Sullen and Spiteful

Sullen and Spiteful is not the name of a law firm specializing in suing those who really irritate their clients, for millions of dollars in damages that can’t quite be specified. No, those two words describe President Trump at the moment. Well, actually, those two words describe President Trump’s lifelong posture toward everything. Life is grievance. Grab what you can and get even with anyone who even thinks of crossing you. Hit back ten times harder. And trust no one. That’s how one should live one’s life.

There’s that new book about that from his niece, who has known him forever and happens to be a clinical psychologist too. But that’s about the past. That was then, and as the Washington Posts’ team of Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report, this is now:

Callers on President Trump in recent weeks have come to expect what several allies and advisers describe as a “woe-is-me” preamble.

The president rants about the deadly coronavirus destroying “the greatest economy,” one he claims to have personally built. He laments the unfair “fake news” media, which he vents never gives him any credit. And he bemoans the “sick, twisted” police officers in Minneapolis, whose killing of an unarmed black man in their custody provoked the nationwide racial justice protests that have confounded the president.

Gone, say these advisers and confidants, many speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations, are the usual pleasantries and greetings.

Instead, Trump often launches into a monologue placing him at the center of the nation’s turmoil. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim – of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country.

He was ambushed! And there’s nothing he can do! It’s not fair! So of course he lashes out:

Trump put his self-victimization on public display Thursday in response to a Supreme Court ruling rejecting his claim of absolute immunity and permitting a New York prosecutor to see the president’s private and business financial records.

Trump reacted with a social media meltdown, writing on Twitter, “PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT!” and “POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” He wrote that the decision was “Not fair to this Presidency” and claimed that “Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!”

This qualifies as sullen and spiteful, the usual from him, but maybe worse than ever now:

Trump has always exhibited a healthy ego and his self-victimization tendencies are not a new phenomenon, according to those who have known him over the years. But those characteristics have been especially pronounced this summer, revealing themselves almost daily in everything from private conversations to public tweets as the pandemic continues to upend daily life across America and threaten the president’s political fortunes.

Trump’s sense of victimhood strikes even some allies as particularly incongruous considering the devastation wrought by the pandemic and the pain and anguish apparent in Black Lives Matter protests.

They seem to have been hinting to him, gently, that all these people dying are not dying in order to make him look bad, on purpose. They can’t help it. Cut them some slack. In fact, cut everyone some slack:

More than 130,000 Americans so far have died of the novel coronavirus, with more than 3 million cases reported. Nearly 43 million Americans – more than a quarter of the labor force – have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began. And the nation is riven not just by protests following the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis police custody, but also by a president who has deliberately stoked racial animus.

Even those in Trump’s orbit are trying to nudge him toward a sunnier, less egocentric approach to the crises he is facing, fearing that his sullen demeanor could backfire politically. Among those internally who have advocated a more optimistic tone are Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to one senior administration official.

They don’t think he can win in November with what he has been shouting to America – All you people are trying to make look bad, but you’ll get yours, you just wait! You’ll be sorry!

That’s not a winning message, but they know he’ll not change a thing, so the best they can do is to try to cheer him up:

Other top White House advisers – including Hope Hicks and Dan Scavino – have also sought to buttress Trump’s mood with events they thought he would enjoy, such as celebrating truckers by bringing 18-wheelers onto the White House South Lawn in mid-April or creating social media videos that feature throngs of his adoring fans, according to aides.

Advisers also have sought to boost Trump’s mood by presenting him internal polling that shows him in a better position than public surveys, which universally show him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Toy trucks help. Fake polls help. No they don’t:

Jen Psaki, former communications director in the Obama White House, agreed with private assessments that the president’s complaining could be costly.

“I don’t think he has many sympathetic ears to his claims that he’s been mistreated,” Psaki said. “Leadership, as we’ve seen at many moments in history, is about not only accepting adulation when you do something great but also accepting responsibility. That lack of accepting responsibility is seen as a lack of leadership and that doesn’t sit well with people who might be more open to supporting him again.”

At times, though, Trump can’t seem to help himself, said people who have spoken with him in recent weeks, describing him as shellshocked and sullen about his declining fortunes even as he continues to insist he will ultimately win in November.

“We had the greatest economy in the world,” Trump said in an Oval Office meeting last month, talking about how good the statistics were before the coronavirus, said one adviser. An outside adviser in frequent touch with the White House offered a similar recollection, saying that Trump simply keeps on repeating, “I had this great economy and they made me shut it down.”

So stop bitching and fix it! Don’t expect that. Expect more of this:

The president’s mood had improved as he focused on the fight over whether to rename or tear down statues named after Confederate generals and other controversial historical figures. Aides say he believes a battle over such symbols will help him politically.

Well, that might be better than toy trucks, and there’s always this:

Despite his bouts of moroseness, Trump can also exhibit optimism not entirely grounded in reality. He has continued to tell advisers, for instance, that he is certain the virus will go away by October and that there will be a “cure” by then – a word he favors over “vaccine.”

Then, he adds in these accounts, the economy will rebound overnight and he will win a second term.

And did you know that unicorns actually fart out rainbows? No, he’s not that far gone, but someone must have told him these things are not going to happen, at least on his schedule, or perhaps ever. Why does he think this? That’s troubling. This could, in fact, be a cognitive issue. Someone might have mentioned that. That could explain what Maggie Haberman reports here:

President Trump on Thursday volunteered to Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, that he “very recently” took a test at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center measuring his mental acuity and “aced” it, but the White House would not say when he took it or why.

Mr. Trump boasted that his success on the test surprised his doctors as he continued his attempt to make a campaign issue of whether his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was mentally fit.

This was one old white man shouting about another old white man – I don’t have dementia! HE does!

He may have proved the opposite:

“I actually took one when I – very recently, when I – when I was – the radical left were saying, is he all there? Is he all there? And I proved I was all there, because I got – I aced it. I aced the test,” Mr. Trump, 74, said in his interview with Mr. Hannity.

He went on to say that Mr. Biden should also take the test.

“And he should take the same exact test, a very standard test. I took it at Walter Reed Medical Center in front of doctors,” Mr. Trump said. “And they were very surprised. They said, that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did. But he should take that same test.”

This was a dare:

Mr. Trump described taking the test after Mr. Hannity mentioned that Mr. Biden had said he had taken several cognitive tests. The president insisted that Mr. Biden must have meant tests he took for the coronavirus and that his rival “couldn’t pass” a cognitive test.

He could pass the test. Anyone could. This is the test:

After his annual physical in 2018, the White House physician at the time, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, said that the president had received a score of 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a test that hospitals including Walter Reed use to screen for “mild cognitive dysfunction,” and that there was “no reason whatsoever to think the president has any issues whatsoever with his thought processes.”

Dr. Jackson said then that Mr. Trump had asked to take the test.

The Montreal assessment is a 30-question test that takes about 10 minutes to complete, and requires, among other things, that the test-taker identify pictures of animals, state the date, month, year and day of the week and repeat five words immediately and again a short time later.

At a meeting of campaign and Republican officials several weeks ago at the White House, Mr. Trump boasted, according to a person familiar with what was said, about how well he had performed on the task of repeating five words.

That’s even more troubling, and sad:

Private Republican polling has shown the attacks on Mr. Biden’s cognitive state have not done much to move the needle with voters, according to people who described the details of the surveys. And Mr. Trump is a difficult messenger for an attack on Mr. Biden as his own health has come under scrutiny.

That included an episode during a speech at West Point last month when the president had difficulty bringing a water glass to his mouth with one hand and then walked gingerly down a ramp to exit the stage.

In response to the questions that followed, Mr. Trump lashed out on Twitter, insisting the ramp was slippery, and then he devoted more than 10 minutes of his rally in Tulsa, Okla., a week later to defend himself and to insist he was healthy. The president described it to the crowd as a “journey” down the ramp and insisted the ramp was as slick as an ice-skating rink.

“I looked very handsome,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to run down the whole thing because the fall there would be definitely bad. So I took these little steps – I ran down the last 10.”

The video did not show Mr. Trump going any faster until the final three steps.

The video also did not show him looking very handsome. That’s a purely subjective judgment. Tastes vary. He is who he is, and Philip Bump finds that to be the real problem here:

Getting a perfect score is literally the baseline for being normal, not for being exceptional.

Trump can’t help it. If he does anything, he does it better than anyone. If he is being tested, his results are breathtakingly exceptional. If he is asked to draw a clock to measure whether he’s experiencing any cognitive deterioration – something worth tracking closely in part because his father died after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – then Trump will let you know that never has anyone drawn so amazing a clock. He will tell you that the doctors marveled at the precision of his placement of the 6-7-8-9 stretch and stood slack-jawed at how precisely the minute hand aimed at the 2. This is who Trump is, a guy who builds a 58-floor building in Manhattan and tells everyone it’s 68 floors high.

After Trump’s interview with Hannity, people were quick to point out the flip side of his boast about the doctors: Having medical professionals be amazed that you performed normally on an evaluation of your cognitive abilities is not exactly the endorsement it might have seemed like as the words were coming out of Trump’s mouth.

Another reason boasting about the test probably wasn’t a good idea, which, if you think about it, is kind of a test of its own.

But he’s worried, and now he should be worried:

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday reports that a record 67 percent of respondents now disapprove of “the way Donald Trump is handling the response to the coronavirus,” while only 33 percent approve – the widest gulf in public sentiment since ABC News and Ipsos started surveying on the pandemic in March.

The same percentage of respondents, 67 percent, also say they disapprove of “the way Donald Trump is handling race relations” amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice that began in late May after the killing of George Floyd. Just 32 percent of respondents say they approve of Trump’s handling of race relations.

The president’s diminished approval ratings come as the twin national crises have ravaged the United States in recent weeks, with a resurgence of coronavirus infections across the South and West forcing some governors to halt or reverse their states’ reopening plans. The climbs in Covid-19 cases have coincided with the country’s painful reckoning with racial prejudice in policing and other facets of American life.

Two thirds of the nation, including quite a few Republicans this time, see a man who cannot handle either matter, who only makes both things worse. That what the New York Times’s Katie Glueck reports here:

From North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Arizona, interviews this week with more than two dozen suburban voters in critical swing states revealed abhorrence for Mr. Trump’s growing efforts to fuel white resentment with inflammatory rhetoric on race and cultural heritage. The discomfort was palpable even among voters who also dislike the recent toppling of Confederate statues or who say they agree with some of Mr. Trump’s policies.

As the president increasingly stakes his candidacy on a message of “law and order,” casting himself as a bulwark against “angry mobs” and “thugs,” there are signs that he is especially alienating voters in bedroom communities who approach the debate over racial justice with a far more nuanced perspective than the president does.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that:

A Monmouth University poll released this week found that Republicans – who still overwhelmingly support the president – were less than half as likely to express sympathy for the demonstrators’ anger as they had been four weeks earlier, when the protest movement was first gaining steam. And some strategists warn that there is political risk for Democrats if swing voters begin to perceive them as radical.

But among most Americans, the poll found, support for protesters continued to run high – and so did concern over Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, sentiment that was reflected on the ground in swing state suburbs like Cornelius, North Carolina – traditionally a conservative-leaning area – and along the Main Line outside Philadelphia.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Jane Scilovati, a schoolteacher from Devon, Pa., along Philadelphia’s wealthy Main Line. She voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but said she now regrets the decision. She called the president’s recent handling of racial issues “deplorable.”

“He doesn’t have any compassion or empathy; he doesn’t reference historical facts correctly,” she said in an interview outside a supermarket. “He’s brought more division to this country than we’ve seen since the Civil Rights Act.”

Ms. Scilovati, 54, said she would support “Daffy Duck” rather than the president in this year’s election.

Daffy Duck isn’t on the ballot. That’s a Biden vote:

While Mr. Trump won suburban areas overall by four percentage points in 2016, according to exit polls, white college-educated suburban women have rapidly moved away from his Republican Party, and they helped deliver the House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018. And now, as some polling shows Mr. Trump facing competitive races even in deep-red states, he cannot afford to lose all of those voters again.

And there’s the South too:

In North Carolina, a rare competitive battleground state in the South, the controversies surrounding Confederate symbols, and Mr. Trump’s views on those issues, are especially fraught. In a state that is home to the Research Triangle in the Raleigh area, a museum in Charlotte dedicated to championing the “New South” and an influx of newcomers in recent years, many residents recoil at Mr. Trump’s defense of those symbols.

In a recent survey of North Carolina by the New York Times and Siena College, 51 percent of registered voters in the Charlotte suburbs disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of recent protests, compared with 44 percent who approved.

“We’re a changing and evolving district; the ‘Lost Cause’ narrative is no longer relevant,” said Democratic State Representative Christy Clark, who flipped his statehouse seat from Republican control in 2018 and faces a competitive re-election fight.

Something is up and the Trump team knows it:

Well before the call was made to postpone President Donald Trump’s Saturday re-election rally in New Hampshire, the warning lights were flashing red.

There were no signs of the typical throngs of supporters camped out days in advance for a good spot; the Republican governor said he would skip it, advising anyone at high risk to stay home over coronavirus concerns; fears of a repeat of Tulsa’s disappointing turnout weighed heavily; and then came the stormy weather reports, which could have further stifled attendance.

By the time the campaign announced that the Portsmouth event was off, citing “safety concerns” over a tropical storm barreling toward the Northeast on Friday afternoon, people close to the campaign said fears over low turnout also motivated the decision to scrap the event.

The coastal town is not currently expected to be hit directly by the storm, but the decision to reschedule over bad weather is a “convenient excuse” for the Trump 2020 team, one outside adviser told NBC News.

Reporters might pounce on that, but there WAS a massive storm that WAS going to hammer Portsmouth at EXACTLY the wrong time. Really, there was. Trump can explain it all on national television with a map and a Sharpie. But he won’t have to do that, because no one really cares. His rallies don’t matter now. He’s a sullen and spiteful old man who was going to sneer and rage at quite random odd things that really annoyed him. Even his loyal supporters have better things to do that night.

He knows what’s happening. Screw it all. But one thing was left to him, as Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report, to make a joke of the law:

President Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. on seven felony crimes on Friday, using the power of his office to spare a former campaign adviser, days before Mr. Stone was to report to a federal prison to serve a 40-month term.

In a lengthy written statement punctuated by the sort of inflammatory language and angry grievances characteristic of the president’s Twitter feed, the White House denounced the “overzealous prosecutors” who convicted Mr. Stone on “process-based charges” stemming from the “witch hunts” and “Russia hoax” investigation.

The statement did not assert that Mr. Stone was innocent of the false statements and obstruction counts, only that he should not have been pursued because prosecutors ultimately filed no charges of an underlying conspiracy between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

In short, yeah, the guy broke the law, but he broke the law to protect Donald Trump. He goes free, and if that seems corrupt, Trump doesn’t give a damn if it does:

The commutation, announced late on a Friday, when potentially damaging news is often released, was the latest action by the Trump administration upending the justice system to help the president’s convicted friends. The Justice Department moved in May to dismiss its own criminal case against Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. And last month, Mr. Trump fired Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney whose office prosecuted Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, and has been investigating Rudolph W. Giuliani, another of his lawyers.

And the reaction was immediate and predictable:

Democrats quickly condemned the president’s decision, characterizing it as an abuse of the rule of law. “With this commutation, Trump makes clear that there are two systems of justice in America: one for his criminal friends, and one for everyone else,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and a leader of the drive to impeach Mr. Trump last year for pressuring Ukraine to incriminate his domestic rivals.

Two House committee chairmen quickly announced that they would investigate the circumstances of the commutation, suggesting that it was a reward for Mr. Stone’s silence protecting the president.

Of course it was. This is America. Break the law and you’ll pay for that. Break the law to protect Donald Trump and you won’t. He is the president. He has that power now:

Mr. Stone, 67, a longtime Republican operative, was convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation into Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and possible ties to Russia. Prosecutors convinced jurors that he lied under oath, withheld a trove of documents and threatened an associate with harm if he cooperated with congressional investigators. Mr. Stone maintained his innocence and claimed prosecutors wanted him to offer information about Mr. Trump that he said did not exist.

As his time to report to prison neared, Mr. Stone openly lobbied for clemency, maintaining that he could die in prison and emphasizing that he had stayed loyal to the president rather than help investigators.

“He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him,” Mr. Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman on Friday shortly before the announcement. “It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”

There was information about Trump and everyone knew it. Stone stonewalled. Trump rewarded him. He is Trump’s guy:

Mr. Stone has been one of the most flamboyant rogues in American politics for decades, maintaining a wardrobe of more than 100 suits, bleaching his hair, posing for photographs half-naked and cheerfully engaging in dirty tricks that others would disavow. He made political contributions to a Republican challenger to President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 under the name of the Young Socialist Alliance and hired an operative to try to infiltrate the campaign of George McGovern, the Democratic candidate.

He was accused of leaving a threatening, profanity-laced voice mail message for the father of Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, resulting in Mr. Stone’s resignation. But he later got his revenge on Mr. Spitzer by claiming credit for spreading the rumor that the governor wore black dress socks during sexual escapades with prostitutes.

An unapologetic admirer of Mr. Nixon who even had the disgraced president’s face tattooed on his back, Mr. Stone also worked for other major Republican candidates, including President Ronald Reagan, Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey and Senator Bob Dole, the party’s 1996 nominee for president.

Mr. Stone’s history of scandals and dirty tricks did not trouble Mr. Trump. Mr. Stone is not only Mr. Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, but has been integral to most of his political activities over the past three decades.

And he has a friend in Bill Barr too:

Mr. Stone was sentenced against a backdrop of upheaval at the Justice Department not seen for decades. Four career prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison, citing advisory sentencing guidelines. After Mr. Trump attacked the recommendation on Twitter, Attorney General William P. Barr overruled it. Mr. Trump then publicly applauded him for doing so, even though the attorney general said he made the decision on his own and criticized the president on television for undercutting his credibility.

The prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest, and one quit the department entirely. At Mr. Stone’s sentencing hearing, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia called the situation “unprecedented.” Without naming him, she suggested that the president had tried to influence the course of justice by publicly attacking her, the jurors and the Justice Department lawyers.

“The dismay and disgust at any attempt to interfere with the efforts of prosecutors and members of the judiciary to fulfill their duty should transcend party,” she said.

No, the law is for suckers. Trump and Barr can bypass the law at whim, whenever they’d like, and it was that time, again. Trump had been down in the dumps. He’d been feeling sullen and spiteful, and this fixed that, at least for one evening. This cheered him up. But the pandemic rages on, as does the rage at all the racial matters, and the economy is nearly dead, and the poll numbers show Trump losing it all. What will this man do next to cheer himself up?

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Schooling Trump

Sometimes the big news story of the day isn’t a surprise. Sometimes the big news story of the day is the report that what everyone knew was going to happen, what everyone knew had to happen, sooner or later, just happened. Sometimes that’s a relief. That’s what CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Nick Valencia report here:

Five months into a still-raging pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 Americans, the long-simmering tensions between President Donald Trump and the health experts who staff his government have escalated from private griping to shrugging disagreement to now open dispute.

The result, people at those agencies say, is a new sense of demoralization as they continue their attempts to fight a once-in-a-generation health crisis while simultaneously navigating the whims of a President who has shown little interest or understanding of their work.

But at last no one has to guess what the other party is really thinking. No one is being coy. Now, finally, everything is out in the open:

That Trump does not trust nor follow the advice of experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, is hardly new. The President has not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force in months and recently its sessions have been held outside the White House, including on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Department of Education. Fauci was told to participate in the meeting remotely by videoconference, preventing him from participating in a midday task force press briefing.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said later that it’s a “decision for the task force” who appears at coronavirus briefings. Asked if the President still has confidence in Fauci, McEnany said only that Trump “has confidence in the conclusions of our medical experts.”

Trump doesn’t like the guy. This famous doctor makes him look bad. This famous doctor makes it look like he knows more than the multibillionaire president does about infectious diseases and epidemiology and population risk analysis. And he wasn’t elected to anything. Donald Trump was. So this had to happen:

As early as March, Trump was growing frustrated that Fauci’s forecasts for the virus seemed less optimistic than his own, but largely avoided public rebukes… Yet as cases surge across the country and Trump’s handling of the crisis causes his reelection prospects to dim, he is taking his quarrels with Fauci and the CDC public in striking new fashion.

The development bodes poorly for those hoping the federal government’s response to the virus will become more coordinated as daily case counts continue setting records and other countries bar Americans from entry.

Instead, Trump is signaling that after months of internal disputes and private griping about the agencies and officials tasked with combating the virus, he is now prepared to openly question their authority and undermine their advice.

“I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview on Tuesday when questioned about Fauci’s assertion the US is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.

But he wasn’t saying that he knows far more about these things than this particular doctor. He was saying that knowing things was not what really mattered:

Trump accused Fauci of waffling on early decisions in the crisis, saying he was better off ignoring experts and trusting his instincts.

“Dr. Fauci said don’t wear masks and now he says wear them,” he told Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren. “And he said numerous things. Don’t close off China. Don’t ban China. I did it anyway. I didn’t listen to my experts and I banned China. We would have been in much worse shape. You wouldn’t believe the number of deaths more we would have had if we didn’t do the ban.”

He saved the world by not listening to experts. He points to what didn’t happen as proof of that, although when told to look carefully at what didn’t happen there’s nothing at all to see anywhere. There’s only what might have been, hypothetically. That’s not a strong argument and a bit misleading:

Trump’s criticisms of Fauci don’t hold up entirely; the decision to advise against wearing masks was due largely to a nationwide shortage of them, and Fauci publicly backed the ban on travel from China when it was announced.

Still, Trump’s criticism of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director reflects his conviction that the health experts who he assembled early in the pandemic have steered him wrong, a view that’s been fanned by some in the conservative media who have accused Fauci and others in the administration as imposing draconian lockdown measures despite being unelected officials.

That’s an odd argument. Fauci recommends. Elected officials act on such recommendations, or not. Fauci did not declare himself king. He saw we were in trouble. He suggested this and that. He said that data show that if we don’t do this, often a hard thing, then this other really bad thing will surely happen. Trump made the decisions, specifically the decision to tell the governors across America that they had to make the decisions. Fauci watched. Trump decided:

What was clear was the renewed sense that Trump is striking out on his own amid a pandemic many Americans say in polls he has mishandled and failed to take seriously.

Earlier in the crisis, Trump’s disagreements with officials such as Fauci appeared less clear-cut. After Fauci publicly broke with Trump on issues like hydroxychloroquine and the timing of a potential vaccine, the President took pains to say he respected his health experts and was listening to their advice.

Even as he privately complained that he was being undermined, Trump said during press briefings that there was little daylight between him and doctors on the White House coronavirus task force. And after he retweeted a message with the hashtag #FireFauci, Trump downplayed their differences.

When Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, advised Trump to keep lockdown recommendations in place at the start of April, he agreed.

And then he decided that there would be no more of that:

That appeared to be the height of their influence. Since then, Trump has consistently undermined their recommendations and offered conflicting information about the severity of the outbreak and prognoses for the coming months.

All the data and all the science show that he’s wrong, over and over again, but he is now taking full responsibility for all of this. But he’s in trouble now. Laura Meckler is the Washington Post’s national education reporter and now has reported this:

President Trump on Wednesday intensified his demand that schools fully reopen this fall, slamming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pressuring it to loosen guidance and threatening to cut funding for schools that do not open.

The CDC was already planning to issue new guidelines for schools in the coming days. But Vice President Pence on Wednesday explicitly tied the effort to Trump’s ire.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”

They seem to have agreed to say that they had the science all wrong and now agree that Trump has it right, so they’ll change everything now. That’s what Mike Pence says. There may be resignations, and facts are facts:

Vice President Pence, speaking at a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, was replying to a question about the CDC’s recommendation that students be kept six feet apart to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

School officials across the country have concluded they cannot fully reopen while following that guidance, because classrooms are too small to accommodate all students with the recommended distancing.

The White House is pressing the case that opening school is necessary for students’ academic and social-emotional well-being, and Trump’s allies see a political imperative in convincing Americans that the nation has recovered from the coronavirus crisis.

This can’t be done. This must be done. Trump has to be able to brag that he and he alone defeated this virus and that everything is over now, thanks to him, so all classrooms must be filled to capacity all day long, every day, or he’ll look like a loser who can’t fix anything and then lose the upcoming election, and this has to happen at colleges and universities too:

Trump this week chided Harvard University for offering classes online. And immigration officials on Monday announced rules that would block international students from studying in the United States if they are not taking classes in person. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued over the rule on Wednesday.

They’re protecting part of their revenue stream but these are some of their best students too, and Harvard and MIT are international learning and research centers. These are not rural trade schools out in the woods north of Altoona, but Trump stung them here. Hold classroom sessions or you will be East Podunk Community College in a month. And of course there was the quick treat for his base too, the implicit questions. Why are there foreign students in America in the first place? Why are there foreign people in America at all?

There was no surprise in any of that, but the public schools were another matter:

The administration is finding it nearly impossible to control the situation, with the president’s views often at odds with those of his health advisers, and decision-making resting with 50 states, more than 13,000 districts and thousands of colleges and universities.

On Wednesday, New York City schools, the nation’s largest school system, announced a plan that will have most students in school two days a week and learning from home the other three. Many other systems have announced or are considering similar plans.

This was not good:

Trump did appear to get help this week from Florida, where the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered all schools to open five days a week. But even there, some superintendents quickly pushed back. Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said that he does not see a realistic path to reopening five days a week and that he “will never compromise the health” of students, teachers and staffers. Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said his district would not reopen until coronavirus rates have been reduced.

But perhaps compromise was possible:

CDC Director Robert R. Redfield played down Trump’s criticism of the CDC guidelines, saying after the briefing that the two were “totally aligned.” “We’re both trying to open the schools,” he said.

But he said he is comfortable with different school systems adopting different approaches.

“The advantage of everybody not doing it in the exact same way is you begin to learn what aspects are more effective than others,” he said after the briefing. “There’s no definition of ‘open.’ It can be any variety of how the schools decide to do it.”

He said his agency’s goal is to work with districts to help them overcome challenges and find ways to open their doors.

He also sought to minimize the risks to children of a virus whose worst effects have been seen in older Americans. He noted that children are far less likely to become ill and said there is no evidence that children transmit the virus to others. Other experts say the ability of children to spread the pathogen is unknown.

But that’s okay. No one was listening to him anyway. And everyone knows what this is really about:

Trump’s dismissal of the agency’s work again raised questions about whether its recommendations would be driven by science or by the president’s preferences.

Four months from Election Day, Trump has also pressed local and state officials to reopen businesses and churches and to lift coronavirus restrictions, seeking to convince Americans that the nation is experiencing a “great American comeback” after the economy and American life slowed sharply this spring.

The president’s allies see his reelection riding on whether Americans see the country as moving past the coronavirus crisis or still mired in it. Schools are a key element: Many parents cannot go back to work if their children are at home. And while there were successes, remote instruction cobbled together in the spring was a disaster in much of the country.

Still, parents are divided, with some eager to get back to normal and others fearful that reopened schools will put their children and families at risk. An ABC News-Ipsos survey last month found about half of parents of children under 18 were willing to send their children to school and about half unwilling.

Half of all American parents are willing sacrifice their children to assure that Trump is reelected, and the other half would rather not do that? That oversimplifies this, and this is complicated:

School officials also are divided. A poll of 1,450 principals released Wednesday by the National Association of Secondary School Principals found just over a third were somewhat or extremely confident in their schools’ or district’s “ability to preserve the health of staff and students as schools physically reopen in the fall.”

Districts also face budget cuts, making it difficult to pay for the supplies and the staff they’ll need to keep students and teachers healthy. Meanwhile, many teachers are reluctant to return to the classroom, especially as the number of virus cases continues to rise.

Or perhaps this is quite simple:

On Tuesday, Trump promised a pressure campaign aimed at opening schools this fall, and on Wednesday, he was true to his word. In a pair of morning tweets, he accused the CDC of issuing “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools” and said he disagreed with the advice. Referring to the CDC, he wrote: “they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!”

He also asserted that schools have opened in other countries without problem and argued that Democrats think that opening them will be politically damaging. He ended with a nebulous threat: “May cut off funding if not open!”

Trump has no power to cut federal funding already allocated to states and districts, but the vice president suggested the administration would seek to tie any future aid to opening of schools.

They were making this up as they went along, and Aaron Blake sees this:

Throughout his presidency and especially the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump has avoided blame – to use a phrase – like the plague. When the outbreak took off and U.S. testing and medical equipment weren’t up to snuff, he blamed the Obama administration for leaving the cupboard “bare” (it didn’t, and he had been president for three years by that point). When governors complained about the lack of ventilators, he blamed them for not stockpiling them on their own. When things got especially bad, he started to blame China (despite having previously repeatedly vouched for China).

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” he once said rather bluntly when asked about the slow ramp-up in testing.

And now, for some reason, he’s doing just that:

He has made clear – in case it wasn’t already – that he is leaning on health officials to do and say things they might not otherwise do or say of their own volition.

Over the past three days, Trump has urged health officials at both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tailor their recommendations to his non-medical-expert will.

On Monday, it was Trump urging the FDA to rekindle its previously aborted emergency-use authorization of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus treatment.

“Act now @US_FDA,” Trump said, while citing a non-randomized study that suggested that the drug might actually help.

On Wednesday, it was Trump saying he would urge the CDC to scale back its “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools.”

That means that this is his baby now:

What Trump’s public comments lay bare is that he is affecting those health officials’ recommendations. While those recommendations will always be subject to political officials such as Trump making the ultimate decisions – as coronavirus task force members Anthony S. Fauci and Deborah Birx have both reinforced – Trump isn’t just overriding them: He’s very publicly calling for them to be changed. That’s a key distinction.

And that may be Trump’s key mistake:

Trump was among the earliest proponents of reopening the economy across the United States, even as health officials were reluctant. States and localities wound up reopening large portions of their economies without meeting the CDC’s guidelines, and some of them have now reversed course. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), for instance, has expressed tempered remorse for how quickly the state moved on things such as reopening bars.

Given that experience and the resurgence of coronavirus cases – especially across the South and Southwest – you might think politicians would begin to heed the recommendations and guidelines of those same health officials.

Trump, though, has long telegraphed a desire to move things along more quickly than those officials have prescribed. And today, he’s saying those things much more publicly, and more explicitly differing with health officials. The practical effect – especially if schools across the country heed his call to reopen faster and more aggressively than the CDC guidelines suggest – is that he is owning the results that come from it.

Now he’ll have no one to blame. Did he think of that? No, he was thinking of Europe:

In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children and families. May cut off funding if not open!

Kevin Drum sees the problem here:

I’m generally in favor of opening schools too. One reason for this is that European countries have done it successfully. But in case anyone has failed to notice, there’s a big difference between the US and Europe.

It’s one thing to open schools after you’ve successfully crushed the virus. This means that schools are relatively safe if reasonable precautions are taken, and that officials can react quickly to individual outbreaks here and there. It’s quite another thing to open schools while you’re still reporting 50,000 new cases per day with no end in sight and a president who can’t even bring himself to wear a mask, let alone do anything more serious to get the virus under control.

And there’s another thing. How can I put this delicately? As near as I can tell, European officials aren’t idiots and can generally be trusted to act reasonably. This is so obviously not the case in the US that I’m not sure I trust anyone here to reopen schools. It probably could be done in a conservative and sensible way, but there’s no reason to think that the people who run our country would act either conservatively or sensibly.

Is that so? Yes, that seems to be the case:

As coronavirus cases surge across the country, hospitals, nursing homes and private medical practices are facing a problem many had hoped would be resolved by now: a dire shortage of respirator masks, isolation gowns and disposable gloves that protect front-line medical workers from infection.

Unlike the crisis that caught a handful of big city hospitals off guard in March and April, the soaring demand for protective gear is now affecting a broad range of medical facilities across the country, a problem public health experts and major medical associations say could have been avoided if the federal government had embraced a more aggressive approach toward procuring and distributing critical supplies in the early days of the pandemic.

Someone wasn’t acting conservatively and sensibly:

Doctors at Memorial City Medical Center in Houston who treat Covid-19 patients have been told to reuse single-use N95 respirator masks for up to 15 days before throwing them out. The country’s largest organization of registered nurses found in a survey of its members in late June that 85 percent had been forced to reuse disposable N95 masks while treating coronavirus patients. In Florida, some hospitals are handing out only loose-fitting surgical masks to workers treating newly admitted patients who may be asymptomatic carriers.

The inability to find personal protective equipment, known as PPE, is starting to impede other critical areas of medicine too. Neurologists, cardiologists and cancer specialists around the country have been unable to reopen their offices in recent weeks, leaving many patients without care, according to the American Medical Association and other doctor groups.

“We have kids living with grapefruit-sized abscesses for over three months who can’t eat or drink and there’s nothing we can do for them because we can’t get PPE,” said Kay Kennel, the chief officer of Lubbock Kids Dental, a clinic serving low-income families in Texas that has a list of 50 children awaiting emergency surgery. “It’s been just horrible, and given the growing number of infections here, I’m afraid things are going to get worse.”

In a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence downplayed the shortages, but said the government was preparing to issue new guidance on the preservation and reuse of protective gear. “PPE, we hear, remains very strong,” he said.

One hears many things. One hears that this whole pandemic thing is old news, something that will be over in a day or two if it isn’t over now, and that the kids really should be back in school. What could go wrong? Fauci is a fool. Trump has finally put himself in charge. Only he can fix this.

We’re doomed.

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