The Trump Amateur Hour

In the New York Times, Jim Tankersley asks, Does Trump Want to Save His Economy?

The United States just suffered its worst economic quarter in nearly 75 years. Its recovery from the depths of a pandemic-induced recession has stalled, as coronavirus deaths rise again across the country. President Trump has what appears to be one final chance to cut a deal with Congress to ensure hard-hit workers and businesses do not collapse before the November election.

He has shown little interest in taking it.

Rather than push for a comprehensive plan that could win support from both Democrats and Republicans, Mr. Trump has instead embraced big-ticket items that Senate Republicans did not want and that would do little to help millions of struggling workers and businesses.

That included a payroll tax cut and an expanded tax break for business lunches, along with $1.75 billion to rebuild the F.B.I.’s headquarters in Washington. He has derided efforts to find middle ground with Democratic leaders on a broad economic rescue package, declaring on Wednesday that “we really don’t care” about several possible parts of it.

And so on. To answer the question, I suspect Trump wants passionately to fix “his” economy. But it was never “his” economy; he has just been coasting on Barack Obama’s economy. Nothing Trump has done, including the massive tax cuts, have been particularly advantageous to the economy or changed any trajectories for the better. And now that the pandemic has tanked the economy, Trump has no idea what to do to fix the economy. He really doesn’t. He has no idea how any of this stuff works. It’s pointless to pretend otherwise.

Nothing will “work” as long as the pandemic is out of control. There’s a fascinating piece at Vanity Fair that I recommend. It’s not behind a firewall. In How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air,” Katherine Eban writes that Kushner and some of his privileged trust fund buddies spent March and April putting together a national testing strategy.

Inside the White House, over much of March and early April, Kushner’s handpicked group of young business associates, which included a former college roommate, teamed up with several top experts from the diagnostic-testing industry. Together, they hammered out the outline of a national testing strategy. The group—working night and day, using the encrypted platform WhatsApp—emerged with a detailed plan obtained by Vanity Fair.

Rather than have states fight each other for scarce diagnostic tests and limited lab capacity, the plan would have set up a system of national oversight and coordination to surge supplies, allocate test kits, lift regulatory and contractual roadblocks, and establish a widespread virus surveillance system by the fall, to help pinpoint subsequent outbreaks.

This was all being done without coordination with the government officials tasked with taking care of testing, and it’s likely Kushner’s merry band of entrepreneurs got in the way more than they helped. Even so, they did come up with a plan. But the plan was never announced. In the words of one participant, it went “poof into thin air.”

By early April, some who worked on the plan were given the strong impression that it would soon be shared with President Trump and announced by the White House. The plan, though imperfect, was a starting point. Simply working together as a nation on it “would have put us in a fundamentally different place,” said the participant.

But the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House. Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity. Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was reportedly sharing models with senior staff that optimistically—and erroneously, it would turn out—predicted the virus would soon fade away.

Against that background, the prospect of launching a large-scale national plan was losing favor, said one public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force.

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert. [emphasis added]

So, instead, Trump dumped the responsibility for testing onto the states. You know the rest of the story.  Seriously, none of these geniuses apparently grasped that viruses spread. Dr. Anthony Fauci testified to Congress this morning:

The Trump administration’s decision to leave coronavirus shutdown decisions to the states created a patchwork of policies that effectively only imposed restrictions on about half of the country, NIH infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci told a House hearing on Friday.

There’s also a long bit in the Vanity Fair article about a March requisition from the White House for 3.5 million tests from the United Arab Emirates, which was invoiced at $52 million. The order didn’t go through the usual government purchasing channels, so the invoice cannot be paid. Plus the tests were all contaminated, possibly because they were shipped without being refrigerated. Amateur hour all around.

We don’t know that Jared Kushner had anything to do with ordering the tests from the UAE, but this kind of cowboy “the hell with procedure” stuff is his standard modus operandi. I do wonder if these were the “millions of tests” that Mike Pence kept promising last March that never arrived anywhere.

Yesterday the White House announced a new initiative to address the pandemic. It’s called the “embers strategy.” Axios:

The Trump administration is sending increased personal protective equipment, coronavirus test kits and top health officials like Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx to coronavirus hotspots across the U.S. as part of a campaign called the “Embers Strategy,” White House officials tell Axios. …

… Public health surrogates will appear on local and regional television and radio to educate the public on mitigation tactics, including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when ill.

*They will focus on areas reporting positive rates between 5% and 10% to prevent them from slipping into a “hot zone” category of above 10% positive rates.

*The Trump administration is expecting to land around 200 media segments over the next two weeks, as Axios reported on Sunday.

Seriously? That’s the plan? This is supposed to reassure people that Trump is “refocused” on the pandemic, the article says. Seriously?

Going back to the Vanity Fair article, although the U.S. is testing more that it was, that’s still not enough, especially when results take too long.

Though President Trump likes to trumpet America’s sheer number of tests, that metric does not account for the speed of results or the response to them, said Dr. June-Ho Kim, a public health researcher at Ariadne Labs, a collaboration between Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who leads a team studying outlier countries with successful COVID-19 responses. “If you’re pedaling really hard and not going anywhere, it’s all for naught.”

At WaPo, Greg Sargent discusses the “embers” analogy.

The imagery of embers may seem unthreatening and even comforting. Indeed, that’s almost certainly the point — to create the impression that what remains of the coronavirus is a gentle glow here and there that you associate with your childhood camping trips.

Indeed, it would be surprising if this language hadn’t been poll-tested up the wazoo. The White House has tentatively been experimenting with this embers language for some time: Trump tweeted in June that our economy was vaulting back, and that any coronavirus “embers” would be “put out as necessary.”

And even earlier than that, Vice President Pence approvingly told governors that Trump has been describing what remained of the virus as “embers,” which was supposed to be persuasive and reassuring to them.

Since then, of course, the coronavirus has once again surged in many states across the country, especially in places such as Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, which will be crucial to Trump’s reelection hopes. At the same time, Trump continues to urge a rapid reopening.

In other words, the analogy is more about reassuring people that the pandemic is being taken care of rather than providing an accurate picture of the mess we’re in, or coming up with a plan for how to get out of it. Because they don’t know how to get out of it.

And while Trump wants to delay the election because of the pandemic, sending the kids back to school will work out just fine, they tell us. We are so screwed.

Going back to the economy — the economy is screwed for reasons that are bigger than Trump, of course. A big chunk of the Republican Party in Congress won’t do anything to save the economy because all of the fixes go against their beloved ideology.

Paul Krugman:

Trump, his officials and their allies in the Senate have been totally committed to the idea that the U.S. economy will experience a stunningly rapid recovery despite the wave of new infections and deaths. They bought into that view so completely that they seem incapable of taking on board the overwhelming evidence that it isn’t happening.

Just a few days ago Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economist, insisted that a so-called V-shaped recovery was still on track and that “unemployment claims and continuing claims are falling rapidly.” In fact, both are rising.

But because the Trump team insisted that a roaring recovery was coming, and refused to notice that it wasn’t happening, we’ve now stumbled into a completely gratuitous economic crisis.

Kudlow, Trump’s chief economic advisor, is an amateur. He somehow became known as an economist even though he has no graduate degree in economics and is always wrong. “He’s a die-hard supply-sider for whom corporate tax cuts are the highest goal,” it says here.  See also “A Used-Car Salesman, Both in Demeanor and Honesty”: Wall Street Isn’t Sold on Larry Kudlow’s Economic Delusions by William Cohan.

See also the New York Times editorial board, Mitch McConnell Could Rescue Millions. What Is He Waiting For? Bascially, they’re waiting for reality to reflect their ideology. As long as it doesn’t, they cannot act. They don’t know what to do.

Today, A Moment in Time

I’ve been watching John Lewis’s memorial service. It was very moving. There were also many calls to not let up the struggle. President Obama spoke of “those in power” who are trying to undermine voting rights. And he called for ending the filibuster, which will pretty much ensure that will happen if Dems retake the Senate.

The New York Times published an op ed by John Lewis that he had given them before he died, asking that it be published on the day of his funeral. Among other things, he said,

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Three presidents were at the service, plus a statement from Jimmy Carter was read. The other living POTUS was neither there nor welcome. The absence was a huge subtext of the day. Trump is so far outside American norms and tradition that he would not be there, could not be there, would have been utterly out of place there.

Meanwhile, the Great Orange Pestilence must be terrifed by his internal polls.

This nation has never delayed a presidential election. Note that we didn’t delay the presidential election during the bleeping Civil War. On election day 1864, General Sherman’s troops were occupying Atlanta, and Sherman was considering marching to Savannah. General Grant was headquartered at City Point, Virginia, while his troops beseiged Petersburg and hacked away at Lee’s supply lines. There were other generals and other troops deployed in several hot spots in several states. Lincoln sincerely believed he could lose, because people were exhausted with the war. But there was no talk of delaying the election.

I understand that, so far, no Republican has seconded the suggestion. Of course Trump does not have the power to delay the election. Congress might, but I don’t see that happening.

And Hermain Cain, who attended Trump’s June 19 Tulsa rally without a mask, is dead of covid-19.

Oh, and the economy suffered its biggest one-quarter drop in 70 years and possibly ever.

The U.S. economy shrank 9.5 percent from April through June, the largest quarterly decline since the government began publishing data 70 years ago, and the latest, sobering reflection of the pandemic’s economic devastation.

The second quarter report on gross domestic product covers some of the economy’s worst weeks in living memory, when commercial activity ground to a halt, millions of Americans lost their jobs and the nation went into lockdown. Yet economists say the data should also serve as a cautionary tale for what is at stake if the recovery slips away, especially as rising coronavirus cases in some states have forced businesses to close once again.

And the Senate can’t get its act together on a relief package.

I keep thinking of the old abolitionist hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation.” I do feel that we’re poised between a great darkness and a great light right now.

Once to every man and nation,
comes the moment to decide,
in the strife of truth with falsehood,
for the good or evil side;
some great cause, some great decision,
offering each the bloom or blight,
and the choice goes by forever,
‘twixt that darkness and that light.

(The fifth line is usually read as “Some great cause, God’s new messiah,” but some people don’t like that line. The lyrics are taken from a much longer poem by James Russell Lowell called “The Present Crisis.” It’s sung to a Welsh tune, of course.)


What Fresh Excrement Is This?

The Creature tweeted today:

AFFH is the 2015 Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule, which President Obama implemented to fight housing discrimination.

The rule required local governments receiving federal housing funds to create plans that would combat housing discrimination, which advocates said helped strengthen the 1968 Fair Housing Act, it says here.  The rule “required local governments to prove that federal subsidies for housing projects would not go to developments with zoning laws or other regulations that are effectively discriminatory to minorities, particularly Black and Hispanic Americans,” it says here.

So AFFH not really about building low-income housing in suburbs, but whatever. The Creature probably thinks this will help him win back the suburban vote he has seriously been losing. Keep the lily whiteness in those lily white suburbs! And it would have worked for him in the 1970s. Whether it will move any needles now seems farfetched to me.

Trump is replacng AFFH with what he calls “opportunity zones,” which provides discounts on capital gains taxes for investors sending money into one of over 8,000 designated areas, it says here.

According to the New York Times, Trump’s opportunity zones were enacted as part of his signature tax cuts in 2017. The Times reported in November 2019 that while some money went to more depressed areas in Pennsylvania and Alabama, the lion’s share has appeared in rapidly-gentrifying cities like Atlanta, Houston and Miami.

And let us not forget …

In 1973, the Justice Department filed a civil rights case against Trump’s company, accusing him of violating the Fair Housing Act by not renting to Black tenants. The case was settled in 1975, with Trump signing an agreement that his company would not discriminate against future tenants or homebuyers, as well as place ads informing minorities of their rights to obtain housing at his properties. At the time, Trump said the settlement did not mean he admitted to any wrongdoing, while the DOJ celebrated it as “one of the most far-reaching” agreements it had negotiated.

Big Daddy Fred Trump made most of his fortune by building shoddy housing with federal subsidies and cheating on his taxes.

Anyway, it appears that a program intended primarily to discourage housing discrimination has been gutted and replaced with one that funnels money to places that don’t need it. Grand.

Here’s another outrage — A small federal agency focused on preventing industrial disasters is on life support. Trump wants it gone. The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is without enough voting members, and its investigations are stuck in limbo.

That agency, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, investigates accidents and makes recommendations — but it doesn’t regulate the industry. Since 1998, it has looked into some of the nation’s biggest industrial disasters, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, which killed 11 workers and dumped an estimated 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico; and the 2005 explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, that killed 15 workers and injured 180. The board’s work has led to changes in industry practices from Texas to Kansas and laws in states from Mississippi to Connecticut.

It’s likely, however, that when the investigation into the AB Specialty Silicones explosion wraps up, the board will not be able to meet the quorum needed to vet and approve investigators’ findings and recommendations. Since May 2, it has been operating with only one voting member out of a possible five — one vote short of a quorum. It’s been effectively disabled.

The White House hasn’t announced plans to fill the board’s four vacant seats. In fact, President Donald Trump has been trying to do the opposite, pushing to eliminate the board in each of his annual budget proposals — though he hasn’t persuaded Congress to defund it.

Trump has been rolling back workplace safety rules for the past three years. As the daughter and granddaughter of mine workers, this is chilling to me. I’m sure he’s got it in his head that killing regulations is good for business, but in the long run it really isn’t. And he’s getting people killed. See Workplace Fatalities Rising Under Trump OSHA as Enforcement Declines.

Trump hates regulations so much that he’s been cutting regulations that industries don’t want cut. This is from a year ago:

In the latest instance, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a proposal Thursday to eliminate mandates paring methane leaks from oil wells — despite major oil companies insisting they don’t want the relief.

Similarly, automakers and the nation’s top business lobbying group are begging the White House to alter course in its plans to weaken fuel efficiency standards and pick a fight with California. And power-plant operators say an administration effort to undermine requirements for mercury pollution controls may keep them from recouping the cost of that equipment.

The willingness to defy traditional business interests extends beyond environmental regulation. Most notably, Trump has escalated a trade conflict with China, even as manufacturers and retailers complain it will increase costs and retard growth in the U.S. And some of Trump’s efforts to change immigration policy have been condemned by chief executives from Apple Inc., AT&T Inc., Coca-Cola Co., and dozens of other businesses who say they could disrupt their operations.

Trump’s zeal to deregulate — even when the regulated industries advise against it — runs counter to the pro-business ethos of previous Republican presidents, whose policies may have been more aligned with commercial priorities. Yet the approach underscores Trump’s populist streak and is another reminder this “is not a typical Republican administration,” said GOP energy strategist Mike McKenna.

“What many fail to grasp — and what may be the most important characteristic of this administration — is that it is largely indifferent to arguments driven solely by commercial interests,” McKenna said. “They believe that consumers, workers, citizens are the most important reference points in decisions.”

None of this is helping consumers and workers, either.

Also, too: Trump’s crackdown sputters as ‘phased withdrawal’ from Portland begins.

Bill Barr versus the Constitution

One of Bill Barr’s biggest critics is Donald Ayer, who was U.S. Deputy Attorney General under George H. W. Bush. In June 2019, Ayer published an article in The Atlantic that explained how Barr sees his role as attorney general and his relationship with Donald Trump. Here is the meat of it:

For many decades, Barr has had a vision of the president as possessing nearly unchecked powers. That vision is reflected in many OLC opinions, and in arguments advanced and positions taken since the 1970s. But the most compelling source for present purposes is Barr’s memorandum submitted just a year ago. Notable near its beginning is his statement that he was “in the dark about many facts,” followed immediately and repeatedly by vehement assertions that “Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived,” and if accepted “would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and … do lasting damage to the Presidency.”

As this introduction suggested, Barr’s memo rested not on facts, but on a much more sweeping claim that as a matter of law, the obstruction-of-justice statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1512, cannot possibly apply to any conduct by the president that is arguably at issue. In a five-page section, Barr’s memo advanced arguments based on interpreting the words of the statute. Then in a much longer second section, he got to the meat of the matter. He claimed that, regardless of whether the statute is correctly understood to have been intended to apply to actions by the president to interfere with an investigation of himself—as the Mueller report concluded it was—it would be an unconstitutional infringement on the president’s Article II powers to apply that law to the president.

The vehemence of Barr’s memo is breathtaking and the italics are all his: “Constitutionally, it is wrong to conceive of the President as simply the highest officer within the Executive branch hierarchy. He alone is the Executive branch. As such he is the sole repository of all Executive powers conferred by the Constitution.”

Thus, “the Constitution vests all Federal law enforcement power, and hence prosecutorial discretion, in the President.” That authority is “necessarily all-encompassing,” and there can be “no limit on the President’s authority to act [even] on matters which concern him or his own conduct.” Because it would infringe upon the total and utterly unchecked discretion that Barr believes Article II confers on the president, “Congress could not make it a crime for the President to exercise supervisory authority over cases in which his own conduct might be at issue.” Indeed, according to Barr, “because the President alone constitutes the Executive branch, the President cannot ‘recuse’ himself.” Thus, in Barr’s view, the only check on gross misconduct by the president is impeachment, and the very idea of an independent or special counsel investigating the president is a constitutional anathema.

What’s fascinating is that Barr has been, in effect, conducting a master class on why this view is absolutely wrong and dangerous to our nation. And he’s too lost in his own head, in his own ideology, to see that. If applied to a president with intelligence and integrity, maybe it would have worked to the nation’s benefit. But Donald Trump? Seriously?

As I keyboard, Barr is testifying to the House Judiciary Committee. I take it it’s not going all that well for Barr; you can read live updates here and here. However, one of my Facebook friends watching it says the Dems on the committee are doing way too much grandstanding and not letting Barr answer questions, which is self-defeating.

And Donald Ayer has another article at The Atlantic. Here is the first paragraph:

Throughout his first year in office, Bill Barr worked overtime to advance the personal and political interests of President Donald Trump, and to alter the structure of American government to confer virtually autocratic powers on the president, in accordance with views that Barr has held for several decades. Now, less than 100 days before the election, the attorney general’s focus has narrowed and his methods have become more transparently outrageous: Facing gross mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, a diminished economy, and sinking presidential poll numbers, Barr is using the most intrusive and offensive tools he can command simply to extend his and the president’s tenure in office into a second term.

Indeed, there are those who think that Barr is the real power behind the throne.

Nichols, part of the Lincoln Project, said in another tweet that Barr is now the de facto head of the Executive Branch.

Today, Greg Sargent writes that William Barr’s new defense of Trump actually unmasks his corruption. You need to read the whole thing to get the argument. See also Heather Cox Richardson, from last night:

Tonight, [Barr] released a combative opening statement which begins by slamming “the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal,” despite the fact that, in December 2019, the Justice Department’s own inspector general, Michael Horowitz, found that the investigation had been initiated properly and without political bias. The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee has also unanimously supported the conclusion of the Intelligence Community that Russia attacked the 2016 election to benefit candidate Trump. …

…There was, in Barr’s opening statement, a line that jumped out. He wrote that what is happening in Portland, Oregon, where protesters have vandalized a federal courthouse, “is, by any objective measure, an assault on the Government of the United States.”

No, it is not.

The interference of a foreign country in our elections is an assault on the government of the United States. Undermining the rule of law is an assault on the government of the United States. Vandalizing a courthouse does not threaten our nation. It is vandalism that should result in arrests by local police officers, as it has.

That the Attorney General is characterizing local vandalism as an assault on our national government is worrisome. It suggests that, less than four months before an election, he intends to keep sending into Democratic cities federal officers who are loyal to him and his president.

And if it happens, that will be an assault on the government of the United States, for sure.

Barr has a lot to answer for, and he can’t be removed from his position as long as Republicans dominate the Senate. But there’s always next year. Barr has to be held accountable for what he’s done.

Stuff to Read

Michelle Goldberg, Twilight of the Liberal Right

Liberal democracy per se was never the animating passion of the trans-Atlantic right — anti-Communism was. When the threat of Communist expansion disappeared, so did most of the right’s commitment to a set of values that, it’s now evident, were purely instrumental.

Paul Krugman, The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America

You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society.

Support for this proposition is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.

This rage is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom. But people who insist on the right to pollute are notably unbothered by, say, federal agents tear-gassing peaceful protesters. What they call “freedom” is actually absence of responsibility.

Rational policy in a pandemic, however, is all about taking responsibility. The main reason you shouldn’t go to a bar and should wear a mask isn’t self-protection, although that’s part of it; the point is that congregating in noisy, crowded spaces or exhaling droplets into shared air puts others at risk. And that’s the kind of thing America’s right just hates, hates to hear.

Jordaon Weissmann, The Republicans Have Written a Pro-Virus Bill

Update: Here’s a bit of the testimony today.

I must add that Rep. Jayapal is talking about state government. Barr’s justification for sending goons to Portland is that they were to protect federal buildings, although by all accounts that hasn’t stopped them from detaining people not on federal property.

Who Is the Trump Voter Now?

What makes the looming election so terrifying, to me, is knowing that there are people walking around out there who are going to vote for Trump. And they will vote for Trump no matter what happens between now and November.

In “Donald Trump Is the Best Ever President in the History of the Cosmos,” Frank Bruni cleverly mocks Trump’s campaign as nothing but farce and fantasy. But, eventually, he admits that there are those who still believe the hype. “Many Americans believe that Trump is an underappreciated martyr because they marinate in selective, manipulated and outright fraudulent factoids,” Bruni writes. “And Trump and his minions have really figured out how to slather on the marinade.”

At Politico, Michael Kruse writes that “Trump’s Summer of Love Is a Distant Memory Now,” the “summer of love” being Trump’s 2016 campaign. Trump’s rallies made his campaign, Kruse argues, and he wasn’t prepared for a rally-less re-election campaign.

“It’s constrained what he can do and what kind of energy and enthusiasm and the like that he can generate,” Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who was a senior spokesman for the Clinton campaign, told me—going so far as to compare the contrast to dueling images of Trump gliding down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy and then his much-discussed “sort of sad descent” of that ramp at West Point last month. …

… And the stakes are plain. “The face-to-face, in-person rally is really what got him elected,” said Stainbrook, the GOP head from Toledo. “So how does he make up for the fact that he’s so good live, so good at these rallies, but now he’s—I don’t want to use the word crippled—what’s the word I’m looking for?—he’s at a disadvantage. He’s at a disadvantage where he cannot have these because of Covid. So it definitely is going to hinder parts of the campaign. See, now I sound like a treasonous asshole, but … it’s the truth.”

However, when Kruse spoke to some of the 2016 rally attendees, the faith had not faded.

But the people who were at that rally in Scranton? They didn’t hesitate. They told me they think he’s going to win again. “Trump doesn’t have to be in an auditorium now,” said Bolus, the trucking company owner. “You can just feel it as you go around,” said Gleason, the former state Republican Party chair, who lives in Johnstown. “Every time there’s, like, a negative thing with the riots and things, more signs go up, more flags go up.”

“I’m seeing a hell of a lot more,” Bolus said. “Trump 2020 is already a winner.”

I wondered how he could be so confident when so many polls say he’s in trouble.

“Right now, I’m watching Fox News,” he told me from Minnesota, where the 77-year-old was recovering from back surgery at the Mayo Clinic. He denounced the protesters and demonstrators, “these bastards,” he said, “tearing down” statues and hitting cops “in the face with a friggin’ brick,” “instigating the destruction of our country.” He brought up George Floyd, the Black man killed by a white police officer in late May in Minneapolis. “Floyd was murdered. All right. Big deal. It’s over. It’s done.”

There’s no reaching someone like Bolus, of course. The question is, how many like him are out there?

Greg Sargent is arguing today that Fox News may actually be hurting Trump’s re-election chances by painting an overly rosy picture of them to Trump himself. Here is a bit of it:

Fox personalities are claiming that electing Joe Biden will make civil violence “a staple of American life everywhere.” They are relentlessly doctoring Biden quotes to paint him as anti-police. And they are suggesting that Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech, which conflated protests with “far-left fascism” to justify sending in more law enforcement, represented the greatest oratory since Cicero.

All this surely reinforces Trump’s belief that this messaging is working for him. After all, the imagery of violence, when hyped this way, does make for powerful television. And Trump knows powerful television when he sees it!

But in the Fox narrative of the protests, there is no room for any acknowledgement that Trump is functioning as a primarily inciting and destructive force, or that this fact might be further alienating the educated white suburban voters who are supposed to find Trump’s authoritarian displays reassuring.

The polls are still saying that Trump has lost college-educated whites and the suburbs, and he is even losing older voters. But he is determined to win some of those votes back with ads suggesting scary black people will destroy your lily white suburban housing development.

Yeah, “suburban housewives.” So retro.The suburbs ain’t what they used to be. NPR:

That kind of appeal, pitting whites against Blacks and Latinos, is outdated, Republican pollster Christine Matthews told NPR’s Tamara Keith.

“He thinks it’s basically the planned development of Levittown in the 1960s as opposed to today’s suburbs, which are multiracial, diverse and highly educated,” Matthews said.

According to the NPR article, which is dated July 26, Trump got 50 percent of the suburban vote in 2016. However, “In recent polling, he’s down by a historic margin, an average of 15 points,” it says. Further, “In the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 66% of suburban women disapproved of the job President Trump is doing overall, and 58% said they “strongly” disapprove.” Note that much of the suburban women gap probably dates back to the Kavanaugh hearings, if not earlier. Trump isn’t going to get those votes back.

On the other hand, QAnon believers are winning congressional primaries. Somebody‘s got to be voting for those wackjobs.

I’ve been googling around to see which voter demographics are sticking with Trump. Trump says he’s got the boat vote:

There are thousands of boats out there, all waving Trump signs. Amazing. But are those boats registered voters?

Outside of boats, Trump is still The Guy with white evangelical voters. Three weeks ago Pew Research reported that 82 percent of white evangelicals plan to vote for Trump. He got 77 percent of the white evangelical vote in 2016. Those people know how to keep the faith. But I haven’t been able to find any other demographic group that went for Trump in 2016 and is just as much pro-Trump now as it was then. Trump is still ahead of Biden with rural voters, but in 2016 Clinton trailed Trump with rural voters by 31 points, while Biden only trails him now by 9 points.

Trump is losing among Latinos, but three weeks ago Matt Yglesias wrote that Trump is doing better with Latinos against Biden than he did against Clinton. Why, I can’t imagine. See also A Small, Enduring Bloc by David Leonhardt.

What’s killing Trump more than anything else is the pandemic. See, for example, Small-business owners are realizing they are the victims of another Trump con.

Richardson holds the man he supported for president in 2016 — Donald Trump — responsible for the catastrophe. “I thought he’s a businessperson, not a politician, maybe he’ll mix things up,” Richardson said. “I could have lived with him till his response to covid.” Now? “If I can do anything to sway a person from Trump to Biden, that’s now my life mission.”

We are three months and eight days from the November election. A lot can happen. Of course the Republicans will suppress votes and screw up the vote count enough to throw results into doubt. It’s also possible that an increase in violence will push a few voters back to Trump. But I don’t think anything is going to be so much better by November that there will be big shifts in opinion. The pandemic will get worse in the fall, I fear, when the kids go back to school (at Trump’s insistence) and the usual flu season kicks off. Republican party stinginess in pandemic relief will ensure the economy won’t be roaring back. So here we are.

Is the GOP Getting Crazier and Dumber?

The perennial question about wingnuts has been, “Are they crazy? or stupid? or is this apparent craziness and stupidity just the façade of evil genius?” The answer, to me, was always that some of ’em know what they are doing and some of ’em are just stupid/crazy true believers of the façade.

We started many years ago with people like William Buckley and Bob Novak, who were not stupid and not crazy, but who were master propagandists. They brilliantly framed issues in ways that made the liberal perspective seem stupid and crazy. Now conservative thought is being promoted by the likes of Marc Thiessen.

This is not to say that, years ago, there was no stupid or crazy in the GOP. Joe McCarthy was both, and an alcoholic to boot, and for a time he was a soaring power in Washington. And the GOP supported and protected him until he started to attack Dwight Eisenhower. (It was Eisenhower who insisted the Army-McCarthy hearings be televised so that people could see McCarthy for what he was. Source, which isn’t on the web.) As soon as he started to be a liability, Senate Republicans turned on him and ended his career. But not before.

The problem for today’s GOP, however, is that as the older generation of wingnuts dies off they are being replaced by more and more stupid/crazy wingnuts who believe the propaganda. Some of the long-time GOP pols, I suspect, know good and well they are selling bullshit to stay in power. But the newer ones coming in actually believe the bullshit and confuse it with reality. See also The Long, Sad, Corrupted Devolution of the GOP, From Eisenhower to Donald Trump.

Steve M points out that “At least 14 candidates affiliated with QAnon will be on ballots nationwide in November.” William Buckley had few scruples, but I don’t see him endorsing something like QAnon.

Yesterday I wrote that the Republican Party, and Donald Trump, are in disarray. Here are some more details, from Eric Levitz at New York magazine.

Mitch McConnell’s Senate caucus has had four months to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. economy would not be strong enough in late July to withstand the sudden cessation of enhanced unemployment benefits. It has had two months to prepare an answer to House Democrats’ blueprint for the next coronavirus relief package. Instead, it botched its attempt to unveil such a bill this week and now appears unlikely to pass a new one before 30 million unemployed Americans see their weekly incomes suddenly crater.

As I wrote yesterday, that’s partly because Trump appears to have thrown a fit and cancelled out a lot of what McConnell, Mnuchin, and Mark Meadows had negotiated while the Senate was in recess. But Levitz says there’s more:

When it passed the CARES Act in March, the congressional GOP insisted on having the bill’s $600-a-week unemployment-benefit bonus phase out at the end of July. Since then, the party has refused to approve any additional fiscal aid to states, households, or other needy constituencies on the grounds that a V-shaped recovery might soon obviate the need for further federal largesse.

If it wasn’t clear in March that the U.S. was in for a prolonged period of high unemployment, it has been since mid-June, when new COVID cases began climbing across the Sun Belt. But even if we postulate that it was reasonable for the GOP to wait until the last possible minute before extending benefits, there would be no excuse for the party’s failure to have a relief bill ready to go just in case. Even the most bullish economic forecasters didn’t rule out the persistence of double-digit unemployment this August as a significant possibility. So why then did McConnell wait until federal unemployment benefits were about to expire to start crafting another stimulus package? And why did Republicans fail to rally behind his outline this week, forcing the majority leader to abandon the bill’s rollout on Thursday morning?

The answer to both questions appears to be this: Many congressional Republicans earnestly believe that the reason unemployment is high — in the middle of an uncontained pandemic that is killing 1,000 Americans a day — is that the excessive generosity of federal benefits has rendered the unemployed unwilling to work.

See? That’s just stupid. There aren’t enough jobs, you morons, because of the freaking pandemic. Businesses are closed, a lot of them for good. Argh.

It’s possible McConnell isn’t a total moron, although that’s an assumption without evidence as far as I’m concerned:

McConnell’s procrastination has been widely interpreted as a means of gaining leverage over House Democrats: Since the Donkey Party cares more about the unemployed than the GOP, best to conduct negotiations while the calendar is slowly lowering the jobless into a pit of molten lava. And this may have been part of the intention. But the majority leader doesn’t just need leverage over Nancy Pelosi to get his preferred bill enacted; he also needs leverage over his own party’s anti-spending fanatics. Given McConnell’s failure to rally Republicans behind a package this week, it seems quite likely that his procrastination was born partly out of the hope that proximity to a fiscal cliff might chasten his caucus’s anti-Keynesian true believers.

Alas, they remain unchastened.

From Bloomberg:

[Wisconsin Republican Ron] Johnson said he simply doesn’t want to spend any more money and plans to oppose the bill he hasn’t seen. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told CNN he’s a “hell no” on a $1 trillion package, while Rand Paul of Kentucky told another reporter that Republicans were acting like “Bernie Bros” behind closed doors as they discuss among themselves how many hundreds of billions to spend, a reference to ardent supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist. …

… Worries among Republicans that they would catch the blame for checks stopping for millions of workers across the country had them briefly discussing another temporary patch in the middle of the week before dropping the idea. Senators like Cruz and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned against what they consider to be excessive aid, arguing they were hurting the economy by paying people an extra $600-a-week unemployment bonus.

I would say that the Dem attack ads write themselves, except that I don’t trust the Dems to pursue what is an obvious big, fat issue they could use to slam Republicans. Maybe the Lincoln Project folks will do it.

Back to Levitz:

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, Johnson elaborated on the hard-liners’ case for doing nothing. Here’s the core of it:

Recent economic forecasts have predicted a decline in gross domestic product of between 4.6% and 8% for 2020. The damage from Covid-19 has been significant, but not catastrophic.

Congress authorized $2.9 trillion of Covid-19 relief, which represents 13.5% of 2019’s U.S. GDP. No one knows exactly how much of the Covid relief has been spent or obligated, but 60% ($1.75 trillion) seems to be a consensus figure in Congress. Let that sink in. We’ve authorized enough spending to replace 13.5% of annual economic output, and more than $1 trillion of it hasn’t yet been spent or obligated. So why is Congress rushing to pass at least $1 trillion more? 

To this point about GDP, Johnson adds the argument that COVID-19 is not much more deadly than the flu, and thus, “there is no need to continue broad economic shutdowns with fatality rates in these ranges.”

This last point is the most patently mad.

Anybody who is still arguing that “it’s no worse than the flu” at this point is both mad and stupid.

In April, Johnson’s reasoning was reckless; today, it’s hallucinatory. We already ran the senator’s desired experiment! Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona reopened. Their economies rebounded for a few weeks, then COVID-19 cases surged, consumer demand fell, businesses started failing, and state governments were eventually forced to stall or reverse their reopenings to preserve hospital capacity. Texas’s economy isn’t suffering because its (Republican) political leadership overreacted to an overhyped flulike virus. It is suffering because that leadership cannot force consumers to shop or eat out when a potentially fatal infectious disease is running rampant in their communities, nor persuade voters that allowing the infected to overrun hospitals is an acceptable price for sustaining business as usual.

See also Texas counties are requesting refrigerated trucks as morgues fill amid coronavirus and COVID-19 patients will be ‘sent home to die’ if deemed too sick, Texas county says.

Johnson’s belief that “We have nothing to fear but fear (of a virus that has already killed 147,000 Americans) itself” is a winning argument testifies to both the power of motivated reasoning and the strong incentives that ideologically committed conservatives have for denying the reality of a crisis that admits no “small government” solution.

Johnson is a true believer. If reality doesn’t fit one’s ideology, then deny reality.

And we haven’t yet hit the big layoffs from state and local government jobs that will drive unemployment even higher, and which are inevitable if Congress doesn’t get off its butt to throw a whole lot of money at states and cities. And by “Congress” I mean “Senate Republicans,” because they’re the ones holding it up.

Such willful blindness to economic empiricism and the plight of nonaffluent Americans would be unremarkable with a Democrat in the White House or Election Day further in the future. During the Obama years, the GOP made its willingness to put partisan advantage above the general welfare perfectly clear. In ushering a historically unpopular tax-cut package through Congress in 2017, the party demonstrated its faith in the amnesia (and/or indifference to policy details) of the median voter.

But Johnson, Cruz, and Paul are imploring their party to chart an economic course that leads straight to electoral ruin. All historical precedent indicates that voters will hold the president’s party responsible for economic conditions. If Republicans do as Johnson advises and allow the typical unemployed American to see her monthly income fall by $2,400, while states and cities lay off public workers en masse and landlords kick millions of families to the curb — during the home stretch of a general-election campaign — then Democrats will almost certainly secure full control of the government next January. Which is to say, dogmatic adherence to conservative orthodoxy is not even in the best interest of the conservative ideological project.

This is what I mean by believing the bullshit and confusing it with reality. And what’s especally sad is that Republican senators are, on the whole, geniuses compared to Republican members of the House, who probably shouldn’t be allowed to hold sharp objects

If your primary concern is curtailing progressive redistribution, preventing the Democratic Party from taking power in the midst of a historic economic crisis should be a top priority. But a critical mass of congressional Republicans missed the memo differentiating what the conservative movement actually believes (that economic policy should be directed toward maximizing plutocratic prerogatives) from what it pretends to believe (that countercyclical spending doesn’t work). And so McConnell must reason with colleagues who genuinely think the party can revive the economy by removing all fiscal life support.

Again, this assumes McConnell knows better than his colleagues, and that’s an assumption not backed up by evidence. Economists are, in fact, calling for a big relief/stimulus package now, and they believe the economy will need many trillions of dollars over the next few years to undo the damage. The longer this waits, the deeper the damage.

Stuff to Read

Dean Obeidallah, Daily Beast, It’s Not Just Trump—the GOP Is Getting Crueler and Crazier

Dana Milbank, Washington Post, The Great American Crackup is underway

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans, and Trump, in Disarray

Really, the whole GOP seems to be melting down now. It’d be fun to watch if the consequences weren’t so dire.

Let’s start with this story — House GOP’s pleas to Republican National Committee for financial help go unanswered.

Senior House Republicans are pleading with the deep-pocketed Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign to provide financial help as Democrats vastly outraise the GOP, but top campaign officials are so far declining to commit.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been prodding the RNC to write a check to the National Republican Congressional Committee — a request he has made multiple times. McCarthy specifically has asked Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, to make a financial commitment to the House GOP, according to several officials familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private conversations.

But Kushner, who oversees such decisions and has a greater say than RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, has refused thus far, the officials say. While the Trump campaign and the RNC have brought in record amounts of money, some Trump officials see donating to the House as a wasteful investment as the GOP’s chances of reclaiming the majority sharply deteriorate. Their decline in fortunes can largely be attributed to Trump’s sagging support over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the sliding economy.

This is fascinating. How did Mr. Ivanka seize control of the RNC’s money? Not that I mind; Mr. Ivanka screws up everything he touches. And if the big shots in the GOP have decided it’s not worth fighting to get back the House, fine with me.

Trump is not getting everything he wants these days, though. He had to cancel his big whoop-dee-doo nomination party in Jacksonville. The Senate made it clear Trump wasn’t going to get a payroll tax cut, so he backed down. He’s even been asking people to wear masks.

Philip Rucker, WaPo:

For Trump, this has been a week of retreat. Rather than bending others to his will, the president has been the one backing down from long-held positions in the face of resistance from fellow Republicans or popular opposition, scrambling to resurrect his reelection campaign while the coronavirus continues to ravage the nation.

Weakened politically by his response to the pandemic, Trump changed course after polls showed his positions did not align with public attitudes or — as was the case with the payroll tax cut — his Republican allies on Capitol Hill declined to advance his interests.

“The good ship Trump has sprung a leak, and it’s leaking political capital,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian at New York University and a former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

“I don’t think the president is pivoting,” Naftali said. “I think the president is backtracking because he is facing head winds, and those are head winds from elected Republicans.”

And then there was this tweet, from yesterday.

You might have heard that the Senate and House both passed a bill that does call for re-naming the bases named for Confederate generals. And you might have heard that this bill passed with a veto-proof majority in the Senate. And if you heard that, you heard right. This happened two day ago:

The Senate passed its version of a $740 billion defense bill Thursday by a veto-proof majority, in the latest sign that Congress is undeterred by President Trump’s threat to reject legislation mandating that the Pentagon rename bases honoring Confederate generals.

The 86-to-14 Senate vote follows the House’s 295-to-125 vote earlier in the week on parallel legislation. Both bills instruct the Defense Department to come up with new names for the problematic bases; the Senate gives the Pentagon three years to make the changes, while the House bill instructs officials to finish the process within one year.

Yet, it says here, after the Senate bill passed, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said that the renaming provision would be removed, and that Inhofe said he spoke with Trump about the provision, which they both oppose. Imhofe must think this is going to happen as the House and Senate bills are reconciled. I don’t think so.

It will be interesting to see if there is any attempt to strip the provision out of the bill. It would be a test of how much loyalty Trump still commands in the Senate, since most of the senators seem to have decided this is not a hill they want to die on. I’m betting Fort Hood will be Fort Benavidez before you know it.

It gets worse. Senate Republicans have failed to come up with a new relief package, and it’s hugely unlikely they will have one before the end of this month. Politico:

Amid a series of crises — with 30 million Americans unemployed and coronavirus cases spiking nationally — White House officials and Senate GOP leaders couldn’t even come to an agreement among themselves on a starting point for a new relief package, let alone begin bipartisan talks with Democrats.

They clashed over a payroll tax cut, more money for testing, unemployment insurance benefits and a raft of other measures to address the unprecedented economic slowdown. The planned unveiling of a new $1 trillion bill got delayed and delayed again. With Election Day only 103 days away, this is the last thing an embattled president and Senate majority needed to happen.

Republicans acknowledged the bickering, even as they tried to downplay the episode. … But privately, GOP lawmakers were flabbergasted that they’ll likely have to wait until next week to unveil even an initial proposal.

What’s worse for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — the key players in this drama — was they were supposed to be ready for this moment.

The Senate was coming off a two-week recess, during which time GOP leaders, committee chairs and White House officials privately floated proposals to each other outlining what they wanted for certain elements of their proposal. Republicans and the White House were eager to produce a joint plan that would give them a strong negotiating position heading into a showdown with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

But the White House rejected Senate GOP demands for tens of billions of new spending to beef-up coronavirus testing at the state level, and then “zeroed out” requests for more Pentagon and global health money. The White House also pushed for pet projects including $250 million for renovating the FBI building.

If you are unfamiliar with Trump’s thing about the FBI building, there’s some background here. Basically, awhile back Trump killed plans to build a new FBI building elsewhere and sell the old building to a commercial developer — who might build something that would compete with Trump’s Washington hotel. Now he wants to build a new FBI building that looks like Trump Tower.

About the only thing the White House and Senate Republicans agree on is that they want to cut back unemployment benefits. Charles Pierce:

It’s hard to determine who hung whom most firmly out to dry. The administration*, in the persons of White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, were not ready to negotiate with Republican senators, let along any Democrats. One of their signature demands, a payroll tax cut, went up in flames on Thursday. Meanwhile, desperate to hang on to their majority, Republican senators scrambled to put together a package that at least didn’t look like it was drawn up in the offices of Scrooge & Marley. …

… It appears that the realization is dawning on many Republican legislators that they have signed on aboard the Pequod and that the white whale is lining up the ship for the coup de grace. The realization also is dawning on them that the president* would sell them all for parts if it would make him a buck. Meanwhile, the list of serious issues with which our national government no longer seems capable of coping is getting longer by the hour.

And it’s going to get worse. There is no way it won’t get worse.

Stuff to Read:

It’s Bleak’: Trump’s Great American Comeback Is a Dumpster Fire by Asawin Suebsaeng at Daily Beast.

This is how democracy dies at Business Insider.

Walmart Is Still Walmart

We’ve managed to get through the week, so far, without a news story about somebody pulling a gun at a WalMart after being asked to wear a mask. The last person to do so was just charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and improper exhibition of a firearm. But the incident took place on July 12, before WalMart announced its mask mandate.

No guns drawn, but there have been some tense incidents, such as this one in Georgia —

CNN reported today that the rules aren’t being enforced all that stringently.

Walmart and other major retailers made headlines last week with a new requirement for customers to wear masks in its US stores. But the new rules only go so far.

Walmart (WMT), Home Depot (HD), Lowe’s (LOW), Walgreens (WBA), CVS (CVS) and others say they still won’t prohibit customers who refuse to wear a mask from shopping in stores. The issue, they say, is they want to avoid confrontations between angry customers and employees.

So if you threaten to shoot somebody, they let you in without the mask?

Retailers and their employees are finding themselves playing the uncomfortable role of mask police. The increase in coronavirus cases is prompting concern over how to protect both customers and workers in crowded stores from infecting each other.

Especially in places where state and local government hasn’t mandated mask wearing, there’s only so much a retailer can do. If enforcement is left up to store clerks who, understandably, don’t want to be beaten or shot over a mask, enforcement is not going to be all that consistent.

A security guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was shot and killed in May after he told a customer to wear a mask.

Yeah, it’s happened. But see also this op ed by Bill Saporito at the New York Times. Apparently this concern for employee and customer health is part of WalMart’s move into health care, of which I was unaware:

Walmart, like other large corporations, is wading deeper into health care and health care policy. With more than a million employees, it probably buys more health care than many cities. For serious procedures such as heart surgery, for instance, the company has made deals with “Centers of Excellence” such as Cleveland Clinic where employees can get better outcomes at a lower cost over many local practitioners. Other companies have underwritten medical tourism to Mexico or Europe (pre-pandemic) for the same reason.

The company has also opened Walmart Health centers, which offer customers discount doctoring and dentistry, including $30 checkups and mental health counseling at $1 per minute. True to its operating philosophy, Walmart said it has cut the cost of basic health care delivery by some 40 percent compared with conventional practices.

Walmart is also moving directly into selling health insurance to the public. And why not? It sees a huge market opportunity in the fat profit margins and diffident service of the current players. And because we’ll all be dead before the Republican Party delivers the affordable health care insurance it has promised will replace Obamacare.

While such efforts by Walmart and other big payers help to restrain health care costs, the larger problem is that we’ve been abdicating health care policy to profit-seeking corporations.

And as long as we abdicate health care, not to mention pandemic policy, to profit-seeking corporations, we’re still screwed.

Rather than use policy to help corporations get a better handle on Covid-19 safety, the Trump administration is instead focused on absolving them of liability if they don’t act to keep employees and customers safe. Perversely, when the airline industry begged the Federal Aviation Administration to impose a mandatory mask rule for passengers, it got shot down. The F.A.A.’s intransigence is now threatening thousands of airline jobs, if not the carriers themselves, because consumers don’t have enough confidence that flying is safe.

I have less sympathy for the airlines, because over the years they’ve managed to make flying a horrible experience as they thought up more ways to squeeze profits out of the customers. Any excuse not to fly is a good excuse, I say. I’d like to see air travel nationalized, frankly. If the for-profit airlines can’t function without huge government subsidies, miserable flights, and terrible service generally, then nationalize ’em. We can look into that after we fix healthcare.

It is this vacuum of responsibility that is compelling the businesses that are expert at selling coffee, underwear and groceries to manage the pandemic across their swath of the economy. That they are doing a better job than the Trump administration is beyond pathetic.

Well, yeah.

Unexceptional Is the New Normal

The best thing I’ve read this week: American exceptionalism was our preexisting condition, by Dan Zak at WaPo. Here’s just a bit:

Perhaps we ignored our preexisting conditions for too long. In 1979, Jimmy Carter admitted to a national “crisis of confidence,” in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate and energy shortages. But then we shut our eyes and pictured Ronald Reagan’s “shining city,” as wealth oozed upward. We believed Bill Clinton’s pep talk about how our best qualities excused our worst, which included prioritizing mass incarceration. We cloaked George W. Bush’s costly foreign policy in pageant-style patriotism and then believed Barack Obama’s insistence that Americans were not as divided as we seemed. Meanwhile, big banks crashed the economy and got bailed out, white people in rural areas started dying “deaths of despair,” black people kept getting killed by police at disproportionately high rates, and more Americans turned to conspiracy theories to make sense of it all and prescription pills to blunt the pain.

Then a minority of voters elected as president a salesman who built his empire on fraudspectacle and bankruptcy. Three years and 20,000 “false or misleading claims” later, the reality-show presidency is reaching a dramatic first-season climax marked by mass death, rampant joblessness, tens of millions of people in the streets. …

… “You can no longer pretend that ‘the American century’ isn’t over,” says Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, an associate professor of history at Loyola University Chicago. She views the years since 1968 as a cycle of recessions and widening inequality, debt and disenfranchisement that is only now becoming apparent to broader America — white America, moneyed America — because the pandemic and social media have made it impossible to ignore. Institutions have been deteriorating and failing us for generations, she says, but we rigged workarounds with our own social networks and mutual-aid groups. We made do. Then the pandemic scattered us, isolated us, exposed us for what we really are. …

… The coronavirus is “fueled upon the systemic injustices in our country,” says Cedric Dark, an emergency-room physician and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The contagion doesn’t just spread because of proximity or air droplets; it feeds on disparity in housing, insurance, transportation, wages, child care, food security. Our current failure is built on previous failures.


“All these years after the Civil War, are we still just a union of states — or have we become a nation of people?”

That’s the question Shermer will ask the students in her U.S. history survey course. She’s watched governors battle the president and states squabble over stocks of personal protective equipment. Meanwhile the movement of Black Lives Matter has behaved like a nation of people, demanding something more, something holistic, something that was promised centuries ago.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are flailing about trying to come up with a new relief package. Paul Waldman:

The first thing they’ve done is drop Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut, because it was a dumb idea that no one except Trump liked. But Republicans are still squabbling among themselves, particularly over how much help to give those tens of millions of unemployed Americans.

The Cares Act provided for an extra $600 a week for people who are unemployed, on top of what they would normally get from their state. In some cases, this meant workers would actually bring in more than they had been paid while they were employed, which many conservatives found appalling. And now with that $600 benefit set to expire next week, those conservatives want to make sure we stop coddling this nation of layabouts.

The result is a conflict within the GOP between, among others, Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, both of whom would like to be president one day:

Cruz vented his frustrations in private at a lunch Tuesday. As Republican lawmakers continued to add costly items to the ballooning virus aid package, he asked, “What in the hell are we doing?” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was similarly vocal about spending concerns, even though others — such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — argued in favor of spending a little more so that Republican senators in tough reelection races would have tangible policy wins to bring home for voters and help the party’s chances of retaining control of the chamber.

They both have a reasonable case to make, at least from where they sit. Cotton is right that Republicans are headed for disaster, and if they want to give Trump any chance of winning — and keep themselves from being pulled down with him — they should be showering every penny they can find on the economy.

Republicans are very, very bothered that some folks have been getting more money on unemployment than they got when they were working. So their current bright idea is to cap unemployment benefits at 70 percent of one’s former wage. That might not be enough to pay rent and buy groceries, but that’ll teach those deadbeats to get laid off because of a pandemic. Or something.

See also Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade, Republican feuding this week represents broader reckoning over party’s future as Trump sinks in the polls.

Reasoning With Anti-Maskers?

There are a number of articles floating around with advice for reasoning with anti-maskers. I question whether that’s possible. If you want to try to reason with these people, go for it, and good luck. I would rather herd cats.

This is from Frank Bruni’s email newsletter, which I don’t think is online —

Our struggle with this pandemic has convinced me that somewhere along the way, we went from celebrating individual liberty to fetishizing it, so that for too many Americans, all sense of civic obligation and communal good went out the window. … Somewhere along the way, we also developed an immature definition of freedom, conflating it with selfishness, convenience and personal comfort. That’s writ large in the freak-out over masks.

Well, yeah. I’ve been complaining for a while that the Right has rendered the word freedom essentially meaningless. For example, see “Freedom’s Just Another Word” from 2005 and “So Much for Freedom” from 2011. And here’s “Freedom and Feudalism” from 2011: “Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a “liberty or death” T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.”

Thus it is that the same people who grow hysterical and start screaming when asked to wear a mask in a retail store during a pandemic think federal secret police beating a citizen for asking a question is perfectly okay:

And then there’s this genius: GOP Lawmaker: Mask-Mandates Are No Different Than Jews Being Killed In Holocaust. You can reason with someone that demented? Seriously?

“Freedom” in the sense righties use it means they get to do whatever they want without interference, but those they don’t like can be brutalized by the state. Civil rights and equal protection under the law can go hang. And this is not a new development. This is how they have thought for a long time. Decades. Centuries, arguably.

And just so we’re clear, see “The Pandemic, the Constitution, and Civil Liberties” and this document from the American Bar Association, “Two centuries of law guide legal approach to modern pandemic.” From the latter:

Under the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court decisions over nearly 200 years, state governments have the primary authority to control the spread of dangerous diseases within their jurisdictions. The 10th Amendment, which gives states all powers not specifically given to the federal government, allows them the authority to take public health emergency actions, such as setting quarantines and business restrictions.

And see also:

To verify if requirements to wear masks violate the Constitution, 10News discussed the topic with law professor Stewart Harris and Republican state senator Richard Briggs.  Harris teaches constitutional law at Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law in Knoxville.  Sen. Briggs (R-Knoxville) is a longtime heart and lung surgeon with expertise in the medical field in addition to his knowledge as a lawmaker.

Harris said the answer is clear-cut when questioned whether a requirement to wear masks is a violation of anyone’s constitutional rights.

“No,” answered Harris.  “It’s just not.  The Supreme Court of the United States, 115 years ago in a case called Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, very clearly stated that the government has something called ‘police power’ which allows it to protect the health and welfare of its people.”

In the 1905 Jacobson case, the Supreme Court ruled Massachusetts was within its rights to require all citizens to get a vaccination for smallpox.

“The United States Supreme Court has said it is reasonable to strap people down and inject them with vaccines in a time of a public health crisis. If that is true, and it is, then it is certainly reasonable and it’s certainly constitutional to mandate that people wear masks in public places,” said Harris.

Not to mention it will be constitutional to mandate the eventual covid-19 vaccine, unless the current SCOTUS overturns Jacobson, which wouldn’t surprise me.

But back to reasoning with righties. In How to Actually Talk to Anti-Maskers at the New York Times, Charlie Warzel quotes people who think the problem is that the messaging about masks has been muddled. But I think this gets closer to the truth:

Other experts suggest that government failures run much deeper than communication problems. “It’s not a lack of trust. It’s a legitimacy crisis,” Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician who teaches classes on structural inequality and health at Stanford,told me. “There’s been an active movement from the far right to render major scientific institutions and practices illegitimate. I’m worried less about messaging and more about a failed government response.”

Dr. Boyd cited the Trump administration’s attempts to cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its ouster of the National Security Council’s top pandemic response official, Mr. Trump’s downplaying of Covid-19 and his downright lies about it (most recently on display during a Sunday Fox News interview in which the president said that the United States had “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world” from the virus) and the White House’s muzzling of the C.D.C.

“We have the resources and the scientists and we didn’t support them — we undermined them,” Dr. Boyd said. “And so the cycle perpetuates itself. They’ve been gutted, so their response looks insufficient and ineffective. For those already prone to thinking public health was illegitimate, it’s confirmation bias.”

Other people in the article talk about building trust, which is fine, but we don’t have time.  We needed compliance weeks ago, not some time next year. What would have been great is if all levels of government had come out with a unified message at least four months ago making it clear that state and local mask mandates are necessary, good for everybody, and not violations of constitutional rights. There would still be some resistance but not, I think, quite so much. Instead, some of the most prominent resisters have been mayors, governors, and one particular President who has let it be known that mask wearing is uncool. (For more on the trust building argument, see Julia Marcus, “The Dudes Who Won’t Wear Masks.”)

And may I add that this fight over wearing masks appears to be a problem unique to the United States. See The mask debate is still raging in the US, but much of the world has moved on by Emma Reynolds at CNN.

I propose that there are deeper reasons that right-leaning Americans are predisposed to the Trumpian attitude that masks and other pandemic restrictions are a violation of their rights and an outrageous imposition on their personal liberty. And those reasons have been building up for decades and are not going to go away by showing anti-maskers a little empathy.

Chief among those is the extreme polarization that has hardened into tribalism. If mask-wearing is associated with Democrats and libruhls, then loyal Trump supporters are not going to do it, no matter what. And I know that Trump came out yesterday and asked people to wear masks, but I doubt that will make much of a dent. Feelings on the issue are hardened into stone at this point.

Another issue is that conservatives generally seem less capable of grasping how things inter-relate. Mask wearing is not about keeping the mask-wearer safe, but about keeping everybody safe. If you’re the only one wearing a mask in a crowd of people, the mask probably won’t do you much good. If everyone is wearing a mask, however, it makes a difference. You can explain that to righties all day long, but they won’t grasp it. Notice I say won’t, not can’t. It’s the same with trying to explain herd immunity to anti-vaxxers. The “antis” keep coming back to arguments about personal choice and refuse to see how their personal choices impact other people.

Paul Krugman wrote a column a few days ago titled “Republicans Keep Flunking Microbe Economics.”

Take the insane resistance to wearing masks. Some of this is about insecure masculinity — people refusing to take the simplest, cheapest of precautions because they think it will make them look silly. Some of it is about culture wars: liberals wear masks, so I won’t. But a lot of it is about fetishization of individual choice.

Many things should be left up to the individual. I may not share your taste in music or want to do the same things you do with consenting adults, but such matters aren’t legitimately my business.

Other things, however, aren’t just about you. The question of whether or not to dump raw sewage into a public lake isn’t something that should be left up to individual choice. And going to a gym or refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic is exactly like dumping sewage into a lake: it’s behavior that may be convenient for the people who engage in it, but it puts others at risk.

Do read the whole column. For  more on cognitive differences between righties and lefties, see ‘The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger at This Moment’ by Thomas Edsall.

This leaves us with the question of what to do with the anti-maskers. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for a federal mask-wearing mandate. And my reading of all the articles about masks and the Constitution say that the feds actually have less authority than states in areas of public health. All I can say is that if you are living in an area with low mask-wearing compliance, as I am, then your own freedom is more severely restricted. Just stay home as much as you can and wash your hands a lot. Try to survie the year.