Monday, October 5, 2020


Weekend Roundup

Two things first: unlike recent weeks, I didn't start collecting links until Sunday afternoon, so this will (or at least should be) shorter than the last six or so record-breaking weeks; also, because I expect several major clusters, I'm going to try something new, and sort nearly everything by subject area (with a miscellaneous at the end, which will mostly hold topics until I decide they've reached critical mass). As a Table of Contents is handy for me, the topics this week are:

I basically stopped collecting links late Sunday night, but held up posting until well into Monday so I could write some introductory remarks. Music Week will also be postposed a day this week. While I wasn't working on Weekend Roundup last week, I made some progress toward a books post. I should finish that mid-week, and may also have a music poll list, and perhaps some answers to reader questions (could use more).


The Covid-19 Pandemic Crashes the White House

Late Thursday evening I was watching Borgen. Laura had gone upstairs, but came down and told me that Trump and Melania had tested positive for Covid-19. My first reaction was to feel sorry for them -- evidently there's still some merit to the old adage about not wishing some misfortunes on your worst enemy. That was followed by considerable unease about the fate of the world. Might his illness elicit a wave of sympathy? Or maybe just forgetting of the awful things he's done, let alone the hideous person he has shown himself to be? Or maybe he dies, and Pence reaps the sympathy vote, either as a blank slate or Trump's "better angel"? (Someone believed capable of delivering on the many promises Trump bungled?) Whatever else happens, it is more imperative than ever to vote for Joe Biden and Democrats down the ticket.

I decided then not to bother collecting this week's links until the dust settled down a bit. It soon turned out that Trump is still Trump, and Republicans are still Republicans. Laura spent the next few days watching Fox News, relishing how desperate they were wrap their brains around the news, looking to spin it into their usual propaganda, and coming up with very little. (I tried googling a phrase they used to suggest that people were laughing at Trump's misfortune, but couldn't find it -- perhaps remembering it wrong.)

My own sense of perspective was helped by watching Jimmy Kimmel on Friday night, who did a nice job of expressing concern for the Trumps' health while pointing out the context in which their illness was contracted and spread. When I finally started collecting the links below, I found many pieces highly critical of Trump's attitude as well as his handling of the pandemic, including ones which assigned a fair share of blame directly on Trump. I didn't find evidence of gloating or schadenfreude (although the latter was reportedly the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster Dictionary over the weekend).

Moments ago I heard Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) insisting that Covid-19 just isn't that dangerous, much as Trump himself has done. Today's Covid in the US death count is 209,690, with 7.4 million cases. Intelligencer has a pretty extensive news roll on Trump's Covid-19 case. The plan is to return him to the White House Monday evening, which may sound like he's out of the woods, but is not anything like you or me getting sent home from hospital.

Lest you think Trump might have learned something from the illness, here's his tweet:

I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

Assuming he doesn't relapse, he's promising to return even more dangerous than he's been so far.

Eliza Barclay: Trump's refusal to wear a face mask is a catastrophe.

Julia Belluz: Is Trump sicker than his doctors are saying? His treatment regimen raises questions. Isn't there an old joke about doctors examining your wallet before your body? The one clear thing is that the doctors are sparing no expense in treating Trump. What's less clear is whether all that attention, especially with the experimental treatments, will help him. But even if it does, don't expect to get the same care or attention. Health care is as inequal and unfair as any other aspect of America.

Philip Bump:

Isaac Chotiner: Maggie Haberman on the fallout from Trump's hospitalization. As you probably know, Haberman covers the White House for the New York Times.

Atul Gawande: Controlling the pandemic is the first step toward rescuing a failed system.

Susan B Glasser: "There is zero reason to panic": On Trump's coronavirus case and the shredded credibility of his White House: "A report from Day One after the President's diagnosis."

Fred Hiatt: Only the Trump team could spin this into even riskier messaging about the virus.

Umair Irfan: Trump was tested regularly for Covid-19. He wanted less testing for everyone else.

Jennifer Jacobs/Josh Wingrove: Trump kept regular schedule after learning close aide Hope Hicks had Covid.

Peter Kafka: Who will tell us the truth about Trump's health? "We know it won't be Trump."

Dhruv Khullar: How to understand Trump's evolving condition: "Day to day, the news can be confusing. But the treatment of COVID-19 has steps, phases, and milestones that can tells us a lot about how the President is doing." There's a lot here, but this paragraph caught my eye:

Because of the scary mortality statistics, the discussion of the President's illness has often had mortal stakes. The truth, though, is that there's a vast middle ground of survival, in which patients can beat the virus only to experience residual symptoms and, in some cases, ongoing physical or cognitive deficits. For many COVID-19 patients -- even those who never move beyond the first phase of the disease -- problems such as fatigue and shortness of breath can linger for weeks or months. The risks are much higher for those with severe illness, especially those who end up in the I.C.U. Some patients who recover from COVID-19 report fatigue, headaches, memory issues, and breathing and gastrointestinal problems for months after their initial symptoms. Surviving illness and returning to good health are not one and the same.

Jen Kirby: 3 of the world's most powerful Covid-19 deniers have gotten the virus: "Like Trump, at points in their tenure, the UK's Boris Johnson and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro both downplayed the virus."

German Lopez:

Amanda Marcotte: Trump has COVID-19: More evidence that he's always put his ego ahead of public health: "Relax -- Donny SuperSpreader can't benefit from catching a virus he has claimed affects 'virtually nobody.'"

Tina Nguyen: 'God-tier genetics': A stunned MAGA world offers blame, adulation after Trump's diagnosis.

Anna North: 10 facts about school reopenings in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Olivia Nuzzi/Ben Jacobs: The White House is spreading virus and lies.

Charles P Pierce: The chaos has to stop with the President's doctors: Reason I linked this is the photo. Evidently it takes 10 doctors (well, people in white lab coats) to give a confusing and probably misleading press conference on Trump's medical status.

Andrew Prokop: What happens if the president is too sick to do the job? "The 25th Amendment, explained."

Brian Resnick: Was the White House reception for Amy Coney Barrett a superspreading event?: "The event is at least a stark example of what not to do during a pandemic."

Brian Resnick/Julia Belluz: How the White House became a coronavirus breeding ground.

Benjamin Rosenberg: Everyone in the White House cluster who has said they tested positive for the coronavirus:

  • President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump
  • Hope Hicks, senior counselor to President Trump
  • Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary
  • Chad Gilmartin, McEnany's aide; at least one other McEnany aide
  • US Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah
  • US Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina
  • Kellyanne Conway, former senior White House counselor
  • Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager
  • Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor
  • Nicholas Luna, an assistant to President Trump
  • John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame
  • Three journalists from the White House press corps, according to the White House Correspondents Association
  • A White House press staffer, according to the correspondents' association

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel have also recently tested positive, although they did not appear to have close contact with White House officials last week.

Dylan Scott: While Trump gets the best health care in the world, he wants to eliminate coverage for millions: "Trump's positive coronavirus test underscores the stakes of his fight against Obamacare." I'm not so sure about "the best" but he's certainly getting the most expensive health care in the world.

Dylan Scott/Christina Animashaun: Covid-19's stunningly unequal death toll in America, in one chart. "Black Americans are dying at twice the rate of white Americans."

Dan Spinelli: Trump's doctor just admitted he lied to stay "upbeat." He's still leaving big questions unanswered.

Matt Stieb: The White House is failing to contact trace its own outbreak.

Peter Weber: The October Surprise nobody wanted.

Richard Wolfe: We should wish Trump well. But he's been astoundingly irresponsible at every turn. But isn't blaming people for the consequences of poor lifestyle choices something conservatives do?

Patricia Kelly Yeo: COVID-positive Trump ignores CDC advise to take joyride, with grim Secret Service agents in tow: "The president left Walter Reed's presidential suite in a motorcade to wave to supporters, potentially exposing several Secret Service agents to the coronavirus." And yes, there are pictures. Wasn't that the whole point? By the way, this is another instance of how Trump is getting special treatment. Who else sick enough to be in hospital would be allowed a temporary pass for a publicity appearance? More:

Matthew Yglesias: Trump has consistently mocked adherence to public health guidelines.

As recently as Tuesday's presidential debate, for example, Trump mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for his heavy mask usage, saying, "I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask," and that Biden "could be speaking 200 feet away" and then "shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen." . . .

The president from May to June to September has not only ignored public health guidelines by holding large campaign events, at which few people wear masks or socially distance; and he's gone out of his way to mock Biden for spending too much time "in his basement" adhering to the rules. Even the death of Herman Cain from Covid-19, which he contracted after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, did not alter the president's attitude.

The Trump-Biden Debate

The first debate between Trump and Biden was held on Tuesday, moderated by Chris Wallace. It was by all accounts a pretty ugly affair.

Vox (Matthew Yglesias, German Lopez, Alex Ward, Li Zhou, Zack Beauchamp): 3 winners and 4 losers from the 2020 presidential debate. Format rules evidently prevent them from scoring it 7-0 Biden, so they sorted it by issue: Winners: Cross-talk and malarkey; China; Speaking directly to the American people. Losers: The "Biden has dementia" theory; Racial justice; Chris Wallace; America's safety. Yglesias followed up with Exclusive poll: Biden won the debate convincingly.

Zack Beauchamp:

Fabiola Cineas: Trump was asked to denounce white supremacy. He wouldn't.

Jane Coaston: The Trump campaign spent months portraying Biden as senile. That might be a mistake.

Megan Day: Donald Trump endorsed right-wing violence during the debate.

Matt Ford: Trump never answered the debate's most important question: "Let there be no 'both-sidesing' of the primary cause of American anxiety."

Ben Jacobs: 'Just putrid': GOP insiders texted me their honest feelings about the debate.

Ed Kilgore: So how do the polls look after that hellscape of a debate?

Jen Kirby: Vote-by-mail is not full of fraud, despite Trump's debate claims.

Ezra Klein: Joe Biden's most surprising, and possibly important, answer of the debate: "Biden disavowed a lot of ambitious progressive policies on Tuesday. But there were two he refused to reject." He refused to commit on ending the Senate filibuster or "packing the Court," saying "Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue."

Robert Kuttner: Biden: Notes for next time.

Eric Levitz:

  • 5 reasons Joe Biden (probably) won the first debate. These don't sound to me like very reassuring reasons:

    1. Biden did not appear to be suffering from literal dementia.
    2. The president's strategy for winning over suburban moderates was, apparently, to align himself with the Proud Boys, threaten to disregard election results, and make obscure references to minor events from the Fox News Cinematic Universe.
    3. Trump lost the "law and order" argument.
    4. Trump delivered Biden's populist, class resentment message for him.
    5. A tie goes to the guy who's winning by 7 points.
  • Even Trump's base found his debate performance off-putting.

  • 3 reasons catching coronavirus could be bad for Trump politically:

    1. The president's ailment is likely to heighten the salience of an issue Biden owns.
    2. Making Joe Biden's gaffes, or son, or "socialism" into a top news story before Election Day just got a lot harder
    3. There is little reason to believe Trump will enjoy a "sympathy surge."

German Lopez: The reviews are in: The first presidential debate was a disaster.

Steve M: After the debate, right-wingers are clapping louder.

Harold Meyerson: Four more years of this jerk? "Trump does his re-election campaign no favors."

John Nichols: Joe Biden should propose a $75 tax credit tonight -- then drop the mic: This is the week's dumbest piece of debate advice. Why $750? Just so Trump can reduce his tax burden to $0? While a lot of people could use a tax credit, pegging it to a number that Trump somehow hit on twice is meaningless outside of a few twitter circles. And drop the mic? Who even knows what that means? QED is more recognizable. Plus having a 77-year-old drop a microphone may suggest something other than a definitive dis.

Ella Nilsen: Joe Biden smashed his single-hour fundraising record after the first presidential debate.

Frank Rich: Should the first presidential debate also be the last?

Aaron Rupar: 3 debate moments that showed how unsuited Trump is for the presidency: "Don't let Trump's debate bullying distract you from his ignorance and malevolence."

Dylan Scott: If Trump wins, 20 million people could lose health insurance. If Biden wins, 25 million could gain it. "The enormous stakes for Americans' health insurance in the 2020 election, explained."

Alex Shephard: The right is blaming Chris Wallace for Trump's terrible debate performance.

Kristin Urquiza: I saw in the front row at the debate. Did Trump infect me with the coronavirus?

Steven Waldman: Actually, it was a good debate. Seriously.

Debates should help voters make their decisions. This one provided a deluge of useful information.

Journalists are sometimes criticized for not 'nailing' the subjects that they interview. That misunderstands the journalist's role. The job is often to reveal not rebut. If I'm really honest, I have to admit that when I do interviews, especially for print publications, I will intentionally let subjects continue to say stupid or offensive things, without challenge -- because that is far more revealing than if I pointed out their stupidity and thereby prompted them to clarify.

I feel the same way about debates. The point is not to catch the candidates; it's to reveal them. In that sense, this was the best debate in modern American history.

Other Aspects of the Campaign and Elections

Most of this week's campaign stories were tied to topics above, but a few slipped into this section, as did the dystopian speculation about election shenanigans and what happens as and after the ballots are counted. I've generally been avoiding stories on polling, also on down-ballot races (even the very important battle over the Senate). I did flag one piece on the Kansas senatorial race, because it's rare a local race from my home state gets national attention. It also looks like the Senate races in Georgia and South Carolina are tightening up. Also included the bizarre Brad Parscale story here. I'm surprised there's not much more on it, as it suggests unplumbed depths of dementia and violence in the campaign. Also note that Parscale's replacement as head of the Trump campaign, Bill Stepien, is on the list of White House Covid-19 victims. Trump will have no shortage of people to blame for losing this year.

Jane Coaston: The Proud Boys, explained: "The far-right street fighting group has embraced violence -- and Donald Trump." More on Proud Boys:

Eric Cortellessa: Republicans are slowing down mailed-in vote counts in key swing states.

David Dayen: The winter of our discontent: "Projecting the 78 harrowing days after the election: "This is a horror story."

Shirin Ghaffary: Democratic Party leaders are "banging their head against the wall" after private meetings with Facebook on election misinformation.

Constance Grady: The bizarrely aggressive rhetoric of Trump's fundraising emails, explained: "Rhetoric scholars explain why Trump's campaign emails feel like someone is yelling at you."

But Trump emails are unusual in just how aggressive and bullying they are to their recipients, to the point that they've been called out as such by both the left and the right. There's an entire Twitter account devoted to documenting their extravagancies, and scrolling through them is roughly analogous to the experience of having someone scream, "Why haven't you paid the money yet, you jerk?" in your face at top volume for 10 minutes at a time.

"I want to know who stood with me when it mattered most, so I've asked my team to send me a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to this email," warns one email signed by Trump that went out after the first presidential debate Tuesday night. "I need you right now. You stood by my side throughout the 2016 Election, and I need to know you'll be by my side once again in November."

Charlotte Klein: Texas Governor orders ballot drop-off locations closed across state.

Nancy LeTourneau: This woman could be the first Democratic Senator from Kansas since 1932. She means 1938: Democrat George McGill was elected to finish a term in 1930, then re-elected to a full term in 1932. Barbara Bollier is running for an open seat being vacated by Pat Roberts, who nearly lost to an independent six years ago. She's an ex-Republican, which plays well in Kansas, a woman (Nancy Kassebaum won three Senate terms), has quite a bit of money, and is running against Roger Marshall (like Roberts, an agribusiness shill from Western Kansas).

Aaron Rupar:

Walter Shapiro: Biden should be worried: "Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis has scrambled the presidential race irrevocably." Everyone's worried, but the spread between Trump's best-ever and worst-ever days is about four points, so the main thing Biden has to be worried about is doing something stupid, and even then we're talking about doing something stupider than Trump has already done.

Gabriel Sherman: "The family is worried Brad will start talking": Trumpworld panics over debate fiasco as campaign turmoil mounts: Any other week this story would have been huge, as Trump's digital guru and recently deposed campaign manager staged a public meltdown, threatening to kill himself, before he was subdued and carted off by police.

As the Times story lit up cable news and Twitter, news broke that Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale had been taken into custody outside his Ft. Lauderdale home and hospitalized after threatening to commit suicide and allegedly beating his wife days prior. Police body camera footage showing an officer brutally tackling a shirtless, 6'8" Parscale to the pavement instantly became a visual metaphor for the chaos engulfing the Trump campaign. One campaign adviser I spoke with was shocked by the amount of force the police used to subdue and cuff Parscale. "If Brad had been Black, there would be riots all over the country," the source said. (In fact, police have killed unarmed Black men in far less hostile situations.)

Parscale's public meltdown happened while he is reportedly under investigation for stealing from the Trump campaign and the RNC. According to the source close to the campaign, the Trump family is worried that Parscale could turn on them and cooperate with law enforcement about possible campaign finance violations. "The family is worried Brad will start talking," the source said.

More on Parscale:

Nate Silver: Trump's chances are dwindling. That could make him dangerous.

Kelly Well: Trump's crew of far-right vigilante poll watchers is coming.

Still More on Donald Trump and Family

Last week's big New York Times exposť on The President's taxes continued to produce revelations and reaction. "Lock him up" may not yet be a campaign chant, but is on the minds of more than a few prosecutors.

Helena Bottemiller Evich: Trump requires food aid boxes to come with a letter from him: "'In my 30 years of doing this work, I've never seen something this egregious,' one food bank director said."

Molly Jong-Fast: Donald Junior's Hunter Biden obsession is creepy, and telling.

Dylan Matthews: Here's how much you had to make in 2017 to pay more income tax than Donald Trump.

Casey Michel: Ivanka Trump's starring role in her father's financial troubles: "If the president's tax shenanigans land him afoul of the law, the first daughter could go down with him."

Anna North: The Melania tapes bust the "Free Melania" myth: "Turns out the first lady is a lot like her husband."

Andrew Prokop:

Luke Savage: Attacking Trump as a "fake billionaire" is a dead end: "The real scandal isn't that Donald Trump is secretly poor -- it's that our system let such an obvious fraud get so rich."

Matthew Yglesias: Trump could be in a lot of legal hot water if he loses the election: "The presidency shields him from charges of tax fraud, campaign finance violations, obstruction, and more." Details a long list of just the most obvious potential charges and liabilities, concluding:

This is all relevant context to the president's various musings about how a "ballot scam" may give him reason to refuse to concede defeat in November. Nobody likes to lose. But Trump has reasons that go far beyond pride, bad manners, or even lust for power.

Supreme Court, and Other Injustices

Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is still up in the air, as Republicans in the Senate plot to confirm her before the election. Although the biggest twist this week was that a promotional meet and greet for her looms large in the White House Covid-19 cluster outbreak. Also a few other stories relating to justice and not.

Erwin Chemerinsky: The Court: How did we get here and what will it mean?

Fabiola Cineas: Kentucky AG releases Breonna Taylor grand jury audio recordings. More on Breonna Taylor:

Eleanor Clift: Donald Trump might lose, but his judges will keep wrecking America for years to come.

Adam Cole: The Supreme Court is about to hit an undemocratic milestone. The US Senate accords two votes per state, regardless of population, so it is possible to form a majority of Senators who represent only a minority of the population. Indeed, four Supreme Court justices have been confirmed by minority-vote Senators (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh). If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will probably be the fifth.

Patrick Radden Keefe: The Sackler family's plan to keep its billions: "The Trump administration is poised to make a settlement with Purdue Pharma that it can claim as a victory for opioid victims. But the proposed outcome would heave the company's owners enormously wealthy -- and off the hook for good."

Dahlia Lithwick: The deranged, dangerous push to still seat Amy Coney Barrett: "For the GOP, entrenching minority rule is more important than human life."

Ian Millhiser:

Ella Nilsen: Amy Coney Barrett's Judiciary Committee hearing is still on, despite the Senate recess.

David Sirota: The US Supreme Court may soon become plutocracy's greatest defender. Isn't it already? Not that it's needed as long as Trump is president and McConnell runs the Senate.

Paul Starr: How to rebalance the Supreme Court.

The Economy

Meanwhile, the economy churns, as some people return to work, but others are getting laid off -- especially as the earlier stimulus program job protections have expired. There appears to have been a little progress toward a compromise on a new relief bill, but now that the stock market has recovered, that's not much of a priority for Senate Republicans.

Josh Barro: What the disappointing final jobs report before the election tells us about the economy.

Timothy Noah: Trump's "greatest recovery in history" is wheezing out.

Emily Stewart:

  • The K-shaped economic recovery, explained.

    Basically, wealthier people and those with white-collar jobs are doing fairly well during this -- their jobs are sticking around, they're cutting some spending, and life is generally fine. Stockholders' wealth is even going up.

    But for less well-off Americans and people who have lost their jobs, it's different. The stock market isn't helping them, and for those who are unemployed, expanded unemployment benefits dried up at the end of July. With Congress not in a particular hurry to provide fiscal support, that means a drag on the economy.

  • The false hope of reopening is killing small businesses. Restaurants have been especially hard hit. For example, in the news today: Brookville Hotel to close its doors for good. The Martin family has owned the famous fried chicken restaurant for 125 years. It was already a big deal when I first went there as a child. The one year I didn't cook birthday dinner we drove 100 miles each way to eat there. We didn't go often, and haven't considered it in several years, but it was always a treat, and always full up.

Miscellaneous

Umair Irfan: Why we're more confident than ever that climate change is driving disasters.

German Lopez:

Jane Mayer: The secret history of Kimberly Guilfoyle's departure from fox.

JC Pan: Our plutocratic tax system was built for rich cheaters: "The Times exposť was a blunt articulation of how things work for people like Trump -- and against everyone else."

Kaila Philo: Noam Chomsky does not think the planet is doomed (yet). Interview, on a new book Chomsky co-wrote with Robert Pollin: Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal.

Kelsey Piper: Extreme poverty is getting worse across the globe for the first time in decades.