February 25, 2020

Today has been weirdly unsettled as coronavirus news broke, the stock market tottered, and Trump attacked the Supreme Court and California Democrat Adam Schiff while trying to use the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to cut government further.

But before I get to any of this, let me clarify something: you are hearing a lot now about the coronavirus “pandemic.” There is a HUGE difference between a pandemic and a deadly pandemic. A pandemic just means that an infectious disease has spread across the world. It does NOT mean that we’re all going to die from it (as people keep helpfully shouting on Twitter). So be smart and prepared, but don’t panic.

Today the administration acknowledged that the coronavirus is likely to spread across the nation, even as Trump surrogates tried to argue that it was contained or—as Rush Limbaugh said—just the common cold (four coronaviruses are among the viruses that cause what we call "colds," but this is a new, vastly more dangerous, strain). This turnaround revealed how woefully incompetent administration officers are. In a painful exchange between Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf (another acting secretary, rather than a permanent one), at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Wolf got the statistics for the death rates of coronavirus and influenza wrong (it appears to be around 2% for coronavirus; the death rate from influenza is about .1% annually), admitted he had no idea how many hospital beds or masks America has, and generally seemed completely over his head.

It was an interesting exchange, because Kennedy, of course, is a Trump enabler. Him lacerating this inadequate Trump appointee seemed to me simply to show his determination to demonstrate for voters his dominance over the younger man, since Kennedy is part of the cabal that supported seeding the government with these unequipped appointees in the first place.

For his part, Trump did not help. He told reporters that “We’re very close to a vaccine,” and that “we’re really down to probably ten” cases. Researchers say they are 12 to 18 months from a vaccine, forcing the White House to say that Trump was referring to an Ebola vaccine, not a coronavirus vaccine, when he spoke. The CDC has confirmed 57 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., but since the coronavirus test sent out by the CDC earlier this month turned out to be faulty, we have tested only 426 people aside from those evacuated by air from other countries. So how many cases we actually have is unclear.

Also interesting is that the administration is finally admitting we have a problem, over Trump’s objections. He appears deeply concerned that coronavirus worries will hurt the economy. Stock prices continued to slide today for the fourth day in a row, with the market taking another hit as the Dow Jones Industrial average was down 879 points. Trump’s surrogates tried to be reassuring. “We have contained this. We have contained this. I won’t say air-tight, but pretty close to air-tight,” Trump’s Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow said on CNBC. “The business side, and the economic side, I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all … The numbers are saying the U.S. [is] holding up nicely.”

Trump is clearly most concerned about his political standing. In India today, he slashed at two Supreme Court justices he perceives to be his enemies, calling for Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse themselves from any cases involving him, even as news has broken that Justice Clarence Thomas's wife has been delivering suggestions to the White House for "disloyal" employees to fire. (Remember, the Supreme Court next month will take up the question of whether or not his accountant and banks have to respond to subpoenas for Trump’s financial records, as lower courts have insisted.)

He also called for an investigation into House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) alleging without evidence that he leaked classified information about Russian interference in the 2020 election. This, too, seems like deflection, since all evidence suggests that the leaker was Devin Nunes (R-CA), who news reports based on the accounts of several people present say told Trump about the meeting.

With people distracted by news of coronavirus, administration officials are not slowing down their determination to destroy the New Deal government that we have come to rely on. Far from shying away from their destruction of the activist government as it becomes apparent to most of us that slashing funds for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and getting rid of the pandemic specialists on the National Security Council were a colossally bad idea, the administration has used the crisis to continue to downsize government. The administration wants $2.5 billion to pay for the emergency response to the coronavirus, but it only wants $1.25 billion to be newly appropriated emergency money. It wants to transfer the rest from existing programs, including $535 million from money appropriated to containing Ebola. It has also informed Congress that it intends to fund the emergency response to coronavirus by taking $37 million intended to provide heat to almost 750,000 low-income families. If it persists in this demand, it is essentially holding our safety hostage in order to achieve the goal of dismantling the New Deal government. Democrats say they want a clean emergency funding bill.

Today 70 former U.S. Senators indicated their worry about Trump’s increasing power. They wrote an open letter to the Senate noting that it has abdicated its legislative and oversight responsibilities and has given them over to the president. It is not, therefore, fulfilling its constitutional duties. The bipartisan group of senators called on their currently serving colleagues to create “a bipartisan caucus of incumbent senators who would be committed to making the Senate function as the Framers of the Constitution intended.”

So all this should sound terrifying, right? But, curiously, to me the worrying patterns that have been taking shape over the past months seem newly unsettled. None of today’s news is good: a serious disease, a sliding economy, an incompetent administration, an autocratic president. But all of these elements are creating an instability that will shake forces loose. It is times like these that throw all the cards up in the air. While it is scary to experience that chaos, it is also a time of great possibility. We can step back and let autocrats grab all the cards for themselves and consolidate their power. But we don’t have to. This sort of shock gives us the ability to catch the cards ourselves and reorder them on the table in entirely new patterns, ones that can build a different future.

—-

Notes:

Death rates: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/coronavirus-death-rate-trump-flu-chad-wolf-mortality-a9359406.html

Kennedy and Wolf: https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/02/25/coronavirus-trump-wolf-kennedy-kth-ac360-vpx.pool

Kudlow: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/02/25/white-house-struggles-contain-public-alarm-over-coronavirus-despite-panic/

Vaccine: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/02/covid-vaccine/607000/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/25/white-house-says-trumps-vaccine-claims-about-ebola-not-coronavirus.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/25/behind-our-sluggish-response-coronavirus-an-unnecessary-battle-over-funding/

faulty kits: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/02/25/cdc-coronavirus-test/?fbclid=IwAR2b8KHCVffYwXGDKSJ5Sz4612C_GBvyKL3ZKqiycpKV6uD4YMbSm4xVzrs&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/us/politics/trump-supreme-court.html

Senate letter: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/former-us-senators-the-senate-is-failing-to-perform-its-constitutional-duties/2020/02/25/b9bdd22a-5743-11ea-9000-f3cffee23036_story.html?fbclid=IwAR14DENKr4kUFunlInEPkZOilIoCERSV1tkTHOzNTyFdifx-LFPNxydReGM&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

Thomas: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/us/politics/trump-purge-ginni-thomas.html

February 24, 2020

The major news today, both at home and abroad, is the spread, containment, and management of coronavirus. I am going to write about its political implications. I am neither a doctor nor an epidemiologist, and cannot weigh in on anything other than what this moment looks like to a political historian.

And, while that sounds like a strange lens through which to see this new disease, the virus is actually quite important for American politics.

By now, everyone knows the key elements of the coronavirus story: a pneumonia outbreak appeared in December in Wuhan, China, and scientists traced it to a new strain of coronavirus. After the disease claimed a number of lives, China issued the largest quarantine in history, keeping about 45 million people home from work and public spaces. Epidemiologists were impressively fast off the mark, isolating the new virus and beginning to develop models for how it spreads and vaccinations for how to stop it. But it has moved quickly. As of 9:30 tonight, there have been slightly over 80,000 confirmed cases around the world and 2,699 confirmed deaths. (Let me reiterate: these are the existing numbers, but there are many reasons why they are not in any way definitive as a measure of health or of the epidemic. I’m just giving a sense of the scope of the crisis here for a political read on it.)

Last weekend, as I wrote here, the World health Organization suggested that the window for containing the coronavirus was closing, but many scientists think the window has already closed.

And yet, the U.S. seems to be unprepared. In May 2018, under then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, the administration got rid of the official in charge of overseeing a U.S. response to a pandemic and disbanded his global health security team. Today Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli went on Twitter to ask people if they, too, were having trouble accessing the coronavirus map maintained by Johns Hopkins University. “"Has the Johns Hopkins map of the coronavirus stopped working for other people, or just me?" Cuccinelli tweeted. "I just tried again, and it looks like Johns Hopkins put the information behind a membership wall of some kind. Seems like bad timing to stop helping the world with this (previously) useful resource. Here's hoping it goes back up soon."

Newspaper columnist Max Burbank shared the popular outrage: “Thanks for inspiring confidence. Shouldn't YOU GUYS have a map of this? Shouldn't the CDC? You know who they are, right? Isn't there anyone in charge of response to this? Or did someone colossally stupid eliminate that position?” American historian L. D. Burnett tweeted: “there is literally an ENTIRE FEDERAL AGENCY working for you that you could ask to provide you and all Americans with the latest information on the Coronavirus.” Health policy professor Howard Forman begged: “PLEASE can someone tell me that this is a parody account and that our Executive branch has a CLUE of what is going on? PLEASE!?” Forman then helpfully included links to useful resources for his followers.

The administration has been uncharacteristically quiet about the crisis, and seems unable to figure out how to handle it. I wrote before about its decision to return 14 infected people from the cruise ship the Diamond Princess to America in the same plane as uninfected people despite the protests of CDC officials, and now officials find themselves unable to find a place to house those people still in quarantine because of the flight. The infected travelers have brought the official count of U.S. cases to over 50, but experts think the number might be higher because we are not testing for it.

In 2014, when 2 health care workers infected with the Ebola virus were brought back to America for treatment, Trump had plenty to say. He tweeted: “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days — now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!” The next day he continued: “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back…. People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!” He called for strict flight bans and quarantines and called it “morally unfair” when President Barack Obama sent troops to help contain the outbreak.

This time, though, Trump has been largely silent about the crisis except to say it is under control. On February 16, the Washington Post reported that Trump was worried by a 600 point stock market drop on January 31 after major airlines suspended flights to China. Afraid that strong action against the virus would worry people and thus hurt the economy, he focused on calming the markets by staying quiet, since he sees a strong economy as his primary strength going into the election. “The biggest current threat to the president’s reelection is this thing getting out of control and creating a health and economic impact,” according to Chris Meekins, a former Trump administration emergency-preparedness official.

Today, the administration’s silence changed. It requested $2.5 billion in emergency funding for the crisis (significantly less than the $6 billion Obama asked for to combat Ebola), and Trump, who is on a trip to India, weighed in. “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Trump appears to have been pressured into acknowledging the crisis by its growing impact on the economy. The Chinese quarantine has slowed or stopped production there, emptying the pipeline of supplies flowing to American manufacturing and merchants, and this weekend’s news that the virus is spreading outside Asia sparked economic fears. The U.S. stock market dropped 1000 points today, a drop of 3.5%, its worst in two years. Airline stocks led the slide. And now, tonight, which is Tuesday morning in Japan, Tokyo stocks opened down about 1000 points on coronavirus fears. (The market was closed on Monday.)

As I say, I am 100% not going to weigh in on this as a medical issue—I am neither a doctor nor an epidemiologist—but as a political historian I will note two things. First, Trump’s instincts are right: this health crisis will definitely slow down the economy and could trigger a recession, and that would indeed cripple his reelection campaign.

Second, our public safety should matter more to a president than his reelection campaign.

—-

Available as a free newsletter at heathercoxrichardson.substack.com

Notes:

Stats on coronavirus: https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

Dismissal of pandemic officer: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/

Tweets: https://www.newsweek.com/homeland-security-deputy-secretary-cuccinelli-criticized-asking-twitter-where-find-coronavirus-1488863

New funding: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/24/politics/white-house-1-25-billion-coronavirus-request/index.html

https://apnews.com/39d9c237bfc75c93016870b00ac6dab8

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/obama-seeks-6-billion-from-congress-to-fight-ebola-in-africa-united-states/2014/11/05/12e00f10-6511-11e4-bb14-4cfea1e742d5_story.html

35 cases: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/02/covid-vaccine/607000/

50 cases and quarantine: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/california-judge-delays-decision-on-moving-coronavirus-exposed-americans-to-costa-mesa/2020/02/24/c6fdfcac-574e-11ea-9b35-def5a027d470_story.html

Calm markets: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-soft-touch-with-chinas-xi-worries-advisers-who-say-more-is-needed-to-combat-coronavirus-outbreak/2020/02/16/93de385a-5019-11ea-9b5c-eac5b16dafaa_story.html#click=https://t.co/UYEO6HYb4i

Stock market: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/24/us-futures-coronavirus-outbreak.html

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/02/25/business/financial-markets/nikkei-plunges-1000-points-tokyo-markets-reopen-amid-coronavirus-fears/#.XlSY6BNKjzI

Obama speech: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/18/weekly-address-what-you-need-know-about-ebola

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/21/coronavirus-trump-white-house-116650

February 23, 2020

Ukraine journalist Marko Suprun and Russian-born foreign policy journalist Julia Ioffe said something interesting this morning on CNN. They were pointing out that observers often make the mistake of thinking that Russian disinformation is designed to pit the American left against the American right to sow chaos. But, in fact, they pointed out, Russian disinformation is designed to pit the American left and the American right against the American center, because it is in the great American center that democracy lives.

It is, in fact, true that, despite the many stories out there about how divided we are as a country, there is a vast American center in which most people agree about most things, including hot button issues like abortion, gun control, and immigration. In August 2019, for example, only 12% of Americans believed that abortion should be outlawed entirely, and 59% of Americans worry that it is becoming too difficult, rather than too easy, to obtain an abortion. Sixty percent of Americans want stricter gun laws, with 77% wanting stricter red flag laws, taking a gun from someone deemed to be dangerous, if a family member indicates concern and 70% if a police officer does. In June 2019, 76% of Americans said immigration is a good thing for the country.

Most Americans also agree on what we think government should do. Traditionally, we like capitalism, which is an economic system in which individuals themselves can accumulate money to own raw materials and factories, and the systems they can use to make a profit, that they can then pocket to do whatever they wish. We like the idea that a regular person can have a good idea and work hard to turn that idea into a successful business. Americans generally think that capitalism promotes innovation and progress. But at the same time, we don’t believe that successful businessmen should be able to cheat or injure their workers, pollute our fields and waters, and use our roads and airports for free just to make as much money as they possibly can.

We like capitalism, but we generally believe it needs to be regulated. If it isn’t, our history tells us that rich men take over society, and use their power to guarantee that poorer people and their children can’t rise. Our push and pull over how to shape that regulation and policies to promote equal access to opportunity are a key part of our democracy.

Disinformation attacks this consensus. It warns us that the Democrats are ushering in “socialism” to America, but this warning is a throwback to Reconstruction, when black men began to vote just as the government instituted national taxes. Racist opponents began to argue that African Americans were voting to redistribute the wealth of hardworking white taxpayers into their own pockets through government projects. In this telling, giving men of color civil rights and a voice in their own government meant a redistribution of wealth. In 1871, opponents of black voting began to call this “socialism.”

This historical term, peculiar to America, has nothing to do with actual twentieth-century century socialism. That system of government was hypothesized by Karl Marx, a German political philosopher and historian in the mid-nineteenth century, who argued that history had six phases, defined by who owned the means of production. Capitalism was the fourth stage, in which wealthy industrialists took over the government and exploited workers. At the end of this stage, workers would realize they were being exploited, become politically aware, and rise up and overthrow the government.

Marx’s fifth stage was socialism: workers would take over the government, and through it, own the tools and the raw materials and the factories: the means of production. They would redistribute the wealth society produced to everyone, according to need. This is why socialist governments talk about “the people’s” stuff, held in trust by the state, which “the people” now owned. Theoretically.

Marx’s sixth state was communism, in which there was no money and no government, and in which everyone joined together for the common good. (This stage fascinates me. Marx was a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune during the Civil War. I cannot fathom how he could envision a world without war. Maybe after the Civil War he simply needed to believe that humans could create a future that would never again suffer similar carnage. Anyway....)

Socialism, then, is state ownership of the means of production, and since in that system the state is owned by the workers, it will take the wealth of the elite oppressors and use it for the good of all.

This is not on the table in modern America. It has never really been on the table. The best socialists ever did in America in a national election was in 1912, when socialist candidate for president Eugene V. Debs won slightly more than 900,000 votes out of more than 15 million cast, about 6% of the vote.

The “socialists” the Republicans are warning about-- the Democrats-- are not trying to take over the means of production by a worker-owned state. Much like black men after the Civil War, they simply want to regulate capitalism to make sure that men of wealth do not abuse their power, and to use government to give ordinary people access to resources and opportunity to enable them to rise if they work hard. Those interested in government regulation are concerned that in modern America, power has shifted too much toward those at the top of the economy, and that they are using their wealth to control politics, skewing our laws in their favor to the detriment of ordinary Americans.

The impulse to regulate capitalism in order to protect American freedom and equality is very much in keeping with our history: Republican Theodore Roosevelt embraced it at the national level in the early 1900s, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt followed suit in the 1930s, and presidents of both parties continued the practice after World War II, understanding that the economic concentration of the modern era meant that the government must protect the interests of individual Americans.

Cries of “socialism” from the right have been part of the attack on America’s center by making it sound like the popular regulation of capitalism belongs to the far left. People in the center can—and should—disagree about what, exactly, the government should do to guarantee that all Americans have equality of opportunity in the twenty-first century economy, but talking about that sort of regulation is well within the boundaries of American centrism.

A candidate talking about funding healthcare is not advocating socialism. A candidate talking about the government owning the hospitals and medical industries is advocating socialism. A candidate talking about regulating business? Not socialism. A candidate talking about nationalizing all industries? Socialism.

Recognizing how disinformation campaigns use words to turn us against each other will help us to pull their fangs.

Notes:

Suprun and Ioffe: https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2020/02/23/the-hill-releases-long-awaited-review-of-journalist-who-spread-ukraine-conspiracy.cnn

Statistics: https://www.people-press.org/2019/08/29/u-s-public-continues-to-favor-legal-abortion-oppose-overturning-roe-v-wade/

https://www.npr.org/2019/10/20/771278167/poll-number-of-americans-who-favor-stricter-gun-laws-continues-to-grow

https://news.gallup.com/poll/259103/new-high-say-immigration-important-problem.aspx

1912 vote: https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/elections/1912

February 22, 2020

A lot of folks have been asking me lately if America has ever been in such a crisis before and, if so, what people in the past did to save democracy.

The answer to the first question is yes, it has, three times, although only once was this bad. In the 1850s, the 1890s, and the 1920s, oligarchs took over the nation’s government, controlling the White House, Congress, and the courts.

In the 1850s, elite southern slaveholders took over the Democratic Party and insisted that they should have the right to spread their economic system of large plantations worked by enslaved laborers across the American West. This would mean a whole host of new western slave states which, acting in concert with the southern slave states, would take over Congress and make slavery national.

In 1854, with the help of compliant Democratic President Franklin Pierce, they forced through Congress the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This law replaced the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had kept slavery out of the northwestern plains. The Kansas-Nebraska Act would let settlers choose whether or not they would admit enslaved labor but, so long as a single slave was brought into a territory, the government would have to protect slavery there under the Constitution’s promise to protect property (for enslaved workers were, technically, property). This, of course, meant slavery would spread to all the territories.

Three years later, in the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court denied that Congress had any power to legislate in the territories anyway, meaning it could not stop the spread of slavery there. Then pro-slavery men in Kansas cheated to win territorial elections, then passed laws that kept anti-slavery men from ever holding power. Then, when Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner—who had himself been a Democrat until 1854—protested that pro-slavery men were cheating in Kansas to serve the slaveholding oligarchy, a southern Democrat beat him nearly to death on the Senate floor. Then, in the 1860 election, southern slaveholders kept all but Democrats from voting, and refused even to allow ballots with their opponents’ names on them.

In the 1890s, industrialists working primarily with the Republican Party took over the government and jiggered the laws to protect their interests, move money upward, and destroy workers’ rights. The courts were packed in their favor. This was the era when the Supreme Court decided (in Lochner v. New York) that states could not regulate the hours an employer required from his workers because such regulation violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which had initially been added to the Constitution to protect the rights of African Americans. It also declared the federal income tax, which Republicans had invented in 1861 and which businessmen hated, was unconstitutional. As Republican policies caused the party to lose a popular majority, they first added six new states to the Union to hold the Senate and the Electoral College (we got North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington in twelve months from 1889-1890), and then wrote new state constitutions to keep poor men and men of color from voting.

After World War I, Americans terrified of communism after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution attacked workers advocating unions and African Americans calling for civil rights. In the 1920 election, the Republican Party took control of the country in a landslide and put in place their theory that businessmen should control the government. That worldview was popular, and those who challenged it were silenced. The Ku Klux Klan, which had been destroyed in the early 1870s, rebounded and pledged to defend small-town values and Christianity by purging society of immigrants and black Americans. By 1925, the KKK had from 2 to 5 million members, and the support of millions more.

Novelist John Dos Passos looked at the nation dominated by businessmen and their government and wrote, “they have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspaper editors the old judges the small men with reputations the college presidents the wardheelers (Listen businessmen college presidents judges America will not forget her betrayers) they hire the men with guns the uniforms the policecars the patrolwagons… all right you have won you will kill the brave men our friends tonight… there is nothing left to do we are beaten… America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul… we stand defeated America….”

In each era, it seemed like American democracy had been conquered by an oligarchy that was sucking wealth upward and had no interest in serving the needs of regular Americans. In 1860, elite slaveholders spread across the nation a system that would destroy the ability of poor white men to rise. In 1900, in the deadliest natural disaster in American history, a hurricane hit Galveston and killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people and did more than a billion dollars worth of damage in today’s money. But the partisan politicians in the city did not have the skills or the infrastructure either to clean up or to rebuild. And in 1929, the Republican experiment shattered in October when the Stock Market Crash set off the Great Depression, and the government had no solution but to wait it out.

But in each era, just when democracy seemed lost, regular Americans took it back. They started simply by complaining. In each case, for at least a decade, the oligarchs had controlled the media as well as the government, and most Americans had come to believe whatever the oligarchs argued. Simply saying they were wrong brought ridicule, scorn, and sometimes violence, but those defending democracy started to get traction. They wrote letters to congressmen and to newspapers, and they protested in the streets, pointing out that the southern slaveholders, or the industrialists, or the businessmen, were gaming the system to destroy democracy. Pretty soon like-minded people began to gather together to talk about what they could do to take America back.

They started to run for local offices, and state offices, and even for seats in Congress. And when elections came, they turned out voters by reminding them just how important it was for them to show up. And in elections, the people in power cheated and the game was rigged… but the people defending American democracy still won.

Americans change politics first by changing minds. If this were not the case, Russia would not be swamping us with disinformation, and the right wing would not flood the country with talk radio and the Fox News Channel, which present fact-free stories designed to divert people from reality. And, of course, Trump would not bother spinning his own lies. People, and now bots, spreading those lies have been so assertive that a lot of folks who know they’re crap have stayed quiet, not wanting to start a fight. But speaking up to identify lies and to celebrate real American values is a crucial step toward changing the national narrative. If it weren’t, no one would be paying bots and trolls to shut us up.

Changing the national narrative is crucially important, but it is not enough to change our government. To do that, we need to complain constantly to our elected officials, even those who ignore us (because they do keep a record), and to support politicians who are advancing democracy. While everyone is currently focused on the presidential race, even more important are the Senate races, and the House. If Democrats take the Senate, Trump will be hamstrung even if he is reelected. And the House needs to be Democratic to check him in the first place. So support a presidential candidate, sure, but pick a Senate race and a House race, and work for that candidate, too.

This election is one of the most important in our nation’s history, maybe THE most important. And just as in the 1850s, the 1890s, and the 1920s, the people in power would not be working so hard to silence those of us who care deeply about American democracy if they thought our actions didn’t matter.

February 21, 2020

More news today about the intelligence briefing that led to Trump firing acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

First of all, observers see the replacement of an intelligence officer who reported the truth with a toady as a five-alarm fire. Today, retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the commander who oversaw the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, broke the military’s reluctance to comment on politics with an op-ed in the Washington Post. Discussing the firing of Maguire, he concluded: “As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.”

Political writer Greg Sargent was clear: [L]et’s not mince words: Trump and his GOP defenders appear to be actively abetting an attack on our country.” He points out that a bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that Russia targeted voting systems in all 50 states in 2016, likely so they could figure out how it worked for future havoc. Their goal is “undermining the integrity of elections and American confidence in democracy.”

And Trump and GOP leaders are letting it happen.

The intelligence briefing that so angered Trump, in which intelligence officials warned members of the congressional intelligence committees that Russia was working for Trump’s reelection, also delivered the news that Russia has been working to promote the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). And yet, given information they could use against a Democrat at a crucial moment, Trump and his people instead said that this information just proves the party is against Sanders, precisely what it appears Russian propagandists are saying.

(For his part, when asked about it, Sanders said he had received a briefing “about a month ago” but had not revealed it publicly because “I go to many intelligence briefings which I don’t reveal to the public.” In a statement, he said: “I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president…. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”)

Tonight, news broke that Trump is planning to prevent the publication of John Bolton’s book, which allegedly ties Trump directly to the Ukraine Scandal, until after the election. Trump plans to declare that everything he said to Bolton while he was Trump’s National Security Advisor was classified. He says Bolton is “a traitor.”

The book’s publication date is March 17, but if it comes out without the final approval of the National Security Council Bolton might face a criminal investigation and, possibly, forfeit his seven-figure advance. Since Bolton was well aware of the limits of what he could safely talk about, and since his lawyer’s initial letter about the final classified check reminded the office that it should be seen only by the person responsible for checking it, not by the president’s people, and since the White House made and circulated multiple copies, it seems to me likely Bolton would win in a legal struggle with Trump. But that will take a long time.

Meanwhile, Trump has been purging the White House of anyone who cooperated with the impeachment probe, but now has expanded that purge, instructing his aides to identify anyone not considered sufficiently loyal to the president so they can be forced out. Apparently, Jared Kushner and Trump’s children have been key players in making this push, intending to concentrate more power amongst themselves.

This is the key reason to put Richard Grenell at the head of national intelligence, along with former Nunes aide Kash Patel. Already, Grenell has asked for information from the CIA and other intelligence agencies about the information that Russia is already attacking the 2020 election. Looking at intelligence is, of course, now his job, although his fitness for the position was thrown into question even further today when news broke that, although he never registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, he worked for a Moldovan oligarch who is now a fugitive banned from the U.S. Patel was the lead author of the “Nunes Memo” of two years ago, accusing FBI and Justice Department officials of starting the Russia investigation because they were biased against Trump. It is a matter of concern that Grenell and Patel are now in charge of the information about Russian attacks on our country today.

Hiring people based on their loyalty to Trump means that the competent leadership has been replaced by people whose major skill is their ability to please a man whose interests do not run to deep understanding. This is consistent with the GOP idea that government is useless and should be dismantled, and that businessmen should control the levers of power instead of politicians.

Today, a video circulated of Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Germany and now our acting Director of National Intelligence, saying that there is no need to have an embassy staff analyzing political currents in foreign countries because “we can get that information off the internet.” Instead, he wants to revamp embassies to make them “mini-commerce sections” full of “economic specialists.” (The State Department, of course, became the power it is now after WWII proved that economic interests demanded a thorough understanding of other nations’ cultures and politics, and careful, long-term diplomacy to enable us to work out differences with other countries.)

Perhaps even more disturbing at this particular moment is that the U.S. currently has no expert at the National Security Council who specializes in pandemics. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today that the window is closing for containing the worldwide spread of the coronavirus (officially SARS-CoV-2) after new cases turned up in Lebanon and Iran. But in May 2018, when he was National Security Advisor, Bolton broke up the team in charge of global health security and pushed out its leader, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer.

It is clear that the administration does not have a clear plan for managing the disease. There is already finger-pointing and anger today over the fact that State Department officials and a top Trump official overruled officials of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to evacuate 14 Americans infected with coronavirus in an airplane from Japan with 314 uninfected passengers.

The Americans were traveling on the cruise ship the Diamond Princess out of Yokohama for a 15-day cruise when it turned out the ship had carried a man with the virus for 5 days before he left to go to a hospital. The ship returned to Yokohama where Japanese officials quarantined the passengers for fourteen days to make sure there were no other cases. There were. The disease spread on the ship, and after two weeks, the State Department decided to evacuate the Americans. But, once the Americans were aboard buses to the airport, lab reports showed that 14 were infected. Officials from the CDC explicitly recommended that they not be evacuated with the others, but were overruled. CNN reported today that Trump was not told ahead of time that the infected passengers would be brought back home along with the others, and is furious.

And one final note: Roger Stone is trying to get a new trial, based on the idea that the jury in his first trial was biased. He has asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to recuse herself from ruling on his motion for a new trial because she herself is biased: she praised the jurors for serving “with integrity under difficult circumstances.”

——

Available as a free newsletter at heathercoxrichardson.substack.com

Notes:

Maguire: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/william-mcraven-if-good-men-like-joe-maguire-cant-speak-the-truth-we-should-be-deeply-afraid/2020/02/21/2068874c-5503-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0PzmVNhhvxOtyzJukato-sHUGA5Ae9R2d7E8bqX7ibCZVKmH2nW7oRUfs&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

Senate report: https://www.vox.com/2019/7/25/8930616/senate-intelligence-report-russia-50-states

Grenell and Patel: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/21/us/politics/richard-grenell-dni.html?action=click&module=Top+Stories&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR1GsPGoHkHaBgtB6UKXRsmzNvZN6eDyg3s1-fzpmzdqvzjc_yw48ZQHVxQ

https://www.propublica.org/article/trumps-new-spy-chief-used-to-work-for-a-foreign-politician-the-us-accused-of-corruption

Sargent: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/21/dont-mince-words-trump-is-abetting-an-attack-our-country/?fbclid=IwAR0icI5CLk8T6v8bbI3otVXfobmTidxMmmJmy33qBuM6N5ZaNPkLmMJObXA

Purge: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/were-cleaning-it-out-trump-embarks-on-expansive-search-for-disloyalty-as-administration-wide-purge-escalates/2020/02/21/870e6c56-54c1-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0u01x7OuPARyMJbmOolktVr0rYvwhlAcgc3GYouIiAKm5scHQ1SM-LiKc

https://www.axios.com/scoop-white-house-personnel-chief-targets-never-trumpers-2ee51bfd-03f9-4971-8308-863c81ace5f0.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=organic&utm_content=1100

Nunes Memo: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/us/politics/trump-fbi-memo.html

Sanders: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/bernie-sanders-briefed-by-us-officials-that-russia-is-trying-to-help-his-presidential-campaign/2020/02/21/5ad396a6-54bd-11ea-929a-64efa7482a77_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/21/us/politics/bernie-sanders-russia.html

WHO: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-china-health-who/world-must-act-fast-to-contain-coronavirus-whos-tedros-idUKKBN20F285

Ziemer: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/

Bolton’s book: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-wants-to-block-boltons-book-claiming-all-conversations-are-classified/2020/02/21/6a4f4b34-54d1-11ea-9e47-59804be1dcfb_story.html#click=https://t.co/t10OeA7Bf4

Grenell:

Diamond Princess: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-diamond-princess-cruise-americans/2020/02/20/b6f54cae-5279-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/21/politics/trump-coronavirus-cruise-ship/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-to-evacuate-americans-from-cruise-ship-and-put-them-in-14-days-quarantine/2020/02/15/8b05eadc-4fc1-11ea-a4ab-9f389ce8ad30_story.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/484157-trump-furious-after-officials-allowed-americans-with-coronavirus-to

Stone:

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