Just Ride It

Of course the nation is confused. Those on the right now must think that the “deep state” coopted Donald Trump, turning his mind to mush and making him a puppet of the international cabal of Jewish bankers who have always really run the world. Those on the left side of things must think that someone slapped Donald Trump upside the head and finally slapped some sense into him. The three Americans in the political middle, somewhere in Iowa, didn’t know what to think. They never do.

But the man changed his mind:

Days after President Trump said he hoped the country would be “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, he instead announced on Sunday an extension of federal guidance on social distancing through April, in a continued effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It was an abrupt reversal for the president, who last week tweeted that “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” amid a volatile stock market and record applications for unemployment benefits. He made comparisons to car crashes and “a very bad flu season,” downplaying the virus’s potential death toll.

But public health experts widely scoffed at Trump’s idea of packed churches and bustling businesses by Easter on April 12. The nation has reached more than 136,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 2,400 related deaths – with numbers continuing to climb across the country. New York continues to be hit particularly bad, eclipsing 1,000 confirmed deaths related to the coronavirus on Sunday.

So, he gave in, but he didn’t give up:

Calling his previous statements targeting Easter “just an aspiration,” Trump said he now expects the COVID-19 death rate to peak in two weeks, around the same time as the holiday.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Trump said at an evening news conference in the White House Rose Garden. “That would be the greatest loss of all.”

Trump said that by June 1, he expects the country “will be well on our way to recovery.”

He was laying out what now seem to be the rules: Don’t take me seriously, because I’m just thinking out loud, but great things might happen, you never know!

That’s an odd sort of leadership given the facts at hand:

The president’s comments came after a top medical adviser to the White House and state governors said in television interviews Sunday that they could not envision an easing soon of measures designed to slow the virus’s spread, warning that the outbreak will continue taxing hospitals and could kill thousands more people.

Anthony S. Fauci, the White House adviser, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that models suggest the virus could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths and that millions of people could be infected. But he stressed that the 200,000 figure was a worst-case estimate that is unlikely to come to pass.

In the Rose Garden on Sunday, Trump compared those numbers favorably with the more than two million deaths forecast as a worst-case scenario had the nation not taken strict measures to respond to the virus. If coronavirus-related deaths remained under 200,000, he said, “We all together have done a very good job.”

He did mutter something about how he changed his mind because a study that no one had known about previously had just come up – do nothing and more than two million Americans would die. That’s why he suddenly changed his mind. He didn’t mention that all of them in the administration had known about that study for more than two weeks – but no matter. He changed his mind.

But he resented that:

He said the economic impacts of the crisis as businesses are forced to close down would be felt in rising suicides and drug abuse.

“You’re going to have mental depression for people,” he said. “You’re going to have large numbers of suicides. Take a look at what happens in a really horrible recession or worse. So you’re going to have tremendous suicides.”

He added that “you will see drugs being used like nobody’s ever used them before, and people are going to be dying all over the place from drug addiction.”

That was his attack. Those doctors and epidemiologists think they know so much, but he knows more. But there is the reality of the thing:

While New York has seen by far the worst of the virus so far, the governors of Maryland, Louisiana and Michigan said in television interviews that their states’ health systems were at risk of becoming overburdened. The three states could become the next hot spots as cases climb in the Washington suburbs, Detroit and New Orleans.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the president’s comments about reopening the government and business were unhelpful, conflicting with governors who are urging people to hunker down.

“The virus is going to dictate the time frame, and we’re going to follow the advice of the scientists and doctors,” Hogan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We don’t see any way we’re going to be opening up in a couple of weeks.”

“In two weeks, around Easter, we’re going to be looking a lot more like New York,” Hogan said.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that officials were seeing numbers “climbing exponentially.”

“We see this astronomical rise,” said Whitmer, who has attracted Trump’s ire in recent days by criticizing the lack of federal assistance. “We’ve got hospitals that are already at capacity, we’re already running out of [supplies] as well.”

Whitmer added: “We’re going to be in dire straits again in a matter of days.”

They already knew what Donald Trump had suddenly discovered on Sunday:

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) warned that his state had only a few days’ runway before becoming overwhelmed. By the end of the week, he said on ABC News’s “This Week,” New Orleans will be at capacity on ventilators. Next, he warned, area hospitals will be out of beds.

“We remain on a trajectory, really, to overwhelm our capacity to deliver health care,” he said.

Edwards said the state has ordered 12,000 ventilators from both the national stockpile and private options but has received only 192.

And CNN had a particular problem with this sudden conversion:

On two occasions during Sunday’s coronavirus briefing, President Donald Trump falsely denied he had said words he had said publicly last week. When PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor noted that the President had said he did not believe that governors actually need all the equipment they claimed they did, Trump said, “I didn’t say that” – even though he said precisely that on Fox News on Thursday.

Later, when CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond noted that Trump had said he wanted governors to be “appreciative” of him, and that “if they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said, “But I didn’t say that” – even though he said precisely that at the Friday briefing.

Well, the man does say things:

Trump falsely denied that he claimed governors from certain states are asking for equipment they don’t need. At Sunday’s briefing, PBS Newshour’s White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked the President whether he felt his comments and belief “that some of the equipment that governors are requesting they don’t actually need” would have an impact on the federal distribution of ventilators and other medical resources. As Alcindor attempted to finish her question, the President interjected, “I didn’t say that,” before going on to say it wouldn’t have an impact.

Ah, no:

He did say that. On March 26 during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said, “a lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need” specifically in reference to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and following a tirade against Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Trump later said he felt Cuomo was requesting an unnecessary number of ventilators. “I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be,” Trump said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”

When Alcindor noted that she was quoting from the President’s interview with Hannity, Trump said: “Take a look at my interview. What I want to do is if there is something wrong, we have to get to the bottom of it.”

Nope, that’s not what he said, and there’s this:

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond began a question to Trump as follows: “I’d also like to ask you about some comments you made on Friday. You were talking about governors of different states and you said, ‘I want them to be appreciative.’ You also said, ‘if they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.'” After Diamond said the words “if they don’t treat you right,” Trump said, “But I didn’t say that.” When Diamond finished the sentence, Trump said “I didn’t say that” once more.

Ah, no:

Trump did say what he claimed he didn’t. As Diamond told Trump, Diamond was reading direct quotes from Trump’s Friday briefing. Trump went on to argue Sunday that he was being taken out of context, noting that on Friday he had also said of his “I want them to be appreciative” comment that he was talking about people other than himself.

This went on and on, and went nowhere, because he will deny everything, even if it’s on tape, but his Sunday morning tweet might have caused this problem:

“President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise…”

He was quoting a New York Times article about him. He was proud that he was so awesome, and Kevin Drum had this reaction:

More than 2,000 people have already died and Anthony Fauci estimated this morning that the final death toll would be 100-200,000. In the midst of this, Trump is busy insulting the CEO of GM; fighting with governors he doesn’t like; dithering about the Defense Production Act; declining to bother with a plan to tell manufacturers of medical goods where to ship their stuff; explicitly warning that people have to treat him nicely or they won’t get any federal assistance; claiming that he’s going to quarantine New York and then backing off; lying endlessly about the state of testing; and now bragging about the ratings of his press briefings.

From any other human being on the planet this would be considered deranged behavior. Can you imagine what we’d be saying if it were Saddam Hussein bragging about his TV ratings in the middle of a pandemic? But from Trump it’s just normal.

But something can be done about this:

This is yet another reason why the cable nets need to stop carrying Trump’s briefings live. We already know that they’re full of misinformation, but now we even know why: Trump cares only about high ratings, and he knows he has to amp up the eccentricity every day to get it. That’s what motivates him, not a desire to provide information to the public.

And he does do that:

President Donald Trump alleged that a New York hospital lost protective masks or even allowed them to be stolen, questioning how demand for the product could have spiked so rapidly during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump cited no evidence and didn’t identify the hospital. At a news conference Sunday in the White House Rose Garden, after the chief executive officer of medical distributor Owens & Minor Inc. said that one of its customers had gone from using 10,000 to 20,000 masks a week to 200,000 to 300,000, the president suggested a criminal reason.

“How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000 – 10 to 20,000 masks to 300,000 – even though this is different? Something’s going on, and you ought to look into it, as reporters,” Trump said.

“Where are the masks going – are they going out the back door?” he added. “Somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see from a practical standpoint how that’s possible to go from that to that, and we have that happening in numerous places.”

Why do these people need more masks than they needed last year at this time? He has no idea, but the press needs to find out! Maybe all “you” useless reporters can finally do something useful!

He really stuck it to all the reporters there, but this might have been a bad idea:

Personal protective equipment is all that separates medical personnel from becoming patients themselves, Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said in a statement.

“New York’s health care workers are treating exploding numbers of COVID-19 patients around the clock – willingly and without complaint. My daughter, an ICU nurse at a New York City hospital, is one of them,” Raske said. “They deserve better than their president suggesting that PPE is ‘going out the back door’ of New York hospitals.”

His daughter is not a thief! None of the doctors are! Trump just shrugged. He didn’t know. He was just saying’ – as he does.

This leads to some odd decisions, as Charlie Sykes notes here:

Jerry Falwell Jr. is nothing if not loyal to President Donald Trump.

This past week, a few thousand students and professors returned to Liberty University’s main campus in Virginia despite the widening coronavirus pandemic. Even though many of the classes will be held online, students have been invited to come back to their residential halls and the faculty has been told to report to work on campus.

Falwell, who is the president of the conservative Christian school, defended his decision by insisting that “99 percent of students are not at the age to be at risk and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”

Ah, no:

That, of course, is factually untrue: young people are not immune. Indeed, last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than a third of U.S. patients ill enough to be hospitalized were ages 20 to 54. And of course, even young people who do not become seriously sick can pass the disease to others.

But the science isn’t the point. The public show of loyalty is, and there are few supporters who are more fervently and reflexively loyal to Trump than Falwell. It is a revealing and dangerous moment: What could have been an opportunity for national unity has instead become an occasion to open new political schisms and deepen old ones. Decisions that would normally be made on the basis on apolitical scientific fact are increasingly driven by tribal loyalties.

That’s rather obvious:

As long as possible, much of the Trump-friendly media will continue to downplay the severity of the pandemic, but when that is no longer possible, they will easily pivot to blaming others, especially the Chinese. Trump, after all, became president by blaming the nation’s woes on “others” – immigrants and foreigners. He can also rely on the fierce loyalty of followers for whom protecting Trump no-matter-what is the prime directive.

Perhaps the most extraordinary shift, however, has been the change in conservatives’ attitude toward human life. As he had backed away from the shutdown, Trump warned that “cure” of the shutdown may be worse than the “disease.” In the worst case scenarios, though, the disease could kill 2.2 million Americans.

This poses an obvious challenge for a party that has long prided itself on being pro-life. As they have scurried to keep up with Trump, many Republicans now seem ready to embrace the idea that hundreds of thousands of lives may have to be sacrificed to revive the gross domestic product.

There was this:

The conservative Catholic magazine, First Things, lashed out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for saying that “if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

In an article headlined, “Say No to Death’s Dominion,” R. R. Reno, the magazine’s publisher, derides what he calls Cuomo’s “disastrous sentimentalism.”

“There are many things more precious than life,” he writes.

And this:

“Is it right for the nation to require our children’s futures be destroyed to keep alive less than one percent of our population until the next flu season?” asked writer Joy Pullman in The Federalist. “My point here is not that I like people dying,” Pullman wrote. “It’s that very often our society chooses to allow deaths because the alternative is worse.” (The Federalist also published a story that suggested holding “chickenpox parties” to deliberately spread the disease to boost immunity to the disease. The advice was so medically unsound it resulted in the site’s Twitter account being temporarily suspended.)

Radio host Dennis Prager (who also runs Prager University), argued that idea that “the only value is saving a life leads to appeasement… No one can die? Then it’s not a war.”

The New York Times’ Charles Blow has a few things to say about that:

In general, a national crisis benefits the incumbent, if the nation is perceived to be at war against an outside actor. In such cases, there is a predictable nationalistic rallying. Fear becomes an adhesive; heroism becomes an antidepressant. And the president’s bully pulpit is amplified, as networks carry his news conferences and announcements live and the American public tunes in.

People need reassurance, stability and leadership, and changing the person in command in the middle of the process might not appeal to many.

As such, Donald Trump has tried in every way to make fighting the pandemic feel like fighting a war. As he tried to frame it: “We’re at war, in a true sense we’re at war, and we are fighting an invisible enemy.” But an invisible enemy doesn’t work as well as a visible one, so Trump now regularly refers to the virus as the “Chinese virus.”

A nice try but useless:

The problem for Trump is that this actually isn’t a war. It’s a health crisis. The government may attempt to mobilize in some of the same ways it would if the country were actually at war, but a health crisis carries a different psychological freight than a combat war.

A virus is invisible, as Trump originally phrased it, so there isn’t a person or a people to vilify. An invisible army of submicroscopic infectious agents with no mind and no capacity for malice isn’t an enemy that calls up patriotic defensive cohesion.

Calling the virus “the Chinese virus” is the closest Trump can get to a target, to racist, cultural scapegoating.

And that goes nowhere:

The theater of battle is out of sight, due to patient privacy concerns and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations. This war is being waged in hospitals, and the closest most of us will truly get to understanding the gravity and human cost of the situation is from personal testimonials from health care providers.

Here again, the battle differs. In a traditional war, or even a terrorist attack, the front line combatants are public servants, extensions of the government: soldiers, police officers, firefighters.

In the case of a health care emergency, many of those on the front lines are private citizens in a for-profit industry. They may rise, and they have in this case, to true honor, nobility and service, but it is hard for a politician to take credit for their effort and sacrifice.

The idea here is that you cannot lead an army that’s not your army at all and thus be the big hero:

That is a thing that leaders like to do: Find a moment when they can declare a victory, even if the war still rages – George W. Bush on an aircraft carrier standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, or Barack Obama announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden. There is not likely to be such a dramatic moment with this virus unless a vaccine or treatment is quickly developed.

Still, Trump forecasts a victory moment, saying earlier this month, “Americans from every walk of life are coming together and thanks to the spirit of our people, we will win this war and we are, we’re winning and we’re going to win this war.”

Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to grasp the scope of the lethality of the crisis. We see numbers climb, but we rarely see the human representation of those numbers.

There is no battlefield to visit. There is no pile of rubble to climb. There is no communal gathering place. Even if there was a place to gather, gatherings are strictly discouraged during this crisis. There is no collective action, and therefore collective conscience, because we are isolated from one another.

And that leaves Trump with nothing:

Trump needs America to view the fight against the virus as a war against an army unleashed by a foreign power – one over which we will emerge victorious. Only in that light can he emerge as a valiant leader.

Seen the other way, the way it truly is – as a national health emergency during which he has failed by downplaying its significance and lying about his response – it would be a disaster.

And this looks like a disaster for him. Philip Rucker notes this:

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser in the Obama White House, wrote on Twitter that Trump is discovering, “You can’t spin a pandemic. People are sick. People are dying. The media is covering the grim reality of the pandemic and the government’s response, which was laggard. This enrages him.”

But then Rucker also notes this:

The prospect of 2 million deaths seemed to stick with Trump because he repeated the statistic 16 times at Sunday’s news conference. But something else haunted Trump, who in the past has been moved to act by imagery, such as when he ordered strikes in Syria in 2017 after seeing pictures of children gassed by their own government.

This time, it was images of New York’s Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, where the president grew up – a facility he said he knows so well that he can picture the color of its exterior walls and the size of its windows.

“I’ve been watching that for the last week on television body bags all over in hallways,” Trump said. “I have been watching them bring in trailer trucks, freezer trucks – they are freezer trucks because they can’t handle the bodies, there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community in Queens – Queens, New York. I have seen things I’ve never seen before. I mean, I’ve seen them, but I’ve seen them on television in faraway lands.”

He added, “These are trucks that are as long as the Rose Garden and they are pulling up to take out bodies, and you look inside and you see the black body bags. You say, ‘What’s in there? It’s Elmhurst Hospital, must be supplies.’ It’s not supplies; it’s people.”

Oh, so NOW he knows. But there’s also this:

Trump also may have shifted his approach to the pandemic because it is starting to touch close to home. Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trump’s closest ally on the world stage, announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. And Trump on Sunday said for the first time that a friend, whom he did not name, is struggling to fight the disease.

“He’s a little older and he’s heavy, but he’s a tough person, and he went to the hospital and a day later he’s in a coma,” Trump said. “I go, ‘How’s he doing?’ ‘Sir, he’s in a coma. He’s unconscious. He’s not doing well.’ The speed and the viciousness, especially if it gets the right person, it’s horrible. It’s really horrible.”

This was a departure from the flippant way that Trump talked about the impact of the coronavirus just last week. The president drew parallels to the seasonal flu or car crashes, arguing that both are responsible for far more tragedy than the coronavirus.

“You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about,” Trump said March 23. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars.”

But something had slapped him upside the head:

“A lot of people were saying, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do anything, just ride it.’ They say, ‘Ride it like a cowboy. Just ride it. Ride that sucker right through,'” Trump said.

“That’s where the 2.2 million people come in – would have died, maybe – and that’s not acceptable.”

A lot of people were saying don’t do anything? Be a cowboy and ride it out? Just ride it? Who was saying that? That might have been no more than those voices in his head.

That’s okay. He’s not listening anymore.

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To Fight or Flatter

“We are not amused.” Perhaps the rotund and rather severe Queen Victoria never said that. She told her granddaughter, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, that she never said any such thing. But that’s only what Princess Alice said. Who knows?

Queen Victoria should have said that even if she didn’t. That’s the perfect use of the royal we – the majestic plural (pluralis majestatis) – where the speaker is everything both singular and plural. Don’t make that speaker angry. That’s angering the whole universe of everything that’s good and right.

And of course that’s how this week ended with Donald Trump:

After days of desperate pleas from the nation’s governors, President Donald Trump took a round of steps Friday to expand the federal government’s role in helping produce critically needed supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic even as he warned the leaders of hard-hit states not to cross him.

“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said after the White House announced that he would be using the powers granted to him under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to try to compel auto giant General Motors to produce ventilators.

The nation’s governors did not publicly acknowledge his awesomeness. General Motors did not publicly acknowledge his awesomeness. This was not fair:

Trump – who hours earlier had suggested the need for the devices was being overblown – rejected any criticism of the federal government’s response to a ballooning public health crisis that a month ago he predicted would be over by now.

“We have done a hell of a job,” Trump said, as he sent an ominous message to state and local leaders who have been urging the federal government to do more to help them save lives.

Trump said he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to call the governors of Washington or Michigan – two coronavirus hotspots – because of their public criticism. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said.

There were reports that he had told all vendors everywhere not to sell any medical goods or services to Michigan in particular and to stop all current shipments to Michigan even if Michigan had already paid for them in full. Any vendor that did that would never see a federal contract ever again. That seems odd and unfair, and immoral and perhaps illegal, but he was in a foul mood:

Trump had been saying for more than a week that he was reluctant to use the Defense Production Act – even after he invoked it – because companies were already doing what he wanted and he didn’t need arm-twisting to make them comply.

Yet Trump continued to suggest that states’ own failures were to blame for the needed intervention. “Normally these would be bought for states, just so you understand,” he said.

In short, none of this is the federal government’s responsibility, at least as he sees it, even if others do not see that:

The president has been under growing pressure from the nation’s governors to do more to bolster supplies, despite the perceived risks of speaking out. From New York to Washington, they have pleaded with him to use the DPA to force companies to manufacture critical equipment. And they have begged for help in obtaining supplies like masks and testing agents, saying that states have been forced to compete against one another as well as the federal government on the open market, driving up prices, even as federal officials have pledged their help if states fail.

Yes, one state may offer to pay three dollars a unit for surgical masks, but the state next door may offer five dollars a unit. The manufacturers sit back and wait to see how high the bids will go, and wait for more. They’ll get rich. The nation’s governors are screaming about this, but that’s a bad tactic:

The notoriously thin-skinned Trump has not taken well to their criticism. Instead, he has lashed out at governors, continued to diminish the risk posed by the virus and insisted that the federal government was only a “backup” as he looked to avoid political costs from a pandemic that has reshaped his presidency and tested his reelection plans.

He does know this could hurt him:

In a Thursday night interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump declared that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee “should be doing more” and “shouldn’t be relying on the federal government.” He dismissed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s requests for additional ventilators to keep patients alive, saying, “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000” of the devices, which force air into the lungs of those too sick to breathe. And he said he was still weighing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request for a disaster declaration, saying, “We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor from, you know who I’m talking about, from Michigan.”

“You know,” he added from the White House, “We don’t like to see the complaints.”

He did slip into the “royal we” there, unless that wasn’t a slip at all. He was not amused. And there will be hell to pay, although Aaron Blake notes this:

The question is whether Trump is making decisions during that crisis on things that have nothing to do with the details of the actual crisis, or he’s just blowing off steam. Trump did note that Pence still called the governors, despite his direction, so it’s not clear that either Michigan or Washington have actually suffered because of their governors’ comments about Trump.

On GM, though, there is a very valid question about why it was singled out when other car companies and manufacturers haven’t yet been.

Perhaps he was just angry. Nancy LeTourneau, the psychologist and family therapist turned political analyst, offers this reminder:

One of the first articles I read about Donald Trump’s mental health issues was written by Richard Greene. He talked to several psychiatrists about the signs and symptoms related to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). One description stuck with me.

“There are only two ways to deal with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.”

Andrew Cuomo and Gretchen Whitmer know this now. Everyone knows this now. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is still trying to thread the needle on this, and LeTourneau cites Kathleen Ronayne and Jonathan Lamire reporting this:

Facing an unprecedented public health crisis, governors are trying to get what they need from Washington, and fast. But that means navigating the disorienting politics of dealing with Trump, an unpredictable president with a love for cable news and a penchant for retribution.

Republicans and Democrats alike are testing whether to fight or flatter, whether to back channel requests or go public, all in an attempt to get Trump’s attention and his assurances.

At stake may be access to masks, ventilators and other personal protective gear critically needed by health care workers, as well as field hospitals and federal cash. As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., put it, “I can’t afford to have a fight with the White House.”

And there’s Peter Wehner:

For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.

But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.

LeTourneau comments:

That is what happens when we have a president who is “erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy.”

We’ll never know how the coronavirus crisis might have played out under a different president because there is no parallel universe (at least that we know about) where we can watch that possibility unfold.

No, there is a parallel universe, which Maureen Dowd discusses here:

It’s no wonder that watching Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings can make some people crave Chianti and meatballs.

Besides coolly explaining the facts in this terrifying and stultifying plague season, the governor of New York evokes the feeling of a big Italian family dinner table.

And that is the intended effect.

“Call it psychological,” Governor Cuomo, phoning from Albany, tells me. “Call it feelings. Call it emotions. But this is as much a social crisis as a health crisis.”

This man is not a narcissist, he’s Italian, but it’s more than that:

Often in the past, when people called Cuomo patriarchal, it was not meant as a compliment. It was a way to describe his maniacally controlling behavior, his dark zeal to muscle past people and obstacles to get his way. The New York Times’s Adam Nagourney dubbed him the “human bulldozer,” and a former adviser once put it this way: “The governor thinks he’s a hammer. So everyone looks like a nail.”

But now, the darker the zeal, the better, if it secures you a mask or ventilator. Given the White House’s deathly delays and the president’s childish rants, America is yearning for a trustworthy parental figure – and a hammer.

The warm, fuzzy feeling for the cold, calculating pol that developed among many Democrats in the past week was summed up by Bill Maher, who told me: “I see Cuomo as the Democratic nominee this year. If we could switch Biden out for him, that’s the winner.” He added, “He’s unlikable, which I really like.”

That might be another way of saying that Andrew Cuomo doesn’t bullshit people, and that he himself has what Hemingway once said every writer, or perhaps every good man, must have – a foolproof shockproof crap detector. That would explain this:

To the surprise of many who did not associate the name “Andrew Cuomo” with the word “empathy,” the governor has become a sort of national shrink, talking us through our fear, our loss and our growing stir-craziness.

“This is going be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day,” he told officers from the New York National Guard on Friday, charging them to fight this “invisible” and “insidious” beast and “kick coronavirus’s ass.”

Things will not get better next Tuesday afternoon, like magic. This really is going be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day, or worse. Don’t tell a man standing in the rain that it’s not raining. Where did the foolish man saying that grow up anyway?

Dowd knows:

It is more than passing strange that in this horror-movie moment, with thirteen people dying on Tuesday at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and a refrigerated truck parked outside to collect the bodies, the nation’s two most prominent leaders are both Queens-scions. Both men grew up in the shadows of their fathers, the hard-working sons of European immigrants.

The Trump family is a model of bad nepotism – noblesse oblige in reverse. Such is their reputation as scammers that congressional Democrats felt the need to put a provision in the coronavirus rescue bill to try to prevent Trump-and-Kushner Inc. from carving out a treat of their own.

Cuomo-style nepotism at least has better values. Donald Trump got his start with his father discriminating against black tenants in their housing complexes; Andrew Cuomo left his job as a political enforcer for his father, Mario Cuomo, also a three-term governor of New York, and created a national program to provide housing for the homeless.

And yes, there’s that Italian family thing too:

His brother, Chris, hosts a CNN show. The 62-year-old governor goes on it to bicker and banter with his 49-year-old baby brother about everything from the women swooning over Andrew’s machismo style on Twitter – “You know that what people are saying about how you look really can’t be accurate,” Chris teased – to their relative prowess at basketball.

In his briefings, Andrew Cuomo talks about how cabin fever is causing him to get annoyed with his dog, a Northern Inuit named Captain. He talks about stopping his sisters from bringing their kids to see his 88-year-old mother, Matilda, who is “pure sugar” but vulnerable to the virus. He says his mother was a little annoyed when he named a social distancing guideline for the most vulnerable “Matilda’s Law” in her honor.

But this is more than banter:

After Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, suggested that older Americans might be willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their grandchildren’s economy and President Trump buoyantly called for America to reopen as soon as Easter, Cuomo said flatly, “My mother’s not expendable.” He also tweeted: “You cannot put a value on human life. You do the right thing. That’s what Pop taught us.”

At Wednesday’s briefing, he displayed a picture of Mario Cuomo, who died in 2015, amid all the graphs on infections.

“He’s not here anymore for you,” he said, but “He’s still here for me.”

Woody Guthrie wrote that song about Trump’s father:

I suppose
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
Racial Hate
He stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line…

Dowd notes how Cuomo remembers his own father:

He offered a quote from his dad about what government should be: “The idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another’s pain, sharing one another’s blessings – reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race or sex or geography or political affiliation.”

The quote was obviously meant to draw an odious comparison with the Republican in the White House who seems immune to feeling others’ pain.

Dowd, however, likes those who can get things done:

I wrote admiringly about Cuomo’s LBJ-style blend of the velvet glove and the brass knuckles when he did what Barack Obama did not deign to do in 2009 and clawed back millions from the rapacious financiers scarfing up bonuses while they were taking federal bailout money; when he pushed to legalize same-sex marriage in New York in 2011; and when he rammed through a gun control bill after the Sandy Hook children were slaughtered, surpassing Obama’s efforts again.

“It took a terrible political toll on me, but it’s still the best gun law in the nation,” Cuomo says now.

And really, this guy just isn’t Trump:

It is jarring to watch officials like Governor Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who have worked their way up through the system, gaining valuable wisdom, have to delicately deal with Donald Trump, the barbarian who crashed through the gates and who is ignorant about – and disdains – the bureaucracy he leads.

Trump is now using the ego arithmetic he once used to brag about the ratings he got on Larry King’s show or the number of TV cameras he saw at rallies to falsely claim that his administration has done more tests than anyone and that everyone who wants a test can get one. He boasts about having the best tests on earth the same way he used to brag about having the best rolls in the city in the restaurant at Trump Tower.

But there are those who are not narcissists:

The governor got heated on Tuesday about the elusive ventilators Trump kept promising. But in this crisis, Cuomo has put his own enormous ego aside to tend to the president’s, lacing his briefings with whatever praise for Trump is justified, willing to do what it takes to get what New York needs.

The subtext is on vivid display, though, when Cuomo tweets: “Facts are empowering. Even when the facts are discouraging, not knowing the facts is worse. I promise that I will continue to give New Yorkers all the facts, not selective facts.”

The governor also makes a point of praising Fauci, whose honesty has irritated a president who is intent on obscuring science with spin. Cuomo said that through their constant calls, including in the middle of the night, they have become friends and that Fauci is “so personally kind.”

And of course this keeps Trump off-balance:

Trump, who is always alert to great performances by people who look perfectly cast, is well aware of the potency of Cuomo’s briefings. He veers between acting like Cuomo is ungrateful and should “do more” and acting like they are working together very well, depending on how thankful the governor seems for the president’s efforts.

It was clear that Trump did not appreciate Cuomo pushing aggressively and publicly for the president to utilize the Defense Production Act so that New York could get 30,000 ventilators. On Thursday night Trump told Sean Hannity that he had “a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” But then he added, “I’m getting along very well with Governor Cuomo.”

On Friday, the governor hit back. “Well, look, I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. But I don’t operate here on opinion. I operate on facts and on data and on numbers and on projections.”

He implicitly mocked Trump’s tendency to rely on his feelings rather than data. “I hope some natural weather change happens overnight and kills the virus globally,” he said.

And then there was this:

Bizarrely, Trump tweeted Friday that the governor had simply misplaced the ventilators: “Thousands of Federal Government (delivered) Ventilators found in New York storage. N.Y. must distribute NOW!” To which Cuomo responded that the president was wrong and “grossly uninformed.”

Trump knew this wasn’t true at all, but knew that most of his base would believe it was true. Let them. This is how one wins, but Dowd argues that what matters now is the differences in how these two see the role of government and the “identity” of the country:

Cuomo thinks what defines America is its humanity and its welcome mat for the globe. Trump’s view seems to be the economy über alles, even if we have to leave some stragglers on the field.

So on the one side there’s this:

After risibly saying he never does anything rash, Trump insisted: “But the country wants to get back to work, our country was built to get back to work. We don’t have a country where they say, ‘Hey, let’s close it down for two years.'”

He seems to be following the George W. Bush playbook from Hurricane Katrina: Instead of going all in to save lives, he shrugs and says it’s the states’ responsibility: We’re at war with nature; the enemy is overwhelming us, but it’s really the local government that’s in charge, not the feds. “We’re not a shipping clerk,” Trump said, when that’s exactly what the federal government should be when nurses are on TV all day begging for face masks.

And on the other side this:

Unlike Trump, who tries to blame Obama when he’s the one who diluted the pandemic response force, and literally says, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Cuomo regularly says “Blame me” if anything goes wrong.

And that runs in the family:

When I covered Gov. Mario Cuomo, he expressed his disdain for a political Darwinism that was overshadowing the nation’s religious principles.

Once, in an interview in his office in 1991, he got down a copy of Teilhard de Chardin from the bookcase and gave it to me, wanting to make sure I absorbed the lessons of the Jesuit scientist and theologian who wrote: “Accept the burgeoning plant of humanity, and tend it, since without your sun, it will disperse itself wildly and die away.”

He worried that government had strayed too far away from Franklin Roosevelt, another governor of New York who felt a strong economy and compassion for the poor went hand in hand. He worried that America was spending “more money for bombs, less for babies,” as he said in the sonorous baritone that his son inherited. “More help for the rich, more poor than ever.”

And then there’s his son:

He talks about character so much that he can sound like a televangelist at times.

“You can tell the strong from the weak, the selfish from the gracious,” he tells me. “I mean, these nurses who are willing to go take blood at these drive-through centers? What courageous, beautiful people. I have other people who won’t show up for work. I have legislators who say, ‘Well, we’re not coming to the capital.'”

Before the governor gets back to his horrific night shift and a dawn wake-up call, I ask him how this Armageddon, which we know will last for months and months, will affect our identity.

“We’ll have a different country – better or worse, I don’t know,” Cuomo says. “It will have a different personality. It will be more fearful. Less trusting. But maybe there will be a greater need for intimacy.”

It’s hard to imagine Trump thinking about such things, so we have this:

Now Andrew Cuomo is trying to wrest the lifesaving materials he needs from another privileged, pampered guy in the White House who never worries about his worthiness.

But that privileged, pampered guy in the White House is not amused by any of this. He says “we” are not amused. But there’s “we the people” too, and far too many of them are not amused by any of this now. The “royal we” was never going to be useful in America. “We the people” will do just fine.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Useful Blame for Everything

It was just another Wednesday night in Washington:

The Senate on Wednesday evening rushed to pass a $2.2 trillion emergency relief package that was designed to flood the U.S. economy with money, as households and businesses continue to reel from the coronavirus outbreak.

But shortly after announcing the deal, Senate leaders struggled to fend off a number of last-minute snags, and they encountered various hurdles as they tried to write the bill’s fine print.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) demanded changes to help his state deal with a flood of new virus cases. Four Republican senators on Wednesday said a provision in the bill needed to be fixed immediately or it would incentivize people not to return to work. And House Democrats wouldn’t provide a firm timeline of when they would vote to pass the bill.

That is, there was too little in there to really help with that nightmare in New York, a preview of the nightmare every city and state will face soon enough, and really, if you give the unemployed too much free money they won’t want to work ever again and the nation is screwed, and then some of the House Democrats are going to make trouble. And somehow Trump’s push for an eight-month payroll tax cut turned into the largest emergency relief bill in American history, because it had to turn into that:

Lawmakers and the White House were bombarded with lobbyists and special interest groups seeking assistance during the negotiations, and the price tag rose from $850 billion to $2.2 trillion in just a matter of days.

With confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States climbing swiftly to over 60,000 Wednesday with more than 800 deaths, lawmakers acknowledged that no amount of economic relief from Congress could stop the pain for the American public. A surge of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, including 1 million in California this month alone. In addition to layoffs, many workers are dealing with salary reductions or furloughs. And despite Trump’s push to restart much of the economy by April 12, there are growing signs that the drag on business could last well into the second half of the year.

So they threw money at that frightening prospect, a somewhat random unfinished effort:

Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday demanded changes, though it’s unclear how amenable lawmakers might be to any final adjustments. About half of the country’s coronavirus cases are in New York, and the health-care system around New York City is overwhelmed. Many hospitals are still rushing to find masks and other protective equipment. Cuomo said the bill would be “terrible” for his state and added that “we need the House to make adjustments.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave an upbeat assessment of the bill early Wednesday, but the logistics of its passage through the House remained uncertain. Representatives looked likely try to approve the measure by “voice vote,” after concluding that members would like an opportunity to debate. They recognized that it would be difficult to receive “unanimous consent” for the measure because it could be blocked if just one member objects.

But at least this was clear:

The legislation ensures that taxpayer-backed loans cannot go to firms controlled by Trump, other White House officials or members of Congress. This would suggest that Trump-owned properties, including hotels that have been hurt by the downturn, cannot seek taxpayer assistance.

It seems Trump can live with that, or he knows better than to even try for any taxpayer-backed anything. This legislation does not fund the reopening of Trump University.

But what does it do? Heather Long is an economics correspondent for the Washington Post and she had been a senior economics reporter at CNN. She has her sources. She asked them what this legislation does. The answer is not much:

The good news is the majority of the money is going to laid-off workers, small business owners, hospitals and state and local governments. The bad news is it won’t be enough to stop a recession. And it’s an open question whether the nation can avoid an economic depression, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1930s.

“By any measure this is a huge stimulus package. One thing that it cannot stop is the recession that is coming,” said James McCann, senior global economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

It’s too late for that, and Congress was fighting the wrong war, the last war:

Economists say Congress’s response was too slow, too stingy and too focused on big Wall Street firms during the Great Recession, and that prevented a faster turnaround. Many analysts say Congress deserves some credit for doing better this time. This relief package is more than double the $830 billion that Congress passed in 2009. It came together in a few days, and it’s far more targeted at Main Street.

Middle class and low-income Americans are slated to get $1,200 checks (more for people with kids). Small business owners look likely to get access to $10,000 emergency grants and millions in loans. And there’s additional money set aside for the unemployed. It’s looking like only about a quarter of the money will go to large companies this time around, including billions earmarked for Boeing and airlines.

But economists say two key problems remain: Fixing the health crisis and getting money to people in time.

Congress can do nothing about the first problem, which is medical, and little about the second:

Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG, predicts it will take at least six to 10 weeks for the government to get a significant amount of the money disbursed. That’s a long time for laid-off workers and small business owners with no money coming in to wait. It makes it less likely they will bounce back quickly…

James Bullard, a noted economist and head of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, put out a chilling forecast of what’s ahead for the nation in the coming months: He expects 46 million Americans to be unemployed (30 percent of workers), and an unprecedented 50 percent decline in economic output.

President Trump has floated the idea of getting people back to work by April 12. Yet, public health officials don’t think that is realistic and going back too soon could cause a second spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, forcing more shutdowns.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared on the Senate floor Wednesday that “this is not even a stimulus package, it is emergency relief.” Economists agree. This $2 trillion isn’t about boosting the economy. It’s about trying to compensate people for what could be $2.5 trillion in lost business and wages in the coming weeks.

And that’s a best-case scenario. Losses will be deeper if the pandemic lasts into the summer.

Expect that, and since this is about boring economic facts, expect the telling anecdote:

To get a reality check on what’s happening to the U.S. economy, call a small-business owner. Nearly all will tell you that business is severely down – or closed – and they have no clue when that will change. In recent days, most of these owners have talked to anyone they can think of – bankers, insurers, politicians, friends, customers, Small Business Administration officials — about getting a loan or aid. But everyone is waiting to see what Congress does first – leaving business owners fearful they will run out of money before help arrives.

John Russell started the small tech company Webconnex in 2008, but he says this crisis is even harder to navigate than the Great Recession, because it’s so uncertain when it will end or whether the recovery will be fast or slow. His company makes affordable software for fundraising and events and processed about $1 billion in credit card payments last year. Now most of their 2020 events are canceled, leaving almost no money coming in…

Russell has taken an ax to his budget. Advertising spending is gone. He cut up the credit cards. The company managed to end its lease in Sacramento at the end of the month. All trips are canceled. Those decisions are already rippling across the economy, cutting revenue for other businesses.

If he has to do layoffs, like so many restaurants and hotels have, Russell knows the pain will escalate. But taking on a hefty loan right now feels risky given the uncertainty.

Now scale that up:

It’s a similar story for many states and cities hardest hit by the pandemic so far. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, is furious at the latest congressional package, saying about $4 billion in aid is not nearly enough as the state tries to battle the virus and beef up health care and safety personnel during the crisis.

“I’m telling you these numbers don’t work,” Cuomo said to reporters.

It didn’t matter. At midnight it was over – Senate unanimously passes $2 trillion coronavirus aid package, including direct cash payments to Americans – with the House to vote (and pass this) two days later.

And that was that. And no one was happy. And it was time to blame someone for this whole mess. It couldn’t be Trump. Half of the country wouldn’t stand for that. It couldn’t be Obama or Hillary or Hunter Biden. The other half of the country wouldn’t stand for that. It had to be inscrutable devious foreigners:

Foreign ministers representing seven major industrialized nations failed to agree on a joint statement Wednesday after the Trump administration insisted on referring to the coronavirus outbreak as the “Wuhan virus,” three officials from G-7 countries told the Washington Post.

Other nations in the group of world powers rejected the term because they viewed it as needlessly divisive at a time when international cooperation is required to slow the global pandemic and deal with the scarcity of medical supplies, officials said.

But we needed someone to blame, and this wasn’t a big deal:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has brushed off criticism of his use of the term, saying it’s important to point out that the virus came from the Chinese city of Wuhan and that China’s government had a special responsibility to warn the world about its dangers.

When asked about a report that his insistence on including the term caused a rift at the Group of Seven meeting, Pompeo did not deny the charge but said that any disagreements among the group were tactical and not sweeping in nature.

Take his word for that. No one was really upset. But this had been getting nasty:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have discouraged referring to the novel coronavirus by a geographical denomination amid concerns such terms are correlated with a rise in discrimination and targeted violence against Asian Americans.

President Trump and some Republican lawmakers have referred to the outbreak as the “China virus.”

Pompeo, in his remarks on Wednesday, doubled down on his criticism of Beijing.

“We tried, you’ll remember, from the opening days to get our scientists, our experts on the ground there so that we could begin to assist in the global response to what began there in China, but we weren’t able to do that. The Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t permit that to happen,” he said.

“The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated,” Pompeo added.

Not everyone was buying that:

One European official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, said there were multiple disagreements among the G-7 members Wednesday but acknowledged “Wuhan virus” posed the most significant obstacle. Besides viewing the term as inappropriate, some officials noted that experts could not say with absolute certainty that the virus came from Wuhan until further research is conducted.

But we were being nice. We did NOT call it the Chinese virus. Washington’s insistence on using the term “Wuhan virus” was first reported by Der Spiegel, so this is recent, intended as an improvement, but the day before it had been this:

House members introduced a resolution Tuesday that would condemn China for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, spearheaded by Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., accuses the Chinese government of having made multiple “serious mistakes,” including the deliberate perpetuation of misinformation to downplay virus risks and the censorship of doctors and journalists in the nascent stages of the outbreak.

Those actions, the resolution says, “heightened” the severity and spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The measure demands that the Chinese government “publicly state that there’s no evidence that COVID–19 originated anywhere else but China.”

However, the resolution has prompted criticism from many lawmakers who argued that it could put Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in harm’s way by perpetuating the racist association of the virus with Chinese people. The community has seen an increase in coronavirus-related attacks, correlating with the spread of the illness.

That is an issue:

Since the start of the outbreak, Asian Americans have confronted attacks and violence related to the virus. People across the country have been hospitalized because of the virus-prompted racism, including a 23-year-old woman in New York City who was alleged to have been punched in the face, as her attackers invoked anti-Asian slurs. In California, an Asian teen was sent to the emergency room after he was bullied and assaulted.

That’s a lot of that going around, but that may not matter:

The Trump administration is pushing the U.N. Security Council to call attention to the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, four diplomats posted to the United Nations told NBC News, triggering a stalemate as the global body seeks to cobble together a response to the pandemic.

Talks among U.N. Security Council nations over a joint declaration or resolution on the coronavirus have stalled over U.S. insistence that it explicitly state that the virus originated in Wuhan, China, as well as exactly when it started there. China’s diplomats are enraged according to the diplomats, even as they seek to put their own language into the statement praising China’s efforts to contain the virus.

But we did shift the wording slightly:

President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for its spread, accusing Beijing of concealing early knowledge of the virus. But after reports of a rise in racism and attacks against Asian Americans emerged, Trump tweeted this week that it was “NOT their fault” and said he’d no longer call it the “Chinese virus.”

“Everyone knows it came out of China,” Trump said Tuesday. “But I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it.”

Still, his administration has continued working to brand it as a Chinese-created crisis, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again Wednesday referring to “the Wuhan virus” and “this crisis that began in Wuhan, China.”

That won’t fly at the United Nations:

At the Security Council, the administration’s push to name China as the source of the virus started in recent weeks when Estonia, a rotating member of the council, began drafting a declaration for the council to issue.

Although the U.N. has a separate public health body – the World Health Organization – the Security Council has sought to warn how ongoing global conflicts could exacerbate the crisis and undermine the response.

France, a permanent member of the council, proposed a version demanding a “general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all countries,” including a 30-day humanitarian pause in conflicts, to allow coronavirus-related supplies to flow, according to a text reviewed by NBC News.

But the U.S., in various drafts and edits circulated among the countries, sought to insert references to “the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in November 2019.”

Another U.S. draft encouraged the U.N. to build on lessons learned in the past, “especially from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) coronavirus outbreak originating in Guangdong Province in the PRC in 2011.”

Those demands have hit a wall with China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, whose diplomats accused the U.S. of “irresponsible practices” in a blistering email to other nations’ diplomats this week obtained by NBC News.

It WAS the Chinese! It’s ALWAYS the Chinese! And they say no:

“We are astonished by the choice of the United States to use this opportunity for politicizing the outbreak and blaming China, which we strongly oppose,” China’s mission to the U.N. wrote. “The groundless accusations and malicious fabrication from the U.S. aim at shirking its own responsibilities, which severely poisoned the atmosphere of global cooperation in containing the outbreak.”

And then Russia decided to be just a pain in the ass:

Complicating efforts has been Russia’s insistence that ambassadors show up in person at the Security Council to vote, contradicting public health guidance urging people to stay home and not to congregate in groups, diplomats from three Security Council nations said.

For more than a week, as other countries on the council directed nearly all their staff to work from home, Russia’s diplomats were still showing up at their mission in New York, the diplomats said. Meanwhile, they argued that virtual meetings were untenable, citing technical issues with the videoconferencing equipment.

That wasn’t helpful, but nothing was helpful:

In discussions about a Security Council declaration or resolution, Chinese diplomats have had their own wish list, two diplomats familiar with the talks said: references to the success of China’s extensive efforts to control the crisis once the virus was identified. After enforcing a strict lockdown in Hubei province, the center of the crisis in China, authorities have started easing restrictions as the number of new cases has fallen to nearly zero.

A diplomat involved in the Security Council talks said other nations were encouraging a compromise in which China and the United States would drop their insistence on language that would be inevitably problematic for the other.

Sure, but Trump never backs down, ever, on anything. That’s why everyone loves him, and why the whole world loves America, for the very first-time, or that’s been his general theory. He’s not giving that up.

Madeline Leung Coleman, a senior editor at the Nation, sees that as the problem:

Over the past two weeks, many Republicans pivoted to insist on the term “Chinese virus” at every opportunity. It was just the latest chapter in the Trump administration’s standoff with the Chinese government – an oppressive regime that does deserve criticism for its handling of the outbreak, whose officials have falsely suggested that the new coronavirus came from the United States. When confronted about his use of the term last week, Trump claimed that he was trying to be “accurate” – “It’s not racist at all, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why.” He finally recanted Tuesday, saying he’d no longer say “Chinese virus” – perhaps because China has been able to weaponize American xenophobia for its own ends. For Asian Americans, though, the damage is done.

China has been able to weaponize American xenophobia for its own ends? Well, we do come off as racist bigots at times, and Trump did try to fix that, but that couldn’t really be fixed:

The GOP knew that most Americans wouldn’t associate the word “Chinese” with the Chinese Communist Party. They just didn’t care, shrugging off the idea that linking an ethnicity to a deadly, economy-destroying pandemic would get people hurt. Within weeks of the first positive diagnosis of the coronavirus in Washington State on Jan. 21, there were reports of Asian Americans around the country being harassed, intimidated and assaulted by people who assumed they were Chinese and blamed them, personally.

But that’s a tricky business:

Asian Americans have sometimes struggled to understand our place within the wider landscape of race, bamboozled by the “model minority” myth pushed by white politicians. As the historian Ellen D. Wu has written, the idea that Chinese Americans in particular were high-achieving and compliant was exploited first to bolster an alliance with China during World War II, and was then spun to discredit the black civil rights movement. (A movement from which, ironically, all Asian Americans greatly benefited.) The model-minority term is one of American white supremacy’s most successful campaigns, simultaneously driving a wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color and alienating us from our own right to dissent. What did we have to complain about, anyway?

And that’s the trap:

On Monday, Trump tweeted, unconvincingly, “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world.” Needless to say, his is not the kind of “protection” we can believe in…

The coronavirus may be new. But the hate it inflamed was there before, barely symptomatic and easily triggered.

A pandemic will do that. And being forced to spend two trillion dollars right now to keep the economy from total collapse, if possible, when that might not be possible at all, will inflame all sorts of free-floating hatred in need of something or someone to hate. The universe cannot be random and indifferent to us all. Someone had to be blamed.

Trump found someone.

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Dealing in Death

Something went wrong. What was it? No one really knows, but Dana Milbank sees this:

People are dying. Businesses are failing. Workers are losing jobs. But above all we as a nation must keep in mind the terrible cost borne by President Trump.

“It cost me billions of dollars to become president,” he said at a White House briefing Sunday evening that was, ostensibly, about the coronavirus response. He felt so proud of the sacrifice he’d gladly and selflessly made that he repeated the sentiment four more times. “I will say that it cost me billions of dollars to be president and especially with all the money I could have made for the last three, four years.”

Trump had been asked whether he sold investments before the market crash, as several senators did. He responded with self-pity. “Look at my legal costs!” he went on. Calling it “very hard for rich people to run for office,” he noted that George Washington was “supposedly” rich but didn’t suffer as Trump has for his wealth. “I got elected as a rich person, but nobody complained until I came along.”

In a perverse twist on Bill Clinton’s famous phrase, the nation reels, and Trump cries out: I feel my pain.

Is this what those who voted for this man wanted? This is an embarrassment:

Previously, Trump’s narcissistic tendencies caused eye rolls, as when he told Gold Star parents about his own sacrifices, said avoiding STDs was his “personal Vietnam,” and claimed no president “has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

But it’s different now. As basic humanity demands that he minimize death and destitution… but then, this is a president who, when asked what he would “say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared,” replies: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter.”

There is no empathy inside this broken man – nor in his feeble response to this disaster.

Eugene Robinson puts that this way:

The essential problem, of course, is the president’s unshakable view that everything is always, always about him. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth once said about her father, President Theodore Roosevelt, Trump insists on being “the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.” This is a moment for selflessness, but Trump has shown no capacity to think of anything other than himself.

We are asked to stay home and avoid one another, at great economic and psychological cost, to keep the COVID-19 pandemic from overwhelming the nation’s health system. The crisis calls for shared sacrifice. Yet at Sunday’s briefing, Trump went on and on about why he will not make the commitment to sacrifice any potential bailout funds for which his hotel properties might qualify.

“You know, every time I do it, like, for instance, I committed publicly that I wouldn’t take the $450,000 salary [as president],” he said. “It’s a lot of money. Whether you’re rich or not, it’s a lot of money. And I did it. Nobody cared. Nobody – nobody said thank you. Nobody said thank you very much.”

No, they were worried about the nation and the world and their lives, and everyone was doing what they could do to help out in the current mess we’re in, and thinking how it would be nice to have a leader:

It is not too much to expect a president to show his gratitude for the sacrifices his citizens are making by doing everything he can to support them, rather than whine that the nation is not thanking him. Yet who believes, at this point, that we will ever see such moral leadership from Trump?

That question answers itself:

We are basically on our own. And, all things considered, across much of the country, we’re doing pretty well given the circumstances.

Governors, notably Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, have stepped up to exercise the kind of political leadership we need and provide calming day-to-day narration of the crisis. Medical experts – led by the ubiquitous and irreplaceable Anthony S. Fauci, whom I’d like to encase in bubble wrap to protect his health – politely correct Trump’s pseudoscience with real science.

So perhaps we’ll muddle through all this and be fine, but Josh Marshall points out the current hostage situation:

In his Fox News town hall this afternoon President Trump said he needs good treatment or favors in return if states want the federal governments assistance as hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients:

“Usually we’ll have fifty governors that will call it the same time. I think we are doing very well. But it’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well, also. They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’ We’re doing a great job – like in New York where we’re building, as I said, four hospitals, four medical centers. We’re literally building hospitals and medical centers. And then I hear that there’s a problem with ventilators. Well we sent them ventilators. And they could have had 15,000 or 16,000 – all they had to do was order them two years ago. But they decided not to do it. They can’t blame us for that.”

In short, they didn’t do their job long ago and unless they praise me now, repeatedly and often and publicly, they get nothing, and that’s not my problem, that’s theirs.

They should just do the right thing. Everyone should do the right thing. There’s a quick way out of the current crisis:

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick (R) made the astonishing argument on Monday night that the elderly ought to be willing to die from COVID-19 for the sake of the economy.

During an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Patrick argued that social distancing measures against the coronavirus should be lifted to let Americans go back to work, even if it means older people becoming infected with the illness.

“Those of us who are 70+, we’ll take care of ourselves but don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick said. “Don’t do that. Don’t ruin this great American Dream.”

The lieutenant governor asserted that grandparents have a “choice” to make in the face of “total collapse” in the economy.

“We all want to live. We all want to live with our grandchildren as long as we can,” he said. “But the point is our biggest gift we give to our country and our children and our grandchildren is the legacy of our country, and right now, that is at risk.”

So, old and sick and useless patriots should die so others can live well, or at least in a style to which they have become accustomed:

Patrick’s comments came as other Republicans, including President Donald Trump, push for the end of social distancing to rescue the sinking economy, even as the coronavirus continues to roil the country.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has a few things to say about this:

He concluded with possibly the stupidest line of the evening: “As the president said, the mortality rate is so low. Do we have to shut down the country?”

Patrick is of course wrong about virtually everything in this statement. He seems incapable of understanding that we can’t conclude anything about the virus without widespread testing, which remains unavailable. The U.S. numbers we do have certainly indicate that it’s not just the elderly who fall ill and die from the coronavirus – Americans between the ages of 20 and 54 represent almost 40 percent of the people who have been hospitalized in this country. They are taking beds, ventilators, and other resources away from young people in Porsche accidents just as much as the elderly are. Doctors and nurses, working with inadequate protective gear, are also becoming infected while treating patients which means that someday Patrick’s capitalism-loving grandchildren won’t have any physicians when they injure themselves counting their stacks of money. And unless Patrick is saying that he and his other 70-year-old human sacrifices all plan to die painfully alone at home, they would all still be in hospitals infecting other budding young capitalists on their slow honorable death march to that great big stock exchange in the sky.

Dan Patrick hasn’t thought this through, but it’s worse than that:

The even deeper problem, beyond the catastrophic failure to understand epidemiology, is the increasingly lethal conviction on the part of at least some Americans that – all medical evidence to the contrary – this is a pandemic that will somehow spare the lucky folk. And that Americans are by definition just too darn lucky to become ill.

That was part of the wrongheaded thinking that allowed Donald Trump only a week ago to assure Americans that they needed to “just relax” because “it all will pass.”

It’s also part of the wrongheaded thinking that allowed Liberty University to reopen its doors after spring break, with President Jerry Falwell Jr. insisting that young people cannot catch or spread the virus: “I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together,” he contends. “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk, and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”

Maybe Falwell doesn’t understand that his students are all precisely the age to spread the virus and put others at risk. Maybe he can’t be bothered to realize that this will overwhelm small regional hospitals and sicken medical personnel. Perhaps Falwell believes that Liberty students are not merely immune and super-duper lucky but also on some kind of Godly VIP list. That seems to be the view of the Hobby Lobby empire as well, which carries with it the added implication that maybe Italians just didn’t pray hard enough about the coronavirus, perhaps the most vile suggestion of them all.

That’s an excuse to do nothing, of course, but there’s the larger picture:

Donald Trump has staked his whole political reputation on trying to solve immigration problems by blaming immigrants, political problems by blaming Democrats, science problems by blaming scientists, and basic factual problems by blaming journalists. Anyone who rejected such framing was disloyal and un-American and accused of “tearing us apart.” But a pandemic that can be at least blunted by action will not be touched by carving up the nation into the godly and the godless, the young and the old, Republican and Democrat, workers and those whom the economy can stand to put out to pasture. Any solution that depends on working those fault lines will not just fail to stem the oncoming crisis. It will also handily create new classes of unnecessary victims.

Well, there has to be someone to despise. Sneers make the world go ’round now, but things are getting hot. The Washington Post reports that in detail:

With President Trump saying he wants “the country opened” by Easter to salvage the U.S. economy, a fierce debate is now raging among policymakers over the necessity of shutting down vast swaths of American society to combat the novel coronavirus.

Health experts point to overwhelming evidence from around the world that closing businesses and schools and minimizing social contact are crucial to avoid exponentially mounting infections. Ending the shutdown now in America would be disastrous, many say, because the country has barely given those restrictions time to work, and because U.S. leaders have not pursued alternative strategies used in other countries to avert the potential deaths of hundreds of thousands.

But in recent days an increasing number of political conservatives have argued that the economic cost is too high. At a town hall broadcast Tuesday, Trump suggested dire consequences if at least some economic sectors aren’t restored.

“You’re going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression,” Trump said. “You’re going to have all sorts of things happen; you’re going to have instability. You can’t just come in and say let’s close up the United States of America, the biggest, the most successful country in the world by far.”

Many will die. The old folks will die. But we can live with that. In fact, we’ll prosper because of that. We’ll profit (literally) from that. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one after all, or maybe not:

The stance has many worried, including some in the president’s own party. “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the House’s highest-ranking Republican woman, wrote in a Tuesday tweet.

But the greatest alarm has come from scientists, epidemiologists and health experts who have spent the past three months studying the new coronavirus and have witnessed the destructive, contagious swath it has cut through other countries.

“To be a week into these restrictions and already be talking about abandoning them is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus, he said, to “spread widely, rapidly, terribly, and could kill potentially millions in the year ahead with huge social and economic impact.”

While not mentioning the president by name, Bill Gates – who co-founded Microsoft and now leads a global health foundation – rebuked Trump’s approach in a Tuesday interview with TED: “There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people: ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.'”

Perhaps so, but perhaps that pile of bodies over in the corner is a potent symbol of your awesome power and brutal but necessary logic, something the base will love. But nothing is simple either way:

“One of the bottom lines is that we don’t know how long social distancing measures and lockdowns can be maintained without major consequences to the economy, society, and mental health,” John Ioannidis, a medical and epidemiology expert at Stanford University, wrote in an essay last week. “Short-term and long-term consequences are entirely unknown, and billions, not just millions, of lives may be eventually at stake.”

“I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life … will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself,” David L. Katz, a preventive-medicine specialist at Yale University, wrote this weekend. “The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.”

Such arguments raise important points about the full impact of the current strategy, said Inglesby, the infectious-disease expert at Johns Hopkins. But those are long-term scenarios, he pointed out. “What social distancing does is buy us time to replenish supplies like masks and ventilators, deal with the immediate crisis in hospitals and come up with additional strategies.”

The question in the long run is how to balance competing economic interests and public health needs when basic questions about the pandemic – like how many Americans are infected – are unknown, said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. “If anybody tells you they have the answer to how to thread this needle, they’re lying to you.”

Trump is suggesting a shot in the dark here, and if it works it may fail anyway:

Even in a hypothetical world where the economy was valued above human life, many economists say it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to sacrifice the elderly, abruptly send everyone back to work and allow the virus to run its course. Restarting international flights, for example, wouldn’t mean consumers would buy tickets. And the shock from the spreading infections and mounting deaths would make any sense of normalcy hard to maintain.

“The best way to get control of the economy is to get through this as quickly as possible,” said Edward Kaplan, who teaches economic policy and public health at Yale University. He said that means adhering to social distancing and drastically increasing testing.

That hypothetical pile of bodies over in the corner would ruin everyone’s appetite for caviar and champagne, or that giant new tricked-out chromed-up monster truck. It might be best to just carry on and get the hard part of this over with.

But that will be hard. Oliver Darcy notes that Trump has his own television news network:

Anchors at Fox News failed to meaningfully challenge President Trump as he repeatedly misled the network’s viewers during a virtual town hall on Tuesday, effectively surrendering its airwaves to the President as he even appeared to cite a conspiratorial outlet to argue his case.

While Fox News is known as the home to such pro-Trump hosts as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Tuesday’s town hall was held by Bill Hemmer and Harris Faulkner, two anchors the network bills as members of a supposedly fearless and hard-hitting news division.

But neither Hemmer, who is the chief breaking news anchor at Fox News and was broadcasting from the White House, nor Faulkner, who was broadcasting remotely from a studio, effectively pushed back on Trump during the two-hour event – despite obvious misinformation peddled by the President.

Trump, for instance, repeatedly compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu. “We’ve never closed down the country for the flu,” the President said.

Hemmer, however, repeatedly failed to note that COVID-19 has a significantly higher mortality rate than the seasonal flu.

The World Health Organization has estimated the mortality rate to be 3.4%. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, has estimated that it is about 2%. Fauci even previously told Fox News, “The mortality for seasonal flu is 0.1% so even if [COVID-19] goes down to 1% it’s still 10 times more fatal.”

No it isn’t. The World Health Organization says that. All the world’s scientists say that. All the epidemiologists say that. Trump says this is just the seasonal flu. Why mention those other people? And there was this:

At another point during the interview, Trump said he would “love” for the country to “open by Easter” on April 12. Instead of challenging Trump, and noting that his deadline is at odds with what many medical professionals and infectious disease experts have said, Faulkner replied, “Oh wow. Okay!”

Hemmer added, “That would be a great American resurrection.”

Just ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. There’ll be no resurrection in that corner.

But wait. Something is happening in New York. The New York Times covers a different resurrection:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo awoke before dawn on Tuesday, emerging after a few hours’ sleep to board a helicopter to New York City for the coronavirus briefing that has become a daily ritual for him and for the millions of people now watching.

But this event would be different. The outbreak was moving faster than he had expected, with the number of confirmed cases doubling every three days, and he decided he needed to show people – including the White House – how desperate the situation had become.

“You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” the governor said, referring to a recent federal government shipment to New York.

“What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” he said later. “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

The governor repeatedly assailed the federal response as slow, inefficient and inadequate, far more aggressively than he had before.

A forgotten man and a minor figure was suddenly making waves:

His briefings – articulate, consistent and often tinged with empathy – have become must-see television. On Tuesday, his address was carried live on all four networks in New York and a raft of cable news stations, including CNN, MSNBC and even Fox News.

In a sign of the way Mr. Cuomo has become the face of the Democratic Party in this moment, his address even pre-empted an appearance by former Vice President Joseph Biden on ABC’s “The View” in New York.

Mr. Cuomo’s handling of the crisis has fostered a nationwide following; Mr. Biden called Mr. Cuomo’s briefings a “lesson in leadership,” and others have described them as communal therapy sessions. The same blunt and sometimes paternalistic traits that have long rubbed his critics raw have morphed into a source of comfort.

And this is what people seem to need:

Mr. Cuomo’s daily addresses have stood in stark contrast to the sometimes contradictory pronouncements coming from Washington.

Mr. Cuomo’s briefings have been filled with facts, directives and sobering trends: On Tuesday, the governor disclosed that the number of positive cases in New York had risen past 25,000, and that the state now projects it will need up to 140,000 hospital beds to house virus patients.

There were also signs that Washington was listening: after Mr. Cuomo spoke on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said 2,000 ventilators were being sent to New York, with a promise of 2,000 more on Wednesday.

He shamed Pence into action and did this too:

He disparaged a remark by Texas’s lieutenant governor that older residents might not mind dying to save the economy.

“My mother’s not expendable,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding, “We’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable. And we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”

And of course Trump has few options now:

Mr. Trump took issue on Tuesday with the governor’s comments about not receiving enough ventilators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We are working very, very hard for the people of New York,” the president said. “We are working a lot with him. Then I watch him on this show complaining.”

While the president seemed displeased with Mr. Cuomo’s broadside on Tuesday, he had previously made it clear that he preferred the governor’s approach to that of City Hall. “I’m dealing with the governor,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “The governor agrees with me, and I agree with him.”

Even on Tuesday, before the president criticized Mr. Cuomo for “complaining,” he acknowledged that he had just seen the governor’s briefing. “I watched Governor Cuomo and he was very nice,” Mr. Trump said.

That’s fear, and Kathleen Parker adds this:

Not since 9/11 has the importance of eloquence been so apparent.

For the past several days, Americans have heard two public officials’ very different ways of speaking and learned why fluency and persuasion are so critical in times of crisis. This is true not only of content but also of bearing: How do the words and poses chosen by our leaders inform morale as we hunker down in our homes?

On one screen Monday, President Trump spoke at length about himself (and at times about the coronavirus). More than once, he wandered off script, at one point talking about how many billions of dollars he could have made had he not become president. But, he added, he was glad he had because he’s now a wartime president and, presumably, one was to infer, the country needs him.

How are people supposed to feel when they hear this?

They might feel queasy, and then they saw this:

On another screen, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo updated New Yorkers and the nation about the virus in his state. Unlike Trump’s self-indulgent soliloquies, Cuomo’s statements were straightforward, honest, factual and, despite the dire statistics, refreshingly reassuring. He understands that adults can absorb information and respond appropriately.

Trump has done some good things, such as closing down traffic from China and speeding up the approval of experimental drugs, but there’s more he could and should do. Only on Tuesday did reports emerge that the administration would formally implement the Defense Production Act to secure production of masks and test kits. This is such an easy call, but Trump dillydallied. He equivocated. He scared people.

Something went wrong. What was it? No one really knows, but this might be it:

We like to say that some people are just “born leaders,” but we all know, instinctively, that the best leaders are not so much born as made, made in unexpected moments they didn’t choose and could not have foreseen. President George W. Bush’s most eloquent moment consisted of eleven words. “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you!” he shouted through a bullhorn to first responders as they dug through the debris of the World Trade Center. In those few words, Bush connected the world to America and made America’s loss the loss of the wider world.

Cuomo’s moment has arrived. As he wrapped up Tuesday morning, his throat seemed to tighten as he expressed his love for New York and said: “At the end of the day, my friends, even if it is a long day… love wins, always, and it will win again through this virus.”

Give that man a bullhorn.


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Thinking the Impossible

So another week in lockdown began, but at least no true patriots have started firebombing Chinese homes and businesses out here just yet. Still, people were being careful:

Gun shops around the San Gabriel Valley that cater to Chinese immigrants report a surge in business as customers grow increasingly anxious about their personal safety with each day COVID-19 widens its reach in the U.S.

Gun Effects, where Chang was shopping, said its customer base has jumped from half Chinese to about 70%. Arcadia Firearm and Safety reports a tenfold increase in business. Rowland Sporting Goods estimates sales are up 500%.

This isn’t just happening in Southern California, according to The Trace. Gun shops in Washington State, which has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S., are also seeing increased traffic from customers of Chinese descent.

Why would that be? Don’t be naïve:

Office clerk April Zhao came to Gun Effects with her father, whom she said was eager to buy a gun because all his friends were doing it. The Rancho Cucamonga resident said she herself was scared that she would be physically attacked for being Chinese because the coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan.

“So I have to protect my family and my son,” Zhao said.

Has she experienced any racism so far?

“Not yet,” she said. “I just see the news.”

Everyone has seen the news. Old men who retired to Florida, or stayed home in Pittsburgh or wherever, bitter and angry and armed to the teeth – the oldest NRA cohort – post on Facebook that they’ll shoot to kill anyone who threatens their hoard of toilet paper, which is really their way of life, and then post that they’re really just kidding, and then post again that they’re not really kidding at all. And then they post again to praise Jesus. These are odd times.

But this week then got odder:

President Trump on Monday said he is considering scaling back steps to constrain the spread of the coronavirus in the next week or two because of concerns that the impact on the economy has become too severe.

But loosening restrictions on social distancing and similar measures soon probably would require him to override the internal warnings of senior U.S. health officials, including Anthony S. Fauci, who have said that the United States has not yet felt the worst of the pandemic, according to several people with knowledge of the internal deliberations.

Trump said at a news conference Monday night that at some point soon the damage being done to the economy could be worse than the threat of the virus spreading further.

Sure, tens of thousands of people will die if he calls off all the quarantine stuff, but the quarantine stuff is destroying the economy if not the country itself. It’s one or the other, except for this idea:

He said the decision could be based geographically with areas of the country with a low number of positive cases moving back to a normal routine while areas such as New York remain under restrictions.

That might mean that not quite so many people would die, so the question might come down to how many we kill to keep the economy from dying, and everyone saw where he was going with this:

“America will again – and soon – be open for business,” he said. “Very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. A lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

When asked if he would make the decision to loosen social-distancing recommendations even if it went against the advice of federal public health officials, Trump said: “If it was up to the doctors they might say shut down the entire world.”

Trump later said he would consider the advice of Fauci and other public health officials before making a decision.

That is, he knows best, they do not, or they do know best, but he might overrule them, because he knows best, or something or other. And that called for an analogy:

He compared the effort to combat the virus to auto accidents.

“You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we are talking about,” Trump says. “That doesn’t mean we are going to tell everybody no driving with cars.”

No, it was time for a private intervention:

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the president’s coronavirus task force, and other leading public health experts have told administration officials and Republican lawmakers that prematurely scaling back social-distancing measures would hamper efforts to mitigate the virus and would devastate hospitals, according to the people with knowledge of the conversations, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations.

More than 40,000 people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus, a number expected to significantly increase in the coming days and potentially overwhelm the nation’s health-care infrastructure.

So what? They were too late:

The push to reopen parts of the economy has gained traction among some Republican lawmakers in both the Senate and the House, said two people with knowledge of the matter.

Conservative economists Steven Moore and Art Laffer have been lobbying the White House for more than a week to consider scaling back the recommendation that restaurants, stores and other gathering spots be closed, although exactly what that would entail remains unclear. Leading Wall Street and conservative media figures have also embraced the idea.

Trump has begun canvassing his advisers, GOP senators and other allies about what his course of action should be, according to a senior administration official. He is worried about the impact of soaring unemployment numbers and severe economic contraction on his 2020 reelection bid, and fielded phone calls for much of the weekend from alarmed business leaders.

He remains fixated on the plummeting stock market, is chafing at the idea of the country remaining closed until the summer and growing tired of talking only about the coronavirus, one person said.

In short, he’s had enough of this boring pandemic nonsense and he wants to get back to getting reelected, as is his right, so he sent out the tweet that said it all:

Trump signaled his concerns with the outbreak restrictions and the economy in a tweet late Sunday night.


And that worried a few Republicans:

“It would be a major mistake to suggest any change of course when it comes to containment,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), a close ally of Trump, said in an interview. “I just spoke with Dr. Fauci – he believes that, if anything, we should be more aggressive and do more… You can’t have a functioning economy if you have hospitals overflowing. People aren’t going to go to work like that.”

Graham was pretty much alone here. Fauci decided it was time to humor the big guy:

Health officials have said there needs to be some flexibility on the restrictions even as they have argued for robust social-distancing measures to be put in place.

“There is a discussion and a delicate balance about what’s the overall impact of shutting everything down completely for an indefinite period of time. So, there’s a compromise,” Fauci told Science magazine in a recent interview. “If you knock down the economy completely and disrupt infrastructure, you may be causing health issues, unintended consequences, for people who need to be able to get to places and can’t. You do the best you can.”

Others would not humor Trump:

Public health experts are strongly warning against the idea of loosening social distancing measures. Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiology professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and director of Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said “every well-informed infectious epidemiologist I know of” believes the United States should be tightening the restrictions.

“We haven’t yet even seen signs that the growth is slowing, much less reversing. Now is the time to tighten restrictions on contacts that could transmit the virus, not loosen them,” Lipsitch said. “If we let up now we can be virtually certain that health care will be overwhelmed in many if not all parts of the country. This is the view of every well-informed infectious epidemiologist I know of.”

But pressure is also mounting on Trump from top business leaders and conservative media outlets alarmed about the effect on the economy.

He’s getting hammered from both sides. Let the old and the weak and the unlucky die and save the nation! Save your big business buddies and you will have the blood of millions on your hands! Which will it be?

And then there’s his personality. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports on his anger and ego:

President Trump has praised Dr. Anthony S. Fauci as a “major television star.” He has tried to demonstrate that the administration is giving him free will to speak. And he has deferred to Dr. Fauci’s opinion several times at the coronavirus task force’s televised briefings.

But Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has grown bolder in correcting the president’s falsehoods and overly rosy statements about the spread of the coronavirus in the past two weeks – and become a hero to the president’s critics because of it. And now Mr. Trump’s patience has started to wear thin.

So has the patience of some White House advisers, who see Dr. Fauci as taking shots at the president in some of his interviews with print reporters while offering extensive praise for Mr. Trump in television interviews with conservative hosts.

It’s an old Hollywood western. “This town isn’t big enough for the two of us” as John Wayne draws his gun. And those White House advisers want that showdown, but nothing is that easy:

Mr. Trump knows that Dr. Fauci, who has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, is seen as credible with a large swath of the public and with journalists, and so he has given the doctor more leeway to contradict him than he has other officials, according to multiple advisers to the president.

When Mr. Trump knows that he has more to gain than to lose by keeping an adviser, he has resisted impulses to fight back against apparent criticism, sometimes for months-long interludes. One example was when he wanted to fire the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, in 2017 and early 2018. Another was Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general. Mr. Trump eventually fired both when he felt the danger in doing so had passed.

So far, the president appears to be making the same calculation with Dr. Fauci, who was not at the briefing room podium on Monday evening. When asked why, Mr. Trump said he had just been with Dr. Fauci for “a long time” at a task force meeting.

“He’s a good man,” Mr. Trump said. Dr. Fauci was scheduled to be on Fox News with Sean Hannity a short time later.

That’s the kiss of death. Trump will wait until the danger to him has passed and just fire Fauci – but not now. For now, this is just tricky:

Dr. Fauci and Mr. Trump have publicly disagreed on how long it will take for a coronavirus vaccine to become available and whether an anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, could help those with an acute form of the virus. Dr. Fauci has made clear that he does not think the drug necessarily holds the potential that Mr. Trump says it does.

In an interview with Science Magazine, Dr. Fauci responded to a question about how he had managed to not get fired by saying that, to Mr. Trump’s “credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

But Dr. Fauci also said there was a limit to what he could do when Mr. Trump made false statements, as he often does during the briefings.

“I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” Dr. Fauci said. “Okay, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”

That’s insubordination, but not quite insubordination:

Dr. Fauci came to his current role as the AIDS epidemic was exploding and President Reagan was paying it little attention. He and C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general, were widely credited with spurring the Reagan administration to action against AIDS, a fact that underscores Dr. Fauci’s ability to negotiate difficult politics.

He has recognized Mr. Trump’s need for praise; in the president’s presence and with audiences that are friendly to him, Dr. Fauci has been complimentary. He told the radio host Mark Levin on Fox News of the administration’s response to the virus: “I can’t imagine that under any circumstances that anybody could be doing more.”

This man knows how to play Trump, but he’s playing with fire:

In the past two weeks, as Dr. Fauci’s interviews have increased in frequency, White House officials have become more concerned that he is criticizing the president.

Officials asked him about the viral moment in the White House briefing room, when he put his hand to his face and appeared to suppress a chuckle after Mr. Trump referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department.” Dr. Fauci had a benign explanation: He had a scratchy throat and a lozenge he had in his mouth had gotten stuck in his throat, which he tried to mask from reporters.

And then he winked, slyly. No, he didn’t. He’s smarter than that, but Trump is under pressure, and the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, the investigative reporter who almost singlehandedly brought down Trump University and then the Trump Foundation – both frauds – was at it again:

President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.

Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage…

In his unprecedented dual role as president and owner of a sprawling business, Trump is facing dual crises caused by the coronavirus. As he is trying to manage the pandemic from the White House, limiting its casualties as well as the economic fallout, his company is also navigating a major threat to the hospitality industry.

That threatens to pull Trump in opposite directions, because the strategies that many scientists believe will help lessen the public emergency – like strict, long-lasting restrictions on movement – could deepen the short-term problems of Trump’s private business, by keeping doors shut and customers away.

Tens of thousands might die but so might his businesses, and yes, someone asked him about this:

The company, which Trump says is run day-to-day by his sons Eric and Don Jr., has not said whether it would apply for a bailout of the hotel industry, if Congress created one.

Trump has not, either. On Sunday, he was asked if his business would abstain from any federal bailout. He did not give a clear answer. “Everything’s changing, just so you understand, it’s all changing,” he said. “But I have no idea.”

Of course he doesn’t. Gabriel Sherman reports on that:

Trump’s view that he can ignore Fauci’s opinion may be influenced by advice he’s getting from Jared Kushner, whose outside-the-box efforts have often rankled those in charge of managing the crisis. According to two sources, Kushner has told Trump about experimental treatments he’s heard about from executives in Silicon Valley. “Jared is bringing conspiracy theories to Trump about potential treatments,” a Republican briefed on the conversations told me. Another former West Wing official told me: “Trump is like an eleven-year-old boy waiting for the fairy godmother to bring him a magic pill.”

But there is no magic pill:

Throughout the crisis, Kushner has counseled Trump that the crisis isn’t as bad as the media is portraying. Two sources said Vice President Mike Pence has complained to Trump about Kushner’s meddling in the work of the coronavirus task force. (Another former West Wing official disputed this, saying Pence wouldn’t openly challenge the Trump family. “Pence is politically smart,” the former official said.)

And there is that young and fit and smart and blunt and bold governor up there in New York:

According to sources, Trump has been jealous that Cuomo’s press briefings have gotten such positive reviews. “He’s said Cuomo looks good,” a Republican briefed on internal conversations said. Trump’s solution has been to put on his own show. “Trump wants to play press secretary,” a former West Wing official said. The live briefings have essentially replaced his rallies and given him a platform to air grievances and attack the media…

He’s now experimenting with a new approach to the crisis, but it’s unclear what legal authority he would have to supersede local shelter-in-place restrictions. Behind the bluster, he’s hamstrung. “He can’t make any big decisions,” a former West Wing official said. “He knows once you do, you can’t go back.”

Sherman has his sources. All of that may be true, or not, but Kevin Drum sees this:

On Saturday, Trump used his platform to tout the use of hydroxychloroquine as a therapy against coronavirus, despite the lack of evidence that it works. The result is that people who need it for other illnesses can’t get it because Trump fans are hoarding it. A man died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks. And people returning from Peace Corps duty, some of whom need it as an antimalarial drug, have to do without.

On Sunday Trump said once again that we didn’t even know about the coronavirus because China waited so long to tell us about it. This is false. China hardly deserves any kudos for their handling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, but Trump was being briefed about it in January. Everyone knows this. Asked why he stood by while Trump lied about this, Anthony Fauci said in frustration, “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”

Over the weekend Trump also announced that Ford and other carmakers are already manufacturing ventilators. This is, yet again, flatly untrue…

I could go on, but I hardly need to. The bottom line is that Trump’s daily briefings are (a) run like campaign events, and (b) full of falsehoods, including some that can be deadly.

And now the new Trump daily briefings are literally deadly. Slate’s Susan Matthews explains why:

State after state issued edicts closing bars and restaurants, and those bars and restaurants started unprecedented mass layoffs. The economic disruption that has resulted from the protective measures we are taking is enormous, and it will have its own set of devastating consequences, including lives ruined in other ways, if not by a respiratory disease. The president raised this ineloquently on Sunday night, with the economy in mind more than human lives. But the question is the same: Are we absolutely sure we are doing the right thing?

In other words, trying to stop the spread of the virus now to avoid one set of terrible outcomes is causing another set of terrible outcomes. Rarely in one’s life is it so clear that even if you make every choice perfectly, you will at most help us stay on the least-worst path.

Trump may be oblivious to the moral complexity here but this is complicated:

The reason we are taking the drastic measure of staying home is, as we all now know, because we are trying to “flatten the curve.” The effort is universally supported by public health officials, and, to be clear, is one I believe we should follow. We’ve been told that the price of failing to slow the spread of the virus will be a health care system so overwhelmed that many people will not be able to get treatment, and mortality will shoot up to perhaps unimaginable levels, as is happening in Italy. Certainly preventing an unmitigated scenario of 2.2 million deaths is worth the price of a recession and the extra burden on struggling families.

But even as “flatten the curve” has become accepted shorthand, the details remain opaque. Where are we are on the curve? How flat is the right amount of flattening? Where is the line where hospitals become overwhelmed, at what speed are we moving along the X-axis, and have we lowered the number of cases enough? In other words, are we absolutely sure the dramatic actions we’re taking will result in less death, overall?

The answer is no. But “being sure” is going to be harder than anyone imagines:

We are currently quite lacking in data and sorely in need of it. We need to know many more things about the virus and what it does to the human body, including who it affects and how to treat it. We need better testing to figure out how many people in the United States have it, even as the people on the front lines are realizing that they themselves have to shift their efforts away from containment approaches and toward treatment and mitigation of spread.

We also need data on how our current approach is working and data on what the costs of this approach really are. We need to know how much our current version of social distancing, with everyone still going to the grocery store every few days, is affecting the rate of spread. We need to figure out how much people being stuck at home might lead to an uptick in domestic abuse or suicide. We need to know if more women are giving birth at home, and if more women are being forced to carry pregnancies that they don’t want as their right to abortion is interrupted. We need to know how the people who are laid off from their jobs are getting food, and if they are still willing to access health care when the financial cost of doing so might be very uncertain. We are all engaged in an enormous, high-stakes nationwide experiment right now, and we need all of this data to answer the question: Are we doing the right thing?

And still, the questions remain: How long can we really do this for? What else could we do? What should we do next?

But there is this:

Academic physicians Aaron Carroll and Ashish Jha have a piece in the Atlantic in which they consider the various possible scenarios in front of us. The extremes are helpfully familiar but Carroll and Jha argue that there is a third path available, somewhere in the middle of these two strategies. They think that once we do the social distancing necessary to get the initial numbers under control (which will still take time), we can create a new type of plan, a middle road that keeps public health manageable without keeping the country completely shut down.

But that too is difficult:

This third path essentially requires us to do all the things we failed at the first time around. Here is a partial list of what it would entail: An enormous scaling up of testing, the ability to test nearly everyone, regularly, the willingness of even asymptomatic carriers to self-quarantine and isolate while they are sick with the virus (and help notify and test those they have been in contact with), and not least, an enormous expansion of the capacity of our medical system to accommodate for all of this. There’s also the investment in the creation and distribution of the vaccine, which everyone is sort of taking for granted but is far from a gimme.

We don’t know how long the societal benefits of sheltering in place will outweigh the societal harms. It’s maddening to wonder who we can trust to keep track of this all, and who will be making the decisions as to what we should do next.

There’s no choice there. Donald will be making the decisions, as instructed by Jared, but they see only two options:

We either shelter in place indefinitely, without real, immediate relief from the federal government, or we just give up on mitigation and accept that the coronavirus will kill an incredible number of people. The problem with trying to do the latter for the sake of the economy is that two million deaths would have a devastating effect on the economy regardless. We can’t just “start it up again.”

What we need to do is simply much larger than what we currently think we can do.

But how do we think about what we cannot seem to think about? Maybe that’s why everyone is buying guns.

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Doom and Gloom and War

The late eighteenth century Sturm und Drang movement eventually led to the heroic “storm and stress” of Beethoven, so perhaps Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller can be forgiven for that. The idea was clear enough – “Within the movement, individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements.”

But that meant there were endless tales of sensitive young poets wandering high in the Alps in the middle of dark storms. Everyone was brooding. The story of hopeless love and eventual suicide presented in Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) was more irritating than enlightening. The kid was a jerk. But that was European Romanticism for a time. Embrace the storms of life. Embrace the stress. Live this life to the fullest. In fact, seek out doom and gloom. That’s where you’ll find yourself. That’s where you’ll find truth.

That’s also where you’ll find nonsense. Dark storms and doom and gloom at what seems like the end of the world reveal nothing much, except the end of things, and this weekend did reveal that:

Senate Democrats blocked a massive coronavirus stimulus bill from moving forward Sunday as partisan disputes raged over the legislation that’s aimed at arresting the economy’s precipitous decline.

Lawmakers had hoped to pass the enormous $1.8 trillion bill by Monday but Sunday night they were scrambling to revive talks, with the stock market poised for another sharp drop and households and businesses fretting about an uncertain future.

Negotiations continued even as the initial procedural vote fell short, with 47 senators voting in favor and 47 opposed. The tally was well short of the 60 votes that were needed to move forward. The number of “aye” votes was especially low because five Republicans are quarantined over coronavirus fears.

They had the chance to keep the nation from falling into an abyss, but with five Republicans quarantined over that damned virus, this would never work. The nation seemed to be doomed:

Ever since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced the legislation Thursday night, senators have missed one self-imposed deadline after another to reach a deal. The vote Sunday evening was delayed three hours so talks could continue after it became clear it would fail, but no resolution was reached and it failed anyway. McConnell set another procedural vote for 9:45 Monday morning and dared Democrats to block it, noting repeatedly that the vote would come shortly after the opening of the stock market.

Trading had already been halted in the futures market. The Dow and the others had dropped too far too fast. No one knew what the morning would bring. And for the first time ever, the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange had been closed. Two traders had tested positive. Everyone would work remotely now. They do have the systems for that, but the Senate had no system for remote voting at all. The storm was upon us. But one guy told everyone to relax:

“Right now, they’re not there,” President Trump said earlier in the day from the White House with the vote underway. “But I think that the Democrats want to get there. And I can tell you for a fact, the Republicans want to get there. And I don’t think anybody actually has a choice.”

Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine. No, it won’t:

The bill would seek to flood the economy with money in an effort to protect millions of jobs and businesses that now appear to be on the brink. It would direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and $500 to children. It would steer $350 billion towards small businesses to stem the tide of layoffs, and push billions more towards hospitals and the unemployment insurance system. And it would create a massive, $500 billion program for businesses, states, and localities, with the direction and velocity of this loan program left mostly to the Treasury Department’s discretion. Few aspects of the legislation had any precedent to draw from in terms of their scale and speed.

Indeed, the sheer magnitude of the potential calamity kept lawmakers at the bargaining table as negotiators on both sides said they must deliver to slow the financial landslide that is disrupting millions of businesses and households by the day.

This has never happened before, so in the face of this storm, it was time to blame the other guys:

McConnell said it was time for Democrats to “take ‘yes’ for an answer” and accept a bill that he said incorporated many of their ideas. Democrats, though, alleged McConnell’s bill is tilted too far in favor of corporations and doesn’t include much oversight for $500 billion in loans and guarantees that could go to firms selected by the Treasury Department.

And so it was time to shout:

Senate Democrats and Republicans spent Friday and Saturday negotiating over the legislation with both sides saying they’d made progress, until McConnell announced late Saturday he was moving forward on drafting a bill even though there wasn’t yet a final deal. Each side quickly blamed the other for the breakdown.

After the vote failed, McConnell angrily lectured Democrats about the outcome. Republicans had hoped to move forward to final passage of the legislation on Monday, a goal that now looks improbable.

“The notion that we have time to play games here with the American economy and the American people is utterly absurd,” McConnell said. “The American people expect us to act tomorrow and I want everybody to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dicker when the country expects us to come together.”

No, that’s bullshit:

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) came to the floor a short time later to declare that Republicans were the ones behaving unreasonably by trying to advance what he called a partisan bill. Democrats said that despite some concessions on the part of Republicans, the GOP bill still had too many flaws and did not do enough to shore up the health care system and help average Americans.

“Now, let me be clear: the Majority Leader was well aware of how this vote would go before it happened, but he chose to move forward with it anyway – even though negotiations are continuing, so who’s playing games?” Schumer asked, before adding a hopeful note: “Can we overcome the remaining disagreements in the next twenty-four hours? Yes. We can and we should. The nation demands it.”

But of course that was bullshit too:

A major sticking point is a $500 billion pool of money for loans and loan guarantees that Republicans want to create, which some Democrats are labeling a “slush fund” because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money. There is little precedent for a program with a similar size and scope.

“They’re throwing caution to the wind for average workers and people on Main Street and going balls to the wall for people on Wall Street,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said of Republicans.

And then the president confused everyone:

Trump himself seemed to acknowledge such concerns on the part of Democrats while insisting he did not want to offer bailouts.

“I don’t want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus,” Trump said. “So I may be Republican, but I don’t like that. I want them to use the money for the workers.”

Fine, but that’s not now:

Several senators spoke fearfully of the impact on the markets if they fail to reach agreement by Monday morning. Underscoring the spreading dangers, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday became the first senator to announce he had tested positive for COVID-19, after working out with fellow lawmakers in the Senate gym only that morning. Not long after, Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney announced they’d be going into self-quarantine because of being in contact with Paul; Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) had self-quarantined earlier after possible brushes with infected individuals.

But someone has to do something:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, suggested that House Democrats might chart their own course and release their own bill, which could put the Democratic-led House and the Republican-led Senate on different tracks and delay final agreement on any deal.

Yes, that only makes things worse, if there’s worse than this:

The economic conditions appear to be dramatically worse than first predicted. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard told Bloomberg News in an interview Sunday that the unemployment rate could hit 30 percent between April and June because of mass layoffs, which would be worse than what occurred during the Great Depression.

That’s the current thinking. Robert Kuttner is a co-editor of The American Prospect and a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and he’s thinking that way:

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Dow plummeted from its September peak of 381.17 to a low of 41.22 in July 1932. Because so few Americans owned stocks, it took three years for the financial collapse to cycle though the rest of the economy. Unemployment only gradually increased, to a peak of about 25 percent in early 1933. Gross domestic product fell steadily, ultimately declining by about 30 percent.

The economic crash caused by the coronavirus, if anything, will be sharper and steeper.

That’s because everything is now connected to everything else:

If we set out to deliberately destroy an economy, requesting most people to stay home is a very effective way. The virus itself is disrupting production, but the necessary public health response to the virus is economically catastrophic – and if government doesn’t act massively to offset the damage, the collapse will worsen.

As airlines, hotels, restaurants, theaters, auto production lines and much of retail shut down while people self-quarantine, there will be enormous layoffs. Households reduce their purchases to bare necessities, causing more shutdowns and more job losses. A ravaged stock market adds to the downdraft.

That’s a death-spiral:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate Republican caucus that unemployment could soon rise to 20 percent, and that could be optimistic, and Goldman Sachs projects that GDP could decline by 24 percent in the second quarter of 2020 – an unprecedented drop for a single quarter. Even the trillion-dollar stimulus package proposed by the Trump administration, as embellished by Democrats, will be woefully insufficient. Giving everyone $1,000, even $2,000, will help. But that’s about three weeks’ pay. Paid medical leave, extended unemployment benefits, investment in needed medical equipment, aid for devastated industries like the airlines and small businesses, as well as deferrals on tax and debt payments, are all minimally necessary. So are the Federal Reserve’s rate cuts and gigantic purchases of bonds to keep financial markets solvent.

But none of these measures is remotely sufficient, given the scale and rate of likely economic collapse.

In short, we’re doomed:

Even after eight years of the New Deal, the economy was still not out of depression by 1940, as critics of Roosevelt never tire of pointing out. Unemployment was still over 14 percent when World War II broke out.

No, wait! Hitler and Tojo saved us:

It was the war, and the astonishing mobilization for war, that finally cured the Great Depression. During each of the four war years, the government borrowed an average of more than 20 percent of GDP for the war effort, and at its peak spent more than 35 percent of GDP on the war, raising the difference from taxation. As a byproduct, America rebuilt production capacity, went on an invention spree and modernized its economy. We lived off that investment for much of the postwar boom.

After Pearl Harbor, in the first six months of 1942, the Department of War entered about $100 billion of military production contracts – more than the entire GDP of 1939. As half-idle factories roared back to full production, retooling from autos to tanks and planes, unemployment melted to less than two percent by 1943.

So this is the answer, with one minor problem:

Direct public spending is more effective than other forms of fiscal relief because every nickel gets spent and jobs are created directly. What is today’s equivalent of the World War II buildup, minus the war?

Yes, we don’t have a war, but we could pretend we have one and do this:

First, we need huge investment in hospitals and medical supplies. We need to reclaim supply chains for products like N-95 masks and ventilators that have been moved abroad. Government has the authority in an emergency to produce these needed materials itself if contractors can’t be found. In World War II, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation underwrote more than $20 billion in war production plants. Some of these were called GOCOs, for government-owned, contractor-operated. Upgrading our capacity to deal with the public health crisis could be phase one of the plan.

Second, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the United States will need $4.5 trillion for deferred maintenance of basic public infrastructure by 2025 – roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, power grids, rail lines, tunnels and public buildings. Take the train from New York to Washington and you will see a living museum of 19th century infrastructure.

Modernizing some of this will take advance planning, but there are trillions of dollars in projects that state and local government could begin this year or next. All that’s missing is the federal money. These projects will of course take trained workers, and a big part of the World War II model was investment in worker skills.

FDR had the WPA and Hoover Dam is still there, and so is the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the TVA brought electricity to a dark third of the country – but the war really ramped things up, and then there’s this:

Third is the need for massive investment to slow down global climate change and prepare for expected storm surges and coastal flooding. We need to replace carbon-based energy sources with clean and renewable ones. We need to upgrade commercial buildings and homes to make them far more energy efficient.

“Smart” power grids can save costs and make the economy more resilient to climate change. We will need to spend a lot of money on flood barriers. With fossil fuel companies devastated by crashing prices and the toll on fracking and shale, this is a particularly good time to invest in green energy alternatives. If government is going to spend huge sums to keep the economy afloat, we should get something tangible beyond mere survival.

This president seems to want to move the nation back to coal for everything, but if there’s a ton of money to be made in solar panels and windmills and flood walls, and the infrastructure stuff too, he might come around. He has to come around:

All of this will add up to several trillion dollars. But do the arithmetic. Total output in 2019 was about $21.4 trillion. If GDP falls by 20 percent – less than the 30 percent that it fell between 1929 and 1933 – that’s an annual loss of over $4 trillion of economic activity. This time, with government deliberately shutting down commerce, it could well fall faster. Only a World War II-scale response can make up that difference.

Where will government get the money? At a time when inflation is close to zero and the government can borrow for 30 years at less than 2 percent, this is precisely the moment to borrow to underwrite a recovery that also modernizes the economy…

We need to get ahead of this collapse now, and we have a superb model in the World War II mobilization.

But we don’t have a war, unless we do:

President Donald Trump on Sunday announced that he has activated the National Guard in California, New York and Washington State in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The administration emphasized that the deployment of guard members is not martial law.

The state governors will retain command of the National Guard, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover all costs of the missions to respond to the virus outbreak.

So this is not martial law. He’s not suspending the Constitution. Yes, Attorney General Barr had floated the idea of allowing the government to arrest and detain anyone for any reason, without trial, indefinitely, while this virus thing lasts, or longer, but no one liked that at all. Even the folks at Fox News aren’t ready for martial law just yet, so Trump’s war was more of a minor dust-up, or an attempt to one-up Andrew Cuomo:

Trump used martial language during the briefing, echoing the governor of New York State and the mayor of New York City, who have criticized the president for not acting more forcefully. New York has the most confirmed cases and deaths in the United States.

“I’m a wartime president,” Trump said.

“And you’re not!” That was the message, but he did send in the troops:

As of Sunday morning, at least 7,300 National Guard members have been deployed to fight the virus in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

“The federal government has deployed hundreds of tons of supplies from our national stocks pile to locations with the greatest need in order to assist in those areas,” Trump said.

Supplies include gloves, hospital beds, N95 masks and gowns that will be delivered in the next couple days, the president said.

And he had a bigger stick than Cuomo:

Earlier in the month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed the National Guard to New Rochelle, the suburb outside of New York City that has a large cluster of virus cases. Cuomo has urged the federal government to mobilize the military to fight the pandemic.

Trump did that. What could Cuomo say now? But of course this is not what Robert Kuttner has in mind. This will not save the economy. Trump needs a real war.

The New York Times’ team of Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman and Reid Epstein explain why a fake war will do just fine right now:

With the economy faltering and the political landscape unsettled as the coronavirus death toll climbs, a stark and unavoidable question now confronts President Trump and his advisers: Can he save his campaign for re-election when so much is suddenly going so wrong?

After three years of Republicans’ championing signs of financial prosperity that were to be Mr. Trump’s chief re-election argument, the president has never needed a new message to voters as he does now, not to mention luck. At this point, the president has one clear option for how to proceed politically, and is hoping that an array of factors will break his way.

The option, which he has brazenly pushed in recent days, is to cast himself as a “wartime president” who looks in charge of a nation under siege while his likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., is largely out of sight hunkered down in Delaware.

In short, he had a marketing problem and this was a possible solution to that problem, but risky:

There are other variables that he and his allies hope will fall in their favor: that the outbreak of the virus will slow and, in the warmer months, dissipate; that the states will get it under control; that the federal government’s steps taken so far will flatten the curve; that Mr. Biden and the Democrats will look impotent and inconsequential by comparison; and that enough voters will move past his initial efforts to play down the virus’s dangers.

The great unknown, of course – and the tremendous risk to Mr. Trump’s political fate, no matter what he says or does – is that the human cost, the economic toll, and the longevity and course of the pandemic are all X factors that will most likely play out for months and could be strongly salient if not severe by the time of the November general election.

Yes, millions could die, and millions more could end up homeless and starving in the streets. Millions with no jobs and no funds make that inevitable. And the shriveled bodies of dead children everywhere, starved to death in the gutters, makes marketing your brand a bit more difficult. But this could work:

In perhaps the best-case scenario for Mr. Trump, the patina of a “wartime president” could prove to be influential with casual voters who don’t dig into the details of his belated response to the coronavirus, which included dismissing the criticism of his handling of the threat as a Democratic “hoax” and contributing to a slow start in testing for the virus.

“He is counting on people being so traumatized on a day-to-day basis that they will forget his inaction,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. “It’s better for him to be a wartime commander in chief than someone who, when the big crisis hit, misread it completely.”

That’s the best case. The storm and stress will have overwhelmed everyone. They won’t be able to think clearly about anything, and they certainly won’t remember any details of anything. He wins. Or he doesn’t win:

Rarely have incumbent presidents seen their arguments for re-election evaporate so quickly. Mr. Trump and his advisers had planned to argue that the strong economy warranted a second term and that supporters and detractors alike wanted their 401(k)’s in the Trump-era stock market; that has now become an impossible sell. And as the administration negotiates an enormous bailout package with Congress for multiple industries, his strategy of caricaturing Democrats as “socialists” is not tenable either.

So Mr. Trump is trying to mount a new version of his old argument: that “I alone can fix it,” as he said at the 2016 Republican convention about the nation’s problems. He is counting on enough voters believing they have to stick by a leader in the midst of an immense global crisis.

Addressing fearful Americans, Mr. Trump said on Sunday evening: “You have a leader that will always fight for you and I will not stop until we win. This is going to be a victory.” He added at another point, “No American is alone as long as we’re united.”

But shortly after reading his new script on Sunday night, Mr. Trump mocked Senator Mitt Romney of Utah for self-quarantining. “Romney’s in isolation? Gee, that’s too bad,” he said sarcastically at the briefing room podium.

He just had to be nasty. He likes to sneer. His base loves that about him, but that’s problematic:

Mr. Trump’s temperament is dissimilar to “wartime presidents” with whom he is seeking to compare himself. Over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump has struggled to stick to any bipartisan message, or speak emotionally to the pain and fear of Americans during crisis points like natural disasters or mass shootings.

“That’s why it’s so hard to be a wartime president,” said Michael Beschloss, the historian and author of “Presidents of War.” “Not only are you coming up with a strategy and tactics, but at the same time you have to let Americans know that you know how hard this is for them.”

Mr. Trump, so far, has struggled to feel anyone’s pain, unlike past presidents, while continuing to play out the fights with the news media that enliven his base. Last week, he lashed out at a journalist who had prompted him to explain what his message was to the millions of Americans watching him from home, who felt scared.

The president has also continued to credit his own administration’s response. But Mr. Beschloss added that “part of being a wartime president is being willing to give people bad news,” a job Mr. Trump has mostly left to others.

And the small stuff sets him off:

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York tapped into one of Mr. Trump’s greatest fears when he referred to him on CNN as the “Herbert Hoover of his generation,” comparing him to a president who failed to recognize or take bold actions to stave off the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression.

Trump is now posting endless tweets about how Bill de Blasio knows nothing and is a backstabber and a snake and everyone in the city has always loved him and hated Bill de Blasio who is a total loser, while he’s a winner, and his response here has been a perfect ten of ten, and everyone is always picking on him and he doesn’t see why, because he has saved the nation, over and over, and so on and so forth.

Wartime presidents don’t whine. And this is war, or should be, to save the nation. This is the storm. This is the stress. But there’s nothing romantic about this at all.

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A Simple Matter of Principle

The week finally ended. The nation is shutting down. Everyone must stay home. Or we’ll all die. And the week ended with this:

The governor of Illinois issued a stay-at-home order on Friday, making it the latest state to make such a sweeping mandate in the fight against the spread of the new coronavirus.

California issued a stay-at-home order Thursday, and New York’s governor mandated that all nonessential businesses keep workers at home. Pennsylvania’s governor has also ordered that all businesses that are not “life-sustaining” close.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the decision for his state at a press conference Friday afternoon.

“I don’t come to this decision easily,” he said. “I fully recognize that in some cases, I am choosing between saving people’s lives and saving people’s livelihoods. But ultimately you can’t have a livelihood if you don’t have your life.”

That’s a hell of choice, but there it is. New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, and actually most points in between, the nation is shutting down, for good reason:

New York also rolled out its new mandate on Friday. In addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ordering all nonessential businesses to cease operating outside the home, he put new requirements in place for people over 70 or with underlying health conditions to avoid public transportation and stay home except for solitary exercise.

The requirements also urge New Yorkers to practice social distancing and to stay in their homes as much as possible.

“Your actions can affect my health, that is where we are,” Cuomo said at a Friday press conference.

But things aren’t that bad. Don’t worry. Be happy. Everyone remembers the fish and now we have the president, as Shannon Pettypiece reports here:

To hear President Donald Trump tell it, there is a website where you can find out if you need to get tested for coronavirus and millions of testing kits available for anyone who needs one. There is an approved treatment, a vaccine coming soon, plenty of protective masks in circulation, and a ship that will be off the coast of New York next week to help patients.

But the president’s description of the state of measures being taken by his administration stands in sharp relief to the reality being described by the experts on the ground involved in the response. And so the president – who was criticized early in the crisis for downplaying the risk posed by the virus while health officials were sounding the alarm – now faces claims that he is overplaying the available assistance.

Yes, this is a problem:

While Trump has given overly optimistic timelines and overstated his accomplishments throughout his time in office, in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, his alternate version of events threatens to create unnecessary confusion among the public, potentially leading to a false sense of security, drawing criticism from public health experts and political opponents.

“Memo to Donald Trump: take a day off from the briefing room where you hype cures that aren’t proven, promise websites that don’t exist, and talk about tests that aren’t being given – and let @CDCgov talk,” Ron Klain, a longtime adviser to Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden who led the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak, said Thursday in a tweet.

Yes, let Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading immunologist, and your point man, speak, and just shut up. People trust Tony. People like Tony. And he means you no harm. Go work on your golf swing. Tony’s got this. But no:

On Thursday – during a news conference which Trump had described a day earlier as being held to announce “very important news from the FDA concerning the Chinese Virus” – he said a decades-old malaria drug had been approved to treat COVID-19 and could be a “game changer.” Moments later, the FDA said the drug was still going through the approval process to determine if it was safe and effective for coronavirus patients.

When Trump was pressed by NBC’s Peter Alexander on Friday about whether this claim was giving Americans false hope, he testily defended his positive spin. “I feel good about it, that’s all, just a feeling, smart guy,” Trump said. “I feel good about it, and you are going to see soon enough.”

What does the FDA know anyway? He feels good about this decades old malaria drug. Isn’t that enough? But his “feelings” have always been an issue:

As hospitals have scrambled to get the protective supplies they need, Trump has repeatedly expressed confidence the U.S. will have the supplies needed. Over the past week, Trump has said the U.S. had “massive numbers of ventilators” and plenty of protective masks for health care workers while assuring that more supplies were on the way.

“The masks are being made by the millions,” Trump said on March 14. “Millions and millions. We have plenty now, but we’re ordering for the millions. We’re ordering worst-case scenario.”

But a few days later, Trump had to call on the military to rush out protective supplies, as hospitals said they had to start reusing masks, making their own and asking the public for donations.

When Trump was asked at a press briefing Thursday about the gap between his own claims and what health care providers say they are experiencing, he denied over-hyping. “I’m hearing very good things on the ground,” he said.

Isn’t that enough? Perhaps not:

For patients confused about whether they need testing and how to get it, Trump announced last week that Google was developing a coronavirus testing website that was going to be “very quickly done, unlike websites of the past.” Vice President Mike Pence said Americans would be able to use the website “very soon” to find out if they needed testing and where to go to get it.

But the website being developed by Google sister company Verily has ended up being much more limited in scope than what the White House promised. Verily did launch a website this week similar to the one Trump described, but said in a statement to NBC News that the site is in the “early stages of development” and only being tested in two California counties.

While Pence clarified the day after the White House announced the site that it would just be for the San Francisco Bay Area, “with the goal of expanding to other locations,” Trump denied there was any miscommunication, saying the head of Google called to apologize, without elaborating on what that apology was allegedly for, and accused the media of putting out false information, without specifying what the inaccuracies might be.

So don’t worry, be happy, but something fishy has been going on here:

To address growing concerns by hospitals that they would soon run out of beds for patients, Trump said at a Wednesday press conference that the Navy was sending a medical ship to New York and another to the West Coast to help treat patients. Trump said the ships “are in tip-top shape. They soon will be.” On timing, he said “they can be launched over the next week or so, depending on need.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper gave a less optimistic timeline later that day. During an interview on CNN, he said the ship to be sent to New York, which is currently undergoing maintenance, wouldn’t be ready for “a couple weeks plus” and the one on the West Coast “should be ready in a week and half, two weeks, definitely before the end of the month.” He said the ships still needed to be staffed with medical personnel, and only then moved to their locations.

Esper also clarified that the ships, built to deal with wartime trauma, wouldn’t be used to treat those infected with the coronavirus, but rather to take care of other patients to free up hospital operating rooms.

But no matter:

On Friday, Trump said again that the administration was not getting proper praise for the actions he had taken. “We haven’t been given the credit we deserve,” the president told reporters. “That I can tell you.”

He’s angry about that, very angry, but the Washington Post’s Kim Bellware reports on another way to do this:

As daily life undergoes rapid changes in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the death and infection total climb, a Chicago epidemiologist is drawing praise for her comments at a Friday news conference that outlined with clarity and urgency how seemingly small sacrifices today will prevent deaths of loved ones and strangers next week.

Emily Landon, the chief infectious-disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, took the lectern after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who on Friday afternoon announced that the state would undergo a shelter-in-place order for 2½ weeks starting Saturday evening.

“The healthy and optimistic among us will doom the vulnerable,” Landon said. She acknowledged that restrictions like a shelter-in-place may end up feeling “extreme” and “anticlimactic” – and that’s the point.

“It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right, nothing happens,” Landon said. “A successful shelter-in-place means you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing, and you’d be right: Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.”

Landon’s comments were less than 10 minutes of the nearly hour-long news conference, but they quickly made an impression on listeners and drew praise for their clarity and sense of empowerment while still conveying the urgency of the moment.

This wasn’t about her. She talked about others, and everyone:

Landon described herself as naturally optimistic, the kind of person who wants to see the bright side of things, but said that the United States is in a critical moment where people need to understand the seriousness of the crisis and how their seemingly small actions can affect it.

“In all honesty, if we say, ‘This is like the flu, we’ll be all right,’ that attitude is going to harm other people,” Landon told The Post. “And it’s really hard to wrap your head around that, especially in American culture: We’re individualistic and we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and find a way to make it through. And that’s not going to work right now.”

And that’s fine:

Valerie Gunn, a marketing professional in Chicago, said Landon struck a chord.

“She was very human, and I thought she did a good job of sounding the alarm without making me feel like I need to go buy everything in the grocery store,” Gunn told The Post by phone Friday. “If you listen to not one other speech about this, this is the one I would listen to. It was concise and absorbable.”

And there was this:

For Michael Patrick Thornton, an actor and theater owner in Chicago, Landon’s remarks provided the information and professionalism he’s found lacking in the federal government’s remarks, including those of President Trump.

Thornton listened to Landon’s comments and heard “a very clear story about shared responsibility in a time of pandemic.”

“People are trying to wrap their minds about what fighting this even feels like, and she did a masterful job in managing explications,” Thornton said.

And meanwhile, in Washington, Trump went the other way, as Aaron Blake reports here:

President Trump on Friday excoriated an NBC reporter for pressing him on whether he was being overly optimistic about the government’s ability to deliver drugs to treat the coronavirus. …

At the daily news briefing, Trump played up the promise of a malaria drug to possibly treat the coronavirus. He was asked about its application to other similar diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome, for which he said he thought the drug had been “fairly effective.”

But then Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading immunologist, stepped in to qualify things.

“You’ve got to be careful when you say ‘fairly effective,'” Fauci told Fox News’s John Roberts. “It was never done in a clinical trial that compared it to anything. It was given to individuals and felt that maybe it works.”

Trump shrugged. Perhaps he thinks Fauci is a harmless fool, but then things got hot:

In the next exchange, NBC’s Peter Alexander noted that Trump had said the day before about some of the drugs “we’re in really good shape on, and that’s for immediate delivery – immediate – like as fast as we can get it.”

Trump watered that down somewhat Friday, acknowledging there is a process to approving drugs for the new purpose. But he added, “I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to, in particular, one of these drugs.” He added: “People may be surprised by the way there would be a game-changer.”

Alexander noted that Fauci has sung a very different tune on this topic, saying here is no “magic drug.” Alexander suggested Trump might agree, but before he could finish his question, Trump cut in.

“Well,” Trump said, “you know I think we only disagree a little bit. I disagree. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe there is; maybe there isn’t. We have to see.”

But that was obviously problematic:

Alexander countered: “Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things, may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Trump said.

Alexander noted it was not yet an approved drug.

“Such a lovely question,” Trump shot back. He tried to say he agreed with Fauci – despite what he had said just a moment before – but then again offered a more optimistic tone than the doctor has about the drug.

“I feel good about it. That’s all it is – just a feeling. [I’m a] smart guy,” Trump said, adding: “We have nothing to lose. You know the expression: What the hell do you have to lose?”

Alexander responded with what might seem like an innocuous question: “What do you say to Americans who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. Fourteen thousand are sick. Millions, as you witness, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”

That was a bad move:

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter; that’s what I say,” Trump said. “I think it’s a very nasty question. And I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers, and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism.”

He added: “Let me just say something: That’s really bad reporting. And you want to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot.”

In short, his hunches really are good, so back off, asshole, but Blake adds this:

Alexander rightly noted that Trump was saying something that medical experts like Fauci have strained to avoid – that this drug could be the kind of “game-changer.” Trump actually volunteered that he disagreed with that and said it might be. There is a real difference in what they are saying, and it’s completely fair for a reporter to ask Trump to account for that…

Trump told Alexander he was putting out a “very bad signal” to the American people, but Alexander was simply noting that the signal Trump is emitting was on a much more optimistic frequency than Fauci seems to desire.

Blake thinks that could be dangerous:

Trump has long had a tendency to oversell things as president, which perhaps owes to his history as a salesman and a showman. But this is precisely the time when health officials caution against over-selling things. And Trump losing his temper over a reporter trying to inject some realism into the situation – which Trump has likened to a war – doesn’t exactly suggest he’s making cold, calculated decisions.

But Trump seems almost immune to bad news on the coronavirus; he also cut off another reporter earlier this week who said the economy had “ground to a halt.”

“Thanks for telling us,” Trump said sarcastically. “We appreciate it.”

Ah well, everyone is used to this, but:

Alexander asked the same question of Vice President Pence later. Pence’s response: “I would say do not be afraid; be vigilant.”

That’s how it’s done, and it’s not hard at all, but Paul Waldman sees this:

When President Trump decided to give daily news conferences during the coronavirus crisis, it was not because he alone knows enough to keep the American people properly informed during this trying time. The obvious intent was to demonstrate command and show the public that he is on top of the situation, so they can see their president actively confronting the biggest challenge of his time in office.

But it has also exposed a huge weakness he has as a president, one we saw only intermittently before in a visit to a flood zone or a hurricane’s aftermath: Trump is simply incapable of offering the kind of emotional support the country needs at a time like this.

And there is the full quote from Trump:

I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers, and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism, and the same with NBC and Concast. I don’t call it Comcast, I call it Concast.


He can say the American people are looking for hope, but he can’t offer it to them. He interprets mention of people’s fear as an attack on him, and, as we know, he feels strongly that any attack on him must be met with an attack in response. So that’s how he treated it, and the opportunity was lost.

That’s not to say Trump isn’t aware of the need. He has been extremely conscious from the beginning of the fear and uncertainty the coronavirus can inspire. That’s why he spent weeks pretending it was no big deal and he had everything completely under control – nothing to worry about, it’ll be gone before you know it, everything’s fine, it’s gonna be great.

Now that he can’t say that anymore, he struggles to give voice to anything resembling an emotional resonance with the national mood.

But we will have to live with this:

Trump will never deliver great rhetoric, because he isn’t a good orator and the people who write his speeches aren’t very good either. But Trump is so focused on himself that he can’t even understand when he’s being given an opportunity to express empathy, as Peter Alexander gave him.

When we look back on this presidency and this moment in particular, we’ll think of the mismanagement, the divisiveness, the shortsightedness, the pettiness and everything else that makes Trump the president he is. But we’ll also remember the void in the White House, the place where connection and empathy and reassurance should have been.

And it didn’t have to be this way:

NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander said he was tossing President Trump a “softball” question during Friday’s coronavirus task force briefing, asking the president what he would “say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared.”

Alexander spoke about the confrontation on MSNBC on Friday afternoon, with the reporter telling host Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd during separate interviews that he was only attempting to provide the president with an opportunity to reassure the American people.

“I was trying to provide the president an opportunity to reassure the millions of Americans, members of my own family … and plenty of people sitting at home right now,” Alexander, who has clashed with the president during press briefings in the past, said. “This was his opportunity to do that, to provide a sort of positive or uplifting message.”

There won’t be any positive or uplifting message. It’s too late for that. The week ended with this:

New York State’s long-feared surge of coronavirus cases has begun, thrusting the medical system toward a crisis point.

In a startlingly quick ascent, officials reported on Friday that the state was closing in on 8,000 positive tests, about half the cases in the country. The number was 10 times higher than what was reported earlier in the week.

In the Bronx, doctors at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center say they have only a few remaining ventilators for patients who need them to breathe. In Brooklyn, doctors at Kings County Hospital Center say they are so low on supplies that they are reusing masks for up to a week, slathering them with hand sanitizer between shifts.

That which was going to happen, all at once, later, happened on one Friday afternoon:

As it prepares for the worst-case projections, the state is asking retired health care workers to volunteer to help. The city is considering trying to turn the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan into a makeshift hospital.

“The most striking part is the speed with which it has ramped up,” said Ben McVane, an emergency room doctor at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens. “It went from a small trickle of patients to a deluge of patients in our departments.”

And now that the help didn’t arrive, there’s this:

Medical workers exposed to the coronavirus had been self-quarantining, but this week state and city health officials issued new guidance recommending that hospital workers stay on the job until they show symptoms of the virus. People with symptoms of the virus spread it most easily, but research has also indicated that asymptomatic transmission is possible.

They will save who they can but this will now spread everywhere, and specifically among these hospital workers, but it seems all of this was a matter of principle:

President Trump and his advisers have resisted calls from congressional Democrats and a growing number of governors to use a federal law that would mobilize industry and provide badly needed resources against the coronavirus spread, days after the president said he would consider using that authority.

Mr. Trump has given conflicting signals about the Defense Production Act since he first said on Wednesday that he was prepared to invoke the law, which was passed by Congress at the outset of the Korean War and grants presidents extraordinary powers to force American industries to ensure the availability of critical equipment.

The next day, he suggested that obtaining medical equipment should be up to individual governors because “we’re not a shipping clerk.” But on Friday, he reversed himself, asserting that he had used the law to spur the production of “millions of masks,” without offering evidence or specifics about who was manufacturing them or when they would reach health workers.

Ronald Reagan said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help” and that government is always the problem and never the solution. The solution is the private sector. If someone has to make money they’ll do a great job. The government never has to make money. The government never has to show a profit. How could the government ever do a good job at anything? What’s the incentive?

These people have been thinking this way since FDR came up with that damned New Deal and ruined capitalism, and that what this seems to be about:

Business leaders have said invoking the defense law is not necessary. During his appearance with the members of his coronavirus task force on Friday, Mr. Trump supported that idea and said that private companies, including General Motors, had volunteered to produce supplies without any prompting from the government.

“We are literally being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that want to do the work and help our country,” Mr. Trump said. “We have not had a problem with that at all.”

Some of the president’s advisers have privately said that they share the longstanding opposition of conservatives to government intervention and oppose using the law, and the president again signaled his own ambivalence about it.

The government shouldn’t do anything, on principle, as in the old battles:

As the coronavirus has spread, Mr. Trump has come under withering attack from Democrats for the speed at which he has mobilized the government to respond.

“We’re talking about a president who is basically doing what Herbert Hoover did at the beginning of the Depression and minimizing the danger and refusing to use available federal action,” Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said Friday in an interview with the radio station WNYC.

“And people are going to die, and they shouldn’t, they don’t have to, if we could get the support that we’re asking for.”

Mayor de Blasio should remember that the famous conservative think tank out here at Stanford is the Hoover Institution – not the FDR Institution – so he’s invoking a hero to these people:

The president’s advisers say they see the role of the federal government as a facilitator, as opposed to the chief producer or a national governor. They have tried to encourage states to get by with what they can, suggesting there will be support from the federal government but that this should not be the first option.

In practice, the administration has been trying to use the provision to jawbone companies into taking voluntary action while holding over them the possibility that the federal government would intervene, according to administration officials familiar with the state of play.

Okay, threats may be necessary, but if they offer the guys fat government contracts – especially those “cost plus” contracts where they can charge the feds extra big bucks every quarter endlessly – they’ll come around one day, sooner or later.

And people will die, unless they starve:

Senators worked late into the night Friday in search of a deal on a trillion-dollar stimulus bill to save the economy from collapsing under the ravages of the coronavirus. They finally left the Capitol around 10:30 p.m. reporting progress but with a number of issues still unresolved. They planned to resume talks Saturday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had hoped to clinch an agreement Friday night in order to ensure a vote Monday on the massive legislation that will allocate enormous sums of money to help individual Americans and businesses large and small that are getting clobbered by the coronavirus crisis. Negotiators now hope they are close enough to finalize an agreement on Saturday…

The frantic negotiations are taking place as the economic problems in the United States are multiplying. JPMorgan Chase has estimated that the U.S. economy could shrink by 14 percent between April and June, the biggest contraction in the post-World War II era. Goldman Sachs has estimated that 2.25 million people filed for unemployment this week, a nearly tenfold increase from one week ago and the largest number ever recorded.

Underscoring the urgency of the situation as the administration searches for every possible tool to respond, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced Friday that the nation’s tax filing deadline would be pushed back from April 15 to July 15.

Mnuchin has been muttering that unemployment could hit twenty percent. Others say that’s optimistic. The nation has been shut down so this will be that bad. And people are dying. And more will die, soon. And this president… Now there are no words.

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