Trapped in Perpetual Adolescence

November will be here soon enough. If there’s an election Trump stays or goes, or, if he loses, he doesn’t go. He has laid the appropriate groundwork. It was the mail-in ballots! This election was rigged! So if he loses he will stay. No one will know how to argue that he cannot stay on as president, because such a thing has never happened before. There’s no “rule” that he must go away in this circumstance. No one imagined that would ever be necessary. He’s smiling. He’s got this covered.

But assume, for the sake of argument, that there will be an election, and assume that Trump decides, to everyone’s surprise, to allow that election to be determinative. If so, what’s the choice? That became clear on Memorial Day:

Memorial Day 2020 offered an array of contrasts as some Americans sheltered in their homes, others flocked to beaches and pools, and the nation’s political leaders honored generations of war dead, with former vice president Joe Biden wearing a mask and President Trump going without.

The disparate approaches played out as the country’s reported death toll from the coronavirus edged closer to 100,000.

First up, Donald Trump:

Trump took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and later gave remarks at Fort McHenry in Baltimore to honor those who have given their lives in wars past and those fighting today on the front lines of the pandemic.

“As one nation we mourn alongside every single family who has lost loved ones, including the families of our great veterans,” Trump said. “Together we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights.”‘

That was nicely put boilerplate defiance and optimism, and he moved on:

At Fort McHenry, he likened the service of American soldiers who repelled a British assault during the War of 1812 to the “tens of thousands of service members and national guardsmen” who are caring for patients and delivering supplies during the pandemic.

Again, the president wore no mask, a deliberate defiance of guidance from his own public health officials, as he seeks to portray a picture of a country returning to normal despite the ravages of the pandemic. More than 38 million Americans are out of work, and Trump himself has said the economic recovery likely will not happen until after November.

Things were getting muddled. We are now fighting a war he seems to think is over for now, except for the economic mess it left behind. But he acknowledges people are still dying, far too many of them, but really, this is over. And he’s pissed off:

Before heading to Arlington in the morning, Trump fired off some tweets, berating “The Fake & Totally Corrupt News” for reporting on his weekend golf outings despite the mounting death toll.

He said he was just getting “a little exercise” and this was his first golf in almost three months, so give him a break, because Obama was worse:

He took a swipe at former president Barack Obama, saying the media, which he attacked as “sick” and “deranged,” do not mention “all the time Obama spent on the golf course.” In 2014, Trump had criticized Obama for playing golf when there were two confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States.

This makes most White House reporters shrug. Trump pops off. Mention what he says but don’t make a big deal of it. He’s not going to make sense, or news. He just pops off.

And then there’s the other guy:

Biden emerged from his home for the first time since mid-March to lay a wreath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veterans Memorial Park.

“Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made,” said Biden, Trump’s presumptive rival in November, as he left the memorial. “Never, ever, forget.”

This was the day to honor those who died for this country. He wasn’t going to make it political. This day wasn’t about him.

And that’s the contrast. That’s the choice, and Eugene Robinson has made his choice:

The long Memorial Day weekend gave the pandemic an indelible visual image: President Trump, wearing a ball cap but no mask, enjoying himself on his Northern Virginia golf course. Last week, you will recall, Trump declared it was “essential” that Americans be able to spend Sunday at church services. He chose to head for the links instead.

And that’s that:

Primary blame for those 100,000 deaths must go to the killer itself – the novel coronavirus that spreads so easily, overwhelms defenseless immune systems and turned New York hospitals into charnel houses. But not all of covid-19’s victims had to die. Some responsibility must be laid at the feet of a president who ignored the threat until it was too late, who failed to mount an adequate response and who still, after so many lonely deaths and socially distanced funerals, insists that the enemy will somehow just magically disappear.

Would lives have been saved if a more compassionate, less narcissistic leader had been at the helm? Obviously, we’ll never know with certainty. But it’s hard to imagine any other president, at least in my lifetime, avidly promoting the use of a drug, hydroxychloroquine, that studies suggest does more harm than good to those seriously ill with covid-19. It is hard to imagine any other president issuing guidelines for states to reopen their economies, then hectoring governors to ignore those very guidelines and reopen anyway. It is hard to imagine any other president stubbornly refusing to model the behavior his medical experts recommend – wearing a mask in public – because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

And it is hard to imagine any other president whose insatiable need for ego gratification forbids those medical experts from speaking plain truth.

Robinson is not a fan of Trump’s sneering bad-boy defiance of all experts and his indifference to the grief of one hundred thousand American families. But that’s the choice. Some find sneering bad-boy defiance pretty cool and damned satisfying, others are appalled, so choose sides:

The election is coming, Trump is in campaign mode, and the only political technique he has mastered is the driving of wedges. He has made it a political statement not to wear a mask or respect social distancing. According to polls, most Americans are willing to follow the advice of medical professionals. Enough may follow Trump’s lead, however, to guarantee that the rate of infection and death remains higher than it has to be.

Are there enough voters who are cool with that? There are fewer than before, as Karen Tumulty reports here:

One of the most durable political assets that Republicans have enjoyed throughout the 21st century is their edge among Americans 65 and older, who tend to turn out at the polls more reliably any other group.

But with President Trump’s inept and erratic handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, he is rapidly losing support among the age group most vulnerable to its ravages – which is a big warning sign to Republicans as they look to the fall. Trump has also been showing slippage in support among the next-oldest cohort, those 55 and older.

In fact, this is getting serious:

The shift has been showing up in a string of recent polls, reportedly including those that have been conducted by Trump’s own campaign. One of the most striking is a survey of 44 battleground House districts done by Democratic pollster Geoff Garin during the second week of May.

In those districts, voters over 65 said they had supported Trump in 2016 by a 22-point margin – 58 percent to 36 percent.

But this year, those same respondents are practically evenly divided, with 47 percent saying they are planning to vote for the president and 43 percent expressing an intention to cast their ballots for former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. That is an enormous net swing of 18 percentage points.

“They’re in real trouble if they can’t count on a strong showing with seniors,” said Garin, who did the survey for a client he declined to name. “Trump is blowing what had become an important Republican advantage.”

But it’s not just Trump:

Practically from the outset of the pandemic, Republicans have been sending a message to older Americans, with varying degrees of subtlety, that their health is not as important as that of the economy. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick actually said it out loud: “Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.”

Patrick’s comment was reminiscent of an infamous statement back in the mid-1980s by then-Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, a Democrat, who said that terminally ill older Americans have “a duty to die and get out of the way.” Instead of relying on expensive, life-prolonging machines, Lamm said, they should “let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” Lamm became known as “Governor Gloom.”

Dan Patrick should have known better. All those on Fox News who said Dan Patrick was right about that should have known better, but there’s even more to this:

A bigger problem for Trump and the Republicans may be that older Americans have been paying close attention to the president’s handling of the crisis.

They are the group most attuned to television news, which means they are more likely than younger voters to have seen with their own eyes some of the more bizarre things Trump has done, such as entertaining the possibility that ingesting bleach could cure covid-19. They know, though Trump denies it now, that he was initially dismissive of the dangers posed by the coronavirus. On a daily basis, they have seen his petulance and his blame-shifting, and heard his flat-out lies.

Yes, they heard him in Florida:

Allen Lehner was a Republican until Donald Trump became his party’s nominee in 2016. The 74-year-old retiree says he couldn’t bring himself to vote for someone who lied, belittled others, walked out on his bills and mistreated women – but he also couldn’t bring himself to vote for Hillary Clinton. So he didn’t vote.

Trump has done nothing since to entice Lehner back.

Lehner, who now considers himself an independent, says he is frightened by the president’s lack of leadership and maturity amid the nation’s health and economic crisis. Several people in his gated community in Delray Beach, Fla., have gotten sick; at least one has died. He worries about his own health – he has an autoimmune disease – and also about his adult children, including a daughter who has gone back to work and a son whose pay has been cut.

He plans to vote for Joe Biden in November.

“Regardless of what they say about his senior moments, I think he would be good and take good care of the country,” said Lehner, who owned furniture and fireplace-supply stores in central Pennsylvania before retiring to Florida.

That’s a telling anecdote, but only an anecdote. There’s data:

In 2016, Trump won the Florida senior vote by a 17-point margin over Clinton, according to exit polls. The state ranks as one Trump must almost certainly win to insure his victory, while Biden has other paths to the White House.

Yet for months, Biden has been more popular than Trump with seniors. A national poll of registered voters released by Quinnipiac University last week shows Biden leading by 10 points among voters over 65. A Quinnipiac poll in late April found 52 percent of Florida seniors supporting Biden to 42 percent for Trump, while a Fox News poll around the same time found Biden narrowly ahead.

And these are two quite different men:

Biden, 77, and Trump, 73, are themselves seniors – born during and just after World War II to parents who had weathered the Great Depression. They came of age during the civil rights movement, and witnessed the first man walking on the moon, the creation of Medicare, the women’s liberation movement, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, rounds of foreign wars and natural disasters, a recession and the invention of the Internet, cellphones and Twitter. Their leadership styles provide voters with a stark choice.

Biden has taken on the cautions of his generation in recent months, quarantining in his Delaware home after those in his age group were asked to curb their activities to lessen their chances of being infected. Trump has flouted recommendations about social distancing and the use of masks, and has openly yearned for the mass rallies that once defined his political campaign.

But that might not work for Trump:

“I’ve seen a lot. I was in the Vietnam War. I had my own business,” said Lehner, who lived in Pennsylvania when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant there partially melted down in 1979. “It was just panic, but we had, in a sense, we had leadership in that event, and, in fact, in a lot of events. Presidents have in the past given leadership or comfort. But there is nothing coming from our current president.”

Expect nothing. Tom Nichols explains why. Nichols’ book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters was a bit of a warning, and now Nichols offers this:

Why do working-class white men – the most reliable component of Donald Trump’s base – support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency? The question is not whether Trump fails to meet some archaic or idealized version of masculinity. The president’s inability to measure up to Marcus Aurelius or Omar Bradley is not the issue. Rather, the question is why so many of Trump’s working-class white male voters refuse to hold Trump to their own standards of masculinity – why they support a man who behaves more like a little boy.

Perhaps that will be determinative in November. Nichols sees a problem here:

I am a son of the working class, and I know these cultural standards. The men I grew up with think of themselves as pretty tough guys, and most of them are. They are not the products of elite universities and cosmopolitan living. These are men whose fathers and grandfathers came from a culture that looks down upon lying, cheating, and bragging, especially about sex or courage. (My father’s best friend got the Silver Star for wiping out a German machine-gun nest in Europe, and I never heard a word about it until after the man’s funeral.) They admire and value the understated swagger, the rock-solid confidence, and the quiet reserve of such cultural heroes as John Wayne’s Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby and Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo (also, as it turns out, a former Green Beret.)

They are, as an American Psychological Association feature describes them, men who adhere to norms such as “toughness, dominance, self-reliance, heterosexual behaviors, restriction of emotional expression and the avoidance of traditionally feminine attitudes and behaviors.”

But I didn’t need an expert study to tell me this; they are men like my late father and his friends, who understood that a man’s word is his bond and that a handshake means something. They are men who still believe in a day’s work for a day’s wages. They feel that you should never thank another man when he hands you a paycheck that you earned. They shoulder most burdens in silence – perhaps to an unhealthy degree – and know that there is honor in making an honest living and raising a family.

And somehow, now, they vote for Trump:

Courage, honesty, respect, an economy of words, a bit of modesty, and a willingness to take responsibility are all virtues prized by the self-identified class of hard-working men, the stand-up guys, among whom I was raised.

And yet, many of these same men expect none of those characteristics from Trump, who is a vain, cowardly, lying, vulgar, jabbering blowhard. Put another way, as a question I have asked many of the men I know: Is Trump a man your father and grandfather would have respected?

There are a few things to consider when asking that question:

Is Trump honorable? This is a man who routinely refused to pay working people their due wages, and then lawyered them into the ground when they objected to being exploited. Trump is a rich downtown bully, the sort most working men usually hate.

Is Trump courageous? Courtiers like Victor Davis Hanson have compared Trump to the great heroes of the past, including George Patton, Ajax, and the Western gunslingers of the American cinema. Trump himself has mused about how he would have been a good general. He even fantasized about how he would have charged into the middle of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, without a weapon. “You don’t know until you test it,” he said at a meeting with state governors just a couple of weeks after the massacre, “but I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.” Truly brave people never tell you how brave they are. I have known many combat veterans, and none of them extols his or her own courage. What saved them, they will tell you, was their training and their teamwork. Some – perhaps the bravest – lament that they were not able to do more for their comrades.

So that answers those two questions, no and no, and Nichols notes this:

Whenever he is in the company of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to take the most cringe-inducing example, he visibly cowers. His attempts to ingratiate himself with Putin are embarrassing, especially given how effortlessly Putin can bend Trump to his will. When the Russian leader got Trump alone at a summit in Helsinki, he scared him so badly that at the subsequent joint press conference, Putin smiled pleasantly while the president of the United States publicly took the word of a former KGB officer over his own intelligence agencies…

Trump has shown repeatedly in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, he is eager to criticize China, until he is asked about Chinese President Xi Jinping. In the course of the same few minutes, Trump will attack China – his preferred method for escaping responsibility for America’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic – and then he will babble about how much he likes President Xi, desperately seeking to avoid giving offense to the Chinese Communist Party boss.

And then add this:

This is related to one of Trump’s most noticeable problems, which is that he can never stop talking. The old-school standard of masculinity is the strong and silent type, like Gary Cooper back in the day. Trump, by comparison, is neither strong nor capable of silence.

And when Trump talks too much, he ends up saying things that more stereotypically masculine men wouldn’t say, like that he fell in love with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. “He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters,” Trump told a rally in West Virginia. “We fell in love.” One can only imagine the reaction among working-class white men if Barack Obama, or any other U.S. president, had talked about falling in love with a foreign leader.

And then add this:

Is Trump a man who respects women? This is what secure and masculine men would expect, especially from a husband and a father of two daughters.

Leave aside for the moment that the working-class white men in the president’s base don’t seem to care that Trump had an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with a new baby, something for which many of them would probably beat their own brother-in-law senseless if he did it to their sister. Trump’s voters, male and female, have already decided to excuse this and other sordid episodes.

And then add this:

Does Trump accept responsibility and look out for his team? Not in the least. In this category, he exhibits one of the most unmanly of behaviors: He’s a blamer. Nothing is ever his fault. In the midst of disaster, he praises himself while turning on even his most loyal supporters without a moment’s hesitation. Men across America who were socialized by team sports, whose lives are predicated on the principle of showing up and doing the job, continually excuse a man who continually excuses himself. This presidency is defined not by Ed Harris’s grim intonation in Apollo 13 that “failure is not an option,” but by one of the most shameful utterances of a chief executive in modern American history: “I take no responsibility at all.”

Nichols has much more but everything comes down to this:

Trump’s lack of masculinity is about maturity. He is not manly because he is not a man. He is a boy.

To be a man is to be an adult, to willingly decide, as St. Paul wrote, to “put away childish things.” There’s a reason that Peter Pan is a story about a boy, and the syndrome named after it is about men. Not everyone grows up as they age.

It should not be a surprise then, that Trump is a hero to a culture in which so many men are already trapped in perpetual adolescence. And especially for men who feel like life might have passed them by, whose fondest memories are rooted somewhere in their own personal Wonder Years from elementary school until high-school graduation, Trump is a walking permission slip to shrug off the responsibilities of manhood.

The appeal to indulge in such hypocrisy must be enormous. Cheat on your wife? No problem. You can trade her in for a hot foreign model 20 years younger. Is being a father to your children too onerous a burden on your schedule? Let the mothers raise them. Money troubles? Everyone has them; just tell your father to write you another check. Upset that your town or your workplace has become more diverse? Get it off your chest: Rail about women and Mexicans and African Americans at will and dare anyone to contradict you.

That’s what it means to be trapped in perpetual adolescence:

Donald Trump is unmanly because he has never chosen to become a man. He has weathered few trials that create an adult of any kind. He is, instead, working-class America’s dysfunctional son, and his supporters, male and female alike, have become the worried parent explaining what a good boy he is to terrorized teachers even while he continues to set fires in the hallway right outside.

I think that working men, the kind raised as I was, know what kind of “man” Trump is. And still, the gratification they get from seeing Trump enrage the rest of the country is enough to earn their indulgence.

But that may not win the election. The economy is in ruins and the bodies are piling up. There is no longer any way to explain what a good boy he is to terrorized seniors and those who have lost everything and see no way to claw back to even a tenth of what used to be. Sneering bad-boy defiance of everyone and everything may have lost its charm. Trump may lose this election. Then the trick will be to get him to leave. The nation cannot afford to be trapped in perpetual adolescence forever.

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Actual Existential Threats

Forget the war dead. This Memorial Day was like this – “The husband of the woman who leads the ‘Reopen NC’ movement says people should be willing to kill, if necessary, to resist the ‘New World Order’ and emergency orders imposed by state government to contain the coronavirus pandemic.”

NC is North Carolina. The issue is that state shutting down all “nonessential” commerce and public movement, and telling free people that they have to wear masks, which is tyranny. But it’s unclear who must be killed to make all of that go away. The president doesn’t wear a mask, ever, and mocks those who tell him he should, so wearing a mask is for fools who believe experts, who know nothing, as everyone knows, and thus it follows that anyone who wears a mask in public is siding with those damned “experts” and mocking this president, and thus hates this president and thus hates America, and thus wearing a mask in public is treason, which is punishable by death, traditionally by firing squad, but perhaps this fellow has other ideas. Will he shoot dead anyone who tells him to put a mask on before he enters the local Walmart? Or will he simply shoot dead anyone he sees wearing a mask in public? Imagine patriotic armed Trump Militias popping up spontaneously all across America and doing that. In just one day no one would be wearing those masks ever again. But of course this is just one guy. He’s probably not going to go out and kill anyone at all for Trump and freedom. He’s just venting. But don’t tell him that. That’d set him off. One must be careful.

So that was the issue of the day:

Three prominent Republicans bolstered North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s (R) emotional plea to end the “political” divide on mask-wearing requirements during Sunday morning interviews.

Unlike President Trump’s refusal to wear a mask while touring a Ford plant outside of Michigan on Thursday – despite White House staffers being ordered to do so after two aides tested positive for the novel coronavirus earlier this month – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) are encouraging the public to take precautions such as mask-wearing seriously as states begin easing coronavirus restrictions over Memorial Day weekend.

Do these three hate this president and thus hate America? No, not exactly, but it’s complicated:

Scott told CNN’s Dana Bash that “we have to open the economy” and that in order to do so safely, it is “absolutely” necessary to take precautions such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

The Florida senator then quickly added that wearing a mask doesn’t translate to “people telling us how to lead our lives every day.”

“Do I believe people ought to wear masks? Yes, I do believe people ought to wear masks. Do I believe people ought to social distance? Yes, I believe they ought to social distance. Do we need the President and governors and all the local officials that tell us how to lead our lives every day? No,” Scott said.

Scott argued that the Bill of Rights is everything here. Its guarantees of religious freedom and personal freedom mean no one can enforce any emergency public safety rules at all, ever, period. You have your rights! The government “suggests” this and that. That’s all the government is allowed to do. People can do whatever the hell they want. But he’s sure people will do the right thing.

And of course he was wrong:

Americans were eager to get their summer started this weekend and they flocked to outdoor spaces over Memorial Day Weekend. After spending lots of time indoors, many were clearly eager to get outside and socialize again. And some did not seem to care much about social-distancing guidelines, leading to warnings about a possible resurgence of the coronavirus that has already killed almost 100,000 people across the country.

One set of images that spread like wildfire on social media involved partiers crowding together in a pool at the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Locals said it was a notably big crowd. “It seems like everyone is having the same idea, to come to the lake to enjoy summer, because you can social distance at the same time,” said a local who shot a time-lapse drone video of the boat traffic on the Lake of the Ozarks on Saturday…

No social distancing and no masks and the same everywhere:

Lots of people also crowded beaches in Florida, with officials in the Gulf Coast closing beaches when they got full. Many who tried to go to the beach in the mid-afternoon ended up being turned away as beaches reached an “unprecedented level of closures.” Although some praised the way many beachgoers appeared to be trying to maintain a safe distance, others weren’t so optimistic. “I have never seen this many umbrellas,” one beachgoer said. “This is not social-distancing at all. There are way too many people.” There were also huge crowds in Daytona Beach, where a shooting erupted after some 200 people gathered in the streets.

Things were back to normal. The virus will be back worse than ever, but that was just those experts talking:

As people tried to enjoy the unofficial start of the summer and President Donald Trump celebrated that “cases, numbers and deaths are going down,” other White House officials emphasized that people still needed to be careful. Stephen M. Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, warned on Twitter that the coronavirus “is not yet contained.” Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said she was “very concerned” about scenes of people crowding together over the holiday weekend. “We really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical. And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask,” she said on ABC’s This Week.

Trump was among the many Americans who decided to spend time outside Sunday, as he headed to his golf course in Virginia for the second day in a row. The president went to play golf again hours after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released an attack ad blasting Trump for playing golf as the coronavirus death toll in the United States neared the 100,000-mark.

Trump shrugged, and the nation argued, and few noticed what was happening in the background:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to implement “new policies” to boost the country’s nuclear deterrent, state media reported Sunday, underlining his decision to turn his back on denuclearization talks with the United States.

Kim made the call at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission, nearly two years after he met President Trump at a historic summit in Singapore that seemed to offer hope of progress between the two nations.

Subsequent talks made little progress before dissolving in acrimony last year, and North Korea has since returned to a harder line in its public posturing.

Trump had said that he and Kim fell in love with each other. They understood each other. They respected each other. They admired each other. Kim just made a fool of Trump, but there’s more to this:

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said it was probably a coincidence that the announcement was made just after it emerged that the Trump administration had discussed whether to conduct the country’s first nuclear test since 1992.

“The intention in Washington for pondering such a move may be to pressure Russia and China to improve arms control commitments and enforcement,” he wrote in an email. “But not only might this tack encourage more nuclear risk-taking by those countries, it could provide Pyongyang an excuse for its next provocation.”

So, we might set off a whole series of big nuclear bombs under the desert out west once again, as a warning of some kind to Russia and China, but Kim smiled. There are no rules now. Cool. He has bombs too.

But our decision was odd:

The matter came up at a meeting of senior officials representing the top national security agencies May 15, following accusations from administration officials that Russia and China are conducting low-yield nuclear tests – an assertion that has not been substantiated by publicly available evidence and that both countries have denied.

A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive nuclear discussions, said that demonstrating to Moscow and Beijing that the United States could “rapid test” could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as Washington seeks a trilateral deal to regulate the arsenals of the biggest nuclear powers.

The meeting did not conclude with any agreement to conduct a test, but a senior administration official said the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation.”

Forget that virus and the face masks! Let’s restart the nuclear arms race from Trump’s teenage years! But that might be a bad idea:

The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992, and nuclear nonproliferation advocates warned that doing so now could have destabilizing consequences.

“It would be an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “It would be the starting gun to an unprecedented nuclear arms race. You would also disrupt the negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who may no longer feel compelled to honor his moratorium on nuclear testing.”

Kim did just that, but wait, there’s more:

The deliberations over a nuclear test explosion come as the Trump administration prepares to leave the Treaty on Open Skies, a nearly 30-year-old pact that came into force in 2002 and was designed to reduce the chances of an accidental war by allowing mutual reconnaissance flights for members of the 34-country agreement.

The planned withdrawal marks another example of the erosion of a global arms-control framework that Washington and Moscow began hashing out painstakingly during the Cold War. The Trump administration pulled out of a 1987 pact with Russia governing intermediate-range missiles, citing violations by Moscow, and withdrew from a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, saying Tehran wasn’t living up to the spirit of it.

The primary remaining pillar of the arms-control framework between the United States and Russia is the New START pact, which places limits on strategic nuclear platforms.

That will be gone soon too. Trump tears up all treaties. All former presidents were fools. He’ll negotiate new treaties from scratch. He wrote the book on the art of the deal. No one else did. Look at his deal with Kim. Look at Obama’s deal with Iran and its nukes that he tore up. Look at the Paris climate accords. Okay, don’t:

One U.S. official said a nuclear test could help pressure the Chinese into joining a trilateral agreement with the United States and Russia, but some nonproliferation advocates say such a move is risky.

“If this administration believes that a nuclear test explosion and nuclear brinkmanship is going to coerce negotiating partners to make unilateral concessions, that’s a dangerous ploy,” Kimball said.

But is Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association a multibillionaire with a drop-dead gorgeous third trophy wife and who had a hit reality television show? Still, there are now new problems with the Chinese:

The United States should abandon its “wishful thinking about changing China” and stop pushing the two countries “to the brink of a new Cold War,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday, trying to position Beijing as the grown-up in an increasingly fractious relationship.

As tensions between the world’s two largest economies mount by the day, Wang used a news conference during the annual piece of political theater known as the National People’s Congress to send a direct message to Washington.

“China has no intention to change, still less replace, the United States,” Wang said before a selected group of journalists. “It’s time for the United States to give up its wishful thinking of changing China and stopping 1.4 billion people in their historic march toward modernization.”

The message was clear. Stop making up shit. Don’t blame us for your own damned problems. Just grow up before you get us all killed:

In a nod toward President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have repeatedly suggested that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is a threat to the world, Wang said American politicians “are taking China-U.S. relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War.”

“This dangerous attempt to turn back the will of history will undo the fruits of decades-long China-U.S. cooperation, dampen America’s own development prospects, and put world stability and prosperity in jeopardy,” Wang said.

Be we’re not going to grow up:

Washington views China as a malign force out to reshape the world in its image. Beijing says the United States is trying to contain its ascent to its rightful place as a global superpower.

The conflict has taken on a new dimension with the emergence of the novel coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The Trump administration, reeling from more than 96,000 deaths in the United States, is trying to heap blame for the pandemic entirely on China’s Communist Party.

This includes, most recently, a claim by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that China “sent hundreds of thousands” of people infected with the virus on planes to “seed” the virus around the world. “They could have kept it in Wuhan, but instead, it became a pandemic,” he told ABC News last week.

In short, this is THEIR fault! Everything is perfect here, or was! It’s not our fault! Our president is perfect! He is the grown-up in the room!

He is? Anne Gearan looks at the current evidence:

As the death toll in the coronavirus pandemic neared 100,000 Americans this Memorial Day weekend, President Trump derided and insulted perceived enemies and promoted a baseless conspiracy theory, in between rounds of golf.

In a flurry of tweets and retweets Saturday and Sunday, Trump mocked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’s weight, ridiculed the looks of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and called former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton a “skank.”

He revived long-debunked speculation that a television host with whom Trump has feuded may have killed a woman and asserted without evidence that mail-in voting routinely produces ballot stuffing.

He made little mention of the sacrifice Americans honor on Memorial Day or the grim toll of the virus.

This is not a serious and sober adult:

Trump plans to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday and visit Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where the 1814 battle that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” was fought. The city’s Democratic mayor had discouraged the visit, saying it sent conflicting messages about the importance of staying home and protecting other Americans.

Although Trump on Friday had called for worshipers to return to church in person this holiday weekend, the president did not. He played golf on Sunday morning.

And then he sneered:

Retweeting one supporter in rapid succession, Trump blasted doctored images of Pelosi and two images of Abrams to his more than 80 million Twitter followers. Abrams, who is under consideration as a vice presidential pick by Biden, had “visited every buffet restaurant in the State,” Trump’s retweet said.

“To protect PolyGrip during this pandemic, we have developed 2 options. With the DJT option, she will be able to tongue and adjust her dentures more easily,” Trump retweeted, showing doctored images of Pelosi’s face, one with a “Trump 2020” mask over her mouth and the other with silver duct tape. “With duct tape, she won’t be able to drink booze on the job as much. Which do you think she will prefer? #maga #tcot #kag,” Twitter user John K. Stahl had tweeted.

Pelosi does not drink alcohol. Neither does Trump. This was nonsense, and this was rather random:

Stahl’s Twitter profile describes him as a retired tech executive and conservative. Trump appears to have scrolled through the account and retweeted numerous posts that praised Trump, criticized Democrats and the news media or voiced support for Trump’s view, which is not based on fact, that mail-in voting invites fraud.

It seems that Trump was bored and just browsing and resending this and that. Perhaps he had too much time on his hands. But then he got specific and nasty:

Trump also tweeted speculation and conspiracy theories about the death of a young woman who worked for then-Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) in 2001. Scarborough is now an MSNBC host and a frequent Trump critic. Trump suggested without evidence that Scarborough had an affair with the married staffer and that he may have killed her.

“A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!” Trump wrote Sunday.

Trump had also tweeted on May 12 about the death, asking, “Did he get away with murder?”

That was all debunked long ago and now there’s a problem:

That tweet drew criticism from some conservatives, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeting: “Completely unfounded conspiracy. Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”

It’s too late for that:

Trump also claimed Sunday that hydroxychloroquine has “tremendous rave reviews,” despite studies showing that it can be dangerous.

In a Sinclair Broadcasting interview, Trump politicized a study from Columbia University indicating that had stringent social distancing been in place a week earlier, the United States could have prevented 36,000 coronavirus deaths through early May – about 40 percent of fatalities reported to date.

“Columbia University is a liberal, disgraceful institution, to write that,” Trump said in the interview broadcast Sunday. “I saw that report from Columbia University and it is a disgrace that they would play right to their little group of people to tell them what to do.”

And face masks are stupid too. Kim is back to building nukes and we just started a new nuclear arms race that will be just like the old days, when one mistake could incinerate the planet, and China is refusing to be the bad guy and asking the world to take a closer look at Donald Trump, but yes, face masks are stupid.

No, they’re not, but Trump could be up to something. The Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker explain that:

Flush with record amounts of cash and a massive organization, President Trump and his allies had planned to spend the spring unleashing a torrent of withering attacks against Joe Biden in an attempt to define him in the eyes of voters before the former vice president could do so himself.

But the coronavirus pandemic upended those plans – delaying the campaign’s blitz of paid negative television ads until earlier this month, and forcing a reckoning over what kind of campaign can be effective during a time of historic unemployment and mass death.

Trump’s moves in recent days make clear that the president has decided to revive the disruptive themes of his 2016 bid, aimed at branding his opponent as a corrupt member of the Washington establishment and himself as an insurgent problem-solver. It’s a message that often has seemed incongruent with the present reality as Trump leads the federal government’s response to the worst crisis in a generation.

In short, if you hate the government and everything the government does, then I’m your man! I run the government and see, it does next to nothing! Reelect me and it will do even less, because I hate the government just as much as you do! Biden, on the other hand, thinks an effective government would be a good thing, which is stupid:

“Sleepy Joe cannot bring us to greatness,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning about Biden before heading to his golf resort in Virginia. “He is the reason I’m here!”

That seems to be the pitch to voters:

Trump’s supporters see in Biden a kind of stand-in for Hillary Clinton, the candidate Trump defeated in 2016, and say the pandemic won’t obscure the former vice president’s flaws. They have highlighted Biden’s lack of an enthusiastic voter base, a slew of Republican investigations into his actions as vice president and his four-decade career in the nation’s capital.

“I think it’s really analogous to 2016 in lots of major thematic ways,” said David Urban, a political adviser to the president and his campaign, who led Trump’s Pennsylvania effort in 2016. “If you switch out Clinton for Biden, it overlays pretty amazingly, with the exception that Biden is now even further to the left of Clinton and I never could have dreamed of that.”

That’s the pitch. Biden would get things done. We can’t have that. But there’s the other view:

Members of Biden’s team – many of whom worked with Clinton four years ago – say things are dramatically different this time around.

“All of us know that this is nothing like 2016,” said John Anzalone, a pollster for Biden who worked for the Clinton campaign that year. “Joe Biden isn’t Hillary Clinton.”

Anzalone pointed to public polling indicating that Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has cost him significantly with voters, who give the president low marks for his stewardship. Biden has gained ground with suburban voters, independent voters and senior citizens, groups that had previously leaned toward Trump but have drifted away during his presidency, Anzalone said.

And there’s this:

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed Trump trailing Biden by 11 points, one of the biggest gaps to date. In addition to a 50 percent to 39 percent national lead, Biden also outscored Trump on honesty, leadership skills and caring about average Americans. Voters were split over which candidate would do a better job handling the economy, an issue that had been a source of strength for Trump before the pandemic.

Polling also has indicated that people who dislike both Trump and Biden now lean strongly toward Biden, in a shift from 2016, when Trump won voters who disliked both candidates in the race.

The president and his allies quickly dismissed the negative polling, pointing to 2016 as a cautionary tale for pundits.

They know. The polls are always wrong. Trump always wins. And so things fall into place:

A senior administration official said that part of Trump’s campaign will include linking Biden to an alleged attempt to hamstring the incoming administration before Trump was inaugurated.

“The narrative is going to be they set us up to fail from day one,” the official said. “The swamp was trying to stop the outsider president. We were able to succeed, but before we were even inaugurated, this is what we were up against.”

Democrats describe all of those efforts as diversionary tactics that carry little weight at a time when Americans are dealing with Depression-level unemployment and fears about their personal well-being.

Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director in 2016, dismissed the Trump administration’s moves as “fabricated attacks” that will only turn off voters who are more interested in the “actual existential threat” posed by the coronavirus.

But what about Joe Scarborough, and don’t all of you think masks are stupid? Coronavirus isn’t really an actual existential threat, is it? And neither is global thermonuclear war next week, is it? Trump is asking those questions.

He might not like the answer.

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Not This Year

Memorial Day has a long history – honor the Union dead, who kept the United States united, or the Confederate dead, who nobly fought to keep Southern chivalry and honor alive, or move on and honor all the dead who fought in all the wars since, for all the reasons, even if there may have been no reason at all now and then. They gave their all, but then there’s how most Americans actually live their lives now. Memorial Day is the start of summer, just as Labor Day, the first Monday of September, is when glorious summer ends and it’s back to school or work and that’s that. This is popular culture, not celestial geometry, and this is Memorial Day weekend. This is summer now. Hit the beach. But not this year, or not exactly – with nearly one hundred thousand dead from the pandemic and the economy in ruins, this year will be different.

Consider the Associated Press’ explanation how different things are now:

Millions of Americans are getting ready to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns and venture outdoors to celebrate Memorial Day weekend at beaches, cookouts and family outings, raising concern among public health officials that large gatherings could cause outbreaks to come roaring back.

Medical experts warn that the virus won’t take a holiday for the unofficial start of summer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay home, avoid crowds and connect with family and friends by phone or video chat.

That’s because the usual sort of Memorial Day could kill you, but, if so, adapt:

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said Friday that people can enjoy the outdoors if they stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Birx suggested playing tennis with marked balls, one for each player to handle, or not touching flags on the golf course.

“That is your space, and that’s the space that you need to protect and ensure that you’re social distanced for others,” Birx said at a White House briefing. She also suggested disposable utensils for picnics and potlucks.

Somehow that all seems a bit sad, as those of us who live in California know:

Californians headed into the weekend with both excitement and anxiety after restrictions eased in many areas. The nation’s most populous state has started seeing a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations after being the first to order a statewide shutdown.

David Spatafore, who owns Blue Bridge Hospitality restaurant group, was looking forward to Friday’s reopening of patio seating at the group’s pizzerias and dining rooms at its high-end steakhouse in Coronado, across the bay from San Diego.

“I think people are going to be so happy to be able to go back out and not eat out of a plastic container or cardboard box,” he said. “I know I am.”

But no one may show up. Forty million Americans have filed for whatever meager unemployment benefits are still available to them. They lost their jobs. They don’t have the money to eat out. They soon may not have the money to eat. And the rich have left town. And everyone else is still frightened. And on the other coast, the beach won’t be much fun:

In Virginia Beach, Virginia, the famed 40-block boardwalk and sandy shoreline reopened, but with spacing guidelines and groups limited to 10. Group sports such as volleyball are prohibited, along with tents and alcohol.

Mayor Bobby Dyer said about 150 “beach ambassadors” in red shirts will “diplomatically” ask people to follow rules.

Expect anger. Expect fights. Expect arrests. But don’t expect clarity:

Without clear federal guidance, state and local officials have been left to figure out how to celebrate the holiday safely. Social distancing and bans on mass gatherings remain in place throughout much of the country.

Everyone is faking it. Trump doesn’t like the guidance that the experts propose. They know not to cross him, so they say nothing. State and local officials will have to make this up as they go, they’ll just have to guess and hope.

That won’t be easy. When the government keeps its own government experts from explaining anything to the public, others explain it all, as the MIT Technology Review explains here:

Kathleen M. Carley and her team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Informed Democracy & Social Cybersecurity have been tracking bots and influence campaigns for a long time. Across US and foreign elections, natural disasters, and other politicized events, the level of bot involvement is normally between 10 and 20%, she says.

But in a new study, the researchers have found that bots may account for between 45 and 60% of Twitter accounts discussing covid-19. Many of those accounts were created in February and have since been spreading and amplifying misinformation, including false medical advice, conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, and pushes to end stay-at-home orders and reopen America.

They follow well-worn patterns of coordinated influence campaigns, and their strategy is already working: since the beginning of the crisis, the researchers have observed a greater polarization in Twitter discourse around the topic.

Most of this is the new flood of “testimonials” from “actual nurses” who have seen, over and over, that anyone who dies of anything other that a car crash or gunshot wounds is listed as having died of Covid-19 by people lying about this to take down Trump and ruin America. They’re very angry.

And they don’t exist. The twitter-handles change. The locations change. The wording is exactly the same. These come in waves of a million or two every other day or so. In 2016 it was wave after wave of tweets about how the new Pope just endorsed Donald Trump, millions and millions of tweets. And now these researchers have begun to analyze Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube to understand how this new wave of Covid-19 disinformation spreads between platforms, and it does, and it’s automated and self-replicating.

But there is other information:

The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.

Researchers at Imperial College London created a model that incorporates cellphone data showing that people sharply reduced their movements after stay-at-home orders were broadly imposed in March. With restrictions now easing and mobility increasing with the approach of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, the researchers developed an estimate of viral spread as of May 17.

It is a snapshot of a transitional moment in the pandemic and captures the patchwork nature across the country of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.

The researchers at Imperial College London are not computer generated twitter-bots and this is trouble:

The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.

“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.

The model shows potentially ominous scenarios if people move around as they did previously and do so without taking precautions. In California and Florida, the death rate could spike to roughly 1,000 a day by July without efforts to mitigate the spread, according to the report.

But for now, absent guidance from the nation’s experts at the top, everyone below will just have to fake it:

Political leaders have traded executive orders for appeals to individual responsibility and judgment. Even as they touted reopening water parks and beaches, some governors told their citizens not to enjoy their new freedoms too much.

In a hotspot in western Iowa, “families need to make their own decisions,” said Matthew A. Ung, chair of Woodbury County’s board of supervisors. “You don’t have to act one way or another because of what the government says,” he said. “Look out for you and your family.”

About 250 miles away in Minneapolis, municipal leaders are not counting on individual responsibility alone. The mayor, Jacob Frey, this week signed an emergency regulation requiring people older than 2 to cover their faces while at “indoor spaces of public accommodation,” including schools and government buildings.

“We are not criminalizing forgetfulness, but we will be cracking down on extreme selfishness and disregard for the health and safety of fellow Minneapolis residents,” Frey said in an interview.

And if you don’t like that, move to Iowa, but don’t ask Washington about any of this:

President Trump said Thursday the United States would not shut down in the case of a second coronavirus wave.

“People say that’s a very distinct possibility. It’s standard. And we’re going to put out the fires. We’re not going to close the country. We’re going to put out the fires,” Trump told reporters during a tour of a Ford manufacturing plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., when asked if he was concerned about a second wave of COVID-19.

Trump expressed confidence in the country’s ability to contain future outbreaks, referring to them as “embers.”

“Whether it’s an ember or a flame, we’re going to put it out. But we’re not closing our country,” the president continued.

Fine, that’s clear, finally, but not really:

The decision on whether to reintroduce restrictions in the event of a second wave would ultimately fall to state governors, not the federal government. While the White House issued guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 it was governors who instituted stay-at-home measures and ordered businesses to close.

Still, Trump has made clear his desire for the country to reopen in order to address the economic damage caused by COVID-19.

Health experts including Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, have warned of the likelihood of a second wave of the virus come fall or winter and cautioned it could be more difficult to contain a future wave that coincides with flu season.

Should the country remain open, no matter what? Trump says yes, loudly and empathically, Fauci says no, carefully and precisely, but the state governors have the say here, not Trump or Fauci, and the state governors all have different ideas, and as the Memorial Day weekend began, this conflict came to a head. The Washington Post covered that mess:

President Trump on Friday called on states to allow places of worship to open immediately and threatened to “override” any governors who do not comply with his demand, opening a new cultural and political fight over when to lift public health restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump did not specify what legal authority he has to back up his threat, and White House officials declined to answer questions about what actions he was prepared to take, leaving it unclear how serious the president is about following through on his declaration.

Perhaps that doesn’t matter. He was angry, or pretending to be:

Trump said he is deeming places of worship “essential services” that can operate even when other establishments are closed as a safety precaution.

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” Trump said during a brief appearance in the White House press room as the administration released new pandemic guidance for places of worship. “It’s not right.”

That may be all that there was to this. There’s nothing he can do here but there are those who need to hear him shout that this is NOT RIGHT! Let’s pack those churches, wall to wall, shoulder to shoulder, no masks. That’s his direct order:

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” Trump said of states that do not allow churches, synagogues and mosques to open this weekend. “America, we need more prayer, not less.”

Wasn’t this a public health issue? It was time to calm him down:

Public health officials continue to warn against mass gatherings or settings in which people will be in close quarters, and note that religious gatherings have been the source of several outbreaks. Some states put congregations in the same opening category as theaters.

Deborah Birx, a leader on the president’s coronavirus task force, added some caveats to Trump’s blanket demand for churches to open now, including that perhaps some church leaders may want to “wait another week” based on local health conditions.

“I think each one of the leaders in the faith community should be in touch with their local health department so that they can communicate to their congregants,” she said during the same White House briefing.

She’s sure these good people out there will do the right thing, but no one is sure about the Trump crew:

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on what authority the administration had to override governors and whether the Justice Department was preparing to get involved in the issue this weekend.

They weren’t ready for this, but this was inevitable:

White House officials have battled with CDC aides for weeks over the guidance. Objections came from Vice President Pence’s office, the domestic policy council and other members on the president’s coronavirus task force. In private conversations, White House officials have told religious allies that the CDC document is only a guideline, suggesting that church leaders would have the president’s blessing if they bent the rules.

But they may not want to bend the rules right now:

A University of Chicago Divinity School-AP-NORC poll completed in early May found 51 percent said in-person religious services should be allowed in some form and 9 percent said they should be allowed without any restrictions, while 42 percent said they should be allowed with restrictions on crowd size or physical distancing. Another 48 percent said they should not be allowed at all.

The same poll found 34 percent saying government orders prohibiting in-person religious services “violates freedom of religion,” while 66 percent said this did not.

So, Trump agreeing with these people that this is a big deal, when most of them think it isn’t an issue at all. They can wait, given the new rules, which, as Trump and Pence insisted, are now nonbinding:

The CDC guidance released Friday is a streamlined version of earlier draft guidelines that were the subject of internal debate at the White House last month. Although the content remains essentially the same, the introductory language is far more deferential to religious leaders than earlier drafts as well as guidance directed at other parts of society and the economy.

The release specifies that the information offered is “nonbinding public health guidance for consideration only.”

But that health guidance is onerous:

Faith communities are asked to consider temporarily limiting the sharing of prayer books, hymnals and other materials; using a stationary collection box, the mail or electronic payment instead of shared collection trays or baskets; and suspending or decreasing choir or musical ensembles and congregant singing during services or other programs.

The guidance also noted that the “act of singing may contribute to transmission of covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”

During a choir practice in Washington state, one person ended up infecting 52 other people, including two who died, according to a CDC report last week about what it described as a “superspreader event.”

That’s something to consider, or not:

Some officials discussed simply releasing the revamped CDC guidelines without fanfare, but Trump decided to do an event so he could get public credit for fighting for churches, said two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy decisions.

And of course he’ll lose that fight, but this will move the courts, for daily headlines until November:

Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit filed by a church in Chincoteague, Va. In that suit, the church has argued that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) violated the congregation’s constitutional rights to practice their religion.

The Justice Department’s filing in that case said the Lighthouse Fellowship Church has a “strong case” that its First Amendment rights have been abrogated by an order banning gatherings of more than 10 that applies to churches but not some secular businesses, like liquor stores and professional offices.

The Justice Department had previously argued in a similar suit on behalf of a Mississippi church and on Tuesday told California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that his plan to reopen California discriminates against churches.

That’s the fall campaign. Religious freedom and personal freedom mean no one can enforce any emergency public safety rules at all, ever, period. You have your rights!

That may be a winning strategy, or not:

Some prominent evangelical leaders said they were worried the president’s pressing for openings could encourage some clergy to take unnecessary risks with their congregants’ health. Some of the megachurches led by Trump advisers remain closed through the month.

Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the 45,000-member National Association of Evangelicals, said Friday that “just because the government says it’s okay to open doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wise to reopen. The best way to show love is to make sure we don’t infect others.” His anecdotal sense is that “very few” of NAE’s members are opening, he said.

Carey said the NAE put out its own guidance to its members last week, urging them to follow guidelines of local and state authorities.

In short, don’t listen to that man with the orange hair. Just ignore him. Do the right thing.

Andrew Sullivan feels the same way:

It’s perfectly clear by now that the United States does not have a functioning president or administration. It also seems clear that this does not matter to a sizable chunk of the population. They just don’t care – even when it could lead them to lose their lives and their livelihoods. None of the events of the last year – impeachment, plague, economic collapse – have had anything but a trivial impact on public opinion.

Neither, it seems, does the plain evidence of Trump’s derangement. Yesterday, at a Ford plant in Michigan, the president reiterated that he was once named “Man of the Year” in Michigan, something that never happened and an honor that doesn’t exist. He insisted that Obama had left no pandemic preparation behind – “We took over empty cupboards. The cupboards were bare” – which is untrue. He said he owned a lot of Lincolns but then he said he didn’t. When referring to the anti-Semite and Nazi-supporter Henry Ford, he ad-libbed, “Good bloodlines, if you believe in that stuff. Good blood.”

That was odd – “Ford was widely known for his pacifism during the first years of World War I, and for promoting anti-Semitic content, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, through his newspaper The Dearborn Independent and the book The International Jew, having an alleged influence on the development of Nazism.”

Trump likes that? Sullivan sees more:

In a factory where mask-wearing is legally mandatory and where every other executive was wearing a mask – and one who spoke with a Perspex visor on as well – Trump refused to wear one in public, though he apparently put one on behind the curtain. When asked why he wasn’t wearing one, he said: “I don’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.” The official taxpayer-funded White House trip was also used to give an overtly partisan campaign speech, breaking the law. Just one completely bonkers day from a president who has effectively refused to do the job.

And then there’s the pandemic:

The president was briefed on the looming viral threat, both internally and externally, multiple times in January. But he does not read his briefings – he doesn’t actually read anything – and is uniquely un-briefable in person, according to a story in the New York Times: “‘How do you know?’ is Mr. Trump’s common refrain during his 30- to 50-minute briefings two or three times a week. He counters with his own statistics on issues where he has strong views, like trade or NATO. Directly challenging him, even when his numbers are wrong, appears to erode Mr. Trump’s trust, according to former officials, and ultimately he stops listening.”

In other words, the officials who tell him things he doesn’t want to believe are soon sidelined or fired. This is the behavior of a two-year-old. In a man in his seventies, it’s a form of pathology…

Put simply, these are delusional attempts to describe his own fantasies as an objective reality – like how the Russians did not try to interfere in the 2016 election, his inauguration crowd was way bigger than Obama’s, tariffs are paid by the Chinese government, and that anyone in America could have gotten a COVID-19 test. This is a form of psychological disorder.

Sullivan goes on and on, and then there’s this:

There is no rational or coherent explanation for any of this. There is no strategy, or political genius. There is just a delusional pathology in which he says whatever comes into his head at any moment, determined entirely by his mood, which is usually bad. His attention span is so tiny and his memory so occluded that he can say two contradictory things with equal conviction repeatedly, and have no idea there might be any inconsistency at all.

That would be things like this:

He believes that tests are bad, because they make America look bad, and then boasts of his record in testing (which is, of course, not good). When a White House staffer, Vice-President Pence’s spokesperson, Katie Miller, tested positive for COVID-19, this is what Trump said: “She tested very good for a long period of time. And then all of a sudden today she tested positive. So, she tested positive out of the blue. This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily, right, the tests are perfect but something can happen between a test where it’s good and then something happens and then all of a sudden, she was tested very recently and tested negative.”

With anyone else, we would assume he was drunk when he said that. His sobriety is indistinguishable from alcoholic stupor.

And that shapes this Memorial Day weekend:

None of this seems to matter to the supporters of the president. For them, the pathology seems to be the point. It is precisely Trump’s refusal to acknowledge reality that they thrill to – because it offends and upsets the people they hate (i.e., city dwellers, the educated, and the media). The more that Trump brazenly lies, the more Republicans support him. The more incoherent he is, the more insistent they are. Bit by bit, they have been co-opted by Trump into a series of cascading and contradicting lies, and they are not going to give up now – even when they are being treated for COVID-19 in hospital.

No one on either side is going to give up now. There are too many dead. And it’s Memorial Day and the oddest of summers begins. How many of us will live through it?

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The New World of Nonsense

Back in 1984 there was that movie Stop Making Sense – the Talking Heads live on stage, shot at the Pantages Theater in December 1983, just down the street here in Hollywood. Leonard Maltin said it was “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.” Perhaps so, but American politics weren’t supposed to end up like that, with key players demanding that anyone talking sense to anyone else should just stop that, right now. Rock is supposed to be anarchic. Public service isn’t. Focus on the problem at hand. Fix it, if possible. If not, mitigate the damage. Don’t change the subject. Do your job, but these are strange times, and E. J. Dionne sees this:

President Trump clearly knows that accurate, meaningful information is his enemy. Too many voters whose support he needs have decided that his epic mishandling of the covid-19 crisis has made both the pandemic and its economic consequences worse than they had to be.

As a result, chaos and mystification are his only friends. He wants the electorate and the media to focus on absolutely anything except the virus’s death toll and rising unemployment. Thus his targeting of former president Barack Obama on the basis of an entirely false narrative about the Michael Flynn case and his claim to be taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug whose use health experts declare unproven against the novel coronavirus – and potentially dangerous.

And on Wednesday came the ultimate subject changer, as Trump’s supine Republican allies on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee subpoenaed documents concerning the work of former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter for a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

Senate Republicans are in no hurry to challenge Trump’s efforts to shut down proper investigations of his own administration by firing one inspector general after another. But they sure would love the word “Burisma” to push aside the words “pandemic” and “unemployment” in as many news cycles as possible.

You’re sick and might die? Burisma! Your elderly parents have just died? Burisma! You lost your job and few jobs are ever coming back and you have no money and you’ll be living in the streets soon? Burisma! Trump stopped making sense, and then went one step beyond that:

Trump took to Twitter at 7:51 a.m. on Wednesday to lie by denouncing the state of Michigan for sending out “absentee ballots to 7.7 million people,” and to issue a dark threat to “hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” He later made a similar threat against Nevada.

Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called out Trump’s stupid but frightening nonsense by turning to Twitter herself to point out that her office had sent out “applications, not ballots,” and in doing so, she had acted “just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia.”

Her response was not nice – What the HELL are you talking about!

Dionne argues that almost doesn’t matter now:

To understand Trump’s frantic scramble to get us talking about anything except the one issue that matters, look no further than Maricopa County in Arizona. It bodes to be the swing county for the entire 2020 election, since Arizona is one of the likeliest battleground states in the country.

The county cast about 60 percent of the state’s ballots in 2016 and gave Trump a 3.5-point advantage. It thus sent shock waves through the state, said Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), when a poll conducted earlier this month not only showed Trump seven points behind Biden statewide but an astounding 13 points behind in Maricopa, which includes Phoenix and its suburban cities and towns. Stanton, former mayor of Phoenix, told me it was a break with the state’s political history for a Democrat to be “up more in Maricopa than he is statewide.”

But the result did not surprise him, he said. “Suburban moms and dads and aunts and uncles are swinging against the president” because of “a belief among these moderate voters that he has mismanaged this crisis.”

“When you put people’s own health and their children’s health at risk,” he said, “it’s almost impossible to recover from that.”

And there’s this:

Adding to Trump’s anxiety: He has been running slightly behind Biden in Wisconsin, generally seen as one of his best bets among the swing states. Ben Wikler, chair of the state’s Democratic Party, said that Trump has been a master at using “the most high intensity, divisive, emotionally fraught tactics with the hope that those tactics will dominate the conversation and make people forget the things that are happening in their own lives.”

But this approach is hitting its limits in the current crisis. It’s hard to believe that “people will care more about the intricacies of our Obama-era counterespionage rather than the fact that family members are on ventilators in the hospital and lost their jobs.”

Trump stopped making sense. People finally noticed. Paul Waldman adds this:

Trump has shown us how much we took for granted, such as the idea that the president wouldn’t hire his unqualified relatives and use his office to enrich himself, or that the attorney general wouldn’t use his powers to help the president’s friends and target his enemies, or that while the branches might sometimes argue about the limits of oversight, everyone agreed in principle that oversight is necessary and Congress has a legal right to perform it.

While Trump tears through our government trying to destroy every worthwhile thing it does, he also devotes endless energy to sowing resentment and hatred, on the theory that he can be reelected only if Americans are as angry and divided as possible. Even if he is voted out of office, the poison he has poured into our national bloodstream will continue to course through it.

So the worst thing for us would be to assume that if Trump is defeated then everything will snap back to the way it used to be. It won’t, any more than you can move right back into your house after toxic floodwaters rose to its roof. The structure may still be there, but you have to shovel out the muck and do something about the mold growing in the walls.

That’s the damage that talking nonsense creates, and this is the price to be paid to fix that damage:

We’ll have to restock the agencies to replace all the qualified, committed public servants who have fled or been pushed out over the past few years. We’ll have to restore the ethical standards Trump has worked so hard to subvert. And we’ll have to revive the idea that government is supposed to serve all of us.

It will be an enormous task, equal to that faced by any president in our history. But if we’re lucky, perhaps a year from now you’ll be able to pick up the newspaper and see not a litany of horrors but a few stories about good things happening in Washington. We have to believe it’s possible.

Why? That may not be possible. Sometimes the small stuff tells the real story. Josh Rogin notes this:

On Friday, President Trump announced the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, based on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a move that surprised official Washington and infuriated Democrats. Now, there is additional concern about Linick’s replacement, Stephen Akard, who is already on the job – and is also keeping his existing State Department position, setting up a clear conflict of interest.

According to the law, the administration must notify Congress 30 days in advance before firing an inspector general. But multiple sources told me that Linick’s last day was Friday, the same day Congress learned about his ouster. Akard showed up at the office on Monday morning and immediately assumed the boss’s role. Yet Akard is keeping his job as the head of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, a Senate-confirmed political appointee position he has held since September. Adding the inspector general’s job to his duties essentially means he will be overseeing himself.

And he really needs to fire himself:

The Office of Foreign Missions has the job of supporting more than 800 U.S. embassies and consular offices around the world and over 100,000 diplomatic staff serving abroad, as well as dealing with foreign diplomats inside the United States. Before he joined State, Akard served as chief of staff at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation under then-Gov. Mike Pence. A former career Foreign Service officer, in 2018 he withdrew his nomination to be director general of the Foreign Service, following criticism that he was not senior enough for that role.

Last May, the State Department Inspector General’s office issued a report after inspecting – you guessed it – the Office of Foreign Missions. This was before Akard took over, but the report was scathing. Twenty-two of the 93 positions at the office were unfilled at the time. OFM had spent $48 million over the years to build an information system that didn’t work and warranted urgent management attention, the OIG reported.

“The Office of Foreign Missions had neither a strategic planning process nor a Functional Bureau Strategy,” the Inspector General’s office wrote.

Of course none of this makes sense. Dionne argued that was the whole point. But it gets stranger:

No one but Pompeo really knows why Linick was fired. Pompeo has repeatedly said it couldn’t possibly be an act of “retaliation” because Pompeo wasn’t privy to Linick’s ongoing investigations – such as the secretary’s alleged use of staff for personal errands, or his emergency declaration to push through Saudi arms sales against congressional wishes.

“I’ve seen reports someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. It’s all crazy stuff,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday.

Ah, no, not exactly:

Pompeo could be retaliating for the investigations Linick conducted in the past. For example, there’s this one from last November about how State Department officials improperly punished career staffers over their ethnicity and perceived political views. Or Pompeo could have been upset that Linick handed over to impeachment investigators the dossier of smears that Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani prepared about Marie Yovanovitch, the now-former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Or it could be that arms deal:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disregarded the advice of high-level officials at the State Department, Pentagon and within the intelligence community in invoking an emergency waiver last year to circumvent congressional review of billions of dollars in arms sales to the U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region, according to two former administration officials and three congressional sources.

That decision was under investigation by a government watchdog who was fired last week at Pompeo’s urging, and it has fueled renewed accusations from lawmakers that the Trump administration bucked the will of Congress and even violated the law when it fast-tracked the weapons sales.

That would make this a big deal:

In justifying the move to Congress, Pompeo wrote that “Iranian aggression” and “increasing regional volatility” necessitated an urgent delivery of certain weapons to U.S. partners in the Middle East.

But during meetings last spring of the National Security Council at several levels, high-level career and political officials from the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community agreed that there had been no change in Tehran’s behavior to justify invoking emergency authorities and advised against doing so, according to a former administration official who attended the meetings.

“There is nothing going on right now that we could point to that would say it was any different than the month before,” the former official said.

And that matters:

The move infuriated lawmakers from both parties. Current law requires the executive branch to formally notify Congress of an arms sale of this nature; the House and Senate then have 30 days to vote to block the sale.

At the time, it was thought to be highly unlikely that a weapons sale to Riyadh would pass muster in Congress, where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have become increasingly skeptical of the U.S. relationship with the kingdom. The regime’s killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its continued participation in Yemen’s bloody civil war have prompted several lawmakers to propose sanctions against the Saudi government, a longtime close but often nettlesome American ally.

But then Trump has a good friend over there, who is also his son-in-law’s best friend:

Trump’s first overseas trip as president was to Riyadh, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he has cultivated a close relationship.

Trump stood by his Saudi counterpart and resisted congressional efforts to impose human-rights sanctions even after U.S. intelligence officials briefed lawmakers on their conclusion that the crown prince directed the murder of Khashoggi.

Mohammed bin Salman does, after all, know how to deal with the press, but here, once again, Trump wins. Think about that and it’s hard to remember the nearly one hundred thousand dead here, and, of course, that’s getting harder every day:

In the early weeks of the US coronavirus outbreak, staff members in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had tracked a growing number of transmissions in Europe and elsewhere, and proposed a global advisory that would alert flyers to the dangers of air travel. But about a week passed before the alert was issued publicly – crucial time lost when about 66,000 European travelers were streaming into American airports every day.

The delay, detailed in documents obtained by CNN, is the latest example to emerge of a growing sense of disconnect between the CDC and the White House.

In interviews with CNN, CDC officials say their agency’s efforts to mount a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been hamstrung by a White House whose decisions are driven by politics rather than science.

The result has worsened the effects of the crisis, sources inside the CDC say, relegating the 73-year-old agency that has traditionally led the nation’s response to infectious disease to a supporting role.

These people want to talk sense, to save lives, but now accurate meaningful information is Trump’s enemy:

Rising tensions between CDC leadership and the White House over the perception that the agency has been sidelined has been a developing story in the media for weeks. But now, mid- and higher-ranking staff members within the agency – six of whom spoke with CNN for this story — are starting to voice their discontent. Those six spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“We’ve been muzzled,” said a current CDC official. “What’s tough is that if we would have acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money.”

Of course they were muzzled, but that was months ago, and now that’s been expanded:

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been conspicuously absent from national television interviews over the last two weeks, as the White House moves ahead with reopening the economy.

Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, last gave a television interview when he spoke to CNN anchor Chris Cuomo on May 4th.

Prior to his recent absence from the airwaves, Fauci was regularly appearing on national news programs to update the American people on the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

He was talking sense, and making sense, and now he’s being a good boy and standing silently in the corner:

Fauci’s absence was particularly noteworthy this week, given the positive early results regarding a vaccine developed by the biotech company Moderna in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, which Fauci’s NIAID falls under.

Despite the NIH’s role in helping to develop the vaccine, Fauci did not appear for interviews to discuss the promising results.

Fauci was present at Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” briefing last Friday, when the administration detailed a plan to roll out an eventual vaccine. He was wearing a mask and standing behind the President. But he didn’t make any comments, unlike at other briefings and events where he was front and center.

Keep him quiet. Keep him quiet and maybe people won’t notice this:

Dallas, Houston, Southeast Florida’s Gold Coast, the entire state of Alabama and several other places in the South that have been rapidly reopening their economies are in danger of a second wave of coronavirus infections over the next four weeks, according to a research team that uses cellphone data to track social mobility and forecast the trajectory of the pandemic.

The model, developed by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and updated Wednesday with new data, suggests that most communities in the United States should be able to avoid a second spike in the near term if residents are careful to maintain social distancing even as businesses open up and restrictions are eased.

But the risk for resurgence is high in some parts of the country, especially in places where cases are already rising fast, including the counties of Crawford, Iowa; Colfax, Neb.; and Texas, Okla. and the city of Richmond. Since May 3, Crawford County’s caseload has risen by 750 percent, and Colfax County’s has increased 1,390 percent…

Those are Trump spots, and soon may be the only hotspots around:

This is an anxious moment for the nation as people emerge from shutdowns and communities try to reinvigorate economic activity. Scientists and public health experts are monitoring rates of infections and hospitalizations, but it is difficult to forecast during this transitional period because models struggle to capture how people actually behave, including adherence to social distancing and hand-washing practices.

There are preliminary signs, however, that hot spots, new clusters of coronavirus spread, could soon flare across parts of the South and Midwest.

In Texas, there has been an outbreak of cases in El Paso and in meatpacking plants in the Panhandle. The rate of positives in coronavirus tests has gone down as the number of tests has increased, and hospitalization rates are holding steady. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has sent “surge response teams” to places where there are spikes in infections. But the number of daily active cases is still rising in some parts of the state. Dallas and nearby Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth, each had its highest single-day death toll Tuesday.

So, let’s talk about Hunter Biden, shall we?

Let’s not, not right now. Stop making sense? Start making sense.

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Pettiness as Policy

Kate Andersen Brower’s new book is Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump – and of course he’s not part of the club. Donald Trump doesn’t want to be part of that club, and Brower saw that again with the George Bush video:

“We are not partisan combatants,” Bush said in his message honoring the tens of thousands of Americans who have died in the pandemic. “We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”

Trump replied with a caustic Tweet Sunday morning: “He [George W. Bush] was nowhere to be found speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!” (He was referring to the impeachment investigation).

I am far from surprised by Trump’s reaction to Bush’s call for unity because when I interviewed him about his predecessors Trump was clear just how poorly he regarded all of them.

About a year before the outbreak of the coronavirus, I interviewed President Trump in the Oval Office to discuss the men who had sat there before him. When I asked him if he could empathize more with them now that he had been in office for two years he replied without hesitation “No.”

As I walked out of the Oval Office once our interview was over, he shouted, “Say hi to President Bush for me!” in a voice laden with sarcasm.

He wants nothing from them. He needs nothing from them. Brower finds that dangerous:

There are only five men alive today (counting President Trump) who know the loneliness and isolation of the presidency. But the current politics of rancor makes the work of the former presidents more difficult, because everything is now seen through a political lens; even things that used to be relatively innocuous have taken on new meaning.

Immigration reform is part of the work of the Bush Institute, a nonpartisan policy center at the George W. Bush Presidential Center that holds naturalization ceremonies for new US citizens. “Because of the nature of President Trump, when we talk about the same things that we’ve been talking about ever since President Bush left office, they are automatically viewed as criticism of the current president,” an aide to the former president told me, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.

“President Bush said something about a free press and suddenly it’s a challenge to Donald Trump. No, he’s been saying this forever.”

All the former presidents now alive would like to help. Trump sees them as the enemy. Someone might see him “accepting help” and call him a weak fool. Strong leaders don’t need help from anyone. That’s why they’re lenders:

Trump’s response to a former president’s call for empathy is a reminder of just how little he has in common with his predecessors and how poorly he will fit in the Presidents Club. Trump is the outlier and he is proud of it. “I don’t think I’ll fit in very well,” he told me in our interview with a sly smile. The scorched-earth path he’s chosen has made it impossible to maintain any friendships, or even civility, with his predecessors. “I’m a different kind of a president,” he declared. During this crisis Trump has not called the former presidents together, like George W. Bush did when he asked his father and Bill Clinton to travel the world and seek help after the tsunami in Asia, and to raise money after Hurricane Katrina, or as Obama did when he asked George W. Bush and Clinton to raise awareness and funds after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Trump will have nothing to do with that sort of thing, perhaps because he sees himself as a total realist about people:

When I asked Trump whether he would go to Obama’s presidential library opening, as is customary, the question sounded silly as soon as the words came out of my mouth. “I don’t know. He probably wouldn’t invite me,” he said. “Why should he?”

His reasoning seems to be simple and clear and perhaps based on his own personal experience. This is a world where no one trusts anyone, nor should they. Everyone would slit anyone’s throat to get ahead. And there is no other alternative “nice” world. That’s a fairy tale for children. This is the world we have and that’s just the way it is.

If so, then it’s no surprise that Trump wants Biden and Obama, and maybe Hillary Clinton, in jail on Election Day in November, perhaps awaiting execution. He’d win. But even Bill Barr won’t go there, so Trump has hinted that he may override his attorney general on this. This is a curious situation. And wasn’t Hillary supposed to be in jail already? That was a campaign promise. What happened?

All of that may seem absurd, but that is what is actually happening:

President Trump said Monday that he was “surprised” by Attorney General William Barr’s statement that he doesn’t anticipate a criminal investigation into former President Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden.

“I think if it was me, they would do it. I think for them, maybe they’re not going to,” Trump told reporters Monday afternoon when asked about the attorney general’s comments. “I’m surprised because Obama knew everything that was happening.”

“I think it’s just a continuation of a double standard. I am surprised by it,” the president continued.

He may have to have a talk with his attorney general:

Barr earlier Monday said he didn’t expect U.S. attorney John Durham’s probe into the FBI’s decision-making in the Russia investigation to lead to criminal investigations of either Obama or Biden.

“Based on the information I have today, I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man,” Barr told reporters. “Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others.”

He also denounced “increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon.”

Ignore the irony. Trump did:

Trump later Monday said he wasn’t necessarily disappointed by Barr’s comments but reiterated that he believed the former president’s and vice president’s actions in connection to the Russia investigation were “illegal.”

“I don’t say disappointed or not but I have no doubt that they were involved in this hoax, one of the worst things ever befall to this country in terms of political scandal. I have absolutely no doubt that Obama and Biden were both involved, and as to whether or not it is criminal, I think it would be very serious,” the president said.

“It was a takedown of a president, regardless of me, it happened to be me, and in my opinion it was an illegal takedown,” Trump said. “I’m going to let the attorney general make all of those decisions. I am going to stay out of it because it is the appropriate thing to do. I wouldn’t have to stay out of it as you know, but I’ve decided to stay out of it.”

But he could change his mind:

Trump, who has long alleged the Russia investigation was a “witch hunt” perpetrated by politically motivated FBI agents against his campaign, has stepped up claims in recent weeks that Obama was personally involved in an effort to sabotage the incoming administration during the 2016 transition.

The president has accused Obama of being privy to “the biggest political crime in American history” and demanded last week that Congress call the former leader to testify.

Speaking to reporters last week, the president declined to name the specific crime he believes Obama committed but insisted it was “very obvious to everybody.”

It is? There was new evidence:

On the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing national security adviser Susan Rice sent herself an email that has since drawn intense scrutiny from Republicans.

Now the full text of the email has been declassified, and POLITICO reviewed it. It says that then-FBI Director James Comey worried about sharing classified information with the Trump team because of incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn’s frequent conversations with the Russian ambassador but that Comey had no knowledge of Flynn sharing classified information with the envoy.

And that is the smoking gun, or not:

Republicans have seized on the document as potential evidence that the outgoing president had ordered the FBI to spy on the new administration, as Trump has alleged. And they have raised questions about the “unusual” nature of Rice memorializing the conversation in an email to herself – suggesting that in warning Comey to proceed “by the book,” Obama was implying that top law enforcement officials had done the opposite.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Rice said it shows the Obama administration handled the Flynn situation appropriately.

Follow the argument here: Obama meant the opposite of what he said! No, he meant what he said! No, he didn’t! Yes, he did!

This will go on for a few weeks, and it’s not much of a scandal. The Obama administration was worried about Flynn. That’s it? Karen Tumulty reminds her readers that accusations used to be a lot more interesting than that:

As far back as the campaign of 1800 – the first contested presidential race in U.S. history – pamphlets circulated that accused John Adams of possessing “a hideous hermaphroditical character,” which was a suggestion that he had the sex organs of both a man and a woman.

In 1828, a newspaper reported that Andrew Jackson’s mother was “a common prostitute” brought to this country by British soldiers, who married a mulatto man with whom she had several children, one of whom grew up to become the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Elizabeth and Andrew Jackson Sr. actually married in Ireland and came to this country to escape religious persecution.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, aides put together a 332-page report titled “The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce,” in which they detailed the complex network of right-wing groups, media outlets and funders who put all kinds of crazy stories into the public bloodstream. They included claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been involved in drug-running and murder back in Arkansas. (Those of you too young to remember any of this might try Googling “Mena airstrip.”)

In 2004, a right-wing group styling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made up lies about Democratic nominee John F. Kerry’s service in Vietnam and turned the word “swiftboat” – the kind of aluminum craft that Kerry skippered during the war – into a shorthand for a particularly lethal kind of smear.

Now it’s the idea that Obama actually meant the opposite of what he actually said, which demonstrates consciousness of guilt, or something. But it’s still a call for Obama to go to jail for the rest of his life, if he’s lucky. This often works wonders, and Tumulty is worried:

If the nature of these vile tactics is not new, their potency has reached a point never seen before. Part of that is the power of social media. But the real force behind it is a president with a knack for branding and no capacity for shame. Even before he officially became a candidate, Donald Trump built a following by trafficking in racist, baseless lies about Barack Obama’s birthplace.

No longer does a conspiracy theory require an actual conspiracy behind it before it can take flight. It needs only a few taps on Trump’s smartphone…

But sometimes it’s the small stuff, as NBC News’ Carol Lee notes here:

It’s been a White House tradition for decades: A first-term president hosts a ceremony in the East Room for the unveiling of the official portrait of his immediate predecessor that will hang in the halls of the White House for posterity.

Republican presidents have done it for Democratic presidents, and vice versa – even when one of them ascended to the White House by defeating or sharply criticizing the other.

“We may have our differences politically,” President Barack Obama said when he hosted former President George W. Bush for his portrait unveiling in 2012, “but the presidency transcends those differences.”

Yet this modern ritual won’t be taking place between Obama and President Donald Trump.

Obama is a criminal who belongs in jail. Trump is a jerk. And that’s that:

Trump is unconcerned about shunning yet another presidential custom, and he has attacked Obama to an extent no other president has done to a predecessor. Most recently he’s made unfounded accusations that Obama committed an unspecified crime.

Obama, for his part, has no interest in participating in the post-presidency rite of passage so long as Trump is in office, the people familiar with the matter said.

But this is new:

“You’ve got a president who’s talking about putting the previous one in legal jeopardy, to put it nicely. We have not seen a situation like that in history,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss said. “It takes antipathy of a new president for a predecessor to a new level.”

And this used to be so simple:

The process for the White House portraits begins near the end of a president’s term or soon after, and it takes a few years to complete.

After the president and the first lady select an artist, the privately funded White House Historical Association negotiates a contract that includes a confidentiality agreement so the artist’s identity and details of the portrait are kept secret. Stewart McLaurin, the association’s president, said in February 2017 that the organization was in discussions with the Obamas about their portraits.

The Obamas subsequently selected an artist, and a contract was finalized in early 2017, according to people familiar with the matter. But the process stalled there, they said.

Typically, the next step would be to schedule sittings for the former president and the first lady, followed by a back-and-forth with the artist about what they like and don’t like. And once the portraits are approved by the former first couple, they are delivered to the White House curator, who schedules an unveiling.

The unveiling brings together the former president’s staff, family and close friends to mingle with current White House officials. Former first lady Laura Bush arranged a lunch for the Clintons and guests after their portrait unveiling.

“It’s a statement of generosity on the part of the current president and first lady,” former White House curator Betty Monkman said in an interview with the White House Historical Association in 2017. “And it’s a very warm, lovely moment.”

Trump seems to think that very warm, lovely moments are for losers. Real men insult anyone who gets too popular, and Eric Lutz reminds everyone of how this started:

As the most relentless champion of birtherism, Donald Trump spent years attempting to undermine Barack Obama’s presidency – but to little avail. Sure, his racist campaign resulted in Obama releasing his birth certificate, which then-reality star Trump repeatedly bragged about. But it proved, at the time at least, to be a pyrrhic victory for Trump, the chapter concluding with his own public humiliation at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011.

“Obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience,” Obama said in a five-minute send-up of Trump. “Just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.”

Trump was visibly embarrassed by the roast, deepening his grudge for Obama and perhaps even inspiring his 2016 bid to replace him.

Is that a petty reason to run for president? Of course it is. But Trump has long appeared to be fueled by grievance. During the last election cycle, his personal umbrage at Obama aligned with white America’s sense of resentment toward the nation’s first black president.

That may be why he won, but his victory has been bitter:

Other than further enriching himself and his friends and family, erasing Obama has been just about the only tangible accomplishment, as it were, of his presidency. Trump’s wall? Unbuilt. His attempts to replace the Affordable Care Act? He couldn’t even do it when his party controlled both chambers of Congress, thanks to a dearth of any substantive ideas. But he has been able to undo a number of Obama accomplishments, from landmark moves Trump cast as failures (withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal) to smaller programs he has targeted for no apparent reason than spite (Michelle Obama’s school nutrition standards).

Now, Trump appears poised to deliver another petty strike at Obama’s legacy…

There will be no unveiling of the official portrait of his immediate predecessor. Bill Barr won’t cooperate and have both Obama and Biden locked up for forever or at least through the November election, but Trump can do this one petty but oh so satisfying thing. He can have Obama’s new official portrait put in storage in the basement. And he will never invite Obama over for a visit, or Obama’s wife. They’re dead to him.

But why would they even visit? Martin Longman argues against that:

After Obama obliquely criticized Trump during his commencements speeches on Saturday, Trump called him “grossly incompetent” on Sunday, so it’s not a surprise that the two families don’t want to get together. I suppose it’s nice when two competing political powerhouses can put their competition aside and break bread, but it does tend to minimize the importance of the issues that separate them. For the Obamas, showing up in the Trump White House would be a way of normalizing the president’s behavior, and that sends a signal they don’t want to send.

The message they want to send is the opposite. No one should try to play nice with this administration or behave as if things are okay. That will give others the courage to do the same.

While Trump poisons his supporters with horrible medical advice, the Obamas will lead the rest of us on the moral plane.

Trump would sneer at that. Let him. Let the election be about pettiness. Does pettiness ever solve any problems? That might be the issue now.

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Simple Pure Defiance

Defiance is cool, and very British, so there are the ships – HMS Defiance (1588) was an 8-gun pinnace that took part in the action against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and HMS Defiance (1652) was a 10-gun ship captured from the Parliamentarians by the Royalists in 1652 during the English Civil War, and there were many more. Our ships of that name were more pedestrian – USS Defiance (ID-3327), a cargo vessel in service from 1918–1919, and USS Defiance (AMc-73), a coastal minesweeper that served during World War II, and USS Defiance (PG-95), a patrol gunboat that served from 1969 until 1973 when it was transferred to Turkey. They named it something else of course. And out here, down the hill at Paramount Pictures, the USS Defiant (NX-74205) is a starship in the television series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” – but that takes place on a space station where defiant starships are a minor matter, and that one was a plastic model anyway. Defiance has fallen out of fashion.

But no more – Donald Trump has brought back pure defiance:

President Donald Trump claimed Monday he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug he’s long touted as a potential coronavirus cure even as medical experts and the US Food and Drug Administration question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.

Speaking at a meeting of restaurant executives, Trump said he began taking the antimalarial drug after consulting the White House doctor, though stopped short of saying his physician had actually recommended the drug.

This was his decision. Science is bullshit. Experts know nothing, and government experts know even less, and governments know even less than that. Remember, the CIA and NSA and all the rest never knew anything – Putin told him so. So this pandemic will go away on its own and this drug is the wonder drug that cures everything. Trust him. He knows.

This was pure defiance from the man who hates all authority, but it’s more complicated than that:

The admission was a dramatic development in Trump’s attempts to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, which began earlier in the outbreak and has been met with resistance from medical professionals.

Because the drug is prescribed to treat malaria and other conditions, Trump has cast it as safe and suggested coronavirus patients have little to lose by trying it. But at least one study has shown the drug does not work against Covid-19 and could cause heart problems.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It follows a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that also showed the drug doesn’t fight the virus.

Even before these reports were published, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health issued warnings about using the drug for coronavirus patients.

 Well, there’s authority, and then there’s real authority:

Trump said he hadn’t been exposed, and that he started taking the drug because he had heard from frontline responders who sent him letters saying they were taking it preventatively.

“Here’s my evidence: I get a lot of positive calls about it,” Trump said.

He wouldn’t discuss those calls. But he gets those calls. Trust him on that. And he said that everyone on the front lines out there is taking this stuff. No one says they are. But they are. Trust him on that.

He was defiant, or he was frightened:

The President’s physician, Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley, alluded in a memo released Monday night to Trump’s personal valet testing positive two weeks ago for coronavirus. While Conley didn’t say directly that Trump started taking hydroxychloroquine in response to the valet testing positive, the timing mentioned by Trump and the positive test match up.

So perhaps this was no more than panic, but panic can be repackaged and marketed as defiance:

While Trump admitted he doesn’t know if the drug works, he claimed “if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get sick and die.”

It’s safe, or it isn’t:

The FDA has warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat the novel coronavirus and said they should only be used in hospitals or clinical trials because they can kill or cause serious side effects. These include serious heart rhythm problems in Covid-19 patients treated with the drugs, especially when they are combined with the antibiotic azithromycin or other medications that can affect the heart.

Trump has a common form of heart disease, based on the results of his physical.

It was that coronary calcium CT scan – part of his routine medical exam. His score was 133 and anything over 100 indicates plaque is present and that the patient has developed a steady build-up of plaque in the blood vessels, so his score indicated moderate heart disease associated with a relatively high risk of heart attack, and so forth, so this could kill him:

Some of Trump’s closest medical advisers expressed caution, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who voiced skepticism about touting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus before it could be adequately tested.

Recently, a US Health and Human Services whistleblower alleged he came under pressure from political leadership at HHS to make hydroxychloroquine widely available after Trump repeatedly proclaimed its potential benefits during his daily White House briefings.

He wouldn’t do that. Trump got angry. The guy lost his job, he was shown the door, and he sued, so some of this is about that, and some of this is about something else:

Fox News’ Neil Cavuto was so shocked by President Donald Trump announcing he’s taking hydroxychloroquine that he took a few minutes to explicitly warn viewers about the risks of taking it.

At one point the president asked “what have you got to lose,” but as Cavuto said, “A number of studies, those certainly vulnerable in the population have one thing to lose, their lives. A VA study showed that among a population of veterans in a hospital receiving this treatment, those with vulnerable conditions, respiratory conditions, heart elements, they died.”

Cavuto read from a number of other studies about the effects of hydroxychloroquine and said, “Those who took it, in a vulnerable population, including those with respiratory or other conditions, they died. I want to stress again – they died. If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus or, in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus, and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you. I cannot stress that enough. This will kill you!”

Defiance of experts and science and proven verifiable facts, and what everyone everywhere says, may be heroic, in its odd but very American way, but this could kill people. Sure, the president doesn’t ever wear any dorky face mask, so no one in his base does, defiantly. He’s shown them how to defy authority. They gather in groups in public places, armed to the teeth, breathing right in your face if they think you’re a liberal snowflake. You fools – you cowards – you who hate America – no one’s gonna die!

Someone will die, of course, and perhaps many will die, but the dying will start two weeks later. This is more immediate. Do what Trump does here, take the mystery pill, and you, not that other person, might be the one who dies. And now Trump will really hate Fox News:

Cavuto also brought on Dr. Bob Lahita, chairman of medicine at St. Joseph University Hospital, who said he has seen “no effect whatsoever with this drug” on patients with COVID-19.

Lahita continued warning viewers about the serious risks, and at one point Cavuto just straight-up asked him, “The president says, ‘What have you got to lose? It sounds like what you’re saying is that you have a risk of losing your life if you do about the president just recommended.”

“That’s correct,” Lahita said. “Everything has a trade-off. And these drugs can be very dangerous. And if they don’t have any effect, there’s no reason to take them.”

That not true. There are political reasons:

Trump said he had received a letter from a doctor in New York who had treated patients with the medication and who asked that he “keep pressing” the drug.

“The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it – was it the VA? People that aren’t big Trump fans,” Trump said. He was referring to a report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs that indicated the drug didn’t help in treating covid-19 and, in fact, correlated to higher death rates. This report, he said, was a “very unscientific report” – conflicting with the “tremendously positive news” he gets personally on the drug.

In short, those who say this drug doesn’t work obviously hate him, and thus, in turn, his base will hate them, for hating him, and rally to him and get out to vote for him, every single one of them, and he’ll win in November in a landslide, because he took this drug that all the asshole “experts” said didn’t work and might kill him.

Is that clear? Don’t worry. Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog can clear this up:

Trump might simply be lying about this – he knows that the announcement will be headline-grabbing, and he knows that advocating hydroxychloroquine is an effective way of needling the libs.

But he was elected president because he’s exactly like the Fox-watching voters to whom he appeals. They’re all in on hydroxychloroquine. They sing its praises at Free Republic and in Gateway Pundit comments sections. Why wouldn’t Trump be just as persuaded of its value as a COVID-19 cure-all? Democrats hate it! It must be good!

But is he really taking it?

After all, consider this:

Trump’s doctors haven’t been honest and forthcoming about his health, but it was revealed in 2018 that he has cardiovascular issues. If you were one of the president’s doctors, would you give him a drug that can disturb heart rhythms? I think you’d give him a placebo and let him think it’s hydroxychloroquine.

That does make a sort of sense:

There’s a risk that if he’s not really taking hydroxychloroquine and he becomes infected with the coronavirus, then suffers serious illness (or dies), you’ll be pilloried by the right-wing media for failing to protect him with this marvelous wonder drug. You’ll be harassed by conservatives for the rest of your life. Some will want you charged with murder or treason.

But I think your average White House doctor doesn’t realize how people think in the right-wing fever swamps. I think whoever is making this decision simply doesn’t want to be the person who administers a fatal dose of a drug to the president, against sound medical advice.

So my guess is that Trump believes he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, but he’s not actually is taking it.

Or else it’s this:

Conley is the physician to the president and an officer in the Navy. Maybe, when the president asks for a dangerous drug, he thinks he has to follow his commander in chief’s orders.

Perhaps so, but the team at Politico notes this:

Monday’s disclosure mixed the defiance Trump has displayed since the early days of the pandemic with a heightened sense of vulnerability. The president has insisted the country can reopen for business as the virus continues to spread, questioned death tolls and dismissed some assertions by his health advisers. And yet he appears willing to take an unproven drug he insists is effective as the virus spreads to his inner circle.

He’s not defiant. He’s panicked. But he’s panicked that people might see that he’s panicked, so he will be defiant. In fact he’ll be one nasty bastard:

President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cut off U.S. funding of the World Health Organization, in a letter dated Monday that he shared on Twitter. Trump said that if the WHO “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”

This is fairly simple. Someone is to blame for what happened. It cannot be him in any way at all. He has said he “accepts no responsibility at all” for any part of anything that has happened. So it must be them, although the timing was a bit awkward:

Last month, Trump halted U.S. funding for the WHO as his administration conducted a review of the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, the agency said “We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic so now is not the time to cut back on funding.”

Trump, however, knows that this was the time to do that. No money for these people – millions will die now – unless WHO says they were awful and everything is their fault, all of it, and say that Donald Trump has been perfect, because he is a perfect man. He’s got them right where he wants them. Say that, or millions die.

It’s that simple, but nothing is simple:

It’s not immediately clear how Trump would withhold those funds, much of which are appropriated by Congress. The president typically does not have the authority to unilaterally redirect congressional funding.

The renewed threat also comes as the Trump administration faces criticism for how it has handled the crisis. The United States is the worst hit country with more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases reported and at least 90,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

That cannot be his fault, but nothing is easy:

Trump himself faces scrutiny over misleading statements about the coronavirus as well as treatment and vaccine candidates. In January, he told CNBC’s Joe Kernen that he trusts the information coming out of China on the coronavirus. In February, Trump said the coronavirus was the Democrats’ “new hoax” intended to damage him and his administration.

This man needs to keep his stories straight, and he does need to ease up on the defiance:

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is defending the World Health Organization, blasting President Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding for the U.N. agency in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Microsoft co-founder and his wife, Melinda, voiced support for the WHO in separate Twitter posts early Wednesday, a day after Trump announced that he is halting U.S. funding while the administration reviews the agency’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever,” Gates tweeted.

Yeah, well, cry me a river:

The White House defended Trump’s announcement.

“Any suggestion that the President is putting the health and safety of the American people or global health aid in jeopardy is false,” deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. “The WHO’s response to COVID has been filled with one misstep after another, and President Trump is standing up for the American taxpayer to ensure we hold WHO accountable for their flawed actions.”

Millions in the third world may die, but China must be punished, and kiss Trump’s ring too, but there’s more. The New York Times’ fancy new skyscraper is at the west end of 42nd Street, and the old blue UN skyscraper is at the east end. That’s where this story started earlier in the day:

A meeting of the World Health Organization that was supposed to chart a path for the world to combat the coronavirus pandemic instead on Monday turned into a showcase for the escalating tensions between China and the United States over the virus.

President Xi Jinping of China announced at the start of the forum that Beijing would donate $2 billion toward fighting the coronavirus and dispatch doctors and medical supplies to Africa and other countries in the developing world.

The contribution, to be spent over two years, amounts to more than twice what the United States had been giving the global health agency before President Trump cut off American funding last month, and it could catapult China to the forefront of international efforts to contain a disease that has claimed at least 315,000 lives.

They’ve screwed up far too much in this mess, everything went wrong, but Trump’s defiance just handed them a gift. He can fuss and fume and in white-hot anger demand respect if not adulation. They can chip in double what Trump was supposed to pay but now defiantly won’t ever pay. Even if they screwed up, and they have, they can be the good guys now:

Mr. Xi made his announcement by videoconference to the World Health Assembly, an annual decision-making meeting of the WHO that is being conducted virtually this year because of safety considerations during the pandemic. Mr. Trump declined to address the two-day gathering, providing the Chinese president an opening to be one of the first world leaders to address the 194 member states.

“In China, after making painstaking efforts and sacrifice, we have turned the tide on the virus and protected lives,” Mr. Xi said. “We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.”

Late Monday, Mr. Trump responded in a scathing letter…

So that explains the letter. He defiantly refused to speak to this gathering of the leaders of the major nations to discuss how the world working together could best respond to a worldwide plague and its matching worldwide economic collapse. He was being defiant. China had screwed up! The World Health Organization had covered that up! They were working together to make him look bad! So why the hell should he even show up, even virtually, to talk to these people? But then he had to write that letter. He knows he’s losing:

Mr. Trump’s retreat from the global stage has created openings for China, which has been seeking to reshape multilateral institutions long dominated by Washington.

Ryan Hass, a China scholar at the Brookings Institution, said a familiar pattern had emerged. “Whenever Trump withdraws the U.S. from international leadership, Xi announces that China will step forward,” said Mr. Hass, who was a senior Asia director on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “Xi has been ruthlessly opportunistic about seeking to exploit America’s withdrawal from global leadership for China’s advantage.”

Why shouldn’t Xi be opportunistic? Trump’s presidency of defiance is an opportunity for anyone even halfway reasonable to seem a calm and measured thoughtful leader, not a crackpot who keeps sneering that everyone is wrong – doctors and scientists and generals and experts – all of them – they’re all wrong – but he’s right, always. And now he’s showing the world. He’s popping hydroxychloroquine tablets every day, in an act of pure defiance. But that might kill him. That might kill all of us.

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That Man in His Head

No one remembers who spoke at their graduation, that seems a minor matter on the big day, but there was that graduation at West Point thirty years ago this June. Colin Powell spoke – that year it was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ turn – and he explained what was what. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and we had no enemies now. In fact, our idea of how societies should be organized had won. Our form of democracy was the only thing that actually worked. Francis Fukuyama had called this The End of History – the hot one big idea at the time – but Powell argued that we would still need a military, and need thoughtful military leaders, to keep the peace and manage things and inspire others. And those young men and women were amazing – Duty, Honor, Country – the real deal. They could pull off that new task. That was his message.

Everyone should attend a graduation at West Point. They’re cool, but of course Powell and Fukuyama were wrong. Saddam Hussein soon tried to grab Kuwait and had to be tossed out of there, and then September 11 happened and we had our endless wars almost everywhere, large and small, and the world is still a mess. And the graduate just retired after many tours everywhere and many key planning and operations positions, the Colonel who ended up as Director of Theater Strategy at the Army War College. Powell said we needed thoughtful military leaders. He listened. He put in his thirty years.

But who really listens to graduation speakers? And what if there’s no graduation ceremony at all? This year there were none. The nation was locked down – no large gatherings – no small gatherings either. Those were too dangerous, but this was sad. Everyone graduating this year needs a bit of inspiration with eighty thousand dead, so far, and the economy collapsing, and a good chance the nation will never be the same again, if it’s still here in ten years. Someone needed to say it might be all right one day, somehow.

The president spoke to no one graduating from anything this year. No one complained. He sneers and mocks and boasts, and whines about how no one appreciates him, they just lie and lie and lie, and he’s very angry about that, and everyone else should be angry about that too. People are being mean to him! America should be outraged! This has to stop!

What can anyone do with that? Someone had to step up and speak about the world as it now is and what those upset and disoriented new graduates can do about it. So someone stepped up:

Without the springtime rituals of traditional graduation ceremonies, former President Barack Obama delivered two virtual commencement addresses on Saturday, urging millions of high school and college graduates to fearlessly carve a path and “to seize the initiative” at a time when he says the nation’s leaders have fumbled the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In short, the world as it is doesn’t have to be as it is. Do something about it. And learn from what is right in front of your eyes:

The speeches, aired hours apart, combined the inspirational advice given to graduates – build community, do what is right, be a leader – with pointed criticism of the handling of an outbreak that has killed more than 87,000 Americans and crippled much of the economy.

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Mr. Obama said in his first address, directed at graduates of historically black colleges and universities. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

So, do the opposite:

In speeches that spoke to social inequities, Mr. Obama said the pandemic was a wake-up call for young adults, showing them the importance of good leadership and that “the old ways of doing things just don’t work.”

“Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy, that’s how little kids think,” he said during a prime time special for high school seniors. “Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way – which is why things are so screwed up. I hope that instead, you decide to ground yourself in values that last, like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, and respect for others.”

It couldn’t hurt, but of course it’s an election year:

Mr. Obama called the current administration’s response to the pandemic “anemic and spotty” in a private call last week with thousands of supporters who had worked for him.

And in recent days Mr. Trump has unleashed tirades against Mr. Obama on Twitter and on television, resurrecting unfounded claims that his predecessor tried to bring him down by manufacturing the Russia investigation.

The graduates got caught up in that ongoing unpleasantness, but honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others, and also respect for actual facts and real science, are pretty nifty on their own. Donald Trump may sneer at those things, but others, or at last Obama, swear by them.

But there was the backlash:

President Donald Trump on Sunday dismissed his predecessor as “grossly incompetent,” a day after former President Barack Obama said leaders weren’t “even pretending to be in charge” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about Obama’s comments, Trump first told a pool of reporters at the White House that administration officials “had a great weekend” during a working trip to Camp David.

“We did a lot of terrific meetings, tremendous progress is being made on many fronts, including coming up with a cure for this horrible plague that has beset our country,” he said.

When pressed further, Trump added: “Look, he was an incompetent president. That’s all I can say. Grossly incompetent.”

And that was that. He says he doesn’t have to explain that. Everyone knows Obama was an incompetent president. Everyone hated him. Why else is he, Donald Trump, president? He tweeted that later, a few times, but no one should have been surprised:

Trump calling his predecessor incompetent is not new. He has railed against inheriting what he has called an ineffective and “broken” system when he came into office. He has said he won’t be asking former presidents for help because he wasn’t “going to learn much.” And in 2013, before his presidential aspirations were in the picture, Trump tweeted: “Who thinks that President Obama is totally incompetent?”

This has been going on for years, and now it escalates:

On Sunday morning, White House economic adviser Peter Navarro also had a strongly worded defense of the administration’s handling of pandemic mitigation.

“I’m glad Mr. Obama has a new job as Joe Biden’s press secretary,” Navarro said on ABC’s This Week, referring to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. “As far as I’m concerned, his administration was a Kumbaya of incompetence in which we saw millions of manufacturing jobs go off to China.”

Those particular manufacturing jobs were already long gone, long before Obama, but arguing about that is for forensic statisticians, if there are such people, not those in the here and now. Something else is going on here. This might be a job for forensic psychology, not that there is such a thing.

There ought to be such a thing. David Smith is the Guardian’s Washington bureau chief and he offers this:

President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump once sat together in the Oval Office. “I was immediately struck by Trump’s body language,” wrote journalist Jon Karl in his memoir Front Row at The Trump Show. “I was seeing a side of him I had never seen. He seemed – believe it or not – humbled.”

It was November 2016 and, just for once, Trump was not in charge of the room, Karl recalls. Obama was still president, directing the action and setting the tone. His successor “seemed a little dazed” and “a little freaked out”. What the two men discussed in their meeting that day, only they know.

But what became clear in the next three and a half years is that Obama remains something of an obsession for Trump; the subject of a political and personal inferiority complex.

That’s the diagnosis, and here is the etiology, the cause and origin, of the condition:

Observers point to a mix of anti-intellectualism, racism, vengeance and primitive envy over everything from Obama’s Nobel peace prize to the scale of his inauguration crowd and social media following.

Ben Rhodes, a former Obama national security aide, tweeted this week: “Trump’s fact-free fixation on Obama dating back to birtherism is so absurd and stupid that it would be comic if it wasn’t so tragic.”

There was a lot of that going around:

“Birtherism” was a conspiracy theory that Trump started pushing in 2011 (“He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one but there is something on that birth certificate – maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know.”). Nine years later, he has come full circle with “Obamagate”, which accuses his predecessor of working in league with the “deep state” to frame Trump for colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election.

There is zero evidence for this claim. Indeed, a case could be made that the supposed “deep state” did more to help Trump than hurt him when the FBI reopened an investigation into his opponent, Hillary Clinton, just before Election Day.

Yes, none of this makes much sense:

When questioned by reporters, Trump himself has struggled to articulate what “Obamagate” means. Ned Price, a former CIA analyst, dubbed it “a hashtag in search of a scandal”.

But his allies in the Republican Party and conservative media are stepping up to build a parallel universe where this is the big story and Obama is at the center of it. Sean Hannity, a host on Fox News, demanded: “What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it?” Over the past week, the channel’s primetime shows have devoted more coverage to the bogus crimes of “Barack Hussein Obama” than to the coronavirus pandemic…

This is why people end up watching ten-year-old baseball games instead, but this makes some psychological sense:

Tara Setmayer, a former Republican communications director on Capitol Hill, said: “Donald Trump always needs a foil. This riles up his base because they cling to anything that diverges responsibility for anything from Donald Trump over to someone else. And in this case Barack Obama is the boogeyman of the month.”

But who else cares? This is Trump’s obsession:

Beyond political expediency, there is a more profound antipathy at work. From the Iran nuclear deal to the Trans Pacific Partnership, from environmental regulations to the Affordable Care Act, Trump has always seemed to be on a mission to erase his predecessor’s legacy. With few deep convictions of his own, Trump found a negative reference point in Obama. Between 22 November 2010 and 14 May 2020, he tweeted about Obama 2,933 times, according to the Trump Twitter Archive.

His thumbs must be sore by now. Setmayer thinks she knows what is going on here:

“First off, Donald Trump has a problem where I think he’s just jealous of the fact that President Obama is still so admired. Number two, I think he has a problem with people of color who are in authority that don’t do the kind of song and dance that he wants them to do.”

“Barack Obama is not a ‘shuck and jive’ person of color, and those are the kinds of people that Donald Trump seems to be attracted to if you look at who he surrounds himself with as far as minorities are concerned.”

Third, Setmayer points to the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where Trump sat stony-faced and humiliated as Obama lampooned the Celebrity Apprentice host’s nascent political ambitions. Obama even pointed to a Photoshopped image of a Trump White House with hotel, casino, golf course and gold columns.

“A lot of people think that this is where this all started,” Setmayer continued. “President Trump does not have a sense of humor, he’s not self-deprecating, and the White House correspondents’ dinner is a fun event where people make fun of each other, especially in politics.”

That’s quite an array of symptoms. And add this to the mix:

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, said: “This obsession, of course, is absolutely rooted in racism. Some of the accusations have been deeply racialized, from the questioning of Obama’s intelligence to talking about how much basketball he plays to questioning his birthplace and citizenship.”

And then there’s Michael Flynn:

Trump has described Flynn as a wronged “hero” and argued that Obama and his vice-president, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for November’s election, should “pay a big price” for supposedly derailing the retired general’s career. Critics suggest that the president is seeking to weaponize the justice department for electoral gain.

Matthew Miller, a former director of the office of public affairs at the department, said: “In terms of any real action against Barack Obama, he obviously doesn’t have anything to worry about. But when you look at what’s happened at the justice department with the complete politicization of that department, I think it’s quite possible that they’re going to be coming after people from the Obama administration, using the criminal justice process any way they can.”

It would be one of the gravest consequences of Trump’s Obama obsession. Miller added: “There’s some racism there but, most of all, it’s driven by the fact that Obama has the thing that Trump has always craved but never achieved, and that’s respect. I’ve always thought that the respect that Barack Obama gets from people in this country and around the world is something that just eats Trump alive inside.”

David Smith sees where this is going:

The 2020 election could yet turn into a final showdown between Obama and Trump, even if only one of their names is on the ballot.

It will be a clash of opposites: one a mixed-race cerebral lawyer who has been married to the same woman for nearly three decades and publishes annual lists of his favorite books; the other a white billionaire and reality TV star who has wed three times and measures success in TV ratings. Where one is renowned for elegant turns of phrase and shedding tears after mass shootings, the other serves up jumbled word salads and schoolboy spelling errors and has struggled to show empathy for the coronavirus dead.

That may be why no one asked Trump to speak at any graduation, virtual or not. He’d only start talking about how Obama done did him wrong. And he won’t stop. That’s what the Washington bureau chief for the British newspaper sees.

The quite American New York Times columnist Charles Blow sees that same thing:

Trump’s run for president was in part triggered by his enmity for Obama, his desire to one-up him, and he has performed his presidency as a singularly focused attempt at Obama erasure, dismantling what he can of what Obama built and undoing policies Obama instituted.

And he had to do that:

Obama is everything that Trump is not: intellectual, articulate, adroit, contemplative and cool. He also happens to be a black man. The fact that he could not only ascend to the height of power but also the heights of celebrity and adoration vexed Trump.

Trump set about to demonstrate that none of that mattered, none of it could supersede the talents of a confident counterfeit. He convinced himself that Obama was the convenient recipient of affirmative action adulation from a world thirsty for racial recompense, an assuaging of white guilt.

And again, this predated Trump’s run for office by many years:

Trump has held this view well before anyone heard the name Barack Obama. In 1989, Trump said in an NBC News interview, “A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white, in terms of the job market.” Trump went so far as to say that “I’ve said on occasion, even about myself, if I was starting off today I would love to be a well-educated black because I really believe they do have an actual advantage today.”

This was not a compliment. Trump adheres to the theory of unearned black privileges at the expense of white effort, that there is a hand-me-out meritocracy specifically for black people, a form of cultural welfare.

This made Obama an early target for Trump. He questioned Obama’s birth and his heritage, his abilities and educational pedigree. He questioned his leadership and his work ethic. Trump knew the terrible legions of flaws he possessed and was incredulous that this black man could be devoid of any.

So, he feverishly searched for error, sometimes inventing it, moreover projecting his own error onto Obama.

That’s a theory, but supported by Trump’s own words over the years, and the man did meet his moment:

Obama became Trump’s foil for personal reasons of racial and cultural insecurity. But Trump’s view of him perfectly aligned with a larger phenomenon: A significant swath of white America grated at the uppityness of this black man who would set the tone for how Americans should behave, and his black wife who would lecture them about what to eat.

Obama wasn’t on the ballot in 2016, but in a way he was. Trump wasn’t only running against Hillary Clinton – whom conservatives revile, whom Vladimir Putin reviles, whom the patriarchy reviles – he was also running against the black shadow of a black man.

These voters chose the opposite of Obama, they chose the moral and intellectual antithesis, someone who could arrest the advance that Obama represented: the ascension of multicultural power and a coming erasure of white advantage and the dominance of white culture, all of which establishment forces had either allowed or encouraged.

Trump was elected to restore the cultural narrative of the primacy of whiteness.

And that might work. Biden might be a traitor to his race because he worked for a black man, a black boss, for eight years. Where’s his pride? Has he no self-respect? Trump might not say that. He might not go that far. He might not need to. That’s in the air already, but Blow says this is more likely:

Trump has tried for months to do what he has always done: invent an alternate reality, lie, blame and brag, deny responsibility and claim victory. But that simply doesn’t work as well when the coronavirus has claimed more American lives in a few months than the Vietnam War claimed in a decade. It doesn’t work when tens of millions of Americans are out of work and the economy is teetering on a depression.

So, Trump is reaching past Joe Biden in his basement for an opponent who evokes a more visceral disdain from his base: Obama.

He has cooked up an Obamagate conspiracy, claiming that the former president committed “the biggest political crime in American history, by far!”

Of course, there are no crimes other than the ones Trump himself has committed. But, this is a familiar territory for Trump, projection and deflection. By using sleight of hand to turn the focus to Obama on a phony scandal, he hopes to make people look away from the mountain of dead bodies on which he is now perched.

But he will attack Obama:

Trump is trying to make Obama his Willie Horton, the black criminal George Bush successfully used as a racial cudgel in his race against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Trump believes that there is a seesaw mechanism to his political fortunes: If he can drag someone down, it will lift him up.

For now, that person is Obama, the man who lives in Trump’s head, who stalks his dreams, the countervailing symbol to Trump’s deficiencies.

And now he’s back and now quite real. He’s telling the anxious and despairing new graduates, the future, that honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others, and also respect for actual facts and real science, are good things. Donald Trump may sneer at those things, but others swear by them. Maybe the world isn’t ending. That was the graduation speech, the best graduation speech.

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