Trying Times With Trump

 “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

* The job of the newly created  Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery is to monitor how the Treasury Department extends loans and loan guarantees. Moreover, the new inspector general has a mandate to notify Congress immediately if the White  House doesn’t cooperate with an audit or an investigation involving $2 trillion in stimulus money. What could go wrong with this scenario?

Unsurprisingly, the oversight position isn’t going over well with the Divider in chief. “I’ll be the oversight,” declared Trump.

The new IG is supposed to be nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate. Presumably Stephen Miller, Corey Lewandowski, Sean Hannity, Pam Bondi, Ted Nugent and Roger Stone are still in the running.

* Donald Trump recently–and intemperately–called for “packed churches … all over our country … on Easter.” The call for de facto religious/political rallies had epidemiologists alarmed and Trump evangelicals elated. (Even the Pope called upon Christians to celebrate Holy Week and Easter by not gathering for worship services.) America’s misleader has since walked it back as the outbreak has spread and social-distancing is a common sense and public health given. Too bad we couldn’t give up Trump for Lent.

* “Because the ‘Ratings’ of my (daily) News Conferences etc. are so high, ‘Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football’ type numbers according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY.” Whatever. It’s what you get during an existential crisis with a narcissistic “Celebrity Apprentice” host as president. So, thanks again, basket of deplorables, feckless GOPsters, skewed-priority greed heads and disaffected progressives who sat out the 2016 election. No one saw COVID-19 coming, but we all should have foreseen a mega mess as the collateral damage from having an unprepared, unethical  rogue charlatan in the White Nationalist House.

COVID Bits

#AloneTogether

* How ironic–and maybe karmic–that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had recklessly pledged to “go on shaking hands with everybody,” has tested positive for the coronavirus.

* Repurposed Olympics: With the Olympic Games now postponed till next year, Tokyo is looking at using the Olympic Village as a place for patients with milder cases of coronavirus.

* Encouraging that subway service is being restored in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first emerged in December.

* As of early this week, only Hawaii and Wyoming remained as states with no reported deaths linked to the outbreak.

* The right and responsibility to vote meets the clear and present danger of gathering during a pandemic. Voting by mail is now a no-brainer. Not doing it is brainless.

Not too long ago, I was feeling almost nostalgic about when communities turned out to cast votes in person. In the era of online living, we don’t gather as diverse communities the way we used to. Voting, among neighbors of different party affiliations, was still a collective, communal experience. It was still America. But the combination of a pandemic and unprecedented, visceral partisanship in the era of Trump makes mailing it in the only alternative. Trump and COVID-19 changed everything.

* There are more than a dozen physicians in Congress, most of them Republican. Why aren’t they the loudest, most coherent and most helpful voices during a health crisis? Or did they take the hypocritical oath?

* “We cannot create an incentive not to work.” That was Sen. Rick Scott’s rationale for being one of four Senate Republicans who objected to a temporary hike in unemployment benefits in the stimulus package. Yes, he’s still Rick Scott–and we’re still “on the hook” for his “leadership.”

* Iso Update I: Binge watching for a certain age group–such as those who fondly recall “The Twilight Zone”–should come with a spoiler alert. Themes of manipulation–from aliens to grim reapers–and eerie uncertainty abound. Hardly escape, although Rod Serling is still cool. And if nostalgia includes “The Honeymooners,” it won’t provide nearly enough escape either. You’ll be reminded that Ralph Kramden would have been a Trumpster.

* Iso Update II: What day is this again?

Media Matters

* So a Fox Business anchor, the blonde bombshellish Trish Regan, is out following a coronavirus riff in which she dismissed concerns as a “scam” fueled by enemies of Donald Trump. No, it’s not the same as giving the boot to Sean Hannity, but it means there is still a detectable pulse of professionalism and ethics, even as Roger Ailes twitches in his grave.

* Normally during a crisis, the media is the critical go-to source for necessary information and perspective. That scenario changes during a pandemic when the media is also blindsided–from free-falling advertising revenue to vulnerable frontline reporters. Exhibit A: the Tampa Bay Times, which has already downsized because of technology and a societal culture that increasingly undervalues reading off line. Now the Times, beginning next week, will begin printing and delivering the paper twice (Wednesday and Sunday) a week. Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times explained that the paper “simply cannot afford to produce the ink-and-paper version every day.” But, yes, the Times’ daily electronic edition will not be affected.

Dem Notes

* That 12th debate is increasingly looking like the Olympics, which was on hold until, inevitably, it couldn’t hold up to pandemic context and all its mutating, movable parts. Officially, the DNC has not called off the debate–now down to two candidates, one with a near-insurmountable lead–scheduled for later this month. “We don’t have a (media) partner or a location or a date,” said a DNC spokesperson. Other than that, stay tuned.

* While others speculate about when Bernie Sanders will formally bow out, the feisty Democratic socialist is not giving any hints. Among those not surprised that Sanders is still officially competing for the nomination is Nick Carter, who was Sanders’ political outreach director for the 2016 campaign. And it’s not about ego or stubbornness or irascibility. “For someone who has built a career out of campaigning against the inequality of our health care system, this is prime time,” underscored Carter.

Sports Shorts

* “Talent won’t be an issue to keep us out of the playoffs, no.”–Bucs head coach Bruce Arians.

* A lot of media used the photo of the empty and forlorn home of the Chicago White Sox to underscore the depressing new normal in what was supposed to be opening day for Major League Baseball. In addition to feeling sad, I was reminded that the stadium is no longer called Comiskey Park. Since 2016, it’s been Guaranteed Rate Field. Before that, it had an iteration as U.S. Cellular Field.

We all get naming rights: It’s about marketing and money and business branding. But some names are just better than others–and some buildings and facilities just deserve no less. Arguably, south-side Chicago’s Comiskey Park was oneof those.But at least the Chisox don’t play at 1-800-Ask-GARY Field. And so far, that other field on the other side of the Windy City is still Wrigley.

Quoteworthy

* “America was always strong on self-interest, but it has been very generous. That generosity seems to be gone, and that’s bad news for the world.”–Jan Techau, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

* “This crisis has exposed the deep fissures and failures in our culture and the incompetence of so many of our federal leaders. And a reckoning must be had; we are already seeing calls for an inquiry akin to the 9/11 commission into why we were so unprepared. … Many Americans are likely to die who could have been protected had the nation been better prepared and better led. Top-down direction is critical.”–Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive of New America.

* “There is broad general agreement that small businesses in this country will not be able to survive unless there is extraordinary assistance.”–Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

* “When the government shut down the economy, it assumed the responsibility of bringing it back.”–Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, in the aftermath of the government stepping in with $2 trillion rescue legislation.

* “We are actively monitoring the situation and the possible impact of the crisis on consumer demand. When we can safely resume production, we will.”–General Motors spokesman David Barnass, while announcing that GM would be suspending production at its North American factories indefinitely, laying off 6,500 salaried employees and cutting executive pay.

* “Really, the message is this: that this is a unique situation, it’s not like a typical downturn. The Federal Reserve is working hard to support you now, and our policies will be very important when the recovery does come.”–Fed Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell.

* “Philanthropy can’t replace the efforts of national governments on a challenge as massive as the coronavirus pandemic. But it can support and augment those efforts, and help fill in gaps, and that’s what we’re doing.”–Michael Bloomberg.

* “There is hope in the fact that the impressive containment achieved so far in East Asia has been accomplished with a variety of different policies, different degrees of lockdown and distancing, but one major commonality: the wide-spread use of masks.”–Ross Douthat, New York Times.

* “It doesn’t matter that at least half of what (Trump’s) saying is at best wrong and at worst encourages people to do the wrong things. He’s the leader. And the media is basically doing what it did in 2016 and giving the reality-TV star what he wants.”–Bob Kerrey, former Democratic senator and governor of Nebraska.

* “Right now, for the life of me, I don’t know who speaks for Department of Homeland Security.”–Janet Napolitano, former secretary of homeland security under Barack Obama.

* “Polls say Trump’s popularity had edged up a little since the virus struck. The fact remains that, for a wartime commander in chief, he’s unpopular. He is beatable. So is the virus, because America is smarter and better than Trump’s hunches.”–Roger Cohen, New York Times.

* “In this hour of crisis, state officials should do all they can to hold their elections as soon as possible. The legitimacy of the eventual Democratic nominee could depend on it.”–Historian Jon Meacham.

* “Only fools would expect the government to protect them from the spread of this powerful and deadly disease. Isolation is critical.”–Jay Wolfson, a professor at USF’s College of Public Health and an expert on health care policy.

* “(President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis) have both shown strong leadership, and Floridians are better off because of their response to this virus. … The media will never give President Trump or Gov. DeSantis a fair shake. But to my eye, they have been working together tirelessly to protect us from this threat.”–Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

* “After all the hard work, we don’t want it to now get seeded as people flee the hot zone.”–Gov. Ron DeSantis, in issuing executive orders that require a 14-day quarantine for travelers newly arriving from the New York area, currently the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

* “We need to modernize our voting systems to protect voters, and our partnership  with the DNC to enroll Floridians in vote-by-mail does just that. If Trump and DeSantis won’t act to protect the vote from a global pandemic, we will.”–Juan Penalosa, the Florida Democratic Party’s executive director, in reference to the FDP and the DNC partnering to launch a massive texting campaign to encourage Floridians to register to vote by mail.

* “As a company that started as a small business 90 years ago, Publix wants to help businesses renting from us survive the economic impact of these unexpected closures.”–Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous, in announcing that Publix was waiving rent for two months to businesses that operate in any of the 282 shopping centers that Publix owns.

* “To alleviate some of your stress during this time of uncertainty, USF is giving you the option to take your spring 2020 semester classes with a satisfactory or unsatisfactory (pass-fail) grade,”–Paul Dosal, USF’s vice president for student success. USF, FSU and UCF are expanding pass-fail grading due to the coronavirus.

* “The reality is this is going to be a long haul.”–Mayor Jane Castor.

An Impeachable Offense

 “A republic, if you can keep it.”

“Little Rocket Man” or “the perfect call” now seem almost innocuous.

What’s really worrisome is how this vain, rogue president’s bullsh*t pulpit is currently being utilized. Impulsive, deceitful, misleadingly narcissist responses to reporters during a national and global crisis–after having ineptly presided over a manifestly negligent coronavirus preparation–should be an impeachable offense. It’s costing lives. It’s hardly coincidental that the White House pandemic office was disbanded in 2018, and that Trump cut funding for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and shut down the global-health-security unit of the National Security Council. It was all unnecessary “overhead” to a “stable genius” businessman with other base-promised, budget priorities.

I watched the press-conference interaction between NBC’s Peter Alexander and the Fabulist-in-chief. Alexander was channeling most Americans when he asked what the president would say to all those Americans marooned at home and frightened by the unknown. In response, Trump wasn’t the avatar of calm and information; he didn’t exactly channel FDR or Barack Obama. More like Neville Chamberlain meets Richard Nixon. That’s because Trump doesn’t do “reassurance,” except when self-servingly misrepresenting what Dr. Anthony Fauci really thinks, which should be a pandemic high crime.

He doesn’t do “fireside chats”–more like flamethrower clamor. He doesn’t use the mass media to inform and reassure, he abuses it to demonize, scapegoat and elude responsibility, which should qualify as no less than an unconscionable misdemeanor of unpatriotic self service.

Back to the press conference. Trump’s message to anxious Americans yearning for factual information, compassion and trust: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” responded Trump to Alexander. “I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism.”

Granted, Alexander’s question wasn’t without a trace of “gotcha.” It comes with the medium. But it also comes with presidential accountability. It should be POTUS 101; presidents, of all people, ought to know how to handle incoming–especially when they’re speaking directly to the American people during a national, let alone global, emergency. No matter who asked the question; no matter how it was asked. But as we’ve been continuously reminded: You can’t fake class, competence and trustworthiness.

Here’s a suggestion: Mainstream media should stop covering live this Trump exercise in state propaganda. It’s a forum for misinformation that enables avoidable death. Recall how the media helped elect Trump, who was perversely “great copy,” by covering his wise-guy rallies and interrupting regular programming so the network could go live for more “Enemy of the people,” “Lock her up” rhetoric. Now, this unhinged charlatan is actually president, and what he says matters so much more than during his Rev. Jim Jones-as-presidential-candidate rallies. In short, mainstream media should stop live coverage because the truth matters. Now more than ever.

Trumpster Diving

* Alas, thanks to technology and the 24-7 news cycle, we really can’t distance ourselves from Trump.

* “Heckuva job, Brownie” never seemed so nostalgic.

* Another day at the Oval Orifice. Needing good, if inaccurate, news to maintain his “stable genius” self-image, Trump announced that “Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now. They’ve made tremendous progress.” That was also news to Google, whose Verily subsidiary was in the start-up phase of a website that would let people evaluate their symptoms and direct them to drive-through locations for testing. A pilot program is being planned, but the website hasn’t been launched yet. Other than that, Trump’s calculatingly optimistic update was spot on.

* “The Deep State Department”: How Trump disparagingly referenced America’s diplomats at a recent press briefing.

* “@realDonaldTrump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.” That was sycophantic Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Parallel Universe.

* “I didn’t say the end would be signaled by trumpets, I said Trump/Pence.”–God.

COVID Bits

* Not all countries are equally vulnerable to the coronavirus. Exhibit A: Estonia. The tech-savvy, Baltic nation of 1.3 million has a dynamic economy, a good chunk of which, fortunately, is digital. That includes companies that can deliver services digitally and where employees can work from home.

* We’ve seen effective, draconian lockdowns in China–as only an authoritarian government can enforce. Too bad an authoritarian approach to transparency can’t work.

* The Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 24, are now postponed. Finally. For a time, it seemed that denial had become an Olympic sport.   

* “The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”–That was the Unifier-in-chief, inimitably explaining that it was largely up to governors to deal with a dire shortage of masks, surgical gowns and eye gear to protect medical workers from the coronavirus.

* “At this point in the emergency, there’s little merit in spending time on what we should have done or who’s at fault.” That was Adm. Tim Ziemer, whose perspective is well grounded. He led the pandemic response unit on the National Security Council–before it was disbanded under Trump.

* “The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out. Only in movies do viruses seem to become worse.” That was Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who was actually a consultant for the movie “Contagion,” now streaming back into popularity.

* For self-isolation perspective, Anne Frank and seven others hid in a 450 square-foot attic for 761 days–quietly trying to remain undiscovered to stay alive.

* “Touch elbows and smile. That works, as long as the warmth is there.”–Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda on how Latin culture–where showing affection through touch is a given–can be altered for the common good.

Dem Notes

* Smart, activist move by the Biden campaign to get the candidate a higher profile and cede less media coverage to Trump. Biden will be more of a presence on the airwaves, and to that end, his Delaware home now has a makeshift TV studio. The juxtaposition will be worth it. The more Trump opens his mouth and dissembles about the latest COVID update, the more presidential Biden can look.

* Mike Bloomberg’s $18 million contribution to the DNC far exceeds individual limits, but is legal because it comes in the form of a campaign transfer.  

* Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the last woman out in the primary, has now endorsed Joe Biden. Back in 2016, she had endorsed Bernie Sanders. She could also be back in the news cycle if Hawaii activates the National Guard. Gabbard, 38, is a major in the Army National Guard.

* “The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America–America–is at stake.”–Joe Biden.