Sunday, May 31, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to make nationwide protests about him.

Today, Trump threatened (not for the first time) to designate the so-called Antifa movement as a terrorist organization. 

There are two problems with this. The first is that it's almost certainly illegal for Trump to make any such declaration about a group of Americans based on their politics. Foreign organizations like al-Qaeda can be given that designation, because the First Amendment doesn't apply to non-citizens acting outside of the United States. 

The other is that it's not clear if "Antifa"—or even anyone claiming to be like it—is involved in the violence that has swept across American cities since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Trump generally uses the term as a synonym for people opposed to him politically. (It's short for "anti-fascist.") 

But the genuine protests have not been about Trump, but systemic racism at the local level. Trump himself hasn't really been a focus of them at all, which may be why he's trying to make himself one. (Trump's advisors are openly admitting that he is desperate for distractions from the ongoing health and economic disasters.)

Trump's threat also conspicuously ignores the groups that are known to be trying to foment racial and anti-government violence, many of whom he feels politically beholden to and has supported in other protests

Why does this matter?

  • Declaring political factions you don't like to be criminal organizations is what dictators do.
  • It should not be this hard for the President of the United States to condemn racial violence.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to take credit for a rocket launch his administration didn't carry out, approved by his predecessors.

Most of Trump's actual efforts today were aimed at trying to find a way to turn racial violence to his political advantage, or at least to look tough while he encouraged it. But he did have one event on his official calendar, attending the launch of a rocket carrying American astronauts to the International Space Station. The launch, carried out by the private company SpaceX, was significant because it was the first crewed launch on American soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Trump wanted the photo opportunity badly enough that he made two separate trips to Florida in order to get it: one today, and one on Wednesday for the original scheduled launch date. 

In remarks after the launch, Trump painted himself as the reason why the launch took place, saying, "With this launch, the decades of lost years and little action are officially over. Past leaders put the United States at the mercy of foreign nations to send our astronauts into orbit — not anymore."

But on planet Earth, NASA began actively collaborating in 2006 with the private space sector, then in its infancy. The Commercial Crew program, which resulted in this launch, was begun in 2010.

Trump's actual contribution to civilian spaceflight has mostly consisted of trying to cut NASA's budget while simultaneously changing their launch dates without telling them.

So what?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Past a certain point, self-praise becomes pathological.

Friday, May 29, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He ran away from his own attempts to incite racial violence.

At 12:53 A.M. this morning, Trump warned what he called "THUGS" at protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that he would order them shot if looting continued. 

Specifically, he wrote, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." This is a direct quote from Walter Headley, an openly racist Miami police chief in the 1960s notorious for targeting civil rights protestors. As a wire service story in 1967 wrote:

Headley said, “we don’t mind being accused of police brutality.” “They haven’t seen anything, yet.” Headley said Miami hasn't been troubled with racial disturbances and looting because he let the word filter down, “When the looting starts, the shooting stars.” 

Twitter hid the tweet behind a content warning for its potential to incite violence. Trump then tried posting it to the official White House account, but the warning followed it there.

But at a "press conference" today, Trump was unwilling to take questions and totally avoided the subject of the nationwide demonstrations. At a later event, he claimed not to know the history behind the phrase, but said it was "very accurate."

It is not at all accurate. Police—even in Headley's time—do not actually shoot into angry crowds just to suppress looting, for reasons that would be obvious to most people. 

But Trump has a long history of inciting violence, either by police or mobs, against people of color or simply people he sees as his enemies, and may have genuinely thought this was something he could order police or the National Guard to do.

Why should I care?

  • Talking tough on the internet and then running away when someone calls you on it is what emotional teenagers do.
  • Presidents are supposed to have better solutions to serious problems than just threatening to shoot Americans.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to use the power of the government to force social media to help him politically.

On Tuesday, Twitter added a link to two of Trump's tweets about voting in the upcoming election, correcting the false statements he'd made. Today, Trump issued an executive order aimed at forcing Twitter and other social media companies to ignore any such misinformation he might want to post in the future.

Trump's order calls for a reinterpretation of a particular law that shields such companies from policing the content that users post. Without that protection, everything from tweets to Facebook posts to YouTube videos would have to be approved for posting in advance, or else the companies that ran those services would risk being sued.

The order is probably dead on arrival in the courts, but as a show of force it might make Twitter and Facebook think twice about blowing the whistle on the Russian bot-networks that spread disinformation and carefully amplified Trump's campaign message in 2016. (Trump has said he would accept such "help" again, even though it is absolutely illegal to do so.)

One of the main reasons the order can't be enforced is that government suppression of speech—which Trump has explicitly said is the point of this order—is exactly what the First Amendment protects against. In other words, Trump is trying to censor Twitter, not the other way around.

Ironically, though, if Trump's order were somehow to take effect, it would immediately force Twitter to start deleting Trump tweets, or ban him entirely. Trump routinely posts or retweets incitement to violence, hate speech, and defamatory lies, and Twitter has never deleted them or banned Trump. Under Trump's proposed reinterpretation of the law, Twitter could be sued for letting those posts stay up.

It's not clear whether Trump knows or understands any of this. But claiming that a private company is "censoring" the President of the United States does fit with Trump's main campaign message of late, which is less about trying to win the election and more about about sowing doubt in case he loses.

Why does this matter?

  • The whole point of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from trying to shield itself from criticism.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made absolutely sure that a wealthy donor and conspiracy theorist got some kind of diplomatic job.

In 2018, Trump nominated Lee Rizzuto as the U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and several other small Caribbean nations. Like Trump, Rizzuto was the heir to his father's more successful business empire. Immediately after his nomination was announced, Rizzuto signed up as an "underwriter" for a major fundraiser held at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property. (Trump directly profits from political events held there.)

Rizzuto's nomination was defeated by the Republican-controlled Senate because of a variety of malicious and unhinged posts he had made on social media. He claimed that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's wife was plotting to overthrow the United States government. He said that a Jewish donor to progressive causes, a child during World War Two, had "worked for Hitler to kill his own people." He called prominent Muslims in American politics terrorists, and spread a rumor that Republican Gov. Scott Walker had been expelled from college for cheating. 

None of these claims are true, but most or all of Rizzuto's targets were Trump's political opponents during or after the 2016 campaign. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) dismissed Rizzuto as an embarrassing promoter of "tinfoil hat" stuff. 

Rizzuto has no diplomatic experience or connection to the Caribbean nations to which he was nominated as ambassador.

Today, Trump appointed Rizzuto to a top-level diplomatic post in Bermuda that doesn't require Senate confirmation.

Why should I care about this?

  • There's basically no non-corrupt reason to do this kind of thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked American democracy because he might not win the next election.

As his re-election chances get grimmer, Trump has been returning to the 2016 playbook of attacking any election he might lose. Today he doubled down on the practice of states making it easier for citizens to use mail-in absentee ballots. 

In two tweets this morning, Trump told a number of lies in quick succession about what the state of California is planning to do, but the takeaway was that 2020 will be a "Rigged Election" because Americans can vote this way. (Trump himself has voted by mail since taking office, and was impeached for trying to get a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election.)

The amount of misinformation—and the damage that it could do to the legitimacy of the election—was so great that Twitter took the unprecedented step of attaching a fact-checking warning to the tweets. 

Clicking on that link led to a quick summary of some of the basic facts about mail-in voting that Trump lied about.

The warning was a dramatic step for Twitter's management, which has agonized over how to handle posts from Trump that routinely violate their rules about personal attacks, spreading misinformation, and promoting hate speech. Just this week, Trump has been tweeting conspiracy theories about the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, baselessly accusing a former GOP congressman of her murder. Her grieving husband begged Twitter to delete those posts, writing that Trump had "taken the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain."

Trump responded by complaining that Twitter was "completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!" 

Trump doesn't actually have any power over Twitter, which is a private company. All social media platforms enforce rules about what people can post. 

Why does this matter?

  • Saying that any election the leader doesn't win was "rigged" is what dictators do.
  • Threatening private companies with government punishment because they exercised their own free speech rights is un-American.
  • It's not a sign of good mental health when the most paid-attention-to man in the world thinks shadowy forces are trying to silence him.
  • It's bad if presidents don't know or don't care what the limits on their authority are.

Monday, May 25, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called for the Republican National Convention to be moved from North Carolina.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in late August, about 13 weeks from now. Today, Trump tweeted this:

I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August. Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed......full attendance in the Arena. In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space. Plans are being.......made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site. This is not something I want to do. Thank you, and I LOVE the people of North Carolina!

This much is correct: Gov. Cooper, like every governor in every state, has not issued any orders guaranteeing that fifty thousand people will be allowed to congregate in a single indoor location any time soon.

To put this in context, there are three "phases" in Trump's own reopening plan. Exactly one state, New York, is even arguably moving towards meeting the criteria for Phase One.

Here is what this would allow New York to do:

In other words, Trump's own rules would allow Trump to hold a ten-person convention, and only in New York. In order to hold a convention with 50,000 people, states would need to reach Phase Three, according to the Trump administration.

North Carolina is one of 24 states that are not only not meeting Phase One standards, but moving away from them because infections are uncontrolled and increasing.

In fairness to Trump, he has never suggested his own administration's rules be followed or even read. Specific CDC instructions based on these rules was censored within the Trump White House, and then released only under pressure and in a heavily edited form. He may be angling to get a scaled-down version of the convention moved to Texas—a normally solidly Republican state that is slipping away from him in the polls—or to Florida, where his hotels and resorts can charge the GOP for the privilege of nominating him.

Why does this matter?

  • The health and safety of the American people in every state are more important than Donald Trump getting to fill up an arena during an infectious disease outbreak.
  • One way for Trump to have had a better chance at a big crowded indoor convention would have been to take responsibility for reducing the spread of the virus.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He observed the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend as only he can.

Today is the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, a time when churches and politicians alike often observe memorial rites for those who died in military service to the United States. 

It's also the day that Trump demanded that states end restrictions on large gatherings for churches. Many churches are voluntarily suspending in-person services until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. 

Clergy from across the denominational spectrum called Trump out on what looked a pretty obvious attempt to shore up his slipping poll numbers

Trump himself is something of a stranger to Christianity: he rarely if ever appeared in church before his political career began, and he's gotten confused on more than a few occasions about the basics. But his appeal to open churches (whether they wanted to or not) and the solemn nature of the Memorial Day holiday led to some speculation that he would attend services this week.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Voters who are Christians might not like being treated like chumps.
  • Presidents are generally expected to at least fake a certain degree of respect for America's war dead.
  • Past a certain point, attention-seeking becomes pathological.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went golfing.

Trump visited one of his luxury golf resorts today, after an unprecedented 76 days away from the links due to the coronavirus outbreak. Trump had complained bitterly of being cooped up in the White House during that stretch—like most Americans were in their own homes—though he actually traveled quite often. (That travel included two weekend visits to Camp David, which has a golf course, but it's not known if Trump played.)

As usual, the White House refused to confirm that Trump was actually playing golf, although he was caught on video. It was his 250th visit to a golf course during daytime hours since taking office. 

While Trump golfed, the number of Americans known to have died from COVID-19 passed 98,000. The actual number of deaths from the virus is much higher

In 2014, Trump attacked then-President Obama for playing golf during an Ebola virus "outbreak" consisting of two healthcare workers at one hospital, neither of whom died.

Why should I care?

  • Even by Trump's standards where golf is concerned, this is pretty hypocritical.

Friday, May 22, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He honored America's fallen servicemembers as only he can.

In a White House ceremony today, Trump attacked unions, calling them "thieves" and "sadists" who were attacking hospital patients. 

He said he'd taken the U.S. military budget from "millions" to "trillions."  In reality, it's less than a trillion now, and hasn't been in the mere millions in over a century. He also said the military was "depleted" and had no "medical equipment" when he took office, which is a lie.

He said that at the time he took office, the United States had no ventilators. This is also a lie. He said that there was no "testing," presumably meaning tests for COVID-19, which is true because the virus was not known to science in 2017.

He bragged about new uniforms for the Army that "cost a lot." It's true uniforms aren't cheap, but the ones he's talking about were unveiled in 2019. Servicemembers pay out of pocket for their uniforms. They receive a clothing allowance, but it is not always enough to cover the cost of their uniforms.

He once again promoted an unproven drug as a cure for suicides.

Trump claimed that when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, he "quickly secured [Veterans Administration] hospitals." It's not clear what he meant by "secured," but VA hospitals ran desperately low on PPE, forcing doctors to treat sick patients without protection from the virus.

He attacked Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, repeating a lie about Pelosi "dancing in the streets" with Chinese-Americans at the outbreak of COVID-19. 

He bragged about winning the 2016 election.

He told a story about "rough guys" on motorcycles who called him "sir."

The event where Trump said all these things was part of the White House's official Memorial Day observations.

Why is this a problem?

  • No part of lying, bragging, or political grandstanding honors America's military heroes.
  • A president who could stop himself from doing all this at a Memorial Day commemoration probably would.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He broke a law requiring mask-wearing in public places to spite the press.

Trump has made no secret of the reason that he refuses to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus: he's afraid people will make fun of him if he does. 

His own CDC has strongly urged Americans to wear masks whenever they are in public spaces. COVID-19 is spread mostly through droplets in the air, and masks make it much harder for the virus to reach its next victim.

Today, he staged a campaign event at a Ford plant converted to making medical equipment. During a tour, he appeared without a mask, in violation of a Michigan emergency order requiring everyone to wear one in indoor public spaces. Asked by reporters about it, he said he didn't want to give the press "the pleasure of seeing it."

He did tell reporters that he wore a mask when they weren't present—something that, perhaps surprisingly, appears to be true. A photo of Trump wearing a mask was leaked by a Democratic member of Congress. (Ford officials had all but demanded he wear one.)

via Rep. Jackie Speier

Trump's feelings on masks appear to be purely about political optics. After a mini-outbreak in the White House, which is perhaps the only workplace in the country that actually has enough tests to do real contact tracing, Trump ordered that all West Wing staff wear masks at work

Trump himself has never been seen wearing a mask in the White House.

So what?

  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's vanity.
  • It's bad if a president undermines simple things people can do to save lives.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to punish states for helping their citizens to vote in November.

Today, a seemingly furious Trump lashed out at swing states Nevada and Michigan, threatening to somehow block federal funds to them for helping voters vote by mail.

It's not illegal to vote by mail. It's not illegal in Michigan for the government to send applications, or in Nevada to send ballots to registered voters. Trump himself voted by mail in 2018.

As Jocelyn Benton (Michigan's "rogue" Secretary of State) pointed out, many states are moving to help voters avoid COVID-19 risk in November by making it easier to vote by mail. But many of those are states with Republican secretaries of state where Trump is more likely to win.

Trump has made no secret of the fact that he believes—probably incorrectly—that when more citizens are able to vote, Republicans do worse. 

Trump refused to say exactly what funds he would try to withhold to punish Michigan and Nevada, although a president who actually wanted to punish a particular state for voting in ways he didn't like could do an enormous amount of damage. Even the threat of doing so is illegal. 

Why should I care about this?

  • Undermining Americans' faith in their elections is exactly what enemies of the United States are trying to accomplish.
  • Making sure that only supporters can vote in elections is what dictators do.
  • Threatening governments for not helping his re-election campaign is what got him impeached.
  • Voters (including millions of Republicans in those states) might not like being punished for voting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called medicine an anti-Trump conspiracy.

Yesterday, Trump made the shocking—and not universally believed—claim that he was himself taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug he'd been hyping for months as a potential miracle cure for COVID-19. (His government doctor released a cagey statement saying that he'd "discussed" the drug with Trump at some unspecified point, but stopped short of actually confirming that anyone had prescribed it to Trump.)

The drug is used as an anti-malarial and in the treatment of lupus, and known to have a number of harmful side effects, including hallucinations and mood swings. It's also known to be dangerous to people with heart conditions. Like many elderly men, especially those who are obese, Trump has coronary artery disease.

Just weeks ago, the FDA posted a warning to doctors not to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients outside of a controlled hospital study. That warning came after a study revealed that more patients died on the drug. Those deaths meant that the study had to be stopped for patient safety.

Today, Trump called that study "a Trump enemy statement."

I worked with doctors. If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape, they were very old, almost dead. It was a Trump enemy statement.

The study was conducted by the Veterans' Administration, the federal hospital system that reports directly to Trump and whose leadership Trump appointed.

In other words, Trump is saying that government doctors and disease experts are part of a conspiracy to cover up a miracle cure for a deadly disease that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, just to make him look bad.

Why should I care about this?

  • Facts about what medicines are or aren't safe are nobody's "enemy."
  • Treating anyone who says something the leader doesn't like as an "enemy" is what cults do.

Monday, May 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he'd never heard of the IG he'd fired because he'd lost "confidence" in him.

When Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick late last Friday night—the fourth such oversight official he's fired in recent weeks—he gave no explanation other than that he no longer had "the fullest confidence" in Linick.

Immediately after the news broke, it was confirmed that Linick had been investigating Secretary of State and Trump ultra-loyalist Mike Pompeo for using government workers as personal servants.

But today brought news that Pompeo was also under investigation by Linick for his role in a much more serious matter: his suspicious "emergency" declaration in May 2019 that allowed Trump to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without Congressional approval—especially after dissident and reporter Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudi regime. (Both Republicans and Democrats voted against Trump selling more weapons to the Saudis.) Trump said at the time that Saudi Arabia bought too many weapons for the United States to interfere in its affairs, something he repeated today.

Trump is deeply financially entangled with the Saudi ruling family.

Asked about all of this today, Trump admitted that he'd never even heard of Linick, and was simply doing as Pompeo told him—and also scoring a point in his imaginary revenge campaign against President Obama:

So I don’t know him. I never heard of him. But they asked me to terminate him. I have the absolute right, as President, to terminate. I’ve said, “Who appointed him?” And they said, “President Obama.” I said, “Look, I’ll terminate him.”
I don’t know what’s going on other than that, but you’d have to ask Mike Pompeo. But they did ask me to do it and I did it. I have the right to terminate the inspector generals. And I would have — I would have suggested — and I did suggest, in pretty much all cases, you get rid of the attorney generals, because it happens to be very political, whether you like it or not. And many of these people were Obama appointments, and so I just got rid of him.

Why does this matter?

  • People who haven't done anything wrong generally don't fire everyone with the power to check if they've done anything wrong.
  • Even if Trump's cover story is true, firing an inspector general because someone he's investigating tells you to is either corrupt, stupid, or weak.
  • Assuming that government employees are either loyal to you or to your enemies, but not to the country itself, is what dictators do.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He congratulated himself.

Trump divided his time as usual for a weekend day, between Twitter and golf—although in this case, he had to content himself with calling into a televised charity golf event. One tweet read:

As usual, Trump did not elaborate on why he thought he was "doing REALLY well medically." He's continued to insist that a vaccine will be available almost instantaneously, a belief he's held unchanged for months even as his own staff has contradicted him. But he's also insisted that the pandemic will simply stop happening somehow, "vaccine or no vaccine."

There is also no evidence, from Trump or anyone else, of a major drug therapy breakthrough. Trials on one common antiviral drug, remdesivir, showed a little promise in reducing the length of symptoms, but is not a cure. Everything else Trump has hyped as a miracle cure, from the mildly dangerous anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquin to his extremely dangerous idea that household cleaners could kill the virus inside the body, has shown virtually no effect.

As of this evening, more than 91,000 Americans are known to have died of COVID-19, and unknown tens of thousands more have died undiagnosed. 

So what?

  • Declaring victory and going home doesn't work during a natural disaster.
  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's ego.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to get people to believe he wasn't worried about the 2020 election.

As usual, Trump has spent most of the day on Twitter. Among the tweets was one in which he claimed he wasn't worried about Joe Biden.

In reality, Trump was so worried about Joe Biden—specifically—that he got himself impeached by trying to force the government of Ukraine to announce an "investigation" into Biden's family. 

The tweet was a response to one posting 1987 video in which Biden said he had three undergraduate degrees. In fact, he was a double major as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, and has a law degree from Syracuse University.  

Why should I care about this?

Friday, May 15, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He fired yet another oversight official.

Late this Friday night, Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. He offered no explanation, but a member of Congress confirmed that Linick had opened an investigation into Mike Pompeo, Trump's Secretary of State.

Conducting such investigations is exactly what inspectors general are supposed to do.

Linick joins a host of other government officials fired or demoted for investigating Trump or his political allies. They include:

  • Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm, fired for releasing a report critical of that department's handling of the coronavirus pandemic
  • Glenn Fine, acting Defense Department Inspector General. Fine appears to have been fired pre-emptively so that he could not exercise oversight over how $2 trillion in pandemic relief was being spent by the Trump administration.
Trump also fired or demoted virtually everyone he could who investigated his ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign, or his attempts to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. That list includes everyone from former FBI director James Comey to the brother of one of the National Security Council officials who testified about the Ukraine scandal.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents are not above the law.
  • Presidents with nothing to hide don't need to keep firing investigators and replacing them with political loyalists.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reluctantly released watered-down CDC guidelines on reopening, then told states to ignore them.

Today, the Trump administration released all of seven pages' worth of CDC guidelines for restaurants, schools, camps, mass transit systems, and other businesses. More than two months into a major outbreak in the United States, it is the first such guidance issued by the Trump administration, and it was released under duress

The Trump administration had attempted to conceal an earlier draft of these recommendations, calling them "overly specific." But the more likely reason is that Trump is now openly demanding that states end disease control measures, whether or not they meet his own criteria for when it is safe to reopen.

Most states do not meet those broader criteria, and the guidelines drawn up by experts at the CDC that Trump tried to conceal are much stricter.

Trump also called coronavirus testing "overrated" and complained that doing more testing was driving up the numbers of Americans known to have the virus. It's not clear if Trump fully understands that people infected with COVID-19 have the virus whether or not they're tested—but it is certain that he wanted numbers low even if that meant sick people going without testing.

The Trump White House, where "overrated" tests are mandatory for anyone getting anywhere near Trump himself, is arguably the only workplace in the country with a successful test-and-trace program. Although several people in Trump's orbit have tested positive, early detection means the virus does not appear to be spreading through the crowded West Wing.

So what?

  • A president cannot be this confused about the basics of something that has killed more than 80,000 Americans already.
  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's need to win a political battle.
  • Demanding that other people take risks with their lives that you won't with yours is cowardly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called out stock manipulators who aren't him.

The stock markets had another bad day today, with the major indices down between 1.6% and 2.2%. At the start of it, Trump tweeted out his explanation for why the markets have lost trillions of dollars over the last few months. It's not the effect of the coronavirus or his administration's handling of it, Trump said: it's people who talk about the stock market.

It's worth pointing out that Trump himself is a "so-called 'rich guy'" who has tweeted incessantly about the stock market since taking office. In fact, the first real sign that he was belatedly starting to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously was a series of tweets and quotes in response to the crashing markets, urging people to buy stocks instead of selling them. When stocks did tick back up briefly in one red-hot day, Trump autographed a chart of the Dow Jones' daily activity. (It fell back off a cliff the following week.)

In fact, Trump's tweeted so often about stocks as they went up that he lost track of the fact that most two years have been less profitable than erratic. He tweeted about the DJIA passing 25,000 on three separate occasions, separated by more than a year. (That means the market was losing money to inflation.)

Of course, as Americans less heavily invested in stocks than Trump is know, the markets are not the economy. Unemployment is the highest it's been since the Great Depression, and the worst of the damage has been done to working-class families who are not likely to have a lot of money in stocks. 

Why should I care about this?

  • Accusing other people of doing things you do is called hypocrisy.
  • There are much, much bigger problems right now than unnamed "rich guys" (besides Trump) talking about the stock market.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He was very angrily "happy" for governors who are outpolling him.

Today, shortly before the lead infectious disease expert on his task force told the Senate that states should ignore Trump on the question of when they should reopen, Trump tweeted this:

It's not true that every governor has "sky high" approval ratings on their COVID-19 response. It's just that every single one of them is getting better marks than Trump for their handling of it.

This tweet represents one half of Trump's strategy, which is to take credit for any good news—in this case, the fact that Americans still have faith in their state governments—while shirking responsibility for any failures.

On the specific subjects of ventilators and tests, Trump previously said that it wasn't the federal government's job to provide any such help in a national health emergency. He specifically called his job a "backup," even while the federal government was bidding against states for desperately needed supplies, and in some cases, seizing them.

How is this a bad thing?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Presidents who are doing what the American people expect them to be doing don't need to ask people to "remember" it.
  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's approval rating.

Monday, May 11, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about COVID-19 testing, which he doesn't think is important.

Trump appeared at a coronavirus task force "briefing" today with several of its actual working members, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and the head of the CDC, in self-isolation because they were exposed to sick people at the White House. 

The fact that two West Wing staffers have tested positive in the past few days actually speaks quite well of the "test and trace" strategy that is protecting the White House—or at least Trump himself, who has turned on a dime and is now insisting that people near him wear masks. (Trump still refuses to wear one himself, even in the presence of people at extreme risk from the disease.)

But virtually no other workplace in the United States has that kind of testing regimen in place, which is exactly the kind that would be needed to end social distancing and workplace restrictions. Trump has hugely exaggerated the availability of tests, even as he's said he doesn't think they really matter and that they're not really his job anyway. He's also recently seemed increasingly confused about how they work, confessing he didn't understand how a West Wing employee could test negative one day and positive the next. 

At today's event, Trump stood in front of a giant banner reading "America leads the world in testing."

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It does not, but more importantly, the testing system that the Trump administration has managed to create so far is not nearly enough to stop the spread of the disease. When a Chinese-American reporter asked Trump about why he insisted on comparing testing statistics with other countries, when American deaths were what mattered, Trump retorted, "Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay? When you ask them that question, you may get a very unusual answer.” He then abruptly ended the press conference when a second reporter allowed the first to finish her question.

Why should this matter to me?

  • Hanging banners saying that a problem has been solved is not the same thing as solving a problem.
  • The White House's pandemic response has to work in places that aren't literally the White House.
  • Dealing with a national public health crisis really is the nation's government's job.
  • This is not the kind of thing a president can afford to be this confused about.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He invited comparison.

Trump spent much of Mothers' Day on his phone, tweeting and retweeting throughout the whole morning and much of the afternoon. This was one of them:

Trump is not getting "great marks" on his handling of COVID-19, at least from the American public. By enormous margins, Americans are worried that he is trying to "open up" the country sooner than it is safe or useful.

In fact, it's so grim, that even the normally confident Trump has realized it. As the Washington Post put it in an article yesterday:

Some of Trump’s advisers described the president as glum and shell-shocked by his declining popularity. In private conversations, he has struggled to process how his fortunes suddenly changed from believing he was on a glide path to reelection to realizing that he is losing to the likely Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, in virtually every poll, including his own campaign’s internal surveys, advisers said. He also has been fretting about the possibility that a bad outbreak of the virus this fall could damage his standing in the November election, said the advisers, who along with other aides and allies requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

As for the swine flu outbreak of 2009-2010, Trump may just be hoping that people reading his tweets will take his word for it. The H1N1 virus killed about 12,500 Americans between April 2009 and April 2010. By comparison, the deadliest influenza outbreak in the last 40 years came in 2017-2018—on Trump's watch—and took 80,000 American lives.

At least one independent public health expert really did give the Obama administration literal "marks" for its H1N1 response: B-plus.

Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 are at about 80,000 already, although that number appears to be severely undercounted because many Americans are dying before they can even get an initial test.

Why does this matter?

  • You probably shouldn't invite comparison with your predecessor if you're doing a much, much worse job.
  • Pretending you're popular when you aren't doesn't usually work after about third grade.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained about people voting.

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that will provide mail-in ballots for all registered voters in the state for the November elections. 

Trump embarrassed his party last month by saying, in effect, that more people voting is bad for Republicans—although it's not clear this is true. Five states conduct most or all elections via mail-in ballots, and it hasn't changed their partisan makeup. Today, Trump exploded again on Twitter about it, saying:

So in California, the Democrats, who fought like crazy to get all mail in only ballots, and succeeded, have just opened a voting booth in the most Democrat area in the State. They are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there. These votes must not count. SCAM!

It's not clear what "Democrat area voting booth" he is talking about, or whose votes he thinks "must not count" in an election conducted by mail.

Trump has never really acknowledged the validity of any election he doesn't like the results of. He refused to promise in advance of the 2016 elections to abide by the result if he lost. After he won the electoral vote in 2016, Trump insisted with no evidence that five million non-citizens had illegally voted. He then spent taxpayer money to form a "commission" to investigate it. It promptly folded, having found no evidence of voter fraud.

In his very next tweet, sent seven minutes later, Trump urged his followers to use mail-in ballots in a competitive special election in California this Tuesday. It's too late for anyone to request a ballot by mail for that election. (He also called that election a "SCAM," without explanation.)

Undermining Americans' faith in democratically elected leaders was the main goal of the Russian sabotage of the 2016 presidential election.

Who cares?

  • Undermining American democracy is the job of its enemies, not its president.

Friday, May 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He talked about what he'd learned from President Nixon.

During a phone interview this morning, the recently impeached Trump shared one of the lessons he'd learned from presidential history:

I learned a lot from Richard Nixon. Don't fire people. Of course there was one difference, one big difference. Number one, he may have been guilty. And number two, he had tapes all over the place. I wasn't guilty. I did nothing wrong, and there are no tapes. But I wish there were tapes in my case.

There's a lot to unpack here. 

Nixon's firing of his top two Justice Department officials in an attempt to protect himself from prosecution was indeed a factor in his eventual resignation, Trump has systematically fired almost everyone connected in any way to the Russia and Ukraine investigations. He started with FBI Director James Comey, who refused to back off an investigation of Trump's disgraced advisor Michael Flynn. He's also pushed out almost everyone who testified about the Ukraine scandal.

Almost the only person connected to Trump's attempts to get foreign countries to win elections for him was Jefferson Sessions, his first attorney general. Sessions was himself a subject of the Russia investigation, so had no choice but to appoint an independent prosecutor. Trump rewarded Sessions with public humiliation for almost two years in an effort to get him to quit. 

It's not clear what "tapes" Trump wanted his audience to think he'd been too clever to make. There is plenty of evidence that is known to exist for the Ukraine bribery scandal, but Trump has successfully avoided having to show the world the full contents of the call in which he attempted to force the president of Ukraine to publicly announce an "investigation" into Joe Biden. (We know this in part because he bragged about it on live TV.) Even the carefully redacted version of that call he did release, in an effort to get ahead of the scandal, was enough to get him impeached. 

Why does this matter?

  • "How not to get caught" isn't the lesson a president should be learning from Nixon's example.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He violated his own quarantine rules.

Yesterday, Trump met with working nurses and nurse practitioners in the Oval Office. Later, he met with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa in the same room. Reporters and staff were present for both events. He also had lunch with Vice-President Mike Pence, and met with an unspecified number of intelligence briefers.

Today, Trump met with Texas governor Greg Abbott in an Oval Office meeting, with reporters and aides for both men present. Several hours later, he took part in a Rose Garden prayer service with his wife, Melania Trump. Reporters, Vice-President Pence and his wife, and a dozen faith leaders were present.

The significance of these meetings is that Trump learned yesterday, and the nation is learning today, that one of his personal valets is ill with COVID-19. White House valets are active duty members of the Navy. Among other duties, they handle Trump's food. Trump, a self-described "germophobe," was reportedly furious when he learned that the valet had tested positive and was showing symptoms.

As someone exposed to a known carrier, Trump's own CDC guidelines require him to self-isolate for 14 days. Since the West Wing is densely populated—almost 400 people work there on a daily basis—and social distancing is effectively impossible, this would mean Trump would need to stay in the residence and not take unnecessary in-person meetings.

Given the long incubation period of the virus, the valet could have infected Trump at any point in the last 10 days or so. Trump visited a mask factory on Tuesday, but refused to wear a mask himself, because to do so would "send the wrong message." It's not clear from Trump's comments what that message is supposed to be.

Why should I care about this?

  • The health and safety of the people who must work with him is more important than Donald Trump's self-image.
  • Presidents are not above the law, including the laws of nature.
  • The time to get angry about the spread of COVID-19 was several months ago.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He contradicted a nurse he was honoring on National Nurses Day to claim there were no medical supply shortages.

Today was National Nurse Day. Trump held a brief photo opportunity in the Oval Office with some nurses, and a reporter asked one of them about shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) that medical professionals use with COVID-19 patients. Sophia L. Thomas, the president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, answered this way:

DR. THOMAS:  I think it’s sporadic.  As I talk to my colleagues around the country, certainly there are pockets of areas where PPE is not ideal.  But this is an unprecedented time.  And the infection control measures that we learned back when we went to school — one gown, one mask for one patient a day or per time — this is a different time.  And I’ve been reusing my N95 mask for a few weeks now.  I just broke out a new one to come here, just in case I needed to wear it. 
...Certainly I’ve had several tests throughout this whole COVID-19 crisis.  I practice in New Orleans at a community health center.  My youngest patient has been four days old — a four-day-old infant.  And so PPE has been sporadic, but it’s been manageable, and we do what we have to do.  We’re nurses, and we learn to adapt and we do whatever the best thing that we can do for our patients to get the job done and get the care provided.  And that’s what we’re going to continue to do as COVID-19 continues.

At this point, Trump interrupted, as Dr. Thomas tried to find a way to agree with him:

TRUMP: Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people [...] Because I’ve heard the opposite. I’ve heard that they are loaded up with — with gowns now. And, you know, initially we had nothing. We had empty cupboards. We had empty shelves. We had nothing. Because it wasn’t put there by the last administration.

It's not true that the Obama administration left "empty cupboards" in the Strategic National Stockpile, but even if it had been, Trump had been president for three years at the start of the outbreak. Asked earlier this week about why he didn't do anything in those three years to better prepare the country, Trump blamed his impeachment and the Russia investigation and said that he had "a lot of things going on."

Why does this matter?

  • One way to honor nurses is to listen to them when they say there's a problem you can help solve.
  • "I was too busy being impeached" isn't an excuse for anything.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went back to assuming that a miracle will happen.

Earlier in the pandemic, Trump frequently assumed—and openly declared—that the coronavirus would simply disappear "miraculously" He even set a time frame—April—for when this would happen. (It didn't.)

Today, he returned to that happy thought. Asked about his demand that the country "reopen" in violation of his own administration's guidelines for when it will be safe to do so, Trump said this:

And I think we're doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it's going to pass, and we're going to be back to normal.

Every county in the country has active cases, and the vast majority of Americans have not yet been exposed. That means that the COVID-19 epidemic is not going to "pass" until one of three things happens:

  1. So many Americans contract the virus—something like 70 to 90 percent—that herd immunity begins to overwhelm its ability to find new hosts. This would mean that something like two million Americans would die at a minimum.
  2. A vaccine is developed and distributed to virtually all Americans. Even if one of the vaccines currently in development turns out to work well and safely, it's extremely unlikely that this will happen in less than a year.
  3. The United States gains the ability to process roughly twenty-five times as many tests as it currently can, and implements a massive, nationally coordinated program of contact tracing.

Trump confirmed today that he intended to disband the coronavirus task force that would presumably be in charge of overseeing the third option.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Problems like this don't just go away on their own, even if the president really wants them to.
  • Declaring victory and quitting isn't a good strategy against an epidemic disease.

Monday, May 4, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged about "great reviews" he's not getting.

Trump has been tweeting a lot about his popularity lately, presumably in the hopes that he will generate some. This morning, he made vague references in a tweet to the "great reviews" he's "finally" getting over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In reality, Trump is taking serious damage in the polls. He's underwater on the question of whether he's handling it well, a trend that has accelerated as the death toll rises.

Source: RealClearPolitics

And in spite of his attempts to shift all responsibility for the country's response to individual states, Trump finishes dead last compared to the coronavirus approval ratings of all fifty governors.

Trump did not say who he thought was giving him "great reviews."

Why should I care about this?

  • Actually working on the problem would raise Trump's popularity more than tweets demanding that people think he's popular.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got mad at a different former president than usual.

On Saturday, former president George W. Bush's presidential library released a three-minute video. In it, Bush thanks medical workers for their bravery in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and urges Americans to heed public health officials' instructions. The video closes this way:

Finally, let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat. In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise and fall together, and we are determined to rise. God bless you all.

Today, Trump lashed out at Bush for the video, complaining that the former Republican president was "nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history," by which Trump meant his impeachment.

More than 67,000 Americans are known to have died from the coronavirus as of today.

Why should I care about this?

  • Impeachment has nothing to do with any of this.
  • A majority of Americans supported Trump's impeachment.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that there were at least enough tests for Congress to reopen—but there aren't.

Almost from the moment that Trump began taking the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States seriously—months after he was first warned about it—Trump has insisted that there are plenty of tests. This has never been true, but it's possible that Trump believes that it is, because he exists in a bubble of near-constant testing. For nearly a month now, every person who shares a room with Trump must be tested, using the rapid tests that Trump falsely believes are commonly available.

Trump has swung back and forth between calling himself a "wartime president" who "calls the shots" and insisting that he has no responsibility whatsoever as president because public health is a state-level issue. 

Today, Trump yelled at Nancy Pelosi on Twitter for keeping the House and its thousands of employees shuttered because of a lack of tests that he only today offered to make available.  

But Congress is not the only federal institution that cannot get nearly enough tests to safely perform its duties. There are massive shortages in the military, too, which has seen aircraft carriers taken out of commission and basic operations disrupted. And in spite of federal authorities commandeering state stockpiles of critical medical equipment—even while Trump blames the states for not having enough—the Veterans Administration hospital system is desperately short of protective equipment

So what?

  • The federal coronavirus response needs to be about more than making sure Donald Trump doesn't get it.

Friday, May 1, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He stopped his top public health expert from testifying about a public health threat.

The White House confirmed today that Trump was blocking Dr. Anthony Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee on the government's COVID-19 response. Fauci serves on the latest version of Trump's coronavirus task force, and has earned near-universal praise for his calm, evidence-based approach to combatting the spread of the disease. 

Fauci has been forced to publicly contradict Trump a number of times. In response, Trump has tried to limit Fauci's public appearances outside of the White House briefings. He's also sidelined Fauci from certain briefings where reporters were likely to ask questions where Fauci's answers would embarrass him. For example, Fauci was kept away from most of the briefings in the immediate aftermath of the debacle where Trump wondered aloud if injecting household disinfectants might cure the virus. Trump has even jumped in front of the White House podium to physically prevent Fauci from answering questions that would require him to contradict Trump.

A White House spokesperson said today that the reason that Fauci would not be allowed to testify before the House subcommittee was that it would be "counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at Congressional hearings." But it's unlikely that Fauci can't spare the time. He has spent dozens and dozens of hours in the last few months standing silently behind Trump and other officials at the daily briefings.

It seems more likely that Trump is nervous about Fauci being required to give sworn testimony in a setting where he can't be simply pushed out of the way of a microphone when he's asked a potentially damning question about Trump's decisions. The House committee will be chaired by Democrats, but Fauci will be allowed to appear at a Senate panel where the questioning will be controlled by Trump's political allies.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to use public health experts as political props in the middle of a public health crisis.
  • Protecting the health and safety of the American people is more important than protecting Donald Trump.
  • No president has ever blocked a witness whose testimony would make them look good.