The Push to Reopen Schools: Trump in a Microcosm

Trump wants schools to reopen in the fall. That in itself is not unreasonable; the American Academy of Pediatrics also wants schools to open in the fall. I’m sure a whole lot of parents of school-age children want schools to reopen in the fall. What the kids think no doubt varies.

However, Trump really wants schools to reopen in the fall. He seems nearly frantic about it.

Let’s review:

From CNN as of 6/30/2020. Source: Johns Hopkins Data Center

So, we can say the U.S. and Europe are not exactly in the same place wth this pandemic thing. But maybe we could reopen schools if we took proper precautions …

NPR:

Existing CDC guidance includes temporary school dismissals if there is a substantial spread of COVID-19 within the community and, in cases of mild to moderate community transmission, modifying classes where students are in close contact, staggering arrival/dismissal times and enforcing social distancing.

The CDC continues to update its website with best practices, including this checklist for schools. It’s unclear which specific guidance the president was rebuking.

So no precautions. Trump just wants the doors to open and the students to get their butts back in classrooms. There’s been some vague talk about providing targeted help for schools in hot zones, but nothing specific.

Trump’s talk of cutting off funding for schools rings a bit hollow when you understand that federal money is, on average, less than 10 percent of revenue, the NPR article says. Also, school funding is appropriated by Congress; Trump has no authority to cut it off.

It’s also the case that public schools in the U.S. are administered by locally elected school boards, and so ultimately the go or no-go decisions will be up to them. Trump says he will lean on governors to force schools open, but I’m not sure how much even governors can do if a particular school district decides to postpone opening because of the pandemic.

The reason Trump is frantic to open schools is, obviously, that having kids at home makes it harder for a lot of workers to get back to their jobs. His whole Grand Plan for re-election hinges on Making America January 2020 Again, but without having to actually do anything about the, you know, pandemic. He’s not a detail guy.

So he’s going to tweet and harangue and bitch that the evil Democrats want to keep schools closed because of “politics,” and he will send all of his remaining minions out to talk to the media about how much they value education and want to get kids back to school. The one thing I doubt he will do is provide useful guidance and sufficient funds for whatever adjustments (such as number of students in a classroom) schools might have to make.

And if the pandemic is really slamming us in September, as I suspect it might, will America’s parents be all that keen about sending the kids back to the same overstuffed classrooms with no thought given to what germs the kids might pick up and bring back home? And has Trump even considered that such parents might be angry with him for putting their families at risk? Probably not; he’s not exactly the responsible parent type.

It appears that after all this time and all the suffering, Trump still doesn’t get that the pandemic is a really bad thing that he can’t intimidate or wish away. But Greg Sargent argues that the problem isn’t that Trump is in denial about what could happen. He knows; he just doesn’t give a bleep. “Malevolent” is the operative word here.

Once we dispense with the idea that Trump remains “in denial,” we’re left with a few interpretations. The most charitable is that Trump continues to have principled disagreements with experts over these matters, but there are zero indications he has any substantively grounded views on them of any kind.

A far less charitable interpretation is that he’s merely indifferent to the catastrophic consequences that are resulting from these failures — and will continue to do so — and that he’s prioritizing nakedly self-interested political calculations over any such concerns.

I’m leaning toward the latter, because that has been Trump’s pattern all along. Time and time again he’ll launch some scheme to do this or that — separate families at the border, ban travelers from Muslim countries, etc. — with no planning, no consulting with people tasked with carrying out the scheme, no forethought to consequences — and at some point you just have to admit, this is who he is. Trump doesn’t do plans. He doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. He just wants what he wants, now.

That’s why I’m saying this school reopening thing — issue? controversy? — is the Trump administration in a microcosm. Trump makes up his mind that something will be to his advantage, and he throws endless tantrums until he gets what he wants. But he can’t be bothered to do the thing in incremental steps or make accommodations to people for whom doing the thing would be a problem. And he doesn’t consider consequences, even if they are explained to him.

This doesn’t necessarily rule out denial, though. The man has some serious short-circuiting in his brain. Previews of the upcoming tell-all book by his neice Mary Trump point to this. “… Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for,” she writes.

Mary takes the media to task for searching for a “strategy” in anything Donald does and for soft-pedaling what she describes as multiple psychological disorders, which, by her account, check a variety of boxes in diagnostic manuals. She thinks that Donald, at a minimum, suffers from an “antisocial personality disorder” and a longstanding but undiagnosed learning disability.

Mary Trump is a trained clinical psychologist, so I am inclined to take her word for this. We do not need to spin our wheels over the why; we just need to understand this is what Trump does, and he doesn’t have it in him to do anything else.

That said, could schools be reopened in the fall? Matt Yglesias has an article up at Vox that looks at this question from several angles. The short answer is yes, but not without a whole lot of money and planning, little to none of which schools are going to get from the federal government or most of the state governments. So, once again, we’re heading toward a disaster we can see coming, but because of Trump there’s little that will be done about it.

Trump: Running on Empty

There’s a lot of good commentary on the Trump campaign today, much of it with a similar theme — Trump is running on empty.

Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, The Atlantic, Trump Is Campaigning on a Platform of Abject Failure

In a series of speeches over the past several days, the president has spelled out, or at least gestured toward, the major themes of his coming campaign. There will be other themes, to be sure—mostly, one presumes, attacks on Joe Biden—but the president’s recent speeches in Tulsa, in Phoenix, and at Mount Rushmore all outline what appear to be the main components of his affirmative case for a second term.

Trump’s arguments for himself are threefold, Jurecic and Wittes write. First, he claims to have built a great economy (as opposed to coasting on the economy left him by Barack Obama, which is closer to the truth) before the pandemic hit. He is the guy you want to make the economy great again, as opposed to Biden, who is going to raise your taxes. How persuasive this argument will be if the economy doesn’t get significantly better before November is anybody’s guess, but I’m doubtful it’s going to work.

Second, he’s boasting he did a great job keeping the pandemic under control, while at the same time claiming it isn’t that bad and will just go away. “As The Washington Post reports, he has suggested 19 times since February that the virus might just “go away”—most recently on July 1,” Jurecic and Wittes write. Trump is at the mercy of the virus.

And third — culture war. Confederate monuments, law and order, scary immigrants, more racist dog-whislting than we’ve seen since the 1960s. At the same time, there will be much demonizing of the “left-wing mob” trying to destroy everything good and pure and white in America.

Let’s take these three items in reverse order, starting with culture wars. Jamelle Bouie writes at the New York Times that if the election were held today, Trump would almost certainly lose in a landslide. He’s got four months to turn his fortunes around. Can he do it?

With enough racist demagogy, Trump seems to think, he’ll close the gap with Biden and eke out another win in the Electoral College. But it is one thing to run a backlash campaign, as Trump did four years ago, in a growing economy in which most people aren’t acutely worried about their lives and futures. In that environment, where material needs are mostly met, voters can afford to either look past racial animus or embrace it as a kind of luxury political good. When conditions are on the decline, however, they want actual solutions, and the politics of resentment are, by themselves, a much harder sell.

Bouie goes on to provide some examples from history to argue that racist campaigns work better in good times than bad, concluding —

… if it takes a decent economy to make voters conducive to the campaign Trump wants to run — then he is, at this moment, speeding down an electoral dead-end. As long as Covid-19 is out of control, as long as there is mass suffering, sickness and economic distress, then nothing short of actually doing his job will help him get ahead. There simply is no substitute for good governance.

And good governance isn’t something Trump can do. He couldn’t do it if he tried. He has no clue what “governance” even is. See also Shane Savitsky at Axios, Trump’s failing culture wars, and Zeeshan Aleem at Vox, Trump is going all in on divisive culture wars. That might not work this time.

I’m seeing some Trump ads on St. Louis television stations that are about what’s going to happen when you call the police and have to deal with an automated telephone tree with a five-day response time. But whatever you think of defunding the police, that’s a state and local matter. I’ve also seen internet ads playing up the alleged corruption of the Obama-Biden administration, although exactly what that corruption was supposed to be is not explained.

The Trump campaign is painting Joe Biden as too weak and feeble to deal with all the chaos the “left-wing mob” is bringing. However, at the same time, the Trumpies are trying to hang the anarchists and Antifa! and all the dark boogeymen in their dark minds around the neck of Biden, as if he were in cahoots with them, and I don’t think they can have it both ways.

Anyway, I agree with the view that most voters whose lives have been upended by the pandemic and the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic don’t want to hear about Confederate statues. They want to know what you’re going to do to put their lives back together.

And attacking Bubba Wallace? Seriously? See Will Leitch, New York magazine, Trump Can’t Turn Bubba Wallace Into Colin Kaepernick.

About the pandemic — Greg Sargent writes that it is just now dawning on Republicans that maybe they’ve made some bad decisions.

For many weeks, the basic story that President Trump told the country — and himself — went like this: The only thing restraining us from roaring back to greatness is the oppressive restrictiveness of overzealous officials, mostly Democratic governors and pointy-headed health experts.

In this narrative, by tweeting things such as “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” Trump aligned himself with the proposition that once lockdowns were lifted, Americans chafing to resume normal activity would instantly do so by the millions, unleashing a miraculous “V-shaped recovery.”

Yet privately, Trump’s own allies are suddenly making a major admission that completely overturns this narrative. Instead, they are acknowledging a core truth about this whole crisis — one that has already landed his reelection effort in deep trouble. …

… Trump’s allies are admitting what numerous experts have said for months: That in order to seriously get back on track to economic recovery, we have to tame the virus first. And they’re admitting that this is a key reason he’s in trouble.

So Republican politicians are swallowing hard and saying, um, yeah, maybe we ought to be wearing masks. Maybe we should have maintained isolation longer, instead of pushing to open the economy back up so fast.

Just as an example of how the ground has shifted, today Texas governor Greg “what pandemic?” Abbott blasted local leaders for not taking the pandemic seriously enough and enforcing restrictions, including mask orders.

There is also serious talk about whether down-ballot Republicans should cut their ties with Trump to salvage their own elections. They aren’t going to do it next week, but if we get to the first of September or so without visible progress on either the economy or the pandemic, some may feel forced to make that choice.

[Update] See Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly:

Trump’s failing campaign is threatening Republican control of the Senate. Nevertheless, when asked whether the president has exhibited failed leadership in response to the coronavirus, Senator Joni Ernst defended him saying, “I think that the president is stepping forward.”

Apparently that response helped her opponent, Theresa Greenfield, raise over $100,000. It’s worth noting that the most recent Des Moines Register poll showed Greenfield leading Ernst by three points. In a state Trump won by nine points in 2016, that same poll had Biden ahead by one point.

The Senate race in Iowa demonstrates the dilemma facing Republicans all over the country—even in traditionally red states: Do they stick with the president and go down with him, or do they hold him accountable and risk losing the support of the GOP base, which remains loyal to Trump. At this point, they’re obviously picking the former. But according to Gabriel Sherman, they’ve adopted a deadline on that.

A Republican strategist told Gabriel Sherman that “Republicans have Labor Day penciled in as the deadline for Trump to have turned things around. After that, he’s on his own.” LeTourneau expresses the opinion that Republicans are deluded if they think Trump is going to start doing anything differently from what he’s doing now, which isn’t working.

Regarding the economy, bringing that back will depend a lot on the virus and a lot on Congress. The headlines today are full of the names of all the companies and organizations that got PPP loans instead of your cousin whose restaurant business is going under. Even so, Congress needs to get another stimulus package out, soon. Mitch McConnell opened the door a crack yesterday that maybe something would be considered, which suggests what’s left of his hair isn’t in fire yet. It ought to be.

The only thing I can say for sure is that Trump is not going to pivot away from his campaign decisions. It’s going to be GLOOM DOOM CULTURE WAR, what pandemic?, and trust me on the economy from now until the election.

The Problem With “Western Civ”

I’m still thinking a lot about history and how we tell it. Charles Blow today recalls a Columbia University sophomore who went on an infamous rant about how white people created the modern world.

“We invented science and industry, and you want to tell us to stop because oh my God, we’re so baaad. We invented the modern world. We saved billions of people from starvation. We built modern civilization. White people are the best thing that ever happened to the world. We are so amazing! I love myself! And I love white people!”

Blow says that these are the sentiments “at the root of patriarchal white supremacist ideology.

To people who believe in this, white men are the heroes in the history of the world. They conquered those who could be conquered. They enslaved those who could be enslaved. And their religion and philosophy, and sometimes even their pseudoscience, provided the rationale for their actions.

It was hard not to hear the voice of von Abele when Trump stood at the base of Mount Rushmore and said, “Seventeen seventy-six represented the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization and the triumph not only of spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy and reason.” He continued later, “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”

To be clear, the “our” in that passage is white people, specifically white men. Trump is telling white men that they are their ancestors, and that they’re now being attacked for that which they should be thanked.

The ingratitude of it all.

I don’t know if world history is still being taught this way, but back in my day world history was “western civilization.” We skipped from ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia to Greece and Rome to the rest of Europe and, eventually, the European conquest of the New World. Period, end of the story of world history. Nothing about Africa after ancient Egypt, nothing about Asia after Mesopotamia except through the eyes of the Crusaders, nothing at all about East Asia, nothing about the indigenous civilizations of the Americas except that they were conquered.

One of the challenges I faced when writing The Circle of the Way was that I had to get up to speed on Asian history. Indeed, most of what I know about Asian history I’ve learned, in bits and pieces, over the years while studying and writing about bits of Buddhist history. I stumbled into what European colonialism did to the people and civilizations of India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. This is dark stuff, and I don’t know if Europeans have ever reckoned with it. Americans are nearly all blissfully unaware of it. Then, to get Circle right I had to dig deeper into the histories of China, Japan, and Korea. I developed an appreciation of what “western civ” might look like to an Asian, which is, um, not nearly as flattering as how “western civ” sees itself.

19th century cartoon of western powers fighting over the spoils of China.

That the period of European exploration and conquest had a huge impact on what we call the “modern world” is beyond doubt, but if that had never happened it is not at all a given that we wouldn’t now have a modern world that is just as technology-rich and “enlightened” as this one. I’ve come to realize that a whole lot of the acrimony and tensions in the world today can be traced back to cultural and societal destruction caused by European colonialism and other episodes in which Europeans, and Americans, messed around with other people’s countries. The partitioning of the Middle East after World War I comes to mind.

If you look at all of world history, you see that there’s nothing innate in Europeans to make them uniquely advanced. If anything, through most of world history Europe was, relatively, a cultural backwater. In the 12th century China was light years ahead of Europe in technology and other advances, from movable type, compasses, and timepieces to architecture to the earliest development of commercial farming. During the period of the European crusades the Islamic world was at a cultural peak, and was way ahead of Europe in science and mathematics. From the 11th to 14th centuries many Europeans traveled to the Middle East to study, and in part from this infusion of not European scholarship eventually the Renaissance was born.

So, white folks, we ain’t that special. Deal with it.

Charles blow quotes Trump as calling attempts to correct the historical record a “defilement” of history. Is it a defilement to state, correctly, that several of the founding fathers were slave owners and that even Abraham Lincoln said some things that come across today as blatantly racist? “It is not a defilement, but deprogramming,” Blow writes. “It is a telling of the truth, and the time for it is long overdue.”

Getting history right is important, because a skewed version of history leads to a skewed version of how we got to be where we are now. Keeping up the pretense that western civ brought nothing but bounty and blessings to the world is keeping us stuck in an untenable present.

And it should terrify all of us that Trump, who knows nothing of history and probably associates Confucius with Charlie Chan movies, is responsible for dealing with China. I assure you that China understand us a lot better than we understand them. As Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.”

And then there’s U.S. history. I’ve already written quite a lot about the damage done by the Lost Cause mythology that romanticizes the Confederacy. But here’s an anecdote that hammers home the denial we are in about it. This is by Tom Wheeler at the Brookings Institute.

A few years ago, I was making a presentation in a former slaveholding state based on my book “Leadership Lessons of the Civil War.” When I referred to those who fought for the Confederacy as traitors, you could feel the air being sucked from the room. Afterward, some who had been in the audience confronted me over the statement.

But the judgment is unassailable. To take up arms against your country is a traitorous act.

This is one one might call a bare-assed fact, but people refuse to look at it. That’s programming.

Erecting statues is just a way to obfuscate that reality while celebrating what caused it. In a similar manner, naming American military bases for generals who fought against America helps keep that traitorous tradition alive.

The Confederate stuff has to go. Other historical monuments we can debate on a case by case basis, but the Confederate stuff has to go.

At the New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner interviews historian Susan Neiman on How to Confront a Racist National History. Neiman has written quite a bit on postwar Germany and how Germans, slowly, came to process the Third Reich. She said,

I think it is very natural for everyone to want to see their ancestors and their nation as heroic. And if you can’t do heroic, then the move is to see yourself and your nation as a victim. But the move from seeing oneself as a nation of victims to a nation of perpetrators is one that the Germans finally and with great difficulty made. And that’s a historical precedent.

White southerners have been programmed to understand the Confederate legacy as a victimization of the South by the northern industrial states. And they see the Confederates as noble and heroic. But they were traitors, their cause was ignoble, and they bleeping started the bleeping war. We’re not going to be done with this hideous “heritage” until white southerners or anyone who romanticizes the Confederacy fully acknowledge that the Confederates were perpetrators. Not heroes, not victims. Perpetrators. At times in our history other Americans played the role of perpetrators. And some of that part of our history — see: Native Americans — is ongoing. It’s time we grew up about it.

Something of a postscript: Recently Jeff Sharlet posted something on Facebook I’d like to share here —

Again, what we see here is that this skewed, heavily mythologized version of history that remains embedded in school curriculum and popular culture just feeds notions of white supremacism and other right-wing wackjobbery. In this case, Sharlet describes the veneration of Stonewall Jackson among some white Christian conservatives. Jackson is held up as a “soldier of the Cross,” the ideal of the Christian warrior. Here’s just a bit —

In All Things for the Good: The Steadfast Fidelity of Stonewall Jackson, the fundamentalist historian J. Steven Wilkins opens a chapter on Jackson’s belief in the “black flag” of no quarter for the enemy with a quotation of Jackson’s view of mercy toward Union soldiers: “Shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.”

Earlier, in the Mexican War, Lieutenant Jackson defied an order to retreat, fought the Mexican cavalry alone with one artillery piece, and won. General Winfield Scott, commander of the U.S. forces, commended him for “the way [he] slaughtered those poor Mexicans.” Many of the poor Mexicans slaughtered by Jackson were civilians. His small victory helped clear the way for the American advance, and Jackson was ordered to turn his guns on Mexico City residents attempting to flee the oncoming U.S. Army. He did so without hesitation—mowing them down even as they sought to surrender.

This is commended in Christian popular history as proper Christian warfare. And these are the same alleged Christians who support Donald Trump. Knowing how they understand history does shed some light on their devotion to Trump. But along with his cold-blooded fanaticism for the Cause, Jackson was a flawed man who harbored a host of “eccentricities” that would have been labeled “neuroses” in later times and “psychological disorders” nowadays. He is not exactly a healthy role model. But in decades past even standard histories and textbooks, never mind Christian ones, made him out to be a great American. Enough.

The McCloskey Saga, Updated

I haven’t written here about Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the gun-totin’ St. Louis couple of wackadoos who became living memes a few days ago. You must have heard about them.

No, I don’t know who the person is in the foreground. And why are the McCloskeys both barefoot? Oh, never mind. There are some new developments to discuss, in particular about whether the McCloskeys might face charges.

The basic facts of what happened on June 28 are much disputed, of course, but what can be verified is that a number of Black Lives Matter protesters entered the gated neighborhood in which the McCloskeys live in ostentatious splendor and walked through the streets of that neighborhood on their way to the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson — a Democrat — for reasons explained here.

About the gate: There have been claims that the protesters tore down a gate to get into the community, but that’s been disputed in St. Louis media. Here is a report from KSDK News, the NBC television affiliate in St. Louis, broadcast on June 29, the day after the incident. It goes into details over the disputed stories about the gate. As you can see in the report, the gate was still there. It was damaged, but it’s disputed whether the damage already existed before the protesters went through the gate. It is an old gate, and the protesters said someone had opened the gate for them.

On the other hand, Mark McCloskey produced a photo showing much more serious damage to the gate than is seen in the television news video shot the next day, and don’t ask me how he managed that. Even now people are arguing on social media about the gate, and some people are claiming the gate was replaced, but there’s been nothing about that in St. Louis media. It’s an antique gate, and I doubt you could just run down to Home Depot for an identical replacement.

About the “private” neighorhood: The McCloskeys are not the sole owners of the property behind the gate. The street and sidewalks belong to a homeowners association, so while the streets are not “public,” they aren’t the McCloskeys’s property. And as we’ll see, this could be a critical distinction if the McCloskeys find themselves facing criminal charges.

Indeed, the McCloskeys and the homeowners association have been engaged in a drawn-out legal dispute about who owns what:

The McCloskeys and the trustees of Portland Place are involved in a three-year legal dispute over a small piece of property. The McCloskeys claim they own it, but the trustees say it belongs to the neighborhood.

A judge on Monday ruled against motions from both sides to end the case without a trial. Details about the legal case were first reported Thursday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Mark McCloskey said in the affidavit that he and his wife purchased the home in 1988 and have taken several measures to improve the disputed piece of land.

The affidavit states they have “regularly prohibited all persons, including Portland Place residents, from crossing the Parcel including at least at one point, challenging a resident at gunpoint who refused to heed the McCloskeys’ warnings to stay off such property.”

Watkins said in an interview that the McCloskeys have “touched their weapons” just twice in their 32 years on Portland Place — during the incident in 1988 or 1989 cited in the affidavit, and on Sunday.

In other words, they pulled a gun on one of their own neighbors for being on a piece of land that they don’t clearly have title to, but claim anyway.

In the earlier incident, Watkins said, Patricia McCloskey heard a noise at night and saw someone.

“She looked down, had a gun and screamed for the person to stay off her property,” Watkins said. It turned out to be a neighbor cutting through on the way home from a nearby business district. Watkins said the neighbor was then, and is now, a friend of the couple.

One suspects the McCloskeys have boundary issues, and I’m not talking about real estate. But there are other people living in that community who didn’t see the protesters as a threat, and they produced an open letter criticizing the McCloskeys a few days ago:

A group of more than three dozen people who live in the private neighborhood where a couple brandished guns at protesters Sunday night released an open letter Wednesday condemning the couple. …

… One of the neighbors who signed the letter confirmed Thursday that the letter was authentic.

“Some of us choose to speak up following the horrific event that transpired on Sunday evening near our homes. As the undersigned, we condemn the behavior of anyone who uses threats of violence, especially through the brandishing of firearms, to disrupt peaceful protest, whether it be in this neighborhood or anywhere in the United States,” the letter reads.

Shortly after the incident, the St. Louis prosecutor announced she is looking into bringing charges against the McCloskeys. St. Louis news programs have interviewed one local legal expert after another saying that under Missouri’s nutjob gun laws it’s unlikely the McCloskeys broke the law. But today Erika Wurst, a deputy district defender at the St. Louis city Public Defender’s Office, wrote an op ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch disputing that opinion.

Undoubtedly, the law here is complicated. But Anders Walker, a St. Louis University professor quoted in the article, got it dangerously wrong. Homeowners cannot “pull the trigger” to get someone “off their lawn.” The Castle Doctrine modifies Missouri’s self-defense statute, Section 563.031. In order for someone to use deadly force on their property, the trespasser must be threatening a person with unlawful force. Mere trespass never justifies the use of deadly force. Such a blatantly incorrect misstatement of the law will certainly not lead to justice.

Without question, the state could make a case against at least Patricia McCloskey for unlawful use of a weapon. State law makes it illegal to knowingly exhibit or aim “any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner” at someone. Maybe she has a defense, but I’m tempted to say what prosecutors always tell me when my clients have a good defense: Let a jury decide.

Later in the op ed, public defender Wurst wrote, “Patricia McCloskey generated controversy in the 1990s over reported efforts to stop unmarried or gay couples from moving to Portland Place.” Charming lady.

There’s an article at Business Insider by Patrick Blanchfield, an Associate Faculty Member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, providing some more background on the issue.

Parsing what happened in terms of the law gets murky fast. As US states go, Missouri is quite liberal in terms of gun rights. The open carry of firearms is legal. Missouri is also a Castle Doctrine state, allowing home owners to make armed self-defense of their residences against invaders. The state does not impose a “Duty to Retreat,” meaning gun owners can shoot and aren’t required to flee from their home or elsewhere if they feel their lives are under imminent threat (sometimes known as Stand Your Ground).

But brandishing a weapon at someone in a threatening manner can be a felony, and the Castle Doctrine does not straightforwardly extend to “private streets.” Indeed, St. Louis city laws regarding brandishing at people in shared public spaces (in the more common language sense) may well trump the prerogatives of private citizens in private or semi-public ones. And it is certainly the case that someone’s performing an act of civil disobedience — including trespassing — does not itself grant bystanders the right to threaten lethal force against them.  …

… Likewise, it is striking how, in the many defenses of the McCloskeys, the question of what, exactly, “private property” means is slippery. Is it their private property? Is it the private property of Portland Place Homeowner’s Association, of which they are members? Or is it the idea of a particular order of private property, which first and foremost depended on the prerogative of armed white people, civilians and otherwise, to claim territory and dominate people, above all unruly nonwhite people, within it?

As far as I know, the Portland Place Homeowner’s Association has not officially taken a position on this matter, although given the number of signatures on the open letter, if it went to a vote of the members about whether the protesters were a threat, the McCloskeys might lose.

Anyway, it’s not impossible that the McCloskeys will face charges eventually. Whether they would be convicted by a St. Louis jury is another matter entirely.

While we’re on the subject of the McCloskeys — I’ve seen claims in social media that they are registered Democrats. There is no registration by party in Missouri. I verified that by looking at my own voter registration card. There are also claims that the McCloskeys donate money to Democrats. Snopes says that records going back a few years show that they’ve donated money to politicians of both parties, but in recent years most of their donations have gone to Republicans.

There are also some stories in the news that protesters either returned to the McCloskey property or were very near there Friday evening, July 3. Nothing happened, fortunately. If the St. Louis prosecutor is going to bring charges — and I believe she will if there’s any case at all — it would probably be better for protesters to stay away from the McCloskeys rather than potentially muddy the water if somebody did something stupid. And the McCloskeys are dangerous. They haven’t shot anybody yet, but give ’em time.

A Normal 4th of July

Back in the day, on a normal 4th of July, people gathered in backyards for potato salad and chips and cold beer and various meats cooked on the grill while a Major League Baseball game played on a radio. Some might take advantage of the 4th of July blowout sales at the mall to get that new microwave or mattress. Some might take a long weekend for a car trip to some scenic place. In the evening, there were fireworks.

At some point in the day, some thought might be given to the Declaration of Independence, but that wasn’t mandatory. And maybe that was okay. The point of the Revolution was to enable people to lead peaceful and normal lives, not to churn out succeeding generations of flaming revolutionaries.

This year — I guess not.

We’re engaged in a vast and messy national argument about our past, our present, and our future. I assume the November election will give us some indication of which argument is winning, although it’s probably too much to hope for a resolution. But as awful as this year has been, this blowup needed to happen. It’s been building for a lot of years. Trump’s awfulness hurried it along, but it would have happened sooner or later.

Let’s hope that next 4th of July we’re all in a much different place, and we’ll all be enjoying big cookouts and fireworks and even blowout sales on mattresses. This year, take some time for a cold beer and watch Hamilton on the Disney Plus channel. You’ll enjoy it.

Stuff to Read

Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, Trump Is Turning America Into the ‘Shithole Country’ He Fears

Charles Pierce, Esquire, This Fourth of July, We’re in Another One of Those Moments Where the Great Bluff Gets Called

David Atkins, Washington Monthly, The Trump Administration Is Giving Up on Fighting the Pandemic

Robin Givhan, The Washington Post, Trump got his crowd and his fireworks, and peddled his fiction

Paul Krugman, The New York Times, Trump’s Virus Is Spreading, and His Economy Is Stalling

Dale Beran, The Atlantic, The Boogaloo Tipping Point

A More Perfect Union

I’ve been thinking a lot about the convergence of history and myth lately. Modern people like to believe we have left myth behind, but that is not true. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, many of us have a whole lot of mythology clanking around in our heads that define us, as individuals and as citizens and as a lot of other things. See, for example, The Myths That Guide Us from 2017 and The Last Hurrah of the Lost Cause from a couple of days ago.

Timothy Egan wrote in today’s New York Times that “No country can last long without a shared narrative.” That may be true, and it’s very possible that a big part of our current divisiveness is that we as a nation have been divided by narrative, and by that I mean narratives that tell us who we are as Americans and what the U.S.A. is supposed to be.

For example, we all may share some part of the history of the Revolutionary War as part of our internal narrative. But it’s striking how much the Right so often falls back on the imagery and symbols of the Revolution, as if they owned them, in support of causes that would baffle the original revolutionaries.

UNITED STATES – APRIL 6: Tea party activist John Oltesvig, of North Carolina, wears a colonial costume with a tri-corner hats as he participates in the rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 6, 2012, days before a possible federal government shutdown. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Let’s take taxes. The real founders, of course, were not opposed to  taxes, but to taxes without representation. President George Washington himself put on his army uniform and led federalized militia against the big tax revolt of his day, the Whiskey Rebellion, in 1794.

Or let’s take guns. The framers of the Constitution did not write the 2nd Amendment so that Americans could own any damnfool weapon they wanted to be ready to revolt against the U.S. govrnment whenever they got pissed off enough, as gun-rights activists insist. (See Garrett Epps at The Atlantic for background; I don’t have the strength to wade back into gun rights again.) So we see that today’s political Right is using a highly mythologized version of our founding history as part of their internalized narrative about what America is supposed to be, and it’s doing a lot of harm.

When the founders got around to forming a government, including the second one under the current Constitution, they were very careful not to put too much power into the hands of one person but to spread power around among various parts and levels of government. Today, the Right wants all power to flow to Donald Trump, and anyone considered disloyal must be part of the evil “deep state.” That’s more Orwellian than Jeffersonian, my dears.

The Revolution was supposed to be about freedom. But I wrote back in 2005 that the Right had stripped the word freedom of all meaning and rendered it into nothing but a tribal totem. The people who fetishize about freedom are too often the same ones who want to jail protesters, make excuses for police brutality, and approve of putting children in cages at the border. Oh, and let’s not even start on reproductive rights. Freedom for me, but not for thee.

The Revolution was about people shaking off the rule of a distant power so that they could form their own government with their own elected representatives, with some restrictions on that government written into the Bill of Rights. This was the liberty they fought for, not license to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it, and the hell with everyone else.

See also The Pandemic, the Constitution, and Civil Liberties. The notion that mandatory quarantines or mask wearing is government tyranny that Our Forefathers wouldn’t have approved of just doesn’t hold up. And those who are outraged that bars or hair salons are closed to get the damn pandemic under control are not people I personally want to pledge my life, fortune (such as it is) and sacred honor with, to tell you the truth. I would be concerned that on the day we are called to do our utmost for the nation, they’d be getting their nails done. (I do wonder if a lot of the people who think only “sheeple” wear masks are the same ones who adamantly refuse to grasp the concept of herd immunity and vaccinations, but that’s another rant.)

By now most of us are grappling with the fact that much of our national mythology has been all about white people. This is dysfunctional. We will not be a more perfect union until we are a more inclusive union. Timothy Egan’s column begins:

As baffling as it is to find statues of traitors, slaveholders and killers of Union soldiers ensconced in many a prominent square, consider the historical discordance of Custer County, S.D.

The hard beauty of the Black Hills, sacred land to Native Americans, overshadows the county, the main town and the state park, all named for George Armstrong Custer. The hard history was shaped by the slayer of those native people. Custer’s willful trespass into territory promised by treaty to the Sioux set the stage for the last violent encounters between New World and Old.

Just under 20 miles from Custer is Mount Rushmore, which President Trump plans to visit this Fourth of July weekend. A mere seven miles from Custer is the Native American Rushmore — a still unfinished carving of the Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse, 641 feet long and 563 feet high.

Here is the American paradox in a grid of stark geology.

As you know, Trump plans to get his picture taken with fireworks over Mount Rushmore in front of a maskless and not socially distanced crowd this weekend, in spite of the real danger of forest fire and coronavirus spread. The President of the Oglala Sioux Nation, Julian Bear Runner, says that the land around Mount Rushmore belongs to the Oglala Sioux by treaty, and that Trump doesn’t have permission to go there, but of course that’s going to be ignored.

We absolutely must stop treating Native Americans as some relic of past history and bring them into full inclusion of the more perfect union, treaties and all.

Today the Disney Plus channel is beginning to stream the musical Hamilton. I got to see it on Broadway a couple of years ago, I think it was; it’s wonderful. Of course, part of the genius of Hamilton is that it claims the story of the Revolution as one belonging to Americans of color just as much as whites. It’s adjusting our founding story to be more inclusive.

Back in 2016, when a casting call for non-white actors went out for the touring company, righties howled in outrage! But the mostly nonwhite cast is part of the deeply embedded message — this belongs to us, too. The only white character, of course, is King George. And that creates all kinds of subliminal messages about the nature of us and them. Who is us? Who isn’t? It’s long past time to clarify that point.

Recently Leslie Odom, who played Aaron Burr in the original cast, spoke about the tension and dissonance in the piece. Most of the historical figures depicted in the musical were slave owners, after all, and yet here were nonwhite actors recreating this bit of history as their story.

It’s really the first question that needs to be asked is, okay, whose history is this? …

… Lin, he started with, he started the conversation of, “Well, this is the history that we’ve all agreed on, right?” Okay, so these are the facts: as you’ve told them to me again and again. Okay, great. The first step is, now we’re going to take them and we’re going to tell the story in our own words. Are you okay with that?

I might ask here, why do we assume the story automatically belongs to white people? Especially white people whose ancestors got here long after the Revolution?

Odom recalls a young woman telling him, “So my friends and I talk about Hamilton a lot. And we feel like this show actually isn’t revolutionary at all. It’s just a bunch of People Of Color standing on the stage telling White people stories. What do you think about that?”

And all I could say to this young girl, this young revolutionary, was: Lin wrote the show that was on his heart to write. There is no doubt in my mind that in some time, someone is going to write the show that makes Hamilton look quaint. I have no doubt in my mind. I hope I live long enough to see that show. I said to her, “It’s your job.”

Someday, maybe we won’t see this bit of history as “white people stories.”

Along those lines, please do see this video of young people, descendants of Frederick Douglass, reading Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This is part of our heritage. Not just African-American heritage; all American heritage.

I very much hope that we’re living through a lot of last hurrahs, and not just of the Lost Cause. I want to see the end of white supremacy, and the end of conservative Christians being allowed to write policy that favors their religious beliefs over all others; and the end of the notion that ordinary people shouldn’t expect government to do anything for them. It’s our government. That was what the Revolution was about. We can do with it as we want. 

Maybe this is the darkness before the dawn. Let’s hope. But we seriously need to update out national mythology to one that is both a more accurate reflection of real history and that makes us all equally visible and equally valuable. Otherwise our descendants will be refighting the same old wars.

Governing Is Hard, and Trump Can’t Do It

Living in the U.S. right now feels a bit like being on a bus stalled on train tracks and watchng the train coming. You know that there’s no way shit’s not going to get worse the remainder of the year, but there is little one can do. Because …

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RC1D94FA7CB0

Trump is back to hoping the pandemic just goes away. This is from yesterday:

I wrote yesterday that the Trump campaign will likely double down on racism and name-calling, because what else has Trump got? He doesn’t govern. He has no second-term policy plans. Eli Stokols writes at the Los Angeles Times:

President Trump on Wednesday suggested that painting the words “Black Lives Matter” on New York City’s Fifth Avenue would amount to a “symbol of hate,” complaining that such an action would be “expensive” and “denigrating [to] this luxury Avenue.”

That came shortly after a threat by the president to veto the Pentagon’s budget legislation should it include a measure to take the names of Confederate generals off military bases, which he denounced as being sponsored by “Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren (of all people!).”

That came only hours after his declaration that he “may END” a federal housing regulation aimed at desegregating neighborhoods, which he claimed has had “a devastating impact” on America’s suburbs.

And that came roughly a day after he re-tweeted a video of supporters in an almost entirely white Florida retirement community shouting “white power” from a golf cart.

Sinking further behind former Vice President Joe Biden in presidential election polls, Trump in recent days has indulged in a string of blatant appeals to racism.

Stokols goes on to cite polls showing this is out of touch with the large majority of the U.S. public, and that political strategists of both parties are baffled by the direction Trump’s campaign is taking. I don’t know why they are baffled, however. Trump’s entire shtick is to run as the strong man who will protect us against some awful scary hated thing, whether it be Hillary Clinton or nonwhite immigrants or (sometimes) China, except when Trump wants something from Xi Jinping, during which times China stops being an awful scary hated thing. I believe we’re back to being alarmed about China now, but it’s hard to keep track.

Nancy LeTourneau asks the question, What Are Trump’s Plans for Reviving His Failing Campaign? Trump’s poll numbers are terrible, not just nationally but also in the critical swing states. Biden is competitive in Georgia and Texas. LeTourneau writes,

With four months to go before the votes are counted, it has become clear that the president will need a herculean effort to counter those headwinds. His situation is unprecedented because no incumbent has ever trailed by this much at this point in an election cycle. So what are Trump’s plans for a comeback? According to reporters at the Washington Post, here are a few things that are being considered.

1. Remain in denial about the polls
2. Launch a shake-up of campaign staff
3. Deploy a campaign message about Trump as a builder (ie, “he’s building a wall”)
4. Push a “renew, restore, rebuild” theme about the economy (as the pandemic continues to rage)

Seriously, what else can he do? He’s not going to suddenly become an effective president. He doesn’t have it in him.

The Washngton Post article cited by LeTourneau adds this:

An urgent task for Trump and his team, advisers say, is to find a way to negatively define Biden — transforming the election into a choice between the two men, rather than a referendum on the president.

Trump has recently been asking advisers whether he should stick with his current nickname for Biden — “Sleepy Joe” — or try to coin another moniker, such as “Swampy Joe” or “Creepy Joe.” The president is not convinced that “Sleepy Joe” is particularly damaging, and some of his advisers agree and have urged him to stop using the nickname. In a tweet on Sunday, Trump tried out yet another variant: “Corrupt Joe.”

Biden seems to understand that it’s to his advantage that the election be a referendum on Trump. It’s possible something will happen between now and the election that will change that, but I can’t imagine what.

Trump thinks his ace in the hole is the economy, and if the economy continues to improve he’ll be back in business. The June jobs numbers are in now, and they appear not to be bad. But the numbers don’t reflect the re-closings that are happening in the hot spot states. Catherine Rampell, WaPo:

In June the U.S. economy added 4.8 million payroll jobs, which is of course great news for those newly hired. Unfortunately, it means diddly squat for those still out of work.

And many, many millions more Americans remain in that unhappy situation.

To help you visualize just how deep the U.S. job-market hole remains, once again I bring you the Scariest Jobs Chart You’ll See All Day. It plots the trajectory of job changes in this recession alongside those from previous downturns (and subsequent recoveries).

I think the chart is pretty clear, although Rampell adds more explanation in her op ed if you want to read it. Rampell continues,

There’s also reason to worry that our little “rocket ship” might slow down — or perhaps already has.

Thursday’s jobs report reflects activity in mid-June. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employer survey always covers the pay period that includes the 12th of the month.) In some senses, only a couple of weeks feels like ages ago.

Since mid-June, confirmed coronavirus cases have surged, especially across the Sun Belt. Some states have halted or even reversed their reopening plans, especially in the industries that reported the greatest job gains at mid-June: Leisure and hospitality, which according to Thursday’s jobs report shows as adding 2.1 million positions in June, accounted for two-fifths of the overall gain in total payroll jobs.

Some big states are re-closing right now because of out-of-control virus spread. Rampell also points to indicators showing that spending is slowing down even more now, possibly as people are getting a clue that this virus thing isn’t going away anytime soon. When the enhanced unemployment benefits expire at the end of July … crash. And it won’t be long before states start having to lay off employees also. The economy desperately needs more stimulus and other money injected into it, but that’s not likely to happen, because …

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

So, we’re screwed. See also The Fed is raising dire economic warnings. But they will go unheeded.

And then there’s the virus. I am predicting that in many parts of the country schools will have to remain closed in September. And then I hope somebody — maybe the Lincoln Project, since they’re better at negative ads than the Democrats — runs a video compilation of all the times Trump said the virus would just go away, or that he had it under control.

Trump obviously still thinks that if he ignores a thing, it will go away. But some things don’t go away.

The Last Hurrah of the Lost Cause?

Here are a couple of articles to read together. First, see David W. Blight, Europe in 1989, America in 2020, and the Death of the Lost Cause at The Atlantic. I would seriously love to round up everyone complaining that toppling Confederate statues is “erasing history” and rub their noses in what Blight wrote here.

The Lost Cause is, of course, a mythology that grew in the South after the Civil War. And at the hands of generations of Southern historical scholars, the mythology supplanted the real history of the war, as well as the real history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and a lot of other things. The Lost Cause denied that the primary — and secondary, and tertiary — reason so many slave states seceded and formed the Confederacy was to protect the institution of slavery. Instead, the myth insisted, the Civil War was fought to preserve some noble, agrarian way of life that was principled and free. Seriously. And this way of life was ripped away from the poor victimized South by those dirty northern industrialists for some vague reason that never made coherent sense. And if you know anything at all about the real history, you know what a pile of excréments de taureau that is.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu found a document in the National Register of Historic Places that explains the Lost Cause pretty well. It said:

The Cult of the Lost Cause had its roots in the Southern search for justification and the need to find a substitute for victory in the Civil War. In attempting to deal with defeat, Southerners created an image of the war as a great heroic epic. A major theme of the Cult of the Lost Cause was the clash of two civilizations, one inferior to the other. The North, “invigorated by constant struggle with nature, had become materialistic, grasping for wealth and power.” The South had a “more generous climate” which had led to a finer society based upon “veracity and honor in man, chastity and fidelity in women.” Like tragic heroes, Southerners had waged a noble but doomed struggle to preserve their superior civilization. There was an element of chivalry in the way the South had fought, achieving noteworthy victories against staggering odds. This was the “Lost Cause” as the late nineteenth century saw it, and a whole generation of Southerners set about glorifying and celebrating it.

David Blight, who is the Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, takes that a bit further:

The Lost Cause argued that the Confederacy never fought to preserve slavery, and that it was never truly defeated on the battlefields of glory. Lost Cause spokesmen saw the Confederacy as the real legacy of the American Revolution—a nation that resisted imperial and centralized power, and which could still triumph over rapid urbanization, immigration, and strife between labor and capital. Above all, the Lost Cause seductively reminded white Americans that the Confederacy had stood for a civilization in which both races thrived in their best, “natural” capacities. The slaughter of the Civil War had destroyed that order, but it could be remade, and the whole nation, defined as white Anglo-Saxon, could yet be revived.

It didn’t take a lot of mutation for the Lost Cause myth to become the right-wing politics that infect us today. I would argue that most right-wing nuttiness of today is the result of the Lost Cause getting mingled into Red Scares/McCarthyism and evangelical premillennialism. And, unfortunately, that nonsense spread everywhere and wasn’t limited to the South.

As I’ve written here before, most of the Confederate monuments in the U.S. were erected in the early 20th century, a time in which the Lost Cause myth had reach cult proportions. This perod also coincided with the First Red Scare. The Confederate officers so enshrined were depicted as dashing, patriotic gentlemen heroes, nobly defending their “way of life” from the rapacious, freedom-killing federal government.

The 1920s also saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. This is all of a piece. Those who embraced the Lost Cause myth also came to lump eastern European immigrants, labor unions, communism, big cities generally, any form of religion that was not Christian fundamentalism, and egghead college-educated northeastern elites into the same pot.

David Blight:

From the eighteen-nineties through the First World War, as Jim Crow laws and practices spread across Southern states, and as lynching became a ritual of terror and control, it was organizations like the U.D.C. and U.C.V. that placed hundreds of monuments, large and small, all over city squares and town centers. By 1920, virtually no one in the South, black or white, could miss seeing a veterans’ parade, or a statue of a Confederate soldier leaning on his musket with sweet innocence and regional pride. Schools, streets, and parks were named for Confederates. And, at one dedication after another, the message sent to black Southerners was that the Lost Cause was no longer lost. It had, instead, become a victory narrative about the overturning of Reconstruction and the reëstablishment of white supremacy. The myth had become the ruling regime, which governed by law and by violence, and because it controlled the story. What’s more, the nation largely acquiesced to, and even applauded, this dogged Southern revival.

I could go on and on, but the short version of this is that the Lost Cause myth is a pile of historical revisionist nonsense that squeezed out real history, and I honestly believe it has to die and be replaced by real history before the poison it represents can be excised. That’s a big reason I am all in favor of getting rid of Confederate monuments, except arguably the very few that mark the spot of some real historical event. Most of them have nothing to do with history; they are totems of the Lost Cause. It also means we need to squeeze what’s left of the myth out of American schools and textbooks, and as much as possible, jeer it out of popular culture. Zero tolerance, I say. We won’t have a manageable, inclusive nation until we accomplish this.

If you can get past the Atlantic firewall (I think they give you a couple free articles every month, if you don’t subscribe), it’s very much worth reading Blight’s essay all the way through. But now I want to move on to the other article of note and a more recent byproduct of the Lost Cause — the Southern Strategy.

Paul Waldman writes How Donald Trump will finally kill the Southern Strategy. It begins:

With one poll after another showing Joe Biden leading him by double digits, President Trump is in a precarious situation. So he has apparently decided that the way for him to prevail is to squeeze one more election out of the Southern Strategy, the one that has delivered the White House to Republicans so many times over the past half-century.

The problem is that he’s been trying to milk that strategy for political success since he took office, without anything to show for it. When we look back, we may well realize that there was indeed one last presidential election that could be won on white racial resentment — but that election happened in 2016.

Donald Trump of Queens, a second-generation American without family history of American military service, whose forebears were all in Europe when the Civil War happened, has embraced the Lost Cause, it appears. He probably doesn’t know exactly what it is, but he knows it’s somehow associated with winning votes in the South and anywhere one finds pickup trucks festooned with Confederate battle flags. He’s adopted  the memory of Confederate generals as the hill he’s going to defend, at least for now.

The Confederate generals, of course, had nothing to do with winning the world wars, a point Trump might not understand. Waldman continues,

Warren’s amendment to the bill funding the military, which would begin the process of removing the names of Confederate leaders from American bases, was approved on a voice vote last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is controlled by Republicans; the larger bill was then approved by 25 to 2.

It seems that even in the president’s own party, there is a growing realization that just as American soldiers don’t train at Fort Himmler or Fort Tojo, it’s obscene for military bases to be named for men who committed treason against the United States in order to maintain slavery.

And on the same day that Trump was proclaiming his commitment to defend Confederate iconography, Mississippi became the last state to remove a Confederate emblem from its state flag. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who’s not exactly a liberal, personally oversaw the removal of the old Mississippi flag in the Capitol and posed for pictures to commemorate the historic event.

Waldman argues that Trump is going to makes his appeals to divisiveness and racism more and more explicit as the campaign continues, because that’s all he knows how to do. This is tearing the old Republican coalition apart, because a lot of college-educated and surburban Republicans like their racism in more coded and genteel forms, thank you very much.

But it’s also the case that an all-white party is not going to survive the 21st century. One suspects even Mitch McConnell knows that. Republicans have been mumbling to each other for years that they really need to expand their base to include more racial minorities. But they’ve become too dependent on racist dog whistling as a cheap and easy way to win elections. And they can’t have both.

If Trump loses in November, Waldman argues, it may kill the Southern Strategy for all time. Maybe. In presidential elections, anyway. It may take a bloodbath at the congressional level to really kill it. Well, we can hope. If NASCAR is banning Confederate flags, that tells us the Lost Cause has lost considerable legitimacy.

And if the Lost Cause myth doesn’t die pretty soon, I don’t see how the U.S. will avoid becoming an international pariah, an economic has-been, and a third-world shit hole.

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.