Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Chewables for the Chief Chump

Frank Bruni Column: The Way Republicans in Congress Have Enabled President Trump

Lindsey Graham epitomizes the way Republicans in Congress have enabled President Trump.

Opinion Columnist
One of the most widely read articles in The Times last weekend was a report by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman that Republican leaders are dreading the potential consequences of President Trump’s “erratic handling” of the coronavirus crisis.
Consequences like a higher death toll and more fitful recovery than America might otherwise experience? No. Trump’s re-election is party leaders’ focus. They fear that if he rants, rages and stumbles around too outrageously and too much, he won’t get the chance to rant, rage and stumble around for four more years. If his madness is too naked, there’s a ticking clock on how long he can inflict it on the rest of us.
Forget about his damage to the country. They’re concerned about his damage to the party — and about not having one of their own in the White House, no matter how ill suited for it he is. Republican officials confessed additional anxiety that Trump might hurt the re-election prospects of Republican senators, who have abetted his worst behavior by excusing and even laundering it. God forbid they too don’t get an encore, so that they can perpetuate their shameful performances.

But the degree to which this impulse is indulged makes all the difference, as does the nature of the offenses and inadequacies being forgiven. For the sake of decency and of our increasingly fragile democracy, there must be a limit. And when it comes to Trump, Republicans don’t seem to have one.
From the start of his presidency, a cycle has repeated itself: Trump does something deeply offensive and spectacularly inappropriate. Republican lawmakers mutter off the record to journalists that they’re aghast at it. Those same Republicans gag themselves publicly. Then they work furiously to make sure that Trump and the party suffer the least political fallout possible.
And from the start of his presidency, I have waited, in all my optimism and innocence, for a pause in the cycle — for the moment when Republican lawmakers realize that to prop up Trump is to take down America.

Exceptions like those just bring the dangerous sycophancy of an overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress — the sellouts like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Kevin McCarthy — into bolder relief. And that sycophancy apparently has no end.
My colleague Michelle Goldberg noted in a column last weekend that Trump’s contempt for expertise and incompetence meant one thing pre-pandemic and means quite another now. The same goes for Republican lawmakers’ enabling of the president.
I don’t expect those lawmakers to root loudly for his defeat in November and campaign actively for Joe Biden (though some disgusted Republicans outside of Congress, God bless them, are doing just that). But in the wake of Trump’s nutty outbursts and stunning lack of leadership over the past four months, I did expect that at least a few Republican leaders would downgrade the importance of his continued grip on power and give patriotism as much consideration as tribal loyalty. Joe Biden may not be their cup of tea, but that’s no excuse to keep drinking Trump’s Kool-Aid.

Stephen Colbert

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Arsonist as a Fireman

The Irish Times: WE PITY THE U.S.

"From the Irish Times
April 25, 2020
By Fintan O’Toole


Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted ... like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.

If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated.

Other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

Abject surrender. What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.

Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”

This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted. 

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

Fertile ground. But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element.

As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again."

Rump's Super Power is Lying

For Trump, Lying Is a Super Power

He will use deception to keep his bungled response to Covid-19 from ruining his re-election chances.

Opinion Columnist
After Donald Trump’s ridiculous and dangerous suggestion last week that household disinfectants injected into people’s bodies might be a treatment for Covid-19, Republicans intensified their hand-wringing over whether his daily briefings were doing more harm — to his political fortunes and theirs — than good.

The coronavirus has completely reshaped the coming election. The economy is in dire straits. Trump’s polls have taken a dip. People are anxious and afraid. The outlook isn’t good … at the moment.
As The New York Times reported last week, some in the Republican Party see similarities to 2006:

“In 2006, anger at President George W. Bush and unease with the Iraq war propelled Democrats to reclaim Congress; two years later they captured the presidency thanks to the same anti-incumbent themes and an unexpected crisis that accelerated their advantage, the economic collapse of 2008. The two elections were effectively a single continuous rejection of Republican rule, as some in the G.O.P. fear 2018 and 2020 could become in a worst-case scenario.”

But I would caution all those who take this fear as encouragement that Trump is weakened and vulnerable: Trump is not George W. Bush. This is not the Republican Party of 2006. This is not a cultural environment in which social media is in its infancy.

Trump, as a person and politician, is riddled with flaws. But he also has an ignominious super power: He is completely unencumbered by the truth, the need to tell it or accept it. He will do and say anything that he believes will help him. He has no greater guiding principles. He is not bound by ethics or morals. His only alliances are to those who would support and further his devotion to self-promotion.
I don’t look back to the 2008 campaign for parallels, but to the 2016 one.

When the “Access Hollywood” tape, on which Trump bragged about groping and sexually assaulting women, came out, Republicans were worried. They began to openly reject him. Some called for him to drop out of the race.
As this newspaper reported at the time:

“But the image of Republicans running for the exits, a month before a presidential election, is as extraordinary as a party’s nominee using vulgar, violent language that seemed to reduce an entire gender to sexual anatomy. And this time, no amount of spin seems sufficient to control the damage Mr. Trump has wrought.”

But, as we now know, that damage was short-lived. The Republican Party would rally to Trump’s side. Indeed, the party would be completely remade by him, and become loyal to only him.

Before a debate with Hillary Clinton and just two days after the release of the tape, Trump invited a panel of women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexually inappropriate behavior and one whose rapist was defended by Hillary Clinton as his guests for the event.

No one is as shameless a showman as Trump. He was in survival mode. Nothing was too far, nothing was too crass.

At that debate Trump dismissed his comments as locker room talk and denied that he had ever done the things he himself boasted about doing on the tape. As Trump said on the debate stage: 

“Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

Another lie.

This says nothing of the fact that within hours of the “Access Hollywood” tape being made public, the first of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails began to be released by WikiLeaks.

After the tape’s release, Trump saw a dip in some polls, but not all. His base is religiously loyal. A Politico/Morning Consult poll at the time showed only a one-percentage-point drop. As Morning Consult’s Meghan McCarthy wrote at the time:

 “Trump’s numbers remained stable thanks to the loyalty of the Republican base, a fact that could give pause to party leaders considering publicly abandoning the nominee.“

To state the obvious, Trump would go on to win the election.
I say all this to say: Don’t fall prey to false hope that defeating Trump will be easy, that his horrifically incompetent response to the coronavirus has doomed him. It hasn’t. Trump will fight with everything he has to the bitter end to stay in power. He will never admit any fault. He will lie and lie and lie and lie some more. And the people who support him will stick with him every step of the way.

Joe Biden even believes Trump will try to alter the election calendar, saying, 

“Mark my words: I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.”

I put nothing past Trump, absolutely nothing! And neither should you. Be prepared for Trump to do anything and everything to win re-election in November. A man who can dismiss a recording of his own voice bragging about assaulting women is capable of anything.
Charles Blow joined The Times in 1994 and became an Opinion columnist in 2008. He is also a television commentator and writes often about politics, social justice and vulnerable communities. @CharlesMBlow  Facebook

The Trump Presidency is Over

The Trump Presidency Is Over

It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.
Contributing writer at The Atlantic and senior fellow at EPPC

When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?

What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.
Mr. Trump’s virulent combination of ignorance, emotional instability, demagogy, solipsism and vindictiveness would do more than result in a failed presidency; it could very well lead to national catastrophe. The prospect of Donald Trump as commander in chief should send a chill down the spine of every American.
It took until the second half of Trump’s first term, but the crisis has arrived in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to name a president who has been as overwhelmed by a crisis as the coronavirus has overwhelmed Donald Trump.

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