The virus doesn’t care what’s in your heart

Remember when coronavirus was a thing? NPR remembers.

President Trump this month will begin hitting the road once again to make his pitch for reelection in the 2020 White House race, despite the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of households across the country.

[…]

Public experts continue to warn against large gatherings of people, even as the country has begun in the past several weeks to reopen the economy. The coronavirus crisis has already killed more than 100,000 people in the United States — the highest number of fatalities of any country in the world.

Just imagine what a state we’d be in now if there had been, say, people by the thousands marching and chanting slogans all over the world for the past couple of weeks.

Oh, right.

Obviously, I don’t think there’s moral equivalence between a march to oppose police brutality and racism and a hate rally where the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief gets to rant about his real and imagined enemies for a few hours.

The virus, on the other hand, sees no distinction between the two. And if the same people who told us to lock down, but changed their minds and said we should march, then say we have to lock down once again, who is going to take them seriously?

Thomas Chatterton Williams, writing in a notorious right-wing, pro-Trump rag called (checks notes) The Guardian, says it’s not just the Trumpsters who have squandered their credibility for political points:

After two and a half months of death, confinement, and unemployment figures dwarfing even the Great Depression, we have now entered the stage of competing urgencies where there are zero perfect options. Police brutality is a different if metaphorical epidemic in an America slouching toward authoritarianism. Catalyzed by the spectacle of Floyd’s reprehensible death, it is clear that the emergency in Minneapolis passes my own and many people’s threshold for justifying the risk of contagion. 

But poverty is also a public health crisis. George Floyd wasn’t merely killed for being black – he was also killed for being poor. He died over a counterfeit banknote. Poverty destroys Americans every day by means of confrontations with the law, disease, pollution, violence and despair. Yet even as the coronavirus lockdown threw 40 million Americans out of work – including Floyd himself – many progressives accepted this calamity, sometimes with stunning blitheness, as the necessary cost of guarding against Covid-19.

The new, “correct” narrative about public health – that one kind of crisis has superseded the other – grows shakier as it spans out from Minnesota, across America to as far as London, Amsterdam and Paris – cities that have in recent days seen extraordinary manifestations of public solidarity against both American and local racism, with protesters in the many thousands flooding public spaces.

[…]

What are we to make of such whiplash-inducing messaging? Merely pointing out the inconsistency in such a polarized landscape feels like an act of heresy. But “‘Your gatherings are a threat, mine aren’t,’ is fundamentally illogical, no matter who says it or for what reason,” as the author of The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols, put it. “We’ve been told for months to stay as isolated as humanely possible,” Suzy Khimm, an NBC reporter covering Covid-19, noted, but “some of the same public officials and epidemiologists are [now] saying it’s OK to go to mass gatherings – but only certain ones.” 

Public health experts – as well as many mainstream commentators, plenty of whom in the beginning of the pandemic were already incoherent about the importance of face masks and stay-at-home orders – have hemorrhaged credibility and authority. This is not merely a short-term problem; it will constitute a crisis of trust going forward, when it may be all the more urgent to convince skeptical masses to submit to an unproven vaccine or to another round of crushing stay-at-home orders. Will anyone still listen? 

Trump, and his fellow populists around the world, didn’t just come out of nowhere. The past few years have been marked by increasing mistrust of almost every kind of authority. If we can’t trust our public health officials, either, we’re in even bigger trouble than we know.

Ironically, people who support the BLM marches and oppose Trump’s rallies do have a credible argument on their side: the protests are outside while Trump events are held indoors, where the coronavirus may be more easily transmitted. That, and not some fanciful idea about the virus skipping over people who have good intentions, could actually work.

Into the Q-niverse

If you want to understand the Trump era (at the risk of getting really, really depressed) The Atlantic‘s deep dive into the QAnon conspiracy phenomenon is absolutely essential reading:

Conspiracy theories are a constant in American history, and it is tempting to dismiss them as inconsequential. But as the 21st century has progressed, such a dismissal has begun to require willful blindness. I was a city-hall reporter for a local investigative-news site called Honolulu Civil Beat in 2011 when Donald Trump was laying the groundwork for a presidential run by publicly questioning whether Barack Obama had been born in Hawaii, as all facts and documents showed. Trump maintained that Obama had really been born in Africa, and therefore wasn’t a natural-born American—making him ineligible for the highest office. I remember the debate in our Honolulu newsroom: Should we even cover this “birther” madness? As it turned out, the allegations, based entirely on lies, captivated enough people to give Trump a launching pad.

Nine years later, as reports of a fearsome new virus suddenly emerged, and with Trump now president, a series of ideas began burbling in the QAnon community: that the coronavirus might not be real; that if it was, it had been created by the “deep state,” the star chamber of government officials and other elite figures who secretly run the world; that the hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of a plot to hurt Trump’s reelection chances; and that media elites were cheering the death toll. Some of these ideas would make their way onto Fox News and into the president’s public utterances. As of late last year, according to The New York Times, Trump had retweeted accounts often focused on conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon, on at least 145 occasions.

I’m not sure Trump really believes this, though you can never be sure. But he’s certainly not above using it to rile up his (shrinking) base.

The writer, Adrienne LaFrance, tried to reason with several QAnon enthusiasts. It went about as well as you’d expect:

Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, Q frequently rails against legitimate sources of information as fake. Shock and Harger rely on information they encounter on Facebook rather than news outlets run by journalists. They don’t read the local paper or watch any of the major television networks. “You can’t watch the news,” Shock said. “Your news channel ain’t gonna tell us shit.” Harger says he likes One America News Network. Not so long ago, he used to watch CNN, and couldn’t get enough of Wolf Blitzer. “We were glued to that; we always have been,” he said. “Until this man, Trump, really opened our eyes to what’s happening. And Q. Q is telling us beforehand the stuff that’s going to happen.” I asked Harger and Shock for examples of predictions that had come true. They could not provide specifics and instead encouraged me to do the research myself. When I asked them how they explained the events Q had predicted that never happened, such as Clinton’s arrest, they said that deception is part of Q’s plan. Shock added, “I think there were more things that were predicted that did happen.” Her tone was gentle rather than indignant.

Harger wanted me to know that he’d voted for Obama the first time around. He grew up in a family of Democrats. His dad was a union guy. But that was before Trump appeared and convinced Harger that he shouldn’t trust the institutions he always thought he could. Shock nodded alongside him. “The reason I feel like I can trust Trump more is, he’s not part of the establishment,” she said. At one point, Harger told me I should look into what happened to John F. Kennedy Jr.—who died in 1999, when his airplane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Martha’s Vineyard—suggesting that Hillary Clinton had had him assassinated. (Alternatively, a contingent of QAnon believers say that JFK Jr. faked his death and that he’s a behind-the-scenes Trump supporter, and possibly even Q himself. Some anticipate his dramatic public return so that he can serve as Trump’s running mate in 2020.) When I asked Harger whether there’s any evidence to support the assassination claim, he flipped my question around: “Is there any evidence not to?”

I do not expect Trump to win re-election this fall. He’s not picking up any states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and several of the states he did win – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina – are looking very shaky for him. Even freaking Georgia might be in play. Trump’s win was so narrow that he really can’t afford to lose anything, and his coalition sure as heck hasn’t grown in the ensuing four years.

But even if he loses in a landslide, there’s still a ride-or-die Trump cult consisting of up to one-third of American voters. Many of them are all-in on QAnon as well. And how will they react when it looks like the Deep StateTM got rid of their savior?

Trump Justice

We’ve all been there. Every lawyer has found him- or herself representing a client so belligerent, so unreasonable, so obstinate they’re left with no choice but to withdraw from the case.

In this case, the impossible client is the President of the United States.

Four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the U.S. Justice Department said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confidant.

The decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair.” The Justice Department said the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

The four attorneys, including two who were early members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia team, had made up the Justice Department’s trial team and had signed onto a Monday court filing that recommended up to nine years in prison for Stone. 

[…]

After the attorneys quit the case, Justice Department officials filed a revised sentencing memorandum with the judge, arguing its initial recommendation could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances,” but that it would defer to the court. None of the original prosecutors in Stone’s case signed onto the revised memo.

The Justice Department said the decision to shorten the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and that prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, in justifying her decision to vote against removing Trump from office, said she thought the President had “learned his lesson.” I agree, he’s learned a lesson.

So now the President of the United States is blatantly interfering in the justice system for political reasons. What kind of banana republic allows that to happen?

Maple Leaf Rage

When I first saw a tweetstorm by Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain blaming Donald Trump for Iran’s shootdown of Ukranian Airlines Flight 572 – on his company’s official Twitter feed, no less – I was immediately reminded of the immortal words of Ann Coulter:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

The far-right commentator was mourning the loss of her friend Barbara Olson in the 9/11 attacks when she penned these provocative, fiery words. I have no doubt Coulter was sincerely stricken with grief and anger when she wrote this. But that sure doesn’t excuse it.

Michael McCain isn’t nearly as repellent a person as Coulter, and his angry tweets don’t come close to her borderline promotion of genocide. But in both cases, their heartfelt grief led to lash out at people who didn’t deserve it. And, yes, there are many good reasons to lash out against Trump, but this one isn’t on him.

After the Flight 752 disaster killed his colleague’s wife and 11-year-old son, Michael McCain, chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., took to Twitter on Sunday night to admonish the Trump administration for escalating tensions with Iran.

“I am very angry, and time isn’t making me less angry,” McCain wrote on Maple Leaf Foods’ official Twitter account. “A MLF colleague of mine lost his wife and family this week to a needless, irresponsible series of events in Iran.”

McCain is at the helm of a major Canadian meat processing empire, with 12,500 employees and production facilities in Canada and the U.S., including a planned $310-million plant-based protein plant in Indiana.

[…]

Without ever naming Donald Trump — referring to him instead “a narcissist in Washington” — McCain criticized the president’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear agreement and the recent U.S. killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Iran retaliated with missile strikes on U.S. military positions in Iraq, then hours later, Iran fired on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 on board, the majority of them en route to Canada via Kiev. After initially denying any involvement, Iran admitted on Friday to shooting down the plane, calling it a “disastrous mistake” caused by human error. Iran said the air defences were fired in error while on alert after the missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.

It would be one thing if McCain blamed Trump and Iran for the shootdown, like this past weekend’s Chronicle Herald cartoon. I still don’t think it would be accurate, but at least it would acknowledge that the people who actually shot down the plane must bear some responsibility or their actions.

But if you knew nothing else about the incident, you would read McCain’s tweets and assume the U.S. shot down the jet. Whether he meant to or not, McCain treats the Iranian government and military not as professionals but as wild animals who just can’t help themselves.

Which, ironically, isn’t that far off from the way people like Coulter view the people of Iran – many of whom are risking their lives to hold their own leaders accountable for this disaster.

It’s Iran’s fault. Period.

As we argue about who is really responsible for the downing of Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752, Tom Nichols – whose anti-Trump credentials are second to none – places the blame squarely on the country that actually shot down the plane.

Trump is a reckless, ignorant fool. He is not responsible for everything bad that happens in the world, and to say otherwise is to deny everyone else any responsibility for their own actions.

In other contexts, that would be considered racism.

As for Iranian cooperation and openness in finding out what happened, this is not a promising sign:

Our worst fears confirmed

The crash of Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752, which claimed the lives of 176 people – including 62 Canadians, many of them with connections to Halifax – was likely caused by an Iranian surface-to-air missile:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says intelligence now indicates the Ukrainian passenger aircraft that crashed outside of Tehran on Wednesday, killing everyone on board — including 138 people destined for Canada — was shot down by an Iranian missile. 

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa, adding that it might have been an unintentional act.

[…]

The crash happened just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, in response to U.S. President Trump’s decision to order the targeted killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani

When asked if the U.S. air strike was in part to blame for the crash, Trudeau said only that Canada needs a thorough investigation.

I’m not normally inclined to give the Iranian government any benefit of the doubt, but I really don’t think they intended to destroy this civilian plane. At a time when they’re on the verge of war with the United States, this is the last thing they needed. Plus, 82 Iranians were among the victims.

When the U.S. Navy shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, it was because they mistook the plane for a fighter jet. The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine was likely carried out by Russian-backed separatists who thought they were firing on military aircraft. The most likely explanation is that the same kind of terrible, negligent mistake happened here.

As for President Trump, I guess you can say he bears some responsibility for this, in the same way President Johnson bears some responsibility for Forrest Gump’s friend Jenny getting abused by her boyfriend. The word “crossfire” is being thrown around, but at the time this happened only one side was actually doing any shooting.

The orange one himself is much less bellicose than you might expect:

Trump declined to share his theories around why the plane crashed but said he thought “something very terrible happened. Very devastating.”

“Well, I have my suspicions. It was very – I don’t want to say that…because other people have those suspicions also.”

He also said someone “on other side” could have “made a mistake.”

Trump is being roasted online for his cavalier remarks about the plane ” flying in a pretty rough neighborhood.” Maybe not the most sensitive way to put it, but my goodness, could you realistically expect anything better?

The President’s charity scam

Remember when the President of the United States was caught running a scam charity, from which he used the proceeds to buy giant paintings of himself, and was forced to pay $2 million in damages? No?

It says a lot about this President that something like running a fraudulent charity can fall through the cracks:

President Trump has paid $2 million in court-ordered damages for misusing funds in a tax-exempt charity he controlled, the New York attorney general said Tuesday.

At least he paid. His contractors usually aren’t so lucky.

The payment was ordered last month by a New York state judge in an extraordinary rebuke to a sitting president. Trump had been sued in 2018 by the New York attorney general, who alleged the president had illegally used funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to buy portraits of himself, pay off his businesses’ legal obligations and help his 2016 campaign.

The money was split among eight charities, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). The charities were the Army Emergency Relief, the Children’s Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, the United Negro College Fund, the United Way of National Capital Area, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to the statement.

That one of the legitimate charities scammed by the white nationalists’ favorite President is the Holocaust Museum is…[chef’s kiss].

In addition, Trump agreed to distribute the remaining $1.8 million left in the Donald J. Trump Foundation to the same eight charities. In all, each charity received $476,140.41.

[…]

In a statement, attorneys for Trump said: “The legacy of the Trump Foundation — which gave away many millions to those in need at virtually no cost — is secure.” They did not answer a reporter’s query about whether Trump intended to count the court-ordered $2 million payment on his taxes as a charitable deduction.

(via Joe Walsh – the longshot Presidential candidate, not the “Life’s Been Good” guy – on Twitter)

On The Simpsons, Mr. Burns was once diagnosed with “Three Stooges Syndrome,” a condition in which he has every single disease known to man but they all kind of cancel each other out.

Similarly, Trump is embroiled in so many scandals that none of them can really gain any traction. And that’s why he thinks he’s indestructible. Hopefully the impeachment hearings are the slight breeze.

Everything we knew about Trump is still true

Robert Mueller may have confirmed that the President of the United States didn’t knowingly collude with Russia, and Team #MAGA is taking its victory lap.

Retweeting himself is the least objectionable thing about him.

The report is agnostic on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, and several members of his circle are already or will soon be behind bars. (As noted by CNN Legal Anlyst Elie Honig, imagine if Mueller had waited until he completed his report before announcing all 34 indictments, including the likes of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, at once.)

In any event, even if Trump isn’t guilty of collusion, it certainly doesn’t make him a good President or even a decent human being.

Some perspective from Rachel Larimore at The Bulwark:

…at the end of the day Donald Trump is a bad man. A bad, orange man. And  a bad president. Vanna, show them what they’ve won!

Trump is still the same guy who:

Told Billy Bush that “I moved on her like a bitch” in reference to a married woman. And that his M.O. is to “grab ’em by the pussy.”

Insulted John McCain for being captured while serving in Vietnam.

Insulted a Gold Star family whose son died in Iraq.

Said Mexico was going to build America a wall.

Accused an American judge of dual loyalties.

Refused to divest from his businesses after he was elected president.

Does not appear to understand trade deficits.

Complained about immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Said terrible things about female journalists.

Said terrible things about male journalists.

Failed to swiftly and simply condemn violence by neo-Nazi and white nationalist protesters during the Charlottesville protest.

Said he had a “great relationship” with Rodrigo Duterte, the Phillipines president who has bragged about personally killing people during his war on drugs.

Retweeted an extremist British nationalist’s anti-Muslim videos.

That’s not even half the list. And the complete list doesn’t even mention he’s a vaccine troofer on top of everything else.

In any event, that victory lap might be premature, according to Henry Olsen:

This evidence could have a quite different effect on public opinion than it would in a legal proceeding. Criminal prosecutions require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and Mueller clearly saw a strong case against Trump under that standard. While Barr decided he did not, reasonable observers could conclude differently. They could also conclude, perhaps, that they have reasonable doubts but think Trump did obstruct justice under the more lenient “clear and convincing evidence” or “preponderance of the evidence” standards. Prosecutors would not look at a criminal case through those lenses, but politicians and pundits are sure to do so.

Barr’s section labeled “Obstruction of Justice” is essential here. Every sentence is extremely precise and carefully worded. The matter of the president’s intent is key, as a prosecutor would have to prove that such a crime was committed with “a corrupt intent.” Barr writes that the special counsel’s finding that the president was not involved in an underlying crime bore “upon the President’s intent” regarding obstruction. In plain English, that suggests there is evidence that people could conclude constitutes criminal obstruction, but that Trump’s saving grace in the law is that he also could not be proven to have colluded with the Russians. Political observers could disagree.

[…]

Barr’s subsequent release is highly likely to contain much more detail, much of it at least unflattering to the president, than most pundits surmise. With respect to the issues of Russian collusion and obstruction, we have clearly reached the end of the beginning. We are nowhere near the beginning of the end.

The more Trump crows about how the Mueller report proves his innocence, the harder it will be for him to avoid releasing it. Though if anyone is shameless enough to try, it’s him.