Wishful Thinking Got Us

It wasn’t going to get down to one or two cases and disappear. And the churches wouldn’t be jam-packed on Easter because it was all over. It wasn’t going to be all over by Memorial Day. And the summer heat is not going to kill it. It’s not “fading away” or actually over or whatever the president is saying. It just got worse. Now everything goes backwards:

Texas and Florida – whose leaders were praised by President Trump for being among the first to end coronavirus restrictions – abruptly reversed course Friday as virus infections soared to record levels, slamming the door shut on bars and imposing other measures in a bid to contain the pandemic.

Both states are backtracking amid a crisis of rising hospitalizations and skyrocketing infection rates. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered bars to close and restaurants to reduce occupancy, and he gave local governments authority to ban outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. The changes came as statistics show 1 in 10 Texans tested is positive for the novel coronavirus and the state’s largest hospital is at capacity in its intensive care unit.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered bars to close immediately Friday because of “widespread noncompliance” with rules regarding capacity and social distancing. The surprise announcement came as state health officials reported a record 8,942 infections Friday. Average cases are up nearly 77 percent from a week ago.

In Texas, the current surge of cases reflects the activity of recent weeks, including Memorial Day gatherings and summer activities that were permitted under Abbott’s reopening plan, which began May 1.

“Wishful thinking got us here,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

That does create difficulties:

In Washington, Vice President Pence attempted to put a positive spin on the situation, claiming “remarkable progress” despite a surge in cases.

“As we stand here today, all 50 states and territories across the country are opening up, and safely and responsibly,” Pence said.

At the same time, Abbott and DeSantis announced they would reverse course. The governors – both prominent supporters of Trump – had moved swiftly to lift lockdowns, even as some local leaders pleaded with them to keep restrictions in place.

Squeezed by pressure from the conservative wing of his party, skyrocketing unemployment numbers and the business sector, Abbott reopened most of Texas’s businesses, with adapted safety measures, by mid-to-late May – but he bypassed the metrics he established as crucial thresholds to dictate the pace.

Those metrics didn’t really matter? That was wishful thinking, but Abbott actually knew better:

The governor warned repeatedly that if numbers began to surge, his administration would rethink the reopening. In an interview Friday with KVIA, Abbott said he regrets allowing bars to quickly reopen.

“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars,” he said, adding the “bar setting, in reality, just doesn’t work in a pandemic.”

He will have more moments like that as the bodies pile up. No one knows the precise and exact magic number of bodies that will, or might, trigger him to say that, damn, he killed a lot of people because he wouldn’t admit that Trump was a total fool. He may never say that. He may turn into Mike Pence:

Vice President Pence held the first public briefing of the coronavirus task force in nearly two months and sought to deliver an upbeat message that was at odds with warnings from public health experts. The vice president dodged the question of whether people should wear masks in public, as his own administration recommends, and said campaign rallies that pack people together, in violation of public health guidance, will continue.

This was an embarrassment:

Pence offered no new strategies to combat the rapidly spreading virus and minimized record daily case counts in several states as “outbreaks in specific counties.”

“As we stand here today, all 50 states and territories across the country are opening up, and safely and responsibly,” Pence said, a point that was undermined as Florida and Texas on Friday began to scale back or reverse their reopening plans because of growing outbreaks.

Everyone on stage with him stared at their feet. Reporters rolled their eyes. He stumbled on:

While Pence acknowledged the rising numbers of cases in the South and the West, he sought to play down the threat while heaping praise on Trump for how he has handled the pandemic. The vice president argued that many of the new cases are being found in younger Americans, who are at less risk of developing deadly complications from the virus than older Americans are. He also argued that states have told him they have enough medical equipment to deal with the surge in infections and repeated the misleading claim that more testing is the main reason for the rising numbers of cases.

Pence rejected the idea that campaign rallies should be curtailed during the pandemic, arguing that the events are constitutionally protected free speech, and he defended two events Trump held in the past week over objections from local officials or the advice of his own public health advisers.

“Well, the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, and we have an election coming up this fall,” Pence said, adding that people who attend such events are offered screenings and health advice.

Reporters pressed him. What about your own teams’ public health advice? What about Trump wearing a mask, even once? Pence talked about free speech for about eight minutes and never once even said the word “mask” – perhaps because he knew Trump was across town watching this. Trump watches everything on television, everything going wrong:

In a further sign of worry about the spread of the virus in the United States, Europe is poised to stop allowing American travelers into the European Union as it tries to permit more flights into EU member countries.

Trump has pushed for a swift reopening of shuttered businesses and an end to restrictions that have kept most people at home. In recent days he has reiterated that the economy will not be shut down again to contain the virus and has called outbreaks “embers” that can be put out.

Trump did not attend the briefing, which, unlike similar presentations early in the pandemic, was not held at the White House.

No one missed him:

Anthony S. Fauci, who leads the government’s infectious-disease effort, pleaded with Americans to take the virus seriously and continue exercising precautions some four months into a national state of partial paralysis.

“We are all in it together, and the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together,” Fauci said.

He and other officials wore masks as they flanked Pence, who did not wear one.

Trump is alone on this. Mike Pence has the job of telling Trump that’s not really so, that everyone agrees with Donald Trump, and loves him, because he’s always right. The rest of us just watch as that plays out, while we all try not to die this week. Whatever it is that Trump believes – if he believes anything – is not that important now. Mike Pence keeps saying that Trump is brilliant and a great leader and has saved the nation if not the world. That’s not important either. He’s supposed to say that.

But the week ended badly for Trump with this:

Citing the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge in Los Angeles on Friday ordered the imminent release of migrant children held in the country’s three family detention centers.

The order to release the children by July 17 came after plaintiffs in a long-running case reported that some of them have tested positive for the virus. It applies to children who have been held for more than 20 days in the detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.

There were 124 children living in those facilities on June 8, according to the ruling.

Trump cannot hold them forever. He missed his chance to execute them, to prove he’s tough and please his base – someone must have talked him out of that – and now that damned virus he said was going to disappear ruined this too:

In her order, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California criticized the Trump administration for its spotty compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To prevent the virus from spreading in congregate detention facilities, the agency had recommended social distancing, the wearing of masks and early medical intervention for those with virus symptoms.

“The family residential centers are on fire and there is no more time for half measures,” she wrote.

Given the pandemic, Judge Gee wrote, ICE must work to release the children with “all deliberate speed,” either along with their parents or to suitable guardians with the consent of their parents.

For Trump, that’s a bummer, and for Stephen Miller, an outrage, and there was more:

The Trump administration does not have the authority to use military funding to pay for construction of a border wall, a federal appeals court panel ruled on Friday.

In a 2-1 ruling, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that diverting $2.5 billion Congress had appropriated for the military violated the Constitution and is unlawful.

The executive branch “lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds,” the ruling said. “These funds were appropriated for other purposes, and the transfer amounted to ‘drawing funds from the Treasury without authorization by statute and thus violating the Appropriations Clause.’ Therefore, the transfer of funds here was unlawful.”

The decision upheld a ruling by a federal judge in California who last year found that the Trump administration’s funding scheme was against the law.

This is simple. Congress creates and revises the tax laws that bring in the funds to keep things running. Congress creates and revises the laws that determine how those funds are spent – when and where and on what. That’s their job. That’s in the Constitution in the Appropriations Clause. The president’s job is to faithfully execute those laws. He’s the chief executive. That’s in the Constitution too. Trump said that’s bullshit. He will spend funds on what he alone wants to get done and that Congress specifically did NOT want to get done – so screw Congress. This circuit court of appeals said nope, that’s not how things work. Their admonition was implicit. Hey, dude, did you even read the job description?

And he does keep doing dumb things, as Elliot Hannon notes here:

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to strike down what remains of Obamacare after waves of Republican legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, telling the court in a brief filed late Thursday that “the entire ACA must fall.” The move comes as hundreds of thousands of newly out-of-work Americans have used the Obama-era health care law to get coverage during the coronavirus pandemic. Dismantling the law, an obsession of Republican lawmakers for a full decade now, would leave more than 20 million people without health coverage. Despite having a decade to come up with an alternative to the law, and two years in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republicans have offered no viable alternative for how to make sure Americans can go to the doctor.

And now they’re panicked:

Much like Trump’s law-and-order messaging in response to the anti–police brutality protests, after the killing of George Floyd, it seems highly plausible that Republicans’ Obamacare destruction mission is newly out of sync with how Americans feel about the issue now. It is not a foregone conclusion that voters in the middle of the country will link the public health failures cascading down around them to the public policies that facilitated those failures, but the current moment seems more capable than any in compelling introspection.

Ending Obamacare would, for example, end the prohibition on insurance companies denying people coverage due to a preexisting condition – something that being sick with the coronavirus and its aftereffects might count as.

This is not a winner. Nothing’s a winner. Trump is not a winner:

After weeks of protests against police brutality and racism, and amid a renewed spike in coronavirus cases, the number of voters disapproving of the job President Trump is doing is at an all-time high, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

Trump’s approval rating sits at just 40% overall, while a record 58% disapprove.

What’s more, a whopping 49% of voters “strongly disapprove” of the job Trump is doing. That kind of intensity of disapproval is a record never before seen for this president or any past one.

Trump has to do something about that, and the Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Peter Hermann report that he’s doing this:

Over the past week, President Trump has signed an executive order to protect public monuments and statues from vandalism. He accused a Black Lives Matter leader of committing “treason.” He threatened a federal crackdown on protesters and vowed “retribution” against vandals, whom he labeled “terrorists.” And he praised a version of New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policing strategy that was phased out years ago.

Since signing an executive action on police changes on June 16 in the Rose Garden, Trump has shifted almost exclusively to “law-and-order” rhetoric – while dropping almost any pretense of personally addressing the widespread public anger over police brutality that has sparked nationwide demonstrations.

The president’s posture comes as he has sought to energize his conservative political base in response to polls that show diminishing public approval over his handling of both the racial justice protests and the coronavirus pandemic. After framing his police executive action as an effort to balance the interests of victims’ families and police officers, Trump has sided squarely with the law enforcement community, reinforcing widespread skepticism about his commitment to addressing complaints of racial bias and systemic abuses in police departments that have harmed African Americans.

In short, he’s made his choice. He’s with the white folks and their Confederate flag:

In a town hall-style event with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, Trump asserted that federal authorities had made hundreds of arrests since the protests began. In fact, authorities have charged about 125 people with federal crimes, according to a Justice Department tally released Friday afternoon.

Trump cited a recent spate of community violence in Chicago and told Hannity that city is more dangerous than Afghanistan. He said living in Baltimore; Oakland, Calif.; and Detroit is “like living in hell.”

And he touted the “stop-and-frisk” policing policies established two decades ago in New York City by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, now Trump’s personal lawyer.

Lawsuits stopped those policies. That was no more than targeting black residents. Trump sees no problem with that. This election will be about saving the Old South:

“President Trump will always stand for law and order, which is the only way to ensure peace on our streets,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said in a statement. She accused Democrats of “calling for defunding our brave police officers, caving to mob rule, and promoting cancel culture which seeks to erase our history. The president speaks for Americans who want safety and security to prevail.”

No one will erase the gallant Confederacy and the South will rise again! Trump rallies are wall-to-wall Confederate flags already. Expect one to fly at the White House soon.

What is Trump up to? Well, someone did ask:

Sean Hannity traveled with President Donald Trump to Green Bay, Wis., for a Fox News town hall, and asked him this good question: “What’s at stake in this election as you compare and contrast, and what are your top priority items for a second term?”

This is as standard a question as a sitting president can get. Why should we give you another four years, and compare yourself to your opponent.

And here’s his response:

Well, one of the things that will be really great, you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word experience is a very important word. It’s a very important meaning. I never did this before – I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington I think 17 times, all of the sudden I’m the president of the United States. You know the story, I’m riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and I say, “This is great.”

But I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York.

Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes, like you know an idiot like Bolton, all he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to kill people.

What? This will not make anyone run out and vote for him. There’s nothing there to vote for, and the pro-Trump editorial board of the Wall Street Journal was already saying this:

As of now Mr. Trump has no second-term agenda, or even a message beyond four more years of himself. His recent events in Tulsa and Arizona were dominated by personal grievances. He resorted to his familiar themes from 2016 like reducing immigration and denouncing the press, but he offered nothing for those who aren’t already persuaded.

Mr. Trump’s advisers have an agenda that would speak to opportunity for Americans of all races – school choice for K-12, vocational education as an alternative to college, expanded health-care choice, building on the opportunity zones in tax reform, and more. The one issue on which voters now give him an edge over Mr. Biden is the economy. An agenda to revive the economy after the pandemic, and restore the gains for workers of his first three years, would appeal to millions.

Perhaps Mr. Trump lacks the self-awareness and discipline to make this case. He may be so thrown off by his falling polls that he simply can’t do it. If that’s true he should understand that he is headed for a defeat that will reward all of those who schemed against him in 2016. Worse, he will have let down the 63 million Americans who sent him to the White House by losing, of all people, to “Sleepy Joe.”

They’re almost in tears over this, but Paul Waldman heard exactly what Trump said to Hannity:

Presidential campaigns are often characterized as an extended job interview, an imperfect analogy at best. But imagine you were interviewing a candidate for a job, you asked him what he wanted to accomplish in the position, and he answered you the way President Trump did when Sean Hannity asked him on Thursday, “What are your top priority items for a second term?”

“Thanks for coming,” you’d say to this job applicant. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

But he could win again, and Waldman sees this:

If Trump does win in November, it will not be in a landslide election that sweeps Republicans in on his coattails. It will be by a hair – in fact, chances are that if he were to win, it would once again be by squeaking out an Electoral College victory while millions more people vote for his opponent. Democrats would hold the House and could win the Senate, if not this year, then in 2022.

The Democrats would continue to investigate him, and he would continue to act as though Congress were inherently illegitimate and had no right to subpoena the administration, demand documents or compel testimony.

America’s influence and image in the world would continue to weaken, making it far more likely that China becomes the world’s preeminent superpower.

Throughout the country, social unrest would likely increase as Americans grow more and more frustrated with Trump’s toxic rule, and of course, he would do everything in his power to exacerbate division and promote hatred, not because he needs to in order to win another election but because it’s just who he is.

His spectacular mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic could result in the deaths of a quarter-million or so of us before the virus is brought under control. And if we’re lucky, there won’t be another crisis of that magnitude for him to screw up just as badly.

This would be more of the same:

Back in 2016, Trump predicted that when he became president, “We’re going to win so much that you’re going to be sick and tired. You’re going to say, ‘Please, please, Mr. President, we’re sick and tired of winning.'”

He was right about one thing: We’re certainly sick and tired.

How did that happen? Ezra Klein offers this:

In 2016, Trump ran as an outsider because he was an outsider. He had never been a mayor, a member of Congress, or a governor; there was no record of governance for him to defend. He experienced politics as many Americans do – as televised entertainment – and brought the skills of a television reality star to the campaign. It was enough.

But Trump never changed his approach. He has continued to treat the presidency as a media spectacle, the work of governance as a dull distraction from the glitter of celebrity. He obsesses over cable news and Twitter conflict and neglects the job Americans hired him to do. And so now he does have a record: More than 120,000 dead from Covid-19 – and counting. An economy in shambles. Coronavirus cases in America exploding, even as they fall across the European Union.

“Governing has been so little on the mind of this administration from the very beginning that it’s created a bizarre, extraordinary situation,” says Yuval Levin, director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “The president thinks so much about what he’s doing in terms of the show he’s putting on that there’s been very little attention paid to how the government is functioning.”

He was supposed to be great, and yes, wishful thinking got us here:

A strong economy that carried over from Barack Obama’s presidency hid Trump’s dereliction of duties. But then a crisis came, and presidential leadership was needed, and the American people saw that there was no plan, and functionally no president.

Every insider account of Trump’s presidency – from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury to Bob Woodward’s Fear to Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s A Very Stable Genius to Anonymous’ A Warning to Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged to John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened – has painted fundamentally the same picture: a chaotic, lawless administration orbiting around a reckless, distractible, corrupt, overmatched, and disinterested chief executive.

There is no secret being revealed here. These insider accounts match what is on display, daily, for the public. On Wednesday, for instance, the United States passed a new high in confirmed coronavirus cases: more than 37,000 in a single day. Thursday morning found Trump tweeting angrily at Fox News personality Ed Henry, who said Trump held a Bible upside down after gassing protesters in Lafayette Park. “It wasn’t upside down,” Trump insisted. Later, he took aim at former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who “lost so badly to me, twice in one campaign, that she should be voting for Joe.” After that, Trump tweeted “The Obama/Biden Administration is the most CORRUPT in HISTORY!” Later, he simply shouted into the digital ether, with no context, “LAW & ORDER!”

This is a man losing it:

Trump is holding rallies maskless and settling old scores on social media. It is, to put it generously, a strategy against self-interest. And it suggests that what Trump did in 2016 was not a strategy at all: It was his sole way of being in the world, a mode that happened to match that moment, even as it’s failing him in this one.

“What does the dog do when it catches the car?” asks Levin. “Turns out the dog just keeps running and barking. I had this thought in the Lafayette Square madness. Trump puts on this show. And then he gets there and has nothing to do. He’s just standing there. His whole presidency is like that.”

He is just standing there, and perhaps wishful thinking did get us here. But that could be said of everything that has happened so far. Wishful thinking got us. It always does.

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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1 Response to Wishful Thinking Got Us

  1. Rick says:

    Why should all Americans, even the ones that like him, refuse to vote for Trump in November?

    It’s really quite simple. We have three huge simultaneous crises going on right now, and all of them caused by him, mostly because he likes to be in control of everything, which is why he doesn’t seem to ever recognize any problems that are not of his own making:

    * First, there’s all those nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests, with rioting and burning and looting thrown in — probably mostly by outside kibitzers, horning in — none of which would have happened had he attended to what Colin Kaepernick was trying to tell us years ago about the chronic mistreatment of black people in this country, especially by the police.

    Trump tried to let America off the hook by turning that into an issue of “patriotism” and “respect for the flag and the military”, which a competent president might, at the very least, have been able to handle at the same time as he addressed what Kaepernick was talking about, which was recognizing the problem and trying to fix it — which is what a president Hillary would have done, which we know because she campaigned on the issue.

    But Trump couldn’t do that, of course, because he didn’t really see it as a problem, so he sided with the cops — or at least the “bad apples” among them, assuming that was the case.

    * Likewise, Trump screwed up Covid-19 badly, first of all by pretending it was not going to be a problem for America, which was just the first domino to fall. He finally got off to a late start dealing with it, if in fact he has been dealing with it, stumbling between saying it’s up to the states to do it themselves, then declaring that he’s in charge after all, then back again.

    And now he insists that he and his people have been doing a spectacular job, despite the fact that, with only 4% of the world’s population, our country has 25% of all the world’s Covid-19 deaths! And that’s not a fact he can escape by blaming it, as Pence does, on the First Amendment of the Constitution, which the VP seems to argue gives all Americans the right to kill themselves, even if it means taking down hundreds or even thousands of Americans with them.

    * And finally, the economy. Trump inherited a great one from Obama, which he kept taking credit for without contributing much to it other than failed trade wars, until he dropped the ball completely by mishandling our huge health crisis, by not knowing enough about the country he accidentally became the minority-president of to know that he was supposed to be in charge of guiding the states to safety.

    One of his most blatant missteps was in thinking that, if we were to suddenly open the free market again, everything else would just take care of itself, and getting people back to work was more important that saving their lives!

    Had he taken the management of this seriously, he’d have taken care of the money — not stimulus money to open up businesses, but food-and-rent-and-whatnot money to tide everyone over, allowing folks to stay safe at home until the virus was effectively beaten, and the curve was flattened into virtual nonexistence, as has happened in other countries.

    And about all these deaths, which he and his people seem to think are not as important as the First Amendment? Hey, Americans have freedom of speech protection, but that doesn’t keep people from suing someone for libel, and winning! Someone else’s constitutionally-protected freedom shouldn’t mean a death sentence for you and me!

    And as for the “relatively few” lives lost to Covid not being enough to care about, when it comes to protecting the freedom of Americans to do what they want?

    Hell, two-thousand four hundred three deaths at Pearl Harbor was enough to get us into World War II the very next day, and just under three-thousand deaths on 9/11 got us into war with Afghanistan (and arguably also Iraq), so why do we allow a minority of nutcase-Americans who think it’s okay for 125,000 (and counting) of their fellow countrymen (that’s 52 Pearl Harbors!) to die just to defend their constitutional right to not be told they have to wear a face mask in Trader Joe’s, to prevent us from fighting full-bore against this damn pandemic?

    Because too many Americans don’t like to be told what to do are too lazy to care what happens to their fellow countrymen, the rest of us are forced to do everything we can just to keep from coming anywhere within breathing distance of them, lest we keel over dead, bequeathing this nice planet to their useless ilk? That just doesn’t seem right!

    If we are to somehow get rid of this American malignancy, maybe it will be because just the right number of voters come to their senses about what he’s done to this country in the last four years, and this time try to not accidentally do what they accidentally did back in 2016.

    Rick

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