Something Like What Once Was

Sunday was fine. There was football – pandemic football with the schedule suddenly shifting as this team and that shuts down for a few days when someone tests positive for that virus. And there was baseball – the Dodgers are going to the World Series – at an isolated neutral site in Texas with hardly anyone in the stands. But life goes on, in an odd sort of way, more or less. Everyone’s faking something like what once was. But everyone is tired, and getting angry, and a bit confused. The New York Times covers that:

As the coronavirus continued to surge in many parts of the United States, officials and experts offered starkly different outlooks on Sunday about what was to come and when the situation might improve.

Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, noted that many people had grown tired of pandemic precautions, and tried to paint an optimistic picture of how much longer they would be needed.

“Hang in there with us,” he said on Sunday on the NBC program Meet the Press. “We’re so close. We’re weeks away from monoclonal antibodies for you, for safe and effective vaccines. We need a bridge to that day.”

“Please,” Mr. Azar said, “give us a bit more time of your individual, responsible behavior,” referring to hand washing, wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

Things will get better. Just hang in there, just a little longer. Do what must be done. And don’t do anything stupid, like giving up. But giving up did make a bit of sense:

Any notion that life in America might be returning to normal within weeks, or even within a few months, was too hopeful, other officials and experts said. The public health strategies with which the public is fatigued will be needed for some time to come, even after new drugs and vaccines can be approved. And compliance with those strategies is already spotty.

The statistics are headed the wrong way: More than 70,450 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States on Friday, the highest figure since July 24, according to a New York Times database, and more than 900 new deaths were recorded. Case counts are rising in 41 of the 50 states, with much of the worst news in the Great Lakes region.

Despair might be appropriate:

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the public did not know whom or what to believe about how soon a vaccine would be available. Communicating clearly and credibly with the public is just as important as the science, Dr. Osterholm said, because slowing the spread of the virus depends on individuals taking the right precautions.

With infections rising and compliance eroding, “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic,” he said on Meet the Press.

So, wear that mask, or maybe not:

Twitter on Sunday removed a tweet from one of President Donald Trump’s top Covid-19 advisers, which falsely claimed that masks don’t work to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The tweet no longer appeared on the site Sunday morning, replaced with a note saying “This Tweet is no longer available” and a link to Twitter’s rules and policies explaining why the company removes or limits certain posts.

The tweet in question, posted Saturday by Dr. Scott Atlas, read: “Masks work? NO: LA, Miami, Hawaii, Alabama, France, Philippines, UK, Spain, Israel…”

Later Sunday, the coordinator of the Trump administration’s testing response, Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, tweeted: “#Masks work? YES!”

Which is it? It doesn’t matter. Trump was infuriated. This was his one medical expert who, like a real man, would prove that Fauci and all the rest of those people, all the girly-men experts, were wrong, and his one guy all alone was right:

Trump has leaned on Atlas in recent months, preferring his advice over that of other advisers, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Atlas, a neuroradiologist who isn’t an expert in infectious diseases, gained attention after he made a number of appearances on Fox News. He has pushed more aggressively to reopen sectors of the economy, and he is regularly seen at the White House without wearing a mask.

Trump saw him on Fox News. Trump brought him into the White House as his very own expert, to counter all those other irritating experts. This pandemic, or any pandemic, is not Atlas’ field, but that didn’t matter to Trump. He’s a doctor, isn’t he?

But that wasn’t good enough. Trump decided to be a bit more explicit:

President Donald Trump mocked Joe Biden on Sunday for trusting scientists about Covid-19 shortly after Biden lambasted the president for continuing to “lie” about the state of the pandemic.

Speaking at a rally in Carson City, Nevada, Trump imitated the former vice president, saying he would “listen to the scientists.”

“If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression,” Trump said. “We’re like a rocket ship.”

He then attacked the Democratic governors of several states who have put in place measures to stop a likely second wave of Covid-19.

“Get the places open, let’s go,” he said.

There, he said it. Science is stupid, and he’s not, and no American should be stupid. Screw science. Open up everything, completely, no masks, no precautions, no nothing. Things will be fine, if all American sneer at this virus and show this virus who’s the boss here.

That’s the theory, such as it is:

At a campaign stop earlier Sunday in Durham, North Carolina, Biden highlighted rising Covid-19 case counts, which reached their highest single-day total since late July on Friday, before pointing to recent remarks Trump has made downplaying the virus.

“Yet, the other night, Trump said in one of his rallies, ‘we’ve turned the corner,’“ Biden said. “As my grandfather would say, this guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner. Turn the corner? Things are getting worse. He continues to lie to us about the circumstances.”

Is he lying? He thinks he’s telling the absolute truth:

Trump has in recent days said repeatedly that the country is “rounding the corner” when it comes to the pandemic.

“We are rounding the corner and we have – unbelievable,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Janesville, Wisconsin. “The vaccines are unbelievable. Except for a little politics. We have unbelievable vaccines coming out real soon. And the therapeutics are unbelievable.”

He believes that. Everyone else is more cautious. But that’s not him. There was the other Sunday story:

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) hammered into her condemnation of President Trump’s incendiary rhetoric a day after the President blasted her for the COVID-19 restrictions she implemented, which prompted chants of “lock her up” from his supporters.

During his Michigan rally on Saturday night, Trump laughed and grinned as he snarked: “Lock her up? Lock them all up!” echoing his supporters’ chants of “lock her up.” The President has recently complained that Whitmer should be more appreciative of the FBI thwarting an alleged right-wing conspiracy to kidnap and possibly kill her – a gripe he made as he attacked the Michigan governor in a flurry of tweets earlier this month.

Shortly after Trump delivered his remarks, Whitmer condemned the President for his incendiary remarks to his supporters in a tweet on Saturday night: “This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop.”

And then there was Sunday morning:

Whitmer doubled down on her condemnation of Trump’s remarks and appeared to echo her previous argument that the President’s refusal to condemn hate groups only incentivizes them, during an interview on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“It’s incredibly disturbing that the President of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial, and execute me,” Whitmer said. “10 days after that was uncovered, the President is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism. It is wrong. It has got to end.”

And here was her plan:

Whitmer called on the public to come together to join her in condemning Trump’s remarks.

“People of good will on both sides of the aisle need to step up and call this out and bring the heat down,” Whitmer said. “This is the United States of America. We do not tolerate actions like he is giving comfort to and that’s why we all have to be in this together.”

And she was told to stop whining:

Pressed on the President’s amplification of his supporters’ “lock her up” chants the morning after during an interview on CNN, Lara Trump piggybacked off of her father-in-law’s talking point that his Department of Justice “actually thwarted this attack against” the Michigan governor.

After saying that the alleged plot against Whitmer is “awful” and that “no one should ever have this thing happen to them,” Trump echoed the President by arguing that “people are frustrated around America” and in Michigan, particularly, when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions…

The President’s daughter-in-law also denied that Trump was doing anything to “provoke” people to threaten Whitmer and quipped that “he was having fun at a Trump rally.”

No one, after all, would act on what he says, right? Ah, but really, no one could blame them if they did:

Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller, asked about whether the President has any regrets about his incendiary remarks toward Whitmer during an interview on Fox News Sunday, denied the notion as he repeated Trump’s call for the Michigan governor to “open up your state.”

“No, not at all,” Miller said. “The fact of the matter is that many residents of Michigan are pretty frustrated with the governor.”

Miller went on to add that he’s “glad that President Trump’s DOJ was able to get these psychopaths and put them away,” referring to the 14 charged suspects in the foiled kidnapping plot targeting Whitmer, before reiterating that “people in Michigan want to get their state open back up.”

Miller tried to keep that ambiguous. No one should do what these guys were planning to do, but really, who could blame them if they actually did do what they had planned to do?

This is a bit dangerous. The New York Times had covered that:

The arrest of more than a dozen right-wing extremists who are accused of targeting the governors of Michigan and Virginia is only the latest example of threats of violence, in some cases egged on by President Trump, that loom over the final weeks of a historically divisive race.

In rural Iowa, Laura Hubka, the Democratic chair of Howard County, recently took out a concealed-carry gun permit after signs for Democratic candidates in her region were vandalized with bullet holes and she was personally threatened, she said.

In central Wisconsin, Tom Stepanek’s wife sat him down last month at the kitchen table and warned him that the president might not accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost in November. “Are you sure you want to be doing this?” she asked her husband, who is the chair of the Waushara County Democrats and had also been threatened. “You’re going to be a target here,” she told him.

In Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Burdick, a Trump supporter who owns a gun store with her husband in red-hued Mercer County, said, “Sales have been crazy.”

“People are afraid,” she said. “They’re afraid of what’s going to happen” after the election if Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, wins.

That might be the idea. That might be a Trump election strategy, or given his causal approach to political matters, it might just be a side effect of his whims. But it does the job:

With polls showing the president behind Mr. Biden nationally and in key states, Mr. Trump has descended into rants about perceived enemies, both inside and outside his administration, triggering in his staunchest supporters such fears for the outcome – possibly a “stolen” election, maybe a coup by the far left – that he is emboldening them to disrupt the voting process, according to national security experts and law enforcement officials.

Yes, they’re worried:

In a report released this month describing threats to the United States, analysts at the Department of Homeland Security warned of potential plots that mirror the schemes in Michigan and Virginia thwarted by the FBI…

The president has called on supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” a phrase that some security experts interpret as a call to take up arms and patrol polling stations. During the first presidential debate, he alerted the Proud Boys, a group associated with white supremacy, to “stand by.”

“It’s so concerning the president just doesn’t seem to have any kind of guard rails between what he thinks at the spur of the moment and what he says or writes,” said Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of homeland security. “We’ve seen it in the rise of these right-wing militia groups and it’s almost as if implicitly he’s giving them permission to take whatever action they want up to and including kidnapping a sitting governor.”

Perhaps he doesn’t have any kind of guard rails between what he thinks at the spur of the moment and the business of being president, but that may be a good thing. That might ruin his chances of winning a second term. That’s what Jonathan Martin argues here:

In the week since he restarted in-person campaigning, Mr. Trump has continued to prove he is his own biggest impediment by drawing more attention to himself each day than to Mr. Biden.

The president is blurting out snippets of his inner monologue by musing about how embarrassing it would be to lose to Mr. Biden – and how he’d never return to whatever state he happens to be in if its voters don’t help re-elect him.

He’s highlighting his difficulties with key constituencies, like women and older voters, by wondering out loud why they’ve forsaken him, rather than offering a message to bring more of them back into his camp.

And perhaps most damaging, to him and other Republicans on the ballot, he is further alienating these voters and others by continuing to minimize the pandemic and attacking women in positions of power.

One of those would be Gretchen Whitmer:

Michigan Republicans, already struggling to avoid an electoral debacle in a state that has been returning to its Democratic roots in elections since Mr. Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, were again forced to answer for the president’s penchant for targeting high-profile women there.

“She was literally just targeted,” Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the Michigan House and a leading state Republican, said of Ms. Whitmer. “Let’s debate differences. Let’s win elections. But not that.”

In a sign of how reluctant Republicans are to criticize Mr. Trump, though, Mr. Chatfield lamented the audience’s chant but noted that the president himself hadn’t repeated “lock her up” (ignoring that he did say “lock them all up” in response to the audience).

Nothing is easy for Republicans these days:

With Republicans desperate to reframe the election as a choice on policy differences, Mr. Trump, with his rhetorical outbursts, is effectively ensuring that the campaign remains a referendum on his conduct. That’s what alarms GOP candidates and strategists, who fear that even the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is no match for Mr. Trump’s daily exercise in self-sabotage.

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns looked into that:

The president’s calendar of events is packed through Election Day, with aides predicting a thrice-a-day rally schedule in the final weeks of the race. When Mr. Trump contemplates the prospect of defeat, he does so in a tone of denial and disbelief: “Could you imagine if I lose?” he asked a crowd Friday.

In private, most members of Mr. Trump’s team acknowledge that is not a far-fetched possibility.

Away from their candidate and the television cameras, some of Mr. Trump’s aides are quietly conceding just how dire his political predicament appears to be, and his inner circle has returned to a state of recriminations and backbiting.

That’s what self-sabotage looks like:

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is drawing furious blame from the president and some political advisers for his handling of Mr. Trump’s recent hospitalization, and he is seen as unlikely to hold onto his job past Election Day.

Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, has maintained to senior Republicans that the president has a path forward in the race but at times has conceded it is narrow.

Some midlevel aides on the campaign have even begun inquiring about employment on Capitol Hill after the election, apparently under the assumption that there will not be a second Trump administration for them to serve in.

It is not clear how appealing the Trump campaign might be as a résumé line for private-sector employers.

But they do know the problem:

Among some of Mr. Trump’s lieutenants, there is an attitude of grit mixed with resignation: a sense that the best they can do for the final stretch is to keep the president occupied, happy and off Twitter as much as possible, rather than producing a major shift in strategy.

Often, their biggest obstacle is Mr. Trump himself.

Instead of delivering a focused closing message aimed at changing people’s perceptions about his handling of the coronavirus, or making a case for why he can revive the economy better than Mr. Biden can, Mr. Trump is spending the remaining days on a familiar mix of personal grievances, attacks on his opponents and obfuscations. He has portrayed himself as a victim, dodged questions about his own coronavirus testing, attacked his attorney general and the FBI director and equivocated on the benefits of mask-wearing.

Rather than drawing a consistent contrast with Mr. Biden on the economy, strategists say, the president’s preference is to attack Mr. Biden’s son Hunter over his business dealings and to hurl personal insults like “Sleepy Joe” against a candidate whose favorability ratings are much higher than Mr. Trump’s.

Who’s in charge of this mess? That’s easy:

In some respects, the trajectory of Mr. Trump’s campaign in its final weeks reflects longstanding structural weaknesses and internal divisions.

From the start, the campaign has never had a dominant strategist — that role has always been played by a president with a dim view of the political professional class. In an interview in July with The New York Times, Jared Kushner, a White House adviser and the president’s son-in-law, was candid about who was in charge of the 2020 race: Mr. Trump, he said, was “really the campaign manager at the end of the day.”

This is his own show. He does what he feels comfortable doing, and he is comfortable with the familiar. CNN’s Kevin Liptak explains that:

He’s gathered the same people. He’s attempting a similar schedule. He even believes he’s found an equivalent 11th-hour scandal – and equivalent Russian disinformation questions have followed.

All that’s missing is the airplane.

A superstitious politician and a lover of routine, President Donald Trump is actively working to replicate the atmosphere that culminated in his 2016 victory, convinced if the same pieces are in place as he barnstorms battlegrounds at breakneck pace – just like he did last time – the lightning-in-a-bottle results will follow.

He has even taken to thinking wistfully of his jet, a Boeing 757 painted red and gold, that he used to crisscross the country during the frenzied final stretch of 2016.

This is nostalgia as strategy:

As he makes a final push for a second term, Trump wants to replicate the heady last days of his only previous political campaign, even though he is now the incumbent and the political calculus has shifted dramatically. But this time, Trump seems more aggrieved at what has happened to him than what has happened to the base of people who support him.

Jetting across the country this weekend, the collection of advisers joining him in the cramped forward cabin aboard Air Force One included veteran 2016 advisers Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino and Hope Hicks, who Trump convinced to return to his orbit eight months ago. Absent were some of the more recent additions to his circle, notably his chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Old friends are the best friends, and old ways are the best ways:

Once seemingly out of reach because of the viral pandemic ravaging the country, Trump has insisted his signature campaign rallies proceed, convinced they are what propelled him to office the first time around. They have grown larger as the calendar ticks toward November 3, though are unlikely to ever match the tens of thousands who once came to hear him speak.

That’s okay. There’s the glorious past:

The President has often lamented that his political efforts since entering the White House have felt staid compared to his efforts four years ago, people who have spoken to him said, weighed down by the massive apparatus that accompanies any president and saddled with an incumbent’s responsibilities.

Trump has fondly recalled those final 2016 campaign days as the last when he was unburdened by the job he eventually won, and wants to feel the same excitement of his first go-around. He enjoys reminiscing about what it was like in the days before the election — and recounts Election Night 2016 at nearly every rally he attends.

“That beautiful night, four years ago, was at the greatest of all time, probably the greatest night in the history of television,” Trump said on a blustery tarmac in Janesville, Wisconsin, on Saturday night as a crowd roared in approval. “We had so much fun. The tears that were flowing – remember the tears?”

Former officials also say Trump has a superstitious streak and believes if the circumstances of his campaign are similarly aligned – from the people to the rallies to the rhetoric – he might eke out a victory again.

He may be mistaken:

The burdens of being the incumbent, saddled with problems like the coronavirus pandemic and a stalled economy, have changed how Americans view him. And what was once a novel political approach -to air openly the grievances that politicians have long sought to stoke only tacitly – now seems to many observers like a tired act.

And that tired act might be over at last.

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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