To Make Delusion Fact

“On the throne of the world, any delusion can become fact.” ~ Gore Vidal, Julian

Who? What? Julian is an odd novel about the end of intellectual culture and its replacement by widespread religious violence and intolerance, long ago, about the emperor Julian and his rejection of Christianity in favor of Neoplatonic Hellenism – intellect, not faith. He lost that battle. It’s a sad story and Vidal published this in 1964 – the crude Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and the proudly extremist Goldwater folks had hijacked the Republican Party and the suave and thoughtful Jack Kennedy was quite dead by then. America would never have an intellectual culture again. And hardly anyone read the novel, which proved Vidal’s point.

But there’s nothing new there. Delusion always becomes fact. That’s what politics are about. And so it goes:

In President Trump’s early days in the White House, Kayleigh McEnany made a name for herself by defending him on CNN, a network where he has few allies. As a Trump campaign aide, she became a fixture at his political rallies. And on Tuesday, she was named White House press secretary, capping a journey toward the center of the president’s orbit.

But Ms. McEnany, 31, is not expected to significantly change her role in her new job, whose main responsibility – answering questions from press in the briefing room and communicating the president’s decisions to the public – has been long been subsumed by Mr. Trump himself. She is expected to keep defending him on television.

She’s young. She’s quite pretty. She’s his new propaganda minister. That’s what the job had become:

Her appointment, by Mr. Trump’s new chief of staff, former Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, is the latest shake-up in a communications office that has seen almost constant turnover since 2017. Ms. McEnany will replace Stephanie Grisham, a Trump loyalist who was named press secretary last summer and will return to the East Wing as chief of staff for Melania Trump, the first lady…

Ms. Grisham did not hold a press briefing during her time on the job, and Ms. McEnany is not expected to – at least in the short term. Privately, few aides see the point: As Mr. Trump remade the presidency in his own image, approaching the job and making hiring decisions much as a reality television show producer would, the role of White House press secretary stopped resembling the job of administrations past.

Long gone is the idea that a single aide would be designated to spend half the day collecting information and talking points to explain the president’s decision making to the American public. The coronavirus crisis has confirmed that Mr. Trump is happy to spend hours a day doing the job himself.

It makes him happy. On the throne of the world any delusion can become fact:

The president has grown to see the daily briefings he attends with members of his coronavirus task force much in the way he does his Twitter account: as an unfiltered bullhorn to get his own version of reality across, and a way to wage battles with journalists who have questioned his accounting of the facts.

“One of the reasons I do these news conferences,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday during a two-hour briefing, is “because if I didn’t, they would believe fake news, and we can’t let them believe fake news. They see us up here. They see us with admirals. They see us with this talent!”

And the kid will handle the general propaganda:

In a video of Ms. McEnany on the Fox Business show “Trish Regan Primetime” from Feb. 25, circulated by Andrew Kaczynski of CNN, the new press secretary said, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here, we will not see terrorism come here, and isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”

Since Ms. McEnany made that statement, about 400,000 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus.

She has at times trafficked in the type of “othering” of President Barack Obama that Mr. Trump once did by promoting a lie that the first black president, whose father was Kenyan, was not born in the United States. “How I Met Your Brother – Never mind, forgot he’s still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows,” Ms. McEnany tweeted in 2012.

And she keeps saying that Donald Trump has never lied, ever, about anything. In fact, he’s never been mistaken about anything, ever. The nation will sigh, and shrug, and no one will care what she says. But that’s life on the throne of the world:

Mr. Meadows is said to be working closely with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who signed off on the communications office changes.

The former communications director Hope Hicks, a close adviser to Mr. Trump since the 2016 campaign, recently returned to work with Mr. Kushner, and she has been increasingly involved in messaging and press issues, particularly as the president has become more visible in responding to the coronavirus. Ms. Hicks has helped officials stress-test ideas as Mr. Kushner has assumed more responsibilities related to the response.

Hope Hicks will lead the effort to show that the president has been perfect in everything and that his son-in-law knows more than Doctor Fauci and everyone else and has already fixed everything anyway. She will make delusion fact. How hard can that be?

That’s hard. Before one can make delusion fact, one must get rid of the damned actual facts that keep getting in the way. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage and Peter Baker report on how Trump is taking care of that:

President Trump moved on Tuesday to oust the leader of a new watchdog panel charged with overseeing how his administration spends trillions of taxpayer dollars in coronavirus pandemic relief, the latest step in an abruptly unfolding White House power play against semi-independent inspectors general across the government.

The official, Glenn A. Fine, has been the acting inspector general for the Defense Department since before Mr. Trump took office and was set to become the chairman of a new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to police how the government carries out the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. But Mr. Trump replaced Mr. Fine in his Pentagon job, disqualifying him from serving on the new oversight panel.

And just like that, that man was gone, one more gone now:

The move came at a time when the president has been reasserting authority over the executive branch and signaling impatience with independent voices within the government that he considers disloyal. In recent days, he fired an inspector general who reviewed the whistle-blower complaint that led to his impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post, declared that he would ignore certain oversight provisions in the new relief law and attacked another inspector general who criticized virus testing shortages.

Mr. Trump even cheered the firing of the captain of an aircraft carrier for sending a letter to fellow Navy officers pleading for help for his virus-stricken crew, castigating the officer for airing unfavorable information. Only after a loud backlash over the firing and the acting Navy secretary’s speech calling the captain “stupid” did the president partly reverse himself and say he would look into it. The acting Navy secretary, who said he had ordered the firing because he assumed Mr. Trump might have done it himself otherwise, took the hint and resigned on Tuesday.

That’s quite an effort. Those with facts are being purged from government, which Trump has always distrusted:

The questions of accountability and loyalty within the government have been persistent themes in the past three years as Mr. Trump has repeatedly waged war with what he calls “the deep state.” He has rejected the conventional views that figures like the director of the FBI, the attorney general, intelligence directors, uniformed military commanders, ethics officers and now inspectors general, should have a degree of autonomy.

But it’s nothing personal:

At his daily coronavirus briefing, Mr. Trump offered no particular explanation for sidelining Mr. Fine but characterized it as part of a larger shuffle of inspectors general – some of them left over from past administrations – and cited unspecified “reports of bias.”

He just doesn’t like what they do:

Critics said on Tuesday that it sent a message to government watchdogs to tread softly. “I cannot see how any inspector general will feel in any way safe to do a good job,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group. “They are all at the mercy at what the president feels.”

But Mr. Trump’s allies said he felt burned by the investigations of his campaign and associates and therefore distrusts figures he perceives to be partisan foes within government, particularly former FBI officials who obtained warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to investigate a campaign aide’s ties to Russia.

“I’ve never heard the president express frustrations about independent oversight,” said Cliff Sims, a former White House aide. “But he doesn’t think he should be subjected to his political enemies in supposedly apolitical oversight roles. This has been deeply ingrained in his psyche since the moment he learned that FISA had been abused to spy on his campaign.”

Wait. He loves independent oversight. But he never sees that happening because everyone is out to get him. He’s not paranoid. They are out to get him. They all hate him. There is no independent oversight. But how would he know? He’s always screaming that everyone is out to get him, everyone! Don’t you people understand? Everyone!

That complicates things, because everyone else is relatively stable and calm:

In removing Mr. Fine from his role overseeing pandemic spending, Mr. Trump targeted a former Justice Department inspector general who earned a reputation for aggressive independence in scrutinizing the FBI’s use of surveillance and other law enforcement powers in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Replacing Mr. Fine as the Pentagon’s acting inspector general will be Sean O’Donnell, who serves as the inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency and will do double duty for the time being. A group of inspectors general led by Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, will determine who will replace Mr. Fine as chairman of the new pandemic oversight committee.

All of that is rather straightforward and rather boring and not particularly nefarious:

Created as part of the coronavirus relief bill, the committee consists of nine inspectors general from across the executive branch and will have an $80 million budget to hunt for waste, fraud, abuse and illegality in the disbursement of the $2.2 trillion approved by Congress to provide relief to Americans affected by the pandemic.

In announcing Mr. Fine’s short-lived role last week, Mr. Horowitz had praised him as “uniquely qualified” to run oversight of “large organizations,” citing his 11 years as the top Justice Department watchdog and his four years serving as the top Pentagon one.

“The inspector general community recognizes the need for transparency surrounding, and strong and effective independent oversight of, the federal government’s spending in response to this public health crisis,” Mr. Horowitz said at the time.

This is a green-eyeshades accounting job. The job is to record where every penny of the money went, in a big ledger. This is not political. This is tedious record-keeping. And that set off the usual alarms:

Democrats immediately condemned Mr. Fine’s sudden ouster as “corrupt,” in the words of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. “President Trump is abusing the coronavirus pandemic to eliminate honest and independent public servants because they are willing to speak truth to power and because he is so clearly afraid of strong oversight,” Mr. Schumer said.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called Mr. Trump’s actions “a direct insult to the American taxpayers – of all political stripes – who want to make sure that their tax dollars are not squandered on wasteful boondoggles, incompetence or political favors.”

That’s the point. What is Trump afraid of? And he may not get what he wants anyway:

It is not a given that Mr. O’Donnell will toe the line at the Pentagon. At the EPA he has issued reports that are critical of Mr. Trump’s appointed administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, who has sought to limit Mr. O’Donnell’s authority and oversight.

Only last week, after Mr. O’Donnell’s office released a report concluding that the EPA failed to adequately warn communities living in proximity to certain carcinogenic chemicals of their health risks, Mr. Wheeler publicly rebuked the inspector general’s report for its “tone and substance” and demanded that he rescind it. Mr. O’Donnell refused.

But then Trump is doing what he can where ever he can:

Late last month, several hours after Mr. Trump signed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus bill with fanfare on television, he issued a signing statement challenging a key safeguard congressional Democrats insisted upon as a condition of approving $500 billion in corporate bailout funds: that a special inspector general be empowered to demand information about how the Treasury Department spends the money and who would be required to tell Congress if executive branch officials unreasonably balk.

In his signing statement, Mr. Trump effectively declared that he could control what information goes to Congress about any disputes over access to information about how and why the money is spent. On Friday, he nominated Brian D. Miller, a White House aide, to serve as the special inspector general overseeing the corporate relief.

Then late that night, Mr. Trump fired the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael K. Atkinson, whose insistence on telling Congress about the whistle-blower complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted impeachment proceedings last fall.

At the same time, Mr. Trump also announced a slew of other inspector general nominees, including Mr. Abend as the new Defense Department inspector general, and three current and former Justice Department officials to be the new inspectors general at the CIA, the Education Department and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Mr. Trump redoubled his attacks on the acting inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi A. Grimm, in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, a day after she released a report about hospitals facing severe shortages in tests as they battle the pandemic.

He had been saying that there were no shortages of anything anywhere, and that all the doctors and nurses and hospital administrators, everywhere, were absolutely “delighted” with the job he was doing, and with him in particular, and that they all agreed that he was the best president ever. Everyone has watched his daily coronavirus taskforce briefings. The words vary a bit each time, but that’s what he says, and someone just messed that up:

On Monday, Mr. Trump had suggested that Ms. Grimm’s report was politically biased against him. Ms. Grimm is a career official who began work at the inspector general office late in the Clinton administration and stayed there throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, taking over the role of acting inspector general in an interim capacity this year.

She thought she was an accountant, not evil, but she’s been swept up in something larger:

Mr. Trump’s interest in inspectors general has grown more intense lately. Until his most recent nominations, he had failed to pick anyone for about one-third of the 37 inspector general positions that are presidentially appointed, according to the Project on Government Oversight. Those roles were temporarily assumed by other officials whose lack of job security and status typically makes them more cautious than a permanent appointee, government experts say.

And now, even the man who out of a sense of duty and honor and country has swallowed his pride and remained silent about everything for more than a year, has finally had enough:

Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issued a rare public rebuke of President Trump Tuesday over his decision to fire Glenn Fine, the Pentagon inspector general charged with overseeing implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.

“Mr. Fine is a public servant in the finest tradition of honest, competent governance,” Mattis told Yahoo News in an email. “In my years of extensive engagement with him as our Department of Defense’s acting Inspector General, he proved to be a leader whose personal and managerial integrity were always of the highest order.”

Mattis resigned over Trump abandoning our allies the Kurds and walking away from the Syrian mess and pretty much telling the Turks to kill all those Kurds if they wished. This was a matter of honor. We do not betray our close allies, ever. Trump then said that Mattis didn’t resign, that he had fired Mattis because Mattis was a coward and fool and knew nothing about the military.

Mattis bit his tongue, but this wasn’t about him. Glenn Fine is a good man. Enough is enough. But of course Trump does know what he’s doing:

“Trump has woken up to the fact that IGs pose a threat to him,” said Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who originally hired Fine and praised him as a hard-working and popular inspector general who had engendered strong loyalty within his office at the Pentagon. He noted that until now, inspectors general have largely felt protected to conduct independent oversight of government wrongdoing – unless there was some evidence they engaged in misconduct.

“This president has now changed the game,” Bromwich added. “This is a president that resists any form of oversight.”

That’s not quite right. He resists any facts. Delusion is more useful. Ashley Feinberg explains that:

There is nothing Donald Trump loves more than a rally. It’s where he gets to hear hordes of people screaming his name in ecstasy, where he gets to call for the downfall of his enemies, and where he gets to talk, uninterrupted, for hours at a time about any passing thought he chooses. He loves his rallies so much he’s done 96 of them since being elected president. The rally is perhaps the only place Donald Trump is truly happy. Or at least, it was.

In mid-March, however, with the coronavirus spreading ever more rapidly, Trump reluctantly announced that he’d be canceling his campaign rallies for the foreseeable future, depriving himself of the closest thing our president has to a sanctuary. To make matters worse, Trump’s sole source of self-soothing was being ripped from him by the thing he hates more than anything: his job. The country was being ravaged by a pandemic that he was in charge of containing, and a failure to do so could be catastrophic to his reelection chances.

Trump’s second instinct – his first instinct having been to pretend the outbreak wasn’t happening and to tell people the virus would go away- was to find someone else to take responsibility. And so, just as things were beginning to get too bad to ignore, Trump appointed Mike Pence to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

And that was that. Prissy and boring Mike Pence would be a great foil, his straight man, and on the throne of the world, any delusion could become fact:

Every day he gets to fill airtime across multiple networks, find new reasons to stoke outrage at the national media among his base, and receive some of the best coverage of his presidency. There is nothing a talking head loves more than a president looking stern-faced in a crisis, and Trump has been more than happy to oblige…

While Trump allows medical professionals and other featured players to participate on a rotating basis, everyone knows that Trump is the star. He leads the briefings, he fields the questions (even going so far as to prevent Anthony Fauci from providing answers that might embarrass him), and he gets the praise he craves. While he may be delighted to receive positive, or even respectfully mixed, reviews from the same reporters he publicly excoriates, he’s also managed to turn the events themselves into a daily worship session.

And there’s this bonus:

By now, everyone knows that the best way and perhaps only way to get Trump’s cooperation is to slather him in praise. The sincerity of the compliment makes no difference; all that matters is that it’s effusive. Three years in, the few government officials who remain are happy to oblige – and with millions of lives hanging in the balance, even would-be independent public health experts will do whatever it takes to keep the president from derailing their efforts in a burst of pique.

The result is a daily ritual where, quite literally, the first priority of all the pandemic responders is the boosting of the president’s ego.

And thus he’s a happy man:

He often speaks for over an hour, rambling his way through a stream of consciousness in the sort of stand-up comedy cadence his rally-goers know and love. He’ll take questions from Jim Acosta, giving him an opportunity for some performative media-bashing in the moment and some Twitter material for later. He’ll listen to officials prostrate themselves, visibly basking in the warm glow of their stilted praise.

And he can almost escape all those pesky facts:

It’s not all fun, of course. As much as his media bashing is a performance, he also genuinely despises being questioned – especially when the questions are about unpleasant concrete facts such as the country’s inability to test for the disease as he promised it would, or the chronic failure to deliver masks, ventilators, and other critical gear. He’ll often have a tantrum or two, occasionally storming out if things get really bad.

For the most part, though, this is the best part of Trump’s day.

That may not be true for anyone else. But he is on the throne of the world, for now. Delusion can become fact, right?

Don’t count on that.

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Bumper Sticker Foolishness

fMany of us were in the streets in the late sixties, college kids against the war, but it was hard to be against the troops. Half the guys we all knew from high school were in Vietnam, old friends, and a good number of them never made it home. The troops weren’t the problem. The problem was the military, or the military-industrial complex, whatever that was, or the nasty old men at the top, the civilians who directed the military – Johnson and then Nixon, Dean Rusk and then Henry Kissinger – that crowd. They got us into this mess. They’d gotten us into every damned mess. But the grunts had been our childhood friends. They really weren’t baby-killers. We listened to the same music. We could talk to them. We listened to them. No one listened to the nasty old men.

And then it was over. The last overloaded helicopter lifted off from the last dusty rooftop in Saigon. Gerald Ford puffed his pipe and life went on. But the nasty old men never went away. Those directing the military can still be jerks:

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s channeled President Trump when he lashed out at the captain he fired for raising concerns over the spread of COVID-19 on his ship

Modly made headlines on Monday after CNN reported on his screed against former Capt. Brett Crozier, saying that the captain he ousted was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in command. Modly was addressing the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, some of whom reportedly were shocked by the Navy official’s remarks.

Modly accused Crozier of purposefully leaking the memo he sent to Navy higher-ups about the dire COVID-19 infection rate on his ship.

In a statement to the New York Times, Modly defended his comments – “I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis,” he said.

Captain Crozier should be court-martialed for insubordination. He was intentionally trying to make the president look bad. And that’s his commander-in-chief! And he was implying that his sailors were weaklings who couldn’t handle a few sniffles. This had to be done.

None of the sailors seem to have felt that way, but they hardly mattered:

Both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump had defended Modly’s decision to fire Crozier. On Sunday, Esper told CNN that he supported Modly’s “very tough decision” to fire Crozier. Trump said that he thought the ousted Navy captain’s memo to crew members was “terrible.”

So the sailors heard this:

I’m gonna tell you something, all of you, there is never a situation where you should consider the media a part of your chain of command. You can jump the Chain of Command if you want and take the consequences, you can disobey the chain of command and take the consequences, but there is no, no situation where you to go the media. Because the media has an agenda and the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit and I’m sorry that’s the way the country is now but it’s the truth and so they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarrass you.

So think about that when you cheer the man of the ship who exposed you to that. I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.

That’s your duty. Not to complain.

That’s the long version of sit down and shut up, with a bit of frothing at the mouth about “fake news” and how the media has always been out to get Trump, along with the usual paranoia:

If I could offer you a glimpse of the level of hatred and pure evil that has been thrown my way, my family’s way over this decision, I would. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not about me. The former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden suggested just yesterday that my decision was criminal. I assure you that it was not. Because I understand the facts and those facts show that what your captain did was very, very wrong in a moment when we expected him to be the calming force on a turbulent sea…

The only reason we are dealing with this right now is a big authoritative regime called China was not forthcoming about what was happening with this virus and they put the world at risk to protect themselves and to protect their reputations…

The USS Theodore Roosevelt has to demonstrate to the citizens back home that it has its act together and that it’s knocking down this virus just like it would knock down the Chinese or the North Koreans or the Russians if any one of those nations were ever so stupid enough to mess with the Big Stick because she thought she was vulnerable.

That’s because everyone is out to get us, everyone, and they’re everywhere!

Who is this guy? He’s this guy:

Thomas B. Modly is an American businessman and government official who has served as Acting United States Secretary of the Navy since November 24, 2019… Modly is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Georgetown University, and Harvard Business School. He served on active duty in the United States Navy as a helicopter pilot and spent seven years as a U.S. Navy officer…

Modly served as the managing director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers global government and public services sector and as the firm’s global government defense-network leader, and has served as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Financial Management and as the first executive director of the Defense Business Board. He was nominated to become Navy Undersecretary by President Donald Trump in September 2017 and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate two months later

But he’s a temp, the “Acting” Secretary of the Navy. The Senate hasn’t confirmed him yet, to the top job. Trump hasn’t asked them to. This is a casual arrangement.

And this is odd. The New York Times team of Helene Cooper and Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt explores the situation:

The Navy’s top civilian, Thomas B. Modly, delivered his message over the ship’s loudspeaker system and deepened the raw us-versus-them atmosphere that had already engulfed the carrier. It also exposed the schism between a commander in chief with little regard for the military’s chain of command and the uniformed Navy that is sworn to follow him.

Like much in the Trump administration, what began as a seemingly straightforward challenge – the arrival of coronavirus onboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier – has now engulfed the military, leading to far-reaching questions of undue command influence and the demoralization of young men and women who promise to protect the country. At its heart, the crisis aboard the Theodore Roosevelt has become a window into what matters, and what does not, in an administration where remaining on the right side of a mercurial president is valued above all else.

In Vietnam it was the grunts who were caught in the middle, and now it’s these sailors:

The crew of the Roosevelt had already registered its discontent with the Trump administration’s decision to remove the commander, by cheering for Capt. Brett E. Crozier as he walked down the gangway last week and left the ship…

Mr. Modly, Navy officials say, then was angered about what he viewed as a public rebuke from the crew, and flew 8,000 miles to Guam to vent his ire to the sailors himself, according to audio recordings of the address that members of the crew shared with The New York Times and other news organizations.

So, he would teach these uppity nobody sailors a lesson, but he had created a public relations nightmare:

In an emailed statement late Monday, Mr. Modly apologized “for any confusion” his choice of words during his remarks to the Roosevelt crew may have caused. “I do not think Capt. Brett Crozier is naïve or stupid,” Mr. Modly said in the statement.

But his earlier remarks had echoed comments by the president, who on Saturday had lashed out at Captain Crozier as well.

On Monday, Mr. Trump again criticized Captain Crozier for writing the letter, saying it unwisely showed military weakness. But he also said he had heard good things about the carrier’s former commander.

“His career prior to that was very good,” Mr. Trump said. “So I’m going to get involved and see exactly what’s going on there because I don’t want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.”

Ah, the guy wasn’t stupid after all, and he shouldn’t be taken out back and shot, for treason. He’s just had a bad day. It happens. But the chief of naval operations and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military (not civilian) folks were pissed off:

Mr. Modly’s decision to remove Captain Crozier without first conducting an investigation went contrary to the wishes of both the Navy’s top admiral, Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, and the military’s top officer, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I am appalled at the content of his address to the crew,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said in a telephone interview, referring to Mr. Modly.

Mr. Modly, Admiral Mullen said, “has become a vehicle for the president. He basically has completely undermined, throughout the Theodore Roosevelt situation, the uniformed leadership of the Navy and the military leadership in general.”

But even worse, this was just stupid:

“At its core, this is about an aircraft carrier skipper who sees an imminent threat and is forced to make a decision that risks his career in the act of what he believes to be the safety of the near 5,000 members of his crew,” said Sean O’Keefe, a former Navy secretary under President George Bush. “That is more than enough to justify the Navy leadership rendering the benefit of the doubt to the deployed commander.”

Perhaps so, but at the top there’s that West Point graduate, the former chief of staff at the Heritage Foundation and for years and years Raytheon’s top lobbyist:

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Sunday that he supported Mr. Modly’s decision.

Raytheon’s top lobbyist had spoken, and that fixed nothing:

Several current and former Navy and national security officials said the Roosevelt episode illustrated how civilian leaders in this administration made questionable decisions based on what they feared Mr. Trump’s response would be.

“Modly got involved in the day-to-day deliberations to a greater degree than Navy tradition and the chain of command would expect precisely because Modly was obsessed with how the story might be playing inside the White House,” said Peter D. Feaver, a political-science professor at Duke University who has studied military-civilian relations.

But there’s a backstory here:

Mr. Modly, a Naval Academy graduate and former helicopter pilot, would not be in his current acting position were it not for the last political imbroglio, which involved the firing of the previous Navy secretary, Richard V. Spencer, by Mr. Esper in November.

Mr. Spencer had publicly disagreed with Mr. Trump’s intervention in an extraordinary war crimes case involving a member of the Navy SEALs, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused of murdering a wounded captive with a hunting knife during a deployment to Iraq in 2017.

Even his fellow Navy Seals said Gallagher was a bit of a murderous psychopath and wanted him gone, but not Trump:

Chief Gallagher had caught the president’s eye. Mr. Trump saw the commando as a victim of political correctness that he said hamstrings the warriors the nation asks to defend it.

When the Navy prosecuted Chief Gallagher, Mr. Trump intervened several times in his favor. When the chief’s court-martial ended in acquittal on most charges, Mr. Trump congratulated him and criticized the prosecutors. After the Navy demoted Chief Gallagher for the one relatively minor charge on which he was convicted, Mr. Trump reversed the demotion.

Finally, the commander of Naval Special Warfare, Rear Adm. Collin P. Green, started the formal process of taking away Chief Gallagher’s Trident pin, symbol of the Navy commandos, and expelling him from the SEALs. But Mr. Trump overruled the move – and Mr. Esper fired Mr. Spencer, who had supported the process of taking away Chief Gallagher’s Navy SEAL pin.

“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter in November. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”

Trump hates wimps, so he likes killers, and he worries about Fox News:

Coronavirus hit the Roosevelt as Mr. Trump was seeking to project a confident message of the United States getting through the pandemic with relative ease.

The acting Navy secretary “knew the president had sacked his predecessor when an internal matter of military discipline became the fodder for Fox News morning shows, and so was keen to manage – some would say, micromanage – the political optics,” Mr. Feaver said.

No wimps! No wimps ever! That would be the unified message. And that would mean there would be more than a few mystified sailors:

When his 15-minute speech was over, signing off with a tepid “Go Navy,” Mr. Modly had effectively drawn an invisible line between him and the more than 4,800 crew members of the Roosevelt, one crew member said. This sailor added that many of the crew thought Mr. Modly had called them stupid for putting so much faith in their commanding officer. After Mr. Modly’s speech, junior sailors approached the crew member, he said, looking to leave the service after their first enlistment.

Mr. Modly did not tour the ship, and practically no one, especially those in the lower ranks, even saw him. He was gone in less than thirty minutes.

And then it was over:

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he disagreed with the way Modly has handled the outbreak.

“His decision to relieve Captain Crozier was at best an overreaction to the extraordinary steps the Captain took to protect his crew,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine veteran, said that Modly “spectacularly disqualified himself as an effective leader” of the Navy.

“President Trump or Secretary Esper should fire him,” Gallego said. “They may or may not do so, but I will not hold my breath.”

Trump, asked about the controversy Saturday, said he supported Crozier’s dismissal but didn’t make the decision.

But by Monday evening Trump was saying he’d look into this. Don’t hold your breath.

But all of this had been inevitable. Trump hates wimps, so he likes military strongmen who think their troops should just shut up and kill. He always has. In early 2016, Emily Flitter filed a curious background story for Reuters:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump admires the late Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, both World War Two generals. They were winners, unpredictable, and not especially nice guys, he says in campaign speeches. But Trump’s pledge to imitate their styles sets modern-day military experts on edge.

Although unquestionably in the pantheon of U.S. military heroes, MacArthur and Patton were also controversial figures remembered by historians as flamboyant self-promoters. The commander in the Pacific, MacArthur was eventually fired by President Harry Truman for speaking out against Truman’s policies in the Korean War, which followed World War Two. Before Patton died in December 1945, he questioned the need to remove Nazis from key posts in postwar German politics and society.

It seems that Donald Trump doesn’t attend to details:

Born in 1946, a year after World War Two ended, Trump often praises MacArthur and Patton for the blunt ways he says they commanded respect. “George Patton was one of the roughest guys, he would talk rough to his men,” Trump told an audience last week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “His men would die for him,” Trump added. “We don’t have that anymore.” He said Patton would wipe out Islamic State without hesitation, were he still in command.

His audiences cheered, but others didn’t:

Interviewed by Reuters, recently retired military personnel voiced doubts about Trump’s grasp of U.S. military operations. One retired four-star general called Trump’s references to Patton and MacArthur “bumper sticker foolishness.” Another said Trump was comparing “apples to oranges” by likening America’s role in World War Two to the fight against Islamic State.

“He has no understanding of how it works, at least in my view,” said an aide to a third retired four-star general. “He makes these bold statements and one-liners, but that doesn’t translate into understanding what it takes to be a military leader, what it takes to develop a plan.”

In short, Trump was an amateur pretending he knows stuff that he doesn’t know:

Trump often says that in the spirit of MacArthur and Patton, he never wants to reveal his specific plans for military operations, since that would give the enemy a chance to prepare and counterattack. “I don’t want my generals being interviewed,” he said in Myrtle Beach.

Trump’s statement had an irony about it, given his oft-repeated comment that he knows what military experts have to say from their interviews on television. But historians said the comment also showed he has little understanding of just how often MacArthur and Patton spoke to the press.

“They were the media whores of their time,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor at International politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University who often writes on national security. He said anyone vaguely familiar with Patton by way of the 1970 George C. Scott film “Patton” would know he got into trouble for remarks that were politically controversial.

Trump saw that movie, everyone has, but there was this scene:

In early August 1943, Lieutenant General George S. Patton slapped two United States Army soldiers under his command during the Sicily Campaign of World War II. Patton’s hard-driving personality and lack of belief in the medical condition post-traumatic stress disorder, then known as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock”, led to the soldiers becoming the subject of his ire in incidents on 3 and 10 August, when Patton struck and berated them after discovering they were patients at evacuation hospitals away from the front lines without apparent physical injuries.

That was in the movie – Patton slapping the troubled soldier in the hospital and calling him a coward – and maybe Trump liked that scene. Trump’s like that. Everyone else is a coward. He’s not. Even if he didn’t go to Vietnam, he did attend a military academy, not a regular high school, so he knows about such things, or so he says:

Donald J. Trump, who received draft deferments through much of the Vietnam War, told the author of a coming biography that he nevertheless “always felt that I was in the military” because of his education at a military-themed boarding school.

Mr. Trump said his experience at the New York Military Academy, an expensive prep school where his parents had sent him to correct poor behavior, gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”

But of course Patton paid for slapping those soldiers:

Word of the incidents spread, eventually reaching Patton’s superior, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who ordered him to apologize to the men. Patton’s actions were initially suppressed in the news until journalist Drew Pearson publicized them in the United States. While the U.S. Congress and the general public expressed both support and disdain for Patton’s actions, Eisenhower and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall opted not to fire Patton as a commander. He was nonetheless sidelined from combat command for almost a year.

In the end, Patton, the tough guy some folks still love, was more trouble than he was worth:

Seizing the opportunity the predicament presented, Eisenhower used Patton as a decoy in Operation Fortitude, sending faulty intelligence to German agents that Patton was leading the Invasion of Europe. While Patton eventually returned to combat command in the European Theater in mid-1944, the slapping incidents were seen by Eisenhower, Marshall, and other leaders to be examples of Patton’s brashness and impulsiveness. Patton’s career was halted as former subordinates such as Omar Bradley became his superiors.

Brashness and impulsiveness ended Patton’s career. Brashness and impulsiveness ended MacArthur’s career too – that unauthorized sudden move to take all of Korea without thinking about the Chinese on the other side of the Yalu or what Harry Truman wanted him to do. The Chinese trapped MacArthur’s overextended forces. MacArthur asked Truman to nuke the Chinese, all of them. Truman fired him. But he was still a hero to Trump.

Captain Brett Crozier never stood a chance. Bumper sticker foolishness did him in.

Posted in Military Matters, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Baby Talk

Palm Sunday is a good day. It commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9) when palm branches were placed in his path, But then things went bad. There was his arrest on Holy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday. That would turn out to be a bad week, and this Palm Sunday would be the same:

The US surgeon general said this week is going to be the “hardest and the saddest” for “most Americans’ lives,” describing the upcoming grim period of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States as a “Pearl Harbor moment” and a “9/11 moment.”

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country and I want America to understand that,” Vice Admiral Jerome Adams said on Fox News Sunday.

This will end badly:

Officials are warning the next two weeks will be crucial in the fight to stop the spread of the virus. Early Sunday, the nationwide death toll had gone up to at least 8,503 people, with at least 312,245 infected, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

While speaking at Saturday’s coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, President Donald Trump said that this week and next will probably be the toughest in the fight against coronavirus and that “there will be a lot of death.”

And some of those deaths will be stupid:

On Sunday, Adams said his message to the governors who have not yet issued stay-at-home orders would be to consider even just a temporary shutdown.

“If you can’t give us a month, give us a week… give us what you can,” Adams said.

This doesn’t have to spread so fast! You can help! Even a little temporary shutdown would help!

That wasn’t going to happen:

Just eight US governors have decided against issuing statewide directives urging their residents to stay at home as the outbreak escalates.

The governors, all of whom are Republican, have offered a variety of explanations for why they have not followed the lead of their colleagues from coast-to-coast.

In doing so, they’ve collectively ignored the stay-at-home pleas of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said in a CNN interview: “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”

Fauci needs to understand that they’re not listening to him at all:

Absent a nationwide order, which Trump once again on Saturday declined to give, a patchwork of rules has emerged in all corners of the country that offer conflicting guidance for how citizens should protect themselves and their families from coronavirus.

“We have a thing called the Constitution, which I cherish,” Trump said Saturday, praising the decision of the governors.

They were rebels, bad boys doing what they think is right, no matter what anyone else thinks, and Trump thinks that’s pretty damned cool, and harmless enough. After all, he added this – “If I saw something wrong, if I saw a massive outbreak, of which there’s not, I would come down very hard.”

So everyone should relax, but the Brit’s version of Donald Trump was in trouble:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to a hospital Sunday for tests, his office said, because he is still suffering symptoms, 10 days after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Johnson’s office said the admission to an undisclosed London hospital came on the advice of his doctor and was not an emergency. The prime minister’s Downing St. office said it was a “precautionary step” and Johnson remains in charge of the government.

Johnson, 55, has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 – the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.

Johnson has continued to preside at daily meetings on Britain’s response to the outbreak and has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.

In a message Friday, a flushed and red-eyed Johnson said he was feeling better but still had a fever.

There’s a bit of karma here:

Johnson’s government was slower than those in some European countries to impose restrictions on daily life in response to the pandemic, leading his critics to accuse him of complacency. He imposed an effective nationwide lockdown March 23, but his government remains under huge pressure to boost the country’s number of hospital beds and ventilators and to expand testing for the virus.

Ah, but this was not complacency:

The U.K. would suppress the virus “but not get rid of it completely,” while focusing on protecting vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. In the meantime, other people would get sick. But since the virus causes milder illness in younger age groups, most would recover and subsequently be immune to the virus. This “herd immunity” would reduce transmission in the event of any winter resurgence.

That was the theory, and then the medical community asked Johnson if he understood that this would mean that hundreds of thousands of his citizens would soon die horrible deaths, to protect the herd. You do understand that, don’t you?

He did. He dropped the idea. But he’d lost a month of mitigation of any sort, and he’d caught the bug himself. That’s karma, but one must carry on:

News of Johnson’s admission to hospital came an hour after Queen Elizabeth II made a rare televised address to the nation, in which she urged Britons to remain “united and resolute” in the fight against the virus.

“We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us,” the 93-year-old monarch said, drawing parallels to the struggle of World War II.

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again,” she said.

It was hard not to think of the end of that old Stanley Kubrick movie but Donald Trump was not going to be upstaged by that old woman. He could offer hope too:

President Donald Trump on Sunday again doubled down on an unproven therapy for the novel coronavirus: hydroxychloroquine.

Without citing evidence, he said it’s a “great” and “powerful” anti-malaria drug “and there are signs that it works on this, some very strong signs.”

He had the miracle cure:

For people without heart problems, Trump recommended combining hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin, a common antibiotic. He said azithromycin “will kill certain things that you don’t want living within your body.”

Yet there is little reliable evidence that the drugs – either alone or in combination – are effective at treating the novel coronavirus.

Still, Trump said: “What do you have to lose? What do you have to lose?”

And if you have a bad heart, well, something else will come along. This will cure you, or take it and you’ll never get this bug in the first place:

For doctors, nurses and first responders, Trump suggested the drugs could be taken as a preventative. “They say taking it before the fact is good, but what do you have to lose?”

Experts do not suggest taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive for Covid-19 because there is no evidence yet to suggest it protects against contracting the virus.

“They say take it,” said Trump, without citing any experts or sources. “I’m not looking at it one way or the other, but we want to get out of this. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn’t do it early. But we have some very good signs.”

Trump said people would have to go through medical professionals to get approval, “but I’ve seen things that I sort of like. So, what do I know, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense.”

And he said he was thinking about taking hydroxychloroquine himself now, lots of it, to prove his point. He’d never get sick at all. And really, this was about freedom itself:

The President said, “I see people are going to die without it,” so “what really do we have to lose.” He added, “I am saying to do what you want.”

Some did question that approach:

When pressed by CNN’s Jeremy Diamond on why the President is not letting the science speak for itself, the President said that hydroxychloroquine “may not work and in which case, hey, it didn’t work, and it may work,” but he said he does not want to wait a “year and a half” to find out.

One reporter asked whether doctors and hospitals would be free from blame if hydroxychloroquine does not help coronavirus patients. Trump said that the drug can “help them, but it’s not going to hurt them.”

Experts say the drug, while generally considered to be safe, can come with side effects – including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and skin rashes.

And there’s the possibility of cardiac arrest. Yes, he’s not a doctor, and his comment about common sense seemed odd, and there was this:

At the news briefing, Trump also said the US Food and Drug Administration feels good about the drug, adding, “As you know, they’ve approved it, they gave it a rapid approval.”

In fact, the FDA has not approved hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19.

The FDA issued a limited Emergency Use Authorization to facilitate the distribution of the drug from the national stockpile, but the agency explicitly said in its authorization letter: “Chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate are not FDA-approved for treatment of COVID-19.”

Did he lie? Did he not understand what the FDA has said? Or was he doing the queen one better in offering a nation hope? Or was he mad? No one would know:

When the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was at the podium, CNN’s Jeremy Diamond tried to ask him to weigh in on hydroxychloroquine – but the President jumped in and refused to let Fauci answer.

Fauci shrugged. Trump is the president, he’s not. Trump is a multibillionaire, he’s not. Fauci is also used to this:

On Saturday, Trump also made comments touting the drug as a preventative for coronavirus. He said that lupus patients – who are often treated with hydroxychloroquine – seem less likely to contract Covid-19, and that “there’s a rumor out there” and “there’s a study out.”

“Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. Why don’t you investigate that?” Trump asked.

At the briefing, though, Fauci said, “We don’t have any definitive information to be able to make any comment.” He also said the relationship between lupus and Covid-19 is currently under investigation.

That’s a nice way of saying that the president is a fool, but Jonathan Swan at Axios has great sources and told the inside story here:

The White House coronavirus task force had its biggest fight yet on Saturday, pitting economic adviser Peter Navarro against infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. At issue: How enthusiastically should the White House tout the prospects of an antimalarial drug to fight COVID-19?

This drama erupted into an epic Situation Room showdown. Trump’s coronavirus task force gathered in the White House Situation Room on Saturday at about 1:30 pm, according to four sources familiar with the conversation.

So, Swan is comparing notes from four independent sources who saw this:

Vice President Mike Pence sat at the head of the table. Numerous government officials were at the table, including Fauci, coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, Jared Kushner, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn.

Behind them sat staff, including Peter Navarro, tapped by Trump to compel private companies to meet the government’s coronavirus needs under the Defense Production Act.

Navarro is the eccentric isolationist economist who has never run anything in his life. He has theories. Democrats and even some Republicans have begged Trump to assign a military logistics expert to oversee production and distribution of all this medical stuff, but Trump won’t budge. Navarro is his man, and Navarro was feeling his oats, and Navarro attacked the FDA guy:

Toward the end of the meeting, Hahn began a discussion of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump believes could be a “game-changer” against the coronavirus.

Hahn gave an update about the drug and what he was seeing in different trials and real-world results.

Then Navarro got up. He brought over a stack of folders and dropped them on the table. People started passing them around.

“And the first words out of his mouth are that the studies that he’s seen, I believe they’re mostly overseas, show ‘clear therapeutic efficacy,'” said a source familiar with the conversation. “Those are the exact words out of his mouth.”

The FDA was lying! He had proof! And it went downhill from there:

Navarro’s comments set off a heated exchange about how the Trump administration and the president ought to talk about the malaria drug, which Fauci and other public health officials stress is unproven to combat COVID-19.

Fauci pushed back against Navarro, saying that there was only anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine works against the coronavirus.

Researchers have said studies out of France and China are inadequate because they did not include control groups.

Fauci and others have said much more data is needed to prove that hydroxychloroquine is effective against the coronavirus.

Navarro didn’t give a damn about control groups:

Fauci’s mention of anecdotal evidence “just set Peter off,” said one of the sources. Navarro pointed to the pile of folders on the desk, which included printouts of studies on hydroxychloroquine from around the world.

Navarro said to Fauci, “That’s science, not anecdote,” said another of the sources.

Navarro started raising his voice, and at one point accused Fauci of objecting to Trump’s travel restrictions, saying, “You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China,” saying that travel restrictions don’t work. (Navarro was one of the earliest to push the China travel ban.)

Fauci looked confused, according to a source in the room. After Trump imposed the travel restrictions, Fauci has publicly praised the president’s restriction on travel from China.

Yes, Navarro was losing it, so someone had to step in:

Mike Pence was trying to moderate the heated discussion. “It was pretty clear that everyone was just trying to get Peter to sit down and stop being so confrontational,” said one of the sources… The principals agreed that the administration’s public stance should be that the decision to use the drug is between doctors and patients.

And that was that, and Swan concludes this:

Most members of the task force support a cautious approach to discussing the drug until it’s proven. Navarro, on the other hand, is convinced based on his reading that the drug works against the coronavirus and speaks about it enthusiastically.

Some of Trump’s favorite television hosts, including Fox’s Sean Hannity, and friends including Rudy Giuliani, have also been touting the malaria drug for the coronavirus. Trump has made no secret who he sides with.

Trump believes Peter Navarro, not Anthony Fauci. Or he really wants to believe Peter Navarro. Or he really wants to believe something good. Or he wants to look good. Or it’s something else. Dan Drezner is that professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts up in Boston and he sees this:

In January, when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar first tried to brief President Trump about the coronavirus threat, the president got distracted and wanted to talk about vaping instead. That same month, Trump told a CNBC reporter that he was not worried about a pandemic; by March, he was claiming, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” After declaring a national emergency, Trump fumed about the images of empty airports and grounded planes on television. He has publicly compared his poll numbers with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s. He has responded to anodyne questions from reporters by saying they are “nasty” and demanding that journalists “be nice.”

In other words, not even a crisis as massive as the novel coronavirus has stopped the president from behaving like a cranky toddler.

That’s the operative theory here, in historical context:

The elevation of a toddler to the Oval Office intersected with a trend that predates Trump and has made the problem worse: the increasing agglomeration of power in the hands of the president. In the half-century since Watergate, presidents from both sides of the aisle have beaten back formal and informal constraints. They have resisted congressional oversight, cowed judges into submission and disciplined bureaucrats into obeying their every whim. Increasing political polarization has facilitated presidential power grabs by enervating congressional oversight, increasing the political loyalty of Cabinet officers, and eroding the norms and unwritten rules of the presidency.

As these problems mounted, the presidency was redesigned to be occupied by the last grown-up inside the Beltway.

And then Trump was elected. True, his brand of immature leadership is not the only reason the United States lags behind South Korea in its pandemic response, including testing and containment. Organizational inertia and garden-variety bureaucratic politics matter as well.

Still, the Trump White House’s inadequate handling of the outbreak highlights his every toddler-like instinct.

That’s easy enough to see:

The most obvious one is his predilection for temper tantrums. Some advisers describe an angry Trump as a whistling teapot that needs to either let off steam or explode. Politico has reported on the myriad triggers for his tantrums: “if he’s caught by surprise, if someone criticizes him or if someone stops him from trying to do something or seeks to control him.”

Se we get this:

Trump’s temper has flared repeatedly as the pandemic has worsened and the stock market has tanked. Multiple reports confirm that Trump was irate with prescient statements in late February by Nancy Messonnier, a senior official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who warned that a coronavirus outbreak in the United States was inevitable at a time when Trump was insisting he’d prevented one by banning travel from China. A report in Vanity Fair quoted “a person close to the administration” saying that Trump was “melting down” over the pandemic. He pitched a fit after his Oval Office address in early March was widely panned. His temper has acted as an obvious deterrent for other officials to contradict Trump’s happy talk about the pandemic: In early March, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered his overseas commanders not to take any action mitigating the coronavirus that might surprise the president.

That might explain why that aircraft carrier captain was deep-sixed:

For Trump’s staff, crisis management revolves around managing the president’s temper, not managing the actual problem.

But wait, there’s more:

Trump, like most toddlers, also has poor impulse control. Some White House advisers reportedly refer to it as the “shiny-object phenomenon” – his tendency to react to breaking news rather than focusing on more important issues. This is a problem for competent governance. As White House counselor Kellyanne Conway noted back in 2017, “The hallmark of leadership is a deliberative process, not an impulsive reaction.”

During the coronavirus outbreak, Trump’s access to Twitter has exacerbated his impulsiveness. He has tweeted out statements that aides have scrambled to interpret or reverse-engineer into existence, on topics including whether he would invoke the Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to make ventilators. Health experts have reportedly tried to get him to focus beyond the immediate bad news cycles of rising infections and look at the larger picture of “flattening the curve” and preventing a much bigger health disaster, to little avail. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) complained on the record about Trump’s erratic public statements, noting that “he at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite.”

That’s been a problem for more than three years, as has his limited attention span:

One former high-ranking government official told me that a 45-minute meeting with the president was really 45 different one-minute meetings, in which Trump would ask disconnected, rapid-fire questions such as “What do you think of NATO?” and “How big is an aircraft carrier?” One book reported that Trump would interrupt his first chief of staff to pepper him with questions about badgers.

That inability to focus laid the groundwork for the bad pandemic response. During the transition, the Obama administration prepared a tabletop exercise to brief the incoming Trump team about how to handle an influenza pandemic. The president-elect did not participate, and a former senior official acknowledged that “to get the president to be focused on something like this would be quite hard.”

And there’s this:

Trump’s inability to sit still has been on display recently. His aides have questioned whether he has the capacity to focus on what will be a months-long emergency. White House staffers acknowledged that the one time he tried to read a prepared speech from the Oval Office was an unmitigated disaster. Multiple reports confirm that he has grown restless while confined on the White House grounds. He has crashed staff meetings because he does not know what else to do.

And there’s this:

As the coronavirus crisis metastasized, Trump fired his third, and hired his fourth, chief of staff. His fourth national security adviser shrunk his staff by more than a third before the outbreak – including shuffling the National Security Council’s planning for pandemics into a larger sub-office, diluting its power within the White House. Two-thirds of the senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security are vacant or filled with acting officials. Civilian vacancies at the Pentagon are at record highs.

Much like frazzled preschool teachers, the remaining competent people staffing Trump are clearly past the point of exasperation. In response to an interview question about why he failed to correct Trump at a news conference, Anthony Fauci, who’s been running the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for decades, responded: “I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously… let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”

Now everyone is asking that question:

Any parent of a badly behaved toddler can identify with what Fauci is saying. Fortunately for parents – but unfortunately for all of us – no household up to now has had to cope with a toddler with the sprawling powers of the modern presidency.

The surgeon general said this week is going to be the “hardest and the saddest” for most Americans’ lives, a grim period that actually may go on and on. The president says there will be a lot of death. But so be it. America can handle this. But all the baby talk may be too much to bear.

What have we done?

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Dilettantism at the Level of Sociopathy

Who’s in charge? The president’s point-man on everything, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is now in charge of the nation’s pandemic response, and the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg is not happy about that:

Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about ICU capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.”

Goldberg is not amused:

Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.”

Goldberg needs to get used to this. Kushner is right and everyone else is wrong. That’s how this goes, but she does admit that she is not surprised:

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors – his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians – have been failures.

Undeterred, he has now arrogated to himself a major role in fighting the epochal health crisis that’s brought America to its knees. “Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday.

This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

That is what America chose in 2016, perhaps because that might be kind of cool, but it’s not cool now:

The journalist Andrea Bernstein looked closely at Kushner’s business record for her recent book “American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power,” speaking to people on all sides of his real estate deals as well as those who worked with him at The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper he bought in 2006.

Kushner, Bernstein told me, “Really sees himself as a disrupter.” Again and again, she said, people who’d dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he “believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.”

Is that a bad thing? That sort of thing got his father-in-law elected president, but this might be a special case:

It’s hard to overstate the extent to which this confidence is unearned. Kushner was a reportedly mediocre student whose billionaire father appears to have bought him a place at Harvard. Taking over the family real estate company after his father was sent to prison, Kushner paid $1.8 billion – a record, at the time – for a Manhattan skyscraper at the very top of the real estate market in 2007. The debt from that project became a crushing burden for the family business. (Kushner was able to restructure the debt in 2011, and in 2018 the project was bailed out by a Canadian asset management company with links to the government of Qatar.) He gutted the once-great New York Observer, and then made a failed attempt to create a national network of local politics websites.

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books – have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support. Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Now, in our hour of existential horror, Kushner is making life-or-death decisions for all Americans…

And those decisions have been odd:

“Mr. Kushner’s early involvement with dealing with the virus was in advising the president that the media’s coverage exaggerated the threat,” reported the Times. It was apparently at Kushner’s urging that Trump announced, falsely, that Google was about to launch a website that would link Americans with coronavirus testing. (As The Atlantic reported, a health insurance company co-founded by Kushner’s brother – which Kushner once owned a stake in – tried to build such a site, before the project was “suddenly and mysteriously scrapped.”)

The president was reportedly furious over the website debacle, but Kushner’s authority hasn’t been curbed. Politico reported that Kushner, “alongside a kitchen cabinet of outside experts including his former roommate and a suite of McKinsey consultants, has taken charge of the most important challenges facing the federal government,” including the production and distribution of medical supplies and the expansion of testing. Kushner has embedded his own people in the Federal Emergency Management Agency; a senior official described them to the Times as “a ‘frat party’ that descended from a UFO and invaded the federal government.”

That’s who’s in charge and there’s only one way to deal with that:

On Thursday, Governor Cuomo said that New York would run out of ventilators in six days. Perhaps Kushner’s projections were incorrect. “I don’t think the federal government is in a position to provide ventilators to the extent the nation may need them,” Cuomo said. “Assume you are on your own in life.”

That’s a good assumption. Aaron Blake reports on what happened the next day:

The Trump administration on Friday changed its description of the Strategic National Stockpile on a government website after journalists noted that it contradicted a claim Jared Kushner had made about the program.

Kushner on Thursday evening offered a novel argument about the national stockpile. He said some states still had stockpiles that they hadn’t been employing for the coronavirus outbreak and that localities should go to them first. And then he suggested that the national stockpile wasn’t even meant for them.

“And the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Kushner said. “It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

What? Something was off here, but that could be fixed:

As reporters quickly noted, that didn’t match with how the Department of Health and Human Services was describing the program. On its website, it said, “Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.” It continued to say, “When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”

That language suddenly disappeared from the site Friday morning, as journalist Laura Bassett noted, and was replaced with something de-emphasizing the size of the stockpile and its role in helping states. The new description cast it as a “short-term stopgap.”

And somewhere George Orwell was smiling:

The Strategic National Stockpile was formerly known as the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. In a description of what was then known as the NPS in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that states couldn’t be counted on to have sufficient supplies in situations such as biological or chemical terrorism and that’s why the federal stockpile was needed.

“Few U.S. state or local governments have the resources to create sufficient pharmaceutical stockpiles on their own,” the report says. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under U.S. Congressional mandate, has developed and implemented a National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS) to address this need.”

In other words, the program was designed to supplement the states and deliver supplies to them that, according to this U.S. government document, they won’t have because of budgetary constraints.

The same document did say that the national stockpile “is not a first response tool – state and local first responders and health officials can use the NPS to bolster their response to a biological or chemical terrorism attack – thereby increasing their capacity to more rapidly mitigate the results of” outbreaks.

But it reemphasized that the states aren’t expected to have sufficient supplies.

“In a biological or chemical terrorism event, state, local, and private stocks of medical materiel will deplete quickly,” the report says.

And suddenly no report by anyone had ever said anything like that at all, but no one told this guy:

Even shortly after Kushner made that claim Thursday evening, a Republican senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado, was sending a letter calling for an investigation of the national stockpile’s lack of functioning ventilators. Gardner made clear he expected the stockpile to be available for states’ use.

Jared’s former college roommate now has to call Cory Gardner and explain a few things to him, but the real issue is a new view of the government itself in Washington now. The president’s point-man on everything, now running the nation’s pandemic response, after he completely solved the Israeli-Palestinian problem once and for all, seems to be saying the states need to deal with this pandemic themselves, not the federal government. That’s the message from Trump’s Main Man. Create your own damned stockpiles. You solve this. Stop pestering my father-in-law! The federal government owes you nothing! This is your problem, not ours!

That leads to something new. If that’s so, why shouldn’t each state, one right after the other, secede from the union? Jared Kushner seems to be suggesting that they should. They could set up cooperation agreements with each other and slowly establish a parallel “Actually-United States” to get things done as a group. They could set up an interstate forum with representatives from each state and together agree on what’s good for everyone and get that done, and then Trump wouldn’t have anyone bugging him ever again. That fixes this. They run their new parallel nation while he runs what’s left of the old one. And really, why did any state ever think the federal government would do anything at all for them? What about personal responsibility?

This was getting a bit absurd, and the Friday episode of the “Trump Tells the World That He’s Awesome” show did not got well. Ted Johnson covers that:

The White House coronavirus briefing was shorter than any all week – just over an hour – but it also left lingering questions of whether hospitals will get the ventilators, masks, gowns and other badly needed medical equipment as coronavirus cases escalate…

CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang asked Trump about a comment that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, made at the previous days briefing. As he outlined steps the White House was taking to improve the supply chain, he said, “You have instances where in cities, they are running out but the state still has a stockpile. And the notion of the federal stockpile is it is supposed to be our stockpile. It is not supposed to be the state stockpile that they then use.”

That was a bad move:

After Jiang asked Trump what Kushner meant when he said “our stockpile,” Trump lashed out at her.

“Why are you asking me? What’s that, a gotcha? A gotcha? You use the word ‘our.’ Our – you know what our means? The United States of America,” he said. “That’s what it means. Our. Our. The United States of America. Then we take that our and we distribute it to the states.”

He added, “The federal government needs it too, not just the states. As example, we have 10,000 ventilators and we are going to rock with those ventilators, and we are going to bring them to various areas of the country that need them. But when he says ‘our’ he’s talking about our country. He’s talking about the federal government. It’s such a basic simple question and you try and make it sound so bad. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Don’t make it sound bad. You just asked your question in a very nasty tone.”

 And his answer contradicted itself, but it didn’t matter:

She also tried to ask him why, in the wake of Kushner’s comment, the Strategic National Stockpile website was changed to more clearly mirror his comments. But Trump went on to another question.

He doesn’t answer gotcha questions and he didn’t like her nasty tone, and none this is his problem:

Trump has said repeatedly that shortages are not the blame of his administration, but of the individual states who did not adequately prepare for a pandemic.

When ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Jon Karl asked the president whether he could assure New York that they will have enough ventilators, given that the governor has warned that the supply would run out in the next six days, Trump said, “They should have had more ventilators at the time. They should have had more ventilators.”

“We have a lot of states that have to be taken care of, much more so than others,” he said. “We have worked very well with the governor. We happen to think is well served with ventilators. We are going to find out. But we have other states to take care of.”

Earlier on Friday, Cuomo said that he was signing an executive order to allow the state to take ventilators from hospitals and other medical facilities so that they can be redistributed to where they are needed the most.

Governor Cuomo shrugged. He will take care of things himself. He has no other option now, but he cannot blame Trump for anything:

Trump also was defensive about his administration’s response to the crisis. CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta asked why, if the administration was preparing for a pandemic, “Why is it we don’t have enough masks? Why is it we don’t have enough medical equipment in this country?”

Trump blamed his predecessors. “The previous administration – the shelves were empty. So what you should do is speak to the people from the previous administration, Jim, and ask them that question. And you know what else? The military shelves were also empty. We had no ammunition.”

This is Obama’s fault. The shelves were bare, and the military didn’t have one bullet or shell or bomb or anything left in stock anywhere, when Trump arrived, or maybe not:

Trump has made the ammunition claim before, and the Washington Post fact checker gave it three Pinocchios. He’s also contended that the shelves of the national stockpile were empty, but Factcheck.org has deemed that false. Critics also quickly asked why, if the shelves were bare, they weren’t restocked in the three years that Trump has been in office.

That seems like a valid question, but perhaps that’s a nasty question too. But at least the man can joke about the imminent death of hundreds of thousands:

Trump also was asked whether scientific modeling, showing a projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from coronavirus in the U.S., has changed. Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said that the models continue to be updated.

Then Trump interjected, “The model show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die. You know what I want to do? I want to come way under the model.”

Then, he added an aside, quickly picked up on Twitter as a flippant joke but open to interpretation: “The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model – at least, this kind of model.'”

No one laughed. He seemed a bit surprised by that. But he’s not a nice man:

The Trump administration’s global scramble to secure more protective masks for U.S. health-care workers has sparked tensions with allies including Canada and Germany, which fear they could face shortages as they battle their own coronavirus outbreaks.

The White House late Thursday ordered Minnesota mask manufacturer 3M to prioritize U.S. orders over foreign demand, using its authority under the Defense Production Act, or DPA, to try to ease critical shortages of N95 masks at U.S. hospitals.

The Trump administration has asked 3M to stop exporting the masks to Canada and Latin America, and to import more from 3M’s factories in China, the company said Friday.

At the same time, officials in Berlin expressed outrage over what they said was the diversion to the U.S. of 200,000 masks that were en route from China, while officials in Brazil and France complained that the U.S. was outbidding them in the global marketplace for critical medical supplies.

At a Friday evening briefing, Trump said he was invoking the DPA again to stop the export of “critical medical items by unscrupulous actors,” which he did not identify.

We get all the world’s masks now because people that he will not name have been doing nasty things that he will not explain, which upset a few allies:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government has been “forcefully” reminding American counterparts that trade “goes both ways across the border.”

Thousands of nurses in Windsor, Ontario, he noted, travel to Detroit each day to work in hospitals there. Several of them have since tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 12,000 people in Michigan.

“These are things that Americans rely on,” Trudeau said, “and it would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back-and-forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods, across our border.”

Keep saying stuff like that and Trump might just cut off all trade and traffic and tourism with Canada, and tweet out that Americans have always hated Canada and have always hoped that all Canadians would just die – and then everyone on talk radio and Fox News will agree. Trudeau was playing with fire, but Trump had a more immediate target:

President Trump announced late Thursday he was invoking the Defense Production Act in relation to 3M, suggesting it was for punitive reasons. “We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks,” he tweeted. “Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing – will have a big price to pay!”

On Friday, Trump added he was “not happy with 3M,” without elaborating.

Let 3M worry in the dark about that, along with the Germans:

German officials on Friday were stinging in their criticism of the Trump administration after a consignment of face masks that they said was ordered and paid for by the Berlin police was diverted en route from China.

Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s senator for the interior, said the delivery made it as far as Bangkok before being “confiscated.” In a statement he said he couldn’t provide further details of what happened at the airport but “we are currently assuming that this is related to the U.S. government’s ban on mask exports.”

“We consider this an act of modern piracy,” he said, calling on the United States to “comply with international rules”. “This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, wild west methods shouldn’t rule.”

But there’s a lot of that going around everywhere:

In Brazil, the health minister this week said some of the country’s purchases from China fell through after the United States started transporting planeloads of equipment from China.

Brazil announced Thursday that after distributing the last of its medical supplies, the health ministry’s reserves have now been completely depleted.

“In another week, we won’t have any more masks,” said Alexandre Telles, the president of Rio de Janeiro’s doctors’ union. “Everyone is very scared by the lack of protective equipment.”

In France, a number of regional officials told the Libération newspaper that they had ordered masks from Chinese suppliers, only to be outbid by American officials at the last minute.

“I had found a stock of masks available, but the Americans outbid,” said Valérie Pécresse, the president of the Paris region’s governmental council.

Things are dire there too, but we live and they die, and thus we win. Trump did promise we’d win now, and again and again, and that we’d win so much we’d be sick of winning.

That may be the case now, and 3M issued a statement:

In the course of our collaboration with the Administration this past weekend, the Administration requested that 3M increase the amount of respirators we currently import from our overseas operations into the U.S. We appreciate the assistance of the Administration to do exactly that. For example, earlier this week, we secured approval from China to export to the U.S. 10 million N95 respirators manufactured by 3M in China.

The Administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets. There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators.

In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek.

Let’s see, there’s significant humanitarian implications and retaliation that cuts us off from getting more respirators. That seems suboptimal, as they say, really meaning bat-shit crazy, so Kevin Drum offers this:

3M also makes masks in the US for the North and South American markets. Trump apparently wants 3M to tell other countries to bugger off and confiscate their entire domestic production of masks for the United States. I assume that the “humanitarian implications” of this don’t matter to Trump, so perhaps he needs to understand that if we do this we’re making ourselves into pariahs.

He may not know that word. That would be a member of the Paraiyar caste in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu – the lowest of the low – or a Pariah state, a country whose behavior does not conform to norms of the rest of the world in any way – or a person rejected from society, a total outcast – or a demographic group, species, or community that is despised. Or that might be a very cool rebel who goes rogue and listens to no one about anything, a disrupter like Jared Kushner who just sneers. Or that might be his father-in-law.

Or it might be dilettantism at the level of sociopathy. But we asked for that, and that’s just what we got. And now we die.

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No Fooling

This year, that special day just wasn’t that special:

Google will skip its traditional April Fools’ Day jokes and pranks across its platforms due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.

“Under normal circumstances, April Fool’s is a Google tradition and a time to celebrate what makes us an unconventional company,” Google’s marketing chief, Lorraine Twohill, wrote in an email to company brass obtained by Business Insider.

“This year, we’re going to take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one,” she continued.

That statement was issued the day before April Fools’ Day to make sure that there was no confusion. This was not Google’s deeply ironic early April Fools’ joke. There were no jokes, but there was this:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday issued a statewide state-at-home order amid growing national scrutiny of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis said he made the decision after President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the extension of federal guidelines urging Americans to avoid travel and practice social distancing until April 30.

“I think that effectively means a national pause,” DeSantis told reporters Wednesday.

He had been a hero to the Fox News crowd. He stood up to the absurd hysteria about what was no big deal. And then his president said this is a big deal, shut it down, and he caved in. It was April Fools’ Day but he didn’t suddenly shout out “JUST KIDDING!”

And that was that:

DeSantis, who spoke with Trump Wednesday morning, was facing a daily churn of national negative headlines for not shutting down the state, a narrative amplified by pictures and video of people gathered at state beaches and parks.

Wednesday’s order does not mention beaches, but prohibits social gatherings of more than 10 people.

Florida Democrats who had led the charge for a statewide order applauded the DeSantis move, but not its timing.

The damage was done. Many will die. But the final number of dead, the final total, might be a bit lower now. And something is better than nothing, usually, but those deeply disappointed in DeSantis, for giving in on this, are still around, and a bit of a problem:

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert and the face of the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, is facing growing threats to his personal safety, prompting the government to step up his security, according to people familiar with the matter.

The concerns include threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers, according to people with knowledge of deliberations inside the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.

But the threats are the real problem, because, it seems, this man is a traitor to this president:

Fauci, 79, is the most outspoken member of the administration in favor of sweeping public health guidelines and is among the few officials willing to correct President Trump’s misstatements. Along with Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House’s task force, Fauci has encouraged the president to extend the timeline for social-distancing guidelines, presenting him with grim models about the possible toll of the pandemic.

“Now is the time, whenever you’re having an effect, not to take your foot off the accelerator and on the brake, but to just press it down on the accelerator,” he said Tuesday as the White House’s task force made some of those models public, warning of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the United States.

Trump told DeSantis to close down Florida, because Fauci had publicly embarrassed Trump and someone had to take the fall. Yes, Fauci is evil:

Fauci has become a public target for some right-wing commentators and bloggers, who exercise influence over parts of the president’s base. As they press for the president to ease restrictions to reinvigorate economic activity, some of these figures have assailed Fauci and questioned his expertise.

Last month, an article depicting him as an agent of the “deep state” gained nearly 25,000 interactions on Facebook – meaning likes, comments and shares – as it was posted to large pro-Trump groups with titles such as “Trump Strong” and “Tampa Bay Trump Club.”

Well, that’s awkward:

Asked Wednesday whether he was receiving security protection, Fauci told reporters, “I would have to refer you to HHS [inspector general] on that. I wouldn’t comment.”

The president interjected, saying, “He doesn’t need security. Everybody loves him.”

HHS asked the U.S. Marshals Service to deputize a group of agents in the office of the HHS inspector general to provide protective services for the doctor, according to an official with knowledge of the request.

This has to be done:

At the briefings, Fauci, who has advised presidents of both parties as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has spoken authoritatively about the spread of the coronavirus and the sacrifices involved in mitigating its effects.

He has at times corrected the president, in particular when prompted by reporters. After Trump said a Covid-19 vaccine would be available in a couple of months, Fauci said it would in fact be available in about a year to a year and a half, at best.

That makes him a troublemaker, with fans:

His role has turned him into a hero for some. When he was absent from a briefing last month, followers who had grown accustomed to his frank assessments of the outbreak were alarmed that he might have been sidelined for his forthrightness.

He gained viral attention two days later when he placed his hand in front of his face in a gesture of apparent disbelief as Trump referred to the State Department as the “deep state department” from the White House briefing room.

Fauci has also given several interviews in which he has tempered praise for the president with doubts about his pronouncements, including about the viability of anti-malarial drugs as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. Most notably, he told the journal Science that he attempts to guide Trump’s statements but “can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”

And that’s playing with fire:

These moves have inspired fandom. But they have also drawn scorn from some of the president’s most vocal supporters, even as both men have sought to tamp down the appearance of tension.

“The president was right, and frankly Fauci was wrong,” Lou Dobbs said last week on his show on the Fox Business Network, referring to the use of experimental medicine.

Lou Dobbs is an angry old man. He shouts. This president KNOWS medicine and THAT GUY doesn’t:

The immunologist, who graduated first in his class from Cornell’s medical school, has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Between 1983 and 2002, he was the 13th-most-cited scientist among the 2.5 million to 3 million authors worldwide and across all disciplines publishing in scientific journals, according to the Institute for Scientific Information.

 Lou Dobbs is getting odder by the day, but he’s just a small part of this:

Right-wing news and opinion sites have gone further, launching baseless smears against the doctor that have gained significant traction within pro-Trump communities online.

Outlets such as the Gateway Pundit and American Thinker seized on a 2013 email – released by WikiLeaks as part of a cache of communications hacked by Russian operatives – in which Fauci praised Hillary Clinton’s “stamina and capability” during her testimony as secretary of state before the congressional committee investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The headline in the American Thinker referred to Fauci as a “Deep-State ­Hillary Clinton-loving stooge.”

The outlet has continued to criticize Fauci in recent days, saying that by offering new predictions about the possible death toll, Fauci and others were “going to destroy the U.S. economy based on total guesses and hysterical predictions.”

The White House is now doing damage-control:

Several senior administration officials said that Trump respects Fauci and that the two generally have a good working relationship.

That was the best they could do, given the new polling from the Pew Research Center:

Coverage of COVID-19 has dominated the news and resulted in skyrocketing ratings for the nation’s cable news networks. And according to a survey conducted March 10-16, 2020, as a part of Pew Research Center’s Election News Pathways project, responses to that coverage and the pandemic itself vary notably among Americans who identify Fox News, MSNBC or CNN (the three major cable news networks featured in the analysis) as their main source of political news.

In particular, the responses to COVID-19 news from those whose main source for political news is MSNBC or Fox News are strikingly different. The views of those who identify CNN as their main news source most often fit somewhere between the two.

The Fox News crowd is the outlier here:

One such difference emerges around knowledge and understanding of the pandemic. The group who names MSNBC as their main news source is far more likely than the Fox News group to answer correctly that the coronavirus originated in nature rather than a laboratory and that it will take a year or more for a vaccine to become available. On both questions, the portion in the CNN group to answer correctly falls between the MSNBC and Fox News numbers. This analysis comes from a survey of 8,914 U.S. adults who are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel.

The Fox News and MSNBC groups also differ in their evaluations of the media’s coverage of the pandemic. Those who call MSNBC their main political news source are far more likely to say the media covered the outbreak somewhat or very well (92%) than the Fox News group (58%). And they are much less likely than those who name Fox News as their main source to say the media exaggerated the risks posed by the pandemic (35% of the MSNBC group vs. 79% of the Fox News group). And again, those who identify CNN as their main news source fall in between (82% rate the media as doing somewhat or very well covering the outbreak; 54% say the media exaggerated the risks).

But “seriousness” is the real issue:

The Fox News group stands out on another media evaluation question: whether the media have exaggerated the risks of the coronavirus outbreak. Roughly eight-in-ten (79%) of those whose main source is Fox News say the media slightly or greatly exaggerated the risk of the pandemic, with only 15% saying they got the risks about right.

That means that Fauci got to Trump and DeSantis took the fall, and now everyone in Florida has to stay inside for no good reason at all, further ruining the nation forever.

But nothing’s that simple. There was that middle of March reversal:

For weeks, some of Fox News’s most popular hosts downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, characterizing it as a conspiracy by media organizations and Democrats to undermine President Trump.

Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham accused the news media of whipping up “mass hysteria” and being “panic pushers.” Fox Business host Trish Regan called the alleged media-Democratic alliance “yet another attempt to impeach the president.”

And then that was, all at once, not true at all:

With Trump’s declaration on Friday that the virus constitutes a national emergency, the tone on Fox News has quickly shifted.

On his program on Friday, Hannity – the most watched figure on cable news – lauded the president’s handling of what the host is now, belatedly, referring to as a “crisis.”

“Tonight, we are witnessing what will be a massive paradigm shift in the future of disease control and prevention,” he said. “A bold, new precedent is being set, the world will once again benefit greatly from America’s leadership. The federal government, state governments, private businesses, top hospitals all coming together, under the president’s leadership, to stem the tide of the coronavirus.”

But the Pew data points show that no one was buying that, as Greg Sargent notes here:

What’s troubling about this is that as a general matter, the media mostly got it right in drawing intense and urgent attention to the coronavirus early on in a manner that Trump and his media allies did not.

That is plainly obvious at this point, now that U.S. confirmed cases have topped 200,000 and confirmed U.S. deaths have risen above 4,500. Yet Fox viewers still think the media has exaggerated the risks.

Or, to be fair, that’s what they believed as of mid-March. We’ll see if that changes. It’s certain that a large majority still believes this.

And he adds these reminders:

For weeks, Fox News personalities told Fox viewers not just that the coronavirus was being exaggerated, but also that the media was doing this deliberately to harm Trump. Indeed, as this Media Matters roundup shows, their claim was frequently that this was rooted in Trump hatred.

Fox personalities echoed Trump himself. In late February, the president openly accused the media of conspiring with Democrats to hype coronavirus to rattle the markets, which he views as crucial to his reelection, even as he claimed that the country was in “great shape.”

And in mid-March, Trump lashed out in a very public way at PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor for daring to press him on the disbanding on his watch of the White House pandemic office. This sent a signal that any efforts to hold him accountable for his response to the crisis should all be seen as Fake News.

And it’s all a bit nuts:

What’s so galling about all this is not just that the news media drew attention to the urgent threat of coronavirus in a manner that Trump refused to do for nakedly political reasons. It’s also that in so doing – and in holding Trump to account for the government’s failures – the media actually pushed him to a far more constructive place for the country, and for himself.

Indeed, now that the president’s at this place, Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity have hailed his heroism and supreme competence!

Yeah, well, these things happen, but Jennifer Rubin is quite upset:

Fox News – its anchors, its contributors, its panelists and its guests (e.g., Republican elected officials) – have spread provably wrong information to its viewers on arguably the most important story in our lifetimes. A large percentage of Americans who form the Trump cult and absorb his misleading information (It’s like the flu! Plenty of tests!) get their misinformation reinforced by an outlet that seeks as its main goal to support the president.

While it is highly unlikely (given that they are making money from bamboozling the public) the Murdochs, the Fox Corp. board (which includes former House speaker Paul Ryan), Fox executives and Fox News advertisers might want to reflect on a business model that depends on misinforming millions of Americans about a life-threatening pandemic. (As Ben Smith reported, the Murdochs were protecting themselves by social distancing at a time their network was misinforming the public.)

So it’s all nonsense:

Fox News has hid behind two canards for years: First, it is a counterweight to “liberal bias.” Second, there is a division between straight news during the daytime and evening opinion shows. Neither rationalization holds up.

Facts are neither liberal nor conservative – at least they did not used to be. One does not combat bias (real or exaggerated) by presenting false narratives, ignoring factual material that contradicts one’s ideological preferences or attacking outlets that are presenting accurate information (i.e., the mainstream media). The Pew survey demonstrates that Fox News is not merely counteracting supposed bias against Trump but conveying false, and in this case, dangerous, information.

But then, that is who they are:

The dividing line between straight news and opinion programming on Fox was obliterated long ago. In its choice of story lines (Benghazi! Immigrant caravans! Virus threats exaggerated!) Fox’s daytime programming is every bit as misleading and inaccurate as its nighttime fare. Its interviews are generally embarrassing softball affairs that allow misinformation to go unrebutted. Moreover, at least in traditional journalism, slapping “opinion” on your lies is no excuse. The underlying facts, be they in opinion or in daytime shows, for every other outlet must be accurate, must be fact-checked and must be corrected if wrong. At Fox News, the entire schedule has tolerated – even promoted – false accounts in order to reinforce its audience’s partisan preferences.

Fox New is not performing the most basic journalistic function, namely, to inform the public. It blasts out propaganda and misinformation.

That is morally obnoxious in normal times. In the era of COVID-19, however, it may have deadly consequences.

Fox News is killing people? Perhaps so, but no one on that side of things will listen to a screeching scold. Perhaps they’ll listen to Kara Swisher. She humanizes this:

You can relax, Sean Hannity, I’m not going to sue you.

Some people are suggesting that there might be grounds for legal action against the cable network that you pretty much rule – Fox News – because you and your colleagues dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis in the United States. Some might allege that they have lost loved ones because of what was broadcast by your news organization.

But lawsuits are a bad idea. Here’s why: I believe in Fox News’s First Amendment right as a press organization, even if some of its on-air talent did not mind being egregiously bad at their jobs when it came to giving out accurate health data.

And, more to the point, when all is said and done, my Mom will listen to her children over Fox News.

That is, Fox News has not killed her mother, yet:

“I’m going to block your number, if you don’t stop,” my mother said to me over the phone several weeks ago from Florida, after I had texted to her the umpteenth chart about the spread of coronavirus across the country. All of these graphs had scary lines that went up and to the right. And all of them flashed big honking red lights: Go home and stay there until all clear.

She ignored my texts, so I had switched to calling her to make sure she had accurate information in those critical weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March. She is in the over-80 group that is most at risk of dying from infection. I worry a lot.

But she was not concerned – and it was clear why. Her primary source of news is Fox. In those days she was telling me that the Covid-19 threat was overblown by the mainstream news media (note, her daughter is in the media). She told me that it wasn’t going to be that big a deal. She told me that it was just like the flu.

And, she added, it was more likely that the Democrats were using the virus to score political points. And, did I know, by the way, that Joe Biden was addled?

She knew things and she would do what she wanted to do:

So, she kept going out with friends to restaurants and shopping and generally living her life as it always had been. “What’s the big deal, Kara? Stop bothering me,” she said over the phone. “You’re the one that is going to get sick, if you don’t stop working so much.”

And with that she was off to another social event, with me unable to stop her since I was hundreds of miles away.

Swisher also knew what had happened:

I could not lay the blame at the feet of social media this time. No, Facebook was not my mother’s source of misinformation (in fact, the company has been trying to improve in this area). It was not the fault of Dr. Google, which has at least pushed out more good information than bad. And my mom doesn’t use Twitter.

Instead, it was Fox, the whole Fox and nothing but the Fox. Many children of older parents have come to know this news diet as the equivalent of extreme senior sugar addiction mixed with a series of truly unpleasant and conspiracy-laden doughnuts.

These people are evil, but not stupid:

It turns out, executives at Fox News HQ were more reasonable behind the scenes. The offices were Lysol-ed and sanitized and employees were given instructions to be safe. All while the network was doing quite the opposite: spraying viewers with far too much fake news contagion.

As the New York Times media columnist Ben Smith wrote recently: “Fox failed its viewers and the broader public in ways both revealing and potentially lethal. In particular, Lachlan Murdoch failed to pry its most important voices away from their embrace of the president’s early line: that the virus was not a big threat in the United States.”

That would be the chief executive of the company that owns Fox News, who took over the job from his infamous father, Rupert Murdoch. It was the patriarch who set the table at Fox, and Lachlan is just an apparently lackadaisical butler of the family business, according to Mr. Smith.

And chaos followed:

Given the growing number of cases and deaths in the United States, Fox stopped playing down the crisis, a move that closely tracks the rocky evolution in thinking by Mr. Trump. Fox may seek cover from some early pronouncements from another powerful Fox host, Tucker Carlson. While Mr. Hannity spun the hoax line, Mr. Carlson was quite firmly in the taking-it-seriously camp, urging Mr. Trump to act.

But back then, Mr. Carlson was a lone prominent voice on Fox, and his more grounded views did not break through to my mother in the early days. In this, Fox failed my mother and countless others of its fans. While we can joke all we want about the “Fair and Balanced” motto, it’s a very low bar to simply give your audience decent health information.

And then things changed at Fox News and with her mother:

Fox News finally got much more serious in its reporting on the coronavirus, as has Mr. Trump (the My Pillow guy aside). Convinced by experts’ new estimates that millions of Americans would be at risk for infection and hundreds of thousands at risk for dying if he prematurely reopened the country, Mr. Trump and Fox have gone into reverse.

And, to my surprise, as the pandemic has worsened, my mother started to listen to other sources of information, like her children and other news outlets. She’s been sheltering in place at home for at least two weeks and not going out – except to get food and perhaps an ice cream sundae. (“It’s my daily joy,” she said to me, and so I do not argue.)

She had had an epiphany:

It was when Mr. Trump and Fox News initially shifted to a story line about getting back to work – even though it was too early – that the problems with Fox really sank in for her. She now seems to realize that she bears some of the burden as a news consumer, though she remains a Fox News acolyte.

So by the time the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, was on Fox on March 23 declaring that the elderly might take a virus bullet for the young people to bolster the country’s economic future – a line that was then echoed through the network – she was having none of it.

She read up. She looked at my charts. She stopped thinking so magically. And, most of all, she decided she wanted a lot more ice cream sundaes.

“Are they crazy? That’s crazy,” she said. “I am not dying for anyone.”

And that is Swisher’s message here:

She was talking to me, for sure – but she’s also talking to you, Sean.

Hannity may not be listening, and some Fox Patriot may take out Fauci. Or maybe this is all an April Fools’ joke. But it isn’t.

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Modified Happy Talk

It was the end of happy talk – no, not that cloying song from South Pacific – just the end of this particular president saying everything will be fine because he’s awesome. The pandemic caught up with him. He will keep saying he’s awesome – he’s that kind of guy – but the daily coronavirus task force briefing turned dark. Night was falling. Philip Rucker, the White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, and William Wan, their national correspondent covering health and science, were there as the lights went out:

President Trump and the physicians advising the federal pandemic response on Tuesday delivered a bleak outlook for the novel coronavirus’s spread across the country, predicting a best-case scenario of 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities in the United States and summoning all Americans to make additional sacrifices to slow the spread.

Trump adopted a newly somber and sedate tone – and contradicted many of his own previous assessments of the virus – as he instructed Americans to continue social distancing, school closures and other mitigation efforts for an additional thirty days and to think of the choices they make as matters of life and death.

Everyone who watches the daily briefings expects Trump to get angry and sneer at everyone and everything, and to get defensive about the oddest things – comments on his hair someone made long ago – and then to tell the nation how aggrieved he is that everyone doesn’t acknowledge his awesomeness. That’s not fair!

But not this time:

Trump and his coronavirus task force members said that community mitigation practices in place for the past fifteen days have worked and that extending them is essential. The mathematical modeling the White House presented suggests doing so could save hundreds of thousands of lives. Without community mitigation, the models predict, 1.5 million to 2.2 million Americans could die of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, though no time frames or other details were provided for the figures.

Trump did begin to boast that because of him 2.2 million Americans would not die. He’d already saved all those lives. It would only be one or two hundred thousand dead because he had been awesome, but then someone must have tugged on his sleeve. He came back down to earth:

“Our country is in the midst of a great national trial unlike any it has ever faced before,” Trump said at an early evening news conference. He went on to call on every citizen to “make sacrifices” and every business to fulfill its “patriotic duty” to brace for even tougher days ahead.

“This is going to be a very painful – very, very painful two weeks,” Trump said. Sometime after April, he added, the country could transition back to normal with businesses reopening and people returning to work.

“It’s going to be like a burst of light, I really think, and I hope,” Trump said. “Our strength will be tested, our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve.”

That was all the happy talk he could muster, given the presentation that followed:

Deborah Birx, a physician who is coordinating the White House coronavirus task force, delivered a slide show marking a stark difference in the spread of the virus in New York and New Jersey, where the number of cases has spiked, and in the other 48 states and the District.

Birx said the federal government’s goal over the next month is to control the outbreak in New York and New Jersey while staving off outbreaks in other states and metropolitan areas.

“If you had more New York and New Jerseys – you know – Chicago, Detroit, L.A., Dallas, Houston, all of our major cities modeled like New York – that’s what gets us into trouble,” she said.

And that was an understatement:

Birx noted the Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans areas, as well as the state of Massachusetts, as places with a troubling rise in cases. She said spikes there and in other cities can be prevented only with mitigation in every community coast to coast.

Conservatives and the Trump base may be proud of heroic and brave states like Florida that refuse to do any statewide anything at all about this dark wave of death bearing down on us all, but keeping everything open and people mixing and having a fine time in large groups won’t stop the wave. Actually, nothing will, but people can do what they can:

“There’s no magic bullet,” Birx said. “There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors – each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.”

That’s about it, so Trump gave in:

Trump said some of his business friends have advised him to “don’t do anything, just ride it out and think of it as the flu. But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious.”

He didn’t say who was saying that this was just the flu and telling him to do nothing at all. That might have been voices in his head, but he was casting himself as the hero here. The nation rose up and told him to do nothing. He heroically rejected that nonsense, for the good of the nation. He alone understood the danger. You can thank him now.

No one did, which set him off:

Trump largely kept to a serious tone through much of Tuesday’s news conference, yet he veered off course at several moments. He riffed about the “total hoax” of his impeachment, dinged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on homelessness in her San Francisco district, promised to never approve the Green New Deal and took jabs at New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D).

“For whatever reason, New York got off to a very late start, and we see what happens,” Trump said – an apparent rebuke of Cuomo’s leadership that overlooked the fact that the president himself had dismissed the threat of the virus.

In addition, Trump complained about Cuomo’s frequent and impassioned pleas for federal help in New York. “For some people, no matter how much you give, it’s never enough,” Trump said.

Cuomo has been showing him up and he knows it, so that attack was both absurdly untrue and inevitable, and then an old friend turned on him:

Monday’s performance – when Trump turned over his Rose Garden rostrum to an array of corporate executives, one by one, to praise him and to pitch their products – touched a nerve for one of his more prominent supporters. New York sports talk radio icon Mike Francesa, a longtime and vocal defender of Trump, delivered an on-air tirade Tuesday about the president’s leadership.

“Don’t give me the MyPillow guy doing a song-and-dance up here on a Monday afternoon when people are dying in Queens,” Francesa said. “Get the stuff made, get the stuff where it needs to go, and get the boots on the ground! Treat this like the crisis it is!”

Francesa seized upon Trump’s comments Monday, that if the total number of coronavirus fatalities in the United States is between 100,000 and 200,000, that would count as a good job.

“How can you have a scoreboard that says 2,000 people have died and tell us, ‘It’s okay if another 198,000 die, that’s a good job,'” Francesa said. “How is that a good job in our country? It’s a good job if nobody else dies! Not if another 198,000 people die! So now 200,000 people are disposable?”

That must have hurt, but others had his back:

Some of Trump’s allies made excuses Tuesday for why the president and his team were so slow to recognize the threat. The first U.S. coronavirus case was reported on Jan. 21, and reports of a deadly outbreak in China preceded that.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that Trump’s impeachment distracted the administration’s attention from the emerging crisis, seeming to lay blame on the congressional Democrats who led the effort.

“It came up while we were, you know, tied down in the impeachment trial,” McConnell said in an interview with conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt. “And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything, every day was all about impeachment.”

Rucker and Wan were not buying that:

The timeline of Trump’s impeachment – he was acquitted by the Senate on Feb. 5 – does not align with the president’s nonchalance about the coronavirus, which continued for well more than a month after his acquittal.

McConnell’s suggestion that the president or his administration was distracted by impeachment also does not comport with Trump’s schedule. During that period, he held a number of “Keep America Great” campaign rallies and fundraisers across the country, as well as playing golf and socializing at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

Trump repeatedly dismissed the threat the virus posed. After news of the first U.S. case broke in January, Trump said, “We have it totally under control. It’s going to be just fine.” Around the same time, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the federal government to declare the outbreak a public health emergency.

Trump continued to play down the danger of the coronavirus, saying in late February, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

That was absurd happy talk, but Trump turned that around:

Asked Tuesday about McConnell’s view that impeachment had distracted the president, Trump said he did not agree.

“I don’t think I would’ve done any better had I not been impeached,” Trump said. “I think that’s a great tribute to something. Maybe it’s a tribute to me.”

In short, they impeached him and he was still awesome. Nothing bothers him. He just goes on doing the perfect thing at the perfect time, and so on. By now, everyone knows exactly what he’s going to say over and over and over. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are about to die. He mentioned that. That bothers him. And by the way, did he ever mention how awesome he is?

And by the way, Tom Nichols is fed up with this:

“How can you stand it?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked many times as I sit through every almost single one of President Trump’s press conferences on the COVID-19 crisis, just as I have sat through or listened to almost all of his public speeches and rallies.

A recent circus in the Rose Garden was especially trying. It featured Trump again losing his temper at PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor, bragging about what a great job he’s doing, and claiming that he knows more about South Korea than anyone (he doesn’t).

He brought up a parade of CEOs, including a cameo appearance from the “My Pillow” company owner and indefatigable Trump cheerleader Mike Lindell, who turned an admirable gesture by his company into a campaign plug, replete with a creepy mini-sermon about how God chose Trump and how we must put God back in our schools.

We didn’t learn much; but then, we rarely do from these shameful spectacles.

It’s exhausting and enervating, watching the leader of your country rant, bluster and lie, putting what former GOP White House staffer Peter Wehner has called his “disordered personality” on full display regularly. Why would I do it? Why would anyone?

Why? Because that’s how one learns more important things, because that’s the job:

First, as a professional matter, I’m a political scientist, and Trump is the president. When the president speaks, I tune in and listen, as I have with every chief executive. Even if I don’t learn much about policy – because Trump really doesn’t have “policies” so much as he has random thoughts and reactions – I still need to know what my fellow citizens are watching and what they’re being told.

The other is that Trump’s rambling press conferences, South Lawn fandangos and bellowing rallies are now a real-time laboratory in democratic decline, and I think it’s important to be a consistent witness to it all. Although I often live-tweet his public events as a kind of venting (it’s better than yelling at the television, really, and my wife has gotten to the point where she can’t watch Trump, so I’m usually on my own anyway), I actually am trying to figure out the impact on my own society.

Comparisons to other nations and other times (like the inane and overused Nazi analogies used by too many of Trump’s most bitter opponents) don’t help very much. It’s difficult even to place Trump’s unhinged performances within the American experience, because these past three years feel, at least to me, like a unique break in the American character.

In short, this is new:

Sure, we had zingers in public exchanges, from “You’re no JFK” to “There you go again,” but we had basic rules about not threatening to lock each other up or throwing around words like “treason.” We never celebrated Trump’s brand of crude ignorance, his vulgar taunts, and the fusillade of lies that come too fast even for teams of fact-checkers.

And so I watch, because at some point this will end and we will have to repair the damage to our political system and our constitutional order. And to understand how to do that, we will need to remember how it happened and what it looked like while that damage was being dealt to our institutions.

And this is what it looked like:

There are only so many of Trump’s public statements you can listen to before you doubt your own grip on reality. That is the point, really, of a Trump speech: To cast everything into doubt. As Russian dissident Garry Kasparov notes, this is one place where Trump is like other authoritarians: He’s less interested in getting you to believe his story then he is in getting you to believe in nothing at all, so that he can improvise and lie at will without fear of contradiction.

And this:

I hear Trump  contradict his own words, even as they’re being read to him verbatim, and I wonder how Americans watching a president brazenly lie end up angry at the journalist who asked the question rather than Trump himself.

I watch sycophants like Lindell tell us that God chose Trump and I wonder how many millions of people think God picks presidents (something alien to my personal faith as a Christian) but then reassure themselves that He somehow didn’t pick Obama.

None of it makes sense, but Nichols says that is precisely why he watches:

I watch because we all should, in order to ensure that we can tell our fellow citizens about it even if they refuse to listen. When this is over, there will be many Americans who will claim they didn’t know what the president said, when he said it, or what responsibility he might bear for any of this. I will not be one of them. I will remember. And I will speak up about it, for a long time to come.

That’s what he does. Nichols made a parallel argument in his 2017 book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters:

People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

Nichols is a professor at the Naval War College and a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, and a Fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University, and he used to teach international relations and Russian affairs at Dartmouth and Georgetown, and he has worked as a defense and security affairs staffer in the Senate, so his frustration is understandable. Cab drivers tell him they know as much about any of this stuff as he does, and that their opinions are as good as his.

He’s worried about the country. His book was about America now unable to figure things out, because anyone can claim to be an expert, and does, angrily. And that sort of thing made Donald Trump inevitable. And of course Donald Trump is narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism personified.

But that’s everywhere. Alexandra Petri offers this:

Let me start by saying: I am not an epidemiologist. I do not know anything about diseases. Am I a doctor? Is an online certificate from the Universal Life Church a medical degree? Does owning a tiger make you a doctor, automatically? Does having long, lustrous hair and a white coat make you a doctor? If the president smiled at you, once, from the driver’s seat of a truck, does that make you a doctor?

Actually, it is not accurate to say that I know nothing about diseases. That does not go far enough. It is not just that I know nothing about diseases: I also do not know anything about the spread of diseases. If I were to venture any opinion about what is going on, it would be a combination of guesswork and this feeling I have always had that I am much smarter than I actually am, that if I really squinted hard enough at a sentence written in French, I would just suddenly understand it, by instinct.

These egalitarian experts are all over social media, feeding the guy in the White House, who is one of them too. This is Tom Nichols’ nightmare:

I have what could be loosely described as “expertise” in an entirely different field, a field that, let me stress, is not related in any way to the subject at hand. What I bring to the subject I am talking about now is not years of expertise – in fact, the exact opposite! But I have two eyes, and a brain, and I can see what is in front of me, and I am also going to mention my expertise in the other field, which will muddle everything. Who are you to say that someone who has spent his life studying Napoleonic artillery knows nothing about the coronavirus?

I am one of those people who, when he hears all the scientists who have dedicated their lives to figuring out a specific problem saying one thing, in unison, think “That can’t possibly be right. In fact, I bet the opposite is true!” When I hear, “That is something no actual scientist would ever consider,” I know that I am on the right track.

And that explains America today:

Again: I know literally nothing. What I am going to say will sow bewilderment, and, probably, be harmful. To be clear: I have no useful information to share, but that does not mean that what I say will not go out onto the Internet and be read and taken to heart by grandmas on Facebook and, if I am lucky, the president of the United States himself.

Don’t worry. He’s already there… but not this day. One hundred to over two hundred thousand American citizens seem certain to die soon, or soon enough, and he’s the president, and he is now unable to do anything even vaguely useful about that. And he knows he will pay for that, so there can be no more happy talk. God knows what comes next.

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They Get Bitter

There were the good old days:

Barack Obama was forced onto the defensive at the weekend over unguarded comments he made about small-town voters across the Midwest.

Obama was caught in an uncharacteristic moment of loose language. Referring to working-class voters in old industrial towns decimated by job losses, the presidential hopeful said: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

The comments were seized on by his rival for the Democratic Party candidacy, Hillary Clinton, who saw in them the hope of reviving her flagging campaign by turning voters in the important Pennsylvania primary on April 22 against what she classed as Obama’s revealed “elitism”.

It didn’t matter. She was just as elite as he was, or far more elite, and Obama was just too thoughtful and personable. And that was 2008 – long ago. Obama’s observation was also insightful. People were bitter, and proud of their bitterness, and as the Tea Party they ruined his presidency. This year they may finally demolish Obamacare – in the middle of a pandemic that’s ruining the world – just to make their point. They’re bitter.

And nothing has changed since then:

A Houston doctor and three local pastors on Monday challenged a Harris County judge’s stay-at-home order, issued last week in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, by arguing that its enforcement violates their constitutional rights. The group’s two-fold complaint is that Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order violated their First Amendment rights by postponing all in-person mass religious services for the foreseeable future and violated their Second Amendment rights by not defining gun shops as “essential businesses.”

So it’s Guns and God one more time:

Under Hidalgo’s order, religious services are only permitted via video or teleconferencing, and faith leaders are permitted to “minister and counsel in individual settings, so long as social distance protocols are followed.”

The order – which is aimed at maximizing social distancing to prevent further spread of the virus – also requires non-essential businesses to close. It further calls for Texas residents to stay home unless they are buying groceries, exercising, going to work at a sanctioned business, or performing a critical task. Hidalgo issued the directive one day after the Texas Medical Center’s chief executives unanimously instructed Harris County to implement a shelter-in-place order.

Well, screw that:

The group, led by right-wing activist Dr. Steven Hotze – a virulent opponent of LGTBQ causes who has previously dismissed the coronavirus as “not very contagious” – filed an emergency petition with the Texas Supreme Court seeking a writ of mandamus to correct the order. Hotze was joined in the filing by pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia and David Valdez.

The emergency petition claimed that any order restricting access to religious services and to gun stores “severely infringes” upon their constitutional rights.

But wait, there’s more:

The group also states that Hidalgo’s order effectively chooses “winners and losers” in the private sector.

“People of faith are prohibited from worshipping in person, most private businesses are prevented from operating, gun shops are ordered closed, and people are not allowed to associate together in groups – these are some of the individual freedoms Judge Hidalgo has chosen to sacrifice,” the petition stated, listing liquor stores, yard maintenance crews, furniture suppliers and bicycle repair shops as examples.

“Because her hand-picked losers have been shuttered, her self-identified winners are allowed to thrive while other private businesses are closed indefinitely.”

Yes, they’re bitter, and one of them is professionally bitter:

Hotze, who recently appeared on a Fox News coronavirus special, is also a QAnon supporter who recently suggested that the “deep state could have been the ones that orchestrated” the coronavirus pandemic in its ongoing war against “patriots.”

Recently, the doctor has also been promoting a vitamin regimen which he claimed would help stave off the coronavirus.

Somewhere, perhaps in Hawaii, Obama just sighed. What’s the use? There’s no point in even talking about public safety and the imminent death of millions, and meanwhile in Florida:

Rodney Howard-Browne, a fringe pastor, outspoken Trump booster and conspiracy theorist was briefly arrested Monday after flouting public health orders and holding services the previous day.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference that he’d obtained an arrest warrant for Howard-Browne, of The River at Tampa Bay church, for two second-degree misdemeanors: Unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.

Jail records from the Hernando County Detention Center on Monday subsequently showed Howard-Browne being booked at 2:20 p.m. and released at 2:58 p.m.

Evangelical faith leaders are generally rich beyond the dreams of avarice, as Samuel Johnson once put it. This one posted bail in under one hour, and he has the right friends too:

Howard-Browne held two services Sunday despite a county order to residents to stay at home and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The pastor, who’s lived in Florida for decades but maintains a slight South African accent, laid hands on President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in 2017 and led several other evangelical leaders in praying for Trump…

He has asserted that the Christchurch mosque shooting massacre, in which a white nationalist murdered 49 Muslim worshipers, was a “false flag” event. In 2017, he claimed in a sermon that Hollywood elites “drink blood of young kids.”

And he hates elites:

On Sunday, he dismissed the county rule barring gatherings of more than 10 people, saying, “Suddenly we are demonized because we believe God heals, that the Lord sets people free and they make us out to be some sort of kooks,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Howard-Browne bragged of having installed machines in his church that would “basically kill every virus in the place.”

“If they sneeze, it shoots it down, like, at a hundred miles an hour,” he said last week, adding: “We have the most sterile building in, I don’t know, the whole of America.”

Perhaps so, but probably not, but that doesn’t matter either. The bitter people Obama had identified all those years ago finally have their very own president:

President Donald Trump introduced those tuning into his nightly coronavirus task force briefing on Monday to a special guest: Mike Lindell, the multimillionaire inventor and CEO of the MyPillow Empire.

“Boy, do you sell those pillows,” Trump said, asking him to step up to the mic and tell Americans how his company was helping them deal with the outbreak. Lindell then launched into a short infomercial for his company, going on to describe how the firm was manufacturing cotton face masks and effusively praising the president for his pandemic stewardship.

“I did not know he was going to do that, but he is a friend of mine, and I do appreciate it,” Trump said.

But this guy is not a friend, as he quite literally worships Trump:

Lindell’s autobiography, which is self-published, chronicles his rise from a crack cocaine addict to the multimillionaire inventor of MyPillow, which brought in $300 million in revenue in 2017. His nonstop, lo-fi infomercials on Fox News have turned him into a ubiquitous presence on the Trump-friendly network…

Lindell has donated to Trump twice in the past, and in recent years, become a regular presence at Trump rallies, particularly as the campaign seeks to flip Minnesota, a state which Hillary Clinton won by a mere 1.5 percentage points in 2016.

He’s spoken at two of them – once in October 2018, during the midterms, and again in October 2019, where he called Trump “the greatest President” in American history.

Lindell was even spotted on the red carpet at Mar-a-Lago, where he went to the New Year’s Eve party hosted by Trump. A devout evangelical Christian, Lindell also told an audience at CPAC in 2019 that Trump was “chosen by God.”

That sort of thing pleases Trump. He’s satisfied now. God made him king, not the people, not really, but let that go. Donald Trump can believe what he wishes. So can Mike Lindell. That hurts no one. But there are side effects to that, and McKay Coppins tells a tale about where this harmless nonsense leads:

For Geoff Frost, the first sign of the coronavirus culture war came last weekend on the golf course. His country club, located in an affluent suburb of Atlanta, had recently introduced a slew of new policies to encourage social distancing. The communal water jugs were gone, the restaurant was closed, and golfers had been asked to limit themselves to one person per cart. Frost, a 43-year-old Democrat, told me the club’s mix of younger liberals and older conservatives had always gotten along just fine – but the guidelines were proving divisive.

At the driving range, while Frost and his like-minded friends slathered on hand sanitizer and kept six feet apart, the white-haired Republicans seemed to delight in breaking the new rules. They made a show of shaking hands, and complained loudly about the “stupid hoax” being propagated by virus alarmists. When their tee times were up, they piled defiantly into golf carts, shoulder to shoulder, and sped off toward the first hole.

Frost felt conflicted. He wanted to encourage the men, some of whom he’d known for years, to be more careful. “I care about their well-being,” he told me. “But it’s a tough call, just personally, because it’s become a political thing.”

Care about the safety of everyone and you’re a coward. Disregard public safely, entirely, and sneer at the whole idea, you’re a hero. Trump set that up:

Trump, having apparently grown impatient with all the quarantines and lockdowns, began last week to call for a quick return to business as usual. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he tweeted, in characteristic caps lock. Speaking to Fox News, he added that he would “love” to see businesses and churches reopened by Easter. Though Trump would later walk them back, the comments set off a familiar sequence – a Democratic backlash, a pile-on in the press, and a rush in MAGA-world to defend the president.

As the coronavirus now emerges as another front in the culture war, social distancing has come to be viewed in some quarters as a political act – a way to signal which side you’re on.

And there’s no way for Trump to walk that back now:

This dynamic is playing out in small ways across the country. Bret, a sales representative from Plano, Texas, who asked that I not use his last name, proudly told me how unfazed he and his conservative neighbors were by the threat of an outbreak. In his view, the recent wave of government-mandated lockdowns was a product of panic-mongering in the mainstream media, and he welcomed Trump’s call for businesses to reopen by Easter.

When I asked whether the virus had interfered with his lifestyle, Bret laughed. “Oh, I’m going to the shooting range tomorrow,” he replied.

Was he worried that his friends might disapprove if they found out?

“No,” he told me, “around here, I get much more of people saying, ‘Why don’t you go Saturday so I can go, too?'”

And so it goes:

The polarization around public health seems to be accelerating: In recent days, Republican governors in Alabama and Mississippi have resisted calls to enact more forceful mitigation policies. Polling data suggest that Republicans throughout the U.S. are much less concerned about the coronavirus than Democrats are. According to a recent analysis by The New York Times, Trump won 23 of the 25 states where people have reduced personal travel the least.

Some of this is likely shaped by the fact that the most serious outbreaks so far in the U.S. have been concentrated in urban centers on the coasts (a pattern that may not hold for long). But there are real ideological forces at work as well.

Katherine Vincent-Crowson, a 35-year-old self-defense instructor from Slidell, Louisiana, has watched in horror this month as businesses around her city were forced to close by state decree. A devotee of Ayn Rand, Vincent-Crowson told me Louisiana’s shelter-in-place order was a frightening example of government overreach.

“It feels very militaristic,” she said. “I’m just like, ‘What the hell? Is this 1940s Germany?'”

No, but it’s getting there:

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has instituted a shutdown on a city of nearly 4 million people and threatened uncooperative business owners with power shutoffs and arrest.

In Mississippi, home to nearly 3 million people, Gov. Tate Reeves has allowed most businesses to stay open – even restaurants, so long as they serve no more than 10 people at a time.

The divergent approaches are evidence that not even a global pandemic can bridge the gaping political divisions of the Trump era. The fierce tribalism that has characterized debates over immigration, taxes and health care is now coloring policy-making during a coronavirus outbreak that threatens countless lives and local economies across nation.

It seems that Obama was prescient, and Greg Sargent comments:

This is true as far as it goes. But like so many other efforts to find language adequate to capturing Trump’s daily depravities and degradations, it’s profoundly insufficient.

When one set of officials shapes its response to a public health emergency around facts, data, public health expertise and science, and another set – with many exceptions, to be sure – relentlessly downplays that emergency, largely because Trump has demanded this for nakedly self-interested political reasons, words like “tribalism” or “partisanship” risk obscuring more than they clarify.

The gulf between those demanding a response in keeping with public health expertise and those refusing such a response – and even claiming that demands for more action can only reflect animosity to Trump – is not mere “tribalism” or “partisanship.”

One side is prioritizing science and the imperative of erring on the side of caution to protect as many American lives as possible. The other is actively submerging both of those to a kind of cultish devotion to the perceived political needs and demands of the leader.

And we need to find the right language to say so.

That may be hard, but the facts, data, public health expertise and science point in only one direction:

The White House coronavirus response coordinator said Monday that she is “very worried about every city in the United States” and projects 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths as a best case scenario.

In an interview on TODAY, Dr. Deborah Birx painted a grim message about the expected fatalities, echoing that they could hit more than 2 million without any measures, as coronavirus cases continue to climb throughout the country…

Birx said the projections by Dr. Anthony Fauci that U.S. deaths could range from 1.6 million to 2.2 million is a worst case scenario if the country did “nothing” to contain the outbreak, but said even “if we do things almost perfectly,” she still predicts up to 200,000 U.S. deaths.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reiterated Monday on CNN that “I don’t want to see it, I’d like to avoid it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths.”

This is not good:

Birx said the best case scenario would be for “100 percent of Americans doing precisely what is required, but we’re not sure that all of America is responding in a uniform way to protect one another,” referencing images circulating online of people still congregating in big groups and ignoring guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And there’s this:

A new estimate from economists at the St. Louis Fed project total COVID-19 Crisis employment reductions at 47 million people. That would translate into a 32.1% unemployment rate. To give some perspective that is significantly higher than the peak unemployment during the Great Depression (24.9%) and wildly higher than anything seen during the Great Recession (10%).

And there are choices:

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called to reopen parts of the American economy to avoid throwing it into a recession or depression. He said “death is an unavoidable part of life” in a USA Today op-ed published Monday.

Though Johnson didn’t advocate to fully start-up the economy, he said the crisis should be put into perspective.

“What more people are saying is that as we learn more about COVID-19, we should evaluate the total societal cost of this awful disease and try to put things into perspective,” Johnson said.

The Wisconsin senator drew a parallel between the tens of thousands of Americans who die from suicide and the opioid overdose each year, noting “that level of individual despair has occurred in a strong economy.”

So, look at it this way:

Johnson – who sits on the Commerce and Homeland Security committees — also made a comparison to last year’s “exceptionally bad flu season” and warned against overreaction.

“Every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life,” he said.

Ah, but then there’s Rick Wilson:

Sunday, the president said that 100,000 deaths would be a great win. Only in the world of Trumpian dumbfuckery could anyone brighter than a toaster oven think 100,000 avoidable deaths is a win. That’s like saying, “Hey, honey, I went to the strip club, caught an STD, knocked up a stripper named Destynee, and got a second mortgage to bail her meth tweaker boyfriend out of jail – but at least I didn’t touch the kids’ college fund.”

That’s Trump, and Martin Longman adds this:

He’s using that number now for only one reason, to make whatever the actual number is look like some kind of great success.

We don’t have to compare Trump to Rick Wilson’s fictional husband to understand that “success” already left the building. Trump was forced to recommend social distancing measures be extended through to the end of April, despite his recent call to relax things in time for Easter services.

He’s been acting like he could spin this pandemic from the beginning, and it is going to cost a lot of people their lives. He tries to beat one tactical retreat after another as reality catches up with his bullshit, but he’s still hasn’t changed his basic strategy.

It’s far too late now for him to declare any outcome a “win.”

And what would “winning” this look like anyway? Someone knows that the whole thing is absurd:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he refuses to get in a political fight with President Donald Trump amid their efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not going to engage in politics,” Cuomo said at a press conference from the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which was converted into temporary hospital space by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week.

“Not because I’m unwilling to tangle, but because I think it’s inappropriate, and I think it’s counterproductive, and I think it’s anti-American,” Cuomo said.

He’s just not going to go there:

Last week, the two men clashed over whether the draconian restrictions being imposed to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus transmission should be lifted in an effort to quickly revive the U.S. economy.

Cuomo was asked at the presser Monday afternoon if he was unwilling to lock horns with the Republican president. Both political leaders have approved extreme measures to contain the virus in New York, the U.S. epicenter of the crisis.

“How many years have you known me?” Cuomo responded with a smirk. “I’m a tangler!”

But “I am not engaging the president in politics,” Cuomo said.

“This is no time for politics,” he said. “I’m not going to get into a political dispute with the president. I’m not going to rise to the bait of a political challenge.”

Why not? Everyone else has. They’ve been taking the bait since Obama started it all with that one comment back in 2008 about all those bitter people. They had to prove him right. They finally did.

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