This week I (virtually) sat down for a fascinating conversation with Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the US Navy War College but likely more known to many of you as a leading anti-Trump conservative voice on Twitter and the cable networks. He’s also an advisor to The Lincoln Project, that outfit of defrocked and lapsed Republican activists and consultants producing slashing ads against not only President Trump but almost every Republican Senator up for reelection in 2020. We talked about everything from US nuclear policy to President Trump to why he believes the current institutional Republican party needs to be burned to the ground before a responsible center-right party of government can possible emerge in its place. You can watch our conversation after the jump if you’re a member.
After a lockdown hiatus we have restarted our TPM Inside Briefings and we’re going to be experimenting with ways to bring the best of them to all our members. In this case we are making available the entire interview.
There’s a strong temptation, maybe a reflex, to be frightened and outraged by the President’s floating the idea of delaying the November election. But the only appropriate response is mockery and ridicule of the President’s weakness and corruption. As a factual and procedural matter, none of this is in the President’s control. In practice, no one can change the date of the election. In theory, Congress could do it. But good luck getting Nancy Pelosi to sign on to that. Even beyond this, it is a case where the ramshackle and decentralized process of American elections works in the favor of democracy. There is no national election. States hold elections. Nothing and no one can stop California, New York, Illinois and Virginia from holding their elections and rendering electors to the electoral college meeting in December.
But the bigger issue, the deeper issue here isn’t factual. It’s characterological.
There was a lot going on this morning.
This is a kind of post I seldom do. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever done one. I have a special 20% discount offer for TPM Readers to subscribe to a new niche publication on hate groups and extremism called The Informant, created and edited by TPM Alum Nick Martin. To start with, the publication has no financial relationship to TPM. I’m not being paid to write this. Neither is TPM. I’m sharing this with you because a) I think The Informant is an important project which I really want to see succeed and b) I think many of you will be interested in becoming readers and subscribers.
I mentioned yesterday that many Americans have difficulty grasping the full measure of our national failure to combat COVID. People think we’re behind without realizing we’re orders of magnitude behind. People come to think catastrophe feels normal without grasping that in most other countries with a similar set of tools to the United States things really are close to normal. In a similar way even the President’s most ardent opponents are unable to see the extremity of the behavior, the bizarreness, the consistent revolt against the demands of the office, the aggressive betrayals.
Much as abuse victims don’t fully grasp the extent of their victimization before escaping their abusers, there are aspects of this dark era we’ll only see clearly in retrospect.
The virus is obviously invisible — increasingly, we’re learning that it spreads through tiny particles in the air, the now-infamous “droplets.”
But it’s wild to think that we may have watched as some of those droplets made their way into the halls of Congress yesterday.
You’ve likely seen reports of new flare-ups or surges or outbreaks of COVID around the world in countries that appeared to have been ‘doing well’ – Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, et al. These are real outbreaks and the countries are, unsurprisingly, reacting swiftly to stamp them out. But how these stories are received in the United States painfully illustrates our collective inability to grasp the sheer magnitude of our failure with COVID.
Let me give you one example.
Here is a graph that provides important perspective on the current outbreaks in the South and Southwest compared to the COVID outbreak in the New York City metropolitan region in March and April.
This graph shows daily fatality numbers in New York, Florida, Texas and Arizona on a per capita basis (fatalities per million residents) expressed as a seven day moving average. These are statewide numbers for New York. But it’s overwhelmingly the New York City metropolitan area. As you can see, that outbreak still totally dwarfs what is currently happening in any of the other three states. Arizona is substantially worse than Texas or Florida. But the state’s apparent peak is still only slightly more than a quarter of the daily death toll New York saw in early April.
When I decided this month’s reading list would be centered around the idea of beach reads I could not have foreseen the number of cooking memoirs my coworkers would suggest. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be too surprised given the number of recipe swaps that take place among TPM staff and the fact that we have a Slack channel simply entitled “food.”
Now I’m hungry.