And Now Sedition

Little Brazil out here is just a few blocks along Venice Boulevard in Culver City just west of the old MGM studios, now Sony Pictures – a small “Brazilian Mall” and a few curious restaurants and that’s it. This is not Rio or Bahia. But it will do. And a few years ago it was lunch there with a woman who had lived in Rio for a few years. She ordered. Her Portuguese was good. And we talked about life there. Brazil had been a military dictatorship from 1964 through 1985 – the Bossa Nova years – but she said it wasn’t that bad. You got used to it. The trick was to never say anything in particular about anything. Go about your business. Keep your head down. Otherwise, you’d die.

She lived, but she left. She said she had come to hate living like that. She had grown up in Brooklyn and Queens and had that New York attitude. She said whatever the hell she wanted to say whenever and wherever she wanted to say it. And she wasn’t going back to Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, that Donald Trump wannabe, was taking Brazil back to the old days. Screw that. Los Angeles would do for now.

But there’s no escaping anything now. America can become what Brazil had been. Consider the Washington Post’s latest scoop:

Hours before law enforcement forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square in early June amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd, federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and seek devices that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire, according to an Army National Guard major who was there.

D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.

In sworn testimony, shared this week with the Washington Post, DeMarco provided his account as part of an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers’ use of force against D.C. protesters.

They were amassing live ammunition, and grabbing their super ray gun, for this:

On June 1, federal forces pushed protesters from the park across from the White House, blanketing the street with clouds of tear gas, firing stun grenades, setting off smoke bombs and shoving demonstrators with shields and batons, eliciting criticism that the response was extreme. The Trump administration has argued that officers were responding to violent protesters who had been igniting fireworks, setting fires and throwing water bottles and rocks at police.

But DeMarco’s account contradicts the administration’s claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse – a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. His testimony also offers a glimpse into the equipment and weaponry federal forces had – and others that they sought – during the early days of protests that have continued for more than 100 days in the nation’s capital.

This is about overreaction and this guy should know:

DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.

Or it was just a misunderstanding:

A Defense Department official briefed on the matter downplayed DeMarco’s allegations, saying emails asking about specific weaponry were routine inventory checks to determine what equipment was available.

That seems unlikely:

The chaos that erupted on the evening of June 1 played out before millions of viewers on split-screen television broadcasts as President Trump strode through the emptied park toward St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he delivered remarks and posed for photos with a bible.

U.S. Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan has testified that protesters were given clear warnings to disperse via a Long Range Acoustic Device. But DeMarco told lawmakers that is impossible because there was no such device on the scene at the time.

And there are the emails:

Just before noon on June 1, the Defense Department’s top military police officer in the Washington region sent an email to officers in the D.C. National Guard. It asked whether the unit had a Long Range Acoustic Device, also known as an LRAD, or a microwave-like weapon called the Active Denial System, which was designed by the military to make people feel like their skin is burning when in range of its invisible rays.

The technology, also called a “heat ray,” was developed to disperse large crowds in the early 2000s but was shelved amid concerns about its effectiveness, safety and the ethics of using it on human beings.

Pentagon officials were reluctant to use the device in Iraq. In late 2018, the New York Times reported, the Trump administration had weighed using the device on migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border – an idea shot down by Kirstjen Nielsen, then the Homeland Security secretary, citing humanitarian concerns.

The super ray gun had been abandoned – over the ethics of using it on human beings – over humanitarian concerns – but does someone have one that Team Trump could borrow for a day or two? But they got the other items:

DeMarco also testified that a stash of M4 carbine assault rifles was transferred from Fort Belvoir to the D.C. Armory on June 1 and that transfers of ammunition from states such as Missouri and Tennessee arrived in subsequent days.

By mid-June, about 7,000 rounds of 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition rounds had been transferred to the D.C. Armory, DeMarco said.

This would be Kent State done right! But it wasn’t. It was just a close call:

DeMarco told legislators that, having served in a combat zone where he spent time assessing various threats, he did not feel threatened at any point by protesters near the White House “or assess them to be violent.”

“From my observation, these demonstrators – our fellow American citizens – were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights,” he said. “Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

That’s not what the administration had said. The administration thinks that there has been far too much expression of First Amendment rights:

Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.

The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who described Mr. Barr’s comments on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Everyone is scared shitless of Barr – he’s a mean bastard – but they did leak his comments to the press, privately. Break a window and go to jail for sedition, for insurrection, for conspiracy to overthrow the government through violence? This is dictator crap. This scared them, as did that:

The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions.

The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute crimes as aggressively as possible in cities where protests have given way to violence. But in suggesting possible prosecution of Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked.

Is there a way to put the president’s opponents or just his critics in jail for a very long time? Barr was just asking, but he already knows the answer to that:

During a speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Barr noted that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases. He did not mention Ms. Durkan or the sedition statute.

“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”

In short, he can do all this. No one can stop him. He was telling his federal prosecutors to start the process of making protest something like treason. The job is to help Donald Trump:

The disclosures came as Mr. Barr directly inserted himself into the presidential race in recent days to warn that the United States would be on the brink of destruction if Mr. Trump lost. He told a Chicago Tribune columnist that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Mr. Trump lost and that the country faced “a clear fork in the road.”

So now the United States Department of Justice will stop Biden by, as Malcolm X put it, any means possible:

Mr. Barr’s actions have thrust the Justice Department into the political fray at a time when Democrats and former law enforcement officials have expressed fears that he is politicizing the department, particularly by intervening in legal matters in ways that benefit Mr. Trump or his circle of friends and advisers.

Hell, that’s his job now, but this sedition thing is a stretch, or maybe not:

The most extreme form of the federal sedition law, which is rarely invoked, criminalizes conspiracies to overthrow the government of the United States – an extraordinary situation that does not seem to fit the circumstances of the protests and unrest in places like Portland, Ore., and elsewhere in response to police killings of Black men.

The wording of the federal sedition statute goes beyond actual revolutions. It says the crime can also occur anytime two or more people have conspired to use force to oppose federal authority, hinder the government’s ability to enforce any federal law or unlawfully seize any federal property — elements that might conceivably fit a plot to, say, break into and set fire to a federal courthouse.

Congress has stipulated that a conviction on a charge of seditious conspiracy can carry up to 20 years in prison.

And the only issue is the use of force to oppose federal authority. Define “force” the right way and everyone goes to jail. And two weeks earlier it was this:

Attorney General William P. Barr sidestepped questions on Wednesday about President Trump’s incendiary conspiracy theory about a plane “loaded with thugs” headed to Washington over the weekend, saying that he did not know “what the president was specifically referring to,” but that the FBI was investigating myriad reports that outsiders had traveled to the city to cause trouble.

He must have decided that was sedition, but this is complicated:

“There are all these different statutes the government can use if they are worried about things like property damage,” said Jenny Carroll, a University of Alabama law professor. She said that turning to statutes like sedition would mark an escalation in the government’s effort to quell the violence. “If you start charging those people, even if you don’t get a conviction, it may make people think twice before going out to exercise their right to free speech.”

But of course that’s the whole idea, along with putting your political enemies in jail:

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is sharply criticizing an investigation by his own party into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, saying it’s “not the legitimate role of government” to try and damage political opponents.

Oh yes it is:

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has said the committee will issue a report before the Nov. 3 election on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. Johnson, a close ally of President Donald Trump, is leading the investigation into Burisma, a gas company in Ukraine that paid Hunter Biden to serve as a board member while Joe Biden was vice president to President Barack Obama.

Hunter goes to jail. His father is disgraced. Then the people vote. Trump is reelected in a landslide, but Mitt objects:

Most Republican senators have been on board with Johnson’s inquiry. But Romney, a frequent Trump critic, has repeatedly made clear he has concerns about politicizing the committee’s work.

The Utah lawmaker, who was the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, had his strongest words yet for what he called the “Biden-Burisma” investigation at a committee meeting Wednesday, saying that the inquiry from the “outset had the earmarks of a political exercise.”

Romney added: “Obviously, it is the province of campaigns and political parties’ opposition research, the media, to carry out political endeavors, to learn about or dust up one’s opponent. But it’s not the legitimate role of government or Congress, or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents.”

Mitt didn’t visit Rio in the late sixties. That’s how things are done. But perhaps this hasn’t been settled yet:

Senate Democrats have strongly objected to the inquiry and have charged that Johnson could be amplifying Russian propaganda to hurt Biden.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., offered a resolution calling for “the cessation of any Senate investigation or activity that allows Congress to act as a conduit for Russian disinformation.”

Johnson himself came to the floor to object, preventing the measure’s passage. He denied that any Russian disinformation was part of the investigation, calling the Democrats’ resolution “false charges” and “wild claims against me.”

The Russians had nothing to do with this. Putin told him so? This was getting ugly, but the week before it had been this:

A senior prosecutor working with Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham on his investigation into how U.S. intelligence agencies pursued allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election has resigned.

The departure of Nora Dannehy, a well-respected former federal prosecutor in Connecticut who rejoined the government in early 2019 to help Durham with the investigation, is likely to raise fresh questions among Democrats about whether Attorney General William P. Barr is pushing the case toward a public announcement to benefit President Trump ahead of November’s election. They have long accused Barr of having political motives in his decision-making surrounding the Durham probe.

The whole idea was to prove that Obama and Biden had been illegally spying on Trump since early 2016 to undermine his coming presidency and that was absolute treason. They both should be shot for treason, or be jailed forever, right now. Barr may have talked Trump down. Convict the second-level folks to prove this “treason” happened, and arrest them just before the election in a big public spectacle. That would do the trick. No one would vote for Biden:

Republicans are hopeful the prosecutor will bring cases against higher-level Justice Department or FBI officials who worked during the Obama administration, which could validate their critiques of the Russia probe. Democrats, though, fear Barr might orchestrate a late-hour revelation of his findings and alter the presidential race.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Barr has been using the Justice Department “as a shield to protect Trump” and go after his enemies. “The Durham investigation was political from the start and issuing ‘findings’ before the election would violate DOJ policy,” Schiff said.

Of course it was, but Nora Dannehy wouldn’t play along:

The development was first reported Friday by the Hartford Courant, which said she had been considering resignation for weeks. The paper, citing unidentified colleagues of Dannehy’s, said she resigned partly out of concern that the top of the Justice Department was pressuring Durham’s team to produce results before the election.

Of course he was:

Barr has said Durham’s first priority is to investigate and charge criminal cases, and the attorney general has said he will not delay the probe’s findings because of the looming election. Justice Department policies call for prosecutors to not take actions for the purpose of affecting an election, and by tradition they generally avoid taking steps that could have that appearance.

Barr doesn’t agree. His job is to get Trump reelected. He speaks for the justice department and he is Trump’s man:

Attorney General William Barr suggested on Wednesday that the calls for a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in history “other than slavery.”

The comments came minutes after he slammed the hundreds of Justice Department prosecutors working beneath him, equating them to preschoolers, in a defense of his own politically tuned decision making in the Trump administration.

Addressing a Constitution Day celebration hosted by Hillsdale College, the event’s host asked Barr to explain the “constitutional hurdles for forbidding a church from meeting during Covid-19.”

Hillsdale College is for severe and serious evangelical fundamentalists and Barr did not disappoint:

“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said as a round of applause came from the crowd.

But that was only a small part of this:

Barr has faced immense blowback from Justice Department employees and even rank-and-file attorneys in the department since the close of the Mueller investigation, for swaying cases in a way that undermines longstanding legal policies.

Wednesday, he upped the ante and equated them to preschoolers.

“Name one successful organization or institution where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct, there aren’t. There aren’t any letting the most junior members set the agenda,” Barr said during his speech.

“It might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency,” the attorney general added.

Yes, he hates whiny little babies:

In the speech, Barr questioned any criticism he’s received for “interfering” in cases. The attorney general has ultimate authority, he said.

“These people are agents of the attorney general. As I say, FBI agents. Whose agent do you think you are?” Barr asked on Tuesday, adding that career lawyers, too, might be influenced by politics.

“And I say, ‘What exactly am I interfering with?’ When you boil it right down, it’s the will of the most junior member of the organization who has some idea he wants to do something. What makes that sacrosanct?”

“They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face for tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions,” Barr also said.

He’s working for Trump. That’s his legitimacy. Case closed, so just shut up.

As the New York Times’ Peter Baker notes, there’s a lot of that going around:

President Trump on Wednesday rejected the professional scientific conclusions of his own government about the prospects for a widely available coronavirus vaccine and the effectiveness of masks in curbing the spread of the virus as the death toll in the United States from the disease neared 200,000.

In a remarkable display even for him, Mr. Trump publicly slapped down Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the president promised that a vaccine could be available in weeks and go “immediately” to the general public while diminishing the usefulness of masks despite evidence to the contrary.

No one believes any of that, but he’s the president, so he’s right and they’re wrong, and that’s that. And now they’ve made him very angry:

Mr. Trump lashed out just hours after Dr. Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were so vital in fighting the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, that they may even more important than a vaccine.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It’s just incorrect information.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president insisted, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.” As for Dr. Redfield’s conclusion that masks may be more useful than a vaccine, Mr. Trump said that “he made a mistake,” maintaining that a “vaccine is much more effective than the masks.”

He’s right. Don’t listen to experts. But that’ll be hard to maintain:

With Mr. Trump saying one thing and his health advisers saying another, many Americans have been left to figure out on their own whom to believe, with past polls showing that they have more faith in the experts than their president…

The public scolding of Dr. Redfield was only the latest but perhaps the starkest instance when the president has rejected not just the policy advice of his public health officials but the facts and information that they provided. Public health officials are in strong agreement about the value of masks even as Mr. Trump generally refuses to wear one, mocks his opponent for doing so and twice in the past two days questioned their utility based on the advice of restaurant waiters.

Likewise, health officials have said that it will be many months before a vaccine can be distributed to the population at large, allowing life to begin returning to a semblance of normal, even as Mr. Trump has promised to approve one in time for the general election on Nov. 3. By Mr. Trump’s own account, he personally called Dr. Redfield after Wednesday’s hearing to challenge his testimony, renewing questions about pressure on scientists who are supposed to be isolated from partisan politics.

But with the election looming, Mr. Trump is intent on convincing the public that the worst is behind the country. He has repeatedly expressed no regret about his handling of the threat, even with the death toll mounting.

Go ahead, hand Joe Biden a gift:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, said Mr. Trump’s undisguised fixation on the election calendar in declaring when a vaccine will be available has damaged his own credibility.

“So let me be clear. I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “And at this moment, the American people can’t either.”

More and more people agree about that, but then there was this:

The president’s comments came at a briefing where he again presented a glossy view of the pandemic, displaying charts meant to indicate that it was under control. He framed the crisis through a partisan lens, suggesting that fatalities in states that vote for Democrats should not be counted. “If you take the blue states deaths out, we are at a level I don’t think anybody in the world would be at,” he said.

Florida – Texas – now Iowa – that’s not even remotely true. But he says it’s true. And he’s very angry.

Now what? The trick is to never say anything in particular about anything. Go about your business. Keep your head down. Otherwise, it’s twenty years in jail for sedition. Oh, and learn a little Portuguese. This is Brazil now.

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A Dull Orange Haze

The whole west coast is on fire. The smoke is thick here in Los Angeles. No one is going anywhere. Breathing is too difficult. Everyone is hiding. And this is spreading. The haze from the fires has reached Washington – the skies high above the White House turned orange – which somehow seemed symbolic. Some say we do have a big orange Cheeto in office there. But it’s the haze that’s the problem. Nothing is clear. Everything is a bit fuzzy around the edges.

Oh well. That’s America now, and it was a slow news day too. No one made any sudden sharp moves. It was a day to move cautiously, a day to figure out what’s what, so the Washington Post asked their semi-retired legend to drop by and clarify a few things in his new book:

Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward said Tuesday that there was “denial across the board” among White House staffers about the severity of the coronavirus, and blamed President Trump for being a “bulldozer” who rejects opposing views.

Woodward, whose new book, “Rage,” is based in part on 18 on-the-record interviews with Trump, made the comments in a Washington Post Live interview.

“I think there was denial across the board,” Woodward told The Post’s Philip Rucker when asked whether White House staffers who also knew about the lethality of the virus denied its severity. He added that Trump is “a one-man band” who is “going to do what he wants to do on impulse or on information he has.”

“He’s a bulldozer to the staff and, quite frankly, to the country,” Woodward said. “And he just says what he wants, and so there’s no control. And this is one of the problems of the Trump presidency, that he doesn’t build a team. He doesn’t plan.”

Maybe that sums up the whole book. There’s nothing new there. Trump does seem to wing it, but he always has. That seems to be his management style. He reacts. He trusts his instincts. He doesn’t think. He does. So get out of the way of the bulldozer. The metaphor works, and “just doing” has served him well, or well enough until this damned virus came along. Now all he can do is pretend that what he said was wonderful:

Trump has criticized the book, calling it “just another political hit job” and told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning: “I read it very quickly. And it was very boring.”

But he has also acknowledged that he knowingly minimized the danger posed to Americans by the virus, although he insists that his actions did not amount to lying.

He had said the virus was nothing much and he had known that wasn’t true, but he wasn’t lying at all. The smoke was thick in the air. But maybe he hadn’t said what everyone had heard him say. The haze was thick in the air:

Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, defended the administration’s response to the coronavirus in an interview Tuesday morning on NBC News’s “Today” show.

“The president was very forthcoming with the American people about what he knew and when he knew it,” Kushner said.

Wait. Even the president had not said that. The president explicitly told Woodward that he had not been forthcoming with the American people, and let Woodward record that on tape, and never disputed that he said that. He even boasted, later, that this was a good thing. He was Churchill. He was FDR. He kept the nation from panicking. And that was heroic.

But he does seem to lie about his heroism:

One of the steps that Trump has frequently touted amid the pandemic is his decision earlier this year to impose restrictions on travel from China to the United States. But Woodward said Tuesday that the action was actually suggested by others in the administration and did not originate with Trump.

“My reporting shows that it was the doctors and the national security team that told the president that he needed to do this, and he okayed it,” Woodward said. “And if this was such a big deal, he would have gone out and announced it. Instead, he sent the secretary of health and human services, [Alex] Azar, to announce it.”

He did not bravely reject their cowardly advice to allow travel from China to continue. His whole team told him to do this, now. He said okay. But perhaps that was heroic.

It doesn’t matter. Everything was hazy. Politico’s Matthew Choi reported this:

President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday to have “up-played” the threat of coronavirus early in the pandemic, contradicting his own remarks to the journalist Bob Woodward that he wanted to minimize the disease to avoid panic.

Speaking at an ABC News town hall moderated by George Stephanopoulos, Trump rebutted a student who asked why he had downplayed “a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities.” Trump defended his response to the health crisis by citing an early travel ban on foreign nationals from China from entering the U.S. in order to curb the spread of the virus.

“Well, I didn’t downplay it,” the president responded. “I actually, in many ways, I up-played in terms of action. My action was very strong.”

The student interjected: “Did you not admit to it yourself?”

“With China, I put a ban on. With Europe, I put a ban on. We would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on,” Trump said. “We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on – whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important.”

Perhaps so, but that doesn’t minimize what Choi and everyone else remembers quite clearly:

Since February, Trump has publicly cast doubt on recommendations from his own health experts, comparing the disease to the seasonal flu. For months, he declined to wear a mask in public events and has recently restarted campaign rallies in enclosed spaces – much to health experts’ chagrin.

Trump has also called for reopening vast swaths of the country, contending that keeping people in lockdown was a greater risk than the virus that has claimed the lives of almost 200,000 people in the U.S. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Latino Americans.

But he has his security blanket:

Trump’s pivot to his early travel ban from China and parts of Europe has become his default defense when faced with criticism of his coronavirus response. When pressed by Stephanopoulos on whether he regretted any part of his handling of the pandemic, Trump said: “No. I think we did a great job.”

That’s what he says, along with this:

Another town hall participant confronted Trump on his “Make America Great Again” motto, pointing out that for many African Americans who have historically faced injustices because of racism, “we cannot identify with such greatness.” He confronted the president for declining to acknowledge that there is a “race problem in America,” a remark that caused the president to pause.

“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said. “I can tell you there’s none with me, because I have great respect for all races.”

Then he said what he always says about this. He’s done more for African-Americans than Martin Luther King or John Lewis ever did, and maybe more than Abraham Lincoln ever did. No one argues with him. What would be the point? A dull orange haze has settled down on America.

And there was this:

The president also responded to questions on police reform, particularly in light of anti-racism protests that have sprung up in cities across the nation following numerous high-profile episodes of police brutality this year. Trump squarely repeated his platform of support for the police, excoriating what he called “Democrat cities” for not standing by their law enforcement agencies.

Trump has often dismissed violent clashes between protesters and police in several large cities as the fault of local leadership, deriding officials in Chicago, New York and Portland, Ore. After a string of attacks against the large cities during his town hall, Stephanopoulos reminded Trump that he was president of the entire country – including its blue urban centers.

“Why do you keep talking about Democrat states, Democrat states?” Stephanopoulos said. “They’re American states, American states.”

“They have things that the Republicans don’t have,” Trump responded. “So they are – I mean, I don’t want to say – look, I’m the president of everybody, but – I don’t want to say it, but they’re Democrat-run cities. It is what it is.”

So, he’s the president of everybody, but not everybody. Is that clear?

The haze is thick, but not everywhere. Adam Taylor, the Brit who writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post, sees clear air in the rest of the world:

President Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic during an interview with Fox News over the weekend, arguing that he took “tremendous steps” early in the outbreak, which “saved probably two or two and a half million lives.”

But much of the world appears to think otherwise. In a new poll of 13 nations released Tuesday, a median of 15 percent of respondents said the United States had handled the pandemic well, while 85 percent said the country had responded poorly.

The data, released by Pew Research Center, suggests that the international reputation of the United States has dropped to a new low in the face of a disorganized response to the novel coronavirus. The country leads the world in virus-related deaths.

The air is clearer elsewhere, and America may be over:

International affairs analysts say it may be difficult to repair the damage to the United States’ standing overseas. Among some traditional allies like Germany, views of the United States have declined to the lowest levels since Pew began tracking them nearly two decades ago.

“I still think there is admiration for the United States, but it may be waning very quickly – especially if Trump gets reelected,” said Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

And things are bad enough already:

Pew surveyed 13 foreign nations, all wealthy democracies, along with the United States this summer.

After Trump entered office in 2017, Pew found much of the world to hold a negative view of the U.S. leader, with views of the United States overall dipping in many nations.

But Pew’s latest polling suggests that the pandemic, an unprecedented global crisis, has caused views of the United States among its closest peers to slide even further.

In contrast, many respondents had positive perspectives on their own countries: Nearly three-quarters of people polled said their own governments had done a good job handling the crisis.

They’re fine, we’re not, and then there’s this:

Internationally, the U.S. rating was significantly lower than the ratings for the World Health Organization, which the Trump administration has dubbed “corrupt,” and China, the epicenter of the initial outbreak, which Trump said “sent us the plague.”

No one, elsewhere, is buying what Trump is selling:

In at least seven nations, including key allies like Britain and Japan, approval ratings for the United States plunged to record lows. In Germany, just 26 percent of the respondents held a positive view of the United States – the lowest rating since 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Among the countries surveyed, Belgians had the lowest estimation of the United States: Just 24 percent of Belgians said they had a positive view.

That’s odd, but the surprise here is that no one is surprised:

This spring, even before the pandemic surged in the United States, David-Wilp said, German experts and commentators with whom she spoke expressed doubts that the United States would be able to handle the pandemic and feared that serious social unrest would develop.

“And lo and behold, you did actually see that,” she said, referring to the high number of deaths in the United States and the protests against racial injustice that have swept the country.

They know us better than we know us, and there’s this:

Trump has proved consistently unpopular in global polls, but the pandemic appears to have worsened his international reputation. Positive ratings of Trump in Japan dropped from 36 percent in spring 2019 to 25 percent this year – still the highest of any nation surveyed.

The decline was even more pronounced in South Korea, where 46 percent of respondents gave Trump a positive rating in spring 2019, compared with 17 percent this year. South Koreans gave the U.S. handling of the pandemic the worst rating of any nation, with 6 percent saying the United States did a good job.

What happened? This happened:

South Korea, a key U.S. ally, tends to see the country in a positive light, said Kang Won-taek, a professor at Seoul National University. Trump’s outreach to North Korea and interest in the peninsula may have given his popularity a boost among some South Koreans in recent years.

“The euphoria is gone,” Kang said in an email, pointing to a lack of progress in peace talks with Pyongyang and Trump’s heavy-handed approach to relations with Seoul.

They see a jerk, and then there are the head-to-heads:

Other world leaders fared better than Trump on the world stage. Though China is widely criticized for aggressive foreign policy moves and its secrecy during the early days of the pandemic, President Xi Jinping has a marginally more positive international reputation than Trump, Pew found.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, widely suspected of backing attempts at electoral interference and the assassination of dissidents, also fared better, as did British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

And then there’s that woman Trump says is just plain stupid:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, frequently criticized by Trump in recent years, was by far the most popular leader among those surveyed, with a median of 76 percent expressing confidence that she will do the right thing in global affairs.

The contrast between Merkel’s cautious handling of Germany’s federal system during the pandemic and Trump’s less disciplined approach, David-Wilp said, heightened many Germans’ awareness of her reputation.

“Germans, I think, have been surprised and maybe secretly proud of Chancellor Merkel,” David-Wilp said. “I think she really touched a nerve with the German people in the sense that she was very open and direct and called [the pandemic] what it was: The biggest crisis Germany is facing in the post-war era.”

Trump preferred haze, but Philip Bump can explain Trump’s thinking here:

One advantage to being broadly unmoored from factual accuracy is that certain assertions become essentially unfalsifiable.

President Trump, for example, has consistently claimed that the United States has become respected again during his presidency.

“We’re respected again as a country,” he said at an event/de facto rally in Ohio last month. “You know, we’re respected again. You may not feel it, although I think you do. You may not see it. You don’t read about it from the fake news, but this country is respected again. We don’t let people take advantage of us, including our allies, who took tremendous advantage of us. Tremendous.”

This is true, if your use of the word “respect” is a bit hazy;

Presented with evidence that America’s standing in the world has eroded, the response is simple: Other countries are finally being held to account, so of course they’re frustrated with the United States.

“Respect” then becomes unmeasurable, dependent on how Trump reads the numbers. If countries view us positively, it’s because Trump engenders respect. If they view us negatively, it’s because they offer a new, grudging form of respect.

Just follow along:

The spin Trump can apply here is obvious. Pew was asking about doing the right thing on “world affairs”; his focus is on putting “America First” and undercutting what he calls “globalism.” Again, this becomes unfalsifiable. If he’s disliked on the international stage, it’s because he’s fighting for America – but if he’s liked internationally, it’s because he’s liked.

Got it? No? You’re not alone. Dan Drezner, that professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, tries to capture the current American haze:

In 2016, I never, ever, ever considered voting for Donald Trump. I am a college-educated foreign affairs expert – I know my demographic destiny – but in 2020, I may be forced to vote for the man. I may have no choice.

Sure, as someone who prefers foreign policies grounded in the pursuit of American interests and American values, the Orange Man seems bad. Outside of the Middle East, he has excelled at weakening long-standing U.S. alliances and partnerships. Trump has repeatedly cozied up to dictators and autocrats across the world. He has decided to pursue an all-front economic war with China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, India, the World Trade Organization, and a bunch of small countries I can’t be bothered to remember. He has appointed a motley collection of toadies, incompetents and corrupt individuals to manage foreign policy. He has eviscerated U.S. foreign policy institutions such as the National Security Council, the State Department, the Justice Department, the intelligence community, and the uniformed military. He has disparaged some countries as “shitholes” and insulted a variety of groups, including ethnic minorities and female leaders. As someone interested in a robust foreign policy, I am horrified to see the president of the United States being perceived as universally unpopular. Leaders at the U.N. General Assembly and NATO have publicly mocked Trump.

All of these trends scare me. But then I look at Joe Biden, and he scares me even more. I am scared very easily! Perhaps I should see someone about that.

Yes, this is satire:

I made it very clear during the Democratic primaries that I could not vote for a socialist. Then the Democrats nominated Biden, and I had to search for even greater clarity to view Biden as a socialist.

That is the current Republican project, and Drezner mocks that effort:

I look at Biden and I see a seasoned, experienced politician who has pursued the presidency for close to four decades now. This is clearly a man who will automatically outsource his administration to the Manhattan-San Francisco progressive mores that increasingly permeate my daily newspapers. That must be why he ran in the first place! The only way for Biden to implement fringe left views was to knock out the preferred candidates of the folks who hold those views. This is just science! And science frightens me.

Nor do Biden’s national security positions reassure me. He would enact a reprise of Obama administration policies, and all we got from those eight years was a slow, steady recovery from the Great Recession with restored power and prestige. No one needs to revisit that dark era ever again.

Yes, he’s thinking like a Republican, even if there are Republican goofballs:

There is the QAnon candidate running for the House of Representatives, and the guy who Instagrammed his visit to Hitler’s redoubt, and the U.S. senators more obsessed with “Cuties” than actual real-world problems. But I read somewhere that a left-wing state senate candidate nominee did something real bad, and that guy could be the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC terrifies me!

With Trump, I know what I am getting. His sins are on the outside.

And that’s the problem:

You know what? I’m too scared to think straight right now. Even the prospect of Biden’s winning has forced me to retreat to my safe space.

A dull orange haze really has settled down on America. It’s the smoke in the air. But it can’t last forever.

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