Tuesday, July 14, 2020

BTRTN: Trump Can't Breathe...His Cheap Tricks Aren't Working Against a Pandemic and a Movement

So you think Trump is losing his marbles? That he isn’t even trying to win? How about this theory: it's not that he wants to lose... it's that he only knows one way to win. And it is failing miserably as 2020 becomes ever more different and distant from 2016.

Two acute crises grip our nation, and have one thing in common: Americans die because they can’t breathe. 
We do it roughly 20,000 times a day. It is the ultimate reflex act: you don’t think about until suddenly you can’t do it. Then, it is an act of desperation. A matter of life and death. 

The coronavirus shreds the lungs of its victims. The police place their knees on the throats of Black men until they desperately gasp that they cannot breathe. 

It is, indeed, a fitting commentary on this administration that as more and more Americans are asphyxiated in these horrible deaths, the President is consistently found on the side of the choker. 

Trump has essentially thrown in the towel on battling the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Southern Republican governors to twist in the wind as their states slowly burn with a virus that is completely out of control. Trump's primary concern about the coronavirus is the impact it is having on the economy, which Trump had expected to be the central rationale for his re-election. As such, he seems to believe that the best course of action is to re-open businesses and schools, believing that the coronavirus is something we should all "live with" which will ultimately "magically disappear," and that the economy will be revitalized once people resume their "normal lives."
Trump fails to grasp the essential conundrum of the coronavirus: the more it spreads into the population, the more carnage it will do to the economy. The more it is treated with partial measures and benign neglect, the more it spreads. The more it spreads, the more people are effected by it. More people become sick, and more people see the impact of the disease on friends, family, co-workers, and in frightening scenes in local hospitals. This will retard the resumption of normal life, and all of the spending, shopping, and social activities that go with it. The continued, insufficiently checked spread of COVID-19 throughout the South will simply grow in magnitude, elongating and deepening the negative impact on local economies. Talk about the law of unintended consequences: the more Trump thinks he is saving the economy, the more he damages it.

It is a simply, mathematical reality: New York, Connecticut, and other New England states are re-opening with caution and discipline to avoid triggering a new spike. These states are succeeding in their re-opening. Florida, Texas, and Arizona re-opened too soon, too fast, and too broadly, and they will have to change their course. 

But Trump is on the side of the virus, arguing vehemently for steps that will only prolong and exacerbate its impact. 

On the other front in Trump's advocacy for those doing the choking, Trump has branded the BLM protestors as terrorists, thugs, and looters, and called the phrase “Black lives matter” a “symbol of hate.”  His primary passion of late has been to find every opportunity to drive wedges into racial fault lines, be it by aggressively advocating for the preservation of monuments to persons who were symbols of oppression, to retweeting a supporter screaming “white power,” to deriding NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag, to accusing Black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace of propagating a “hoax” regarding the noose found in his race car stall.

If you Google “Trump racist tweets,” you get 140,000,000 results in .56 seconds. 

This bizarre, seeming certainly self-defeating political behavior has pundits across the political spectrum perplexed. Why is Trump going into the thick of the election cycle squarely at odds with overwhelming public sentiment? 

Does he actually want to lose?

Let’s dispatch with that one quickly. Donald Trump will do anything and everything to retain the Presidency.

The reason is simple: he knows that once he leaves the White House, the levers of government – including all investigative capabilities – will be in the hands of Democrats. Trump knows his own shady past better than anyone.  Who knows whether he is more worried about his taxes, possible international money laundering in the real estate market, the likely surfacing of still more incriminating stories about how he abused his power as President, or maybe even the granddaddy of them all: what kompromat does Vladimir Putin have on him?  All Trump knows is that if Democrats win the White House, his ability to blunt, block, and control investigations and prosecutions on these issues vanishes. He knows that he, and family members, could go to jail.

Nor will there be a last minute resignation so that a newly-sworn in President Pence can grant him a pardon. Forget it: that pardon only covers Federal crimes. Trump should be most worried about what questionable actions he has taken in New York State, where the ferocious Southern District prosecutor’s office already named him a criminal in the Michael Cohen indictment, and will soon have access to his tax records.  

So don’t think for a second that Trump is going to throw in the towel and give up. He will fight, scream, and cheat to win, and then claim he’s been cheated if he doesn’t. That much we can count on.

Why, then, is Trump so ferociously committed to a messaging strategy that is precisely at odds with the vast majority of American sentiment on the two most important issues of our time?

It’s not so much that Trump wants to lose. It’s that he only knows one way to win. And that way is not going to win in 2020.

The entire tone of Trump's 2016 campaign was set on its first official day, when he poured gasoline on simmering societal schisms by labeling Mexicans as "rapists." The politics of exacerbating societal polarization by inciting racism, xenophobia, and misogyny were the cornerstone of his candidacy, and have been the steady diet of the Trump White House. 

And throughout his Presidency, a strong economy has buoyed his support within a rock-solid base.

Trump has been ferociously committed to these two concepts as the bedrock of his re-election, and that commitment has blinded him to wide societal embrace of the BLM movement, and blinded him to the fact that the coronavirus will continue to shred the economy until we take the full and harsh steps to contain it the way European nations have done. 

With the coronavirus, BLM, and a badly wounded economy, that only way Trump knows how to win is no longer working. Trump is currently flailing and failing, gasping for political oxygen, as if the flow of air that has been feeding his politics of hate and division has been severely constricted. 

The oxygen of his political life has been a panoply of contrarian political actions. He finds oxygen by impulsively following his own gut instincts. He finds oxygen in stoking societal polarization, racism, deceit, and in his parasitic relationship with Fox News. He finds the adoring crowds at political rallies to be intoxicating. He demands – and is energized by -- the sycophantic subservience of major Republican figures. He counts on William Barr’s ham-fisted control over the Department of Justice and a hand-picked judicial branch. He finds that diversionary tactics – blowing one bad story off the front page by creating a second front of outrage – are a reliable source of fresh oxygen. When he needs a quick hit of the good stuff, he reaches for his phone and clumsily types a race-baiting tweet. The final burst of oxygen: absolutely never, ever, ever admitting that he was wrong… about anything. 

All are weakening as sources of oxygen.

Ah, irony. Trump can’t breathe. 

Here’s how the oxygen sources are faring under the weight of crushing societal crises. 

First, no one should underestimate the blinding hubris that comes from having pulled off a political miracle. Donald Trump does have reason to believe that his gut instincts are better than the wisdom and insight of any political science, any pundit, or any objective measurement tool. He ran a campaign in 2016 that was driven in full measure by his instincts, and against huge odds, he won the Presidency of the United States of America. Back then, he had the right to believe that had a “golden gut.”

Trump’s confidence in his gut is unabated.  In his ugly June 16 Rose Garden ramble in the wake of the George Floyd killing, Trump literally claimed to know what people want better than the people themselves, alleging that the people “demand law and order.” They “may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that’s what they want. Some of them don’t even know that’s what they want, but that’s what they want.” 

The problem is that Trump’s gut is wrong. This time, the data is not within the margin of error of polling samples. It is a matter of statistical fact that most Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. A poll published June 18 by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “64% of Americans supported protests against police violence.” 

It is also fact that most Americans think Trump is doing a terrible job of handling the coronavirus pandemic. Five Thirty Eight continuously updates their aggregated polling on this subject, and as of July 10, 57% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, and only 39% approve.

Sure, national polls can be misleading, and Trump may simply be trying to replicate his 2016 campaign to be President of the Red State America, focused on his base and hoping for the perfect break in crucial swing states. But BTRTN’s recent analysis of polling data and trends demonstrates that if the election were held today, the odds are very high that Trump would lose. 

His gut isn’t working, and he’s not getting oxygen as a result. Trump can’t breathe. 

His chronic deceit is not working, either. 

Trump rarely speaks about the coronavirus these days, pretending that it will “magically disappear.” He claims that his administration is “handling it,” even as the South states that followed his wishes to rapidly re-open are now burning with an uncontrollable fever. The sickness in the South is only exceeded by the humiliation: any number of observers -- including BTRTN way back on April 26 -- predicted that the south was re-opening too quickly and that this would result in a ferocious spike in infections. Eleven weeks later, our predictions are proving to be startlingly accurate.

Now Trump is doubling down on his own deceit. He recently commented that 99% of COVID-19 cases are “harmless,” which is astonishingly misleading. For one thing, people who have the disease are spreading it on to others. Further, it’s now clear that some people who contract the coronavirus will have serious, debilitating medical issues for life. And, just to help this president with math: in a country of 328,000,000 people, the one percent for whom it is not “harmless” equals the population of the capital cities of Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona combined.  

To be crystal clear: the death rate in the United States is now increasing week-over-week for the first time in months, despite dramatic medical advances in treatment for the disease. Trump’s attempts to downplay the risk this disease poses to individuals and to our society is reckless and callous to those who will heed him.

Just this past Friday, Trump attempted to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sean Hannity’s show, saying “Dr. Fauci’s a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not. A lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they’re saying wear a mask. A lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes.” Get this: Fauci initially did discourage the public from wearing medical masks, because there were so few medical supplies that he was concerned there were not enough medical masks for the healthcare providers on the front lines. So Trump – whose administration failed to anticipate the need for medical masks – is now spinning Fauci’s prioritization of healthcare workers as “opposition to wearing masks.” Pretty sick stuff indeed.

The must-share video of the week is a priceless snippet best served with a heavy shmear of schadenfreude: it captures a smug and self-righteous Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida on May 20, railing at the media for their coverage of his handling of the coronavirus. “You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks, about how Florida was going to be just like New York. ‘Wait two weeks, Florida’s going to be next;’ ‘Just like Italy, wait two weeks.’ Well hell, we’re eight weeks away from that, and it hasn’t happened.” 

Oh, Ron, baby, it has happened. On Sunday Florida had set the new record for the most new cases on one day of any state in the union, which just happened to be the exact same day that zero COVID-19 deaths were reported in New York City for the first time since March. Instant karma’s gonna get you, Ron. As the Florida deaths and the Youtube views pile up, perhaps one should feel sorry for DeSantis, except that he is such a smarmy, self-righteous, sniveling little prick that you are o.k. watching him twist in the wind.

As Southern Governors inevitably backtrack – soon Florida, Texas, and Arizona will have to resort to some form of geogrpaphic lock downs, or risk Chernobyl-grade meltdowns of their healthcare capabilities – the wild dissonance between Trump’s messages and that of state governors will be impossible for Republicans to miss.

Of course for Donald Trump, the coronavirus is not a health crisis, it is the reason that the economy is being crushed. Trump is too lazy and cowardly to face the fact that the economy cannot be restored as long as COVID-19 burns wildly out of control. It is far easier for him to pretend that it is being "handled," and that schools and businesses should re-open. 

As the Southern Governors admit their errors and retreat, you literally see fewer and fewer Facebook posts from people who are still trying to sell the idea that Sweden had it right all along. Now, New York is relatively under control and the South exceeding the worst trajectories anywhere on earth save Brazil. Just watch: when South re-institutes lock downs, and it will be interesting to see if the base agrees with Trump’s contention that his administration is “handling it.”

Trump’s deceit is not working, and he’s not getting any oxygen. Trump can’t breathe. 

His political rallies sure aren’t working.

Once upon, when Trump was feeling overwhelmed by his job in Washington, he’d commandeer Air Force One to plop him down in friendly territory to bask in the adoration of MAGA maniacs. Tulsa shocked him. An anemic crowd, and news reports focused on flagrant violations of social distancing and mask protocols, left a bedraggled and grumpy Trump caught on video walking dejectedly across the White House lawn in the night, depleted, and clearly absent the fresh burst of crowd oxygen he had expected. Mt. Rushmore was a repeat: a small crowd, cavalier disregard for COVID-19 protocols, and a President pouring gasoline on fires raging about societal racism, choosing instead to be head cheerleader for the preservation of Confederate iconography. 

Trump’s rallies are not providing the oxygen he needs. Trump can’t breathe.
Trump’s distractions are not working. 

Yes, as ever, a certain amount of media attention has been deflected simply to report that Trump has launched racist tweets about BLM, NASCAR, Bubba Wallace, and southern monuments. But even these – among Trump’s greatest outrages – are not displacing COVID-19 as the overwhelming dominant story in every newscast. The BLM movement temporarily displaced the coronavirus at the top of the headlines in the immediate aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.  It remains a powerful story, fueled by new decisions by universities, professional sports teams, and local municipalities take aggressive action to stand on the right side of history. Trump can commute the sentence of Roger Stone, hoping to rekindle the good old days when an outrage of that magnitude might blow a worrisome story out of the A-bloc on cable news. But as corrupt as Trump’s wet kiss to Roger Stone is, the lead stories from now until November are going to be COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter… no matter how many distractions Trump throws in the way.

Trump’s distractions are no longer providing the oxygen he needs. Trump can’t breathe.

You see it everywhere.

Bill Barr fires a New York City D.A. and is embarrassed and forced to retreat. The Supreme Court spanks Trumps with a series of rulings that negate his position on LGBTQ rights, DACA, abortion rights, and his view that the President is above the law. Throw in a trove of photos of Trump palling about with sex offender Geoffrey Epstein, and watch Trump gasping for air.

Are Republicans seizing an opportunity to create some distance with impunity? Mitt Romney is growing ever more assertive, characterizing the commute of Stone’s sentence as “unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.” 

How fitting that of all the issues for Republicans to part from Trump, the one that is gaining momentum is the wearing of masks. Republican governors are mandating it, and reliable Republican suck-ups like Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell are openly wearing masks and advocating for it. Perfect: the only time when they break from Trump is when they can hide their face while doing it. 

Trump isn’t even getting the usual jolt of oxygen he gets from gelatinous invertebrates in his own party. Trump can’t breathe.

Perhaps the single factor that will weigh most heavily between now and election day is the fact that Trump derives so much of his personal oxygen from never admitting that he is wrong… ever. 

Between now and November, it will be more and more self-destructive for Trump to cling to the notion that he was never wrong when the weight of evidence will be crushing.

People will see other countries returning to hints and inklings of normalcy while the United States spirals wildly out of control.

Perhaps some Republican governors will refuse to re-trench, and they will endure an apocalyptic strangulation of local economies over a long period of time. Other Republican governors will bite the bullet, and issue lock down orders for large population areas in their states in August, September, and October, admitting they were wrong to re-open, breaking openly from the President to stop the carnage in the critical weeks leading up to the election.

Trump will say he was never wrong. And that will begin to grate on the people who are once again locked down, once again watching aged friends and relatives at risk of death, and once again watching their local economies and livelihoods destroyed… just as the reports of economic revival come out of Europe and even the Northeast United States.

Trump will desperately cling to his fantasy COVID-19 is insignificant and vanishing, but with each passing day between now and November, the faithful will begin to see an emperor in rapidly advancing stages of undress.  

In the end, there is something monumentally wrong about a President who pays so much attention to monuments of historical Southern oppression while the contemporary south is oppressed and crushed by Trump’s failures to pay attention.

How could Trump be so tone deaf?

How could he be so blind to the disruption of life, particularly in his own Red states?

How could he be so focused on the wrong issues, and wrong on the big issues?

It is tough to see, tough to hear, and tough to think clearly when you are gasping for oxygen.

Trump can’t breathe. 

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  1. Your site has been added to the ones I check each morning over breakfast. In the days of soundbites it is refreshing to actually read a well-written long piece, thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

  2. Always fun reading. One small nit pick--be careful you do not conflate the US Attorney's Office with the NY District Attorney's Office. DOJ prosecutors are US Attorneys (SDNY/Berman) and Manhattan prosecutors are NY District Attorneys (Cy Vance).

  3. We should be mindful that people are at their most volatile when backed into a corner.

  4. BML?!!? You better fix that typo....

  5. Here it is:
    "With the coronavirus, BML, and a badly wounded economy, ..."


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