hard-right judges on the bench, and then no liberal laws will be upheld for the next forty years. Of course, conservatives are unlikely to see this nuanced position and will just call Roberts a traitor.

Speaking of BeerBong, do see Marty Baron Made The Post Great Again. Now, the News Is Changing. by Ben Smith at the New York Times. Marty Baron is WaPo’s executive editor, and back in 2018 after the Kavanaugh nomination, Baron killed a story by Bob Woodward that exposed BeerBong as an anonymous source for Woodward’s book Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate, published in 1999.

Mr. Woodward was planning to expose Mr. Kavanaugh because the judge had publicly denied — in a huffy letter in 1999 to The Post — an account about Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton that he had himself, confidentially, provided to Mr. Woodward for his book. (Mr. Kavanaugh served as a lawyer on Mr. Starr’s team.)

The article, described by two Post journalists who read it, would have been explosive, arriving as the nominee battled a decades-old sexual assault allegation and was fighting to prove his integrity.

But Marty Baron killed the story, and the rest is travesty, as you might remember.

Now, on to our current and ongoing travesties. The story that Russia put bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and that the White House knew about this and did nothing, gets more and more outrageous. It’s also getting more and more corroborated.

This morning, David Ignatius was on “Morning Joe” saying that the Trump Administration has known about the bounty for awhile, and that Pentagon officials were “pounding on the door” of the White House demanding a response.

The Pentagon officials still don’t have a response. Trump is denying he was ever briefed, and anyway he’s now being told by “intel” to disregard it.

The reference to @nytimesbooks suggests he thinks the Times book review section is out to get him. But there’s a large amount of reporting coming from several different sources corroborating the original story.

Jonathan Chait says it’s possible Trump didn’t know, but that doesn’t exonerate him.

The original Times scoop has been confirmed by other American media and European intelligence sources. Other administration officials have tried to draw a less obviously indefensible line. Over the weekend, the White House press secretary and Director of National Intelligence denied “the president nor the vice-president were briefed” on Russia’s involvement. This would seem to push responsibility away from Trump and onto a nebulous bureaucratic failure.

Yet the administration conspicuously failed to deny the Times report that the bounty intelligence was included in the President’s Daily Brief. The gap between Trump “being briefed” on the Russian bounty, and information on the bounty being included in his brief, may sound merely semantic. But Trump is known not to read his brief, instead relying on a verbal summary from intelligence officials.

The Washington Post reported three years ago that the officials who deliver Trump’s intelligence summaries have learned to dance carefully around anything that casts a dark light on Putin. “Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally,” it found, noting that briefers have learned that Russian-related intelligence tends to send the briefing “off the rails.”

And so the Russian bounty might well have been included in Trump’s official briefings, which everybody knows he doesn’t read. And the officials around him may well have decided not to mention the matter to him because experience has taught them not to broach the topic of Russian misconduct with the boss.

In other words, it’s possible Trump’s own mismanagement and lack of interest in doing his damn job has caused his briefers to have given up trying to brief him. It’s also possible he was told and just shut it out of his mind because he didn’t want to deal with it. It’s so much more fun to just send rage tweets about polls all day long.

Charles Pierce:

The White House spent three days trying to decide whether its most effective defense was that the Commander-in-Chief was actively negligent in this regard, or that the Commander-in-Chief was as plainly ignorant about this as he is about every other part of his job.

It seemed by Monday to have settled on the latter, with the president* himself tweeting out that his intelligence community had told him that there was no “credible” information regarding the bounty program, which is almost certainly a lie, and which undoubtably will bring a cascade of new leaks from Spook Central designed to counter the president*’s threadbare alibis. It also has been denied by both the Russian government and by the Taliban, both of which possess roughly the same credibility as the president* at this point. Not even Republicans are buying this tale. Congresswoman Liz Cheney already is raising all kinds of hell and, prior to getting together on the links with the president* on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham insisted that it was “imperative” that Congress get to the bottom of the situation. Whether Graham will stay on the fairway in this regard is beyond my poor analytical skills.

I’m gong to go out on a limb and say it’s possible Miz Lindsey will stay on the fairway, so to speak, if only because Graham appears to be in a tougher re-election fight than he probably anticipated, and he may decide that opening up some space between himself and Trump is the smart move right now. We’ll see.

US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Whatever It Is, It’s Getting Worse

The New York Times reports that covid-19 testing sites are overwhelmed, especially in the West and South.

Coronavirus testing sites in Arizona, Florida and Texas have become a source of tension and risk, with numerous residents waiting in long lines, and others being turned away as sites reached capacity. Crowding is raising the risk of infection as people rush to the front of the line at some centers.

Residents of these and other hard-hit U.S. states are turning out in droves to get tested as the virus continues its surge across the South and West, threatening to overwhelm areas that until recently were spared the worst of the pandemic.

“Pushing, yelling, ZERO social distancing enforced,” one Houston resident wrote on Twitter. Two testing sites at Houston stadiums reached capacity just hours after opening on Saturday, according to the local health department. The city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, has said that intensive care units there are nearly at capacity.

Elsewhere in Texas, Stefano West drove more than an hour from Killeen to Austin to find a testing site, noting that few were available closer to him. He said he then waited about four and a half hours in his car at the site.

Oh, and there’s this:

Nationwide, coronavirus cases have risen 65 percent over the past two weeks.

On Thursday, Trump was in Wisconsin bragging about how great the testing is.

“We have the greatest testing program in the world,” said President Trump. “We’ve developed it over a period of time and we’re up to almost 30-million tests. That means we’re going to have more cases. Deaths are down. We have one of the lowest mortality rates. We’ve done an incredible, historic job.”

That same day, some GOP senators pushed back on the Trump administration plan to end support for testing sites. So, apparently, that really was the plan, even though Trump himself vacillated all last week between saying yes, he wanted to close sites and no, he was just kidding. More recently Trump agreed to extend federal support for testing sites, in Texas. Elsewhere, who knows?

He’s still claiming that there are more cases only because there are more tests, notice. There has been an increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive, meaning that the real number of cases is going up, not just that more cases we wouldn’t have known about are being diagnosed.

I hate to say it, but it’s entirely possible that in a month or two we’re all be back in shelter-in-place mode. Some of us never left, of course.

The one decisive thing Trump did last week to address the pandemic was to suspend work visas, stopping foreigners from entering the country to take or seek jobs. (See: Barn, horse out of.)  He’s still thinking in terms of the virus being a foreign thing that can be locked out.

Meanwhile, a number of other news outlets have confirmed the story about Russia paying bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops. Trump denies that he was ever briefed. People who have worked for previous administrations say of course he was briefed. It’s always possible that Trump was briefed but wasn’t paying attention, or that the people who do the briefing have just plain given up trying to tell him anything and just show him cartoons.

On the other hand, Juan Cole writes that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Russia to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers, considering that Russia wants the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan. And that Trump has already pledged to leave Afghanistan. Professor Cole speculates that Russia wanted to piss off Americans so they would stay in Afghanistan.

 

Putin Pays Taliban to Kill US Soldiers? IOKIYAR on Steroids

First off, I want to thank everyone for the generous donations to the Keep Mahablog Online fundraiser. I am pleased to say the goal has been met! Exceeded a tad, even! I can’t ask for more!. Well, I could, but …

Yesterday the New York Times dropped the headline-bomb Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says. Here’s the part of the story that has received remarkably little attention, seems to me:

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Where is the outrage? I’ve looked and looked; the White House has not responded to this report yet, nor has The Creature tweeted about it. His themes today, btw, are “arguments” that the Obama Administration was riddled with corruption and that Obamacare should be ended now because it’s a disgrace. And this one:

It’s okay with Trump if the Taliban collects money from Russia for frying U.S. troops, though. No problem with the White House at all.

Now, there has been some outraged expressed by Democratic lawmakers, although I have mostly read about this in British newspapers. From the Guardian:

As the news broke it triggered a fierce response from top Democrats, especially those who have long pointed to what they say is Trump’s overly close relationship to Russia’s autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, said: “Trump was cozying up to Putin and inviting him to the G7 all while his administration reportedly knew Russia was trying to kill US troops in Afghanistan and derail peace talks with the Taliban.”

Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia and a professor of political science at Stanford University, said: “I hope the American people will be as outraged as I am over Trump’s complacency. After he knew about these Putin-ordered contracts to kill US soldiers, Trump invited Putin to the G7.”

Yep. Let’s invite Vlad to the G7. The bounty thing is no big deal to Trump.

Also, there’s been some outrage expressed on the left-leaning blogs (rightie blogs ain’t touchin’ it). Adam Silverman at Balloon Juice:

I want to be really, really, really, really clear about what Russia, via the GRU, has been doing with these bounties against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. It has been waging war against the US and our coalition partners, many of whom are our NATO allies, by proxy through Taliban backed or affiliated militia and irregular forces. In short, they have been waging a form of low intensity, irregular, and unconventional war against the US and our partners and allies in Afghanistan. US concept, doctrine, and law regarding how to respond to state directed cyberattacks and subverting influence operations undertaking by Russian military intelligence may not be adequate to formally state that those operations, which have been ongoing against the US and our allies and partners since at least 2014 are, in fact and in law, acts of war. But they are clear about what Russia’s GRU is doing in Afghanistan and what the GRU is doing in Afghanistan is waging war against the US and our allied coalition partners.

The President and the National Command Authority should have pushed back forcefully and hard as soon as this was brought to their attention. A démarche demanding the Russian government immediately desist should have been issued immediately. It should have delineated a very short window of time for Russia to stop its actions against US and coalitions forces, and if/when they didn’t comply, then the US response should have escalated. US Cyber Command, along with the cyber operations components of the CIA, should have been tasked with a swift and harsh response against Russian targets through the cyber domain if the diplomatic pushback failed. At the same time, US Special Operations Command should have been tasked with two overlapping missions if the diplomatic pushback failed. The first was to put SEALs, whose specialty is hunting, capturing, killing, and/or rescuing, into the Afghan theater with a very focused assignment: find the GRU personnel responsible for taking out the bounties and the Taliban affiliated militias and irregular forces who had accepted them, capture them if possible, and kill them if necessary. The second was to put small teams – Operational Detachments Alpha (ODAs) – of US Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, into the theater to conduct our own unconventional warfare operations against the Russian intelligence units and the Taliban aligned militias and irregulars they were partnering with. The Green Berets primary mission set is unconventional warfare. They are the best at it and should have been deployed, along with the SEALs, as soon as it became clear that responses through diplomatic channels had failed. This sequence of operations: diplomacy via a démarche and, if that failed, then a cyber response and two separate, but related special operations responses would create time and space for the development of plans and sequels to escalate as necessary. None of this has, of course, happened!

At the very least, these are charges that require a lot of investigation to be sure they are accurate.

And Vladimir Putin knows he can get away with anything as long as Trump is in the White House. As Trump’s re-election chances get iffier and iffier, I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin escalates his aggressions the remainder of this year.

What this also shows us is that Democrats just don’t do outrage as effectively as Republicans do outrage. Congressional Republicans kept the fake Benghazi! scandal going for four years, from 2012 to 2016. What will Democrats do?

Trump: Cornered Wolverine or Fainting Goat?

First — it’s been a while since I’ve done a fundraiser. This will be a very small one. My expenses for hosting The Mahablog are about to go up. (The site gets too much traffic to get away with the bargain basement hosting plans any more, which is a good thing, I guess, but ….). I want to raise enough money to pay for a year’s worth of hosting,which is less expensive than month to month but just a twitch more than I can afford to spend right now. Here is the GoFundMe link. And, of course, if you’re on the home page there’s a PayPal link at the top of the column on the right. Thanks for all support.

Trump did an interview with Sean Hannity — today, I think — that’s getting a lot of scrutiny. I didn’t see it, but the outtakes are fascinating. Here’s one part:

For the second time this week, President Donald Trump appeared almost resigned to the idea that former Vice President Joe Biden will beat him in November, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Biden “is going to be president because some people don’t love me.”

During a town hall in key swing state Wisconsin, Trump fell back on his well-worn attack lines against his Democratic opponent, painting Biden as too old and suffering from cognitive decline.

“Whenever he does talk, he can’t put two sentences together,” Trump exclaimed. “I don’t want to be nice or un-nice. The man can’t speak.”

At the same time, the president seemed to acknowledge current polling, which shows the ex-veep up by double digits nationally and leading in most battleground statesincluding Wisconsin, a must-win for Trump.

“And he is going to be president because some people don’t love me, maybe,” Trump said. “And all I’m doing is doing my job.”

Oh, so sad. Bring out the tiny violins. I’ve been thinking that Trump will probably become more reckless and dangerous as we get closer to election day — think cornered wolverine. But here he’s channeling his inner fainting goat. And when you think about it, he certainly does have a pattern of just giving up and changing the subject whenever the going gets hard, as he has been doing regarding the pandemic.

Of course. the “all I’m doing is doing my job” is a howler, because he never once has done his job, or has exhibited a hoo-haw about the job. He can’t even be bothered to read the security briefings, remember.

Indeed, yesterday Paul Waldman asked, “Why isn’t Trump trying to win?

The three most significant threats to Trump’s reelection are the pandemic, the country’s terrible economic situation, and the eagerness of Democrats to turn him out of office. In every case, the president has chosen not just to avoid taking actions that might help him win, but to actively worsen his situation.

Trump’s decisions are substantively appalling, resulting in more death, misery and political instability, which is what’s most objectionable about them. But even from the standpoint of his own self-interest, they’re almost incomprehensible. …

… Trump has spent a lifetime trying to avoid being seen as a loser. A little over four months from now, he could become one of the biggest losers in American history, only the fourth president in the last 100 years to fail in his reelection bid.

I assume we’re putting the ongoing unrest over police brutality under “the eagerness of Democrats to put him out of office.” Waldman then provides details of the many ways Trump is mismanaging the pandemic, the economy, and the election. For all of our worries about how Trump will pull some trick to steal the election, we may be overlooking two critical factors: One, Trump is dumb as a box of rocks. Two, Trump is dumb as a box of rocks.

For example, now the stable genius is suppressing his own votes. This is from the right-wing Washington Examiner.

President Trump’s extreme opposition to mail-in ballots is more likely hurting him and down-ballot Republicans than it is helping him.

Mounting evidence in voter registration data, a survey, and organizer anecdotes shows that instead of preventing the voting method from being a major factor in the November election, his stance is turning Republican voters off from using the method entirely, which could have the effect of depressing Republican votes.

I hope someone can get to him and explain this to him in a way that even he can understand so that Republicans can stop blocking vote by mail. Because it’s very possible the damn pandemic will be eating us alive in the fall.

And why isn’t Trump even trying to address the problems that are costing him in the polls? Did I mention the box of rocks thing? Ezra Klein writes that Trump campaigned in 2016 as a reality television star, and that’s all he knows.

Trump never changed his approach. He has continued to treat the presidency as a media spectacle, the work of governance as a dull distraction from the glitter of celebrity. He obsesses over cable news and Twitter conflict and neglects the job Americans hired him to do. And so now he does have a record: More than 120,000 dead from Covid-19 — and counting. An economy in shambles. Coronavirus cases in America exploding, even as they fall across the European Union.

“Governing has been so little on the mind of this administration from the very beginning that it’s created a bizarre, extraordinary situation,” says Yuval Levin, director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “The president thinks so much about what he’s doing in terms of the show he’s putting on that there’s been very little attention paid to how the government is functioning.”

Trump has spent the past three years and 158 days playing president on TV and social media. But he has not spent that time doing the job of the president. A strong economy that carried over from Barack Obama’s presidency hid Trump’s dereliction of duties. But then a crisis came, and presidential leadership was needed, and the American people saw there was no plan, and functionally no president.

A lot of American still haven’t seen it, of course, but I suspect many more will have caught on before November.

Instead, Trump is holding rallies maskless and settling old scores on social media. It is, to put it generously, a strategy against self-interest. And it suggests that what Trump did in 2016 was not a strategy at all: It was his sole way of being in the world, a mode that happened to match that moment, even as it’s failing him in this one.

“What does the dog do when it catches the car?” asks Levin. “Turns out the dog just keeps running and barking. I had this thought in the Lafayette Square madness. Trump puts on this show. And then he gets there and has nothing to do. He’s just standing there. His whole presidency is like that.”

Trump probably thinks he’s doing the job just fine, but then he’s never in his life had a job, so what does he know?

Anyway, there’s more to the Sean Hannity interview that’s disturbing. See up there where Trump says of Biden,

“Whenever he does talk, he can’t put two sentences together,” Trump exclaimed. “I don’t want to be nice or un-nice. The man can’t speak.”

Let’s look at how Trump answered one question.

SEAN HANNITY traveled with President DONALD TRUMP to Green Bay, Wis., for a Fox News town hall, and asked him this good question: “What’s at stake in this election as you compare and contrast, and what are your top priority items for a second term?” This is as standard a question as a sitting president can get — why should we give you another four years, and compare yourself to your opponent.

HERE IS HOW TRUMP RESPONDED: “Well, one of the things that will be really great, you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It’s a very important meaning. I never did this before — I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington I think 17 times, all of the sudden, I’m the president of the United States. You know the story, I’m riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing.

“I WAS FROM MANHATTAN, from New York. Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like you know an idiot like Bolton, all he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to kill people.”

I have a vision of a future academic book on the Trump Administration. “Box of rocks, dumb as” will be one of the index entries.

See also another Paul Waldman column, Trump’s new reelection strategy reveals his contempt for his voters.

Very basically, what Waldman says here is that Trump’s re-election strategy amounts to squeezing enough voter enthusiasm out of his shrinking base so that it overcomes the less-than-roaring support for Joe Biden. That’s assuming enough of his shrinking base survives, of course, and that they can get to polls in November, since he doesn’t want them to have vote by mail.

Trump advisers and Republicans are resisting another big economic rescue, in part because they worry that extending supplemental unemployment benefits could discourage people from returning to work.

That’s driven by ideology. But it’s also about creating the illusion that we’re roaring back — a deception effort that’s central to Trump’s reelection — and more financial assistance might disrupt that illusion.

Never mind that if cases keep spiking, that will slow the economic recovery, meaning more people will badly need financial help. Trump is betting it all on coronavirus denial, and his voters are along for the ride.

My sense of things is that Trump voters are going to have to feel a whole lot more hurt before they realize they need to rethink things. But the way things are going, a whole lot more hurt is surely at hand.

Barr Laid Bare

Bill Barrs’ recent machinations have been so outrageous it seems news media are having a hard time covering them all. I’m just trying to keep track.

Let’s see — there’s the scandal of interfering in Roger Stone’s sentencing because Stone is a friend of Trump. There’s the scandal of the attempt to drop the Michael Flynn charges, which may succeed although I don’t think it’s over yet. There’s the firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. That’s just what we’ve been looking at this week. Before that there was his involvement in the Bible stunt, and lying about the Mueller Report, and a bunch of other stuff.

David Frum writes that what is most remarkable about the Barr/Trump corruptions is that there is no cover up. It’s all happening in plain view. Which makes one wonder what might be going on that isn’t in plain view. As we’ve seen so many times in the past, the cover-up often turns out to be a bigger scandal than the original crime. There may be an advantage, Frum suggests, in eliminating the cover-up and keeping everything out in the open.

We all expect scandals to be clandestine. If actions are flagrant, how can they be scandalous? Yet, again and again, Trump has announced scandalous misconduct on TV, as when the president told NBC’s Lester Holt that of course he fired James Comey to shut down the Russia investigation, or boasted to a Tulsa rally crowd that he slowed coronavirus testing to reduce the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. The normal mind tends to think: People don’t casually confess to serious wrongdoing. Trump just casually confessed. So the thing he confessed must not be seriously wrong, or it must not have actually happened.

I also recommend “It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible by Sean Illing at Vox. Illing interviews David Rohde, a New Yorker editor who wrote a profile of Barr for the January issue. Here’s a bit of the Vox interview:

David Rohde: I think the most important thing to understand is that he has one of the most extreme views of how powerful an American president should be.

Sean Illing: What does that mean?

David Rohde: It means that he does not believe that we should have three co-equal branches of government. He believes the president should be more powerful than Congress and the courts. In his mind, that’s the only thing that can keep the country safe when it is threatened by war, natural disaster, or economic collapse. He believes that is what the founders intended. …

… In fact, I just spoke to someone who knows him well, who works closely with him, and he told me that Barr is fully committed, that he stands by every action he’s taken in this administration, from clearing Lafayette Park with tear gas to trying to fire the US attorney in Manhattan this weekend. And this person said that Barr is doing these actions because he himself believes in empowering the presidency. It is not because he’s being pressured or bullied by Trump.

This makes Barr the most dangerous sort of cancer on the administration. He is not doing what he is doing for political gain or to take money under the table; he’s doing it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

Just because much is out in the open doesn’t mean there isn’t much that is hidden. For example, Josh Marshall wrote on Monday,

Just to refresh our memories, in Bill Barr’s original announcement he said that Geoff Berman was resigning, that he would be replaced on an acting basis by the US Attorney in New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, and that Carpenito would run both offices until Berman’s replacement, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, was confirmed.

It now seems that Barr may not have leveled with all the folks involved.

I’ve learned that on Saturday morning Carpenito held a conference call with the entire staff of the New Jersey US Attorneys office and told them the first he heard of the whole thing was on Friday afternoon. Barr called Friday afternoon and asked him to step in to run the office in Manhattan on a temporary basis. Barr told Carpenito and Carpenito said he believed that Berman had already resigned or was in the process of resigning. In other words, he was told that Berman was leaving on his own volition and he agreed to take over on that basis. He was shocked to learn later in the evening that Berman hadn’t resigned at all and was refusing to do so.

On Saturday afternoon Barr upped the ante and claimed that Trump had fired Berman. A short time later Trump told reporters he wasn’t involved. So Barr had lied again. Or perhaps Trump was lying. Either way, Barr never produced a letter over Trump’s signature firing Berman, which he certainly would have if one existed. But in that follow up Barr did drop the Carpenito takeover idea and agreed to have Strauss succeed Berman.

It’s not clear to me and it may not have been in the conference call what Carpenito would have told Barr if he’d known that Berman wasn’t going voluntarily or in fact hadn’t resigned at all. But he seems to have been clear with staff that Berman’s late Friday night press release had changed the equation for him considerably.

We still don’t know why Barr picked Carpenito or, more importantly, what mess Barr was trying to make go away by trying to axe Berman in the first place.

Nancy LeTourneau makes an argument that Berman was fired because he was closing in on evidence corroborating what we all think happened with Trump and Rudy Giuliani regarding Ukraine.

Yesterday’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee was about the Roger Stone case.

A Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted Roger Stone says that he and other career prosecutors “were told that we could be fired,” if they resisted political pressure to lower their recommended sentence for the longtime adviser to President Donald Trump.

Aaron Zelinsky, a lead prosecutor on the Stone case, shared new details Wednesday on efforts by his superiors to convince him and his colleagues to give Stone “a break” after the self-styled dirty trickster was convicted in November for perjury, obstruction of Congress, and witness tampering. “What I heard repeatedly was that Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky testified. …Attorney General William Barr has acknowledged that he personally intervened in the Stone case, which Trump has denounced.

And see Aaron Blake, 5 takeaways from the scathing testimony about William Barr’s Justice Department.

Barbara McQuade and Joyce Vance have teamed up to write Bill Barr Is Eroding the Rule of Law. Don’t Let Him Get Away With It at New York magazine.

There is no future in this Department of Justice, the one that is led by Bill Barr. He has destroyed the public’s ability to have faith in the integrity of prosecutions. Typically, conversations about ethical conduct involving DOJ employees are about avoiding the appearance of impropriety, not about actual impropriety. DOJ’s ethics rules caution prosecutors to take great concern with appearances because they can affect the public’s confidence in the institution. But now, in the starkest terms possible, we are talking about actual impropriety at DOJ. We are talking about a president who uses DOJ as a political tool, an attorney general who enables it, and a department that tolerates it.

We like to think others will come forward to talk about what they have seen and what they know. But even if these whistleblowers stand alone, the rest of the country must see this for what it is, a violation of the principle that no one is above the law. Although many suggest the only option we have is to wait until November, this crisis is so significant that despite the political obstacles, it is time to bring this lawless administration to account. With sufficient public pressure, Barr could be forced to resign, just as Gonzales was.

I believe they are concerned.

Well, This Is Bleeped

Is this what the fall of the Roman Empire was like, except with wifi? Every time I look at the news, everything seems to be spiraling out of control.

The pandemic? The New York Times has a headline, Cases in the U.S. Grow to Their Highest Levels Since April. The curve for the nation is going up, never mind not flattening.

More than 35,000 new coronavirus cases were identified across the United States on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database, the highest single-day total since late April and the third-highest total of any day of the pandemic.

As the United States continues to reopen its economy, case numbers are rising in more than 20 states, mostly in the South and West. Florida on Wednesday reported a new daily high of 5,508 cases. Texas reported more than 5,000 cases on Tuesday, its largest single-day total yet. Arizona added more than 3,600 cases, also a record. And in Washington State, where case numbers are again trending upward, the governor said residents would have to start wearing masks in public.

The issue is not that there’s more testing; it’s that there are a higher percentage of positive results from those being tested. It’s also more hospitalizations in many areas.

Here in Missouri there is an increase in cases, but so far not an increase in hospitalizations, which has led the absolutely worthless Governor Mike Parsons to declare the economy was going to be ALL THE WAY OPEN and there would be NO GOING BACK. So all the restrictions are now lifted, just as cases are going up. I’ve felt relatively safe here until recently; now, not so much.

Just about everyone in the county but me and some elderly ladies of my acquaintance have stopped wearing masks or respecting social distancing. Last week I took a chance and got my first haircut since early March, and there was not a mask to be seen other than mine in the salon. I probably won’t get another haircut for awhile. There haven’t been many cases in the county until recently, but now there’s an outbreak at a state prison not three miles from where I am right now. I never completely left shelter in place mode, and now I’m definitely staying in it.

And it appears that, yeah, the White House is ending federal funding for testing sites. What will happen to money appropriated by Congress and not spent I do not know, as the Senate isn’t willing to hold Trump to account.

The European Union may ban travel from the U.S. If they don’t do it now, they may do it later, as a lot of health experts are warning that fall, when flu season starts, will be brutal. See also New York, New Jersey and Connecticut impose 14-day quarantine on travelers from coronavirus hotspot states.

The Dow did another 700 + nosedive today on news of the increase in coronavirus cases.

An appeals court has ordered the Michael Flynn case be dropped. It was a three-judge panel; the decision split two to one. The judge writing the majority opinion, Neomi Jehangir Rao, is a Trump appointee. The dissenter is an Obama appointee, Robert Wilkins.

Today the Senate confirmed Trump’s 200th judicial nominee.

The police brutality protests, which have been quite successful so far, seem to have entered a messier phase also. A state senator, a Democrat, was attacked in Madison; it’s not clear why. The statue toppling thing really needs to slow down. Confederates, yeah. The particular statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History needs to go, although that one is being moved by the museum. Christopher Columbus, okay. I don’t mind them ripping down Andy Jackson near the White House, if they ever manage to do it. But now it seems people are tearing down statues just to tear down statues. Along with the statue of Ulysses Grant in California, some people in Madison destroyed the statue of a local Union hero who had been a strong abolitionist. This kind of thing threatens to violate the Bigger Asshole rule (“Effective demonstrations are those that make them look like bigger assholes than us.”)  and could hurt the positive public support the demonstrations have enjoyed so far.

And boy howdy, is the Trump Administration in meltdown mode.That’s a positive thing, of course. But it might get more dangerous now.

And I haven’t even gotten into the continuing saga of whatever Bill Barr is up to, but that will have to wait for tomorrow.

Let’s Remember That Teddy Roosevelt Was One of the Founders of American Progressivism

The statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History has to go, yes. The statue itself, which shows TR on horseback with, weirdly, an African American man and a Native American walking subserviently at his side, smacks of racism. Even the American Museum of Natural History agrees with that. It was the museum itself that requested the statue be removed.

But this morning I noticed an article at The Intercept titled “As Teddy Roosevelt’s Statue Falls, Let’s Remember How Truly Dark His History Was.” And while the article itself is based, sort of, on facts, it amounts to cherry picking to make TR a forerunner of the Third Reich. Seriously. The article links TR to Hitler.

Yes, TR had backward ideas about race. During his lifetime there may have been ten white men on the planet who didn’t have backward ideas about race, but I’m probably being generous. Yes, TR said some really ignorant things about Native Americans. But he was also one of — and I would argue the principal — founders of American Progressivism. His ideas profoundly shaped the early Progressive movement in the U.S. and had a big influence on his distant counsin, Franklin, who is often idealized today but who was not perfect, either.

So how do we reconcile this?

First, I think we must always resist the urge to turn historical figures into archetypes of good or evil. They were human beings, with virtues and flaws, stuck in the conformities of whatever time period they were born into. As we are, also. We can have no idea what we of our time might be doing or thinking now that our distant descendents will look at with horror. But there must be something. There always is.

Last Sunday I gave a Zoom talk to some zennies on the subject of Zen history that touched on history in general. (You can see it on YouTube, although I don’t necessarily recommend it. I’m not a speaker and stumbled around a lot. Eventually I’ll post the text of the talk somewhere. The talk begins about 30 minutes in, I’m told.)

One of my themes is that it’s important to be honest about history, because history never really goes away. The way any group, such as a nation, understands its history is inextricably woven into how the group understands its present and itself. Our history is a big part of our group identity. For this reason it’s important to get history right, or it can screw up the present.

One of the reasons I’m all in favor of getting rid of Confederate monuments, especially those that don’t mark the place of any real historical event, is that they were erected as part of an effort to whitewash and romanticize what the Confederacy was about. This is from the prepared talk:

Right now in the United States we’re having a struggle over relatively recent history. The American Civil War ended 155 years ago, not in 437 BC, and there are vast archives of records documenting exactly what happened. Yet we can’t agree on how that history is told.

In spite of all the memes on social media that complain about people living in the past, the truth is that even though the war is long over, the history of it is very much part of the collective meta-box Americans live in. Much of the standard history of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era that followed, and the way that history was taught in American schools for more than a century, was crafted by southern scholars who were Confederate apologists.  And these apologists did a bang-up job of  indoctrinating generations of American students into a whitewashed and highly romanticized perspective of that part of our history. In other words, thanks to the way this part of our story is told, we have avoided confronting and atoning for slavery all these years.

The facts of this history cannot be disputed. The people who pushed the South into secession were very open in their letters, speeches, and official documents that their primary objective was to maintain a white supremacist culture and the institution of slavery. That’s what they were all about. There is copious documentation for this. Yet that plain fact was not being taught in schools when I was a student, and I don’t know how much it’s being taught now.

So in much of American popular culture, which is the place where we tell our stories about who we think we are and what we think America should be, the Confederacy was about dashing and noble gentlemen warriors fighting for some fuzzy idea of states’ rights or even liberty, not about wealthy slave owners desperate to maintain their wealth and status as lords of a system that was worse than feudalism.

Newer generations of academic historians to this day are working to counter the pro-Confederate romanticism  still embedded in American history textbooks and popular literature to tell a more honest story of the Civil War that doesn’t try to pretend it wasn’t about slavery. But I think that must be done before the nation can finally move on and live up to its own ideals of justice and equality. Until we can tell our story of our past correctly, we’re not going to get the present and future right, either.

See also my old post St. Louis, History, and Confederate Monuments that discusses Confederate monuments as totems of white supremacy, not to mention junk history.

But now we’re dealing with Theodore Roosevelt, who was born in 1858 and was therefore too young to have served in the Civil War, although he would have been a Union man, no question. I agree with this passage by the editorial board of the New York Daily News. 

Roosevelt was a bold, brilliant, complicated man. Even if we try to reduce his entire legacy into a racial one, it isn’t simple. He believed blacks were inferior to whites, whom he dubbed “the forward race.” He was painfully cautious on civil rights. He was also the first president to invite an African-American to dine at the White House, a decision that met with furious blowback.

But to define a man born in 1858 solely by how many drops of racism were in his blood is to fall prey to arrogant myopia. TR was the father of the conservation movement; as president, he crucially set aside 230 million acres of public land. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. He busted trusts. He built the Panama Canal.

A great deal of TR’s ideas about economic policy would line up with what progressives want today. He wanted to use the power of government to control the predatory nature of capitalism and level playing fields.

But as a Harvard-educated scion of old Dutch stock, Roosevelt had no illusions about his own class either. He saw how the industrialists and financiers of the Gilded Age had corrupted American politics; purchased presidents and Congresses, and plundered the country’s natural resources. Even worse, as far as Roosevelt was concerned, was the way the robber barons sought to perpetuate their rule–through complex combinations of trusts and monopolies, and the creation of an American aristocracy.

Roosevelt believed in opportunity. It angered him to see the sons of coal miners, hauled from school to work in the breakers, losing a chance to make something of themselves while the sons of the corrupters on Park Ave. bought yachts the size of cruisers, or hung diamond collars on their dogs.

TR would have absolutely hated the Trumps with a white-hot passion. If he were with us now he’d be rounding up the Rough Riders to turn the bounders out of the White House.

Let us recall that TR also said this:

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.  T. Roosevelt, May 1918

I bring up TR’s New Nationalism speech from time to time, because there is so much in it that we still need to address. It ought to be taught in school. It’s still radical enough that a few years ago Glenn Beck was waving it around and calling TR a socialist.

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.

Really, just read the whole thing, if you never have.

Where TR’s record is messier is in foreign policy. But that record is sometimes made out to be worse than it was. For some reason, TR is mis-remembered in popular culture as being a promotor of American expansion and colonialism, but that is not accurate. For some reason, he gets associated with the old Manifest Destiny doctrine that was popular in the earlier Jacksonian Age, but that is not accurate, either.

That doesn’t mean his alternative ideas were perfect. He rejected Manifest Destiny in favor of expanding the Monroe Doctrine, making the U.S. the police who enforced U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. Over time we’ve seen that U.S. interference in South American politics and governments seriously did not turn out well.

TR gets blamed for a lot of things that happened in William McKinley’s first term, which TR was not part of. TR was not involved in the Treaty of Paris, which expanded U.S. territory to include Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and made Cuba a protectorate. The Philippines did not want to be a U.S. territory, an issue that led to the disgraceful and bloody Philippine-U.S. War. The worst part of this occurred while TR was governor of New York, not president. TR became president in September 1901 after McKinley’s assasination. TR ended the conflict with a cease-fire and general amnesty in July 1902. TR did want to increase the prestige and influence of the U.S. in the world, but he wasn’t really into colonial expansion. (Yes, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish-American war; I assume he believed, as many did at the time, that Spain blew up the Maine.)

TR got the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War. I touched on that briefly in The Circle of the Way. The Japanese requested that TR mediate the neogitiations, which says something his reputation in the world at the time.

Anyway, in the end, there was some good, there was some bad. He was a complicated man. He was a man of his times. The U.S. we live in now would be a vastly different — and worse off, IMO — place today if TR had never lived. Yes, there is a lot about him that hasn’t aged well, so to speak, but he’s still regarded as one of the top five presidents in most of the presidential rankings list.

As he said himself, we owe it to him to tell the truth, and only the truth. He doesn’t deserve to be held up as an archetype of good. He doesn’t deserve some screed that makes him out to be the forerunner of Hitler, either.

TR would have hated Hitler, too, I’m sure.

If We Stop Doing Colonoscopies There Would Be No Colon Cancer!

Now there is concern that Trump was serious when he claimed he had ordered a slowdown of testing for Covid-19. It wasn’t just some shit he was saying in between his bizarre descriptions of of rape/homicides by strange dark men climbing through windows. (For a picture of the true unhinged weirdness of the Saturday rally speech, do see Jeff Sharlet, “’You Know What to Do’: Decoding the Grotesque Symbolism of Trump’s Tulsa Rally.”)

White House spokespeople are saying the remark was a “joke” or “tongue in cheek,” but I saw that part of the video, and there was no indication Trump was joking. If he was, possibly someone should tell him not to joke because he doesn’t really understand the humor thing.

Today Democrats said that money appropriated for Covid-19 testing hasn’t been spent. The Hill:

The Trump administration has yet to distribute nearly $14 billion intended to help state and local governments improve coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to two top Democrats.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Health Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the administration needs to “immediately” distribute the funding.

Congress in April provided more than $25 billion to increase testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as $2 billion to provide free COVID-19 testing for the uninsured by paying providers’ claims for tests and other services associated with getting a test, like an office or emergency room visit.

But according to Schumer and Murray, the administration has no plans for how to distribute more than $8 billion out of the $25 billion, leaving communities without needed resources.

When asked if he had really slowed down testing, Trump did not give a straight answer. This is weird, since he doesn’t hesitate to lie about anything else.

So there’s that. He couldn’t just say no, I didn’t order less testing. That means he did, and he’s not sure why people think that’s a problem.

See also Andrew Solender at Forbes, “Trump Says U.S. Has Done ‘Too Good A Job’ At Coronavirus Testing As Democrats Allege Billions In Unspent Testing Funds.”

Bonus Feature: See Greg Sargent, “Trump’s sparse rally crowd enraged him. His advisers just revealed why.”

Don’t look now, but President Trump may finally be realizing, with creeping dread, that there may be limits to his magical lying and reality-bending powers. He may be grasping that his capacity to mesmerize his supporters into disbelieving what their own eyes and ears are telling them is not absolute after all.

Heh.