Thursday, April 30, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He resumed scapegoating.

Last week, Trump heard directly from his own campaign manager, Brad Parscale, that his very high-visibility failures during the coronavirus crisis were hurting him politically and in danger of costing him re-election. Trump responded by becoming angry and threatening to sue Parscale—for what, it's not clear.

But that warning may have been the catalyst for Trump's very, very brief hiatus from his strategy of appearing every day on TV to blame others for his own administration's inability to contain the U.S. outbreak of COVID-19.

Today, he gave up and fully recommitted to that strategy. During a meeting with New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, Trump once again falsely blamed the Obama administration for leaving him with a "broken test."

TRUMP:  Let me just tell you, we have — we started off with empty cupboards.  The last administration left us nothing.  We started off with bad, broken tests and obsolete tests. 
What we’ve come up with, between the Abbott Laboratories, where you have the five-minute test.  Did they test you today? 
GOV. MURPHY:  They did test me. 
TRUMP:  Good.  Now I feel better.  (Laughter.)

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in humans occurred in November 2019. There were no "broken" or "obsolete" tests for a virus that had never been seen when President Obama left office in January 2017.

There were "broken" tests for COVID-19, though: the ones that the Trump administration insisted on developing even though the World Health Organization had already made a reliable test available. Those faulty tests gave inconclusive results.

Trump has also said, out loud, that doctors should try using influenza vaccines—and household cleaning products—so it's possible he genuinely doesn't understand how viruses and vaccines work well enough to know why any faulty tests for the brand-new coronavirus happened on his watch.

But Trump does seem a little clearer-headed on the danger the coronavirus poses to him personally. His question to Gov. Murphy was rhetorical: it is not possible to get anywhere near Trump now without being screened for a fever and given one of the still-rare rapid tests.

How is this a problem?

  • Actually solving the testing shortage is more important than placing blame for it.
  • Politicians shouldn't ask hundreds of millions of Americans to take risks they themselves aren't willing to.
  • If Trump can't understand viruses at a fifth-grade level three months into a disease outbreak that has killed more than 63,000 Americans, he's probably never going to.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he didn't say the thing he said yesterday, but that he was right to have said it.

Yesterday, Trump was asked—twice—whether he thought that the United States would soon be able to conduct five million coronavirus tests a day, one of the lower benchmarks for an effective contact-tracing system in a country this large. (A Harvard University study found that 20 million tests per day was a more likely requirement.) 

Q: Did I hear you saying you’re confident you can surpass 5 million tests per day?  Is that — 
TRUMP:  Oh, well, we’re going to be there very soon.  If you look at the numbers, it could be that we’re getting very close.  I mean, I don’t have the exact numbers.  We would’ve had them if you asked me the same question a little while ago because people with the statistics were there. 
We’re going to be there very soon.

Adm. Brett Giroir is a medical doctor and the Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, and the person Trump has put in charge of testing. He had a different view:

There is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.

Today, asked why he and Giroir gave different answers, Trump explained that he was right and Giroir was wrong—but he never said so.

TRUMP:  Do I think we will?  I think we will, but I never said it.  We’re testing millions of people.  We’re testing more people than anyone — any country in the world by far — by double, by much more than double.  More than everybody else in combined, we’re testing. 
But somebody started throwing around 5 million.  I didn’t say 5 million.  Somebody said 5 million.  I think it might have been the Harvard report.  There was a report from Harvard and they said 5 million. 
Q: You were asked about it and you said, “We will be there very soon.” 
TRUMP:  Well, we will be there.  But I didn’t say it.  I mean, I’m — I didn’t say it.  But somebody came out with a report saying 5 million.  It sounds like a lot.

It is a lot. Five million tests is slightly fewer than the United States has done in the past three months combined.

Why does this matter?

  • Trump is wrong and the public health expert is right.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He doubled down on his prediction that the COVID-19 pandemic would turn out to be no big deal.

Sixty-two days ago, on February 26, Trump said this:

And again, when you have 15 [infected] people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.

At the time, and for several weeks afterwards, Trump's official position was that the unfolding pandemic was nothing the United States needed to worry about. It's not clear whether he genuinely believed this—perhaps because he was ignoring his intelligence briefings—or whether he knew better, but wanted to prop up the crashing stock markets.

Today, Trump was asked about that remark. "It will go down to zero, ultimately," he replied. "At the appropriate time, it will go down to zero at some time." Later, he added, "But I think what happens is it's going to go away. This is going to go away."

The United States reported its one-millionth confirmed case of COVID-19 today. More than 58,000 Americans have died from it as of today.

The actual number of infected people and deaths is universally believed to be much higher, but those figure are incomplete because tests remain very difficult for most Americans to get. Trump also claimed, without evidence, that the United States was "getting very close" to being able to test 5 million people per day. This is 25 times the country's current capacity of roughly 200,000 tests per day.

Asked about that claim, as well as the projected 20 million daily tests needed for effective contact tracing, Trump's own testing chief, Adm. Brett Giroir, said, "There is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.”

Why does this matter?

  • Hoping that a crisis that has already killed tens of thousands of Americans will just "go away" is insane.

Monday, April 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said federal assistance was for states he liked.

Yesterday, Trump lashed out at the latest of many reports from inside the White House about his leisurely work habits. 

This morning, the Washington Post reported that Trump's daily intelligence briefings contained dozens of warnings about the coronavirus outbreak in the months of January and February, but that Trump ignored or missed them because he "routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week."

While that news was breaking, Trump was spending his morning on social media, which included posting this tweet:

Until today, Trump supported grants to state and local governments, which would fund police departments and medical first responders in every state. It's not clear why he changed his mind, although the burning humiliation of the fallout from his rambling "disinfectant" comments last week probably played a role.

Trump often acts as though he believes the money that American taxpayers contribute to the Treasury is his to dole out as he sees fit. When the recipients of that money are people who can't or won't help him politically—like the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico—he seems genuinely angry and begrudging, and he's tried to sabotage disaster relief before. More recently, he demanded that governors who wanted emergency medical supplies from the federal stockpile had to "treat us well" in the media

In reality, Congress appropriated pandemic relief money, much of which will be administered through state and local governments. (The largest and most densely populated of which tend to have Democratic governors.) 

But those programs are not bailouts. Strictly speaking, bailouts are governments rescuing private companies, not their own citizens. For example, Trump has supported coronavirus bailouts for oil companies and cruise ship lines, while opposing it for the Post Office

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents serve the entire country, not just the parts that voted for them.
  • Disaster relief isn't supposed to be a weapon to be used against political enemies.
  • It's actually really important that presidents read their intelligence briefings.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He was "sarcastic" again.

This afternoon, Trump posted the following five-tweet rant

The people that know me and know the history of our Country say that I am  the hardest working President in history. I don’t know about that, but I am a hard worker and have probably gotten more done in the first 3 1/2 years than any President in history. The Fake News hates it! I work from early in the morning until late at night, haven’t left the White House in many months (except to launch Hospital Ship Comfort) in order to take care of Trade Deals, Military Rebuilding etc., and then I read a phony story in the failing @nytimes about my work........schedule and eating habits, written by a third rate reporter who knows nothing about me. I will often be in the Oval Office late into the night & read & see that I am angrily eating a hamburger & Diet Coke in my bedroom. People with me are always stunned. Anything to demean! When will all of the “reporters” who have received Noble Prizes for their work on Russia, Russia, Russia, only to have been proven totally wrong (and, in fact, it was the other side who committed the crimes), be turning back their cherished “Nobles” so that they can be the REAL REPORTERS & JOURNALISTS who got it right. I can give the Committee a very comprehensive list. When will the Noble Committee DEMAND the Prizes back, especially since they were gotten under fraud? The reporters and Lamestream Media knew the truth all along........Lawsuits should be brought against all, including the Fake News Organizations, to rectify this terrible injustice. For all of the great lawyers out there, do we have any takers? When will the Noble Committee Act? Better be fast!

Trump's work habits are pretty well established at this point, as is the difficulty he has in controlling his temper. His confusion about the "Noble" prizes—he probably meant Pulitzer, not Nobel—won for covering his scandals attracted more mockery today, prompting him to declare for the second time in three days that a mental lapse was "sarcasm." (But he also deleted those tweets.)

Trump has been the subject of several Pulitzers. In 2019, the New York Times won for its exposé of the Trump family's tax evasion schemes that allowed him to illegally inherit the equivalent of $400 million free of taxes. That same year, the Wall Street Journal won for their investigation into Trump's payment of hush money to at least two women he had extramarital affairs with, for which Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen went to prison. And in 2017, David Farenthold of the Washington Post won a Pulitzer for exposing Trump's failure to follow through on flashy promises to make charitable donations. (Trump was eventually forced to pay a $2,000,000 fine and shut down his fraudulent "charity," which he was using as an illegal tax shelter and campaign slush fund.)

Trump hasn't refuted any of those Pulitzer prizewinning stories, but the one that may bother him the most is the 2018 prize won jointly by the New York Times and the Washington Post for their investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election

Last week, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to endorse the intelligence services' "clear and coherent" report that the Putin regime's "historically unprecedented" and ultimately successful efforts to sabotage the election on Trump's behalf.

It's not clear if Trump is reacting to that report, or if he genuinely thinks at this point that Russia's attempts to get him elected have somehow been disproven.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents who can't control their temper can't do the job.
  • Insisting that things didn't happen doesn't change reality.
  • Even by Trump's standards, this is a pretty sorry display.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He rage-quit.

Since blurting out that doctors should investigate injecting household cleaners as a COVID-19 cure, Trump has been strangely camera-shy. He's avoided public appearances altogether, other than a bill signing, where he angrily demanded that he was being "sarcastic" when he asked his medical advisors mid-press conference to look into intravenous use of disinfectants. Yesterday's briefing was a mere 22 minutes—the surrogate campaign rallies have been lasting more than two hours lately—and Trump took no questions.

Today, Trump signaled that he would stop attending the briefings, blaming the media for the "Fake News" of... broadcasting them.

In reality, Trump had been gleeful over the ratings, gloating on Twitter that they were "Monday Night Football" numbers as the number of Americans killed by the disease climbed into the thousands. 

But his staff and handlers, to say nothing of Republicans on the ballot with him in 2020, were desperate for him to get off the stage. It's not clear if Trump got that message, but he does now seem to understand that he is being mercilessly mocked, in everything from memes to song, as even the most reliably pro-Trump media outlets distanced themselves from the sight of Trump enthusiastically inquiring about the prospect of bleach-based COVID-19 cures.

So what?

  • It's not "fake news" to turn a camera on someone and let them talk.

Friday, April 24, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked the USPS.

Trump today threatened to withhold pandemic-related funding for the United States Postal Service, which will run out of money in September, unless it agreed to quadruple its prices for shipping packages. He called the USPS a "joke" and accused it of giving special treatment to Amazon, which is owned by Jeff Bezos. Trump hates Bezos, who is much wealthier and who owns the Washington Post.

The Post Office's finances have been precarious for years, but mostly because of a 2006 law requiring it to fund its pensions 75 years in advance. It is otherwise profitable.

As economists pointed out, forcing the Post Office to quadruple its prices—making it totally uncompetitive with private companies like FedEx and UPS—would simply let those companies raise their prices as well

It also wouldn't accomplish Trump's main goal of hurting Bezos, since Amazon would simply pass those shipping charges along to customers. (This is also what happened with Trump's tariffs on China and other countries.)

But chaos with the mail might help Trump shut down mail-in voting plans being drafted in many states. Trump has said publicly that increasing ballot access to registered voters through mail-in voting would hurt his chances of being re-elected

Of course, Trump can't actually afford to let the USPS shut down, or even to force it to jack up its rates—which would hurt small businesses and the Americans who receive mail deliveries far more than it would Jeff Bezos. But other than lashing out at Amazon, Trump did not offer any explanation for why he thought quadrupling shipping costs was necessary.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Major functions of government shouldn't be threatened by the president's personal grudges.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He showed off his medical acumen.

As of today, Trump has appeared at 42 "briefings" on the coronavirus since March. These briefings have generally lasted between 90 minutes and two and a half hours, and have become sort of surrogate campaign rallies. He has been obsessed with the TV ratings for them, which are high because all major news networks pre-empt their normal programming to air them. But Trump, who is frequently confused about basic medical facts, has been running out of things to say.

Today, riffing on his medical experts' commentary about how long the virus could live on surfaces in direct sunlight or after being cleaned with bleach or rubbing alcohol, Trump said this:

A question that probably some of you are thinking of if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or very powerful light. And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going test it. Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. 
And I think you said you’re going test that too. Sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number in the lungs. It would be interesting to check you’re going have to use medical doctors with that, but it sounds interesting to me. And so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.

To be clear, Trump spent part of the coronavirus task force briefing today speculating that bleach, injected into a human body under a doctor's care, might be a coronavirus cure.

Injecting bleach, isopropyl alcohol, or other cleaning agents is almost certainly fatal. (For the record, while light therapy is indeed used for certain kinds of disorders, it cannot cure viral infections.)

Trump's medical musings are not harmless. An Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized after they took a veterinary medicine containing choloroquine, a drug Trump urged people to take for weeks on shaky evidence that it might help treat COVID-19. Subsequent studies have suggested it is not helpful and may increase deaths.

Why does this matter?

  • People who seriously entertain the idea that shooting up bleach might cure an illness, even for a moment, are too cognitively challenged to be President of the United States.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He asked for pity.

This morning, Trump tweeted this:

It wasn't a passing thought, either. Hours later at today's press conference, Trump repeated the sentiment: "We're taking very special care of our nursing homes and our seniors, other than me. Other than me. Nobody wants to take care of me. But other than me, we're taking care of our seniors."

It's not clear what Trump meant by "safely coming back," but Trump's claim to be a uniquely victimized senior citizen is completely false.

Like Americans in general, most senior citizens in the United States still cannot get tested for COVID-19 until they are very sick—and huge spikes in unexplained deaths are showing that many are still dying without ever having been tested.

Trump, by contrast, is surrounded by people who are given mandatory rapid tests, not widely available to the public, in order to screen him from any potential carriers of the disease.

This is possible in Trump's case because he lives in the White House. Many senior citizens live in nursing homes, and at least 10,000 Americans have died in those facilities as a result of the coronavirus so far. The Trump administration has refused to allow the federal government to track or release outbreaks in nursing homes.

Trump also continues to enjoy the services of a government-provided personal physician (a perk he's had for his entire life, and which he used to good effect during the campaign and while he was avoiding military service in Vietnam). 

Most senior citizens, of course, don't have concierge medical services. But many seniors who did serve in the military rely on Veterans Administration hospitals, which are run by the federal government. The VA has run critically low of personal protective equipment (PPE), although the Trump administration has denied it.

So what?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this is pretty whiny.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He promised to bail out the wealthiest industry in human history.

For some time now, a price war involving Saudi Arabia and Russia has been forcing more oil onto the market than anyone can use, especially with the world economy paralyzed by the coronavirus outbreak. Yesterday, the price of certain oil futures contracts actually dropped below zero, meaning that suppliers were effectively paying buyers to take crude oil (which is expensive to store) off their hands. 

Trump is financially entangled with both the Saudi Arabian and Russian ruling regimes. Eight days ago, he took credit for brokering a deal between the two:

Having been involved in the negotiations, to put it mildly, the number that OPEC+ is looking to cut is 20 Million Barrels a day, not the 10 Million that is generally being reported. If anything near this happens, and the World gets back to business from the Covid 19.........disaster, the Energy Industry will be strong again, far faster than currently anticipated. Thank you to all of those who worked with me on getting this very big business back on track, in particular Russia and Saudi Arabia.

"To put it mildly," Trump seems to have overestimated his persuasiveness.

Today, Trump tweeted again, this time promising to save the American oil and gas industry from his last attempt to save the American oil and gas industry. This will, apparently, take two forms. The first is a special round of loans and taxpayer cash infusions, on top of other pandemic stimulus packages, to petroleum companies. This would also be on top of favorable tax laws that mean energy companies often get annual cash payouts from the Treasury, instead of paying taxes.

Trump's other plan to shore up the energy sector is to buy oil and put it in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. There are two issues with this plan. First, he'd already said he was doing this back in March. And second, the reserve can't hold very much oil. Trump bragged today about "getting it for the right price," but low oil prices are exactly why the industry is hurting in the first place.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you haven't done.
  • Presidents don't need to be economists, but they do need to be able to understand simple economic concepts.

Monday, April 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gave a brief tour of all his main coronavirus excuses.

At today's press conference, Trump was asked by PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor about a man she'd interviewed who went to a family funeral in mid-March because, he said, Trump didn't seem to be taking it seriously enough for him to think he should stay home. The family later got sick. Alcindor concluded: "He said his family members were sick because they were listening to you. Do you feel, or are you concerned that downplaying the virus maybe got some people sick?"

Trump's full response took almost four minutes.

TRUMP: A lot of people love Trump, right? A lot of people love me, see them all the time. I guess I'm here for a reason. You know? To the best of my knowledge, I won. And I think we're going to win again, I think we're going to win in a landslide. But just so you understand, you're talking about March, right? And yet—excuse me, excuse me, I know, I understand. And yet in January, on a certain date, you know the date better than I do, we put on a ban of China where China can't come in.

In reality, Trump's travel ban from China was imposed in February, not January. But it didn't apply to American citizens, or to the densely populated Chinese territories of Hong Kong or Macau, or to Taiwan.

40,000 people traveled directly from China or Taiwan to the United States after Trump's "ban."

And before March, we put on a ban on Europe, where Europe can't come in. So how could you say I wasn't taking it seriously? 

The ban on certain countries in Europe—notably, not the UK or Ireland, where Trump owns businesses—took effect on March 12, not before March.

You know, I put on a ban on China before anybody in this country died. I put on a ban, and so you tell me. Nancy Pelosi was having, she wanted to have a street party in Chinatown on San Francisco at the end of February, that's a month later. 

This is provably false, although it's not clear if Trump actually believes it. By Trump's logic, though, San Francisco's Chinatown should have been a perfectly safe place for people to congregate in early February (when a parade unaffiliated with Pelosi took place). But Trump has tried very hard to brand COVID-19 as a "Chinese" virus.

And then they tell me it's only a political talking point. But you feed into it, cause you're too good a reporter to, to let that happen. Really, you are a good reporter, you're too good a reporter to let that happen. 

Trump may or may not remember that a few weeks ago he believed Alcindor was "nasty" and "untruthful."

Remember this. So, at the end of January I put on a ban, people that were in that room will tell you that I think there were 21 people, I was the only one of the whole room that wanted to do it. Fortunately I was the one who counted for that purpose. We put on a ban because I was reading bad things about China. World Health Organization should've told us. 

They did.

But I was reading it with or without them. They should have known, all they had to do was read it. 

They did.

They didn't have to be there, but they tried to cover for China. World Health covered up for China.

Trump is thinking of himself here.

But — no, no, wait, you can't say this, I put on a ban. In other words, I stopped China from coming to the United States. I stopped Europe from coming into the United States long before the March date that you're talking about. So people should say I acted very early. That was a very hard thing to do. Doing that was a very hard thing. I didn't want to do that. But I, I did it because I thought, and Dr. Fauci said that by doing it, President Trump saved tens of thousands of lives. So I did take it very seriously. 
ALCINDOR: You held rallies in February and in March, and there are some — 
TRUMP: Oh, I don't know, I don't know about rallies, I really don't know about rallies. I know one thing, I haven't left the White House in months, except for a brief moment to give a wonderful ship, the Comfort — 
ALCINDOR: You held a rally in March. 
TRUMP: I don't know. Did I hold a rally? 
He held five in January and five in February. He also held one in March, where he repeated a line from the previous rally that anyone worried about "the virus" was perpetuating a Democratic "hoax." He also traveled to India in February, and played golf at Mar-a-Lago as late as March 8.

In other words, Trump has been "sheltering in place" about as long as other Americans, except that his house is 60,000 square feet and he can actually get a COVID-19 test.

TRUMP: I'm sorry, I held a rally, did I hold a rally? Lemme tell you, in January, when I did this, yet virtually no cases and no deaths and yet I put it on. So how I could I not, why was Nancy Pelosi, right? Nancy Pelosi is holding a street fair, she wants a street fair in San Francisco in Chinatown to prove, you know what the purpose of her was, to prove that there's no problem. Many other politicians did the same thing who wanted to prove while I was, no of course not, no, no, no, I have been — people are amazed at how early I acted. And I did act early. With that being said, it's very hard to say, "Let's close down the greatest economy in the history of the world." 

Trump adamantly refused to issue any orders of his own, preferring to force governors to take the political heat for the economic damage to their states.

I had to close down, I and everybody else that works with me and, and, three hundred and close to three hundred and fifty million people built the greatest economy in the history of the world, best employment numbers, best stock market numbers, best numbers in virtually every category, even good manufacturing numbers. The previous administration said manufacturing was dead for our country.

Of course, nobody in any administration has ever declared American factories dead. But in reality, manufacturing numbers have been terrible under Trump. The sector actually went into recession in 2019.

Even great manufacturing numbers, and you know what? I did that and somebody walked into my office and says, "Sir, you're gonna have to close down the economy. You're gonna have to close the country." 

But he didn't.

But you know what I say to you? We're gonna rebuild it. And we're gonna rebuild it better and it's gonna go faster than people think. I built it once, I'll build it a second time. Please.

In fairness to Trump, he does seem to genuinely believe that he alone is responsible for having "built" the American economy.

Who cares?

  • Dealing with a national emergency should be more important to presidents than assigning blame.
  • It actually really, really matters that presidents tell the truth in times of crisis.
  • "A lot of people love Trump" doesn't actually answer the question.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gloated about forcing people to praise him.

For some time, Trump's coronavirus "briefings" have been first and foremost at reassigning blame for the federal government's response. Most of his recent efforts in that direction have been addressed at state governments. Today, for example, he claimed that the financing, distribution, and manufacture of hundreds of millions of tests—the absolute minimum necessary for a return to normalcy—was "a local thing."

He also played an edited, two-minute long clip of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo complimenting aspects of the federal response, such as the use of a Navy hospital ship to lighten the load on New York City hospitals. 

Of course, there are hours of Cuomo putting Trump on blast for his slow, inefficient, and politically motivated response to the crisis. Just this week, Trump tweeted insults at Cuomo during the New York state briefing, prompting Cuomo to tell Trump to get back to work.

More to the point, though, Trump seems to have forgotten that he has publicly demanded praise from governors and that he be "treated well" as a condition of full federal cooperation. "It's a two-way street," he said in March. He later said that he'd instructed Vice-President Pence, the leader of the task force, not to return phone calls from "that woman in Michigan" (Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer) and other political opponents.

Why should I care about this?

  • Solving problems should be a higher priority for a president than avoiding blame for them.
  • It's bad if presidents have to be sweet-talked into doing their jobs.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He, or possibly one of his known aliases, accused the press of making up sources.

Trump claimed in a tweet today that anonymous sources critical of him in the news media were made up. 

It's possible Trump actually believes this. He appears to genuinely believe he is popular as presidents go (he isn't), and he has trouble hearing criticism—or even understanding that it's happening. And his staff is openly manipulative of him, keeping him from seeing things they know will upset him when they can, and sandwiching it between flattery when they can't. From that sheltered perspective, it may be difficult for Trump to understand why and just how much his staff is willing to talk to the press about the problems in his administration.

Then again, Trump may simply be assuming that because he fakes sources, actual reporters do too. Donald J. Trump has also been known as "John Barron" and "John Miller," fictional publicists that he portrayed in phone interviews so that he could make flattering comments about himself that seemed to come from someone else. 

He's also very likely the author of a letter attributed to his own (female) secretary, "Carolin Gallego," who may or may not exist. The 1992 letter brags about his success with women, and how respectfully he treats them: "The most beautiful women, the most successful women—all women love Donald Trump."

Trump is also known as "David Dennison" in at least one legal document—the hush money settlement paid with Trump Campaign funds to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep secret the sexual affair he had with her shortly after the birth of his youngest son, Barron. 

It's not clear whether Trump intentionally named his son after his imaginary publicist.

So what?

  • Assuming that other people are doing the things you do is called psychological projection, and it's not a sign of good mental health.
  • Neither is creating elaborate fictions just to soothe your own feelings.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called on his base to "liberate" states from governors following his own recommendations.

Over the last few days, small protests against emergency closures, organized by anti-government and anti-vaccination groups, have cropped up. Protestors have waved Trump campaign signs and Confederate flags. Some carried rifles

In response, Trump tweeted three calls to "LIBERATE" three states—Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia—from the emergency health restrictions in place. All three are swing states with Democratic governors that Trump desperately needs to win in November in order to remain in power. 

He did not suggest "liberating" Ohio, which has a Republican governor, even though one of the larger protests took place at the Ohio state capitol building.

Joshua A. Bickel/AP

Trump began the week insisting, falsely, that he and only he had the "total authority" to determine when states would end emergency measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But he quickly backed down from that, retreating once again to the idea that the federal government was simply a "backup" in "wartime" situations like this. At the same time, he began claiming that it was really states who were responsible for all testing, as in this tweet today:

Trump's own guidelines—which he also promoted by tweet today—call for massive, repeated, free testing. No state currently has enough testing capacity even to test its symptomatic patients.

In other words, Trump is saying that armed citizens should "liberate" their states from Democratic governors who are following his own guidelines. More than 80% of Americans support keeping social distancing in place.

Trump himself remains impossible to approach without being tested for COVID-19.

Why does this matter?

  • The health and safety of American citizens is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • It's wrong to incite violence or lawbreaking during an emergency.
  • Presidents don't get to pick and choose which parts of their job they want to do.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said there were states "without any problem" where COVID-19 was concerned.

At today's coronavirus press conference, Trump tried to justify a return to normal business (without testing or tracking) in some states, claiming:

You have states without any problem. You have states with few cases, and those few cases have healed. You have – states with very little death, relatively speaking. As I said, one is too many, but you have states with very little and frankly they're at a point where they have almost nothing.

There is absolutely no sense in which this is true.

Maps of the spread of COVID-19 are now essentially maps of where there are people.

The state with the fewest number of cases (and also the smallest population) is Wyoming. Its 296 known cases are spread across 21 of its 23 counties. As of today, it also had 105 probable cases—severe respiratory illnesses known not to be influenza. The reason those 105 cases are not confirmed is that Wyoming, like most of the country, cannot even test all patients who are seriously ill. And since a large percentage of those infected remain totally asymptomatic while they are contagious, the actual number of Wyoming residents who are infected right now may be into the thousands.

Wyoming's infected population is not expected to peak for at least two weeks yet.

In other words, the number of likely carriers in Wyoming, the least populated state, today is only a little less than the known infected population of the United States in mid-March when businesses and universities started closing down. 

Trump's desperation for something he can claim as a victory makes sense on a political level, but according to recent polling, the vast majority of Americans disagree. In a poll released Wednesday, only 10% agreed with Trump that the country "should stop social distancing to stimulate the economy, even if it means increasing the spread of coronavirus." 81% said "should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy."

How is this a bad thing?

  • It's extremely bad if Trump is lying about the risks Americans face for his own political gain.
  • It's much worse if he truly believes this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He held a meeting with his sixth pandemic task force, or at least the members he remembered to tell were on it.

Today, Trump held a phone meeting with members of what he is calling the "Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups." This is (at least) the sixth task force that Trump has inherited or convened to deal with pandemics. In chronological order, the first six were:

  1. the Obama-era intergovernmental working group Trump disbanded in 2018
  2. the initial ad hoc group of government scientists and public health experts who assembled themselves to deliver urgent warnings to Trump, which he largely ignored
  3. the first "task force" assembled by Trump, which has changed leadership three times
  4. the "shadow task force" assembled by Trump's son-in-law, the real estate heir Jared Kushner, and
  5. the "reopening task force" that Trump teased last week, featuring mostly his own relatives and cabinet secretaries, only to abandon it later.

The latest "group" is made up of more than 100 business and finance executives, along with Trump donors and "thought leaders." But in his haste to look busy assembling another committee, Trump forgot to tell some of its members they were on it. And those that knew, didn't know what they were signing up for. As one unwilling "member" put it,

We got a note about a conference call, like you’d get an invite to a Zoom thing, a few lines in an email, and that was it. Then our CEO heard his name in the Rose Garden. What the [expletive]? My company is furious. How do you go from "Join us on a call" to, "Well, you’re on the team?"

Invitees to a seventh task force, this one for members of Congress, were also surprised today to learn they were part of any such group.

Trump did a similar thing last month, announcing that Google would be building a massive nationwide website to help track the spread of COVID-19. He even specified the number of Google employees—1,700—who were supposedly working on it. (Google didn't know what he was talking about, and said so.) He also promised nationwide testing in the parking lots of supermarkets and department stores. (Eight total were opened over the entire country, and testing remains almost impossible to get in a timely fashion—unless you are likely to be sharing a room with self-described "germophobe" Trump.)

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Doing something about a crisis that is wrecking the economy and killing thousands of Americans every day is more important than looking like you're doing something.
  • Assembling a "task force" without telling its members they're on it probably means you're not going to listen to them anyway.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He compared himself to a corrupt sadist famous for poor leadership.

Trump, who is no stranger to self-flattery, made an interesting choice in praising himself today:

He didn't say whether he meant the 1935 or 1962 version of the film, but neither fictional version of Bligh is the sort of person most people—even Trump—would want to be compared to. In the 1962 version, Bligh is not only portrayed as a paranoidsadistic egomaniac, but a thief as well. In that version, Bligh's insistence that his subordinate, Fletcher Christian (played by Marlon Brando), cover up his embezzlement of the ship's wealth that provokes his staff to turn against him

The real-life Bligh, who survived being cast adrift from the HMS Bounty to inspire another rebellion against him in Australia, doesn't come off much better.

Of course, Trump may simply have gotten confused while reaching out for some kind of authority figure to compare himself to—preferably one who got revenge against "subordinates." In Trump's case, that would be the nation's governors, who he falsely claimed yesterday he could overrule to "open the country." 

Forced to at least try to walk back that embarrassing overreach today, Trump declared today that he would "authorize" governors to cancel states of emergency and business closures. But later he turned that into a threat, saying that if governors didn't do a "good job" following his suggestions that he would "come down very hard" on their states.

State governors don't need Trump's permission to govern—which is just as well, since Trump was unwilling to take the political risk of issuing a national stay-at-home order himself.

Why does this matter?

  • Governors doing what the federal government can't or won't is not a "mutiny."
  • Seeing everything anyone does as an attack on you personally is not a sign of good mental health.

Monday, April 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed absolute power.

Trump had a wild and—even by his standards—emotionally raw "coronavirus" briefing today, most of which was devoted to angry political score-settling and the airing of a campaign video. But the political theme of the day was Trump's open declaration that he has absolute and unlimited power.

It started this morning with tweets:

Pressed on this by reporters who knew better this afternoon, Trump dug in. "When somebody's the president of the United States, the authority is total," Trump insisted during a particularly heated shouting match with a reporter. "And the governors know that." At other points he declared that "the president of the United States calls the shots" and "the federal government has absolute power."

All of this is factually wrong, but alarmingly, Trump may genuinely believe it's true. It's not the first time he's claimed that the Constitution lets him "do whatever I want."

Trump could have issued emergency orders restricting travel or closing businesses nationwide, but—nervous about the bearing political responsibility—insisted that state governors do so instead. In fact, he was so anxious about it that he called the federal government a "backup" in cases of national emergency. (He also ordered the federal government to seize medical supplies from states and bid against them for new supplies.)

But having shut nothing down himself, Trump has no power as president, either legally or under the Tenth Amendment, to overrule emergency orders issued by governors or state legislatures. 

Even more important, Trump has no power as president to insist that private businesses reopen, or that employees return to work (or be rehired), or that Americans go back to restaurants and movie theaters and airports and schools against their better judgment. He can only try to convince Americans that it is worth the risk to end social distancing in a country with no widespread testing, no herd immunity, and hundreds of thousands more actively contagious carriers now than when it first spread to the United States.

Why does this matter?

  • The presidency is not a dictatorship, no matter how much any president might want it to be.
  • Taxpayer-funded press conferences are not campaign opportunities or therapy sessions.
  • It's really bad if the president has a temper tantrum in public.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reminded Americans of who was to blame for the coronavirus pandemic: literally anyone but him.

Confined to the White House by the optics of traveling to his preferred Friday-to-Monday homes near Trump-branded golf courses, Trump spent most of the day on Twitter. He used the marathon tweet- and retweet-storm to try to shift blame for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to President Obama, the news media, the World Health OrganizationDemocratic voters, China, state governors as a group, and—in a sudden but not surprising twist—Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is perhaps the only widely trusted figure in his administration's COVID-19 response.

None of these are new targets for Trump, but it may be the first time he's tried to invoke all of his main pandemic scapegoats in one day. 

Trump's outburst was likely triggered by a scathing new report in the New York Times about his refusal to listen to the advice of medical experts—including Dr. Fauci—when the pandemic could have been contained in the United States. In a CNN interview this morning, Fauci reluctantly confirmed the central points that the report raised, which is presumably what led to Trump retweeting the hashtag #FireFauci.

So what?

  • Presidents don't get to pick and choose what parts of their job they're really responsible for doing.
  • Inability to accept that you might not be good at everything, and blaming all failure on other people, is not a sign of good mental health.
  • Neither Barack Obama, the news media, the World Health Organization, Democrats, China, the nation's state governors, nor Anthony Fauci were President of the United States for the past three years.

Friday, April 10, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot how germs work in the middle of a pandemic.

Some of his closest supporters in the Republican party are now openly begging Trump to stop his daily pandemic briefings, for his own political good. Figures ranging from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to the ultra-conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board have warned him—on the record—that the daily marathon sessions, which he has used as a sort of replacement campaign rally, are dangerous spreading misinformation that will be held against him in November.

Today, in a briefing that lasted two hours and sixteen minutes, Trump was asked a narrow technical question about testing for coronavirus at food processing plants. This was his answer, in its entirety:

TRUMP:  Well, you’re asking that because of what happened — it’s a fair question, too — what happened in Denver.  Because in Denver, I’ve never seen — I said, “What’s going on?”  We’re looking at this graph where everything’s looking beautiful and it’s coming down and then you got this one spike.  It’s — I said, “What happened to Denver?” 
And many people, very quickly, and they — by the way, they were on it like, so fast, you wouldn’t believe it.  They knew every aspect.  They had people go and — not only testing, “Who did you see?  Where were you?  How many people did you meet?  Were you out to dinner in somebody else’s home?  Where were you?”  Where did — where did this number of people come from?  How did — they are totally on it.
Now, this just happened.  I just saw it this morning.  I’m looking at everything smooth, going down, topping out.  And then you have this one spike in Denver.  It’s like, where did this come from? 
So we’ll be looking at that.  And we don’t want cases like that happening.  This was — but this — this is the kind of thing can happen.  This is very complex. 
This is a very brilliant enemy.  You know, it’s a brilliant enemy.  They develop drugs like the antibiotics.  You see it.  Antibiotics used to solve every problem.  Now one of the biggest problems the world has is the germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it.  And they’re constantly trying to come up with a new — people go to a hospital and they catch — they go for a heart operation — that’s no problem, but they end up dying from — from problems.  You know the problems I’m talking about.  There’s a whole genius to it. 
We’re fighting — not only is it hidden, but it’s very smart.  Okay?  It’s invisible and it’s hidden, but it’s — it’s very smart.  And you see that in a case like a Denver. 
But, you know, I think we’re doing well, and they’re on Denver like you wouldn’t believe.  I came in this morning; it was a flurry.  I said what’s going on?  They said, “Denver.”  I said, “What happened to Denver?”  Because Denver was doing pretty well.  And they’ve got that under control.  But, yeah, that would be a case where you do some very big testing.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viral ones.

Trump's mind may have been on Denver because its main newspaper, the Denver Post, wrote a scathing editorial this week. Trump received a request for 500 ventilators from the state's Democratic governor, and then tweeted that he was giving the state 100 ventilators because of its Republican senator.

We are left to believe that if Colorado didn’t have a Republican senator in office, our state would not be getting these 100 ventilators. How many ventilators would we be getting if we had a Republican governor and a second Republican senator? Would that indicate we had more Republican lives in our state worth saving for Trump and resources would start flowing? Should Utah be concerned that Sen. Mitt Romney voted to remove the president from office?

Why is this a problem?

  • During a national emergency, presidents need to be able to remember basic middle school-level facts about the situation they're in.
  • Americans' health and safety is more important than Donald Trump's need to stay in the spotlight.
  • Who gets lifesaving medical equipment in a crisis is not supposed to be about who voted for the president.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got a little confused about how infectious disease works.

Two weeks ago Trump said he expected to see "packed churches" this Easter Sunday, at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in many places. After a few days, experts talked him down from that ledge, leading his handlers to claim that it was merely an "aspirational" thought.

As Trump briefly seemed to understand, there are only three ways that large public gatherings can resume without risking the lives of millions of Americans: 
  1. When most Americans have immunity to COVID-19 because they have already been infected and recovered. This is known as "herd immunity." The goal of "flattening the curve" is to keep sick people from overwhelming hospitals while the disease spreads. But most Americans have not yet caught the disease.
  2. When a proven vaccine is available and widely distributed. No such vaccine exists, and one is not expected for at over a year.
  3. When massive, widespread, rapid-response testing is available everywhere people congregate. This would allow public health officials to identify and quarantine specific areas and individuals before they showed symptoms.
Anything else would simply recreate the same conditions that started the outbreak in the first place—except with hundreds of thousands of potential carriers instead of just a few.

Trump has occasionally insisted—and may actually believe—that "everyone who wants a test can get one." In the real world, unless you are Trump himself or someone Trump thinks might have exposed him to the virus, it is extremely difficult to get tested even if you are showing symptoms. The rapid-response tests are even rarer in the United States, although they have allowed South Korea to partially reopen.

Today, Trump—who is desperate for good economic news to save his chances at re-election—said that the United States was "going to be opening up... very, very, very, very soon." Leaks from within the White House say Trump is privately demanding that normal routine starts by May 1.

What little federal support for testing currently exists will expire tomorrow

Why should I care about this?

  • The health and safety of Americans is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • Presidents don't have to be doctors or an epidemiologists, but if they can't remember basic facts about how contagious diseases work, they aren't competent to hold office.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said it was wrong to have minimized the threat of COVID-19.

Previously, Trump has blamed the coronavirus pandemic and the shockingly disproportionate outbreak in the United States on China, Democrats, the Obama administration, Americans themselves, governors, his own State Department, a Navy captain, and of course the media. Today, he found a new scapegoat: the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO is a United Nations agency responsible for coordinating international public health efforts. It functions in some ways like an international CDC. Today, Trump lashed out at WHO and threatened—not for the first time—to withhold American funding to them. (The US is actually overdue on its WHO bill anyway.) Trump accused the organization of having secret pro-China sympathies, and of concealing the dangers of the virus.

WHO has come in for some measured criticism from people who actually know about public health, but Trump may not have thought through the implications of admitting that it would be bad for world leaders to downplay the threat of the coronavirus.

Weeks after WHO declared COVID-19 a "global emergency" on January 30, and months after Trump himself first heard urgent intelligence reports on the potential disaster of an outbreak in November, Trump was still calling it a "hoax" and insisting that the United States would soon have "zero" cases.

Roughly 2,000 Americans died from COVID-19 in the 24 hours before Trump's remarks this afternoon. Also today, Trump tweeted that when the outbreak was finally over, Americans should simply forget about it altogether

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if finding people to blame for your problems is more important to you than fixing them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called mail-in voting, which he did last month, "corrupt."

Trump is on record as thinking that if more Americans are able to vote by mail, it will hurt Republican candidates. He said last month that "if you ever agreed to [mail-in voting] you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

Today, Trump was asked about a Wisconsin statewide judicial election in which tens of thousands of mail-in ballots were disqualified through no fault of the voters who requested them, because concerns about crowded public polling places overwhelmed the system for supplying absentee ballots. The resulting disaster forcing hundreds of thousands of voters in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee to crowd into five polling places today. Trump used the occasion to declare that he thought mail-in voting, which would have avoided the problem of endangering voters, was "corrupt."

Trump cast a "corrupt" mail-in ballot himself in the recent Florida primary.

Q: You were highly critical of mail-in voting, mail-in ballots. 
TRUMP: I think it's horrible. It's corrupt. 
Q: But you voted by mail In Florida's election last month— 
TRUMP:—Sure I can vote by mail. Because I’m allowed to. 
Q: How do you reconcile that? 
TRUMP: That's called out of state. You know why I voted? I happen to be in the White House and I can't go to Florida to vote.

Trump is almost certainly wrong about how mail-in voting would affect his party's chances. Utah switched to mail-in voting in 2016. It increased turnout by 9%, but that worked against the only Democrat in their Congressional delegation, who was defeated by a Republican challenger. 

However, Trump may be right that keeping voters away from ballots is his best chance personally. Even after a "rally 'round the flag" effect because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump is still losing badly in head-to-head polls against the likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden—including in his adopted home state of Florida

Why does this matter?

  • The right to vote is more important than Donald Trump's need to be re-elected.
  • Americans shouldn't have to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote.
  • Making it hard for opponents of the leader to vote is what dictators do.

Monday, April 6, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to have it both ways on the "stupid" Navy captain fired on his orders.

Thomas Modly is the acting Secretary of the Navy. He was appointed by Trump after the firing of his predecessor, Richard Spencer, in the aftermath of a scandal in which Trump gave clemency to a convicted war criminal whose family espoused pro-Trump views on a Fox News program that Trump watches.

Today, Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier whose crew is being disembarked and isolated against COVID-19 infection on the urgent request of its commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier. In an unusual step, Modly himself relieved Crozier of command—skipping the usual military chain of command. 

Modly later admitted to a friend that he had done so because Trump personally demanded it. "Breaking news: Trump wants him fired," Modly said, according to the Washington Post.

In his 15-minute message to the crew, Modly said that Crozier was either "too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this." At that point (1:45) in a now-viral recording of the announcement over the ship's public address system, an unidentified sailor can be heard shouting "What the fuck?!"

Modly also scolded the crew for their cheers of support for Crozier, and complained about the "evil" criticism he's endured as a result.

At a press briefing today, Trump backed up Modly, but insisted that he would "look into" the matter. He said that he was now "hearing good things about both people." He characterized the whole matter as an "argument" that he could help "settle."

Again, Crozier was fired on Trump's direct instruction, and Trump had already publicly called Crozier "terrible."

Crozier, whose offense was writing a leaked letter begging his military superiors to allow his sailors to be given medical treatment and isolation ashore, remains the only person Trump has disciplined for the federal government's response to COVID-19.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong for a president to discipline military officers for political reasons.
  • It's wrong to blame your own mistakes on subordinates.
  • The health and safety of the people who defend the United States are more important than Donald Trump's political needs.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got mad about the reported fact that his administration has just now started ordering medical supplies.

Today looked like it might be the first day in almost a month without a press briefing featuring Trump and his coronavirus task force—meaning the official one, and not the "shadow task force" run by his son-in-law, the real estate heir Jared Kushner.

But late in the day, Trump abruptly tweeted that there would be a briefing because of "new information." Although the briefing lasted more than an hour, it's not exactly clear what that new information was meant to be. The actual medical experts in the room addressed much of the same points they have in recent days, and Trump continued encouraging patients to demand a potentially dangerous and so far unproven drug therapy that has led to shortages in hydroxychloroquinine for patients with other diseases who actually need it.

Towards the end, a reporter asked about a long article in Saturdays' Washington Post that detailed the "delays, denial and dysfunction" in the Trump administration's response to COVID-19. It included a number of shocking new revelations, including that the federal government did not even try to order more critical care, testing, and protective equipment until late March. As the Post summarized:

The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief. 

And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.

Q: On the equipment issue, records show that federal agencies did not begin— 
TRUMP: Oh, stop it.

Q: Did not begin— 
TRUMP: Who are you with? By the way, who are you with? Who are you with? 
Q: The Associated Press. Agencies did not begin— 
TRUMP: [unintelligible] 
Q: Did not begin to purchase respirators and masks until mid-March— 
TRUMP: Are you ready? Are you ready? Let me just answer your question, because I know exactly, you know, same question you ask all the time. Are you ready? They have done an unbelievable job delivering for the Associated Press. Which is, uh, you know, not so great. Not like it used to be. Uh, the — people that you're looking at, FEMA, the military, what they've done is a miracle. What they've done is a miracle. In getting all of this stuff. What they've done for states is incredible. And you should be thanking them for what they've done, not always asking wiseguy questions. 

Trump then ended the briefing and immediately stormed away from the podium.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's not the media's fault if the president can't or won't take action in a crisis.
  • Trying to bluster reporters into not asking questions about problems doesn't make the problems go away.
  • Presidents who can explain why something isn't a problem, or isn't their fault, usually do.