Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the September 9 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
Surprise! Donald Trump has a credibility problem.
The US President is still raging about an article in The Atlantic that said he had skipped a trip to a World War I cemetery in France because he was afraid rain might mess up his hair. But claims that he called dead US soldiers “losers” and “suckers” sound exactly like the kind of thing he would say – and after making more than 20,000 false or misleading claims in office, his denials are cheap.
CNN has corroborated some aspects of the story, including that the President spoke in derogatory terms about US soldiers who had been killed. His loyalists, like former spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, are taking to TV to defend the President – but they’ve got their own credibility issues. Sanders, for example, has already admitted lying to the press. Officials and retired military brass who do have the gravitas to absolve Trump, like former White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, who lost a son in Afghanistan, have been pointedly silent.
It wouldn’t be the first time that the 45th President, who skipped out of serving in the Vietnam War due to bone spurs, spurned American soldiers and even war heroes. His life in business and politics shows no ethos for public service and self-sacrifice, which is why parts of the Atlantic story ring so true: At Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, where more than 400,000 former service personnel are interred, Trump reportedly told Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” at his son Robert’s grave.
But what does this mean for the election? It’s hard to believe anyone in America is still undecided about whether Trump’s character quirks will sway their vote. Certainly, his fans will pass off the story as more “fake news.” But Trump is trailing Joe Biden and with tens of millions of veterans and military families across the country, insulting the armed forces could hurt his chances in swing states, where a few thousand votes could decide the fate of the presidency.
And remember: Trump isn’t just running to be President – he will also be America’s commander in chief if he wins a second term. In that case, he’ll have some repair work to do across the river at the Pentagon.
‘White supremacist extremists will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland’
White supremacists are expected to be the greatest violent threat to America through the next year, according to a draft assessment by the Department of Homeland Security, first published by Lawfare. CNN’s Geneva Sands reports that the report’s lead section on terrorism was changed in two later drafts to replace “white supremacist extremists” with “Domestic Violent Extremists presenting the most persistent and lethal threat.” All drafts, however, contained this language: “Among DVEs [Domestic Violent Extremists], we judge that white supremacist extremists (WSEs) will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland through 2021.” Lawfare editor-in-chief Benjamin Wittes said he published the documents because he wanted to create a record of how the threat was originally assessed, compared with the final draft that will be released. The revelations came as Trump seeks to portray US cities as under siege from looters, anarchists and left wing “terrorist” mobs.
Warning signs on the West Coast
2020 has been rough everywhere. But Californians have had it tougher than most.
The Golden State is beset by two record crises — a once-in-a century pandemic and the worst wildfires ever. Each may be exacerbating the other, and the worst is yet to come: The fires have already torched 2.2 million acres — more than 2% of the state — and peak burn season hasn’t even begun.
California is hardly well-positioned to order mass evacuations or put citizens in crowded shelters: It has recorded more coronavirus cases than any other state — more than 740,000 — and has lost more than 13,700 residents to the virus. But it has little choice — the uncontrolled 80,000-acre Creek Fire has forced the evacuation of an entire town and parts of several communities. In Sierra National Forest, hundreds of people (and their dogs) had to be airlifted in dramatic helicopter rescues.
Social distancing can’t be the first priority for firefighters, who work in groups and come into contact with many different people. Fighting the fires has also been complicated in many areas by the early release of prisoners to avoid coronavirus transmission in jails — in previous years, inmate firefighting teams were a key force multiplier.
California is paying the price for climate change, like Australia earlier this year. Warmer weather, droughts and longer dry seasons mean the vegetation that fuels fires is more prone to bursting into flame, rapid burning and bigger blazes. While Covid-19 will one day be a bad memory, the interwoven threats looming over Californians this summer bode ill for America’s most populous state.