Kind of Sort of War

North Carolina was a long time ago, graduate school at Duke in the early seventies, but it was the South. A trip to Chapel Hill and its university was a drive down Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. People there had long memories. The South would rise again, somehow. Jesse Helms was a “television personality” in Raleigh with his “editorials” twice a week about how evil all the civil rights stuff was and how oppressed the “white man” was – years before he became one of the state’s senators and took that message to Washington. The universities were islands in an angry sea. And there were guns everywhere, to shoot varmints, perhaps. But they were always a statement too. The war long ago, that war of northern aggression, wasn’t over yet – not really. That damned government in Washington wasn’t really their government. It never had been, so now, this is not a surprise:

A group of armed demonstrators protesting North Carolina’s stay-at-home order visited a Raleigh restaurant this weekend, weapons slung over their shoulders, and were captured in photographs that went viral.

Travis Long, a photojournalist with The News and Observer, said he shot the photos inside a Subway on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.

One photo shows a protester carrying what appear to be an AT4 rocket launcher and two pistols in holsters on his waist. Another photo shows a protester holding a large weapon over his shoulder, as he appears to take a selfie. Only two of the protesters who appear in the photos are wearing masks.

The demonstration Saturday took place during the first full day of North Carolina’s phased-in reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first phase, which began Friday evening, parks and certain businesses were allowed to reopen while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Gatherings remain limited to no more than 10 people.

The rocket launcher was a nice touch. This is kind of sort of war. North Carolina’s stay-at-home order is a part and parcel of what those folks up in Washington had been saying, what that little Italian fellow Fauci had been saying, and all those other “scientists” and whatnot too. Be careful. Good ol’ boys know better. Social distancing in sandwich shops is nonsense. There’s no pandemic. There’s no epidemic. There’s nothing wrong:

As of Sunday morning, there had been 14,764 confirmed cases and 547 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in North Carolina.

Well, maybe something is wrong, but it’s time tell the government to stuff it. That’s a Southern thing, but not really. It was the same in Colorado but without the guns:

A restaurant in Castle Rock, Col., is attracting viral attention as footage circulates showing its business packed with customers on Mother’s Day despite a state order requiring restaurants to reduce their businesses to delivery options and drive-up service amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Videos picking up traction on Twitter on Sunday show the local restaurant, C&C Coffee and Kitchen, loaded with customers, many of whom could be seen not wearing a mask, as recommended by government and health officials, or adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Everyone was jammed together, shoulder to shoulder in a packed dining room, for hours and hours, with no masks on the customers or on any employees, and everyone was happy:

In a live Facebook video documenting the large turnout on Sunday, April Arellano, who The Denver Post identifies as the owner of the establishment, could be heard saying: “I’m sure a lot of people are wondering like what the turnout ended up being.”

“This,” she says as she pans the camera around a room of packed tables, “and then a line down the street.”

“So much for some of those people saying nobody would show up,” Arellano, who does not wear a mask in the video added, smiling. “And our patio’s full too. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for this support guys. I gotta get back to work. Have a great day.”

Footage captured of the restaurant’s reopening prompted “Castle Rock” to surge to Twitter’s top list of trending items on Sunday night.

Hundreds packed together in a crowded room for hours, with no one wearing masks, and no one died! So THERE!

But there is the law:

Though the stay-at-home order issued in Colorado to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 expired on April 26, non-critical businesses that have since been allowed to reopen under the state’s “safer-at-home” mandate must still operate with certain restrictions in efforts prevent flare-ups of the disease in the weeks ahead.

A spokesperson for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ office told the Denver Post on Sunday that “under Safer at Home, restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses, and other similar places of public accommodation offering food or beverage for on-premises consumption are still closed.”

“These restaurants are not only breaking the law, they are endangering the lives of their staff, customers, and community,” the representative said.

According to the Denver Post, those who violate the state’s public health mandate can face jail time or a fine of up to $1,000.

But who would dare charge them? One of them might have a rocket launcher. But the tweets from all over the country about this were mixed, including this:

The people who went to Castle Rock today and didn’t wear masks or follow social distancing rules 100% know they will get people sick. If they infect anyone who dies, they should be charged with MANSLAUGHTER! No one is above the law – not even Trump supporters!

They did seem to be Trump supporters. They hear what he says. They see what he does. They do the same, but now, and the New York Times’ Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman report, things just got more complicated for his base:

The Trump administration is racing to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus inside the White House, as some senior officials believe that the disease is already spreading rapidly through the warren of cramped offices that make up the three floors of the West Wing.

Oops. This isn’t a hoax:

Three top officials leading the government’s coronavirus response have begun two weeks of self-quarantine after two members of the White House staff – one of President Trump’s personal valets and Katie Miller, the spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence – tested positive. But others who came into contact with Ms. Miller and the valet are continuing to report to work at the White House.

“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president, said on CBS’s Face the Nation program on Sunday. Mr. Hassett said he wore a mask at times at the White House, but conceded that “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.”

He added: “It’s a small, crowded place. It’s, you know, it’s a little bit risky. But you have to do it because you have to serve your country.”

Is he now allowed to say it’s risky, or is he defying the president? No, this is not that Subway in Raleigh or that coffee shop in Colorado:

The discovery of the two infected employees has prompted the White House to ramp up its procedures to combat the virus, asking more staff members to work from home, increasing usage of masks and more rigorously screening people who enter the complex.

Masks are a good idea now? Who knew? Now everything is ambiguous:

The concern about an outbreak of the virus at the White House – and the swift testing and contact tracing being done to contain it – underscores the broader challenge for Americans as Mr. Trump urges them to begin returning to their workplaces despite warnings from public health officials that the virus continues to ravage communities across the country.

Most restaurants, offices and retail stores do not have the ability to regularly test all their employees and quickly track down and quarantine the contacts of anyone who gets infected. At the White House, all employees are being tested at least weekly, officials said, and a handful of top aides who regularly interact with the president are being tested daily.

“To get in with the president, you have to test negative,” Mr. Hassett said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

That’s what it takes to get back to work there. Is that how it should be everywhere? No one knows:

Mr. Trump continues to reject guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear a mask when meeting with groups of people. But a senior administration official said the president was spooked that his valet, who is among those who serve him food, had not been wearing a mask. And he was annoyed to learn that Ms. Miller tested positive and has been growing irritated with people who get too close to him, the official said.

Two senior administration officials said there were no plans to keep Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence apart because of a concern that they both could be incapacitated by Covid-19.

Okay. They’re not frightened by any of this. They’re brave. But don’t get too close to either of them. That’s too dangerous. In fact, that’s frightening. But it isn’t. Open up the country!

That’s not what anyone is seeing:

Concern about the spread of the virus in the White House has temporarily sidelined three of the most high-profile members of the coronavirus task force – Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Redfield and Dr. Hahn announced over the weekend that they would self-quarantine for two weeks after coming in contact with an infected member of the president’s staff. Both attended a meeting in the Situation Room last week where Ms. Miller was present, and they said they would continue to participate in the response effort from home. Dr. Fauci said he, too, had begun a “modified quarantine” after what he called a “low risk” contact with an infected staff member.

That worries many in the nation. The top science people may have the cooties. But what worries Trump is what the nation will now see:

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said that all three doctors would participate on Tuesday by videoconference in a previously scheduled hearing on the virus response and efforts to reopen the economy. Mr. Alexander will also lead the hearing remotely; his office said on Sunday night that the senator would self-quarantine for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive.

Are all four of these men cowards? Trump could call them cowards, but he may not. Forget that Subway in Raleigh and that coffee shop in Colorado. This is the real world:

Previous memos to the staff at the White House had encouraged West Wing employees to “telework whenever possible.” But Trump administration officials moved beyond that over the weekend, telling several lower-level aides in the press office, who had been coming into the White House, to work from home regardless of how they were feeling. Staff members in the East Wing, who work for the first lady, Melania Trump, are also working from home; other members of the president’s personal staff in the residence are regularly wearing masks.

Senior officials said they were urging all White House employees to stay home if they felt even remotely sick, a decision that cuts against all the traditional impulses for people who work for the president, which is to keep working no matter what.

There is a point where patriotism and courage end and stupidity begins, so don’t be stupid. As for Kevin Hassett, who said, on national television, that it was scary to go to work each day at the White House, he also said this:

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett expects the unemployment rate to climb past 20% due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, predicting that May or June will be the high point for job losses.

“Right now, looking across the U.S., there are more than 30 million people that are getting initial claims from unemployment insurance, and that’s the biggest negative shock to the jobs market that we’ve seen since World War II,” Hassett, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, told “Face the Nation” Sunday.

“To get unemployment rates like the ones that we’re about to see, to get back to your question, which I think will climb up towards 20% by next month, you have to really go back to the Great Depression to see that,” Hassett continued. “I think you can expect to see jobs probably trough in May or June.”

Hassett said he was “looking for rates north of 20%” before the job market stabilizes.

That’s as scary as anything else here, but Hassett is a strange man, as Jonathan Chait explains here:

President Trump’s habit of promising unrealistically low casualty counts is one of the more inexplicable unforced errors in the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “One is too many,” he said on April 20, “but we’re going toward 50 or 60,000 people.” Just four days later, the number of confirmed deaths had already exceeded 50,000. A few days after that, he tacked on another 10,000 to the upper and lower bound, saying, “we’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000.” That figure is already moot.

Trump’s normal sales pitch is to juxtapose his results against a horrific alternative. He routinely says that, had he not been elected, the economy would have collapsed and the U.S. would have gone to war with North Korea, and so on. Why, this time, did he establish a target he couldn’t meet? Indeed, why did he throw out numbers that were obviously going to be exceeded very quickly?

A chief culprit in the blunder turns out to be Kevin Hassett, the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Despite having no expertise in epidemiology, Hassett designed his own model and White House aides interpreted the analysis as predicting that the daily death count would peak in mid-April before dropping off substantially, and that there would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen.

For a full discussion of his model see this – the nerdy explanation – but Chait remembers something else:

In 1999, Kevin Hassett notoriously co-authored Dow 36,000, a book arguing, via his own idiosyncratic calculations, that the stock market’s true value was massively higher than anybody forecast. (More than 20 years later, it remains well below that level.) Hassett is less kooky than Art Laffer, Lawrence Kudlow, or Stephen Moore, but relying on him to home-brew a model of the coronavirus is still a ghastly error…

People whose professional role is making wrong fiscal and economic forecasts have moonlighted as makers of wrong epidemiological forecasts. Their actual skill is not economics per se, but persuading Republican officials to ignore experts and embrace magical thinking…

Yeah, but magical thinking is now official policy:

Vice President Mike Pence is not planning to enter self-quarantine after his press secretary tested positive for coronavirus on Friday and plans to be at the White House on Monday, his office said on Sunday.

Pence spokesperson Devin O’Malley said the vice president “will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine.”

“Additionally, Vice President Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow,” O’Malley said in the statement.

In short, he will be heroic and not cower in the face of this measly little virus, but he will follow all the medical advice, sort of, kind of, maybe, as an example:

An official said there is extreme sensitivity inside the White House at the current state of affairs with officials recognizing the contradiction in telling states to reopen while the White House enhances protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The official said Pence’s schedule will probably be on the lighter side in the coming days, but that he’s not doing a full self-quarantine.

Is that clear? No, but it will have to do:

In conversations this weekend, Trump has expressed concern that aides contracting coronavirus would undercut his message that the outbreak is waning and states should begin reopening, according to a person who spoke to him.

Trump voiced frustration that two White House staffers tested positive for coronavirus and has asked why his valets weren’t ordered to wear masks before this week, according to the person.

Trump believes an economic rebound will only come when governors decide to lift restrictions and is concerned at any signs the virus is resurgent.

At the same time, the President has told people he doesn’t want to be near anyone who hasn’t been tested and has bristled when coming into contact with some people at the White House, according to the person who spoke to him.

He’d better not show up at that Subway in Raleigh or that coffee shop in Colorado. His armed and dangerous supporters might think he’s just one more whining liberal wimp. But he’s in a tough spot, as Will Bunch explains here:

Donald Trump has been here before. At the dawn of the 2000s, the Manhattan real estate developer and short-fingered vulgarian was literally – as the New York Times would later document – the worst businessman in America, having lost more than $1 billion in one 10-year period.

But then, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, you didn’t need an accountant to see which way the bottom line was blowing. The man had literally bankrupted casinos, the closest thing we have to a license to print money. And the banks had made him sell his airline and his yacht. Or you could just check out the late-night infomercial stuff Trump was trying to foist on consumers – Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, and a Trump University where presumably you, too, could learn how to blow through a billion.

But rather than face reality, Donald Trump just invented a new one, with the help of a TV guru named Mark Burnett. To the millions of future voters who’d never read the Wall Street Journal but avidly watched NBC’s The Apprentice once it debuted in 2003, the man that banks wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole played America’s shrewdest CEO and judged the business savvy of his competitors as if his own six business bankruptcies had never happened.

Now, with America in its worst crisis since the Civil War, with both a deadly pandemic and a second Great Depression, the man who rode that wave of as-seen-on-TV reality all the way to the White House is looking to pull off his greatest stunt yet. POTUS 45 hopes that by pretending he’s a wartime president at the helm of the great American economic and spiritual comeback, no one will notice the rising death counts or the ever-longer lines at food banks.

And yes, that is absurd:

Imagine if FDR had responded to Pearl Harbor by waiting a few weeks to proclaim that Hawaii is OPEN FOR BUSINESS!, without ever declaring war on Japan, let alone attempting the hard work of mobilizing the nation for war, and you can grasp some sense of the virtual-reality goggles that Trump is hoping to wrap around America between now and Nov. 3.

The president – who, as I write this on a Sunday morning, is proudly tweeting that his California golf course is reopening, just two days after the government released the worst unemployment report since it started keeping those statistics – is essentially proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” with everything but the aircraft carrier. But at least George W. Bush, in invading Iraq (under false pretenses, but I digress), actually tried to do something.

And this isn’t that:

Even George Orwell is probably spinning in his grave at the way commonsense public-health advice from America’s top experts is quickly being recast as a war against your personal freedom and liberty. Increasingly, the arrogance from the very top – with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and their closest aides refusing to wear masks, with the zeal of authoritarian strongmen desperate not to show “weakness,” despite a current outbreak in the White House – is meant to boost the message that white middle-class folks who shop and go bowling in the face of the rising death count are the heroic “warriors” of the president’s World War III against a non-sentient virus.

But this is war, kind of, sort of, maybe. Or maybe this is what David Atkins outlines here:

Ever since he was a young man, Donald Trump has never had to confront any problem that somebody else didn’t just make disappear. Trump has always used an army of attorneys, accountants and corrupted officials to make his problems go away – whether it was with women, creditors, contractors, or law enforcement. Usually, he would have a main consigliere to take on the heaviest burdens, from the detestable Roy Cohn to Michael Cohen to Roger Stone to Rudy Giuliani and, most recently, his own personal Attorney General William Barr. Now that he is president, Trump views the entire federal government as his personal fiefdom to clean up his messes and cover for his open corruption.

But a virus is immune to the protections to which Trump has become accustomed.

And that may be the real problem here:

There has never been a crisis so big in Trump’s life that he hasn’t been able to use people much more talented and intelligent than himself to make it go away quietly and efficiently. So in Trump’s experience, that’s what problems do: They go away. He has “good genes”; he surrounds himself with “the best people” – willing to cross any moral line for him and bad things just… disappear. All he has to do in the meantime is manage the press with a combination of razzle dazzle and intimidation. Actual work and accountability are for suckers and lesser people.

Casinos going bankrupt? Take the money and have the accountants stiff the investors. Affairs with porn stars while your wife was pregnant? Have your fixer pay them off. Real estate taxes a problem? Have some employees bribe the assessors. FBI Director threatening to expose your collusion with a hostile foreign power? Fire him by way of a patsy. Tough re-election campaign? Have your lawyer threaten a foreign country if they don’t make up a scandal about your opponent. And so on.

Remarkably, the first three years of Trump’s presidency were relatively smooth sailing outside of self-inflicted crimes and mishaps. His actual approach to life was never fully tested in the Oval Office.

And now it has been tested:

There is no amount of misdirection or intimidation he can use to make the press stories about all the deaths and economic destruction go away. There is no accountant, lawyer, or public official who can use clever paperwork to make the virus disappear. Solving this problem would require the sort of dedicated attention, tough choices, and hard work that Donald Trump has been able to spend his entire life successfully avoiding while thinking himself clever for doing so.

Trump now asserts that coronavirus will just fix itself. If you think about it that actually makes some sense, because every other problem in his Trump’s life has.

But not this time… This is war!

But if course this isn’t war. This is a pandemic that could end the modern world. This is a virus that could end the modern world. No one with a rocket launcher in a North Carolina sandwich shop can fix that. Stay home.

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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