Never mind. That convention in Jacksonville, Florida? The months of sowing doubt about masks? The prediction that the coronavirus would just disappear?
All of these were swept aside this week by President Donald Trump, as he began reacting to polls showing public disapproval of his handling of the coronavirus crisis, suggesting that he could lose the election that is about 100 days away.
The president who planned to gain another four years in the White House on the strength of a booming economy has watched the pandemic blow it up. The quick recovery he hoped to tout at mass rallies around the country has been jeopardized by the fast-spreading virus (and so have the rallies).
As a result, Trump has been trying out three other campaign themes: pledging “law and order” in cities that are seeing Black Lives Matter protests; warning that fair housing regulations would “destroy the beautiful suburbs” and bragging about his performance on a cognitive test that he challenged his rival Joe Biden to take.
Trump’s turnaround on masks was particularly notable. “If he’s now behind wearing a mask and that encourages voters to wear them in states like Texas, Florida and Georgia, where the virus is spiking, this is very, very good news for the rest of us,” wrote S.E. Cupp. “Because he was ultimately responsible for turning mask-wearing into a culture war, and one of the dumbest, counterproductive, downright embarrassing ones of our lifetimes, he’s ultimately the only one who can break that fever and knock some sense back into the mask-refusers.”
Trump brought back the afternoon coronavirus briefings this week but without medical experts like Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. The first briefing, on Tuesday, prompted Frida Ghitis to ask, “Who was that man speaking at the White House podium, and what did he do to President Donald Trump? I’m just kidding, of course.” Ghitis said the man we saw in the briefing room was “Candidate Trump, terrified that his approval ratings are collapsing” and fearing that he could face “a humiliating defeat in November.”
It may be too late, wrote former ABC News president Ben Sherwood. Only about a third of Americans say they have considerable trust in what Trump says, “a product of his many months of delay, denial and dissembling.” But if the President can’t provide that assurance, Sherwood wrote, the only way to get out of the coronavirus crisis is to trust in others such as Fauci.
“If citizens are going to follow public health guidelines, they’ll need to trust that government decisions are unbiased and fact-based. If we’re going to send our kids back to school, there’s a chain of people we’ll have to trust. And imagine the chain of labs and regulatory agencies and manufacturers and distributors and scientists involved in a vaccine. That will require a quantum leap of trust.”
Whether to reopen schools has emerged as one of the most consequential and controversial choices facing America. Dr. Lee Beers, the incoming president of the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote that “particularly for our younger learners, weeks — or months — out of school can have long-lasting implications for their education. Online classes are not an equivalent substitute for many.”
Still, she argued for greatly increased resources to make sure schools are reopened safely – and pushed back at Trump’s threat to stop funding schools that do not reopen in-person classes this fall. “When public health expertise is reframed to fit political interests, it harms those who have the most at stake and the least opportunity to advocate for themselves: children.”
On Thursday, the President canceled the Republican National Convention festivities in Jacksonville – a big blow to Trump, wrote Julian Zelizer.
“Trump has desperately wanted to make sure that Republicans can convene a grand convention on the scale of what other incumbents have enjoyed in the past. He thirsts for a celebration of his term and the public confirmation that he is as successful as he says.” But the President is discovering, like everyone else, that reverting back to pre-pandemic life just isn’t possible – not yet.
Marc Thiessen, writing in the Washington Post, saw a merchandising opportunity for Trump’s campaign. “If Trump really wants to convince his supporters to start wearing masks, the best way to do so is to start distributing MAGA masks,” he wrote. “If Trump supporters really want to show their defiance of the establishment, they shouldn’t go mask-less. Wear a MAGA mask. It will drive the left crazy.”
Trump’s cognitive test
President Trump’s boast about acing the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test flummoxed the experts. Psychologist Peggy Drexler wrote that passing the test, “which includes such tasks as identifying animals and drawing a clock, determines nothing other than that the taker is not suffering from mild cognitive dysfunction. … It takes ten minutes and is not meant to be hard – unless, that is, you have dementia.”
She added, “it’s unlikely there’s any standardized test that will offer definitive proof that Trump is fit to serve as leader of the free world. That’s up to Trump himself to prove. By my measures and, it would seem, by those of many Americans, he’s failing – spectacularly.”
While Trump is citing the test to spread doubts about Joe Biden’s mental acuity, one viral ad from the Lincoln Project turns that kind of attack back on him, with the narrator saying, “Something’s wrong with Donald Trump” and showing him using two hands to drink from a water glass in his West Point speech. The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans who are backing Biden, “has vaulted into the center of this presidential election through a barrage of the best campaign ads in the 2020 race,” wrote Lincoln Mitchell.
President Trump startled some observers at his Tuesday briefing when he was asked about the prosecution of an alleged accomplice of Jeffrey Epstein and wound up saying of Ghislaine Maxwell, “I just wish her well, frankly.” Legal analyst Elie Honig wrote that “heads would have exploded,” if any other President had said as much when “asked about a case brought by his own Justice Department alleging that a defendant had committed serial child molestation.”
It’s impossible to know for sure “what motivated Trump’s outlandish public display,” Honig noted. “But he has previously expressed sympathy publicly for his personal friends who ended up as criminal defendants. The key now is to pay extra attention to make sure that this case doesn’t end up short-circuited, like those before it.”
Rep. Ted Yoho’s sparring on the Capitol steps with his fellow member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, backfired in a big way. The Florida Republican was heard by a reporter using obscenities about the congresswoman from New York as he walked away after their exchange.
Without admitting he used those words, Yoho made an apology of sorts on the House floor. But that left AOC an opening for a devastatingly effective reply, wrote Kara Alaimo. Ocasio-Cortez “broke down Yoho’s protestations that he is a family man with a wife and two daughters by turning that well-worn defense on its head,” Alaimo noted.
Ocasio-Cortez said, “I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter.”
Alaimo concluded, “by refusing to accept either the insult or Yoho’s half-hearted apology, Ocasio-Cortez issued a badly-needed defense not just of herself, but of all women who seek power.”
VP pick nears
Sometime in the next several weeks, Joe Biden will make what is likely to be the biggest decision of his campaign: his vice-presidential pick. He offered a little more information about his search this week when he said that four Black women were among those being vetted.
In 2008, David Axelrod was part of the team that chose Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate. There are many factors Biden is likely considering in making the choice, wrote Axelrod. But there is one will likely be foremost: “facing the prospect of taking office in the midst of crises even more daunting than those that confronted Obama in 2009, my guess is that Biden will be seeking a partner who can … help him not only win an election but govern in what promises to be a whirlwind.”
Often such picks don’t significantly influence voters’ decisions, but history shows that some of the choices have turned out exceptionally well – while others have bombed. Read historian Thomas Balcerski’s ranking of the three best and three worst picks.
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Portland and Chicago
“The President and his administration began setting conditions for a political theater road show many weeks ago,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. “Attorney General William Barr used tear gas, horses, and batons to clear Lafayette Square, a park across from the White House where protesters had gathered.” More recently, with deployment of federal officers to US cities, Barr and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf “helped create images that matched Trump’s obvious desire to be perceived as, “Your President of law and order.”
Benjamin Haas pointed out that “videos show law enforcement officers from the Department of Homeland Security plucking protesters from the streets of Portland and stuffing them in unmarked vehicles before driving away. The agents, clad in the same camouflage pattern that I wore as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, are not readily identifiable either by name or by agency…There is no war in the United States and law enforcement organizations should not be trained and equipped to act as if they are in one. Yet the Trump administration would have us believe that protesters are enemies who must be defeated in combat.”
The Trump administration is sending 150 federal agents to Chicago, where shootings are up 47% so far this year, wrote Jens Ludwig, director of the Chicago Crime Lab. He argued that the added officers will likely have little impact in a city where there are roughly 13,000 police. A far more effective move would be to crack down on gun dealers outside the city who sell weapons that wind up being used in crimes, Ludwig wrote. “Our cities do actually need help from Washington, DC, more than ever right now, but it’s got to be the right kind of help.”
Kanye West and history
A celebrity runs for president and attracts huge attention on social media with an outrageous claim. That has become a familiar pattern in the US. This week, it was Kanye West, whose rally in South Carolina a week ago, Richard J. Reddick noted, “drew our attention with his appalling misinterpretation of Harriet Tubman’s legacy when he said Tubman ‘never actually freed the slaves.’”
Some dismissed it as a “mental health crisis,” wrote Reddick, but that doesn’t go far enough. “While I and many others hope that West gets the help he needs during this time, it’s important that we don’t overlook his damaging and inaccurate claims about Harriet Tubman. His words have power during a time when many people are trying to learn more about Black history while the discussion of systemic racism is at the forefront.”
Blocked by The Bahamas
The Bahamas, a nation that thrives on tourism from the US, blocked American travelers this week, in light of the surge in Covid-19 cases. European countries have also kept their borders closed to Americans. “For the first time in my life,” wrote reporter Alice Driver. “I am witnessing how the lack of US leadership on Covid-19 is devaluing the US passport I carry.”
“The result of the staggering mishandling of the pandemic response is that the power and status that US citizens have enjoyed for decades is quickly waning,” she wrote.
“When I have interviewed migrants during Covid-19, many have told me they would prefer to seek asylum in Canada rather than the US.”
Deborah Trueman has been with her partner Marco for nearly 20 years, but today they must stay on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Americans who are married to EU citizens are allowed to enter European countries, but Trueman and her partner aren’t married. They were together for Christmas in Tuscany and then she returned to New York for medical visits. “And then the coronavirus stopped the world in its tracks,” she wrote. “My April flight back to Rome was canceled. And then my July flight as well. And there is no sign I will be allowed back in any time soon.”
“So, to my dear Italy: Please let me come back to you. I will take a Covid-19 test. I will quarantine. I know you believe in love; You practically invented it.”
A hero who was real
Nicole Austin-Hillery says a friend once warned her never to meet her heroes because she would inevitably be disappointed. The friend “never met Congressman John Lewis,” she wrote. As an aspiring civil rights lawyer who grew up in public housing, Austin-Hillery said she chose Lewis as her role model.
When they eventually met, the civil rights pioneer was more than generous with his time. “There was no question too small or obvious for him to answer… I savored every story, every parable and every lesson he shared. It was his response to my last question that stuck and continues to guide me to this day. When I asked him how young people could ascend to leadership roles when seasoned leaders are unwilling to teach and mentor, he stiffened his back and without missing a beat told me: We didn’t ask permission to move into leadership, we took it.”
Lewis, who died July 17, famously said, “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Nicole Stamp wrote that the Black Lives Matter protests “are good trouble, and they continue because racial injustice continues… The civil rights movement is still happening today. Participate in it: with your body. With your dollars. With your actions.”
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Feel not-so-good movies
Sara Stewart’s diet of feel-good movies during the pandemic is turning out to be less appetizing than she had hoped.
Her “pop-cultural comfort food of choice has been romantic dramedies from simpler times, tales of adorably complicated women and the often-chiseled men who love them. Movies like these hail from an era of now-verboten pleasures, like casual hugs and bustling nightclubs and actual, not virtual, shopping.”
The problem? The characters played by Andrew McCarthy (“Pretty in Pink”), Ethan Hawke (“Reality Bites”) and Ryan Gosling (“The Notebook”).
“These romantic male leads hoodwink heroines into thinking they’re Mr. Right, despite failing to demonstrate any understanding of good relationship dynamics,” wrote Stewart. “Outside the rosy light of nostalgia, I have to be honest. This is not love. This is not cute. This is manipulation. (Even if it’s dressed up as peak Ryan Gosling.) And rom-coms have been grooming cinephiles to think otherwise for far too long.”