“Since Trump himself voted by absentee ballot in Florida’s presidential primary two months ago, you might wonder why he wants to deny Michigan and Nevada voters the same opportunity, especially at a time when COVID-19 fears might make people reluctant to gather at polling places. And why those states specifically, when five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) conduct elections almost entirely by mail, while 28 others require no special justification for absentee voting? You also might wonder why Trump views voting by mail in those states as illegal, cheating, or a form of voter fraud. In any case, why does Trump think he has the authority to punish states for election procedures he does not like by withholding federal funding?”
“Are Democrats more likely to vote by mail than Republicans? Trump certainly seems to think so. In a March 30 interview on Fox News, he criticized COVID-19 legislation proposed by House Democrats that would have required states to allow “no excuse” absentee ballot applications and, if an election is held during a national emergency, to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot. “The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Notwithstanding that dire prediction, the evidence concerning the partisan impact of voting by mail is mixed. Pantheon Analytics found that switching to mail-in ballots in Colorado gave a slight advantage to Republican candidates in 2014, while that change in Utah gave a slight advantage to Democrats in 2016. In both cases, voting by mail increased participation in the election, as you would expect. But contrary to the fears often expressed by Republican politicians, that turnout boost does not seem to consistently favor Democrats. In 2016, for instance, 15.5 percent of registered Republicans who voted in North Carolina used mail-in ballots, compared to 8.8 percent of registered Democrats.”
“What about Trump’s claim that absentee ballots enable voter fraud? The issue is a personal obsession for Trump, who implausibly blamed massive fraud for costing him his rightful popular-vote victory in 2016. Even if we charitably treat that concern as distinct from the unsubstantiated fear that mail-in ballots favor Democrats, there is little evidence that voter fraud is a substantial problem, regardless of how people cast their ballots.
While it’s true that voting by mail is especially vulnerable to fraud, such incidents are still highly unusual. “Election fraud in the United States is very rare, but the most common type of such fraud in the United States involves absentee ballots,” Rick Hasen, an election expert at the University of California, Irvine, law school, told the Times in April. “Sensible rules for handling of absentee ballots make sense, not only to minimize the risk of ballot tampering but to ensure that voters cast valid ballots.” The five states where voting by mail is the norm “report very little fraud,” the Times notes.”
“The Trump administration’s dismantling of independent federal watchdogs continued late last Friday, as Trump removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was reportedly conducting at least two misconduct probes into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Politico also reported today that Linick had recently finished an investigation into a Pompeo aide and concluded she had likely failed to report allegations of workplace violence.
On Friday night Trump also replaced the acting inspector general at the Department of Transportation, who was investigating Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao—the wife of Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.)—for alleged favoritism in awarding contracts.
Friday’s moves follow a string of dismissals that congressional Democrats and government accountability groups say is a purge of the inspectors general system by the Trump administration. The president has then filled those watchdog positions with political allies.”
“In April, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. Atkinson’s referral of a whistleblower complaint to Congress launched the Ukraine investigation and eventual impeachment of Trump, and the firing was widely seen as retaliation.
Trump also replaced Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was supposed to oversee the $2 trillion coronavirus aid package passed by Congress.
Inspectors general are independent offices that investigate waste, fraud, and abuse at federal agencies. They regularly audit agencies’ compliance with mundane rules and record-keeping, as well as investigate whistleblower complaints about misconduct.
Their investigative powers give them access to records and officials that the public and reporters don’t have, and as such, they fill an important role as watchdogs within the federal government.”
“To do their job, inspectors general are supposed to be insulated from political pressure. They don’t report to agency heads, and although they’re appointed and can be fired by the president, the president must give Congress 30 days’ notice before any firing, along with reasons for the removal. (Trump subverted even this modest requirement in Atkinson’s case by placing him on immediate leave.)”
“But the Trump administration, despite the president’s pledge to “drain the swamp,” is hostile to any oversight and has no use for inspectors general except as toadies and rubber stamps. Trump said he fired Linick at the request of Pompeo, but so far the administration has not given any detailed explanation, except that the president “lost confidence” in him.
And congressional Republicans, once champions of oversight and accountability during President Barack Obama’s administration, have become mute or blasé on the subject.”
“If Congress wants to maintain any vestige of respectability—or even any indication that it’s still a functioning branch of government rather than the executive’s doormat—it needs to reassert its power to protect independent inspectors general, regardless of which political party holds the White House.”
“The easiest way to win a trade war? Don’t be one of the countries involved.
When the United States slapped tariffs on steel, aluminum, and billions of dollars of Chinese imports in the summer of 2018, China and other U.S. trading partners retaliated by targeting American agricultural exports. By the time a series of tit for tat increases in tariffs by the U.S. and China came to a halt with a December 2019 partial trade agreement—one that left most of the higher tariffs in place on both sides—the average foreign tariff for American farm goods had jumped from 8.3 to 26.8 percent
As a result, U.S. farm exports suffered. Carter and Steinbach calculate that U.S. farmers lost more than $15.6 billion in trade with countries that hiked tariffs in response to the Trump administration’s trade war. Soybeans, pork products, and grains were the products most affected.
Some of those losses were offset by trade with other nations—for example, when China stopped purchasing U.S.-grown soybeans, growers had to find other buyers for their products. That was the goal of a July 2018 deal struck by President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the White House touted as a vehicle for sending more American soybeans to Europe.
As Reason noted at the time, Europe’s annual consumption of soybeans was less than 25 percent of China’s (and it already had access to tariff-free imports of U.S. soybeans), so “unless Juncker and Trump plan to start jamming soybeans down European throats, foie gras-style, there’s simply no way that Europe can consume enough soybeans to make up for the loss of China as an American export market.”
“Nearly two years later, Carter and Steinbach calculate that so-called “deflected trade” in agricultural goods boosted U.S. exports by about $1.2 billion during the trade war—leaving American farms only $14 billion in the red.”
“countries that the two researchers identify as “non-retaliatory countries”—that is, places that did not hike tariffs in response to U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other goods—gained more than $13.5 billion by increasing trade to places, like China, that took steps to reduce imports of U.S. farm goods.”
“soybean farmers are worried about how the trade war might permanently reshape the global soybean trade, to the detriment of American growers.”
“In March 2018, after Trump announced his intention to hike tariffs on steel and aluminum, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House’s National Trade Council, was asked about the potential consequences of retaliation aimed at American farm exports.
“I don’t believe any country in the world is going to retaliate,” he said. “They know they’re cheating us, and we’re just trying to stand up for ourselves.”
Navarro and Trump were wrong. American farmers have lost $14 billion because of their mistake.”
““Obamagate” is a convoluted mess of conspiracy theories untethered to reality. It is a deflection from the utter catastrophe unfolding daily because of the Trump administration’s disastrous coronavirus response.
That may not matter. Trump has used the “witch hunt” strategy since the start of his presidency, and, when it comes to his base and his allies in Congress and the administration, it works.”
“Consider this Axios tweet stating that “Biden’s presence on the list could turn it into an election year issue, though the document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing.” But Biden’s name on a document is only an election issue if the press treats it like one. And if the “document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing,” why the hell are we talking about it? Again, we’re talking about it because Trump talked about it and now it’s a legitimized “story.”
This is the latest example of zone-flooding, a phenomenon I described at length back in February. The strategy was best articulated (in America, at least) by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump, who in 2018 reportedly said: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
This is a new form of propaganda tailored to the digital age and it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t possible. And it’s all the more difficult because even the most scrupulous, well-intentioned coverage can easily fall into the trap of flooding the zone.
My concern in February was that zone-flooding had created a media environment in which the facts of Trump’s impeachment trial would be utterly meaningless. No matter how the trial played out, no matter what was uncovered, no single version of the truth would be accepted. And that, sadly, is how it played out.”
“The media, then, is caught in a loop. Trump — or one of his supporters — says something we all know is absurd and false. The rest of the right-wing media and members of the GOP establishment add to the cacophony. And then we dignify the absurdity with coverage that treats it as worthy of rebuke. And in the process, we amplify the false narrative we’re debunking and flood the zone with more and more shit. That leaves people confused and exhausted, unable to discern fact from fiction and inclined to disengage altogether or, even worse, retreat further into partisan bubbles.
The press has always sought to conquer lies by exposing them. But that doesn’t work anymore. There is too much misinformation, too many claims to refute, too many competing narratives. And because the decision to cover something is almost always a decision to amplify it, the root problem is our very concept of “news” — what counts and what doesn’t.”
” Obamagate is another example of this systemic failure. Here we have — and I can’t say this enough — a complete non-scandal. There’s no “there” there. It’s pure misinformation. But we’re still talking about it. And I’m writing this piece about it. This is a massive problem. Even though I’m trying to point up a flaw in our system, I’m still somehow participating in the mess I’m hoping to clean up. This is the paradox we’re all up against.”
“Immigration has come nearly to a standstill over the past two months. The Trump administration has shuttered USCIS offices, closed consulates abroad, shut down the borders with Canada and Mexico and imposed a 60-day ban on the issuance of new green cards. Asylum processing at the southern border has also practically stopped, as Trump administration officials implemented a program to rapidly return migrants to Mexico without so much as a health exam.
While brought on by the pandemic, this kind of decrease in legal immigration is what Trump has long sought. He has railed against what he calls “chain migration,” referring to US citizens or permanent residents who sponsor their immigrant family members for visas and green cards. And he has sought to keep poor immigrants out by proposing to reject those who don’t have health insurance or who might use public benefits in the future. (Courts have blocked the restrictions on immigrants without health insurance from going into effect for now, but the policy affecting immigrants who might go on public benefits went into effect in February.)”
“Unlike other federal agencies, USCIS receives almost no taxpayer dollars, and is dependent on fees associated with filing applications for green cards, visas, work permits, US citizenship, and humanitarian benefits such as asylum. The pandemic has already brought on a “dramatic decrease” in its revenue that is only likely to worsen as applications are estimated to drop by about 61 percent through September, an agency spokesperson said. President Donald Trump’s restrictions on immigration, other countries’ restrictions on travel and the fact that necessary government offices aren’t open to process applications have all contributed to this decline.
To mitigate the budget shortfall, USCIS is planning to implement an additional 10 percent surcharge on all applications and sought Congress’s help on Friday, Buzzfeed’s Hamed Aleaziz first reported. The agency has also already limited spending to salary and mission-critical activities, but “without congressional intervention, USCIS will have to take drastic actions to keep the agency afloat,” the spokesperson said.”
“the novel coronavirus came, and President Trump did nothing for week after week, month after month. We sit, still, in the void where a plan should be, forced to choose between endless lockdown and reckless reopening because the federal government has not charted a middle path. Instead, we wake to presidential tweets demanding the “liberation” of states, and laugh to keep from crying when the most powerful man in the world suggests we study the injection of disinfectants. Trump has let disaster metastasize into calamity. The feared collision of global crisis and presidential recklessness has come, and it is not close to over.”
“much of any presidency takes place in the murky realm of risk. Imagine that there are 10 horrible events that could befall the country in a president’s term, each with a 1 in 40 chance of happening. If a president acts in such a way that they all become much likelier — say, a 1 in 10 chance — he may never be blamed for it, because none of them may happen, or because the one that does falls during his successor’s term. But in taking calamity from reasonably unlikely to reasonably likely, he will have done the country terrible harm.
The logic works in reverse, too. A president who assiduously works to reduce risk may never be rewarded for their effort because the outcome will be a calamity that never occurred, a disaster we never felt. We punish only the most undeniable of failures and routinely miss the most profound successes.”
“Of late, I’ve been thinking back to 2017, when Trump began a war of tweets with North Korea, the world’s most irrational nuclear regime. “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N.,” Trump wrote. “If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”
Trump’s behavior stunned even Republican allies. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), then the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the president was treating his office like “a reality show” and setting the country “on the path to World War III.”
But World War III didn’t happen. Trump and Kim Jong Un deescalated. They met in person and sent each other what Trump later called “beautiful letters.” The fears of the moment dissolved. Those who warned of catastrophe were dismissed as alarmist. But were we alarmist? Or did Trump take the possibility of nuclear war from, say, 1 in 100 to 1 in 50?
Moments like this dot Trump’s presidency. His withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal dissolved the only structure holding Iran back from the pursuit of nuclear weapons. What’s followed has been not just a rise in tensions but a rise in bloodshed, culminating with Trump’s decision to do what both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama chose not to do and assassinate Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. The end of that story is as yet unwritten, but possibilities range from Trump’s gamble paying off to Iran triggering a nuclear arms race — and perhaps eventually nuclear war — in the Middle East.
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, alongside his routine dismissals of the NATO alliance, similarly force us to imagine the future probabilistically. In both cases, Trump says he is simply being a tough negotiator, forcing the better deals America deserves. In both cases, unimaginable calamity may — or may not — result. The verdict will not come by Election Day. We will have to judge the risks Trump has shunted onto future generations.
Of the many risks that Trump amplified through lack of preparation, reckless policymaking, or simple inattention, a pandemic is the one that came due while he was still president. But it is not the only one lurking, nor is it somehow a charm against other disasters befalling us. Moreover, the coronavirus itself raises the risk of geopolitical crises, of financial crises, of disasters both expected and unexpected, manifesting.
Trump, in his daily rhetoric and erratic mismanagement, is placing big, dangerous bets, but he will not cover the losses if they go wrong: It’s America, and perhaps the world, that will pay, in both lives and money.”
“Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who originally ran Trump’s transition team, relayed to Lewis a telling comment Trump made about the pre-administration planning, which he considered a waste of time. “Chris,” he said, “you and I are so smart that we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves.”
Each day, the president of the United States receives the President’s Daily Brief: a classified report prepared by US intelligence agencies warning of gathering threats around the globe. US intelligence agencies warned Trump of the dangers of the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen of these briefings in January and February. But Trump “routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week,” reported the Post.
Two problems build amid this kind of executive impatience. First, the president is unaware of the nation’s constantly evolving risk structure. Second, the bureaucracy he, in theory, manages receives the constant message that the president doesn’t want to be bothered with bad news and does not value the parts of the government that produce it, nor the people who force him to face it.
It is, in fact, worse than that. “The way to keep your job is to out-loyal everyone else, which means you have to tolerate quackery,” Anthony Scaramucci, who served (very) briefly as White House head of communications, told the Financial Times. “You have to flatter him in public and flatter him in private. Above all, you must never make him feel ignorant.”
In March, speaking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters, Trump unintentionally revealed how much time his underlings spend praising him, and how fully he absorbs their compliments. “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’” Trump boasted. “Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.””
” “When the president stands on top of a table and says, ‘This is super important, super urgent, everyone must do this,’ the government works moderately effectively,” Ron Klain, who managed the Obama administration’s Ebola response, told me. “That’s the best case. When the president is standing up and saying, ‘I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t want to know about it, this doesn’t really exist,’ well, then you’re definitely not going to get effective work from the government.””
“we conflate the unlikely and the impossible. This pandemic, if nothing else, should shatter that conflation. It is hard to pretend the worst can’t happen when you haven’t been able to enter a store or see your parents for six weeks. And let’s be clear: coronavirus is not the worst that can happen. The H5N1 virus, for instance, has a mortality rate of 60 percent, and scientists have proven that it can mutate to become “as easily transmissible as the seasonal flu.”
Even scarier is the possibility of human-engineered pandemics. As bad as the coronavirus is, Bill Gates told me, “it’s not anywhere near bioterrorism — smallpox or another pathogen that was intentionally picked for a high fatality rate as well as delayed symptoms and a high infectious rate.”
We play for the highest of stakes. We must do what we can to improve our odds.”
“No one bears a heavier burden in that respect than the US president. But Trump is reckless with his charge. That reflects, perhaps, his own life experience. He has taken tremendous risks, and if they have led him to the edge of ignominy and bankruptcy, they have also led him to the presidency.
But he has always played with other people’s money and other people’s lives. “The president was probably in a position to make riskier decisions in life because he was fabulously rich from birth,” says Murphy. “But it’s also true he has had a reputation for risk not backed up by reality. His name is on properties he doesn’t own. We think of him as taking risk in professional life, but a lot of what he does is lend his name to buildings with risks taken by others. He’s built an image as a risk taker, but it’s not clear how much risk he’s taken.”
In electing him president, however, we have taken a tremendous risk, and it isn’t paying off.”
“On Monday afternoon, President Trump told the press that he’s taking a drug called hydroxychloroquine as a preventative to ward off the coronavirus — a practice for which there is no evidence and that could, in theory, have negative side effects as serious as hallucinations and heart failure.
“I take it,” Trump said. “So far, I seem to be okay.”
Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug that a non-randomized study from a French lab, publicized in March, initially suggested could be used as a treatment in fighting the coronavirus. In March, Trump frequently touted the drug, calling it “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” But further studies have concluded that it is not effective in many cases and should not be routinely used to treat patients.
Trump seems to be taking it not as a treatment for Covid-19 — he’s apparently tested negative — but as a preventive measure to protect himself from contracting it. There’s no medical evidence supporting the idea that this would work, and the risk of potential psychiatric and cardiac side effects, which are serious, would likely strongly outweigh any (hypothetical) benefits.
Nevertheless, Trump claims to be taking the drug anyway.”
“On the one hand, if Trump — a notorious liar — is telling the truth about taking the drug, it’s certainly newsworthy that the president is taking a dangerous medication for no good reason. It would not only speak to his judgment and fitness for office but also suggest a risk to his health and mental competence.
On the other hand, Trump may be trying to goad the media into getting bogged down in an issue that’s less important than the actual outbreak and Trump’s failed response to it. At the press conference, he told reporters, “I was just waiting for your eyes to light up when I said this, when I announced this,” indicating he’s perfectly aware that he’s starting a controversy.”
“President Donald Trump’s tariffs are crimping supply chains for chemicals used to manufacture disinfectants and cleaning products—items that are needed to combat COVID-19 and that will be in even higher demand as the economy reopens.
In a letter sent last week to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, highlighted dozens of items that are subject to the Trump administration’s tariffs. The list sent to Lighthizer includes various chemical building blocks used to manufacture everything from soap to detergent, and surface cleaners to bleach.”
“The Trump administration took action in March to exempt medical equipment—including face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)—from its tariff regime. But those exclusions did not apply to chemicals, like isopropyl alcohol and the dozens of other items on the council’s list that are not strictly defined as medical equipment but remain crucial to many products used by health care workers.
Trump’s tariffs are also affecting companies that need to purchase disinfectant wipes and other cleaning products. “According to the CDC guidelines…to prevent the spread of COVID-19 it recommends the use of EPA approved disinfectant wipes,” wrote Daniel Marquardt, principal owner of Hilo Industries LLC, a Virginia-based construction contractor, in a tariff exemption request filed last month. Hilo, like many other businesses across the country, needs to import tubs of disinfectant wipes that will be “used by our customers, employees, and their customers to enable them to work and patronize safely to help combat and control COVID-19,” Marquardt wrote.
But the tariff exemption process is opaque and slow—far from the ideal way to relieve the stress tariffs are causing. Sens. Tom Carper (D–Del.) and Pat Toomey (R–Pa.) have urged the Trump administration to move more quickly and issue more tariff exemptions in order to speed the response to the pandemic, but White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has laughed off those concerns as “fake news.””
“the tariffs are making it more expensive for American businesses to make those purchases, and therefore leaving them unable to purchase as much as they might otherwise choose. Much of the Trump administration’s trade war has been a real-life lesson in what economists call a “deadweight loss”—that is, a market inefficiency that creates losses for some participants but no gains for anyone else—but rarely does it appear this obvious.”
“The Trump administration has delayed tariff payments for three months as a way to boost liquidy for American importers, but that’s little help over the long term. Tariffs on products that are necessary components of disinfectants will only make it more difficult to achieve the reopening that Trump desperately seeks.”
“At the time, I didn’t find this quote particularly earth-shattering. It seemed like a reasonable concern, but not newsworthy. After all, Americans have lived through multiple pandemic scares — SARS, MERS, swine flu — and we largely dodged each bullet. This part of the interview was off-topic for the series I was making, and I left it on the cutting room floor.
Reading the transcript almost a year later, I am struck by how clearly Fauci described this current pandemic. Our nation’s top public health officials have known that this outbreak, or something like it, was a serious possibility, and they haven’t been keeping this information to themselves. But it’s hard to find the collective will to prepare for — and stop — a theoretical threat. COVID-19 may be unprecedented, but it wasn’t unpredictable.”