They Get Bitter

There were the good old days:

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

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

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

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

And nothing has changed since then:

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

So it’s Guns and God one more time:

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

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

Well, screw that:

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

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

But wait, there’s more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he hates elites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it goes:

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

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

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

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

No, but it’s getting there:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not good:

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

And there’s this:

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

And there are choices:

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

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

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

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

So, look at it this way:

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

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

Ah, but then there’s Rick Wilson:

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

That’s Trump, and Martin Longman adds this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s just not going to go there:

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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