GOP, Pandemic, Politics

They’ve Given Up…

Often in American politics, politicians are defined, retained or defeated on the basis of how well they handle a crisis.

By the verdict of history, John Kennedy handled the crisis of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 brilliantly, preventing the very real possibility of an unwinnable nuclear exchange and insuring that the offending missiles were removed.

George W. Bush so bungled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a giant storm that claimed 1,200 lives, that the photo of Bush flying high above the devastation in Air Force One became one of the signature images of his presidency. It didn’t help that Bush praised his incompetent FEMA director – “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job” – when everyone knew that Michael Brown was doing an awful job. Brown resigned ten days after Bush praised his efforts.

George W. Bush looks down from Air Force One on the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005

Governors are no less graded on crisis response. So, imagine for a moment what any governor in any state in the nation would do when faced with a crisis, say a catastrophic wildfire situation. Assume the fire was raging out of control, threatening to engulf a city of significant size, and sure to threaten lives. What would any governor do?

The response would be something like this:

Declare an emergency. Mobilize the National Guard and all available state resources. Call on the White House for federal emergency assistance. Synchronize public communication with all levels of government, making sure citizens received regular, reliable, actionable information. A governor might establish a 24-hour command post and issue regular updates on efforts to control the crisis. The governor would be hands on, all day every day.

A governor would empower local officials to make immediate, life-saving decisions. A governor would back those local officials and praise their willingness to make tough decisions to save lives.

A governor would visit frontline first responders on a daily basis, extolling their bravery and sacrifice and highlighting their heroic efforts to contain and end the disaster. And, of course, the TV cameras would be there to document the effort, showing political leadership and showcasing the responders. Would the governor tolerate criticism of first responders? No way.

Would a governor lay down the law about why and how the entire state must respond to the crisis? Of course, including making the moral case that every individual’s actions can contribute to the greater good of the community. A governor might say, “If we don’t behave like we are all in this together our community will suffer huge and unacceptable losses. Every citizen simply must do their duty.” 

Would a governor order the use of chemical retardant, or permit a stand of private timber to be bulldozed to construct a fire line to contain the crisis? Without hesitation.

Almost certainly a governor would order an mandatory evacuation of citizens from their homes in order to protect lives, and then enforce an evacuation order, if necessary, with law enforcement intervention. Assume someone in the affected area objected to being ordered out of their home, it would be an affront to their freedom after all. Would a governor concerned about saving lives broker such an argument? Not a chance.

Would a governor worry that a politician who wanted his job was using the disaster to attempt to position to challenge him in the next election? A governor responding this kind of crisis would say: “I’ve had more than enough of my opponent’s nonsense and denial of the extent of this crisis. If you are listening to her, you are simply denying what you can see with your own eyes. Ignore the deniers. Protect yourself, your family, your community.”

And a governor would repeat that message over and over again. And a governor would take the heat from those who criticized and would not try to deflect responsibility for the response to the disaster. “The buck stops here,” a governor might say. “I’m the responsible officer of the government,” a leader might say.

Political leadership at this intense level in a catastrophic wildfire situation would hardly be remarkable. Indeed, it would be standard. Expected. Failure would not be an option.

Yet, in Republican states from Mississippi to Idaho governors have given up – or in most cases never really started – fighting against a natural disaster that has now headed toward claiming 700,000 American lives. Why?

GOP governors have made a simple calculation. They can’t reason with their followers about vaccines and preventive message, so they don’t try. They early on lost – or never tried to claim – the narrative about what they and their constituents faced as we edge toward the second year of COVID. They cut and ran from pushing back on efforts that have largely been successful to delegitimize local health officials. They let the lies and crass political calculations get in the way of saving lives.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves was left fumbling and speechless when questioned recently about his response to COVID by CNN’s Jake Tapper

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves recently couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer the question as to why school children in his state had to be vaccinated for a host of diseases in order to go to school, but he opposes requiring vaccinations against COVID for teachers. His state is in crisis, with more deaths per capita than any place in the world with the exception of Peru.

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, a re-election looming, is apparently willing to go to court to oppose a federal plan to vaccinate workers at large businesses, even though many businesses support a mandate. He ought to be embracing vaccine mandates, but Little has made his political calculation: he’s given up on efforts to fight pandemic misinformation and quietly decided that the COVID-infected unvaccinated are expendable in his quest for a second term.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has muzzled local health officials, refused to impose any sensible controls and now faces a cratering hospital system. The largest hospital in Billings is at 160% of its ICU capacity and is using hallways to care for COVID patients, almost all unvaccinated. “The problem is,” said Brad Von Bergen, the Billing Clinic’s ER manager, “we are running out of hallways.”

In the face of hospital systems in collapse and bodies stacking like cord wood, GOP governors have made the morally reprehensible decision to play politics to try to ensure their own future political viability rather than do what is required to save lives. It is a response of craven indifference, unlike any other in anyone’s lifetime. “It’s like we’re seeing the de-evolution of humanity, right in front of our eyes,” said Chris Roth, the CEO of Idaho’s St. Luke’s Health System told the Idaho Capitol Sun, as he surveyed the wreckage attendant to operating under crisis care standards. Roth is right.

The question for Republican governors is as simple as their callousness is obvious: amid so much death and suffering how do they manage to live with themselves?

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Additional Reading:

From my reading list to yours…a few suggestions this week

Anthony Doerr: ‘Rather than write what I know, I write what I want to know’

Happy to say I know the Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Doerr and he’s just as nice a guy as you can imagine. His new book – Cloud Cuckoo Land – is out later this month and The Guardian has a fun Q-A.

“I’d been researching the history of defensive walls to write All the Light We Cannot See, particularly Hitler’s Trump-like dream of a wall from Sweden to Portugal, and everything I read would mention Constantinople, whose walls withstood 23 sieges over 1,100 years. I was like, Constantinople? We didn’t learn about it at school for one second. But rather than write what I know, I write what I want to know, which was how those walls protected Byzantine book culture.”

Here’s the link:


The Supreme Court has overturned precedent dozens of times in the past 60 years

All eyes will be here

Does the Supreme Court respect judicial precedent? It depends. The question has come front and center given the recent passage of extremely restrictive abortion legislation in Texas, and the Court’s willingness to let it stand, at least so far.

“Beginning with the Rehnquist court, justices have become more willing to reject precedents they think were badly reasoned, simply wrong, or inconsistent with their own senses of the constitutional framers’ intentions. Justice Clarence Thomas has taken this position on abortion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett during her Senate confirmation hearing argued that Roe is not a so-called superprecedent, a decision so important or foundational that it cannot be overturned.”

A good primer of what will be in the news for a long time to come.


Nick Kristof: Oregon Governor?

I’m generally skeptical of folks who assume going from the private sector to political life is an easy move. It does happen, of course, but rarely, and rarely successfully. It’s looking more and more like New York Times columnist Nick Kristof is going to make the play.

“Beyond speculation about Kristof’s motivation lies a bigger question: Does he even stand a chance? With Governor Kate Brown term-limited, the Democratic primary is wide open, giving an outsider like Kristof an opportunity to enter the political fray. ‘Today, what you have is probably a Democratic Party which is becoming more progressive in recognizable terms nationally—a deeper blue—but the class composition of it is mixed,’ says Joseph Lowndes, a political science professor at the University of Oregon. ‘As the Republican Party has become more conservative, it has lost some of its membership to Democrats more comfortable in center-Democrat kind of politics,’ he said, and one could ‘see Kristof appealing to a moderate or reform sentiment’” now in the party.

We’ll see, as they say, we’ll see:


Can the Martini-on-the-Rocks Make a Comeback?

I confess I didn’t think it had ever gone away…

“Indeed, the Martini/Manhattan on the rocks is a generational thing, a habit picked up by those Americans who came of age in the years following World War II. Adam Platt, restaurant critic at New York magazine, told me that, while his grandfather took his Martinis straight up, with a good amount of vermouth, his father preferred them dry and with ‘plenty of ice.'”

Pull up a chair and pour a cold, cold one.


Many thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

Idaho Politics, Pandemic

When Political Leaders Fail…

In 1968, journalist Tom Wicker – he covered politics and wrote a column for the New York Timesproduced a little book about the diverse personalities he observed during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Wicker was an observer, not a partisan, and he had a sharp eye for detail. I stumbled across the book recently and was surprised to find it remains a compelling read – an insightful account of when political leadership works and when it fails. One passage stays with me.

“The first and most fundamental task of the American politician ought to be that of public education,” Wicker wrote, “the enlightenment of the electorate he represents, a constituency that in the nature of the case and in the process of its own busines will not have the time, opportunity, or inclination that he had to inform itself about the realities of an ever more complex and shrinking world.”

Imagine that: the chief job of a politician ought to be educating his/her constituents.

As northern Idaho plugged into the dank and dangerous waters of a health care system in breakdown it is worth pausing for a moment to consider how one entire state has reached the point where it’s first-world health care system is in chaos. Ten Idaho hospitals and health care systems are now dealing with rationing health care because their facilities are overrun with unvaccinated patients and lacking adequate staff. Republicans, it seems, have finally found their “death panels.”

The simple answer to the question of how Idaho got here is, of course, a deadly strain of virus – the Delta variant of COVID-19 – but the deeper and even more troubling answer relates to propaganda, misinformation, political manipulation, and a rank inability by many of our fellow citizens to think critically and act responsibly during a crisis.  

The Idaho Capitol Sun presented a remarkable example of all this earlier this week in an interview with a physician in the mountain town of McCall, Idaho. Dr. Patrick Kinney is at the end of understanding.

“We just don’t understand why people have trusted us for years,” Kinney told reporter Audrey Dutton, “and they’ve gone through all manner of uncomfortable things on our recommendation. Right? Like every 10 years, they’ve agreed to letting us put a 6-foot camera up their butt for a colonoscopy. Every year or three years or five years … they’ll get up in the stirrups, get a cold metal speculum put in their vagina for a Pap smear. And, you know, get a flu shot and get a pneumonia shot, get a shingles shot.”

Yet, Kinney said, with this deadly virus it’s different. “It’s like you just say the words ‘COVID vaccine,’ and their faces change, their eyes glaze over,” Kinney said. “They somehow feel like they’ve got better information than we do. And I don’t understand it, I really don’t. I don’t get it.”

Here’s the cultural and political reality: the origin story of where Idaho began to change – go off the rails – goes back to when the state became the exclusive reserve of one political party that has increasingly found itself playing to the most extreme elements in that party. Idaho has become a case study of what happens to a state where political leaders, over an extended period of time, systematically underfunded education, denied science, debased expertise, and lied to supporters about a host of issues.

The breakdown in basic trust of public institutions – hospitals, doctors, health districts, scientists – the near total disdain for education and the rejection of expertise are all aspects of a political system that seeks to appease its most far out members rather than lead them. Little wonder Idaho’s vaccination rates are among the worst in the country.

Consider one example. Earlier this year, the overwhelmingly Republican Idaho Legislature voted to strip the power of local public health districts issuing orders related to public health. Only partisan county commissioners – most of whom have refused to act or embraced conspiracy and misinformation – were left with any meaningful role in dealing with the kind of public health emergency that has now taken Idaho hospitals to the edge.

“Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach,” Republican state senator Steven Thayn declared, as he perfectly summarized the deadly incoherence of the GOP’s governing elite. “I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism,” Thayn said, “especially when you say well, we’re doing it for the public good.”

Hospitals in northern Idaho, overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, are now rationing health care

It was then totally predictable that the health district serving Idaho’s capitol city would act recently to appoint to its board a patently unqualified, COVID denying pathologist. That doctor, Ryan Cole, immediately began dispensing policy advice, the kind of advice that is apparently OK in Idaho since it conforms with what the most fevered Republican voters want to hear.

“I think we need to be prudent and say it’s time to let children be children, Delta is going to spread, we cannot stop it,” Dr. Cole told the board of a local charter school. “Everybody’s essentially going to get it.” In short: ignore science, let them die.

Cole’s advice, of course, contradicts vast expert opinion about how to control the pandemic, and completely ignores the deaths that can be prevented. Southern Idaho is almost certainly now headed toward the level of hospital crisis already overwhelming the north.

Yet, no Idaho Republican of standing – the governor, statewide elected officials, the congressional delegation, the party’s legislative leadership – has had a word to say about the lies and misinformation. Doing so, let’s be honest, would subject them to instant abuse, perhaps physical threats, and certain political challenge.

The impacts of the wholesale political manipulation of conservative voters we are seeing now has been a long time coming. The serial Republican lies – tax cuts pay for themselves, Marxists runs higher education, climate change is a hoax, liberal judges are the activists, immigrants and refugees present a danger to America, an election was stolen – and the fears these lies spawn have swamped the political right for decades. Little wonder people began to believe them.

Republican elected officials, the handful who really know better, know they have lost any ability to educate and reason with many of their followers. They stood by in silence while Fox News polluted cable television, while the crackpots at the Idaho Freedom Foundation defined the party’s agenda, while a corrupt con man took over their party, and while lies and misinformation kill thousands.  

To those who harbor a belief that this will change, that reason and enlightenment will one day seep back into conservative politics, I say – get over it. Most Republicans aren’t even trying to educate and inform their electorate. They are afraid of what will happen if they suddenly begin to speak the truth. We should all be afraid of what will continue to happen now that they have quit trying.

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Additional Reading:

A few items I came across this week that I hope will be of interest…

Jimmy Carter and Afghanistan

There are two excellent new biographies of President Jimmy Carter, including The Outlier by Kai Bird.

Bird had a piece recently in The Washington Monthly charting Carter’s connection to the long U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It’s good history, and a reminder of why hot takes on current events often miss the long backstory.

“If you think America’s exit from this Central Asian country concluded a 20-year war, think again. Some forgotten history goes a long way to explaining how we got where we are. The United States first intervened in Afghanistan in the summer of 1979—six full months before the Soviet Union’s land invasion—when Carter was president. Prodded by his hawkish national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter reluctantly agreed to authorize a small covert action program to provide aid to a motley group of mujahideen guerrilla forces challenging the central government in Kabul. Take note: These mujahideen were extreme Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, and more than a decade later they would morph into the Taliban. But they were anti-communists—and for Brzezinski, who viewed the world with Cold War blinders, that’s all that mattered.”

A helpful reminder of how we got mired down in a place we didn’t understand and still don’t. Here’s the link:


George W. Bush’s Wars are Now Over. He Retreated a While Ago.

This Washington Post story is in the same category. Fearless prediction: the eventual verdict of history will not be kind to the president – George W. Bush – who initiated a war in Afghanistan and then got diverted to a war in Iraq.

It didn’t go quite to plan…

“Bush’s own popularity has clearly benefited from his time out of office. Irrelevance proved to be a disinfectant. In 2018, a poll from CNN found that Bush was viewed favorably by about 6 in 10 Americans. It got to the point where another familiar face had to come out from retirement to stage an intervention.

“‘I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight, and remind you guys that I was really bad,’ Will Ferrell said, reprising his role as Bush for an SNL guest spot in 2018 year. ‘Like, historically not-good.’”

Tough, but nasty, too.


How to Make a Netflix-Style Documentary

I have to say – I’m a big fan of Netflix. And a fan of documentaries like the kind that you find all the time on the streaming service. Heck, I even made a couple documentaries back in the days of black and white TV.

So, this is fun.

“In this short video, YouTuber Paul E.T. shows how you can make a Netflix-style true crime documentary about anything. Even stolen toast. The equipment needs are pretty minimal – a good camera, a couple of lenses, some lighting, and a decent mic. The magic is in the editing.”

It’s short…and funny. The link:


Thanks much for reading. Stay safe.

Pandemic

The Personal Responsibility Myth…

Our hearts go out to folks in Louisiana – and now in New York – who have been battered again by a deadly hurricane. Hurricane Ida was one of the most powerful storms to hit the region in memory. Earlier this week more than a million people were without electricity, and the outages could last for weeks. At least one person died. The property damage will be in the billions.

By most accounts, Louisianans in the path of the awful storm obeyed mandatory evacuation orders issued by local and state government agencies. People getting out of the way of the storm almost certainly saved countless lives.

Terrebonne Parish in extreme southern Louisiana was one place where residents weren’t given a choice: leave your homes, leave most of your belongings and get the heck out.

Thousands fled, under “mandatory” evacuation orders, from a deadly storm. But we can’t wear a mask or get a free drug to help end a deadly pandemic?

“Terrebonne Parish is as prepared for the impacts of this storm as we can be,” said the top official in the parish. “Nevertheless, given the projected strength and storm surge of Hurricane Ida, we must ask residents to evacuate for their safety. We will continue to monitor the situation during the storm and provide critical information concerning developments that impact the parish and public safety during the storm.” 

As of this writing a curfew remains in effect in Terrebonne and residents are barred from returning to their homes. In neighboring Lafourche Parish, the sheriff was imploring evacuees not to return home. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said “deputies have been deployed in full force today responding to emergencies, searching for those who need help, and helping clear roads. Curfew remains in effect and will be STRICTLY enforced.”

So, a deadly, destructive hurricane comes crashing ashore in one of the most politically conservative states in the country and the government there tells people that in order to save lives they must abandon their homes and cannot return under threat of police action.

This must surely count as an impressive example of people under stress and facing great danger exercising a remarkable level of individual responsibility. People in Louisiana, no doubt many preferring to stay put and ride out a huge storm, chose instead to protect themselves and opted not to put more stress on law enforcement and disaster responders.

Meanwhile, the government, in order to control a deadly virus that has claimed 640,000 American lives – nearly six times the population of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana – has encouraged – not mandated, but encouraged – our fellow Americans to avail themselves of life-saving vaccine. In Louisiana barely 41% of the population has been vaccinated.

We know that the vast majority of those rejecting the vaccine live in areas where the former president of the United States commanded a majority. These folks are almost all conservatives, self-styled rugged individuals who claim to be smart enough to take care of themselves and who embrace the old Reagan Era mantra of “personal responsibility.”

Frankly, that is a crock and in fact the opposite is true. Republicans have become the party of personal irresponsibility.

As the writer David Litt noted recently: “In this new, topsy-turvy definition of individual liberty, some Americans are free to put their neighbors at risk, while other Americans are barred by the government from trying to keep their own employees, customers, and even children safe. Deciding whether to get the vaccine or remain unvaccinated is technically still a choice – but the Republican party is doing everything it can to make choosing the latter easier than choosing the former.”

Almost all of the unvaccinated say it’s a matter of their personal choice to ignore a free, safe and lifesaving medicine. Their excuses for refusing to protect themselves and the rest of us vary, but essentially it comes down to “you can’t make me.”

Appeals to common sense don’t work because common sense requires critical thinking. Some of these people would rather take a livestock dewormer, gag down vast amounts of vitamin D or spray themselves with chlorine than accept a proven treatment. The Mississippi health department, a state run wild with COVID hospitalizations, the vast majority among unvaccinated people, has been warning against the use of the horse medicine, ivermectin, because people who have ingested it have suffered “rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurological disorders, and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization.”

You can almost hear the conversation at the breakfast table. “Hey, Helen, let’s try some of this horse paste for our COVID. I read about it on the Internet. Gotta be better than some vaccine developed by a bunch of silly ol’ scientists.”

If people in Louisiana can follow a directive to flee from a deadly storm, we all ought to be able to reason our way to the use of a medicine that only does one thing: saves lives.

Here’s some personal responsibility for you.

Quit listening to bloviating television talk show hosts and politicians bent on division about science and medicine. Take personal responsibility for seeking out honest, factual information about COVID and vaccines.

The misinformation – out right lies – on Fox and other right wing outlets is appalling, and deadly

Stop placing your own personal interests in the way of kids going back to school and health care workers returning to something approaching normal. You simply can’t argue with the numbers: more than 98% of people currently sick enough to be in the hospital with COVID are not vaccinated. You may be ignorant enough to kill yourself in some misbegotten pursuit of your own personal freedom, but you are also selfishly ignoring your personal responsibility to the rest of society.

Embrace real citizenship. The world is not arrayed against you. Bill Gates isn’t trying to track you with some tiny little chip in a vaccine dose. Quit playing the victim card. Your rights aren’t being trampled. Your freedom isn’t at risk. It’s all a con by a lot of people who preach responsibility but live with little or no consideration for their fellow citizens. Selfish, uncaring nitwittery is really unbecoming.

The real victims here are the people dying every day from a disease that we can only end by getting more people vaccinated.

You got a better idea? Let’s hear it.

If not, I got some horse dewormer to sell you.

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Additional Reading:

Some suggestions for other good reads…

The Chair Is Netflix’s Best Drama in Years

I really enjoyed this six-episode series about an English Department in a stumbling “lesser Ivy” university. Great cast, great writing, great for the moment.

“In the first episode, Ji-Yoon Kim (played by Sandra Oh) has finally reached a lofty career peak as the chair of the Pembroke English department. Apprehensive and endearingly awkward in a duffel coat, she walks into her new office, unwraps a gift (a nameplate for her desk that reads fucker in charge of you fucking fucks), and sinks into her new desk chair, which promptly breaks beneath her. The pratfall is also an omen: More than the furniture is rotten at Pembroke.”

Read a review in The Atlantic:


In William Maxwell’s Fiction, a Vivid, Varied Tableau of Midwestern Life

A.O. Scott’s essays on American writers are always worthwhile. His recent piece on William Maxwell is no exception.

The novelist and editor William Maxwell

“Part of what makes Maxwell a fictional historian — as opposed to a writer of historical fiction — is a resistance to ambiguity for its own sake. Motives may not be fully rational, and reasons may not be completely knowable, but even extreme or capricious varieties of human behavior have observable patterns and causes. Maxwell spent more than a year undergoing psychoanalysis with Theodore Reik, and while his fictions are hardly Freudian case studies, they are nonetheless profoundly analytical, propelled by a spirit of inquiry more than by the mechanics of plot, and animated by a belief in overdetermination. Everything happens for so many different reasons!”

If you haven’t read Maxwell, well it’s not too late to start. This essay is a great introduction.


The Man Who Swam The Seine

Great story from GQ.

“On the morning of June 6th, 19-year-old Arthur Germain arrived at the rural town of Source-Seine, in between two national forests in northeast France, and said goodbye to his girlfriend, his parents, the town’s mayor, some journalists, and a small group of onlookers as a guitar player strummed a classically French song in the background. Then Germain disappeared into a grove of sycamores and began looking for water. He was embarking on a journey that had, to his knowledge, never been attempted, much less completed: swimming the entire length of the Seine River, all 480 miles of it, from where it begins as little more than a trickling creek just north of Burgundy all the way to the coastal town of Le Havre, in Normandy, where it meets the Atlantic.”

Read the entire piece:


The Quiet American

I’ve been re-reading The Quiet American, the 1955 novel by Graham Greene. The book, of course, is set in Vietnam nearly a decade before America’s misadventure escalated there. It has a strange – almost mystical – relevance to our time – think Afghanistan.

“You must read The Quiet American, I tell my friends, because it explains our past, in Southeast Asia, trains light on our present in many places, and perhaps foreshadows our future if we don’t take heed. It spins a heartrending romance and tale of friendship against a backdrop of murder, all the while unfolding a scary political parable. And most of all, it refuses the easy answer: The unquiet Englishman isn’t as tough as he seems, and the blundering American not quite so terrible — or so innocent.”

I went looking for some analysis of the book and found this piece. Very good.


Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

Idaho Politics, Pandemic

A Pandemic and Political Failure…

During his successful 2018 campaign to become Idaho’s governor, Brad Little pulled off one of the great stealth attacks on a political rival in recent memory. You may remember the story that only became public after Little’s election. 

As a conservative who was still more moderate than his Republican primary opponents, Little needed to navigate the choppy waters of a party taken over by Donald Trump, and he found a way to do it. 

Little’s task: prevent then-Congressman Raul Labrador from securing Trump’s endorsement thereby signaling to the Trump loving base of the party that Labrador was the anointed one. Little – or at least his political operatives – settled on a very Trump-like strategy. They would disqualify Labrador in Trump’s eyes. They produced a mashup tape of Labrador’s not infrequent criticism of Trump and got the tape to the White House. Almost best of all they did so without leaving fingerprints. 

Labrador is heard on the tape belittling Trump in 2016 for being “a big whiner,” for not being a “gracious” loser and for threatening to sue anyone who crossed him, which Labrador called “just a ridiculous and a preposterous way to run a campaign.” Trump was reportedly ready to support Raul, but the tape nixed a Twitter endorsement and Trump ultimately stayed out of the Idaho race. Little won the primary and then easily dispatched Democrat Paulette Jordan in the general election. 

The Idaho Press’s Betsy Russell wrote about the incident and what it seemed to say about Little the politician. Russell quoted College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi saying, “It shows that Little understands politics — he’s not some naive person.” Little’s campaign operatives, LiCalzi added, “didn’t just fall off the potato truck.”

So how to explain the governor’s unilateral political surrender in the battle against the worst pandemic in a hundred years? Why has Little allowed a collection of his biggest political adversaries, and I don’t mean Democrats, to define the terms of the debate around sensible, science-based public health measures

Idaho’s governor thinks he’s battling one enemy – COVID-19 – but he’s really in a fight with his most committed political enemies, as well.

There is an old rule in politics about picking your enemies carefully. Little needs to start naming his enemies. He’s fighting – not very effectively – COVID-19, but he is also at war with science deniers, militia backing armed thugs and people who want him to be a one-term governor. Why isn’t Little fighting back with all the tools of a tough politician who “didn’t just fall off the potato truck?”

For starters, why doesn’t Little take on the dangerous, clownish militia agitator Ammon Bundy? Bundy and his followers are apparently some of the people who have repeatedly disrupted Idaho health district and school board meetings and even shut down school events. They intimidate and threaten public officials outside their own homes. 

The Kansas City Star reported on Bundy and his multi-state network – “Ammon’s Army” – in October. This network, the paper said, “includes militia members, anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, preppers and anti-vaccination activists. Its rapid growth has been boosted by the joining of Bundy’s far-right paramilitary supporters cultivated from armed standoffs over the years with a large base of new activists radicalized through protests over COVID-19 health directives.”

By refusing to name Bundy and his violence-threatening followers as real enemies of Idaho, Little is giving the radicals a pass. He should be defining them as the dangerous outliers they are, standing in the way of sensible public health measures. He should be asking: “Are you on Bundy’s side or are you on the side of an overworked, overwhelmed ICU nurse?” 

The same goes with the odious Wayne Hoffman, the mouthpiece of the increasingly radical Idaho Freedom Foundation, a group that has opposed Little at every turn on virtually every issue and is now stoking the ludicrous fiction that wearing a mask to protect yourself and your fellow citizens is somehow a violation of your Constitutional right to make someone else sick. 

“It’s become a familiar pattern,” the Idaho Falls Post Register said in a recent editorial. “Hoffman and those of his ilk spread lies about the pandemic. The protestors take up those falsehoods and lead campaigns of intimidation to hobble any effective response to the pandemic at the local level. And so they are deeply culpable for the wave of death that is bearing down on us.” 

Ignoring public health enemies isn’t the way to beat them

Yet, Little’s response to these self-important Neanderthals is so lame as to be laughable: “We’re marshaling all our forces. And yet, the enemy, this plague, continues to advance.” The governor actually said that during a news conference last week, while pleading ineffectively for “compliance” with public health measures that his real enemies attack hourly in every corner of the state. He’s not marshalling anything, he’s abdicating. 

By not naming, shaming and holding responsible the public health deniers who have crippled Idaho’s response to the virus, Little has discarded a major and valuable weapon in the fight. The “enemy” is indeed the virus, but the enemy is also a gang of deplorables hampering a more effective response. 

It’s not like any of these people – Bundy, Hoffman, Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin and any number of COVID denying legislators – are friends of Little. All of them, and add Labrador, who was photographed in the big indoor mall in Boise last weekend violating the city’s mask order, would knife Little in heartbeat. Heck, they are already doing so. 

Hoping to show Little that an overwhelming number of Idahoans support a governor willing to lead more aggressively on the pandemic, a new grassroots group – The Idaho 97% – organized, as one of the founders Emily Walton told me this week, “to let him know we need him to run Idaho.” Walton said, “there has been no public voice for the vast majority of Idahoans who want to see the government function.” Little should be leading this majority and calling out the clowns in the minority. 

“Brad Little, I think, comes across a little bit as, oh, he’s just a nice rancher, almost a naive guy, but he’s a tough politician, too,” LiCalzi, the College of Idaho political scientist, said of candidate Little in 2018. He noted that Little didn’t hesitate to attack his Democratic rival with negative TV ads, and he cut Labrador off at the knees. What’s happened to that political fire? 

“I think it’s clear,” LiCalzi said, “he’s not somebody who’s going to just let someone run over him.” But getting run over is exactly what has happened as Little has allowed his most committed political opponents to get away with a campaign of misinformation, intimidation and denial.

These should be the people defined as responsible for so much death and disease, but by his wimpy response to these knuckleheads Little has brought the blame on himself.

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Additional Reading:

A few additional stories you may find of interest…

MLB Is Finally Recognizing the Negro Leagues as the Major Leagues They Always Were

A big victory this week for Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro League’s museum in Kansas City and a baseball historian, who has been a tireless advocate for Major League Baseball recognition of the Negro Leagues as part of the majors.  

“I’m turning cartwheels and excited about a lot of hard work that I’ve put in over the years to get the leagues recognized as a major entity on par with the American and National League,” Lester says. “I don’t know what to say other than, why did it take them so long?”

Read the entire story in The Ringer:


A closer look at Republicans who didn’t stick with Trump

Josh Kraushaar writes in National Journal:

“To anticipate the Republican Party’s political future, it’s useful to look at the categories of Republicans who have moved on from Trump, or at least stopped indulging the president’s political delusions.”

Good piece.


The Texas Wedding

I read a story like this one from Texas Monthly and wonder: are people really this stupid?

“Photographers’ experiences shooting weddings during the pandemic have run the gamut. Several photographers described couples who were cautious, respectful, and understanding. But many were not. ‘I would say about fifty percent of the weddings I’ve shot, there’s been no masks at all. It’s like we’re living in the pre-COVID parallel universe,’ one photographer told me. ‘I’ve been in hotel ballrooms inside and it’s been packed like sardines and everyone’s having a great time. No one’s wearing masks. I’m there as the photographer documenting the reception and there’s sweat flying, and it’s hot, and the music’s blaring and the fan’s on, and I’m just like, ‘Well, the odds are that one of every ten people here have COVID and don’t realize it.’”

Obviously, the answer is…yes.


Thanks for reading. Stay well and do your best to safely enjoy the Christmas season.

2020 Election, Idaho, Pandemic, South Dakota, Trump

It’s Not Just Going Away…

Donald Trump and his Republican enablers are ending October the way they began late last winter when the pandemic came to the United States: with gaslighting, misdirection, blatant lying and the largest diversionary propaganda campaign in American political history. 

There are really only two words to describe what the president and his lapdogs have done: incompetence and evil. 

“People are tired of Covid,” Trump complained on a recent call with his campaign staff, while several reporters were listening. “I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid. People are saying: ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it.”

Donald Trump back in the day when he shared a podium with Dr. Anthony Fauci

“People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots,” Trump said, “all these idiots who got it wrong.”

Tell that to 223,000 Americans who are not here to listen to a deranged, heartless campaign’s closing argument delivered by the most disastrous president in American history. Or how about the more than 1,700 health care workers in the United States who have died during the pandemic because they cared for the sick. Are they “all these idiots who got it wrong?”

David Eggman, a registered nurse at a hospital in Wausau, Wisconsin, a region overrun with Covid-19 hospitalizations, has seen more than his share of death since March. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he has listened as COVID-19 patients breathed their last, alone without family at the bedside. Frequently they told him, “that they didn’t realize it was as bad as it was.” 

But the president did know. He told the journalist Bob Woodward in February that the virus was “deadly” and much more serious than the flu. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said a month later during another exchange recorded on tape. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

After first refusing the reality, and then ultimately failing to deal with a deadly disease, Trump rushed to ignore accepted science and politicized the public health response. He has repeatedly mocked advice about masks, and despite his own near-death experience, has persisted in holding virus spreading – and truth killing – rallies in states where the disease is running wild. 

Trump said a week ago that we have “turned the corner” with the virus, a true statement if you understand that the “turn” is upward in daily cases, upward in hospitalizations and upward in the number of rural counties that by his own government’s assessment are trending overwhelmingly in the wrong direction

A website that reports on rural America said this week that “Covid-19 spread in rural America at a record-breaking pace again last week, adding 160 counties to the red-zone list and bringing the total number of rural Americans who have tested positive for the coronavirus to more than 1 million.” And researchers at the University of Idaho, just to cite one data point, now estimate one in every 30 people in eastern Idaho are infected with the virus. 

Staff at St. Luke’s Magic Valley hospital send a COVID-19 patient home earlier this year. Now the hospital is overrun with cases

That Trump would seek to downplay all this, lie about it and fail to heed the advice of scientists is no longer even news. He’s a textbook example of a pathological liar, likely unable to ascertain truth from fiction. He’s also clearly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, leaving him unable to accept let alone empathize with millions of his fellow Americans who have died, been made sick or economically devastated by his unprecedented failure to lead an effective national response. 

What remains surprising, even after all these months, is that fellow Republicans have accepted his failures and made them their own. Two governors – South Dakota’s Kristi Noem and Idaho’s Brad Little – exemplify how thoroughly degraded Republican politics have become. With virus cases running out of control in both states, the governors act like this is all business as usual. 

South Dakota’s infection rate is four times the national average, but Noem, a rightwing darling, has been hawking t-shirts inscribed: “Less Covid, More Hunting.” Meanwhile, the governor has been all over the country campaigning for Trump, so often missing from the state in recent weeks that columnist Mike McFeely roasted her this week saying, “She’s followed the Trump playbook, and therefore the Republican playbook, line for line. With her T-shirt sales, Noem is even cashing in on the denial.” 

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is hawking t-shirts rather than battling the virus

Meanwhile, the Republican speaker of the South Dakota House of Representatives, Steve Haugaard, has been in hospital emergency rooms twice this month battling the virus. “It’s been the most devastating stuff I’ve ever had in my life,” the 64-year-old Haugaard told the Associated Press. 

Little isn’t as brazen – or as stupid – but ultimately just as ineffective as his South Dakota counterpart. While hospital officials across Idaho were calling this week for more aggressive steps to slow the growth of cases, Little was preaching the gospel of personal responsibility, refusing even the most basic step of a statewide mandate to wear a damn mask. “This is about personal responsibility,” Little said, “something Idaho is all about.” 

Right. All that personal responsibility has seen a 46% increase in cases over the last two weeks, including so many cases at the major hospital in south central Idaho that the top doctor there said this week, “It gets back around to, how long can you sustain this? How long can you provide the high-quality health care we provide?”

If you’ve been waiting for the promised Trump October Surprise, it’s already here: the infection and death toll is rising rapidly, and winter will be awful. Donald Trump and his GOP sycophants with their widespread demonization of people of expertise like Dr. Anthony Fauci and with the ignorant rejection of basic public health measures have effectively adopted Stalin’s maxim: a single death is a tragedy; 221,000 deaths are a statistic. 

The election in ten days comes down to a stark choice for America: do we embrace science and common sense to lead us to solutions for the worst public health crisis in more than one hundred years or do we empower, as the writer Caroline Fraser put it recently, “a zealotry so extreme that is has become a death cult.” 

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Additional Reading:

Some other stories worth your time…

USC’s Linebackers: In 1989, USC Had a Depth Chart of a Dozen Linebackers. Five Have Died, Each Before Age 50

A stunning and profoundly disturbing story by Michael Rosenberg in Sports Illustrated about the 1989 Southern Cal football team and what has happened to several of the team’s linebackers. 

“The Trojans go 9-2-1 and then win the Rose Bowl that season, but football fools them. The linebackers think they are paying the game’s price in real time. Michael Williams takes a shot to the head tackling a running back in one game and he is slow to get up, but he stays on the field, even as his brain fogs up for the next few plays. Chesley collides with a teammate and feels the L.A. Coliseum spinning around him; he tries to stay in but falls to a knee and gets pulled. Ross, who says he would run through a brick wall for Rogge, breaks a hand and keeps playing. After several games he meets his parents outside the home locker room and can’t remember whether his team won or lost.”

Read the whole thing.


2 More Funny Feelings About 2020

Tim Alberta is Politico’s chief political correspondent – and author of a great book American Carnage about the Tea Party takeover of the GOP. He thinks we may be overthinking what the election is all about.

“Generations of pollsters and journalists have fixated on the question of which candidate voters would rather have a beer with—a window into how personality translates into political success. Here’s the thing: Americans have been having a beer with Trump for the past four years—every morning, every afternoon, every evening. He has made himself more accessible than any president in history, using the White House as a performance stage and Twitter as a real-time diary for all to read. Like the drunk at the bar, he won’t shut up.”

I like this piece because – of course – it corresponds with my own theory.

A good read.


Bruce – The Boss

Springsteen at 71

A great piece from The Irish Times

Bruce Springsteen is looking fit and well as the screen pops into life. Sitting in the same home studio in New Jersey where just about a year ago he recorded his 20th studio album, Letter to You, with his longtime musical comrades, the E-Street Band, he laughs a little sheepishly when our Zoom host, Scottish journalist Edith Bowman, wishes him a belated 71st birthday.

“I suppose celebrating birthdays is not high on his agenda, especially when Springsteen is here to tell us about an album and an arthouse documentary prompted by the death of an old friend.” 

Worth your time.


The Monopoly on Ice Cream Truck Music 

Whenever I hear the tinkling tones of an ice cream truck, I flash back to when the kids were young and that sound was exciting to them and annoying to me. Turns out I had no idea about the story behind the music. 

“In earlier decades, Nichols Electronics had several full-time employees, but the company has since shrunk down to just Mark and Beth.

“If a resource-rich corporation — say, General Electric — decided to jump into the ice cream truck music game, that corporation very well might succeed. But there’s a reason a larger entity hasn’t tried to dislodge Nichols Electronics as the reigning ice cream music kingpin.

“It’s a very difficult market, says Mark.” 

Michael Waters writes that a small family-owned company has a corner on 97% of the ice cream music market. 


Have a good week…the campaign is almost over. Be well.

2020 Election, Climate Change, Fire Policy, Pandemic, Trump

Disbelieving Ourselves to Death…

If you could choose just one moment from the last week to capture the utter unreality of our time – and our politics – you could do worse than looking at the highlights of a baseball game played last Monday in Seattle. 

The A’s and Mariners split a doubleheader, but the images that linger from the game have nothing to do with home runs or great defensive plays. The dystopian scene that persists is the reality that the game was played in an empty stadium where seats were filled with smiling cardboard cutouts not fans, with many players wearing face masks and wondering why the games had been played at all. 

The stadium was filled with smoke, not fans

“I think it was OK breathing, but we definitely noticed it,” Mariners centerfielder Kyle Lewis told reporters. “The sky was all foggy and smoky; it definitely wasn’t a normal situation, definitely a little weird.” True statement. 

The Seattle skyline – and every skyline from L.A. to Missoula – was obscured by a mile’s high worth of smoke. The air quality this week in four major western cities is among the worst in the world, all brought to the Seattle ballpark and your lungs by the catastrophic wildfires raging from southern California to the Canadian border, from the Oregon coast to Montana.

The West is burning. The pandemic is raging. The climate is cooking. And a sizable percentage of Americans are willingly suspending their disbelief about all of it, still enthralled with the smash mouth nonsense of the biggest science denier since Pope Urban VIII in the 17th Century decreed that Galileo was wrong and the Sun really does orbit the Earth. 

Pope Urban VIII, an earlier science denier

The suspension of disbelief, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1817, is a necessary element of fiction, or perhaps more pleasingly, poetry. It demands, Coleridge said, that we “transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” 

You have to want to do this suspension of reality business since it really doesn’t come naturally. A reflective human reaction to things that just don’t seem true is to question what you hear or see. Not anymore. We have reached our “Duck Soup” moment and we are living the line delivered by Chico, one of the Marx Brothers in that 1933 movie: “Well, who ya gonna believe me or your own eyes?”

When told by the secretary of the California Natural Resources department, Wayne Crowfoot, that the record three million acres burned so far this year in that state required a response that goes beyond managing vegetation, the president of the United States blithely mumbled: “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” 

Crowfoot pushed back gently on the science-denier-in-chief saying, “I wish science agreed with you.” But like the surly guy who has to win every argument at the neighborhood bar – back when the neighborhood bar was open – Donald Trump said, “I don’t think science knows actually.” 

Undoubtedly, his many supporters celebrated more of their “poetic faith” even though every eighth grader in the American West knows more about forests and fire than our president from Queens, the same guy who predicted repeatedly that the virus would “just go away.” 

To hear the president on the campaign trail, cheered on by nearly every one of the intellectually bankrupt elected officials in the Republican Party, the pandemic is over, the economy is roaring back and radical thugs are coming to a suburb near you. Reality that doesn’t depend on suspending disbelief would be, as James Fallows wrote this week in The Atlantic, that “Trump is running on a falsified vision of America, and hoping he can make enough people believe it to win.”

The Trump campaign flew into Nevada a few days ago to rally with hundreds of supporters packed shoulder to shoulder in a building in Henderson. The event took place in defiance of not only the state of Nevada’s prohibition against such large gatherings, but the clear guidance of Trump’s own science and medical experts. But, then again, they are all probably “elitists” from liberal colleges and universities. What do they know? 

The Nevada rally and subsequent campaign events in Arizona and elsewhere came at the same time as the release of Bob Woodward’s latest book, in many ways, like all Woodward books, a Washington insiders’ version of the presidency as a decades long exercise in suspended disbelief. There is, however, one thing different about this Woodward book. He’s got the tapes

Back in the spring when Trump was daily trying to happy talk his way through the pandemic he said on April 10: “The invisible enemy will soon be in full retreat.” Three days later he spoke by phone with Woodward who recorded the conversation with Trump’s full knowledge and confirmed that he had been lying to all of us for weeks. “This thing is a killer if it gets you,” Trump said on April 13, “if you’re the wrong person, you don’t have a chance.” Trump went on to call the virus that once was magically “just going to go away” a “plague.” 

Trump campaign rally in Nevada violated the state’s ban on large gathering and defied the president’s own science advisors

In an earlier interview with Woodward in February Trump called the virus “deadly stuff” that was “more deadly than your, you know, your — even your strenuous flus.”

At least two things are happening here. Trump was caught in real time lying about a pandemic that will soon have claimed 200,000 American lives, shutdown schools and businesses and devastated the economy in ways we can’t yet imagine. By his ignorance and malevolence, the president, and those most guilty of aiding his mission of chaos and death – read congressional Republicans – continues to wreak havoc on every single one of his constituents. It should go without saying that it didn’t have to happen, and it hasn’t happened in most of the rest of the world. You can look it up. 

Second, the president and his pathetically craven enablers are waging a massive propaganda campaign in an effort to win an election, relying on huge doses of magical thinking larded with suspended disbelief. 

So, sure, Trump’s doing a superb job. It’s going to get cooler and magically that smoke once it’s gone will never reappear. The “deadly stuff” is nothing to fret about. I mean, after all, who ya gonna believe: A guy who lies for a living or your own eyes?

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Additional Reading:

Some other stories I found interesting this week. Hope you enjoy.

A Nation Derailed

Like most of you, I haven’t been traveling much lately. But long-time readers probably know that I am a big fan of train travel. My last rail trip was almost a year ago now from Montreal to Halifax on an overnight sleeper train. I loved it. 

So, I found this piece by Lewis McCrary a fine primer on why the rest of the world has decent – or in some cases outstanding – rail service, while the U.S. limps along with our sadly underfunded Amtrak system. You can read the story as a metaphor of source for failed American leadership, or at least misplaced American priorities. 

“Since its beginnings 40 years ago, Amtrak has insisted that it can become a self-sustaining operation, largely based upon claims like those made in 1971: in high-traffic, high-density corridors like the Northeast, there is sufficient consumer demand that passenger rail can operate at a profit. There has always been some truth to this line of reasoning, but it ignores a question that is at the heart of interstate transportation policy, both for highways and railroads: who pays the enormous costs of building and maintaining infrastructure? Interstate highways were only made possible through large federal subsidies—handouts not unlike those that created the grand railway network in the late 19th century.” 

Read the whole piece


Joan Didion on Bob Woodward 

I confess I have never been a great fan of Bob Woodward’s thick tomes on Washington politics. Few can argue with his role – and Carl Bernstein’s – in exposing the crimes of Watergate, but his books have often been the product of absolutely conventional D.C. wisdom, frequently based on his access to key players who, if they play the access game skillfully, usually come off looking OK.

It’s also always bothered me that often Woodward’s books rely almost entirely on unnamed sources. Footnotes matter, after all. 

And almost always Woodward becomes, as he has recently, a big part of the story. Yes, I think he erred in not revealing a lot soon what Donald Trump was telling him about the virus.

Fear – the new Bob Woodward book

Still, the latest Woodward is a bit different. He has hours of tapes of Donald Trump. No anonymous source, but the source. Still, with all the hype over Rage, the latest Woodward tome, it strikes me there is less here than meets the eye. It is, as I point out above, no great scoop that Trump is a habitual liar.

The great Joan Didion was not a Woodward fan either and in 1996 she did a rather epic takedown of the Washington Post reporter/editor. It’s worth revisiting. 

“Mr. Woodward’s rather eerie aversion to engaging the ramifications of what people say to him has been generally understood as an admirable quality, at best a mandarin modesty, at worst a kind of executive big-picture focus, the entirely justifiable oversight of someone with a more important game to play . . . What seems most remarkable in this new Woodward book is exactly what seemed remarkable in the previous Woodward books, each of which was presented as the insiders’ inside story and each of which went on to become a number-one bestseller: these are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent.”

Here’s the link.


After the Gold Rush 

In September 1990 – thirty years ago – Vanity Fair magazine published a long piece by Marie Brennan on a New York developer and his then-Czech wife. 

Donald Trump and then-wife Ivana in 1990

The story was an early taste, actually a hearty gulp, of the man who now sits in the White House. Reading it today is a little like having a look three decades ago of what the future would look like in 2020. Brennan wrote:

“I thought about the ten years since I had first met Donald Trump,” Brennan wrote. “It is fashionable now to say that he was a symbol of the crassness of the 1980s, but Trump became more than a vulgarian. Like Michael Milken, Trump appeared to believe that his money gave him a freedom to set the rules. No one stopped him. His exaggerations and baloney were reported, and people laughed. His bankers showered him with money. City officials almost allowed him to set public policy by erecting his wall of concrete on the Hudson River. New York City, like the bankers from the Chase and Manny Hanny, allowed Trump to exist in a universe where all reality had vanished. ‘I met with a couple of reporters,’ Trump told me on the telephone, ‘and they totally saw what I was saying. They completely believed me. And then they went out and wrote vicious things about me, as I am sure you will, too.’ Long ago, Trump had counted me among his enemies in his world of ‘positives’ and ‘negatives.’ I felt that the next dozen people he spoke to would probably be subjected to a catalogue of my transgressions as imagined by Donald Trump.”

Read the whole thing if you have a strong stomach. 


The Nazi Menace

I just finished a fine new book by historian Benjamin Carter Hett, a scholar of modern Germany who teaches at CUNY. It’s called The Nazi Menace and focuses on the event immediately leading up to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. It’s a fine book and I recommend it to anyone wanting a firmer understanding of these central events in 20th Century history.

Another historian I admire, Fredrik Logevall, reviewed the book for the New York Times.

“For the Western leaders and their populations, the second half of the 1930s represented, Hett argues, a ‘crisis of democracy.’ In the minds of influential observers like Churchill and the American columnist Walter Lippmann, it seemed an open question whether the major democracies could respond effectively to the threat from totalitarian states that were primed for war and had ready access to resources. Could Western leaders mobilize their competing interest groups and fickle constituents to support costly overseas commitments? What if these same constituents fell under the sway of fascism, with its racist and nationalist appeals?”

Read the review here.


Thanks, as always, for following along. Be safe and be well.

2020 Election, Education, Pandemic, Trump

Magical Thinking…

Yeah, the schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. Kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed.” 

Donald Trump, July 13, 2020

———- 

For decades Republicans have preached the gospel of “local control” of schools; the idea that the local school board – the homemakers, the local real estate guy, the small business owner – are the people who should have ultimate say about educating our kids. But like almost every other conviction of bedrock conservatism “local control” is no longer, to borrow a word from the Nixon era, operative. 

You know what else is inoperative: competence. Donald Trump and the collection of inept D-list flunkies that surround the president – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos comes to mind – have spent the last three weeks threatening governors, teachers, parents and common sense. Trump even said he’d withhold money from states refusing to open schools, a hollow threat he cannot possibly fulfil, but one in keeping with this administration’s mendacity. Significant amounts of federal education aide go to the poorest schools and to help children with particular learning needs. 

Trump wants the schools open, many others aren’t convinced

The bullying and demanding from Washington, D.C. isn’t based on any serious concern about how schools might operate in the midst of a still accelerating pandemic, but it is based on Trump’s need to manufacture the optics of “a return to normal” that is only happening between the ears of the “very stable genius.” 

As columnist Rex Huppke put it in the Chicago Tribune: “You brats are going to listen to me and to your president, Donald J. Trump, and you’re going to march your little rear ends off to school come fall. I don’t care if you have to wade through 5 feet of coronavirus to get there, you’re going!” 

Yet the people most affected – parents, teachers, school cafeteria staff, among others – seem impervious to this Trumpian logic. “I have yet to see any data where there are appreciable numbers of people who say, ‘Yes, I want my kids back in school,’” says Glen Bolger, a veteran Republican pollster, in an interview with the New York Times. “They want their kids back in school, but not right now. I think safety is taking priority over education.”

Or as Kristi Wilson, the superintendent of a small district in Arizona told the Washington Post: “Although the administration can apparently absorb the 150,000 COVID deaths without care or consequence, we do not have the luxury of even losing one.” 

It might have been wise to devote the last couple of months to strengthening distance learning and helping parents prepare for a school year without kids in school buildings. What we got instead is the persistent incompetence and quackery of the Trump Administration and the frightened conservative politicians who dare not offend the man who acts like he has all the answers but possesses none of them. 

While the president lamented Dr. Anthony Fauci’s high poll numbers compared to his – “but nobody likes me,” Trump whined, while wondering if it had something to do with his personality – he again touted hydroxychloroquine, the drug the FDA says has no proven effectiveness against the coronavirus. We won’t go into the quack doctor Trump citing who “made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they’re trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci back in the old days when Donald Trump let him speak from the White House

Trump era magical thinking has positioned the United States, with only five percent of the world’s population, but with a quarter of all the world’s cases and vastly more deaths than any other country, as a case study of failure when it comes to controlling the virus. 

The squandering of precious time from late March to mid-May when organization of a national strategy to test, trace and isolate cases could have been done, but wasn’t will be this administration’s deadly legacy. The spreading of quack theories about unproven drugs and phony treatment, while making wearing a mask an ideological litmus test is the final proof of the abject failure of Republican efforts to lead and govern. 

U.S. leading the world in COVID-19 deaths and failed response

The GOP has given up on fighting the illness. It’s just too hard for them to handle, a position Idaho governor Brad Little summed up perfectly last week when he was asked if his state’s schools would reopen. “I think the answer is, it depends,” Little said. 

The governor or his counterparts in Florida or Texas or Arizona might have said: “You know, the answer for very much schools is no. We must recognize that the disease is out of control, spreading uncontrollably and we must redouble our efforts to fight it. One step is to end the magical thinking that suggest we should put teachers and children and the grandparents of school children at real risk by too quickly going back to in person schooling. We have more work to do before we can do that.”

Something like that would have been an honest and indeed helpful answer, allowing parents and teachers to plan and prepare, but instead of the functional equivalent of “we will fight on the beaches…we shall never surrender” to the virus we get “it depends.” 

“This collapse of a major political party as a moral governing force is unlike anything we have seen in modern American politics,” long-time Republican consultant Stuart Stevens wrote recently. He compared the collapse of the party, its abandonment of expertise and common sense and its embrace of a reality television star, to the demise of the Communist Party in the old Soviet Union. In short, what the party says it is bears no resemblance to what is actually is. 

The disconnect between what Republican leaders tell their constituents about issues like wearing a mask and opening school and the relentless, unbending reality of the pandemic is simply not sustainable. The terrible logic of the virus is going to win every time and the way the incompetents continue to handle it signals that we are on track to never put it behind us. 

Ask yourself this logical question: If, as a result of a still little understood disease that will almost certainly claim thousands more American lives between now and Labor Day, your local school board, your health district, your state board of education is reduced to meeting by Zoom to consider reopening the schools is it really such a great idea to reopen the schools?

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Additional Reading:

Nespresso…

Great deep dive in The Guardian on the coffee machine and the company behind it.

“Buying a machine grants you membership of the Nespresso Club, literally, and also membership of the Nespresso club, metaphorically – a global fellowship of people who care enough about their morning brew to spend 40 or 50p on 5 grams of it, but not enough to spend more than 30 seconds preparing it. In their homes, the distinctive hum, whirr and clunk of a machine in action has taken its place alongside the churn of a dishwasher.”

Read the whole thing, including a few surprises.


How to think about Jefferson… 

Thomas Jefferson, third president, eternally complicated…and controversial

Alan Taylor is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian who teaches at the University of Virginia, the university Thomas Jefferson created. In a recent essay he reflected on the contradictions of the author of the Declaration of Independence, a slave owner who declared all men are created equal. 

“As Hollywood has long known,” Taylor writes, “Americans prefer melodramas that sort people into the good and the evil. So, we treat Jefferson as an icon of our unresolved prejudices and inequalities, which trace to slavery. As that burden becomes conspicuous in our national understanding, partisans wish to cast Jefferson as either an antislavery hero or a proslavery villain. In fact, he was both and neither.”

Your history read today.


Nicholas Baker on FOIA…

Baker is a great writer and a dogged researcher. In his new book Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act Baker tries to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to dig into some mysteries. He writes:

“Isn’t it against the law for government agencies to delay their responses to FOIA requests? Yes, it is: the mandated response time in the law is twenty days, not including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and if one agency must consult with another agency before releasing a given document, the consultation must happen ‘with all practicable speed.’ And yet there is no speed. There is, on the contrary, a deliberate Pleistocenian ponderousness.”

A fascinating story.


Thanks for reading. Stay well.

2020 Election, Pandemic

Denial…

In 2017, Tom Nichols, a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, published a book that anticipated our current state of affairs. Nichols’s book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, made an overarching point: with so much information literally at our fingertips everyone can be an expert on everything. Or at least play at being an expert on Facebook. 

One example Nichols cited was a Washington Post poll that found after the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine “only one in six Americans could identify Ukraine on a map; the median response was off by about 1,800 miles.” Yet, this lack of basic knowledge hardly kept Americans from their sure-fire opinions about what action the country should take. 

“In fact,” Nichols wrote, “the respondents favored intervention in direct proportion to their ignorance. Put another way, the people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about using military force there.” 

Turns out our certainty frequently has an inverse relation to our intelligence. Why? Why do so many Americans disdain expertise? 

“Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue,” Nichols wrote. “To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”

The country’s disastrous, fragmented and deadly response to the global coronavirus pandemic is deeply rooted in the America aversion to expertise. Unfortunately for the first time in modern history we have a “fragile ego” in the White House who has made being ignorant about virtually everything a governing principle. 

“Across the rest of the developed world, COVID-19 has been ebbing,” David Frum wrote this week in The Atlantic. “As a result, borders are reopening and economies are reviving. Here in the U.S., however, Americans are suffering a new disease peak worse than the worst of April.” As a result, the European Union this week barred almost all travelers from the United States because we have failed to control the virus, and we have failed because millions of us have rejected fundamental common sense. 

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott largely ignored the virus and now scrambles to control it

Back in February the president and his Fox News echo chamber were calling the virus “a hoax” that was completely under control. It wasn’t and people who have spent a lifetime studying such things knew it wasn’t. Yet, governors in Arizona, Florida and twenty other places embraced Trumpian logic about the virus, waited too long and then acted inadequately. 

From June 15 to the end of the month Arizona’s totals went from about 1,000 cases per day to nearly 5,000 per day. Idaho’s cases seem on a similar trajectory. Little wonder Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, worried this week that the country could soon be headed for 100,000 new cases per day. “I am very concerned,” he said. And for good reason. Death numbers, a lagging indicator compared to cases, will almost certainly begin rising in coming days. 

Meanwhile, every disease expert in the world is recommending the wearing of face masks as a fundamental necessity in slowing the spread. Yet, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul – hard to believe he is actually a doctor – mused out loud at a hearing where Fauci testified, “We shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best for everyone.” 

Delegates to the Idaho Republican convention fumed last week about Governor Brad Little’s contact tracing efforts, an effective and proven method of isolating the virus and containing its spread that has been widely implemented in countries that have brought the pandemic under control. 

One “expert,” Heather Rogers, a convention delegate from Lewiston, was quoted by reporter Nathan Brown as saying, “What Governor Little did was frankly, in my opinion, completely unconstitutional.” The key words here are “in my opinion.” 

Donald Trump is scheduled to be at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills Friday for a big fireworks display that defies common sense on at least two fronts. Fireworks displays at the national monument were long ago suspended due to concerns about forest fires and a big crowd of people will create a mountain sized petri dish of virus spread. 

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem welcomes the chaos. “We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” she told NBC, “but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we will not be social distancing.” 

One of the toughest tasks in politics is to muster the courage to tell your followers that they are wrong. But so many Republicans have lived for so long in the land of science denial, in the universe of expertise bashing, that when confronted with a genuine crisis that can’t be flim flamed away they’re left with little but their own nonsense. 

But at this moment, as David Frum writes, “reality will not be blustered away. Tens of thousands are dead, and millions are out of work, all because Trump could not and would not do the job of disease control” – a task that requires deferring to science, accepting facts and behaving responsibly about things like wearing a mask. The task also involves leading the skeptical. 

From denying climate change and abandoning the international effort to rescue an imperiled planet to embracing the claim that the virus would somehow magically “go away,” the president and a sizeable percentage of the American population have, as Tom Nichols says, chosen to be ill-informed.

They are left with only their anger and their demands because they have abdicated “their own important role in the process: namely, to stay informed and politically literate enough to choose representatives who can act on their behalf.” 

Meanwhile, the cases continue to grow. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

1932 = 2020

University of Washington historian James N. Gregory looks at the striking parallels between this presidential election year and the year Franklin Roosevelt won the White House. 

“An election looms. An unpopular president wrestles with historic unemployment rates. Demonstrations erupt in hundreds of locations. The president deploys Army units to suppress peaceful protests in the nation’s capital. And most of all he worries about an affable Democratic candidate who is running against him without saying much about a platform or plans.

Welcome to 1932.”


State of the Race 

Veteran journalist and political watcher Stuart Rothenberg assess whether Joe Biden’s lead in a variety of polls is likely to last.

Stu says: “The burden is now on Trump to change the trajectory of the race, probably by demonizing Biden, who is well known after decades in politics and widely regarded as a decent and empathetic man. The president must pray he can once again squeeze out an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote by a larger margin than in 2016.” Read his analysis.


Trump’s phone calls alarm U.S. officials

Carl Bernstein of Woodward-Bernstein Watergate fame had a big story this week about the president’s telephone habits with other world leaders, including Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president. I’m betting some of Bernstein’s sources were Trump’s departed national security advisors. He says:

“Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call.

“On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.” 

Donald Trump and his Turkish strongman pal Erdogan

Whoo. Read the whole thing.


Seattle and the Pandemic 

Knute Berger writes from Seattle about the once booming city’s future. “Downtown is still hollowed out with a ghost-of-itself ambience: The Alaska-bound cruise ships won’t be docking in Elliot Bay this year, nor will the conventioneers fill the bars and restaurants, erasing billions from the local economy. In June, downtown hotel revenues were down over 94% with a midmonth occupancy rate of 13%. COVID-19 is still impacting people’s willingness to travel.”

The Emerald City is looking pretty tarnished.


Finally…Ann, as in Richards

Years ago when Ann Richards was governor of Texas I had a few opportunities to see her in action, including at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. She was a force of nature and the new PBS one-woman show on Great Performances with the great Holland Taylor captures her perfectly.

Highly recommended.

Thanks for reading…be well.

Economy, Idaho Politics, Pandemic, Trump

The Next Wave

“The Republican states are in strong shape,” Donald Trump said last month. “I don’t know — is that luck or is that talent?” 

The president made that comment when he was asked if state governments need a financial transfusion in order to staunch the flow of budgetary red ink in the wake of the double whammy of a pandemic and a massive economic decline. Republicans in Washington seem dead set against help for the states, apparently in part because Trump and his congressional boot polishers – read Mitch McConnell – don’t want to help Democratic states. McConnell has also suddenly discovered that the nation’s debt has exploded while a Republican has been in the White House. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Here’s the reality. Every state – every state – is going to be staggered to its knees by the double whammy. While Idaho Governor Brad Little has received generally good marks for competently relying on sound public health advice to manage the COVID-19 impact, the governor will find that his is merely transitioning from one hourly crisis to another. 

“Right now, state governments are facing several types of fiscal challenges,” Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler told me this week. She studies state governments and how they manage budgets. Budget cuts, as Idaho has already announced, including at minimum a 5% reduction in education funding, are a given, but Kettler says the vast uncertainty about how deep the economic downturn will be complicates the state’s response. 

“This is a challenging time when many citizens need more services or support from their state and local governments,” Kettler said, “which will make decision-making potentially quite difficult for state leaders on what to cut.” But knowing Idaho’s legislature, cutting will the first and last option. Expect 5% reductions to be more like 15% by Labor Day. 

Idaho’s revenue pipeline has already been plugged. April revenue declined by $470 million, a 60% reduction in what state economists had predicted before the virus came calling. Some of that downturn may be attributed to delayed tax payments since the income tax filing deadline has been pushed back, but it’s a safe bet that revenue will be significantly off – perhaps wildly off – for months if not longer. 

The happy talk emanating from the White House about the economic recovery being V-shaped – a steep downturn followed by a sharp rebound – is delusional

“The second quarter hole is so deep that it’s going to take several quarters to get back,” Robert Dye, the chief economist at Comerica Bank, told CNBC, “and that’s going to have an impact on state and local government budgets because that has a direct correlation to tax receipts. The economy is not going to get back to that level for two years or three years, and tax receipts are going to be weak for quite some time.”

The fiscal orthodoxy that has long governed Idaho’s approach to state spending, namely that tax cuts are always the answer to every problem and reducing spending, even if it means that teachers and state employees get laid off, is going to collide with a grim truth. If Idaho’s response to the worst economy since the Great Depression is to cut and then cut some more the state’s eventual economic recovery will take longer and be even more painful. 

“Large state budget shortfalls could prolong a recession by prompting a cascade of layoffs that ripple across the economy, Emily Cochrane noted recently in the New York Times. She was quoting economists who have said that in April alone, “state and local governments laid off one million people, a number that could continue to climb without additional assistance.” 

Idaho’s higher education system continues to be a key to a strong, more sustainable state economy, but higher education is certain to again be on the legislative chopping block. College and university presidents are trying out furloughs and other cost reduction strategies, but as Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News noted recently the cuts currently anticipated may need to be “much deeper if enrollment plunges in the fall.”

Idaho’s Republican Governor Brad Little in transition from a public health crisis to a budget crisis

So far, Idaho’s Trumpish congressional delegation has been silent about any federal help for Brad Little’s next wave of crisis, a particularly stunning silence when you consider that every one of the state’s federal officials once served in a legislature that must by law balance the budget. These Republicans seem content to follow McConnell’s advice that Republicans “tap the breaks” on additional aid, even as the Senate majority leader’s notion of letting states go bankrupt crashed like a lead Zeppelin. 

McConnell has tried to score political debating points by saying he has no interest in bailing out public pension plans in blue states, but with his home of state of Kentucky facing huge budget shortfalls much like Idaho’s you have to wonder how long this GOP’s fiscal nihilism will remain politically viable. And in Idaho the issue isn’t propping up the state pension fund but simply preventing state government from taking the state economy farther into the ditch. 

So far Little, with minimal help from fellow Republicans and second guessed by lots of stupidity from his own lieutenant governor, has navigated the public health crisis with a sure hand. He’ll need a more united and more creative party to manage the next crisis, a party willing to think big and beyond the orthodox. 

“The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said this week, as he bluntly called for more, not less government intervention to prop up the economy. 

For Powell, who has spent most of his career as a deficit hawk, the warnings are chilling. In the worst case, and case that appears all too likely, the country – and Idaho – faces what the Fed chairman called “an extended period of low productivity growth and stagnant incomes … Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.” 

The soulful 19th century Stephen Foster tune – a ballad for our times just as it was prior to the Civil War – holds out hope that “hard times come again no more,” but the worst hard time is hardly behind us. In fact, it may just be beginning. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

  • China’s Growing Ability to Challenge: Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reviews a new book Christian Brose, a former staffer to the Senate Armed Services Committee and a once top aide to the late Senator John McCain, who writes that China is now able to match – and even exceed – U.S. military capability. “The Pentagon wants to confront the Chinese challenge,” Ignatius writes, “but it insists on keeping the same vulnerable, wildly expensive platforms at the center of the United States’ military power. And Congress demands adherence to this status quo. When then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer tried to retire an aircraft carrier in 2019, Congress refused. Expensive fighter jets have a lobby, too. As Brose notes: ‘There is a reason why parts of the F-35 are built in every state in America. . . . It is political expediency.’”
  • Putin’s Goal: Now, to scare you completely – this from Franklin Foer in The Atlantic. “The Russians have learned much about American weaknesses, and how to exploit them… Even as to disinformation, the best-known and perhaps most overrated of their tactics, they have innovated, finding new ways to manipulate Americans and to poison the nation’s politics. Russia’s interference in 2016 might be remembered as the experimental prelude that foreshadowed the attack of 2020.” Oh, great…
  • Obamagate: Richard Wolff in The Guardian dissects what Donald Trump is doing by manufacturing a storyline about “Obamagate,” his latest conspiracy theory. “Trump has many good reasons to sail away to the land of smears. They’re called the polls, and they are – for the sociopath sitting in the White House – even worse reading than the pandemic death tolls or the latest unemployment claims. Trump is losing to Joe Biden by three points in Florida in the most recent Fox News poll, where he was supposed to have a lock on his re-election from his Mar-a-Lago mothership.”
  • Thanks for reading…be well.
2020 Election, Pandemic, Trump

The Worst Failure. Period.

The rank incompetence of Donald Trump’s response to the global pandemic will be studied for generations, analyzed and assessed as one of the great governmental failures in modern times

Trump’s mishandling of the public health crisis that led in turn to an economic crisis has few parallels but has been compared to George W. Bush’s inept initial reaction to Hurricane Katina in August 2005. Yet, as bad as that governmental failure was – and as damaging as it was to Bush’s presidency and legacy – and while 1,800 Americans died Bush eventually got a gruff, no nonsense Gulf War vet in charge and the situation slowly got straightened out. It was a catastrophe for sure, but pales compared to the current moment.

Trump is dwarfed by Lincoln in more ways than one

Katina, with all its governmental failure, led to reforms in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and highlighted an essential fact that has largely been ignored by Trump during the current crisis – one capable person must be in charge. 

Analogies have also been drawn to Soviet Russia in the spring of 1941 when Stalin’s generals were imploring him, and Britain was warning him, that Hitler was about to invade the Soviet Union. All the signs were visible in plain sight, but Stalin – very Trump like – refused to believe the warnings, believed they could be wished away. By December Hitler’s legions were in the Moscow suburbs and ultimately millions of Russians died in a brutal and bloody war that lasted four long years. Much of the devastation could have been avoided, as with our current disaster. 

The litany of governmental failure here is long and detailed and even if the president refuses responsibility the buck stops with the boaster-in-chief, including: the gutting of pandemic preparation efforts, the initial failure to recognize the danger of the spreading virus, the denial and minimizing of the threat, the ignoring of explicit warnings, the halting response, the failure to put one capable person in charge, the relentless effort to blame anyone else and the trust Trump placed not in experts, but his inexperienced son-in-law and talk show ideologues.

From the very first moment Trump treated the worst public health crisis since 1918 as a public relations problem that threatened his re-election prospects rather than threatening the health and well-being of millions of his constituents. 

Trump at Mar a Lago in early March when he was downplaying the pandemic. He dined with the Brazilian president who later contracted the virus

“They’re trying to scare everybody,” Trump said after a round of golf and a dinner party celebration at Mar A Lago. That was in February as he still refused to acknowledge or understand the pandemic that as of Monday had claimed nearly 70,000 American lives and crashed the economy. 

They – meaning the hated Democrats and Never Trumpers – wanted to “cancel the meetings, close the schools — you know, destroy the country,” Trump told his guests that weekend. “And that’s OK, as long as we can win the election.”

On Sunday, sitting in the shadow of Lincoln during a made for TV event, Trump complained that he – not hundreds of thousands of sick Americans – was the true victim of the pandemic. “They always said … nobody got treated worse than Lincoln,” Trump said while pointing toward the massive statue of our greatest president. “I believe I am treated worse. You know, I believe we’ve done more than any president in the history of our country in the first three years, three-and-a-half years. I really believe that.”

Yet, as bad as all this is, and it is very, very bad, and despite the wholesale effort underway – the largest propaganda effort in modern American history – to re-write the history of the last two months, this does not represent Trump’s greatest failure. The president, without character or basic decency, has failed on an even grander scale and it is this failure that stands to diminish the country for years and years to come. 

At a time when the vast majority of Americans long for moral leadership, inspiration in this hour of trial and someone able to articulate the shared decency that connects this wildly disconnected country, Trump offers – nothing.

Well, that’s not precisely correct. He offers all he has – division, discord, hatred, bigotry and a shocking lack of empathy, and then says “I don’t take responsibility at all” for his actions or unwillingness to lead a nation in crisis. Trump is a soulless, damaged man at the moment the nation needs a healer and a unifier

When former president George W. Bush, no stranger to controversy, recently offered words of hope, encouragement and a genuine sense that we really are all in this together, Trump demeaned Bush’s message. 

“In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants,” Bush said in a three-minute video message to the nation, “We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God.,” Bush said. “We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.” 

Trump’s response to this eloquent plea for national unity: he called out Bush for failing to support him during his impeachment. The president’s mean tweet was prompted, of course, by the nitwits who populate that cable TV sh#*hole known as Fox News, but such pettiness came from the president of the United States. 

When armed protesters descended on the Michigan state capitol to object to state at home orders, Trump didn’t push back – he, after all, issued the national guidelines – but instead attacked Governor Gretchen Whitmer. He later called the protesters “very good people.” 

There are countless other examples of his constant motivation to drive a wedge, rather than heal a wound. Trump has the title, but has none of the morals, character or instinct to handle the job. 

In times of national trial, Americans naturally look to the president for compassion, honesty and a call to action. Bush provided as much in the wake of attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Ronald Reagan did it when the space shuttle exploded. John Kennedy called Americans to serve their country and when the Bay of Pigs fiasco landed squarely on his desk Kennedy did not dodge and deny but declared himself “the responsible officer of the government.” 

The buck doesn’t stop at Mar a Lago

In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt reminded a population frightened and demoralized by the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and FDR went regularly to the radio to provide comfort and counsel to a hurting nation. He made us all Americans with a shared purpose. 

As the nation teetered toward our tragic and bloody Civil War in 1861, Abraham Lincoln invoked the immortal words that sought to summon both sides of the conflict to a better place, a shared place.

“We are not enemies, but friends,” Lincoln said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Perhaps the greatest example of crisis leadership, combining moral clarity, brutal honesty and hopeful inspiration was the work of Winston Churchill in the darkest days of 1940 when the United Kingdom stood alone against European fascism. 

Winston Churchill’s powerful, honest speeches and moral leadership in 1940 prepared British citizens for the great trials that were to come, but also offered hope amid the despair

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government,” Churchill said upon becoming prime minister almost exactly 80 years ago. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. This is our policy. You ask, what is our aim?

“I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.”

Imagine the current occupant of the White House summoning such honesty and moral clarity. Of course, you can’t. And it’s not because he needs better speech writers. He’s just not capable. We need a Churchill; we have a Trump. 

Please, God give Americans the strength to endure our ordeal of a most grievous kind. But we must recognize we will have to do it without a leader at the top. The president has failed at the central task of any president, and his unwillingness and inability to unite, encourage and rally the country is both an American tragedy and colossal challenge – to us. 

Will Americans emerge from our ordeal better, stronger, more united and more decent to, as Churchill said, “move forward to broad sunlit uplands” or will “sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age?” 

We have suffered a monumental, historic leadership failure. The president, and for the most part his political allies, are missing in action. 

Now it is up to individual Americans to pick up the pieces. Without a leader, it’s up to us – individuals, communities, businesses, non-profits, all of us. In none of our lifetimes have we faced a more serious responsibility.

Don’t kid yourself. The future of the country depends on our response. 

—–0—–

Additional reading:

  • “No one ever stepped up to take responsibility for Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller and Sandra Scheuer, the four dead in Ohio,” Steve Duin writes in The Oregonian, remembering the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Kent State. (By the way, Steve, a wonderful writer and storyteller, is always worth reading.)
  • “The story of Trump’s rise is often told as a hostile takeover. In truth, it is something closer to a joint venture, in which members of America’s élite accepted the terms of Trumpism as the price of power,” writes Evan Osnos in a great piece in The New Yorker.
  • I don’t know if former Republican-turned-Libertarian Justin Amash will be a spoiler in the presidential election, but it is possible. He could take votes from both Trump and Biden and he hails from a critical swing state – Michigan. Amash and his wild gamble profiled in this piece by Tim Alberta.
  • Writer Kristin Wong says it’s important to remain optimistic even in a time of great trial. “Optimism is simply being hopeful about the future, even when the present feels wholly negative.” Read the whole thing.
  • Thanks for reading. Stay safe.