We Need a Vaccine Against Trump

A Third COVID Vaccine Is Shown to Be Effective—and It’s Cheap

Why Won’t Emily Murphy Just Do Her Job?

Why is the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement growing during a pandemic?

The vaccine sweepstakes continue as AstraZeneca just announced its entry, which promises to be cheaper and easier to store than those of its competitors. Good—because refrigerated 90-below-zero trucks costing millions will be breaking down everywhere. Logistics for distribution will be unthinkable. People won’t show for their second shots. And we’re going to be deluged with costly vaccines that a majority of the populace, the anti-vaxxers, won’t even take.

And none of this will happen until thousands more have died. After announcing to the press once again that he had won the election, Trump said, “You wouldn’t have had a vaccine for another four years if it wasn’t for me.” Nor would we have had the horrific escalating death tolls from Covid if it wasn’t for him. We know too that more people will be dying because Trump’s emissary won’t just do her job and acknowledge the transition.

As head of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy has endorsed the president’s delusions and crimes against humanity by failing to follow the law and let the transition begin. Her slavish obstruction enables Trump’s Disease, not to mention Covid, to continue running rampant.

We have no effective treatment or vaccine against Trump’s Disease. You know the symptoms: constant delusions of narcissism, blatant denial of the facts, lying, the propensity to promote snake oil and fraud. Seventy million supporters have proved that we have no cure for the madness; there is no restorative therapy at hand. The Trump herd has achieved its gross immunity.

We also know that one manifestation of the disease is all about revenge. A pundit who consistently tracks Trump’s revenge is Jonathan Chait, who writes for New York Magazine. Chait notes that

crippling Biden’s pandemic response seems to be not a side effect of [Trump’s] strategy but the intended one. Trump not only doesn’t care about managing the pandemic; he is very publicly enraged at the idea that Biden will receive any credit for vaccine distribution. . . . For the sake of both his pride and a possible election rematch, Trump wants Biden to fail and will take whatever steps are at his disposal—including the loss of many more American lives—to bring about that outcome.

It would be folly to channel our hopes on some kind of mythical vaccine that will inoculate us against the worst political disease of our time. The best we can hope for, I guess, is something from AstraZeneca.

P.S. Oops, I wrote this last night before the news came in that Emily and the GSA have caved and at last informed the Biden group that the transition can now officially begin. I still stand by what I wrote here.

The Climate Won’t Let Us Forget

There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It.

Tropical Storm Iota Deals Devastation to Central America Still Recovering from Eta

What Keith Richards Can Teach Us about Beating Our Donald Trump Addiction

The election naturally commanded our public thoughts; now it’s done. Trump perpetually has commanded our attention; finally the fixation may be waning. COVID more than ever forces itself on our presence; a quarter of a million people have now died from it in the U.S.

But the issues of climate change, more formidable than ever, keep bearing down on the world with dreadful frequency and energy. For many, climate issues have recently gotten displaced by politics, but nature is not about to let us discount her power.

Those who live in California won’t soon forget the massive fires that swept their state and are still a threat. Two massive hurricanes a week apart just pummeled Central America, saturating the same areas (an unheard-of event) in Honduras and Nicaragua, “seriously affecting” some 3 million people, and causing many deaths. Hurricane Eta alone in a few days “cost Honduras the equivalent of around twenty per cent of its gross domestic product.”

The campaign and the election have turned into a major distraction from climate change. The political media, the voters and the candidates all gave climate short shrift. Biden was the exception. He has offered a $2 trillion clean energy plan, and proposes to incorporate climate into most other policy areas. If any of this gets done, at least through regulation (if the Senate is a nonstarter), it will be a good beginning.

New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo puts it in context:

But passing a climate plan wouldn’t be a partisan win for Democrats—it would be a win for human beings. Climate change isn’t a policy issue—it’s a reality that every other political question hinges on: jobs, tax policy, national defense, and the size and scope of the welfare state. As climate change becomes increasingly damaging, we will have to think about all of these issues through the larger response to a changing planet.

It’s just too easy to compartmentalize our thoughts about climate. The enormity and extent of what it represents are simply daunting, maybe beyond the ken of most of us. Moreover, our political culture, the media pundits, and of course social media all tend to trivialize and downplay the issues of climate in favor of the latest political sensation.

Well, clearing the ground by getting rid of the Trump addiction might be a first step. John Harris of Politico had some thoughts on this and used the old drugmeister Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones as an example of how to get clean and kick the Trump obsession. Keith learned not only to ignore the junkies around him but to sit back and enjoy their performance.

Harris puts it this way: Trump learned early on

that once you provoke someone into an emotional response they are in a contest on your terms. So he learned how to surprise, to entertain, to confuse and distort, to offend. As he moved to the political arena, Trump exploited one more psychological reality: His supporters are attracted to him precisely because he so easily outrages his opponents.

This means that Trump’s power—just like Keith Richards’ drug transactions—requires two sides to work. His hold on supporters will wane at the same time his hold on political foes and the news media does. Just say no and watch their faces.

This is not like Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no.” It’s the satisfaction in watching a performance that you no longer need to participate in. Maybe that would be a first step to reclaiming the climate values that so drastically need our attention.

What’s Next?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Biden’s Win, House Losses, and What’s Next for the Left

 It’s Time to Look Ahead. Today is a victory, but the fight is far from over.

 The 2020 Election Has Brought Progressives to the Brink of Catastrophe

Thank God this overwrought election is behind us. Joe Biden will be a good (interim?) president. Yet major trials of governing are to come, and Joe will need all the good fortune and support his prayers can provide. I’m sure he also knows he’ll need more than prayer.

The election resulted in some Democratic House losses and a split Senate. As many have pointed out, this will make governing arduous and challenging. The near 50-50 split within the country is peculiarly reflected in the split between progressives and centrists in the Democratic party. It’s not up to Joe Biden to resolve this problem; it’s up to the party.

It will be interesting to see how Democrat leadership confronts the challenge. The essence of that issue is something I and many of you have dealt with: I want all the things that Sanders, Warren and AOC have stood for in their most progressive form. You know the list—climate change, healthcare, racial equity, constitutional reform. Yet the political outlook for getting these things passed is, shall we say, grim.

The centrists counter that, particularly with a split Senate, any gains toward those ends will be problematic at best. To get legislation passed, the Democrats have to become “trimmers,” compromisers, some would say, sell-outs. The conundrum is that the essence of politics is compromise, something Mitch McConnell has yet to recognize.

As writer Camonghne Felix puts it, “community organizers and policy makers from communities who bear the brunt of these problems have been offering up policy ideas and solutions, few of which truly exist at the center.” The center has taken control of the party for too long. It “has left marginalized communities on the fringe for decades and has left them out of conversations about who we are as a country. We cannot demand that people ‘Vote for Democrats’ simply because we are not Republicans.”

On Saturday Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came on strong to The New York Times about the need for the party to move left. She made some vigorous points that without active reform the party is heading for obsolescence by taking the John Kasich approach.

If you’re not door-knocking, if you’re not on the internet, if your main points of reliance are TV and mail, then you’re not running a campaign on all cylinders. I just don’t see how anyone could be making ideological claims when they didn’t run a full-fledged campaign.

For the party, facing the challenge of a lifetime in the next four years, it is past time to get its act together. Eric Levitz talks about the structural, constitutional limitations of governing in the U.S. The Senate is the prime example.

If Democrats fail to pull off an improbable triumph in the Peach State [Georgia], then the Biden presidency will be doomed to failure before it starts. With Mitch McConnell in control of the Senate, Biden will not be allowed to appoint a Supreme Court justice, or appoint liberals to major cabinet positions, or sign his name to a major piece of progressive legislation; and that may very well mean that the U.S. government will not pass any significant climate legislation, or expansion of public health insurance, or immigration reform, or gun safety law this decade.

There are no easy ways to escape these binds. Biden’s bittersweet victory notwithstanding, the election has presented us with a bleak outlook for progressivism. Maybe AOC is right—that the party must commit to some truly progressive reforms to regain trust on the part of the electorate.

A Culture of Ignorance

Anti-Intellectualism Is Killing America

 The GOP’s Murderous Anti-Intellectualism

 Will Trump’s Broken Promises to Working-Class Voters Cost Him the Election?

With Trump the country’s ignorance has reached a kind of apocalyptic summit with the notion that reason must take a back seat to absurdity and dementia.

We learned today that the administration’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, bypassed FDA’s restrictions and ordered some 23 million hydroxychloroquine tablets to be released in June to the public. This despite the warnings long associated with the drug. It’s only the latest incident in the lackeys’ support of Trump’s lunacy.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, Trump Jr. recently claimed that COVID death numbers are down to “almost nothing.” Epidemiology has never been his strong point.

The intriguing question, as always, is why so many have bought into the lies and deceptions the administration puts forward. One explanation is that the brainwashed are snookered by a long tradition of American anti-intellectualism. Politically, it’s the residue of a once-viable populism. Now, it’s responsible for much of our social dysfunction:

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value.

How many of these absurdities must we continue to bear? Bruce Bartlett writes in TNR:

There are many other ways in which the anti-intellectualism of Republicans and conservatives is life-threatening. They tend to be highly skeptical toward the existence of global warming, which will have catastrophic effects on weather systems, sea levels, and flooding. They also frequently associate themselves with those who won’t allow themselves or their children to be vaccinated, and refuse to accept any evidence linking gun ownership to mass shootings. They even delude themselves that public opinion polls showing a forthcoming defeat for Trump and Republicans in Congress are simply wrong based on nothing except faith-based disbelief.

The culmination of faith-based disbelief has been to accept the president’s stark denial of the potency of the COVID virus. And you can’t simply write off the mindlessness of his supporters as a backlash against the economic structures that have been in place for so long. Says E.J. Dionne:

It is of a piece with a more general frustration with elites following decades of globalization, deindustrialization, and rising inequality. The policies that produced these outcomes, advanced by technocrats, think tanks, and politicians in both parties, damaged communities around the country—particularly in the Midwest states critical to the outcome of the 2016 election, but also in parts of solidly blue America—while often failing to deliver their promised benefits.

What has happened in the rust belt states is not limited to them. It’s at the heart of the economic malaise that occupies so much of the country. Dan Kaufman has written a most worthwhile piece outlining these “broken promises” that have transformed the human and industrial landscape of Michigan and America.

Workers without a college degree “represent more than sixty per cent of the American workforce.” These people have been betrayed for years. Finally, feeling displaces reason. And this election may cause some of them to take up arms.

The history of how we got to this mess of conspiracies and paranoid madness informs Richard Hofstadter’s still relevant 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which won him a Pulitzer, and The Paranoid Style, 1964. In a short summary the historian Sean Wilentz finds

a fundamental strain of anti-intellectualism that runs throughout our history and crosses the political spectrum. Some of it comes out of evangelical Protestantism, which we can certainly see today, but in a sense there is an anti-intellectual quality latent in democracy itself, such as a distrust of elites and people who think they know better than others as well as more than others. Hofstadter believed that intellectual values, including an appreciation of skepticism and nuance, and a rejection of absolutism and dogma, were crucial to a democratic society.

We very much need to recover these values. More than ever, they are crucial.

Biden the Trimmer

In Praise of Trimmers

Biden’s debate-night comment on oil highlights the delicate tightrope he must walk on climate change

Biden Pledges Ambitious Climate Action. Here’s What He Could Actually Do.

Trimmer is a good old English word, usually meaning “a person who adapts their views to the prevailing political trends for personal advancement,” a flip-flopper in other words. There are other meanings too, according to Cass Sunstein. He describes two kinds of trimmers: compromisers and preservers—those who would pursue a middle course and those who would keep the best of competing positions.

In the last presidential debate (and its consequences) we saw Joe Biden caught up on a comment he made that he would “transition from the oil industry” to fight climate change. Trump jumped all over this, of course, and Biden was later forced to backwater, at least somewhat, from the controversy his comment generated. You know the old phrase, “hoist by his own petard.”

Biden and his aides quickly tried to clean things up, saying that he was talking about ending federal subsidies for oil companies and underscoring the long arc of his plan. “We’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time,” he told reporters later that night.

The liberal climateers were very pleased with the transition remark. House Democrats in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas were quick to take issue with it. Biden has also had trouble with some ambiguous remarks about fracking. And he has sometimes behaved like what Sunstein would approvingly call a compromiser.

There are plenty of Democrats as well as Republicans upset with his stance on oil. Yet many back his $2 trillion climate plan to counter global warming. Biden knows the politics of this are going to be extremely difficult, and so he is walking a tightrope. Should the Dems win the Senate, the existing filibuster rule will be his biggest obstacle. Some of the pitfalls and difficulties are laid out here.

Several commentators have encouraged Joe to “go big” on the Green New Deal. If he doesn’t he will come off as a trimmer—in the negative sense of that term. But his whole experience in politics has been to seek compromise, work across the aisle, and enlist opposition support.

I think Joe is sincere but in my view he has to stop the trimming and stick to his “transition” sales pitch. In a recent interview with Dan Pfeiffer he made an elaborate defense of his climate plans. As usual, he’s good on the goals but glosses over the political problems in getting there.

You know, we cannot discount the concerns of people, what it means for their well-being and not only in the future and now, but what about how they make a living? That’s why I’m the first person I’m aware of that went to every major labor union in the country and got them to sign on to my climate change plan, which is extensive. We’re going to get to zero net emissions for the production of electricity by 2035. It’s going to create millions of jobs. But we’ve got to let people—we can’t be cavalier about the impact it’s going to have on how we’re going to transition to do all this. But I just think it’s a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to create really good jobs.

Really, I Wouldn’t Have a Beer with Either of Them

Trump at the Debate Was Like America in 2020: Not Winning

 ‘The Debates, Like Everything Else in 2020, Were a Dumpster Fire’

 Malaika Jabali: ‘A frustrating debate that ignored big issues’

Trump would be insulting and contentious; Biden would bore you with policy and his accomplishments. That’s pretty much what they did last night at the last (thank God) presidential debate.

For many of us the race has become old and hackneyed, the participants frayed. I spent this morning looking for new insights on the internet and didn’t find many.

Of course I will vote for Biden, but that doesn’t mean he’s an appealing candidate. The man needs a shot of mezcal, not a beer. In the debate he was focused but often bland and wordy. He fumbled on answers regarding the 1994 crime bill and fracking. In his debate prep he could have done more work on sharp, memorable responses, though he did get off a few. Per Susan Glasser in The New Yorker:

“He’s a very confused guy,” Biden said of Trump when the President claimed, per usual, that Biden was some sort of radical socialist pawn. “He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden.”

Trump babbled incoherently about Hunter Biden’s emails, overriding the moderator, and frequently going off the deep end: “Who built the cages, Joe?” John Neffinger in Politico:

Having set the bar ridiculously low in his last few appearances, President Trump impressed just by not seeming out of control Thursday night. But if he was more conversational, it made it easier to hear him clearly when he declared himself the least racist person in the room, or criticized a public option, or talked about the great care the children he orphaned get, or made fun of Joe Biden talking to Americans about their own families, or declined to answer good questions from Kristen Welker about Covid or the Talk [that Black parents must have with their children about racism].

Malaika Jabali in The Guardian was angry about what she didn’t hear:

There was no discussion about potential domestic voter suppression, less than two weeks before the election. Nothing about far-right white supremacists, who pose the deadliest terror threat in the country. Nothing about policies to reduce racial disparities in unemployment, essential work, Covid-19 deaths and cases, or small business closures.

And not much about climate change except a lot of smoke. Anyhow, as to having a drink with either of these guys, Trump, who doesn’t drink, would be most likely to get in a bar fight and Joe would most likely put one to sleep. We all need better forms of entertainment, something like the new Borat movie which shows Rudy Giuliani in a delightfully compromising position. He too would be among the last guys to have a drink with.

Major CNN Fatigue: Blitzer v. Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi Blows Up at Wolf Blitzer Over Stimulus: You’re a Republican ‘Apologist’

Pelosi chafes at Wolf Blitzer’s questions on Covid talks

Second stimulus check updates: The differences between Democratic House and GOP Senate coronavirus relief bills

I watch a lot of news, and one reason I signed up for cable service was to get CNN International. I may have lived to regret it. Some of their news anchors (Jake Tapper and Jim Acosta excepted) leave a lot to be desired. Chris Cuomo’s frenetic blather is a case in point. How much hectoring can you take in an hour?

Wolf Blitzer is CNN’s chief political anchor, not notable for his penetrating insights but usually a dependable Democratic apologist. Yesterday for some reason he took out after Nancy Pelosi on the unconscionable delays in getting to a stimulus agreement. That’s all Pelosi needed. Watch some of the exchange.

This went on for close to fifteen minutes, Blitzer hammering away on the notion of a deal at all costs now, Pelosi fumbling through a defense of her position that there can be no deal without the Democrats’ spending priorities. Blitzer was pushy, Pelosi was angry. It was good TV and bad politics.

He argued that the Democrats should accept the latest administration offer because the need was so immediate and pressing. She countered that the caucus couldn’t accept an offer which had such unacceptable spending priorities. She had the better argument but her emotions overcame her. To be charitable about it, they were talking past each other.

Blitzer set the tone by failing to acknowledge her somewhat muddied points. She lost her patience: “With all due respect, you really don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

To me, the interesting thing was why Wolf chose to pick the fight at all. He did sound like a Republican apologist. The parties have been bogged down for months on stimulus issues. The Democrats have moved some on money issues, but the Republicans in the Senate have promised no deal on whatever the Dems propose. Politico put it this way:

The two sides have gotten closer on some issues, such as small-business aid, a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks and testing money, but remain divided over issues like unemployment aid and state and local government funding. But Democrats also point out that they remain further apart on the bigger issues, such as lack of a strategic plan to defeat the virus nationwide.

Perhaps network powers pushed Wolf to hammer home his point of making a deal at all costs, the idea being to goad Pelosi into a response. CNN’s ratings must be down, and maybe they just want to cultivate a more polemical posture à la Chris Cuomo. Let’s hope that’s not true—and that CNN can promote some fresh faces.

Major Trump Fatigue

4 Funny Feelings About 2020

 The Tedium of Trump

 is it immoral if you feel schadenfreude about trump’s covid-19?

Many are thoroughly exhausted with the Trump show. That is one factor that could cause him to lose the election. Yet I don’t hear people in the commentariat talking much about this. One who does is Tim Alberta of Politico:

It’s impossible to quantify how tired Americans are of this presidency. But it’s a constant theme in the conversations I have with voters, including die-hard Trump supporters. They feel trapped inside a reality TV show and are powerless to change the channel.

With all the high drama of the past few days, many of us are totally sick of the presidential spectacle. Voters, says Alberta, “weary of their social media feeds and kitchen table conversations being dominated by Trump, may resent that he turned a sympathetic situation into yet another showcase of administrative incompetence and self-celebrating bravado.”

More than “may resent,” some of us emphatically resent it. This pig of a man sucks all the air out of the room and displaces it with viral particles. He joyrides in front of Walter Reed, fraudulently downplays the virus, insults the dead (“Don’t be afraid of Covid.”), and preens maskless on the White House balcony. How much more of this show can one take?

At the same time he is like a flat character in a bad novel. So suggests Quinta Jurecic in The Atlantic: “Trump isn’t boring in the way a dull, empty afternoon is boring. Trump is boring in the way that the seventh season of a reality-television show is boring: A lot is happening, but there’s nothing [new] to say about it.” We are tired of him playing the role of tinpot dictator.

So when Trump caught the virus, instead of invoking thoughts and prayers, many wished him ill. I did too, not that he should die (which would make him a martyr to his people) but that he should get good and sick. Some wished he would die. Some celebrated with abandon. It was a perfect, understandable instance of what the Germans called schadenfreude, taking pleasure in another person’s bad luck or misfortune.

Schadenfreude has a long history and diverse interpretations. My reaction to Trump’s affliction was simply that he got his just deserts. Justice was served. Yet my satisfaction was thwarted as he then tried to turn things to his own twisted purposes by exploiting and politicizing the virus. “I wake up some mornings feeling we are in the grips of a madman,” said David Gergen.

I finally came to realize that there was no way ever to bring him to justice. Contending with Trump is a zero sum game. The game will not even end with his election defeat, which he promises to protest. Trump will continue to intrude on our lives until he makes his final exit.

Fixing the “Shitshow”

NOTE: This post was ready for publication when the news came in this morning about Trump’s viral infection. When the cheering stopped, I realized the election was potentially upended and there would likely be no more presidential debates. Still, I hope you’ll find this worth reading.

Response to the first presidential debate was, you may have noticed, almost universally negative. The debate was so unnerving to so many people that the Commission of Presidential Debates (which controls how these performances are set up) has offered to fix things for the next two scheduled debates. This is a little like Ford trying to resuscitate the Edsel.

The debates have become a corrupted game show. The Commission could make them more entertaining by acknowledging this: signaling interruptions with a loud buzzer, for instance, and opening a trap door beneath his feet if the offender continues talking.

Really, the debates ought to be canceled. The Commission can have no sensible way to fix them. And people are not going to tune into another shitshow. Muting the mic of the offending interrupter, which has been widely suggested, would never be accepted by the Trump campaign.

One presidential debate historian said: “Muting a speaker on live TV is awkward, and could go wrong. Do they start shouting? Does Trump walk over to Biden’s lectern and talk into his mic? All bets are off with this particular debater.”

Trump is never going to change his tactics, which are something like the following:

Any American who has caught a glimpse of the 2016 presidential debates, a White House press conference, or even a recent Trump interview with [moderator Chris] Wallace himself knows that the president’s sole tactic when engaging with anyone calling him to task is to deflect, interrupt, and lean on ad hoc jabs.

That’s a nice way of putting it.

If the Commission and the campaigns don’t agree to cancel the debates, then Biden is in a trap. Really, he should simply withdraw if he has any self-respect. He will get heavy criticism from the Trumpers for chickening out but could always buy (or be given) a half hour’s TV time to explain why he’s canceling the debates, show clips of Trump’s behavior and explain his programs. There is no way you can look presidential while Trump is dumping shit on your head.

When asked on CNN about a possible Biden withdrawal, Kamala Harris said he must keep going because he needs every chance to address the American people. He is crazy to do that unless the debate form is radically changed. Even then, he will necessarily be put on the defensive.

The debates have finally outlived their usefulness, and Trump will never change his tune. There is no common ground with this man.

Stalking the Independent Voter

KFF Health Tracking Poll—September 2020

The 2020 Battleground States: Updates on the Swing Voters

Does Biden Need a Higher Gear? Some Democrats Think So

My first thought was, are there any Independents left? The polls say there are plenty, even at a time when the media plays up the extremes of partisanship. Gallup most recently found (July 30-August 12) that 26% of voters identified as Republicans, 31% as Democrats, and 41% as Independents. This would lead one to think the election might be much more unsettled than we are led to believe.

Where do they fall on the issues? The Kaiser Family Foundation has the most recent data (September 10). It found, unsurprisingly, that Independents were right in the middle on most questions. And, of course, “There is a strong partisan divide, with Republican voters prioritizing the economy followed by criminal justice and policing, and Democratic voters prioritizing coronavirus followed by race relations.”

According to this, the economy has displaced the virus as the most important issue. And yet the swing voters remain uncertain and unfocused. As everyone knows, the election will depend on a few battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. There may be others, like Minnesota.

My take, for what it’s worth, is that the Biden campaign needs rapidly to get off its fixation on online media and ads and do more in-person events, sign-planting and door-knocking. They need to undertake an old style campaign even with the limitations the virus imposes. As dumb as they are, Trump’s rallies get media coverage. Biden does press conferences and small meetings. Kamala Harris and her speeches go mostly unnoticed. The Latino vote for Biden is precarious.

Trump’s hats and signs and posters get noticed. Where are Biden’s? To some, he seems to be hiding behind a mask. His demeanor and speech have improved, but to many he remains largely unknown. He doesn’t have much time to make up that deficit.