The State of Things

Trying to summarize the news seems to get harder every time I sit down to try. To begin, I must acknowledge my great sorrow that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice of the Supreme Court, died September 18, 2020.  Her death set members of the GOP in an ecstatic race to nominate and confirm a justice to replace her barely more than a month before the election, even though the same GOP senators[i] refused to allow hearings of a supreme court justice nominated by President Obama 8 months before the election in 2016.

On September 26[ii], Trump hosted a large gathering at the White House to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, where there was little social distancing, scant mask usage and even a portion of the event indoors. On September 29, Trump traveled to Cleveland for the presidential debate, where he mocked Biden for wearing a mask.

Trump revealed on Friday, Oct. 2 that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent three days in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He arrived and left by helicopter. And he received multiple coronavirus tests, oxygen, steroids and an experimental antibody treatment, the best medicines and therapies that taxpayer money can buy and at no cost to himself. He received a standard of care which no average American could hope to receive[iii]. He pressured his doctors to release him the hospital a few days later and has praised the high quality of care he received, and has played down the risk of the virus. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Oct 5, before returning to the White House. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”[iv] 

Just hours after his press secretary and two more aides tested positive, making the White House the leading coronavirus hot spot in the nation’s capital, Mr. Trump again dismissed the pandemic that has killed 210,000 people in the United States. These were only the latest ways Mr. Trump has undermined public health experts[v] trying to persuade Americans to take the pandemic seriously. Even afflicted by the disease himself, the president who has wrongly predicted that it would simply disappear appeared unchastened as he pressed America to reopen and made no effort to promote precautions.

And even though he hasn’t completed the 10 day quarantine that the C.D.C recommends to avoid spreading the infection to others, Trump is determined to go out campaigning[vi], potentially spreading the virus everywhere he goes. The White House physician has not released results of Mr. Trump’s most recent test, which he says he took on Friday, though the president said on Sunday that he had tested “totally negative.” That may not be enough time to protect people Mr. Trump comes in contact with.

The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 37,908,600 people, according to official counts. As of Oct 13, at least 1,081,800 people have died, and the virus has been detected in nearly every country[vii]. The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases around the world has accelerated in the past week and is consistently exceeding 300,000 per day for the first time.[viii]

Cases worldwide leveled off in April after social distancing measures were put in place in many of the areas with early outbreaks. But as countries began to reopen in May and June, the United States was unable to contain a resurgence of the disease, making it one of the main drivers of rising case numbers around the world. Many South American countries are also experiencing high rates of infection, with Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Peru reporting large numbers of cases every day. And European countries that had severe early outbreaks are seeing a second rise in cases.vii The number of known coronavirus cases in the United States continues to grow. As of Tuesday afternoon, at least 7,852,500 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories, have tested positive for the virus, according to a New York Times database, and at least 215,100 patients with the virus have died. vii

Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated insistence that COVID-19 is largely a blue state problem, cases are surging in red states just before the election. “Twenty-two states are currently seeing increases in cases, including in the Midwest, the Great Plains and parts of the South. The biggest spikes in new cases have been in North and South Dakota (scene of the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August), Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma and Iowa— all of which voted for Trump in 2016. Among those states, Trump is particularly vulnerable in Iowa and Wisconsin in this year’s election. Cases nationwide, which have generally been down from July, are now again ticking upward. The country tallied a troubling 55,000 infections in a single day Friday — the biggest 24-hour jump in more than a month.”[ix]

In other news, law enforcement officials charged 13 men, affiliated with a Michigan anti-government group, with a violent plot that included storming the Michigan State Capitol and kidnapping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer[x].  Conservative groups have criticized Whitmer for her attempts to control the coronavirus by restricting normal activities. In April, President Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” The Detroit News reported that some of the plot’s conspirators met during a Second Amendment rally at the Michigan State Capitol in June.

These arrests are the latest evidence that a small but meaningful number of Americans believe that violence is the only answer to the country’s political divisions [xi] Three years ago, the polling firm YouGov asked Americans whether they thought it could ever be justified for their political party to use violence to advance its goals. The overwhelming response was no. Only 8 percent of people said anything other than “never.” This year, YouGov asked the same question — and the share saying that political violence could be somewhat justified roughly doubled. The increase spanned both Democratic and Republican respondents. It’s important to note that the problem is bipartisan — and also that it is not equally bad on both sides: The American right today has a bigger violence problem than the American left. Of the 42 killings by political extremists last year, right-wing extremists committed 38, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Since May, more than 50 people have driven vehicles into peaceful protesters Xi Armed protesters shut down the Michigan legislature in May. Armed groups on the left and right have done battle in Oregon and Wisconsin.

White supremacist extremists are the deadliest domestic terror threat to the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security[xii]‘s first annual homeland threat assessment, which details a range of threats from election interference to unprecedented storms. Since 2018, White supremacists have conducted more lethal attacks in the US than any other domestic extremist movement, demonstrating a “longstanding intent” to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, politicians and those they believe promote multi-culturalism and globalization, according to the report.

Political violence in democracies often seems spontaneous: an angry mob launching a pogrom, a lone shooter assassinating a president,” Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently wrote in The Washington Post. “But in fact, the crisis has usually been building for years.” She added, “This is where America is now.”

Trump, for his part, has encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies and has often refused to condemn violent white-supremacist groups, including during the presidential debate Sept 29. Whitmer, speaking after the arrests yesterday, cited that debate: “Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action,” she said.

For perspective on the economy, here’s a column from Paul Krugman, called Trump Is Killing the Economy Out of Spite[xiii]: “Trump’s vindictiveness has become a major worry as the election approaches. He has already signaled that he won’t accept the result if he loses, which seems increasingly likely though not certain. Nobody knows what chaos, possibly including violence, he may unleash if the election doesn’t go his way. Even aside from that concern, however, a defeated Trump would still be president for two and a half months. Would he spend that time acting destructively, in effect taking revenge on America for rejecting him? Well, we got a preview of what a lame-duck Trump presidency might look like on Oct 6. Trump hasn’t even lost yet, but he abruptly cut off talks on an economic relief package millions of Americans desperately need. And his motivation seems to have been sheer spite.

Why do we need economic relief? Despite several months of large employment gains, America has only partly recovered from horrific job losses in the early months of the pandemic — and the pace of recovery has slowed to a relative crawl. All indications are that the economy will remain weak for many months, maybe even years. Given this grim reality, the federal government should still be providing the kind of relief it offered in the first few months of the crisis: generous aid to the unemployed and loans that help keep small businesses afloat. Otherwise we’ll soon be seeing millions of families unable to pay their rent, hundreds of thousands of businesses going under.

In addition, state and local governments — which, unlike the federal government, are generally required to balance their budgets — are in desperate fiscal straits, because the pandemic slump has drastically reduced their revenues. They need a lot of aid, soon, or they will be forced into deep cuts in employment and services. We’ve already lost around 900,000 jobs in state and local education. So there’s an overwhelming humanitarian case for major spending on relief: Unless the federal government steps in, there will be huge unnecessary suffering. There’s also a macroeconomic case: If families are forced to slash consumption, if businesses are forced to close and if state and local governments are forced into extreme spending cuts, the economy’s growth will slow and we might even slide back into recession. Warnings about the dangers of failing to provide more relief aren’t just coming from progressive Democrats; they’re coming from Wall Street analysts and Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The question is, why did Trump choose to reject even the possibility of a deal less than a month before Election Day? Surely be in Trump’s political interest to at least look as if he’s trying to help Americans in distress. As far as I can tell, nobody has offered a plausible political motive, any way in which refusing even to try rescuing the economy helps Trump’s prospects. What this looks like, instead, is vindictiveness. If he’s behaving like this now, when he still has some chance of winning, how will he act if he loses? Trump has always been vindictive; what will he do if and when he has nothing left but spite?

[i] Hypocrisy accusations fly over confirmation debate after death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Bill Hutchinson. September 24, 2020.

[ii] The Complete Trump Covid-19 Timeline: What We Know About The President’s Diagnosis—And What We Don’t. Rachel Sandler. Oct 9, 2020.

[iii] Most Patients’ Covid-19 Care Looks Nothing Like Trump’s. Julie Bosman, Sarah Mervosh, Amy Harmon, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. Oct. 8, 2020.

[iv] How Much Would Trump’s Coronavirus Treatment Cost Most Americans? Sarah Kliff. Oct. 7, 2020.

[v] Trump Leaves Hospital, Minimizing Virus and Urging Americans ‘Don’t Let It Dominate Your Lives’. Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. Oct. 7, 2020.

[vi] As Trump returns to campaigning, his aides preview a final sprint. Annie Karni. Oct. 13, 2020.

[vii] Covid World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak. The New York Times.  October 13, 2020.

[viii] Making Sense of Sweden And what else you need to know today. David Leonhardt. Oct 12, 2020.

[ix] COVID-19 Surging In Red States Just Weeks Before Election. Mary Papenfuss. Sep 28, 2020.

[x] F.B.I. Says Michigan Anti-Government Group Plotted to Kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Shaila Dewan and Kathleen Gray. Oct. 8, 2020.

[xi] Domestic Terrorism And what else you need to know today. David Leonhardt. Oct. 9, 2020.

[xii] White supremacists remain deadliest US terror threat, Homeland Security report says. Geneva Sands.  October 6, 2020.

[xiii] Paul Krugman. Oct. 8, 2020.  Trump Is Killing the Economy Out of Spite.

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