Just the Sniffles

So, was the president wrong about most everything and angry and defensive and a bit unhinged? Check your Facebook feed. He was brilliant and everyone is always picking on him, and they should all back off, or better yet, just shut up, right now. This is the high school class of 1965 – now retired and living in Florida or wherever – and almost all Trump folks. Mexican gangs! Muslim gangs! Muslim Mexican gangs! Black people! They repost “news” items just before Facebook takes those items down. But really, that troll farm in St. Petersburg is pretty damned inventive. Black Lives Matter gangs beating white folks to death everywhere! Black Lives Matter gangs burning down every house in California where someone is flying the American flag! Black Lives Matter has infiltrated McDonalds and Burger King and all the rest, and those Black Lives Matter people are flipping burgers back there, and putting poison in those burgers – to kill white people – so look carefully. If you see black folks doing food prep, anywhere, run! We’re all gonna die! And of course, if Biden wins, the next day all the black and brown people in America will rise up and kill every white man and white woman and white child in America, and only Trump can stop this.

That new interview didn’t bother them at all, but there’s more to the world than Facebook. Philip Rucker is the Washington Post’s White House Bureau Chief and Felicia Sonmez is their national political reporter covering breaking news. She used to work for Agence France-Presse and the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, reporting on that part of the world – strange governments run by odd strongmen. Some of this might have been familiar to her. The two of them saw this:

President Trump said in an interview aired Sunday that the rising number of U.S. deaths from the coronavirus “is what it is,” defended his fumbled management of the pandemic with a barrage of dubious and false claims, and revealed his lack of understanding about the fundamental science of how the virus spreads and infects people.

Making one of his biggest media appearances in months – an hour-long, sit-down interview with “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace – Trump was visibly rattled and at times hostile as he struggled to answer for his administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 137,000 lives in the United States.

On a range of other topics, including the racial justice movement and the Confederate flag, the president positioned himself firmly outside the political mainstream. And Trump suggested he might not accept the results of November’s general election should he lose because he predicted without evidence that “mail-in voting is going to rig the election.”

In short, they saw an angry and dangerous and isolated man who didn’t know much about anything, with the power to do great harm, lashing out. And specifically, they saw this:

Trump – whom aides say no longer attends coronavirus task force meetings because he does not have time – showed himself to be particularly misinformed about the basics of the virus that has been ravaging the nation for more than four months.

Confronted by Wallace with a chart showing that the number of coronavirus cases last week more than doubled from the spring peak in April, Trump replied: “If we didn’t test, you wouldn’t be able to show that chart. If we tested half as much, those numbers would be down.”

It was the usual. Administer more tests and you’ll uncover more cases of infection. That might be useful information. But that’s also why the statistics on infection show a real crisis. That may be the only reason why. Administer fewer tests and you’ll uncover fewer cases of infection, and there’d be nothing to worry about and people would just go about their business and the nation would be back to normal in a day or two. Do you want to know things or do you want things normal again in the morning? The argument is a bit absurd but Trump keeps making it. Rucker and Sonmez note that there’s now new detail:

By the president’s logic, that assumes people contract the virus only if they test positive, ignoring the fact that many people are asymptomatic carriers and unknowingly spread the contagion without taking a test or being reported.

Wallace later explained to Trump that the number of tests has increased by 37 percent but the number of cases has shot up by 194 percent. Trump replied, “Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test. Many of them – don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases, they’re going to get better very quickly.”

Ah, no:

Though people in their 20s and 30s, who make up a growing proportion of cases, have been hospitalized at a lower rate than older people, many still have suffered severe illness and some have died.

And the hospitals are filling up, unless that’s fake news and no one is really sick, because this is just the sniffles. But where did the national media find all these fake doctors and fake patients and find a way to stage all these hospital scenes night after night? Check your Facebook feed.

That won’t do. There’s more to the world than Facebook:

A growing number of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found 38 percent approve of his performance and 60 percent disapprove. The same survey found Biden leading Trump by double digits nationally, 55 percent to 40 percent.

What? Team Trump panicked:

In an attempt to regain their political footing, Trump and his aides recently have sought to divert attention from the soaring number of coronavirus cases by focusing on the rate of deaths. In the Fox interview, Trump falsely asserted, “I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.”

“It’s not true, sir,” Wallace replied. “We had 900 deaths on a single day just this week.”

Trump shouted to aides hovering nearby: “Can you please get the mortality rates?”

That was a bad move:

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany quickly presented Trump with data she said was from Deborah Birx, a physician and the White House coronavirus response coordinator, backing up his claim.

“Number one low mortality fatality rates,” Trump claimed.

At that point, Fox interrupted the taped interview for Wallace to explain to his viewers that according to data from Johns Hopkins University, the United States ranked seventh among 20 countries in mortality rate, worse than Brazil and Russia. The White House relied on European data showing Italy and Spain doing worse than the United States but Brazil and South Korea doing better. The White House chart did not include Russia and other countries doing better, according to Wallace.

They did that in real time, an actual fact-check? That was cold. Trump gave up:

When Wallace pointed out that coronavirus deaths in the United States were still about 1,000 a day, Trump said: “It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape, they should’ve never let it out, but it is what it is.”

China did it. Don’t bother me, kid, China did it. And that’s that. But he was on top of this:

Trump reiterated his long-held theory that the virus would somehow “disappear,” a claim not grounded in scientific fact.

“I will be right eventually,” Trump told Wallace. “You know I said, ‘It’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again. It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right. You know why? Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”

That’s one of those tautological arguments that eats its own tail. He will be right because he will be right, right? Wallace didn’t want to get into a discussion of classic logical fallacies. Wallace let that one go. There were other issues:

Trump declined to say whether he found the Confederate flag offensive and defended what many Americans view as a symbol of slavery, racial oppression and treason.

“When people proudly have their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism,” Trump said. “They love their flag. It represents the South. They like the South. People right now like the South.”

Wallace followed up: “So you’re not offended by it?”

“Well, I’m not offended either by Black Lives Matter,” Trump replied. “That’s freedom of speech. You know, the whole thing with cancel culture, we can’t cancel our whole history. We can’t forget that the North and the South fought. We have to remember that, otherwise we’ll end up fighting again.”

He seemed to be saying that people are far too touchy about slavery and racial oppression and treason. These things happen. And after all, he was not offended by the words Black Lives Matter except that three weeks earlier it was this:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday called New York City’s decision to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on Fifth Avenue a “symbol of hate,” rebuking his home town’s embrace of a rallying cry that has stirred nationwide protests against racism.

Wallace didn’t mention that. There were other issues:

Trump also teased the possibility that he might not accept the election results if he were to lose, jeopardizing America’s tradition of a peaceful transfer of power between presidents.

When Wallace asked Trump whether he considers himself a “good” or “gracious” loser, the president replied that he doesn’t like to lose. Then he added, “You don’t know until you see. It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do.”

For weeks now, Trump has claimed without evidence that the rise in voting by mail in many states makes voting susceptible to widespread fraud.

“Are you suggesting that you might not accept the results of the election?” Wallace asked.

“No,” Trump responded. “I have to see.”

Later in the interview, pressed on whether he will accept the results, Trump again declined to say. “I have to see,” he said.

This was unambiguous. He was saying that he, not Congress or the courts or anyone else, had the power to declare the election rigged and invalid, without any need to produce evidence, and to simply remain in office. He would decide. And then he’d let the American people know what he had decided. This would be his decision, not theirs.

That prompted this:

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates responded to Trump’s remarks in a statement: “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

That may be so, but he would still be commander-in-chief of all branches of the entire military if anyone tried anything. He’d order the military to stop that nonsense. They’d have to obey his commands, right? Trump didn’t extend his argument that far. He just said that he is the one who gets to decide this next election.

That was alarming, and then things got comic:

Trump sought to portray Biden as mentally vacant, telling Wallace that he did not want to characterize his opponent as “senile” but positing that “Joe doesn’t know he’s alive” and is “mentally shot.”

Trump then challenged Biden to a cognitive test, which the president characterized as exceedingly difficult. During a physical exam in 2018, Trump took the Montreal Cognitive Assessment – which includes animal pictures and other simple queries aimed at detecting mild cognitive impairment such as dementia – and has regularly boasted about it since.

Wallace told Trump that he tried the test himself after hearing the president brag about passing it. Wallace said “it’s not the hardest test,” adding that one of the questions on the version he took was to properly identify a picture of an elephant.

“I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions,” Trump said. “I’ll bet you couldn’t. They get very hard, the last five questions.”

“Well, one of them was count back from 100 by seven,” Wallace said, adding: “Ninety-three.”

At that point Wallace was just toying with him, but the New York Times team of Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman covers the political damage Trump is doing:

President Trump’s failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak and his refusal to promote clear public-health guidelines have left many senior Republicans despairing that he will ever play a constructive role in addressing the crisis, with some concluding they must work around Mr. Trump and ignore or even contradict his pronouncements.

Yes, that had to happen:

In recent days, some of the most prominent figures in the GOP outside the White House have broken with Mr. Trump over issues like the value of wearing a mask in public and heeding the advice of health experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whom the president and other hard-right figures within the administration have subjected to caustic personal criticism.

They appear to be spurred by several overlapping forces, including deteriorating conditions in their own states, Mr. Trump’s seeming indifference to the problem and the approach of a presidential election in which Mr. Trump is badly lagging his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., in the polls.

That will do it, and that’ll isolate Trump even more:

Once-reticent Republican governors are now issuing orders on mask-wearing and business restrictions that run counter to Mr. Trump’s demands. Some of those governors have been holding late-night phone calls among themselves to trade ideas and grievances; they have sought out partners in the administration other than the president, including Vice President Mike Pence, who, despite echoing Mr. Trump in public, is seen by governors as far more attentive to the continuing disaster.

“The president got bored with it,” David Carney, an adviser to the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, said of the pandemic. He noted that Mr. Abbott, a Republican, directs his requests to Mr. Pence, with whom he speaks two to three times a week.

Someone has to run the country. Trump can’t be bothered. Mike Pence will cover for him, setting these particular Republicans free:

A handful of Republican lawmakers in the Senate have privately pressed the administration to bring back health briefings led by figures like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who regularly updated the public during the spring until Mr. Trump upstaged them with his own briefing-room monologues. And in his home state of Kentucky last week, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, broke with Mr. Trump on nearly every major issue related to the virus.

Mr. McConnell stressed the importance of mask-wearing, expressed “total” confidence in Dr. Fauci and urged Americans to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Mr. Trump has ignored or dismissed.

“The straight talk here that everyone needs to understand is: This is not going away until we get a vaccine,” Mr. McConnell said on Wednesday, contradicting Mr. Trump’s rosy predictions.

He didn’t really need to say the words. Our party’s leader is a fool. He said what he said, but this was not going well:

In the final days of June, the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, a Republican, joined other governors on a conference call with Mr. Pence and urged the administration to do more to combat a sense of “complacency” about the virus. Mr. Herbert said it would help states like his own if Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence were to encourage mask-wearing on a national scale, according to a recording of the call.

“As a responsible citizen, if you care about your neighbor, if you love your neighbor, let us show the respect necessary by wearing a mask,” Mr. Herbert said, offering language to Mr. Pence and adding, “That’s where I think you and the president can help us out.”

Mr. Pence told Mr. Herbert the suggestion was “duly noted” and said that mask-wearing would be a “very consistent message” from the administration.

But no such appeal was ever forthcoming from Mr. Trump, who asserted days later that the virus would “just disappear.”

Yes, there’s only so much you can do with this man, so be direct about things:

A few Republicans have grown more open with their misgivings about Mr. Trump’s approach, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who said this month that he would require people to wear masks at any Trump rallies in his state. After issuing a broad mask mandate last week, Mr. Hutchinson said on the ABC program “This Week” on Sunday that an “example needs to be set by our national leadership” on mask-wearing.

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, in an interview on “Meet the Press” on NBC, did not answer directly when asked if he had confidence in Mr. Trump’s leadership in the crisis. Mr. DeWine said he had confidence “in this administration” and praised Mr. Pence for “doing an absolutely phenomenal job.”

And of course such talk is pointless:

With only a few exceptions, Republicans have avoided direct confrontation with Mr. Trump. They’ve come to view public criticism as an exercise in political futility – one guaranteed to produce a sour response from Mr. Trump without any chance of changing his behavior.

So, if all of this pandemic stuff is just the sniffles to this president, form a shadow government that deals with the actual problems:

A group of Republican governors have for months held regular conference calls, usually at night and without staff present, according to two party strategists familiar with the conversations. Unlike the virus-focused calls that Mr. Pence leads, there are no Democratic or White House officials on the line, so the conversations have become a sort of safe space where the governors can ask their counterparts for advice, discuss best practices and, if the mood strikes them, vent about the administration and the president’s erratic leadership.

That will have to do for now, but that’s not everything:

The Trump administration is trying to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill, people involved in the talks said Saturday…

One person involved in the talks said Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but that certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely. Some White House officials believe they have already approved billions of dollars in assistance for testing and that some of that money remains unspent.

Ah, they’re just trying to save money, but Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog sees this:

Just about everything that’s appalling about Trump is on display here. The narcissism. The indifference in the face of ordinary people’s suffering. The belief that everyone operates in bad faith, the way he does. The lengths he’ll go and the harm he’ll do to others to avoid being shamed – another battle in a war he’s been fighting with his long-dead father for seventy years. The inability to master concepts that would be comprehensible to a reasonably intelligent eight grader.

Why do we want to test and trace? Because readily available tests with rapid return of results make it possible to identify and isolate not only sick people but those they might have infected, thus limiting the spread of the virus and ultimately reducing transmission to a low level. If you do it right, you can obtain Trump’s Holy Grail, a reopened economy.

But this isn’t about that:

I see no evidence that Trump even understands how all this is supposed to work. He doesn’t merely oppose testing and tracing – he doesn’t understand why advocates want to do it.

Or, more accurately: Narcissist that he is, he believes that the testing-advocates’ real motive is to harm him.

And that makes him VERY angry, so this is much more than it seems:

Senate Republicans had drafted a proposal that would allocate $25 billion in grants to states for conducting testing and contact tracing, as well as about $10 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and about $15 billion for the National Institutes of Health, according to a person familiar with the tentative plans, who cautioned that the final dollar figures remained in flux. They had also proposed providing $5.5 billion to the State Department and $20 billion to the Pentagon to help counter the virus outbreak and potentially distribute a vaccine at home and abroad.

But in talks over the weekend, administration officials instead pushed to zero out the funding for testing and for the nation’s top health agencies, and to cut the Pentagon funding to $5 billion, according to another person familiar with the discussions.

In short, no one anywhere gets a dime more to fight this bullshit, this pandemic that the president says is really just sniffles, but Trump chose the wrong word:

The suggestions from the administration infuriated several Republicans on Capitol Hill, who saw them as tone deaf, given that more than 3.7 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and many states are experiencing spikes in cases.

This cannot end well:

Both parties remain far apart on a number of critical policy areas, including whether to maintain expanded unemployment insurance benefits, which include an additional $600 per week. Democrats have said they will accept no less than the $3 trillion proposal House Democrats pushed through their chamber in May, while Republicans are eyeing closer to $1 trillion in new spending and aim to prioritize “kids, jobs, health care and liability protection,” according to Mr. McConnell.

But the suggestions from the administration, according to two officials familiar with them, also included funding priorities unrelated to the spread of the coronavirus, including constructing a new building for the FBI, a longtime priority for President Trump. The administration also suggested eliminating a proposed $2 billion allocated to the Indian Health Service, which is responsible for providing medical care to more than half of the nation’s tribal citizens and Alaska Natives, who have been devastated by the pandemic and are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

What is the president going to say next, that the Confederate flag is the real flag of the United States, the country of white people who want to keep the country white, and that the only good Injun is a dead Injun, like in the old cowboy movies? He’s already said this pandemic is bullshit. Almost all of those people just have the sniffles. That’s all that is.

Who is with him on this? Check your Facebook feed. It’s those people, no one else.

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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