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.
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.
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.
One of the most pressing questions about the COVID epidemic is why some places are doing so much better than others. This applies both globally and within the United States. One example that gets raised a lot is why is New York State doing so relatively well while states in the South and Southwest are being hit so hard?
We need to start the conversation saying a) We don’t completely know and B) There are clearly multiple factors. But let me share some thoughts with you on one part of this debate.
While I still cringe that I see people in New York City not wearing masks, the truth is mask wearing is near universal in New York City. My sense is that aggressive mitigation efforts, both pressed by state authorities and embraced by the population, is the main reason why New York has at least to date avoided a second wave of infection. The last time New York’s case positivity rate went over 2% was June 2nd.
The Jacksonville GOP convention flop is a microcosm of the administration’s failed COVID response. Months ago Democratic leaders saw the writing on the wall – the impossibility of holding a mass, packed indoor event during a pandemic – and essentially cancelled the 2020 convention in favor of an online affair. The President and many others at his lead portrayed this and messaged it as an example of the Democratic girlyman-ism which makes it so critical to keep Trump and Republicans in power.
TPM Reader JV reminds us of this 2014 letter from the Department of Justice to the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department which touches on the issue of officer identification.
Officers wearing name plates while in uniform is a basic component of transparency and accountability. It is a near-universal requirement of sound policing practices and required under some state laws. Allowing officers to remain anonymous when they interact with the public contributes to mistrust and undermines accountability. The failure to wear name plates conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity. Further, the lack ofname plates makes it difficult or impossible for members of the public to identify officers if they engage in.misconduct, or for police departments to hold them accountable.
From an article in the Times we learn today that President Trump importuned his Ambassador to the United Kingdom to get the UK government to hold the British Open at his struggling Golf Resort in Turnberry, Scotland. It is hardly the worst act of corruption or criminality by this President or those who work for him over the last three and a half years. It is most notable for the sheer casual brazenness of the President’s corruption and the fact that we are only hearing about it two and a half years later. It wasn’t a secret. Numerous diplomatic staffers at the US Embassy knew about it. It was reported back to State Department. It was apparently part of an Inspector General’s review that has never been released.