Time for a format change.

https://damianpenny.substack.com/welcome

After 18 years of running a traditional blog, I’ve decided to join many of my favorite writers (and some of my least favorite writers) on Substack. Instead of publishing to this site, my posts will be sent directly to your email inbox.

And it’s still free, at least for now. (When I get as many subscribers as Andrew Sullivan, then we’ll talk about charging some money for extra content.)

Hope to see you there!

On Nov. 3, the clown show will be put on hiatus for retooling

More than any devastating news reports, more than any lopsided polling, more than any Nate Silver election forecasts: this convinced me that President Trump is well and truly finished this November:

Over ten million Trump cultists, masochists and rubberneckers* watched Trump’s town hall event on NBC, but the ABC broadcast featuring boring old Joe Biden drew over twelve million viewers.

In 2016, everyone watched Donald Trump’s rallies, speeches and events just to see what crazy stuff he’d do. In 2020, the novelty has worn off. Americans have well and thoroughly had enough of the Trump era and just want the madness to end.

This should also silence critics who self-righteously slammed NBC for scheduling the Trump event at the same time as the Biden event. (Sadly, the technology to watch one show and record the other for later viewing apparently doesn’t exist yet.) Not only was Trump thoroughly cornered and flustered by Savannah Guthrie, now we have definitive proof that he can’t even draw big TV ratings anymore. Trump might be indifferent to millions of Americans contracting COVID-19, but that has to hit him where it really hurts.

By the way, that nice Florida lady who complimented Trump on his smile? She’s backing Biden.

Is 2020 Trump’s 1993?

With less than one month before Election Day, this is not what a Republican candidate wants the Drudge Report to look like:

This is not what he wants the Five Thirty Eight election prediction to look like:

And with the crucial senior-citizen vote in the balance, this isn’t what a normal candidate would want going out in his name. But we’re not dealing with a “normal” candidate, are we?

Everyone understandably compares this election to previous American Presidential contests, but I wonder if the best comparison might be to the Canadian federal election in 1993. When an unpopular gaffe-prone incumbent political party based its entire campaign on the opposition leader being “old” and “out of touch.” And ultimately resorted to television commercials which looked like they were making fun of his facial deformity, ultimately destroying whatever pockets of support they had left.

The mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was reduced to two seats in the House of Commons, never really recovered in subsequent elections, and was ultimately forced into a merger of unequals with the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance.

The Republican Party will not meet that fate in 2020 – only one-third of the Senate is up for grabs this year, and in deeply polarized America the GOP still has plenty of strongholds – but Republican strategists must be getting very nervous when polling from Georgia – Georgia! – looks like this:

In Georgia, Biden leads 51 – 44 percent among likely voters, while 4 percent are undecided. On September 29th, the race for the White House was too close to call when Biden had 50 percent support and Trump had 47 percent support. The September survey was taken before the first presidential debate and the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

[…]

Today, Democrat Jon Ossoff leads Republican incumbent Senator David Perdue 51 – 45 percent, while 3 percent are undecided. This compares to a virtual tie in late September when Ossoff had 49 percent and Perdue had 48 percent.

False equivalence

Senator Mitt Romney is taking heat for a statement in which he compares Donald Trump’s behavior and rhetoric to that of Keith Olbermann (who may have been fired from his own YouTube channel by the time this has been posted).

I agree that there’s absolutely no comparison. Once of these men is a pompous blowhard with authoritarian tendencies and a grossly inflated belief in his own intelligence, and who has turned off everyone he’s ever worked with and appeals only to a dwindling, fanatical cult following. The other is President of the United States.

Policing and special needs

If you’re the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, this is the kind of story that sends chills down your spine:

The video from former Statesville Police Officer Michael Fattaleh’s body camera shows him rushing across a classroom toward two women who are sitting with a small boy.

“OK, I’ve got him. He’s mine now,” Fattaleh says. He takes the 7-year-old, autistic child from the women, handcuffs the boy’s arms behind his back and presses him to the floor.

According to the video of the Sept. 11, 2018, incident, the student remains in that position for the next 38 minutes. Sometimes he sits quietly. Other times he sobs in apparent pain or pleads for Fattaleh to let him go.

“I’ve got all day, dude,” the officer says early in the encounter. “… If you are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be shortly.”

The boy’s crime? According to a new lawsuit filed by the child’s mother, identified as A.G., Fattaleh says he saw the special needs student spitting in a “quiet room” at the Pressly Alternative School in Statesville.

[…]

According to Charlotte attorney Alex Heroy, who is representing the boy’s mother, Fattaleh inappropriately injected himself into a situation without being summoned by the boy’s teachers, then used physical force that caused the child at times to scream out in pain.

“It’s one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen,” Heroy told the Observer on Friday.

“A school resource officer at a school for special needs students handcuffs and pins a 7-year-old boy to the ground for almost 40 minutes? There is never a need for that, particularly since there was never a threat of harm to anyone. The reported act was that the child spit on the floor. That should never justify this kind of a response to a kid, to a child.”

The mother’s lawsuit against Fattaleh, the city of Statesville and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education was filed Friday in federal court in Charlotte.

Most of the acrimonious debate about American policing has centred around race, but as the Washington Post points out, many controversial cases have involved people with mental health issues:

With much of the country debating when and where police should be called on to help, the harrowing incident in North Carolina casts a light on two scenarios that some advocates argue should fall outside the roles of law enforcement: an urgent mental health crisis — and one taking place inside a school classroom.

Yet, as cash-strapped city budgets and safety concerns have pushed more officers into these sensitive situations, there have been no shortage of eerily similar incidents in the two years since Fattaleh resigned. Earlier this year, a 41-year-old Black man in Rochester, N.Y., was hooded and pinned during an incident that officers characterized as a mental breakdown. Like the boy in Statesville, Daniel Prude — who died a week later — had reportedly been spitting before the officers intervened.

In Vance County, N.C., a school resource officer was fired last December after he repeatedly slammed an 11-year-old to the floor of a middle school hallway. And last month, a 13-year-old with autism was shot and wounded by police in Salt Lake City after he made threats involving a weapon, officers said.

Does this mean police should not be involved in such cases at all? I’m not sure I’d go that far – sadly, sometimes people experiencing mental health crises really do pose a danger to society and to the professionals dealing with them, and force is absolutely necessary. Like most issues, it is far more complicated than either “abolish/defund the police” or “back the blue” advocates would have to you believe.

There’s no argument that people with special needs are being poorly served by the status quo, however. And Americans can bring about change by taking out their cameras and filming whenever they see a situation like this. And voting.

The only question Joe Biden needs to ask Trump

Honestly, I’m not sure anything is going to significantly move the poll numbers by this point. If you’re still with Trump, nothing is going to change your mind by now.

But at tonight’s debate, I’d still like to see Joe Biden say something along these lines:

Mister President, COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 200,000 Americans, and the pandemic isn’t over yet. I’ve wanted to be President of the United States for many years. It is everything I have worked toward. But if dropping out of the race would somehow end the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do it without even giving it a second thought.

Would you give up the White House if you knew it would save American lives?

We all know Trump wouldn’t be able to immediately say “no.” And the true believers would rationalize it. But as long as there are some “soft” Trump supporters whose minds can be changed, it’s worth doing.

Sean Thomason of Rifftrax has another idea:

You said you wanted peaceful protest

After the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, and the resulting chaos and gun-toting teenage vigilantes (2020, ladies and gentlemen) we may not have a conclusion to the NBA season:

The Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers, led by superstar LeBron James, reportedly voted to boycott the rest of the NBA playoffs.

According to Shams Charania, lead NBA writer for The Athletic, James walked out of a hastily-called players meeting when other team representatives said they would not join.

However, Mr. Charania reported, other players realize that even if just those two teams boycott the season, enormous problems would be created in finishing the playoffs.

“Sources: Miami’s Udonis Haslem spoke and essentially told everyone in room that — without Lakers and Clippers, how will season continue? LeBron James walked out. Rest of Lakers and Clippers exited behind him,” Mr. Charania wrote.

The Lakers and Clippers were the two best teams in the Western Conference during the regular season and were poised to win their first-round series in the next day or two.

In theory the NBA season could continue without the Los Angeles teams, but I don’t see how it actually goes ahead without the Lakers and the league’s marquee player, Alex Caruso LeBron James.

Will this players’ strike (not a “boycott,” as the media insists on calling it) actually bring about changes to American policing and racial inequality? I don’t know. But if you’ve been saying you want peaceful protest instead of rioting and looting you should be all in favor of this non-violent action. Right?

Right?

And, yes, the elephant in the room when the NBA deals with social justice issues is China. Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, was slapped down by his bosses and colleagues – including LeBron James – for his own non-violent stand in support of human rights in that country. When pressed about the NBA’s relationship with Communist China, basketball executives deflect like Republicans confronted about the proliferation of guns.

But China’s crimes against humanity don’t make America’s problems with race and policing any less serious, and doesn’t make this players’ protest any less legitimate. And who knows? Young Chinese NBA fans may notice that games aren’t being played anymore, and the reason for this, and ask themselves why Americans can so publicly protest their country while they are not allowed.

(That’s the best-case scenario. Because everything in 2020 is terrible, I can easily foresee a worst-case scenario in which Chinese sponsors and broadcasters demand an immediate end to the players’ strike because it’s hurting their bottom line.)

UPDATE: from today’s Washington Post. I don’t think so…

The mask has been torn off

We all knew he’d float something like this eventually, but it’s still shocking to see a sitting President of the United States come out and say it:

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter Thursday morning and called for the 2020 presidential election to be delayed due to mail-in voting.

Trump has been attacking mail-in voting for months as health and government officials are trying to make it easier and safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

Health officials have said voting by mail can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but Trump has made clear he believes widespread mail-in voting would benefit Democrats in November’s election.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” he tweeted.

Can he do this? Legally, he cannot:

The U.S. president does not have the power to change the date of the election. The day of the federal election is set by U.S. Congress and the Constitution makes no provisions for a delay to the presidential inauguration, which takes place on Jan. 20, 2021.

The 20th Amendment says that “the terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.”

According to NBC News, a change in the election date means a change in the federal law and it would need to go through Democrats-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate.

The key word is “legally.” I have no doubt any attempt to delay the election, at the national or the state level, would eventually be overturned by the courts. Even Trump’s own Supreme Court appointees have proven they won’t blindly do whatever he wants.

But Trump has spent the past four years insisting the 2016 election, which he won, was somehow marred by fraud because Hillary Clinton got more of the popular vote. (An election you can win without a plurality of the votes? What kind of banana republic is that?) He is gearing up to declare an increasingly likely 2020 defeat illegitimate, and everyone knows it.

Unlike in Canada, where a federal agency governs federal elections, American Presidential elections are administered at the state level. I can easily imagine a nightmare situation where Republican-controlled governments in crucial swing states (coughFloridacough) try to delay the election and throw the outcome into chaos. Even if the courts slap them down, that still gives them enough time to sow doubts about whether a Biden victory is legitimate. And Team Trump will run with that for years to come.

Before 2020, we could say the Trump years have been awful in many ways, but the most pessimistic predictions have not come true. In this blighted year, the worst-case scenarios about this man testing a 224-year-old democracy look increasingly plausible. Whatever concerns I might have about Trump’s opponents – not so much Biden himself, but the increasingly vocal far-left fringe of the Democratic Party – are mere annoyances by comparison.

The defining sentence of the Trump era

From this Mediaite article about Trump’s latest conspiracy-addled tweetstorm:

The reckless and irresponsible posts by Trump come exactly one week after the president tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask and the press hailed him as having adopted a new, more serious tone about handling the outbreak that has claimed nearly 150,000 American lives since February.

Even Charlie Brown occasionally expressed some skepticism about Lucy promising not to pull away the football.

Masks, now more than ever

As we gawk at the absolutely shambolic response to COVID-19 south of the border, we Canadians smugly assume it’s largely because the Americans are locked in a culture war over wearing masks while – aside from a few yahoos – we wear them with pride.

Yeah, about that

Canadians are more likely than Americans to praise their government’s handling of COVID-19 and keep their hands to themselves in public, but less likely to wear masks when out of the house, according to recent polling data.

[…]

Nearly three in five Canadians – 58 per cent – reported as of June 11 that they were regularly wearing face masks when out in public.

This was one of the lower rates of face-mask usage, as only six of the 25 other countries surveyed reported less take-up of the masks: the United Kingdom (31 per cent), Australia (21 per cent) and the four surveyed Scandinavian nations, with Denmark at the very bottom at three per cent.

Even Americans reported being more likely to wear masks in public than Canadians. Since June 11, the American mask-wearing rate has risen from slightly above two-thirds to 71 per cent.

Americans who believe masks contain secret 5G antennae get all the media attention, but overall, our Yankee cousins have adopted mask-wearing at least as well as we have.

(An aside: can you imagine how awesome it would be if your mask really did have a 5G antenna? Cell phone reception would be great!)

So why is coronavirus spreading so quickly in the United States while Canada has kept its numbers low? Likely because Americans didn’t really take to masks until after it was too late. Texas made masks mandatory in early July, but by then its COVID-19 numbers were already skyrocketing.

Here in Halifax, most of the people I see in stores and on the bus or ferry aren’t wearing masks. (Halifax Transit is making them mandatory starting this Friday.) Even at Costco, where they’re handing out masks at the door, most shoppers don’t seem to be wearing them.

Our numbers have remained very low in recent weeks, but there are signs that COVID-19 is coming back in other provinces, especially Quebec and Alberta. It seems like only a matter of time before it re-emerges in Nova Scotia, and if people wait until then to mask up, it’s already too late.

Will COVID-19 get as bad here as it did in the United States? It’s unlikely – a universal health care system, less political polarization and a more sparsely distributed population should spare us that fate. But it doesn’t have to get as bad as it is in America to still be really, really bad.