America Is Too Broken to Fight the Coronavirus

No other developed country is doing so badly.

Graphs of the coronavirus curves in Britain, Canada, Germany and Italy look like mountains, with steep climbs up and then back down. The one for America shows a fast climb up to a plateau. For a while, the number of new cases in the U.S. was at least slowly declining. Now, according to The Times, it’s up a terrifying 22 percent over the last 14 days.

As Politico reported on Monday, Italy’s coronavirus catastrophe once looked to Americans like a worst-case scenario. Today, it said, “America’s new per capita cases remain on par with Italy’s worst day — and show signs of rising further.”

This is what American exceptionalism looks like under Donald Trump. It’s not just that the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths of any country in the world. Republican political dysfunction has made a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible.

At the federal level as well as in many states, we’re seeing a combination of the blustering contempt for science that marks the conservative approach to climate change and the high tolerance for carnage that makes American gun culture unique.

The rot starts at the top. At the beginning of the crisis Trump acted as if he could wish the coronavirus away, and after an interval when he at least pretended to take it seriously, his administration has resumed a posture of blithe denial.

The task force led by Mike Pence has been sidelined, its members meeting only twice a week. Last Tuesday, the vice president wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal about how well things are going: “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,” he claimed.

In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week, Trump said the virus is “fading away.” Speaking to The Journal, he said that some people might be wearing masks only to show their disapproval of him and suggested, contrary to all credible public health guidance, that mask-wearing might increase people’s risk of infection. It’s not surprising, then, that many people at his sad Saturday rally in Tulsa, Okla. — where coronavirus cases are spiking — went maskless.

Just a few weeks ago, panicked about occupying my kids through the summer in a shut-down New York City, I thought about taking them to stay with my retired parents in Arizona. Now, as New York gingerly reopens, Arizona has become a hot spot — which isn’t stopping Trump from holding a rally at a Phoenix megachurch on Tuesday. Cases are also soaring in Texas, Florida and several other states. An epidemic that was once concentrated in blue states is increasingly raging in red ones.

When coronavirus cases started exploding on the East Coast in March, there were devastating failures by Democratic leaders. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, not only forced nursing homes to take back residents who’d been hospitalized for the coronavirus, he barred them from testing the residents to see if they were still infected.

As ProPublica reported, following Cuomo’s order, “Covid-19 tore through New York state’s nursing facilities, killing more than 6,000 people — about 6 percent of its more than 100,000 nursing home residents.” In Florida, which prohibited such transfers, the virus has so far killed only 1.6 percent of nursing home residents.

Given how Cuomo’s errors contributed to New York’s catastrophe, it’s hard to say how much credit he deserves for eventually rising to the occasion. Still, by the time New York’s cases got to where Arizona’s are now, he at least understood that the state faced calamity and imposed the lockdown that helped bring it back from the abyss.

Arizona, Florida and Texas, by contrast, aren’t even doing simple things like mandating mask-wearing. Worse, until last week, the governors of Arizona and Texas prevented cities from instituting their own such requirements.

So far, evidence about the role mass protests over police violence played in coronavirus spikes is mixed, but liberal support for the demonstrations solidified the conviction among many conservatives that strict social distancing rules are a hypocritical tool of social control. The paranoia and resentment that have long been part of the culture of the modern right are now directed at those warning about the ongoing dangers of the pandemic.

Across the country, public health workers have faced death threats, harassment and armed protesters at their homes. No matter how bad things get in red America, it’s hard to imagine where the political will to contain the virus will come from.

So while countries with competent leadership haltingly return to normal, ours will continue to be pummeled. In mid-May, when America’s coronavirus death toll was around 85,000, Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham said that as long as fatalities didn’t go much beyond 120,000, “I think you can say you limited the casualties in this war.”

By The Times’s count, we just hit that number. The war goes on, but Trump has already lost it.

When a Pandemic Meets a Personality Cult

The Trump team confirms all of our worst fears.

So, here’s the response of the Trump team and its allies to the coronavirus, at least so far: It’s actually good for America. Also, it’s a hoax perpetrated by the news media and the Democrats. Besides, it’s no big deal, and people should buy stocks. Anyway, we’ll get it all under control under the leadership of a man who doesn’t believe in science.

From the day Donald Trump was elected, some of us worried how his administration would deal with a crisis not of its own making. Remarkably, we’ve gone three years without finding out: Until now, every serious problem facing the Trump administration, from trade wars to confrontation with Iran, has been self-created. But the coronavirus is looking as if it might be the test we’ve been fearing.

And the results aren’t looking good.

The story of the Trump pandemic response actually began several years ago.

  • Almost as soon as he took office, Trump began cutting funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading in turn to an 80 percent cut in the resources the agency devotes to global disease outbreaks.
  • Trump also shut down the entire global-health-security unit of the National Security Council.

Experts warned that these moves were exposing America to severe risks. “We’ll leave the field open to microbes,” declared Tom Frieden, a much-admired former head of the C.D.C., more than two years ago. But the Trump administration has a preconceived notion about where national security threats come from — basically, scary brown people — and is hostile to science in general. So we entered the current crisis in an already weakened condition.

And the microbes came.

The first reaction of the Trumpers was to see the coronavirus as a Chinese problem — and to see whatever is bad for China as being good for us. Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, cheered it on as a development that would “accelerate the return of jobs to North America.

The story changed once it became clear that the virus was spreading well beyond China. At that point it became a hoax perpetrated by the news mediaRush Limbaugh weighed in: “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. … The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Limbaugh was, you may not be surprised to hear, projecting. Back in 2014 right-wing politicians and media did indeed try to politically weaponize a disease outbreak, the Ebola virus, with Trump himself responsible for more than 100 tweets denouncing the Obama administration’s response (which was actually competent and effective).

And in case you’re wondering, no, the coronavirus isn’t like the common cold. In fact, early indications are that the virus may be as lethal as the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed as many as 50 million people.

Financial markets evidently don’t agree that the virus is a hoax; by Thursday afternoon the Dow was off more than 3,000 points since last week. Falling markets appear to worry the administration more than the prospect of, you know, people dying. So Larry Kudlow, the administration’s top economist, made a point of declaring that the virus was “contained” — contradicting the C.D.C. — and suggested that Americans buy stocks. The market continued to drop.

At that point the administration appears to have finally realized that it might need to do something beyond insisting that things were great. But according to The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, it initially proposed paying for a virus response by cutting aid to the poor — specifically, low-income heating subsidies. Cruelty in all things.

On Wednesday Trump held a news conference on the virus, much of it devoted to incoherent jabs at Democrats and the media. He did, however, announce the leader of the government response to the threat. Instead of putting a health care professional in charge, however, he handed the job to Vice President Mike Pence, who has an interesting relationship with both health policy and science.

Early in his political career, Pence staked out a distinctive position on public health, declaring that smoking doesn’t kill people. He has also repeatedly insisted that evolution is just a theory. As governor of Indiana, he blocked a needle exchange program that could have prevented a significant H.I.V. outbreak, calling for prayer instead.

And now, according to The Times, government scientists will need to get Pence’s approval before making public statements about the coronavirus.

So the Trumpian response to crisis is completely self-centered, entirely focused on making Trump look good rather than protecting America. If the facts don’t make Trump look good, he and his allies attack the messengers, blaming the news media and the Democrats — while trying to prevent scientists from keeping us informed. And in choosing people to deal with a real crisis, Trump prizes loyalty rather than competence.

Maybe Trump — and America — will be lucky, and this won’t be as bad as it might be. But anyone feeling confident right now isn’t paying attention.

Erdoğan’s Authoritarian Quackery

Why do conspiracy theories and general charlatanism so often receive their strongest support from the world’s dictators? Sure, dictators are almost always oddballs themselves, but that cannot be all there is to it. In fact, it is worth asking whether quackery is a necessary feature of authoritarian rule.

.. to force the central bank to pursue his bizarre monetary policy, Erdoğan has installed his utterly unqualified son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, as the country’s Minister of Finance and Treasury.

.. Having grown up in the Soviet Union, I am particularly sensitive to the impact of perverse scientific theories on a society. Joseph Stalin rejected Mendelian genetics (the fundamental laws of heredity) and even Darwin’s theory of evolution in favor of the bogus theories of Trofim Lysenko, the Soviet biologist who believed that human traits were acquired, not inherited. With Stalin’s backing, Lysenko – whose spurious agricultural research doomed perhaps millions of people to starvation – sent Soviet biology down a two-decade-long rabbit hole of lunacy.

.. Nikita Khrushchev may have overturned Stalinism, but he was no less a prisoner of theoretical perversity. He not only supported the Lysenko theories, but also believed ideologically hardened engineers and geologists who insisted that the rules of communism could defy the laws of nature. They told him that Soviet atomic bombs could be used to reverse the course of major rivers, allowing water to be redirected toward agriculture, rather than being “wasted” by flowing into the Arctic Sea.

.. Hitler’s embrace of demented racial “science” delivered the world into darkness and led, almost inexorably, to the Holocaust. The perversion of reason was so normalized under Nazi rule that Josef Mengele’s grotesque human experiments could be discussed at scientific conferences just like any other medical research.

..

Erdoğan, who has long been convinced that external forces are relentlessly plotting against his regime, is no exception.

In Erdoğan’s eyes, these malevolent forces usually act through the financial markets. So far, he has refrained from claiming outright that these markets act at the behest of “world Jewry” (the architects, many Turkish Islamists believe, of the 1908 Young Turk revolution and the secular republic that arose after World War I). But his core supporters hear the dog whistle behind his condemnations of the forces of finance – forces that now seem to be demanding higher interest rates.

.. perhaps no current leader is more susceptible to misbegotten science and half-baked conspiracy theories than the US president and wannabe authoritarian, Donald Trump

.. On more than 20 occasions, Trump has tweeted about a potential link between vaccines and autism.

.. Trump also denies any link between human activity and climate change, again bucking the overwhelming scientific consensus.

And he insists, over the protests of countless economists, that trade deficits are a sign of US economic weakness.

.. Perhaps a shared paranoid style is what draws Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has continually argued that the world is conspiring to deprive Russia of the great-power status it deserves.

..  Those who refuse to recognize the world as it is – whether they are viewing it from Turkey, the US, Venezuela, or a host of other countries – eventually lose the position that their denial of reality was supposed to protect.

Mike Pence, Holy Terror

Are you sure you want to get rid of Donald Trump?

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

.. The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors

..  the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

.. In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

.. “I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

.. It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”
.. he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”
.. You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools.
Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary.
.. Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

..  Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

.. Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.”

 

Jonah Goldberg: Special Counsel Would Allow Trump to Focus on Message, If He Can Do That

This gets to a point I tried to make last night on Special Report (scroll to around 9:05 for the video). My friend Mollie Hemingway is absolutely right when she says there are double standards at work here. The Obama administration got away with things — inappropriately sharing intelligence, influencing investigations, attacking the media — without a fraction of the gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth we’ve seen from the mainstream media, and without inviting a special counsel.

But the essential reason we got a special counsel and a media feeding frenzy is that Trump seems determined to do everything he can to invite chaos and hysteria to his administration.

The idea that the media or some shadowy cabal of “Never Trumpers” forced the president to fire James Comey in a comically incompetent manner is ludicrous. No one was holding Ivanka Trump hostage in a Motel 6 when Donald Trump confessed to Lester Holt that his administration’s explanation for why Comey was fired was a lie or forced Trump to admit that he fired Comey for his handling of the Russia investigation.

.. Now, as someone who’s been writing for two years that Trump was lying when he said he could be presidential — to himself and to everyone else — I’m tempted to ask, “What took you so long?”

If Trump could simply hold a tune — about jobs, tax reform, etc. — for a few months, his poll numbers would creep up, some good policy might get enacted, and, crucially for Trump, he would earn some political capital that might take the bite out of whatever Mueller finds, if he finds anything at all. Alternatively, keeping his fan base loyal but alienating everyone else is a recipe for staying in the mid 30s for the rest of his term and taking down the GOP majority in the House.

.. In Western mathematics, our ways of knowing include formalized reasoning or proof, decontextualization, and algorithmic thinking, leaving little room for those having non-Western mathematical skills and thinking processes.

.. Mathematics tells us that individual is intellectually lacking. Mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classification of a war or a genocide and have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property.

.. It was Rousseau who first, or at least most famously, leveled the indictment against the tyranny of science in his First Discourse.

.. All of this prattle about “algorithmic thinking” is just Romanticism with a fresh coat of paint.

..The model we came up with for distinguishing between war and genocide involves this mysterious craft called “counting.” But it also involves other things such as motives, means, and other aspects of what serious people call historical context. These criteria do not come from math, they come from politics, morality, and reason. All math does is count the dead. It takes human intelligence to place the dead in context. The Spanish Flu killed millions. It wasn’t genocide.

.. Blaming math for what people do with it should disqualify you from teaching math.

It’s also immoral, self-indulgent, and dangerous nonsense. We use math to make vaccines and model how to get them to indigenous peoples. We use math to feed the hungry. Teaching children that Western math is pernicious is the very essence of perniciousness. It is also incandescently stupid. Do Chinese computers use Confucian math?

.. How much head-popping hysteria have we had to put up with about the evils of teaching “creationism”?

How French “Intellectuals” Ruined The West: Postmodernism and its Impact, Explained

Postmodernism presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but to modernity itself. That may sound like a bold or even hyperbolic claim, but the reality is that the cluster of ideas and values at the root of postmodernism have broken the bounds of academia and gained great cultural power in western society. The irrational and identitarian “symptoms” of postmodernism are easily recognizable and much criticized, but the ethos underlying them is not well understood. This is partly because postmodernists rarely explain themselves clearly and partly because of the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of a way of thought which denies a stable reality or reliable knowledge to exist.

.. They underlie the problems we see today in Social Justice Activism, undermine the credibility of the Left and threaten to return us to an irrational and tribal “pre-modern” culture.

.. It drew on avant-garde and surrealist art and earlier philosophical ideas, particularly those of Nietzsche and Heidegger

.. Above all, postmodernists attacked science and its goal of attaining objective knowledge about a reality which exists independently of human perceptions which they saw as merely another form of constructed ideology dominated by bourgeois, western assumptions

.. The modern era is the period of history which saw Renaissance Humanism, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the development of liberal values and human rights; the period when Western societies gradually came to value reason and science over faith and superstition as routes to knowledge, and developed a concept of the person as an individual member of the human race deserving of rights and freedoms rather than as part of various collectives subject to rigid hierarchical roles in society.

.. the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy denies this and says “Rather, its differences lie within modernity itself, and postmodernism is a continuation of modern thinking in another mode

.. If we see the essence of modernity as the development of science and reason as well as humanism and universal liberalism, postmodernists are opposed to it.

.. If we see modernity as the tearing down of structures of power including feudalism, the Church, patriarchy, and Empire, postmodernists are attempting to continue it,

but their targets are now science, reason, humanism and liberalism.

.. postmodernism are inherently political and revolutionary, albeit in a destructive or, as they would term it, deconstructive way.

.. He defined the postmodern condition as “an incredulity towards metanarratives.” A metanarrative is a wide-ranging and cohesive explanation for large phenomena. Religions and other totalizing ideologies are metanarratives in their attempts to explain the meaning of life or all of society’s ills.

.. For Foucault, discourses control what can be “known” and in different periods and places, different systems of institutional power control discourses.

.. “The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.”[2]  He leaves almost no room for individual agency or autonomy.

.. He presents medieval feudalism and modern liberal democracy as equally oppressive, and advocates criticizing and attacking institutions to unmask the “political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them.”

.. shared humanity and individuality are almost entirely absent. Instead, people are constructed by their position in relation to dominant cultural ideas either as oppressors or oppressed.

.. We see too the equation of language with violence and coercion and the equation of reason and universal liberalism with oppression.

.. Derrida’s best-known pronouncement “There is no outside-text” relates to his rejection of the idea that words refer to anything straightforwardly. Rather, “there are only contexts without any center of absolute anchoring.” [5]

.. Therefore the author of a text is not the authority on its meaning. The reader or listener makes their own equally valid meaning

.. Man” is positive and ‘woman’ negative. “Occident” is positive and “Orient” negative. He insisted that “We are not dealing with the peaceful co-existence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy.

.. Deconstruction, therefore, involves inverting these perceived hierarchies, making “woman” and “Orient” positive and “man” and “Occident” negative. This is to be done ironically to reveal the culturally constructed and arbitrary nature of these perceived oppositions in unequal conflict.

.. We see in Derrida further relativity, both cultural and epistemic, and further justification for identity politics.

.. There is an explicit denial that differences can be other than oppositional and therefore a rejection of Enlightenment liberalism’s values of overcoming differences and focusing on universal human rights and individual freedom and empowerment.

.. The intention of the speaker is irrelevant. What matters is the impact of speech. This, along with Foucauldian ideas, underlies the current belief in the deeply damaging nature of “microaggressions” and misuse of terminology related to gender, race or sexuality.

.. intense sensitivity to language on the level of the word and a feeling that what the speaker means is less important than how it is received, no matter how radical the interpretation.

.. Morality is culturally relative, as is reality itself.

.. Empirical evidence is suspect and so are any culturally dominant ideas including science, reason, and universal liberalism. These are Enlightenment values which are naïve, totalizing and oppressive, and there is a moral necessity to smash them. Far more important is the lived experience, narratives and beliefs of “marginalized” groups all of which are equally “true” but must now be privileged over Enlightenment values to reverse an oppressive

.. we are at a unique point in history where the status quo is fairly consistently liberal, with a liberalism that upholds the values of freedom, equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, race and sexuality. The result is confusion in which life-long liberals wishing to conserve this kind of liberal status quo find themselves considered conservative and those wishing to avoid conservatism at all costs find themselves defending irrationalism and illiberalism.

.. Whilst the first postmodernists mostly challenged discourse with discourse, the activists motivated by their ideas are becoming more authoritarian and following those ideas to their logical conclusion. Freedom of speech is under threat because speech is now dangerous. So dangerous that people considering themselves liberal can now justify responding to it with violence. The need to argue a case persuasively using reasoned argument is now often replaced with references to identity and pure rage.

.. one wonders why Derrida bothered to explain the infinite malleability of texts at such length if I could read his entire body of work and claim it to be a story about bunny rabbits with the same degree of authority.

.. If I judge that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles, can you show precisely how it is that my gender, historical and spatial location, class, ethnicity, etc., undermine the objectivity of this judgement?” 

.. “When I had occasion to ask her whether or not it was a fact that giraffes are taller than ants, she replied that it was not a fact, but rather an article of religious faith in our culture.”

.. There is something very odd indeed in the belief that in looking, say, for causal laws or a unified theory, or in asking whether atoms really do obey the laws of quantum mechanics, the activities of scientists are somehow inherently ‘bourgeois’ or ‘Eurocentric’ or ‘masculinist’, or even ‘militarist.’”

.. Despite this, science as a methodology is not going anywhere. It cannot be “adapted” to include epistemic relativity and “alternative ways of knowing.”

.. The social sciences and humanities, however, are in danger of changing out of all recognition.

.. Empirical historians are often criticized by the postmodernists among us for claiming to know what really happened in the past

.. Christopher Butler recalls Diane Purkiss’ accusation that Keith Thomas was enabling a myth that grounded men’s historical identity in “the powerlessness and speechlessness of women” when he provided evidence that accused witches were usually powerless beggar women. Presumably, he should have claimed, against the evidence, that they were wealthy women or better still, men.

.. Shakespeare’s audience’s would not have found Desdemona’s attraction to Black Othello, who was Christian and a soldier for Venice, so difficult to understand because prejudice against skin color did not become prevalent until a little later in the seventeenth century when the Atlantic Slave Trade gained steam

.. Postmodernist thought sees the culture as containing a number of perpetually competing stories, whose effectiveness depends not so much on an appeal to an independent standard of judgement, as upon their appeal to the communities in which they circulate.”

.. the far-Right is now using identity politics and epistemic relativism in a very similar way to the postmodern-Left.

..  sections of academia and of the left have in recent decades helped create a culture in which relativized views of facts and knowledge seem untroubling, and hence made it easier for the reactionary right not just to re-appropriate but also to promote reactionary ideas.”

.. making itself harder for reasonable people to support.

.. we need to out-discourse the postmodern-Left. We need to meet their oppositions, divisions and hierarchies with universal principles of freedom, equality and justice.

.. We must address concerns about immigration, globalism and authoritarian identity politics currently empowering the far- Right rather than calling people who express them “racist,” “sexist” or “homophobic” and accusing them of wanting to commit verbal violence. We can do this whilst continuing to oppose authoritarian factions of the Right who genuinely are racist, sexist and homophobic,