Accomplices and Gullibles

The following was written before the election.

The fellow whom we hired to cut some trees for us  generously dropped by a second time since we changed our minds about what needed to come down. Mr. Michaels is probably my age, good ol’ boy, wearing bib overalls, had the gentlest voice, and for all the world could have been your decent country boy grandpa. Deep in the Mississippi Bible Belt, he is, no doubt, a good churchgoer, possibly a deacon, and a fine family man, beloved by his daughters. He’s also wearing the same Trump 2020 hat he was wearing a few weeks ago. I ignored it then and hoped to ignore it today. But somehow the driveway conversation drifted to Montana, and he mentioned going there earlier this year and he and his family walk right into a restaurant not wearing masks. Here we go. Implying that that the restaurant staff realize the silliness of masks, he makes clear that nobody says a word. Masks don’t work at all, he informs my wife and me, stuff is just too small to be blocked by a mask, and people pushing masks are just trying to take down our president. My wife and I are both trying to just get him on his way, but like a moth to the flame, I say, “Well, we’re on the other side of that”; he shrugs. Then, apropos of the political divide, he says, “I just hate all the lies.” Val said my mouth opened, presumably aghast, but just in case I was about to rebut, she said, sotto voce, “let it go.” I said, trying to shuffle him off as quickly as possible, “OK, we’ll see you next week.”

He hates all the lies? It was a revelation, though not without its humor. Can there be any more titanic irony than those words spilling from a Trump man? Those like me who see Donald Trump as the most consummate liar—indeed, gifted liar, if judged by the number of his marks—ever to even run for the presidency are blown back on their heels to discover that the other side considers them to be the ones spewing daily mendacities. Trump, Fox News, social media, anti-deep state warriors and conspiracy fantasists nationwide have turned truth on its head, turned the world upside down. The true believers, rejecting reality as too mundane and simplistic, knowingly and unknowingly spin fantasies and magical thinking, speak of “alternate facts,” and assault truth as fake news. According to The Washington Post, Trump has made over 20,000 false and misleading statements since taking office. His demagoguery as president is unparalleled, and even his demonstrable lies fall on the true believers like refreshing summer rain on the fertile soil of their grievance and discontent. I told Val that Mr. Michaels probably went home and said, “Martha, I had these two customers today that were damned Democrats, and they were white too! I betcha they thought our president was a liar!” And just today Trump was re-spewing the lie about the Democrats dropping “under God” from the pledge at their convention. At least until this president, you at least had to tell plausible lies. Now you can say that the Democrats have been negotiating with the Martians and the Venusians to take over the world so that they can fully establish their Satan-worshiping, pedophiliac, child-eating caliphate. Through the megaphone of Fox News, Facebook, and creepy social media sites and shares, the Mr. Michaels of the world lap it up and conclude, “Well damn! So they are doing it! I was wondering if they were doing that!” 

I know I’ve been polarized. I know the Mr. Michaels of the country believe their narratives as strongly as I do mine. So could we both be equally wrong, or worse, could they be right and I be wrong? I take some solace—in fact, a lot of solace—in the fact that I have a pretty good education; I read things other than Facebook memes and shares; intelligent people, including a few in the GOP or with conservative points of view, agree with me on Trump and his enablers; I have some capacity for critical thinking; indeed, I entertain the possibility that I could be wrong, or at least partly wrong. So, even recognizing this clash between the ideologies of Trump et al. and everyone else from Lincoln Project conservatives to Sanders left-enders, I wonder how far off base I am to see parallels between Germany of the 30s and Trump’s America, and specifically the mind of Trump himself and the despotism of Putin and Li of China, obviously; but also Orban of Hungary, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Duterte of the Philippines, Lukasovic of Belarus, and half a dozen or more autocrats of Africa.

You can tell most of what you need to know about a person by whom he admires. I don’t mean lip-service admiration like Trump pretends to have for Lincoln, or some Christians for Jesus, but who that person actually admires in wishing and trying to be more like them. And if that little aphorism is right, then the gang of people Trump admires and truckles to bodes terribly for his continuing leadership of the country in a qualitatively different way from that of Romney, McCain, Reagan, or either of the Bushes. Those Republicans’ differences from me and others like me were essentially policy differences, which can of course be profound and have moral implications. But their views were still within the elastic bounds of American political discourse. Trump’s vision of America is categorically different; he admires and wants to be like those other guys, the ones who have or want lifetime presidencies and whose hands rest on all the levers of their nations’ power. He neither respects democracy (it’s “rigged”–but only if he loses), nor separation of powers (like an independent judiciary), nor American institutions, from a free press (“enemy of the people”) to inspectors general. Those institutions are there to serve him, to be loyal to him. This is new in our country; there is no previous president who has so boldly taken steps toward totalitarianism or about whom such things are said and thought. Yet almost half of America thinks he is not only within those elastic bounds, but if he exceeds them it is only because he indeed is the chosen one, he is the representative and implementer of American greatness. Simultaneously they think that the collective rest of the country is, at best, hopelessly naive and deluded; or, at worst, the dark knight of moral degeneracy, the perpetrator of squalid lies, the anti-Christ mocking American greatness. Whether Trump himself actually sees us in that way or not is almost beside the point. For him the critical point is simply that we are the hated enemy, standing in the way of his idealized self-image, self-aggrandizement, power, and Messiah-ship. If it were just him it would be bad enough, but it is also all the GOP supporters who think this is just politics as usual, not a dangerously deviant breakaway from our traditional Democrat and Republican norms and values, both constitutional and moral. The Gullibles like Mr. Michaels and 60% of the voters of Mississippi have simply joined a cult, with outstretched raised arms in a sieg heil salute; the Accomplices like Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have simply collaborated and sacrificed their integrity and pretend he’s not really all that bad—either succumbing to an ends-justify-the-means rationalization like many evangelicals have or selling their souls for some kind of personal advantage like Vice-President Mike Pence or some of the ultra wealthy. Is it a bridge too far to say that this election is the greatest test of our democracy since the Civil War? No. Not at all.

Some Election Results You Might Have Missed

At 3 a.m. on several mornings Secret Service agents have heard the President moaning and screaming “What did I do wrong?” at the Vladimir Putin portrait hanging above the fireplace in the family quarters

There has been a mass retirement of Secret Service agents fearful of getting assigned to the Trump detail at the whites-only Home for the Mentally Disturbed in upstate New York

Melania has filed for divorce on the grounds that her husband “is a blathering, whining, blubbering, constantly crying, moaning, certifiable idiot”

Jared Kushner has scoured the entire White House looking for all the gold-plaited .357 magnums out of concern that the President might take the Hitler exit

Kushner has applied for a job at Harvard’s Admissions Office for Very Wealthy Donors’ Sons as administrative assistant and advisor

The President has demanded that Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett be brought before the Supreme Court on charges of failing to give him the election and “general ingratitude”

Sean Hannity sent a congratulatory note to President-elect Biden and said “Joe, just want you to know that I was just kidding the last four years. You need a press secretary?”

Laura Ingraham was found by police in her Washington apartment with four empty bottles of Jack Daniels screaming “Coup! Coup!”

Vice-President Pence told his minister that he agreed that he would spend the next 25 years in a monastery cell begging for absolution for galactic-scale hypocrisy

The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and three militia organizations pooled their resources and purchased a boxcar load of new and used Trump flags for $7.98 total, plus tax, to be used for recruitment purposes

Attorney General William Barr sent Russian President Vladimir Putin an eighteen page letter asking if Russia needed a new Justice Czar

President Trump’s former and current White House press secretaries Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, and Kayleigh McEnany have proposed establishing a Presidential Press Office Integrity Institute to any university interested in hiring them at appropriate salaries and tenured, full professor rank

President Trump stated in the press briefing room that the Founding Fathers made it quite clear in the Constitution that vote counters were required to wear Go-Pro video cameras as they counted votes

At the Lincoln Memorial, several visitors claimed to have seen a smile on Abe’s face

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

The Sunday-morning Christians—as opposed to those Christians who live Jesus’s values, or at least attempt to, day by day, hour by hour—seem to have found their paladin, if not their savior, in the form of Donald Trump. It is a mystery to me, unless the explanation is as simple as the sordid possibility that their values are one-inch deep, wearable only on Sunday morning, and wholly divorced from the man on the shores of Galilee whom they say is the model for their lives and whom they worship. It is, for me as an observer, the profoundest disconnect in modern political life, with the possible exception of the former anti-Soviet GOP slithering into a kumbaya embrace with a Russia headed by former KGB chief Putin. Most of us have a gap and sometimes a chasm between what we say and what we do, as well as what we say and what we think. But here is a chasm between what we think we think and what we actually think: Thinking we adore and emulate the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount but actually adoring the man who preaches hatred and division.

So who would Jesus vote for? Having himself healed demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, would he vote for the fellow who mocked them? Having blessed the poor in spirit, those who mourned, the meek, those who hungered for righteousness, the pure in heart, the merciful, would he then vote for the guy obsessed with his own grandiosity, self-aggrandizement, fire and fury, and vengeance for all his detractors? Having blessed the peacemakers, would he vote for the man who sows division and hatred? Would he vote for the man who bears false witness as freely as he breathes? Would he vote for the man whose pride was so titanic that he proclaimed that only he could fix it, that he was the chosen one? Whose wrath was such that he called one political enemy a monster, and said that others should be indicted and sent to jail? Whose avarice is so embedded in his withered and twisted character that gaudy, ostentatious wealth is his paramount measure of success? Would he vote for someone who could not even imagine that his indefatigable pursuit of wealth would, like the camel not going through the needle’s eye, prevent his salvation? Whose lust and self-veneration are such that he felt entitled to manhandle women? Whose envy of far better men, like John McCain or Barack Obama, lays bare his own rotted core? Whose gluttony for power and wealth blind him to any vision of kindness, generosity, humility, sacrifice, duty, honor, stoicism, or character? Would Jesus, thinking of the good Samaritan, vote for a bully? Would he vote for a man whose entire adult life has been devoted to dishonesty, manipulation, acquisition, conquest, and cheating, all to lay up his treasures here on earth? Would he support the person who, in his dealings with others, does not do justice but perverts it? Who scorns mercy? Who most certainly does not walk humbly with his God? Who decries the mote in his brother’s eye, but refuses to see the beam in his own? Who never stoops to do for others what he demands others do for him?

Or would Jesus vote for the other guy, flawed to be sure, but standing on higher ground, seeking more the common good rather than singly his personal good?

Admiration for the Nazarene is not the sole province of the religious. In that light, I, who am not religious, ask not just What Would Jesus Do, but whom would he vote for?

Choices Have Consequences

The broadcast journalists are making an extra effort to show how objective they are by wishing the president a speedy recovery and using words like sad and concern. I certainly respect the impetus for them to do so, whether from a personal ethical stance or from a journalistic need to seem even-handed and to show that their professionalism is such that they can rise above their personal feelings of dislike for his policies, corruption, and temperament. And they certainly know that any snarky comment like what I am about to say would cast them in a bad light and lend credence to right-wing charges of bias. I just wish they could not say such things at all and just report the situation as developments occur. It’s hard to imagine Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity wishing Joe Biden a speedy recovery if the shoe were on the other foot. Nor do I remember a lot of conservative condolences and well wishes when Hillary had a week-long stretch of pneumonia in the 2016 race, despite the fact that to hear the right-wing journalists spin it, her survival was sufficiently in doubt that she needed to get out of the race. Where were Tucker’s and Sean’s sweet words of well-wishing then?

Here’s my take. Choices have consequences. If you choose to jump out of a plane without a parachute, Mother Nature will insure that certain consequences result. If you choose to jump out of a plane with a parachute, you are a lot more likely to avoid those consequences. Mr. President, you chose not to wear a mask and never practiced social distancing. You downplayed those behaviors and even mocked Biden for practicing them. By ignoring and even disparaging those practices, you politicized them and contributed—not solely caused but definitely contributed—to the deaths of thousands of others. These are Mother Nature’s consequences for that. As for yourself, you made your bed, now you must lie in it (the double entendre not exactly intended, but if the shoe fits…). You are trying to kill Obamacare, with not even a hint of a replacement plan. That will mean that millions of Americans will lose health insurance, and some will die unnecessarily because of that. So if I am to choose between your good health and the thousands who have already gotten sick or died partly because of your covid response, well I’ve got to go with the greatest good for the greatest number. And if I have to choose between your good health and the thousands who may unnecessarily die because you and your Supreme Court will kill The Affordable Care Act, same call. Maybe not all political choices have consequences. Maybe not all moral choices do either. You’ve certainly managed to get away with a lot. But when you make bad decisions about Mother Nature, there’s a high probability that those choices will have consequences.

“Don’t Let Democracy Interfere With an Election”

The title quote is from Mike Duncan, historian of Rome, in a droll reference to Julius Caesar

Having railed against the electoral college for about twenty-five years—the rough equivalent of my screaming some private grievance across the solar system to the good citizens of Neptune—I spent an afternoon calculating what would be the theoretical lowest percentage of the popular vote necessary to win a presidential election. Armed with the eligible voter population of each state, the electoral votes of each state, the minimum number of electoral votes needed to win the election (270), and a calculator, I selected a collection of less populated states and the District of Columbia whose electoral votes would add up to 270, divided the eligible voter population of each of those states in half, and added one single vote for each state, which would tip all of that state’s electoral votes to a single candidate (Maine and Nebraska, which both divide their electoral votes, being exceptions—a solution to the electoral college problem that I proposed in an earlier blog, presuming all states did so). I then added those states’ eligible half populations plus those critical single extra votes, that is, 50% plus one vote for each state, to get the lowest eligible total population necessary to yield 270 electoral votes. Then I took that number and divided it by the total eligible voting population of the United States and thus arrived at the minimum number of voters necessary to elect a president. Never mind that a friend I consulted to confirm the legitimacy of my method looked it up on the internet and immediately found that some other fellow had done almost the same thing, using instead the number of actual voters from each state in the last election, and came up with about the same number as I did within a percent or so. So much for my afternoon of superfluous labor.

The percentage of the popular vote necessary to win an American presidential election was astonishingly and alarmingly low: 22%. It varied somewhat by which states you chose; at first, I used random states, and got 27%, but then I restricted the calculation to lower population states and got the 22%. I don’t pretend to explain that difference, but there you go. So even in a two-candidate race, a person could win the presidency with less than a quarter of the popular vote. An acquaintance dismissively told me that that would never happen, given the near impossibility of the 50% plus one vote requirement. My response to her was that of course that would never happen. But if the presidency could technically be won with 22% of the popular vote to an opponent’s 78%, just consider how much more likely it would be to win it with 49% to an opponent’s 51%. Indeed Trump won with 46.1% to Clinton’s 48.2%.

Five times in our history the presidency has gone to the person with fewer popular votes, defying the very definition of democracy. One out of nine presidents received less votes than his opponent. That certainly is the most egregious, indeed outrageous, reason to change the way the Electoral College works: majority rule is the sine qua non of democracy. But there are other reasons. The current Electoral College means that Democrats’ votes in solidly Republican states and Republicans’ votes in solidly Democratic states do not count for anything in the actual outcome, since that outcome is determined by the electoral votes rather than the popular vote. It means that people’s votes in “battleground” states, and even in individual precincts within those states, are dramatically more important than other people’s votes. Instead of looking at the totality of the popular vote, we must look at sometimes minuscule and potentially litigable margins in a few selected states. For example Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2,864,974 votes, but lost three battleground states—and thus the Electoral College and the presidency—by a collective 77,744 votes in those three states. Those folks’ near 78 thousand votes were worth more than those other folks’ 2.86 million votes. Put another way, each of those 78 thousand voters was worth thirty-seven of those 2.86 million voters; or yet another way, the former’s votes were thirty-seven times as important as the latter’s.

It also means that candidates largely ignore states they know they will win or lose in order to concentrate on the battleground states, where they know those 78 thousand votes could make all the difference. Vladimir Putin knows this also, so rather than waste his cyber resources on all fifty states to influence the election, he conveniently can sow his seed mostly in the fertile fields of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and eight or nine other purple states.

The organization Common Cause has entered the lists against the Electoral College. Their solution is to require that once the popular vote is known, all electors must cast their votes for the winner, effectively keeping the Electoral College and avoiding a constitutional amendment to eliminate it, and giving all electoral votes to the popular vote winner. Rather than being determinative, the Electoral College would merely rubber stamp the popular vote. This is more elegant than my original solution—splitting the electoral vote for each state—by essentially slicing the Gordian knot in half rather than trying and failing to untangle it. Republicans will oppose any change, since the status quo somehow leans Republican, and that for them is more important than majority rule. In fact, in view of voter suppression efforts, majority rule is the enemy to them, except when they are in the majority. But even with a Democratic Senate, House, and presidency, I wonder if there is the will to make “American democracy” a valid term.

“Have You No Sense of Decency Sir?”

The following post originally appeared on my Facebook page and is slightly amended here. The title quote is the question lawyer Joseph Welch asked Senator Joseph McCarthy during the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings in June of 1954.

I have tried over the last few years to keep my FB page a politics-free zone concerning my own political commentary, preferring to relegate it to an unvisited blog. However in the Oscar Wilde tradition of being able to resist anything except temptation, I confess to occasionally commenting on others’ political posts, but I well know that the earth will continue to turn without panting to hear my political bon mots. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s attack on military personnel as “losers” and “suckers” is so profoundly offensive and so self-evidently disqualifying for a pretender to commander-in-chief that my personal disgust at this despicable man is no longer containable, and so I will speak here for my father, a career U.S. Marine serving in the Pacific in World War II, dying at 36 of cancer when I was three.

In Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in, he relies on six separate anonymous sources (presumably some sources for some statements and other sources for other statements) who confirmed that Trump used those words in describing military personnel, especially ones who were wounded, died, or were captured. Naturally Trump has denied it, mendacity being his first line of both offense and defense. If an article appeared saying that Ronald Reagan had said it, or that WW II veteran George H. W. Bush (whom Trump called a “loser” for allowing his plane to be shot down) had said it, or that his son George W. Bush had said it, we could all easily dismiss it as the ranting of a left-wing blogger, or maybe even a far right-wing blogger pining for a Trump. It would be better, of course, if Goldberg’s sources had spoken on the record. But for this president, it absolutely rings true. We know that he got a doctor to keep him from military service saying that he had bone spurs in his feet. We know from an interview with smut-meister Howard Stern in the late 1990s that he joked that vaginas were “potential landmines” and thus avoiding venereal diseases was “my personal Vietnam.” We know he had an Iago-like envy of John McCain and disparaged him publicly by saying “I like people who didn’t get captured.” Now, thanks to Goldberg’s article and his sources, we know that Trump was outraged that flags were being flown at half-mast for McCain’s funeral: “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” he complained to aides.

On Memorial Day in 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery with Marine four star General John Kelly, whose son died in Afghanistan at age 29 and is buried at Arlington. According to Goldberg’s sources knowledgeable about the visit, Trump and Kelly were standing beside the grave, and with astonishing lack of sensitivity or empathy, Trump said to Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” We also know that when Trump was in France in 2018, he cancelled a scheduled visit to the World War I Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau Wood—sacred ground to marines—and asked, according to Goldberg’s multiple sources with firsthand knowledge, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” The private reasons not to go were the “losers” buried there and his unwillingness to get his hair wet. The publicly stated reason was that since it was raining the helicopter couldn’t fly and the Secret Service wouldn’t take him—two more lies. Also on the same trip, in a different conversation, he referred to the 1800 marines who died at Belleau Wood and are buried at the cemetery as “suckers” for getting killed. And finally, if one other Trumpian quote disdaining service to country and valorizing the unfettered pursuit of wealth is needed, there is this: After then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford gave a White House briefing, Trump told aides, “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?” The idea of service to country is alien to Trump. He seems to be constitutionally incapable of moral reflection, asking only what’s in it for him, meanwhile taking pride in being neither a sucker nor a loser by finding, all those years ago and with Daddy’s help, a way to evade the military service that would possibly have gotten him killed and would definitely have detoured him from his profits in commercial real estate.

My dad, another Arlington Cemetery resident, would quite possibly, perhaps probably, have been a good lifelong Republican, and we would likely have had a round or two of political arguments. But he was not a sucker, and he was not a loser, and the man who as Commander-in-Chief apparently thinks he was is not fit to spit-shine his boots or to clean a Nazi latrine.

President Trump Proposes Newer, Better Death Panels

Real Fake News Special Report
Washington, D. C.

In a Rose Garden speech Tuesday, President Trump claimed that the coronavirus pandemic enveloping the nation required death panels to help ease the strains on our hospitals and our economy. “These really incredible death panels will be much better than the Obamacare death panels,” the President proclaimed. “We need to have trained people make these tough decisions to help some of these older people move on.” Asked by an RFN reporter if by “older people” he included people in their 70s, he said that he was thinking more about people in their 80s. He added that the hospital beds were needed to help Americans with “bone spurs and other contagious diseases” and that “the surge in funeral home business would give the economy a beautiful shot in the arm. I’d buy stock in funeral homes, believe me.”

American Paradox

The American idea, that individual freedom is the supreme virtue and the franchise is its mechanism, labors against our baser instincts. Our truth falls short of our aspirations, manifested in and hanging between our dueling polarities: Jefferson the Declaration author and Jefferson the slaveowner; religious freedom and hellfire fundamentalism; Harvard-Berkeley-Princeton brilliance and Americans incapable of finding the U.S. on a world map; American soldiers liberating Dachau and machine-gunning at My Lai; “Give me your tired” and razor wire border fences; the Trail of Tears and manifest destiny; Tuskegee airmen and Jim Crow; Trumpish wealth and Delta poverty; The Donna Reed Show and The Feminine Mystique; forty million without health insurance and elective cosmetic surgeries; capital punishment and “the better angels of our nature.” Sometimes the polarities are not Manichean goods and evils but merely profound tensions, like liberty vs. equality, pluribus vs. unum, Whitman bravado vs. Dickinson intimacy, Twainian Tom Sawyer innocence vs. Letters from the Earth embittered experience. Hegel-like, the theses and the antitheses clash—occasionally, as with Jefferson and Twain, in a single individual. Sometimes in those clashes a just synthesis is possible. But in others, helping those better angels to prevail is our enduring challenge.

I wrote the above in October of 2007 and entered it in a contest for the best essay on “the American Idea,” the winner to be published in The Atlantic Monthly (now The Atlantic). The rules stipulated that the essay could not exceed 200 words, and I strained to meet that limit, and in fact mine was exactly 200 words. As it turned out, the winner was a person of some national recognition, and his essay tripled the limit, to my and I suspect other entrants’ considerable annoyance.

When Megalomania and a Pandemic Collide

Sixteen months into his presidency, in May of 2018, Donald Trump told then National Security Adviser John Bolton to eliminate the National Security Council’s global health security unit, which he did.

By January 2020, Trump was told of the dangers of the coronavirus, and on January 22, he said he wasn’t worried, “not at all,” and that “we have it totally under control.” His see-no-evil approach meant weeks of delay in implementing social distancing and ramping up production of masks, protective medical gear, and ventilators.

On January 27, presumptive Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden wrote an op-ed in USA Today in which he stated “Trump’s demonstrated failures of judgment and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.”

On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the virus an international public health emergency.

On January 31, Trump closed U. S. borders to foreign nationals (but not Americans) who had been in China over the last 14 days. While probably a good move, it was also an easy decision in that it had little if any economic impact and was in keeping with Trump’s larger immigration policies.

Even Tucker Carlson, conservative host of a Fox News show and ardent defender of the president, began warning about the virus on his show as early as February 3. He had a two hour meeting with the president at Mar-a-Lago on March 7, trying to convince him of the health danger of the virus and how it might threaten the president’s re-election.

On March 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) implored world leaders to prepare for the outbreak, its leader stating that the “epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated, and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government.” On the same day, Vice-President Pence states that there were not enough tests for the virus.

On March 6, Trump started the day signing an $8.3 billion bill for healthcare and vaccine research, noting that he had only asked for $2.5 billion, and stating that the virus “came out of nowhere” but that “we’re taking care of it.” Later in that same day he stated that “anyone that wants a test can get a test,” a statement not only false then but false over a month later. As of April 17 only 146,000 tests were being conducted daily, prompting one commentator to calculate that at that petty pace, it would be January of 2027 before the whole population could have been tested. Trump spent the rest of March 6 and much of the next two days going to fundraisers and playing golf, along with a visit to tornado victims in Tennessee and a visit to the CDC, at no time modeling or demonstrating any concern for social distancing. Trump himself shook hands numerous times at all of these venues, as many as one hundred in Tennessee alone.

On March 11, the WHO declared the outbreak to be a global pandemic.

On March 13, in response to a question concerning the wisdom of the closure of the National Security health office, Trump replied, “I didn’t do it. I don’t know anything about it.” On the same day, he was asked if he accepted any responsibility for the failure to begin testing for the contagion. The man who on the campaign trail said that he would be the greatest president in history, possibly excepting Lincoln, responded in classic Trump style, “No, I don’t take any responsibility at all.”

In a March 21 press conference, Trump touted some antiviral drugs that Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci said would require testing to determine their efficacy and safety. Trump replied, “I disagree. I feel good about them. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. You know, I’m a smart guy.”

Back in January, the president stated that “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus,” and shortly after a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump praised his counterpart as “strong, sharp, and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus.” But after a Chinese theory emerged that the U.S. planted the virus in China, the president flipped, saying that “it could have been stopped in its tracks” in China. Donald Trump Jr. also forgot what his father had said earlier about Xi being “powerfully focused on leading the counterattack,” tweeting on March 29 in a grammatically-challenged diatribe that “Anyone praising China’s ‘leadership’ in responding that the virus should be scorned for being the authoritarian/communist propagandist that they are.” At least the “authoritarian . . . propagandist” part was right.

On April 8, ABC News reported that the intelligence community submitted a report in November, over four months prior, and two months prior to the earlier reported date on which Trump was warned about the virus. The November intelligence report noted that the outbreak in China could have “cataclysmic” consequences. This information was a component of the daily briefing all presidents receive. Peter Navarro, a Trump economics adviser, also provided at least one memo to the president warning him of upcoming dangers posed by the virus. On April 7, Trump reported that he had not read the memo (“Peter sends a lot of memos”), and on April 8, he said that he did not remember being briefed on it. Yet he also said on April 8 that “people were shocked that I reacted so quickly.” He has also stated that he knew “months ago” that the virus would become a pandemic.

On Friday night, April 3, Trump fired the intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, whom Trump had appointed, for doing his job; namely, turning over the whistleblower report to congress that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment trial. Trump said “this man is a disgrace to IGs.” Michael Horowitz, Justice Department IG and chair of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, praised Atkinson’s “professionalism, integrity, and commitment to the rule of law.” On April 6, Trump continued his war against inspectors general, whose roles are designed to be independent of political influence, by lambasting Christi Grimm, principal deputy inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. Her crime was to have surveyed 46 hospitals and reported that they claimed significant shortages of equipment to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Calling her an Obama holdover, despite her having also served in two Republican administrations, her report revealed a lack of hospital preparedness and thus was “another fake dossier.”

On April 4, the president who had been ignoring and downplaying the dangers of the virus now indicated that it was “the worst thing the country has probably ever seen,” apparently forgetting that we endured over four years of civil war, two world wars, an influenza epidemic in 1918 estimated to have killed 50 million world wide, and a great depression.

In March, the president stated, uncharacteristically, “I think the media has been very fair.” By April 13, a total flip flop: “I wish we had a fair media in this country, and we really don’t.”

On Tuesday, April 14, Trump stated that “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O., we’re going to put a very powerful hold on it.” A reporter asked him a few minutes later if this were a good time to do that, and Trump replied, “I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.” The reporter pushed back, saying, “You did say you were going to do it,” to which Trump replied, “No I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it.”

On April 13, in his characteristic way of assuming authority without responsibility, Trump stated that only he had authority to relax social distancing policies and to determine when the economy could re-open. “The president of the United States calls the shots. When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total.” Governors of both parties made clear that they were not ceding control of decision-making in their states to a president seeking to portray himself as their boss. By the next day, Trump flipped, saying “The governors are going to be running their own states,” and “I’m not going to be putting any pressure on any governor to re-open.” But without the least sense of self-contradiction, and unable to see himself as anything other than master of all he surveyed, he flopped back, saying, “I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a re-opening.” Happy to play the alpha male and “authorize” the states’ re-openings, Trump claims that the states have primary responsibility for masks, ventilators, and testing. Authority is his; responsibility is other people’s.

On April 3, Trump fielded a question about whether he was thinking about having his name on the stimulus checks being sent to American citizens. He disingenuously replied as if this meant he would be required to personally sign them. “There’s millions of checks. I’m going to be signing them? No.” On April 15, the Treasury Department confirmed that the printed name “President Donald J. Trump” will appear at the bottom of the stimulus checks being mailed to Americans not receiving their payouts by direct deposit. Trump had recommended to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin that his (Trump’s) signature be added to the checks. Though his signature will not appear, his printed name will appear. The Treasury Department denies it, but the addition will delay the mailing of the checks according to the president of the IRS’s Professional Managers Association.

By the middle of April, the clash between the health interests of the country and the economic interests of the country had crystalized. Trump from the beginning had prioritized economics, inevitably causing him to be dilatory and unprepared in addressing the dangers the virus represented. Partisanship was emerging, though it had been in the background, and to some extent the foreground, all along. MAGA-hatted protests, with concerns over 22 million job losses, 17% unemployment, and especially governors restricting protesters’ movements, were breaking out demanding re-opening of states. Counter-protesters, fearing a premature re-opening would lead to a second wave of the virus in the absence of much broader testing and loosened social distancing requirements, were calling for stay-at-home restrictions to be continued for now. Trump, finding himself on the horns of a re-election dilemma, sides with and encourages the re-openers, and on April 17 tweets (two minutes after a Fox News report on the protests) “Liberate Michigan,” “Liberate Minnesota,” and “Liberate Virginia,” where Democratic governors have incurred wrath from those protesting social distancing and closure policies. Terrified of the possible electoral repercussions of his incompetent handling of the crisis, Trump resorts to his usual weapons of choice, namely externalizing all blame, disavowal of personal responsibility, and demonizing of critics, all aimed at stoking right-wingers and others among his base needing scapegoats and fearful their president would pay for his zig-zagging ineptitude in November.

If Mr. Trump had been president from 1941 to 1945, we would be speaking German now.

Compiled from USA Today, CNN, ABC World News, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The News Hour.

President Trump Promotes Himself to Five-Star General

Real Fake News Special Report
Washington, D. C.

Following last week’s announcement that Trump University had conferred a doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree on President Trump (“Wow, this gown is really cool,” noted the president), Mr. Trump announced in today’s press conference that he had promoted himself to five-star general, given the war footing of the country in the coronavirus pandemic. Appearing in his new uniform and wearing a helmet displaying five stars, Mr. Trump told reporters that “Only I can lead the country out of this mess.” When asked by an RFN reporter if his bone spurs would be a problem during his service, the president stated, “Oh no, they’re totally healed up now. My doctor said I was the healthiest five-star general the country has ever had, or ever will have.” A reporter followed up, asking him if he was concerned about a possible Waterloo situation now that he had military leadership responsibilities, and the newly-minted general replied that “No, water resources are working fine. We’ve got the greatest water. But people shouldn’t use too much toilet paper in the ‘loo.”

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