Donald Trump fooled the nation not that long ago. Donald Trump has been telling quite a story since he floated down the gold escalator in his golden building on Fifth Avenue, with his stunning silent third wife by his side, the Slovenian Sphinx, and announced he would be our next president. Mexicans would be gone. We’d build a great wall. Mexico would pay for it – and no Muslim would ever enter the country again, until we found out what the hell was going on – but everyone knows Muslims just hate us. And whatever Obama had done he would undo, and make America great again. It would be 1953 in Peoria again – and by the way, Vladimir Putin was a fine man and our friend, and all our allies have been ripping us off and we’d humiliate them all now. Donald Trump understands the power of narrative. That was quite a story, but now all of that seems odd. This is a weak man pretending to be strong, longing to be as strong as Putin or young Kim over there in North Korea. And his bold firm views on this and that – his sure and commanding presence – now seem to be borrowed. Anyone can jerk him around – Putin and Kim have – as have oddballs who pop up on Fox News only to disappear a week or two later. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell had the cure of Covid-19 and then he didn’t and was gone. Trump didn’t mention him again. Tucker Carlson shrugged.
But when things get tough, Trump gets a bit desperate, because he doesn’t know much about much of anything, and he dare not admit that to anyone. That would ruin the narrative. He’s a bold strong stable genius, after all. But he does need someone to help him out with that imaginary person he invented long ago. He needs someone to bail him out. He needs someone to save his ass. Someone has to say he knows everything and he’s right about everything. Putin says that now and them. Trump puffs out his chest and beams. Trump misses the irony. Trump will eventually pull the United States out of NATO to prove his genius. Trump is being used. But he’s puppy-dog grateful.
Almost four years of this has been disastrous, of course, but now this may kill hundreds of thousands of us. He’s found someone to tell him he’s right and everyone else is wrong, so he can then tell that to the American people. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa have great sources and they tell how this final disaster is unfolding:
As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.
Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.
Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.
In short, Trump has found his man. Trump need not panic now. All his insecurities vanished, and all the work done on these matters, so far, was for nothing, or so it seemed:
Discord on the coronavirus task force has worsened since the arrival in late summer of Atlas, whom colleagues said they regard as ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest. As the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx is tasked with collecting and analyzing infection data and compiling charts detailing upticks and other trends. But Atlas routinely has challenged Birx’s analysis and those of other doctors, including Anthony S. Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, with what the other doctors considered junk science, according to three senior administration officials.
But it was Trump’s science. Trump just needed someone to tell the world that Donald Trump has been right all along about everything. And now resistance is futile:
Birx recently confronted the office of Vice President Pence, who chairs the task force, about the acrimony, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Birx, whose profile and influence have eroded considerably since Atlas’s arrival, told Pence’s office that she does not trust Atlas, does not believe he is giving Trump sound advice and wants him removed from the task force, the two people said.
But that man was useless:
In one recent encounter, Pence did not take sides between Atlas and Birx, but rather told them to bring data bolstering their perspectives to the task force and to work out their disagreements themselves, according to two senior administration officials.
The result has been a U.S. response increasingly plagued by distrust, infighting and lethargy, just as experts predict coronavirus cases could surge this winter and deaths could reach 400,000 by year’s end.
And then there’s sabotage:
Birx and Fauci have advocated dramatically increasing the nation’s testing capacity, especially as experts anticipate a devastating increase in cases this winter. They have urged the government to use unspent money Congress allocated for testing – which amounts to $9 billion, according to a Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee aide – so that anyone who needs to can get a test with results returned quickly.
But Atlas, who is opposed to surveillance testing, has repeatedly quashed these proposals. He has argued that young and healthy people do not need to get tested and that testing resources should be allocated to nursing homes and other vulnerable places, such as prisons and meatpacking plants.
Epidemiologists say surveillance testing is how you tell what the hell is going on, and where. Scott Atlas is radiologist, not an epidemiologist, and says none of that matters – just get everyone back to work and back to school. Remember, Trump is right. Trump is always right.
Trump loves that kind of talk:
After Trump came home from the hospital this month, he all but promised Americans that they could soon be cured from the coronavirus just as he claimed to have been. In a video taped at the White House on Oct. 5, he vowed, “The vaccines are coming momentarily.”
Then, at a rally last Tuesday night in Johnstown, Pa., Trump told supporters, “The vaccines are coming soon, the therapeutics and, frankly, the cure. All I know is I took something, whatever the hell it was. I felt good very quickly… I felt like Superman.”
But that’s not real-life:
On the same day that he declared “the cure” was near, Johnson & Johnson became the second pharmaceutical giant, after AstraZeneca, to halt its vaccine trial. A third trial, a government-run test of a monoclonal antibody manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co., was also paused. Each move was prompted by safety concerns.
And on Friday, Pfizer said it will not be able to seek an emergency use authorization from the FDA until the third week of November, at the earliest, seemingly making a vaccine before Election Day all but impossible.
But it was all bullshit anyway:
Trump’s notion of a vaccine as a cure-all for the pandemic is similarly miraculous, according to medical experts.
“The vaccines, although they’re wonderful, are not going to make the virus magically disappear,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who is president of Resolve to Save Lives. “There’s no fairy-tale ending to this pandemic. We’re going to be dealing with it at least through 2021, and it’s likely to have implications for how we do everything from work to school, even with vaccines.”
Frieden added: “Remember, we have vaccines against the flu, and we still have flu.”
What is Trump supposed to do with that? Scott Atlas isn’t saving him, or his narrative of strength and genius, but if Scott Atlas can’t save him there all alternatives. He can do the job himself:
President Trump dismissed precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and attacked the nation’s top infectious-disease expert as a “disaster” Monday, arguing that people are getting tired of all the focus on a pandemic that has killed more than 219,000 Americans and continues to infect thousands of people in communities across the country.
The president claimed that voters do not want to hear more from the country’s scientific leaders about the pandemic, responding angrily to a critical interview Sunday night with CBS’s “60 Minutes” by Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Trump said in a call with his campaign staff Monday that was intended to instill confidence in his reelection bid two weeks before Election Day. He baselessly suggested that Fauci’s advice on how best to respond to the outbreak was so bad it would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people.
Baselessly? Yeah, he made that up, but that’s his story and he’s sticking to it:
“And yet we keep him,” Trump continued, calling in from his Las Vegas hotel. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci is a disaster.”
Later in the day, the president again attacked Fauci, mocking him for his botched ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day and misrepresenting some of the doctor’s positions on the coronavirus in tweets.
Scott Atlas turned out to be a bit of a quack and a jerk, so Trump will do the job himself:
Trump’s comments and his aggressive travel schedule, which continued Monday with two stops in Arizona as Democratic nominee Joe Biden was at home in Delaware, is part of a broader and more aggressive bet that the American public will reward his projection of strength and general defiance toward the virus, which hospitalized the president and infected many of his top aides this month.
He argued Monday that the American people were no longer interested in taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
That’s the bet. People have always been in awe of his strength and general defiance of anything and everything. That’s how he won in 2016 and how he wins again. But this isn’t that year:
The president’s comments come as infection rates have been rising in recent weeks, with national daily infection rates returning to midsummer levels. Polled voters continue to give Trump poor marks on his handling of the pandemic, and nearly 2 out of 3 voters said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried that they or a family member might catch the virus, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month. Eight percent said an immediate family member has been infected.
The bet is that his awesomeness will make voters forget all that. Biden is toast. But no, he isn’t:
Trump tried to tie Biden to Fauci on Monday – a connection his Democratic rival said he welcomed.
“He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci,” Trump said of Biden at the rally.
Biden responded to the attacks with a statement that said he considered the claim that he would listen to scientists “a badge of honor.”
The next debate should be lively, but don’t expect another debate:
On Monday afternoon, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien wrote a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, seeking to move the conversation in the final debate away from domestic issues such as the coronavirus to foreign policy issues. Trump’s aides have made clear that the president wants to talk about the foreign business dealings of Biden’s younger son, Hunter. Trump and his allies have also repeatedly claimed that the debate commission, which is bipartisan, is being unfair to him even though its rules apply equally to both candidates and the terms of the face-to-face events were negotiated in advance with both campaigns.
A few hours later, the commission said that it will mute Trump’s and Biden’s microphones during parts of the debate at Belmont University in Nashville. The 90-minute debate will be broken into six 15-minute segments, each with a different topic. The commission said it will give Trump and Biden two minutes apiece to speak uninterrupted at the start of each segment. A period of “open discussion” will follow until the next segment begins.
Trump’s campaign has repeatedly opposed the idea of granting the moderator the power to shut off a candidate’s microphone – an idea that has been floated in the aftermath of the first debate, during which Trump repeatedly interrupted and jeered at Biden.
The Trump campaign said it plans to go ahead with the debate despite “last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.”
No, give Trump a day to fume about this. No one cuts HIM off! He’ll cancel. That’ll show strength and general defiance. That’s the narrative. That’s his life’s story. That’s his brand. He’ll win the election in a landslide.
But that might not be true. Dylan Stableford just saw Trump’s strength and general defiance in action:
With just days to go before the election, President Trump has a lot of things on his mind. And water pressure for toilets appears to be one of them.
In a lengthy digression during his rally in Carson City, Nev., on Sunday, Trump claimed that Americans have to “flush their toilet 15 times” due to restrictions on water usage.
“You know what really bothers me? When you go into a new hotel or new house, they have these faucets, and you turn them on and no water comes out,” the president said. He then launched into an eight-minute story about water flow and American appliances that included its own aside about his support among women and the 2016 electoral map.
“So, you go into a hotel or you buy a house, and they have what’s called the restrictor. Right? Look at them. They’re all nodding. Same thing, by the way, same thing with your dishwasher. I freed that up too. The dishwashers, they had a little problem,” the president said.
“They didn’t give enough water, like, so people would run them 10 times, so they end up using more water. And the thing’s no damn good. We freed it up. Now you can buy a dishwasher and comes out and beautiful. Go buy a dishwasher. Go buy it. Those companies. I said, ‘What’s wrong with this thing? It doesn’t clean the dishes.’ Right? The women come up to me, the women who they say don’t like me, they actually do like me a lot. Suburban women, please vote for me. I’m saving your house.”
By the strength of his iron will he forced a change in plumbing manufacture, which didn’t really happen, but no one was checking. Presumably, this makes him a hero:
After reminiscing about watching CNN’s John King dissect some of his surprise victories in battleground states on election night in 2016, Trump told the crowd he wanted to get “back to my very boring story about faucets and dishwashers.”
“So, I said to the head, I called up a great dishwasher company from Ohio that we saved, by the way, I said, ‘What’s the problem with your dishwasher?’ ‘Well, they don’t give us any water. I mean, you know, it’d be nice to be able to get enough water.’ ‘What’s the problem?’ ‘We need more water,’” the president recalled.
“Like I said, ‘How much do you need this? Would you like more?’ ‘Well, I’d love more. Will you give us more?’ ‘Yeah. I’ll give you more. You have so much water, you don’t know what to do with it.’ Right? So, we gave them what they need. And now the dishwashers are incredible. They work beautifully. And you go one time and you come back and our dishes are nice and beautiful and clean and dry. You don’t have to go 10 times. The same thing with the restrictors in the faucet.”
Is any of this true? No one was scrambling to find out. It wasn’t important. Trump was being Trump. Let him strut and preen, and also rag on the press:
At one point in his diatribe, Trump suggested reporters would focus on the word “toilet” if he used it.
“I hate to say the three things. It’s the shower, it’s the sink, and you know the third element in the bathroom. But I don’t say it, because every time I say it, they only talk about that one,” Trump said, pointing to the media section.
“Because it’s sort of gross to talk about, right? So, I won’t talk about the fact that people have to flush their toilet 15 times. I will not talk about it. I’ll only talk about showers,” he continued. “This way they can’t report it.”
He wins! They lose! And there’s this:
“So, what happens, I called my people, environmental people: ‘Why are we doing this?’ Because when you wash your hands it takes five times longer,” he explained. “You get soapy, you can’t get it off. I said, ‘Open it up.’ They said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Take the restrictors off.’”
The president added: “You ever get under a shower and no water comes out? And me, I want that hair to be so beautiful.”
Who is this strange man? Politico reports this:
President Donald Trump was in the middle of receiving a highly classified briefing on Afghanistan at his New Jersey golf club when he suddenly craved a malted milkshake.
“Does anyone want a malt?” he asked the senior defense and intelligence officials gathered around him, an august group that included the head of the CIA’s Special Activities Center, which is responsible for covert operations and paramilitary operations. “We have the best malts, you have to try them,” Trump insisted, as he beckoned a waiter into the room where code-word classified intelligence was being discussed.
The malt episode, which took place a few months after Trump took office in 2017, became legendary inside the CIA, said three former officials. It was seen as an early harbinger of Trump’s disinterest in intelligence, which would later be borne out by the new president’s notorious resistance to reading his classified daily briefing, known as the PDB, and his impatience with the briefers, current and former officials said.
But wait, there’s more:
What initially seemed like mere boredom – which demoralized intelligence officials but could potentially be managed by including pictures and charts in briefings to hold the president’s attention – later morphed into something the officials saw as more sinister: an interest in wielding intelligence as a political cudgel. Whether selectively declassified by spy chiefs he installed for their loyalty, or obscured from congressional and public scrutiny if it conflicted with his preferred narrative, intelligence became just another weapon in the president’s arsenal.
This is a worry:
Trump’s actions, and the endless partisan battles over the Russia probe and impeachment, have left the intelligence community bruised and battered. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s advisers and allies in Congress are already thinking about what a heavy lift it will be to restore morale inside the agencies, legitimacy on Capitol Hill and public trust in the intelligence community’s leadership should Biden defeat Trump in November, according to more than a dozen people close to the candidate.
“This will be among the most important things a President Biden would need to do – and that he’ll want to do – immediately,” said Tony Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under Barack Obama and is a top adviser to the Biden campaign.
Biden has some work to do:
Trump’s prevailing attitude toward the intelligence community, current and former officials said, has been that he knows better – and that the agencies therefore need to be constrained to better align with his priorities.
He has also repeatedly made clear his distrust of the intelligence community, from comparing them to Nazis before he was even inaugurated to discarding their analysis of Russia’s 2016 election interference in favor of Vladimir Putin’s denials. He often uses quotation marks around the word “intelligence” in his tweets to signal his disdain. And he has been reckless with classified information, from revealing highly sensitive secrets about ISIS to the Russians in the Oval Office to tweeting out sensitive images of Iran taken by one of the U.S.’s most advanced spy satellites.
And then there’s the other guy:
Biden served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for a decade before entering the White House and was rarely seen in his West Wing office without a copy of the PDB under his arm, his former aides said.
And that Biden guy listens to Fauci and the scientists too. Damn! What’s wrong with that guy? What about strength and general defiance?
There’s nothing wrong with that guy. There’s something wrong with the other guy. General Defiance seems to be a Saturday morning cartoon character.