Editors’ Blog

Trump’s Plaything

“Watching what Trump has been able to do to our city just in the last few days makes me truly terrified about what the next six months could bring. We know how he reacts when he feels disrespected and powerless; will the District bear the brunt of his rage and need for dominance?” TPM Reader AL checks in from the District of Columbia …
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Trump Casts George Floyd Smiling From Heaven Because of Trump Recovery

There’s been some dispute about whether Trump cast murdered African-American civilian George Floyd as applauding from heaven about today’s job report or Trump’s success dominating cities and guaranteeing rights. He was riffing enough that both interpretations are possible. But I think Trump’s noting that today was a “great day” that Floyd was happy about was clearly a reference to the jobs report which was the subject of Trump’s appearance today.

Where Things Stand: Why Is Rand Paul Opposing An Anti-Lynching Bill?
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 12: U.S. Senator Rand Paul L (R-KY) listens to testimony during the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine COVID-19 and Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

There’s a lot to keep up with today, but I want to point you to this Politico writeup about the anti-lynching bill that was debated on the Senate floor yesterday.

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On Troop Movements in DC And the Rush for Trump Loyalty

Before we get too far into the day I want to review information that has come out about the situation in Washington, DC and the President’s attempt to militarize the city in response to protests near the White House. As I noted last night, all the National Guard troops in the city or en route appear to be from states with Republican governors: They come from Utah, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and Florida. What we learned yesterday is that the administration had been refused troops by governors in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.
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Community Goes Full Feral With Anti-Antifa Hysteria

We should have more on this shortly. But it seems we have another case where anti-Antifa hysteria led members of one community in Washington state to go full feral and create a harrowing Deliverance type situation for a multi-racial family from Spokane who was looking to go camping. While stopping off to purchase camping supplies at Forks Outfitters in Forks, Washington, the family was confronted by “seven or eight carloads” of people demanding to know if they were with Antifa. This appears to have been in response to widespread rumors fanned in right wing media that “antifa” was sending formations into suburbs to loot subdivisions and rural homes. After the family decided to flee, they were then pursued by two of the vehicles with passengers apparently carrying automatic weapons. Camping that night the family heard gunfire and power saws down the road from there campsite and decided to leave. But soon they found that that self-styled anti-Antifa warriors had trapped them by cutting down trees to block the only road they could leave by. Local Facebook pages were lit up with reports about the success against Antifa. A group of high schoolers rescued the family by clearing the trees and the local Sheriffs department is now investigating.

Late Update: Here’s Kate Riga’s full report.

Big Jobs News

Very unexpected jobs news this morning. According to the BLS report out this morning, the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May and the unemployment rate actually ticked down slightly to 13.3%. That’s of course mind-boggling high by any normal standard. But I don’t think anyone expected it to be falling. It’s hard to say what the consensus was but many were expecting that unemployment would at least briefly be over 20%.

Ominous Troop Movements

There’s a lot of troubling but clarifying information coming out tonight about the military deployments in Washington, DC. Reporting from the Times suggests what has seemed apparent by inference, which is that the White House and the Pentagon have spent recent days in a tug of war over the deployment of regular Army combat forces into DC. The Pentagon has resisted but President Trump has insisted, apparently wanting to keep them at least just outside the city as an ongoing sign of strength. This afternoon he appeared to finally relent and agree to allow them to return to their home bases.

There’s another dynamic I’ve noticed that has gotten little explicit attention.

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What Went Wrong?

TPM Reader TC chimes in from the world of medical research …

I’m a health researcher and deeply involved in similar work- aggregating data from large electronic health record databases. Many large medical centers care for ~1M patients per year, but even with all the COVID cases, one needs to aggregate ‘like with like’ data across multiple databases. There are standard informatics and statistical reasons to do this. So the overall methods are actually similar to several large national projects currently being stood up by NIH, CDC and PCORI, among others.

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Major, Major Scandal In Clinical Research

A few days ago I flagged that that big hydroxychloroquine study published in The Lancet was becoming a major and substantive controversy. The questions raised about it went well beyond critical questions of interpretation or how one structures a proper study or review to questions verging on accusations of fraud.

Today The Lancet officially retracted the study. This was followed a short time later by The New England Journal of Medicine retracting a separate study that was not about hydroxychloroquine but relied on data from the same company, Surgisphere.

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A.G. Sulzberger’s No Good, Very Bad Explanation For Tom Cotton’s Belligerent Op-Ed
speaks onstage during the 2018 New York Times Dealbook on November 1, 2018 in New York City.

Yesterday, amidst global protests about police brutality, the venerable New York Times published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) titled “Tom Cotton: Send In the Troops.”

“The nation must restore order,” the sub-headline read. “The military stands ready.”

This piece was met with visceral anger. The union representing New York Times staff, the NewsGuild, issued a statement that Cotton’s message “undermines the journalistic integrity of our members, puts Black staff members in danger, promotes hate, and is likely to encourage further violence.” Countless journalists tweeted “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger.”  Read More

Heightening the Trumpian Contradictions

One of the essential features of Trump and Trumpism is the way he has – both in his person and his movement ideology – managed to bring all the contradictions and controversies in our society furiously to a head. In a matter of days not weeks we have managed to skip from the intricacies of a public health crisis to racism and police violence to the state cornerstone of civilian-military relations and the rather essential question of whether the President is threatening some sort of distended military rule.

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Where Things Stand: McConnell’s Weak Jab
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

The Senate majority leader rarely straightens his spine to break with President Trump. And when he does, you can always expect push back about as stiff as a wet noodle.

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Big News, Bad News

Trump and Barr are patrolling DC with federal prison guards from the units trained to deal with prison riots and emergency situations in federal prisons. These appear to be at least some of the federal police who have been refusing to identify themselves on the streets of DC.

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Remarkable, Remarkable

Only a couple hours ago, the AP reported that the Pentagon was beginning to send regular Army troops deployed to DC back to their home bases. Now Secretary Esper has abruptly reversed that order. Seems very likely that the White House found out – quite possibly from the news report – and ordered Esper to reverse course.

Running for Cover

As I’ve said, living in history is about not knowing the future. We are in a very volatile, unpredictable, dangerous moment in the history of this administration and indeed the history of the country itself. The stunt in front of the White House on Monday is not wearing well. It has the feel of one of those gambits employed by an embattled strongman which does both too little and too much, exposes weakness while galvanizing opponents. In the brittle late 20th century states of Africa and Latin America these moments would rapidly force a decision to massacre demonstrators or start lining up a flight to the French Riviera or exile in Saudi.

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Where Things Stand: Voters Speak On Injustice
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2020/06/02: "I Voted! Did you?" Stickers for voters at City Hall during Indiana Primary Election Day.Primary Elections take place in Bloomington, Indiana after polls closed at Grandview Elementary School on Indiana Primary Election Day, June 2, 2020. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Protesters weren’t the only people demanding justice last night.

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Running for Cover

Notable article from Robert Kagan in the Post, noting how dictatorships grow out of broken democracies and how President Trump has already, with relatively little opposition, managed to suborn, corrupt and subordinate law enforcement as well as domestic and foreign intelligence to his own personal, political control. (This is what makes Bill Barr far and away the most corrupt Attorney General in American history.) The military is the one other “power ministry” (Kagan borrows the phrase most familiar from analysis of the Russian state) that has remained largely beyond this corruption. On that front, Monday’s spectacle and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs decision to parade around with Trump in his combat fatigues was a very bad sign.

For my part I have some slight optimism about how this is playing out. Because, as I noted last night, it seems clear this was so crude and transparent and overplayed that they now appear to be in what we might call the political equivalent of an exposed salient. And most of those how had a hand in it are now claiming they were out of the loop.

Rats Flee

All at once this evening it seemed every major publication with solid Pentagon reporters had a story with unnamed Pentagon officials saying in so many words, “It Wasn’t Me!” Non-involvement in politics has been part of US military indoctrination, especially for high ranking officers, for generations – or at least until recently. But these denials had less the sound of something that was wrong than something that was proving unpopular or indefensible. In most cases the officials calling up reporters seem to have been civilian appointees. But the precise identities are not clear. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sat for an interview with NBC News in which he claimed he was out of the loop about yesterday’s tear gas and photo op stunt. “I didn’t know where I was going … I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops.”

This has the feeling of a turning point.

Where Things Stand: Steve King’s Fate
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

There’s a lot to digest already this afternoon, but here’s a friendly reminder that while the nation is grappling with social and racial unrest, all while still in the very real throngs of a global pandemic, 2020 elections are still happening.

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Farce, Tragedy and Photo Op

As much as anything else, the spectacle yesterday afternoon in front of the White House was a deliberate set-up. It’s a not-unknown stock in trade for bad actors to invite press to one kind of purported event and switch to something more ghastly on camera, forcing the press to become complicit in what unfolds.

Yesterday was a version of that.

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A Few Videos from Trump’s Presser

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Crisis

A really dramatic, wild scene unfolding as I write. Maybe you will have watched it live on TV. The President was first scheduled to do live remarks at 6:15 PM. Then it was 6:30 PM. Protestors have been in Lafayette Park all day but entirely peaceful. Police and military personnel from various agencies just about exactly at 6:30 started pressing a confrontation with what had been for the day an entirely peaceful crowd. They then started firing tear gas and flash bangs. It is impossible to believe that this overlapping timing was not intentional and intended to create a law and order tableau for President Trump to enter into.

Tear gas, flash bangs, apparently rubber bullets and mounted police heading into the crowd. This all looks not just one way but made for TV. By design.

War on the Streets

A full recording of President Trump’s call with the nation’s governors has now been published. President Trump’s sometimes hysterical comments turn out not to be the most disturbing part. The Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and apparently also the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley are heard on the recording using language that presumes mounting warfare against demonstrators in American cities. “I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace,” Esper tells Governors, “the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal.” This is the language of mechanized warfare and he’s describing American cities.

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He’s No Richard Nixon

I’m always reluctant to criticize presidents for Secret Service protective measures. America has a successful and longstanding history of killing its presidents. More particularly, any president is hard-pressed to overrule his Secret Service detail. That’s not only because they’re protective professionals and he or she is not. But it’s a huge responsibility and second-guessing their actions only makes it harder. We can’t know just what thinking led the Secret Service to whisk the President into the White House’s underground bunker complex or turn off the lights at the White House. But the pregnant symbolism — whatever the underlying reality — matched what we’ve seen very immediately from the President himself. Much as he seemed to grow tired of the COVID epidemic he similarly seemed to lose interest in the wave of protests over the death of George Floyd or simply get bored. He spent the weekend first shifting gears to cleaning up the mess over his looting/shooting comments and then going to Florida to watch a space launch, which he said would be an emblem of his Presidency. Then he shifted back to more provocations and threats, including his nonsensical but inflammatory claim that he will declare “Antifa” a domestic terrorist organization.

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Where Things Stand: ‘Most Of You Are Weak’
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

The irony.

Speaking to governors and other state officials from the Oval Office just now, President Trump suggested that most of those governors on the call were “weak” and urged state leaders to crack down on violence as protests erupt across the nation following the death of George Floyd last week.

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Can New York City Really Reopen?

Mentioned last week that the big hole in any reopening plan for New York City, the most hard hit region in the United States, is the city’s bus and subway system, without which the city simply can’t function. The Times has a story today about just this question. It’s a fascinating discussion of the mix of questions, risks, challenges and opportunities that go into this question. But what struck me about the article is the general assumption in the writing of it that the issue is convincing residents to use the subways and public transit again rather than whether it’s actually safe to do so.

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Surveying the Whirlwind

In the last 48 hours I’ve struggled to make sense of the totality of what is unfolding across the country. Social media is at its best and its worst, fanatically zooming in on the worst incidents or the occasionally the most inspiring, making it all but impossible to make sense of the larger picture. Yet conventional journalism manages to do little better. I think this is because everything actually does seem to be happening at once: civil rights protestors protesting and sometimes escalating into riot; white supremacists acting as agents provocateurs to goad on their fantasies of race war; white left radicals doing the same to advance their own vision of liberatory social violence. And then you have the police. I have no doubt many, most police are doing their best to do their job in this moment. But the novel technology of smart phones is capturing and magnifying numerous incidents around the country in which police officers are caught acting less like a civilian constabulary working to protect the peace, lives and property than something more like another gang, with its own political agenda, sometimes turning not only on protestors with excessive force but on the civilian population itself.

At its best and its worst, the refrain of protest – that the discrimination and abuse is systemic – is vindicated inasmuch as good or at least middling people are drawn along with bad or destructive actions.

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“MAGA Loves the Black People”

Big Questions about Blockbuster Hydroxychloroquine Study

I had had a few TPM Readers send me emails questioning that big hydroxychloroquine study published by The Lancet, the one which purported to show dramatically higher mortality rates among patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine. But the links were to sites and sources I wasn’t familiar with. And the debates about hydroxychloroquine are so vexed and often conspiracy-theory-laden that I was cautious because the study was published in one of the world’s most respected medical journals.

But now it seems clear the questions about the study are real and being taken up by a range of researchers and clinicians around the world. Here’s one write up in The Guardian from Wednesday. And here’s another in the Times from yesterday.

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Violent Protests Could be a Gift to Trump
A protester carries the carries the U.S. flag upside, a sign of distress, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. Violent protests over the death of George Floyd, the black man who died in police custody broke out in Minneapolis for a third straight night. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was racial injustice at its worst. But the violent protests that it has sparked may have no good effect for those who have suffered from racial discrimination and, more broadly, for Americans who fear another four years of Donald Trump. A political scientist, Omar Wasow, cautiously makes the case in a New Yorker interview that these violent protests help law and order Republicans. I was actually around in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and have studied the political history of the times, and can attest to that fact. Read More

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