We are not of this world. America doesn’t care what the world thinks of us, or what the world thinks is important right now. We keep it simple. We take care of our own. Others can do what they’d like. What does that matter to us?
This is the America that Donald Trump urged – America First. Of course he regularly seems to seek the approval of the two world leaders he actually does admire, Putin and Kim, but everyone else can go to hell – frumpy Angela Merkel with her PhD in Quantum Chemistry and that little French popinjay, Emanuel Macron, and all the rest. And there was this – “President Donald Trump said on Friday that he wants the U.S. to reopen regardless of whether there’s a vaccine for COVID-19 available because, in his mind, the pandemic will go away on its own.”
It was more of the same. Science is bullshit. Experts know nothing. The pandemic will go away on its own. Trust him. He knows. And thus he was unlikely to pay much attention to a bunch of arrogant British twits:
The prestigious medical journal The Lancet took square aim at the Trump administration on Friday, urging Americans to elect a president “who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”
The administration, the unsigned editorial argued, has enacted an “inconsistent and incoherent national response to the COVID-19 crisis” and marginalized public health experts.
The article focused on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been unusually absent from the Trump administration’s public COVID-19 messaging. That started, as the Lancet noted, when the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Nancy Messonnier warned on Feb. 25 that “disruption to everyday life might be severe.”
“Messonnier subsequently no longer appeared at White House briefings on COVID-19,” The Lancet noted.
And there was this:
That the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx reportedly said last week “there is nothing from the CDC that I can trust,” the Lancet argued, was “a shocking indictment of an agency that was once regarded as the gold standard for global disease detection and control.”
Still, according to the editorial, “punishing the agency by marginalizing and hobbling it is not the solution.”
“The Administration is obsessed with magic bullets – vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear,” the editorial argued. “But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency.”
This item also mentions that Birx was part of the group begging the CDC to revise the pandemic “death count” downward. Don’t report that so many people died! That makes the president look bad and makes him very, very angry! No one knows which side Brix is on.
But the Brits were merciless:
Seeking to lay a pile of critical failings at Trump’s feet, the editorial – titled “Reviving the U.S. CDC” – says a federal agency that was once “the gold standard for global disease detection and control” has devolved into an “ineffective and nominal adviser” on the U.S. response to a disease that poses a public health threat of historic proportions.
The Trump administration has “chipped away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases” in a number of ways, The Lancet says, citing the reduction of CDC staff in China and the withdrawal of the last American CDC expert from the Chinese CDC campus last July – moves that left an “intelligence vacuum” when the novel coronavirus was detected in Hubei province in late 2019.
And The Lancet says that partly because of the CDC’s own errors – chiefly a mistaken early insistence on maintaining control of coronavirus testing – “The USA is still nowhere near able to provide the basic surveillance or laboratory testing infrastructure needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”
And there’s a reason for that:
The journal accuses the Trump administration of accelerating the “erosion” of the CDC that it says took place under earlier Republican administrations that used the CDC and its funding to score political points – actions that, The Lancet says, previously limited the agency’s ability to combat emergencies such as the HIV/AIDS crisis.
During the current coronavirus crisis, the Trump White House has repeatedly undermined the leading U.S. authorities on infectious diseases, The Lancet states. It adds, “The CDC needs a director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced.”
It’s too late. All experts have been silenced. Fauci and Brix and all the rest no long appear at any briefings for the public. No news channel can book any of them now for any comment at all, and even Mike Pence says nothing now. The president speaks or there is silence on these matters. But then the House is controlled by the Democrats, and they can hold hearings, and do:
Friday’s editorial was published one day after Rick Bright, a career government scientist, testified to a congressional panel about his removal from leading the U.S. agency in charge of developing a vaccine against COVID-19. He was sidelined, Bright said Thursday, because he resisted efforts within the Trump administration to promote chloroquine and a related drug, hydroxychloroquine, as treatments for coronavirus patients.
The president and his allies had touted chloroquine as a breakthrough, despite sparse evidence of any potential benefits. Numerous medical and health agencies have recommended against using the drugs to fight COVID-19, citing potentially fatal risks.
Who cares? That was the reaction from the only man who matters:
Administration officials have denied Bright’s allegations of retaliation. Trump said of his testimony, “I watched this guy for a little while this morning. To me, he’s nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person.”
Ignore him. And ignore these British busybodies. And pay attention to… what? That’s what Peter Baker explains here:
President Trump has embarked on an aggressive new drive to rewrite the narrative of the Russia investigation by making dark and unsubstantiated accusations that former President Barack Obama masterminded a sinister plot to bring him down.
On Twitter, on television, in the Rose Garden and even on an official White House social media page, Mr. Trump in recent days has taken aim at his most recent predecessor in a way that no sitting president has in modern times, accusing Mr. Obama of undefined and unspecified crimes under the vague but politically charged catchphrase “Obamagate.”
No one knows what that means, but damn, it’s big:
The president went even further on Thursday by demanding that Mr. Obama be hauled before the Senate “to testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA,” a scenario that itself has no precise precedent in American history. Within hours, Mr. Trump’s most faithful Republican ally in the Senate promptly announced that he would indeed investigate, although he would probably not summon Mr. Obama.
Yes, Lindsey Graham gently, with a little humor, told Donald Trump that Donald Trump was being a jerk:
Graham told Politico that he has no intention of summoning Obama to Capitol Hill.
“I don’t think now’s the time for me to do that. I don’t know if that’s even possible,” Graham said, adding: “I understand President Trump’s frustration, but be careful what you wish for.”
In a subsequent tweet, Graham wrote that both Trump and Obama are “welcome to come before the committee and share their concerns about each other.”
“If nothing else it would make for great TV. However, I have great doubts about whether it would be wise for the country,” the senator added.
Baker notes that Trump didn’t get the hint:
In flinging incendiary charges at his predecessor, Mr. Trump has offered no evidence and has not even specified what “crime” he was accusing the former president of committing. Instead, Mr. Trump seemed to be tying the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which has enraged him for years, back to Mr. Obama while hinting ominously at forthcoming revelations that will bolster his claims.
But he has to do that:
The new focus on the former president comes as Mr. Trump appeared eager to change the subject amid the deadliest public health crisis to confront the United States in a half-century. On a day when the death toll in the United States topped 85,000 and the government reported nearly three million more people filing for unemployment, Mr. Trump spent part of his morning attacking Mr. Obama.
In addition to diverting attention from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Trump’s focus on Mr. Obama allows him to try to turn the tables on his accusers by making them out to be the ones who are corrupt while simultaneously putting his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., on the defensive.
So now he’s suggesting that Obama and Biden should be in jail right now:
“This was all Obama, this was all Biden,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on Fox Business Network that aired on Thursday. “These people were corrupt, the whole thing was corrupt, and we caught them. We caught them.”
When the host Maria Bartiromo asked if he believed that Mr. Obama directed American intelligence agencies to spy on him, Mr. Trump agreed, without evidence.
“Yes, he probably directed them,” Mr. Trump said. “But if he didn’t direct them, he knew everything – and you’ll see that,” he went on, adding that documents would be released soon to bolster his charges.
No evidence has emerged that before the November 2016 election Mr. Obama was involved in the FBI investigation into Mr. Trump’s advisers and any ties to Russian campaign interference, much less that he directed it, although its existence had been reported in the news media. Mr. Obama was told in January 2017 about telephone calls between Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and Russia’s ambassador discussing sanctions that the outgoing president had just imposed on Moscow in response to its attempted election sabotage.
Documents released by Mr. Trump’s allies this week show that several Obama administration officials, including Mr. Biden, requested the identity of the American who was originally unnamed in intelligence reports about contacts with Russia, an American who turned out to be Mr. Flynn. Such “unmasking” requests are made thousands of times a year and, according to the documents, these were approved under normal procedures and the recipients were authorized to receive the information.
But Mr. Trump’s allies suggest the requests indicated that Mr. Obama’s aides must have been involved in trying to “set up” Mr. Flynn, who was interviewed by FBI agents after Mr. Obama left office and eventually pleaded guilty to lying to them. Attorney General William P. Barr last week moved to throw the case out, concluding that the FBI had no basis to interview Mr. Flynn, a decision that Mr. Obama later said undermined the rule of law.
It may be impossible to settle that. All the intelligence agencies say the Russians were messing up the election, and signals intelligence showed they were discussing that with Americans, and mentioned some prominent Americans. Check the records. Unmask the names of those Americans. One of them was Flynn. Now what? Barr says no one should have done anything about that. But the stakes are high here:
Other presidents have feuded with predecessors over policy or politics, even publicly quarreling at times. But putting aside Richard M. Nixon and Watergate, no sitting president in modern times has explicitly and aggressively accused a former president of criminality.
“What makes Trump’s attacks so egregious in contrast to his predecessors is how he simply concocts scandals out of thin air, cooking up conspiracies that have no relation to historical fact,” said Matthew Dallek, a presidential historian at George Washington University.
Yeah, but that works every time now. And Trump is frustrated, as Baker tells the tale:
Mr. Trump has long harbored a personal animus toward Mr. Obama. Mr. Trump spent much of Mr. Obama’s presidency championing the racist and false “birther” conspiracy theory that Mr. Obama was born in Africa. Mr. Obama reciprocated by mocking Mr. Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011 as the reality show host sat nearby seething.
Mr. Trump turned back to Mr. Obama in March 2017, two days after Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, recused himself from the investigation into Russian election interference, a move that infuriated the president and led to the appointment of Mr. Mueller.
As Mr. Trump stewed at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club, an aide showed him a story from the conservative website Breitbart quoting the radio host Mark Levin accusing Mr. Obama of “police state” tactics. The president took to Twitter to assert that Mr. Obama “had my ‘wires tapped,'” a claim that Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department later debunked.
And this is just more of that:
Mr. Trump began using the term “Obamagate” on Sunday but refused to explain what specific crime he was alleging when asked the next day by a Washington Post reporter. “You know what the crime is,” the president said testily. “The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”
Fine, but one would find only what Baker found:
The FBI opened its investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in July 2016 not long after WikiLeaks released thousands of internal Democratic Party emails that intelligence officials believed had been hacked by Russian intelligence operatives. The investigation, code named Crossfire Hurricane, was handled by a small group of law enforcement and intelligence officials, who did not brief White House officials about the inquiry, according to accounts that have emerged since.
When Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump met in person two days after the November election, Mr. Obama warned him about Mr. Flynn, who had served as the Defense Intelligence Agency director during the Obama administration. Former officials said that the warning concerned Mr. Flynn’s job performance and penchant for conspiracy theories, not any government investigation.
Mr. Obama learned about communications between Mr. Flynn and Russian officials in January 2017 after pressing intelligence and law enforcement officials to review and sum up information about Russia’s election interference.
There’s nothing there, but everyone has been pointing to the explanation of Obamagate that the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri offered here:
There is more to come about Obamagate, and we will be stunned, because the horror of it all is clear. One of the many facets of Obamagate is that it prevented people from telling Michael Flynn that lying to the FBI was a crime, even if they were investigating something else; had he realized this, he would not have lied to the FBI, probably? It is a commonly known fact (just as commonly known as that Obamagate is ancient and horrible) that it is polite to lie to the FBI unless you are explicitly instructed not to.
This was the genius of Obamagate! President Obama knew that Donald Trump was his greatest political rival, even though he was not running against Donald Trump (and could not) and Donald Trump was technically his successor, not his rival (Obamagate did not account for this) and so, deviously, he handed power peacefully over to Donald Trump in the routine way. We are not sure if this is part of Obamagate, but we think it must be, that Obama also prepared a pandemic exercise for the incoming Trump team, but cleverly organized it so that nobody who would remain in the Trump administration would pay attention and no one who was paying attention would remain in the Trump administration. And you see how masterfully it all worked out!
Obama is still president to this day, which is why everything that goes wrong is his fault. But that will change soon. Donald Trump is here and can point this out.
And amazing number of people took her seriously. No one knows if Trump read her column, but long ago he forbade anyone around him from reading anything in the Washington Post anymore, so she might not be giving him new talking points, but he seems to be thinking this way. The New York Times’ team of Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin sum up just one day of this:
Even by President Trump’s standards, it was a rampage: He attacked a government whistle-blower who was telling Congress that the coronavirus pandemic had been mismanaged. He criticized the governor of Pennsylvania, who has resisted reopening businesses. He railed against former President Barack Obama, linking him to a conspiracy theory and demanding he answer questions before the Senate about the federal investigation of Michael T. Flynn.
And Mr. Trump lashed out at Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic challenger. In an interview with a sympathetic columnist, Mr. Trump smeared him as a doddering candidate who “doesn’t know he’s alive.” The caustic attack coincided with a barrage of digital ads from Mr. Trump’s campaign mocking Mr. Biden for verbal miscues and implying that he is in mental decline.
That was all on Thursday.
But that will be every new day now:
Since well before he became president, Mr. Trump’s appetite for conflict has defined him as a public figure. But in recent days he has practiced that approach with new intensity, signaling both the depths of his election-year distress and his determination to blast open a path to a second term, even at the cost of further riling a country in deep anguish.
His electoral path has narrowed rapidly since the onset of the pandemic, as the growth-and-prosperity theme of his campaign disintegrated. In private, Mr. Trump has been plainly aggrieved at the loss of his central argument for re-election. “They wiped out my economy!” he has said to aides, according to people briefed on the remarks.
It is unclear whether he has been referring to China, where the virus originated, or health experts who have urged widespread lockdowns, but his frustration and determination to place blame elsewhere have been emphatic.
And then there’s the problem of that pesky man who doesn’t know he’s alive:
In many respects Mr. Trump’s approach to the 2020 election looks like a crude approximation of the way he waged the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton, attacking her personal ethics, often in false or exaggerated terms; taking Mrs. Clinton’s admitted errors and distorting them with the help of online disinformation merchants; and making wild claims about her physical health and mental capacity for the job. Given that the 2016 campaign – the only one Mr. Trump has ever run – ended in a razor-thin victory for him, it is perhaps not surprising that the president would attempt a kind of sequel in 2020.
But there are vitally important differences between 2016 and 2020, ones that amplify the risks involved both for Mr. Trump and for the country he is vying to lead.
He is running against an opponent in Mr. Biden who, despite his vulnerabilities, has not faced decades of personal vilification as Mrs. Clinton did before running for president. And unlike 2016, Mr. Trump has a governing record to defend – one that currently involves presiding over a pandemic that has claimed more than 80,000 American lives – and he may not find it easy to change the subject with incendiary distractions.
Those hurt his enemies, but not that much:
Of all Mr. Trump’s efforts, this one may be among the least concerning to Democrats, given Mr. Obama’s strong popularity and the degree to which Mr. Trump’s claims of an “Obamagate” scandal have been confined so far to the usual echo chambers of Fox News and right-wing social media. As he did in 2016, Mr. Trump is trying to force other outlets to cover the matter through repetition on his Twitter feed.
Democratic anxiety about the president’s attacks on Mr. Biden runs higher. But in general Mr. Biden’s advisers have professed confidence that the severity of the country’s problems will make it difficult for Mr. Trump to retake control of the campaign, and that Mr. Biden’s fundamental political strengths make him well positioned to survive a campaign of attempted character assassination.
It may be that Trump just has the wrong message at the wrong time:
There are persistent doubts even within Mr. Trump’s political circle that an overwhelmingly negative campaign can be successful in 2020, particularly when many voters are likely to be looking for a combination of optimism, empathy and steady leadership at a moment of crisis unlike any in living memory. And the more Mr. Trump lashes out – at Mr. Biden and others – the more he may cement in place the reservations of voters who are accustomed to seeing presidents react with resolute calm in difficult situations.
They won’t see resolute calm in difficult situations, because they’ll keep seeing this:
Mr. Trump constantly undermines his own team’s strategy, in ways big and small. While he finally stopped doing his daily press briefings, after weeks of pleading from his allies, he still makes comments on Twitter or to reporters nearly every day that hand Democrats fodder and make Republicans squirm.
In addition to his attacks against Mr. Obama, he separated himself from the highly popular Dr. Anthony Fauci, downplayed the importance of testing and has refused to wear a mask. And Mr. Trump’s appetite for conspiracy theories is often embarrassing to his party: Several times in recent weeks, he has falsely accused a prominent television host of murder and called for a “cold case” investigation.
He seems a bit unhinged now, but might not be, but then he confirms it:
The president also routinely misses even the political opportunities his advisers deliberately tee up for him.
When Mr. Trump was visiting Pennsylvania this week, for instance, his team scheduled a friendly interview in the hope that he would make the case that Mr. Biden would undermine fracking, an important industry in Pennsylvania. But Mr. Trump made no mention of fracking and instead attacked Mr. Biden’s mental condition and called wind power a “disaster” that “kills all the birds.”
His audience was puzzled. His aides winced. But at least he didn’t repeat his claim that wind turbines cause cancer. And he didn’t claim they too were part of Obamagate, even if everything else is. He’s not gone over the edge yet. He’s told us, however, that he’s the one man who really matters, the only man who really matters.
The nation may have to do something about that in November, if not sooner.