Tag Archives: Trump

Can A Pandemic Have A Good Side?

Pollyanna here! (I know– this is a rare appearance of my positive side…)

What prompted my question was a series of posts on my neighborhood listserv, which is usually dominated by complaints about trash pickup, potholes and porch thieves. The first of the series was this one:

If there are any elderly or immunosuppressed neighbors who have an errand they cannot run, I’d be happy to help! I work in a nursing facility and know there are many elderly that are fearful of getting to the store.

That was followed by one titled “Be Kind,” which read

Please keep an eye out for neighbors, friends, kids, even people on the street that look stressed. Be kind to everyone since we cannot know the problems they are having with the stress of this slow moving crisis. Whether emotional or financial, it will bring out depression in those trying to keep it together. Domestic violence is likely to increase. It is unlike a hurricane in that we don’t know when, where, how, or how long.

Forty-nine neighbors had responded to that post when I last checked, and the comments were uniformly positive, thanking the poster for the reminder, suggesting ways to be helpful to neighbors, and indicating an intent to check on the well-being of older residents or those with medical problems.

I live in a downtown neighborhood–often referred to (scornfully) as “the hood” by people who assume that urban life is dangerous, faceless and anonymous. I actually know most of my neighbors, who are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, so I was gratified, but not surprised, by the attitudes expressed in these posts.

Also on the potentially positive side is growing recognition that a robust social safety net doesn’t just help “those people”–i.e., the poor or marginalized. If people living paycheck to paycheck (and there are more of them than you think) don’t have paid sick leave, they are likely to come to work when they shouldn’t, and to infect “us.”

And it probably goes without saying that if everyone had access to healthcare, it would be easier to identify and isolate sick folks and thus contain pandemics. Perhaps the virus will help more people understand why a society that protects the most vulnerable is actually better for everyone.

Finally, despite the best disinformation efforts of Faux News, there are signs that this public health challenge is creating a renewed appreciation for the importance of a properly functioning government.

Periodically, America’s historic penchant for anti-intellectualism and distaste for “pointy-headed” experts facilitates the election of a “politically-incorrect” public official.  Previously, this has been a more common outcome at the state and local level, but in 2016 it elevated a toxic and profoundly ignorant man to the Presidency.

When resentment of knowledge unites with fear of social displacement–in our case, the escalating panic of less-educated white “Christian” males facing loss of their dominant status–it creates an opening for the con men and would-be autocrats who view government office as an opportunity for graft rather than a call to serve.

Unfortunately, when an emergency arrives that requires a government solution, the utter inability of these bozos to perform–to use the powers of government for their intended purpose– becomes too obvious to ignore.

The Trump administration’s multiple transgressions against science, the environment and the most basic principles of good government will be responsible for many deaths that  might have been avoided. There isn’t much average Americans can do about that at this point–but going forward, we can and must learn a lesson: competent government matters.

And at a time where so many Americans have displayed their ugliest sides–their racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and more–we can take comfort in the humanity and genuine goodness of so many ordinary citizens.

It may not be enough, but it’s important.

Laughing So We Won’t Cry….

Credit where credit is due… one thing Trump has been truly– even magnificently– good for  is satire and snark.

It isn’t only the late-night comedians, although they have dominated. Editorial comics have been unrelenting. Then there are Andy Borowitz’ headlines…Trump Plans to Destroy Coronavirus with an Incredibly Mean Tweet..Mexico Tightens Border After Trump Pardons White-Collar Criminals…Cruise Ship Passengers Demand to be Housed at Mar-a-Lago….

Think too about Randy Rainbow, whose most recent song parody is “Any Dem Will Do,” (Play it over and over if your favorite candidate isn’t the nominee), but who has issued dozens–maybe hundreds–of clever and devastating take-offs of popular songs, aimed directly at the buffoon pretending to be President.

Even the legacy press has gotten into the game; Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has been turning out some of the best snark anywhere. I particularly loved his column about “Dr. Trump.”

Do you have a nagging medical concern? A rash that won’t go away? Unexplained hearing loss? Are you currently bleeding out from a severed femoral artery?

Well, fret no more. America now has a leading medical expert — some say the best — who will dispense diagnoses and prognoses to all — for free! This bold new telemedicine initiative, “Ask Dr. Trump,” will be offered on an unpredictable but highly frequent basis to all Americans (whether they like it or not).

Granted, Trump has given him an enormous amount of material to work with.

Dr. Donald J. Trump, of course, is the pioneering scientist who first determined that climate change is a hoax and, more recently, discovered that windmills cause cancer. In between, he proved that forest fires could be contained by “raking”and identified a previously unrecognized tropical cyclone pattern targeting Alabama.

Dr. Trump acquired what he calls “a natural instinct for science” not through formal education but because “my uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years.” Sadly, the elder Trump didn’t live to see his nephew’s greatest discoveries in the medical field: The flu shot is basically “injecting bad stuff into your body” and exercise can shorten your life. Dr. Trump used his instinctive grasp of medicine to become “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” with an innate life expectancy of 200 years.

Milbank went on to incorporate recent quotations from our idiot-in-chief, whose “pathbreaking epidemiology” has allowed him to dispute the World Health Organization’s report that 3.4 percent of people with reported cases have died. Trump says that’s a “false number.”

Trump’s research, based extensively on “my hunch,” puts the true figure at “way under 1 percent.”

The entire column is worth reading. I also highly recommend the “oeuvre” of Randy Rainbow for those mornings when we get up, have coffee, listen to the news and contemplate suicide.

Laughing is better than crying…

I personally liked the advice of a young Facebook friend who says that–should he be diagnosed with the Coronavirus–he will spend the three-week quarantine period traveling to MAGA rallies….

Speaking of the Coronavirus, there may be one positive to emerge from the administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic.  It is demonstrating the massive incompetence of the administration and the increasingly demented behavior of the President to millions of voters who haven’t been laughing at the late-night jokes or reading the Washington Post. Recent polling finds large numbers of people saying the mismanagement makes them less likely to vote for Trump.

“By a 20-point margin, voters say his administration’s handling of the virus makes them less likely to vote for him this fall,” Public Policy Polling reported. “Independents say they’re less likely to vote for Trump by 32 points because of how he’s dealt with this issue.”

The day when the “Doctor” is out can’t come soon enough….

 

Ceding My Post Today To Snopes

Given yesterdays stock market debacle and the Coronavirus panic that produced it, I am turning today’s post over to Snopes.

______________________

Amid warnings from public health officials that a 2020 outbreak of a new coronavirus could soon become a pandemic involving the U.S., alarmed readers asked Snopes to verify a rumor that U.S. President Donald Trump had “fired the entire pandemic response team two years ago and then didn’t replace them.”

The claim came from a series of tweets posted by Judd Legum, who runs Popular Information, a newsletter he describes as being about “politics and power.” Legum’s commentary was representative of sharp criticism from Democratic legislators (and some Republicans) that the Trump administration had ill-prepared the country for a pandemic even as one was looming on the horizon.

Legum outlined a series of cost-cutting decisions made by the Trump administration in preceding years that had gutted the nation’s infectious disease defense infrastructure. The “pandemic response team” firing claim referred to news accounts from Spring 2018 reporting that White House officials tasked with directing a national response to a pandemic had been ousted.

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer abruptly departed from his post leading the global health security team on the National Security Council in May 2018 amid a reorganization of the council by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Ziemer’s team was disbanded. Tom Bossert, whom the Washington Post reported “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks,” had been fired one month prior.

It’s thus true that the Trump administration axed the executive branch team responsible for coordinating a response to a pandemic and did not replace it, eliminating Ziemer’s position and reassigning others, although Bolton was the executive at the top of the National Security Council chain of command at the time.

Legum stated in a follow-up tweet that “Trump also cut funding for the CDC, forcing the CDC to cancel its efforts to help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics in 39 of 49 countries in 2018. Among the countries abandoned? China.” That was partly true, according to 2018 news reports stating that funding for the CDC’s global disease outbreak prevention efforts had been reduced by 80%, including funding for the agency’s efforts in China. But that was the result of the anticipated depletion of previously allotted funding, not a direct cut by the Trump administration.

On Feb. 24, 2020, the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion to address the coronavirus outbreak, an outlay critics asserted might not have been necessary if the previous program cuts had not taken place. Fortune reported of the issue that:

The cuts could be especially problematic as COVID-19 continues to spread. Health officials are now warning the U.S. is unlikely to be spared, even though cases are minimal here so far.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press call [on Feb. 25].

The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in the winter of 2019, and cases spread around the globe. The U.S. had 57 confirmed cases as of this writing, while globally, roughly 80,000 patients had been sickened with the virus and 3,000 had died. As of yet, no vaccine or pharmaceutical treatment for the new coronavirus. Data from China suggests the coronavirus has a higher fatality rate than the seasonal flu, although outcomes depend on factors such as the age and underlying health of the patient.

 

 

 

A New Normal?

Given the daily headlines highlighting the incompetence and corruption of the Trump Administration, an assertion that America will not and cannot “go back” to a normal Presidency isn’t exactly welcome.

But that was the premise of an essay in Politico Magazine  a couple of weeks ago.

President Donald Trump has spent three years incinerating a group of practices commonly lumped together under the nebulous category of “norms and traditions,” causing the chattering class to worry that he’ll “destroy the presidency,” “undermine American democracy,” “erode” our institutions with each break with precedent or decorum. There are also those, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, who insist that things can go back to normal when Trump is gone. Either in January 2021 or January 2025, these optimists hope, America will experience a restoration of these timeless customs.

Here’s the problem: Many of these “presidential norms and traditions” that Trump has left by the wayside aren’t timeless at all; they’re actually quite new. They grew up alongside and in reaction to the expansion of both the federal state and the presidency—a process that began in the early 20th century but gained steam from the 1930s onward. With the growth of what Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the “imperial presidency,” each occupant of the Oval Office has left his imprimatur on the development of what we think of as normative presidential conduct.

In other words, these norms emerged as a response to America’s changing needs.

Noting that America has changed dramatically over the 200+ years of its existence, and that  those changes require corresponding adjustments in governance is the sort of otherwise obvious observation that gives self-styled “originalists” fits. They like to believe that “living constitutionalism” is just judge-made law, unmoored from constitutional foundations. In reality, living constitutionalism is the rational application of “original intent,” because it requires safeguarding the original values that animated our Constitution and Bill of Rights in situations that the Founders could never have anticipated.

Our challenge is to decide which of the numerous norms being trashed by Trump are needed to protect those foundational values, and thus must be restored.

The article points out that many of the behaviors we think of as long-established– congressional oversight mechanisms and restrictions on FBI and CIA political activity, for example–are relatively new, prompted by the criminal abuses of the Nixon Administration.

All of which is to say, the idea of independent agencies staffed by nonpartisan career public servants, free of political interference, is a very recent development. Once unraveled, it is not certain to be reassembled.

New, however, is not the same thing as unimportant.

The takeaway is not that certain traditions lack value. On the contrary, it’s pretty reasonable to expect that presidents not misdirect law enforcement and civilian officials to do their political bidding, that presidents be transparent with the media, and that courts remain free of political influence. The point, rather, is that these norms were not timeless features of our system. They emerged over 50 or so years in response to excesses that accompanied the growth of the federal state and in response to a popular sense that citizens required greater visibility into, and accountability from, federal officeholders whose purview grew enormously in the modern era.

As I read through the article, I was anticipating some sort of prescription for how we might re-institute the norms that have clearly proved their importance. I didn’t get it. The article ended by noting that “broken eggs can’t be mended.”

Perhaps we can’t fix broken eggs, but we can–and must–fix America’s federal government.

Once Trump is gone–and I fervently hope that departure occurs sooner rather than later–we need to take a step back and decide what rules, systems, and cultural expectations are essential to advancing–and perhaps finally beginning to live up to– American values and ideals.

An Important Test For The Court

In the three-plus years that Donald Trump has occupied the Oval Office–I deliberately didn’t say “has been President” because in any rational sense, he has not fulfilled that function–longstanding norms of American governance have been turned upside down.

Nowhere have the deviations from expectations been more worrisome than in the courts.

For years, legal scholars have debated whether this or that issue should be settled through litigation or by electoral politics. But I am aware of no credible argument that the courts should be divested of their independence and turned into supine tools of the executive branch.

Our idiot President recently called upon Supreme Court justices who disagree with him to recuse themselves–displaying not only his trademark contempt for constitutional checks and balances, but his embarrassing ignorance of American constitutionalism. That contempt and ignorance would not ordinarily be worthy of note–every day, the insane tweets and verbal diarrhea bear ample witness to both–except for a case that is making its way to the Supreme Court.

A recent article by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly pointed to the disquieting reason for Trump’s unprecedented assault on the Supremes. She begins her analysis by pointing to a truly telling statistic:

Trump administration’s incompetence has led to an abysmal record in the courts. Whereas previous administrations prevailed in the courts 80 percent of the time, this president has failed in over 90 percent of the cases his administration has argued.

As she notes, the Trump administration’s response to these failures has been to appeal directly to the Supreme Court–to ask the Court  to expedite emergency relief from the injunctions of the lower courts. Le Tourneau quotes one legal scholar to the effect that Trump has gone to the Supreme Court with such a request 24 times in less than three years– compared to a total of eight such requests during the 16 years of the George W. Bush and Obama administration’s combined.

Trump has no understanding of the legitimacy concerns raised by such petitions, of course. He actually believes that any criticism of him or his administration should be grounds for recusal, criticism and vilification. And he has other concerns as well.

The reason Trump is on the attack against liberal Supreme Court justices probably has more to do with a case that is being made against Justice Clarence Thomas. As we’ve seen, the president is in the midst of a purge of federal employees who don’t demonstrate enough loyalty to him. Jonathan Swan reported that Ginni Thomas—the wife of Clarence Thomas—has been deeply involved in lobbying on behalf of a purge, providing the administration with lists of who needs to go as well as potential replacements.

In response, there have been calls for Thomas to recuse himself on matters related to Trump and his administration.  Trump’s call for Sotomayor and Ginsberg to recuse themselves is not only a way to further politicize the Supreme Court; it also provides his media enablers with a distraction from the issues surrounding Thomas and the ability to pretend that both sides do it.

All of these issues have prompted Trump’s defensive and unPresidential behavior. But even more significant is a case  that could require him to release his tax returns.

From everything we’ve seen, that is the hill that this president is prepared to defend at all costs. And according to CNN, the latest dissent issued by Sotomayor could indicate that tensions are rising as the justices consider these major cases.

Here, then, is a critical test of the Court’s independence. Will Trump’s appointees behave like the grateful tools he clearly believes they are? Will they demonstrate allegiance to Trump, or to the Constitution?

The answer to that question will tell us whether we retain a system based–however insecurely–on the rule of law.