David Faris – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 21 Jan 2021 03:32:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.10 The Hatred and Insurrection fomented by our first Internet-Troll President finally Drove him from Office https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/insurrection-fomented-president.html Thu, 21 Jan 2021 05:04:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195665 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – In his perfunctory farewell speech, released on Tuesday many months after he had churlishly quit on the American people in their greatest hour of need, Donald Trump claimed that he and his band of inept rapscallions had come to Washington to “restore the allegiance of this government to its citizens.” As should be abundantly clear to anyone capable of dispassionately evaluating evidence, they did nothing of the sort. They reupholstered the seat of white supremacists at the GOP’s political table, unleashed a terrible wave of mistrust, fear and violence and left their successors a country convulsed by multiple, simultaneous crises.

“We did what we came here to do,” the soon-to-be ex-president said to a nation ravaged by and reeling from a viral pandemic that he not only failed to properly manage, but actively exacerbated with his destructive denialism, selfish behavior and refusal to stand up an appropriate federal response. What has transpired over the past 12 months in this country will be widely regarded for generations as one of the foremost failures of public administration in modern history. He inherited an economy with 4.7% unemployment, and left office with that number two full points higher. The only people he really delivered for were investors, who somehow rode the worst tragedy to befall human civilization in a century to record-high stock prices.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s policy legacy was thin. If you want to be charitable, he has likely reoriented America’s relationship with an increasingly powerful China, away from mindlessly naive engagement and toward an approach more informed by national interests. Despite brave talk from Democrats at the time, some of the tax cuts in the Donor Enrichment Act of 2017 will likely prove difficult to unwind. A Biden administration looking to beat the odds in the 2022 midterms may not be eager to hike corporate taxes or craft new trade agreements.

Other ‘achievements’ are ephemeral and will be wiped away moments into the new administration like frost on a thawing windshield. Already on the first day of the Biden administration, the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, ended the Trump administration’s gratuitous immigration cruelty, reversed the decline in environmental standards, lifted the un-American Muslim travel ban, and will likely soon cease the unconscionable persecution of trans Americans. Trumpists disloyal to America will be rooted out of the bureaucracy and armed forces. There may yet be real consequences for members of congress who aided or participated in the January 6th insurrection.

But by focusing on concrete outcomes, we’re already losing the real thread of his presidency. None of this is what Donald Trump and his friends really came to D.C. to do. The president himself was almost wholly detached from the policy-making process, repeatedly blowing up negotiations with Congress, tweeting and fuming constantly against enemies real and imagined, staying up late and rising early not to master the details of important issues or oversee the proper functioning of the executive branch but to addictively consume and complain about his own media coverage, to have heart-to-hearts with the cynical cable news hosts who comprised his informal advisory board and to issue threats against everyone and everything from the National Football League to Jimmy Fallon to the Academy Awards.

Trump embodied a widespread American attitude about the business of government, in the sense that he did not take any of it particularly seriously and regarded the whole enterprise with disdain. Being the president was not about achieving a set of tangible policy goals, but about serving the interests of the Trump family and brand by aligning it with a certain strain of reactionary conservatism. In the end, Americans elected not a chief executive but an aggressively malevolent social media influencer, whose only joy from the sacred job with which he was entrusted came from the dopamine released every time he pressed send on one of his instantly viral tweets or spewed forth a flood of gibberish during his deranged public musings in front of whirring helicopters and adoring crowds of loudly radicalized acolytes.

This dour, joyless grifter spent most of his time in office using that social media influence to prosecute a relentless, 24-7 culture war. The guiding purpose of his kulturkampf was, at heart, to convince white, Christian Americans that a rapidly diversifying and changing country still belonged to them and to them alone, and to ostracize, alienate, isolate and demoralize everyone else. The worse you felt when you woke up and laid your weary eyes on one of his 5 a.m. indecencies, the better. Trumpism could only ever triumph over a shocked and exhausted populace.

I felt alienated during the second Bush administration, but I never before felt like the president hated people like me personally. It was, indeed, exhausting. More than anything, Trump loathes cities, and the people who live there and the things they believe and want and eat and drink and watch and the ways that they love and the things they do for a living and the shape of their hearts. He hates their social rituals, and he hates their sports and their diversity. He hates their restaurants. He hates that the feeling is mutual, that in these places he is an object of contempt and ridicule. He ­­has never really been loved in a non-transactional way, and he has never felt it either. ­­When he descended that elevator in 2015, he did so with a great, yawning emptiness in his soul that needed to be filled with something.

That’s why the crowds at his rallies gave him life. The city people he had courted fruitlessly all of his adult life – celebrities and bon vivants and TV executives and rich liberals, mostly regarded him as an unpredictable buffoon. How magnificent it must have been for him to discover that his true followers would be the ones he spent his whole life ripping off and looking down on, the kind of people he wouldn’t have been caught dead with prior to 2016. Not out-of-work factory workers, but small-town dentists and exurban car dealers and grasping real estate agents, people who were prosperous yet felt detached from the broader cultural shifts enveloping the country. The yacht people in his unseemly boat parades. The ex-military zealots who stormed the Capitol. Imagine having such an effortless hold over so many millions, for nothing more than saying out loud what most of them once thought must be confined only to their interior monologues.

Yet despite the frothy economy he oversaw prior to 2020, he could never broaden his appeal much beyond this core constituency. A compendium of Trump’s political flaws could fill a phone book. But the problem that linked all of the others together was that he was clearly taught by a lifetime of unearned success and privilege that being abusive is a perfectly effective strategy for getting what you want from people. That works fine, I guess, when you’re a volatile real estate showman surrounded by bottom-feeders and sociopaths and all you need is for someone to steal money for you, or to steal money from them. It was a great reality TV persona. It was much less of a workable strategy in terms of transforming the 46.1% of the vote he earned in the 2016 presidential election into even a momentary political majority.

It turns out that most people do not enjoy being sadistically tormented by the President of the United States. It does not move them. It does not open their hearts. It inspires instead an almost living, breathing fear and loathing for the tormentor and everyone who works with and for him. Trump gambled that the ever-adaptable human spirit would get used to this climate of never-ending provocations, but we never quite did. For all the talk of ‘normalization,’ a majority of Americans correctly regarded him as a disruptive nuisance until the bitter end. Worse, for both Trump and the Republican Party, his very unwelcome presence in the lives of the American people inspired a political mobilization that continues today and has now seized both Congress and the presidency from his wet hands.

I doubt that Trump was animated by a desire to dismantle America’s democratic institutions and guardrails as such, or to turn so many people into violent, conspiracy-wracked radicals. It’s just where the brand management strategy ultimately took him, especially when it became clear that the forward momentum of his political movement had stalled out in 2018. Unsurprisingly for a man with dozens of sexual assault allegations, what he could not get from the American people willingly, he decided to take with brute force. If he couldn’t hold onto the United States, he would take it down with him and destroy it, or at least the idea of it that most people held in their hearts.

Over the past two months, his lunatic ramblings and incitement of violence and sedition resulted in the almost unimaginable looting of the U.S. Capitol by riled-up, heavily armed dittoheads who wandered over directly from a Trump rally at the express request of the president himself. He has turned millions of rank-and-file Republicans against electoral democracy and poisoned their minds with what really should be laughable conspiracy theories and easily disprovable lies. His movement has so cowed the leadership of the Republican Party that its congressional delegation is now headlined by genuinely dangerous maniacs like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Josh Hawley, people who make up for what they lack in Trumpian star power with an affirmative desire to wipe American democracy from the face of the Earth and a much better sense of how to do it. It is no coincidence that Trump’s final downfall – the cratering of his popularity, his second impeachment, the way he appears and in fact really is diminished – coincided with losing his one-way bullhorn on Twitter.

In the underappreciated social media satire Ingrid Goes West, Elizabeth Olsen’s online influencer, Taylor Sloane, asks a gas station attendant to snap a picture for her Instagram account. She wants a particular angle. “If you got lower, that would be better,” she says to him.

“You mean, on the floor?” he asks incredulously.

“Yeah,” Taylor says. “Thanks, you’re the best.”

The most hopeful thing I can say about the sordid denouement of this embarrassing and unpleasant period in American history is that at least some subset of Trump’s supporters may now finally realize who, in Trump’s equation, has been the gas station attendant and who has been the star asking you to roll around in the filth for them.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CNN: “The Trump legacy of new American carnage”

After the GOP Insurrection: The Democrats only have 18 Months to Save Democracy with a Transformative Agenda https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/insurrection-democrats-transformative.html Thu, 07 Jan 2021 05:04:41 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195391 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – The shocking Democratic sweep of Georgia’s double-barrel Senate runoffs, and the promise of unified Democratic control in D.C. for the first time in decade, should instantly reinvigorate an intra-party debate that had been shelved since the relatively disappointing results of the November 3rd general election: to escalate or not to escalate?

While some moderates wouldn’t even commit to eliminating the Senate’s filibuster rule before the election, the last two months of Trump-led authoritarian buffoonery and homicidal COVID dithering should have underscored the need for Democrats to take immediate, radical action on multiple fronts to shore up American democracy. And yesterday’s storming and occupation of the Capitol building by white nationalist insurrectionists at the behest of the treasonous President Trump really should put the whole debate to rest.

In the fall, when President Trump trailed many public opinion polls by 10 points or more and it looked like Democrats could net 6 seats in the Senate, partisans wanted payback for a decade of mirthless Republican hardball: eliminate the Senate’s filibuster rule, add seats to the Supreme Court, invite new left-leaning states into the union and more, all in the service of pursuing an aggressive progressive policy agenda and protecting it from the inevitable assault in the courts.

Such transformative plans for table-turning felt like sad delusions by the morning of November 4th. The polls had once again underestimated Trump by several points and Democrats lost a series of winnable senate races, including in Maine, where incumbent Republican Susan Collins trounced her Democratic challenger by 9 points and outran the president there by a staggering 18 points. Those of us who had been dreaming of a long-overdue overhaul of the U.S. political system were forced to accept the overwhelming likelihood that Joe Biden would face a hostile Republican senate, achieving what he could via executive orders and whatever his relationships with senior Republicans could produce in the way of compromise legislation.

It felt like moving out of a house and into a sad little studio apartment. That melancholy should all be out the window now. The Biden administration will preside over the first unified Democratic government in a decade. And while all the pre-existing arguments for procedural escalation are still valid, the GOP has done its malevolent best over the past two months to create new ones, its leadership behaving so grotesquely that even moderates like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D.-Ariz.) might recognize the need for retaliation.

Embed from Getty Images
“Georgia Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) arrive at a press conference in a Humvee . . . Greene has been the subject of some controversy recently due to her support for the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon. (Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images).”

The threat to American democracy, before this year, was a built-in unfairness working against the country’s center-left coalition, exacerbated by the deliberate normative and legal warfare waged by the Republican Party for more than two decades. The result was a gathering crisis of democratic legitimacy, as institutions failed to translate majority sentiment into majority rule, and policy stasis at the national level so destructive that multiple looming national problems went blithely unaddressed by our elites.

Yet the situation is now even more urgent. The Republican Party is in the late stages of being conquered by dangerous, unapologetic authoritarians. These are not the faux-genteel top-down class warriors who brought us Bush v. Gore, Voter ID laws and a hard-right Supreme Court while still adhering to the rhetoric of democracy. Those people were odious, but at least they accepted the occasional defeat within the counter-majoritarian parameters of the system. The institutional GOP now belongs to aspiring tyrants like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, unhinged conspiracy theorists like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and of course to the wastrel Trump family itself. The relatively subtle sabotage of democracy has been replaced by open warfare, and the party’s brightest stars no longer believe that Democrats have the right to govern after winning elections. They prefer autocracy to the peaceful transfer of power.

Embed from Getty Images
“President Donald Trump listens as U. S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley speaks at a rally on November 1, 2018 in Columbia, Missouri.” (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images).

Their plot to steal the election will fail, but just barely so. A handful of state and local Republican officials refused to play their role in Trump’s attempted putsch, and the critical battleground states either had Democratic governors or GOP executives who nonetheless did not want to be remembered as striking the match that lit the Reichstag Fire. What will happen in 2024 if Mar-a-Lago Republicans win those gubernatorial seats, local parties root out everyone with integrity and replace them with various replicas of the drunk lady from the Michigan hearing and Republican House and Senate majorities make it possible to steal the election on the day the Electoral Votes are counted?

Do you really want to find out? There’s only one way out of this mess, and that’s for newly-empowered Democrats to use all available legal and constitutional means to keep the Republican Party of the United States as far away from power as possible. And there is no better argument for this proposition than a simple recounting of the past two months of horror.

As the Coronavirus pandemic reached its destructive peak, the outgoing president was, rather than helping to coordinate a massive federal effort to distribute the miraculous vaccines, instead wallowing in self-pity, convinced of meritless conspiracy theories that evaporated into the courtroom air the moment they encountered even the friendly inquiries of Trump-appointed judges. Once it became clear that they couldn’t sue their way out of losing six different swing states, the president’s allies in the reactionary media and in the halls of Congress, latched onto a legally preposterous theory that Republican state legislatures could simply set aside the results of elections if they were not to their liking, and appoint their own slate of Electors.

When those same legislatures balked at the suggestion, the Keystone Coup was simply rerouted. There were the ominous firings of civilian leadership at the Defense Department, the ouster of lickspittle loyalist William Barr from the Department of Justice, the threats and pressure campaigns against state election officials in the critical swing states, the extralegal show hearings in Michigan and Pennsylvania. What about martial law? What if Vice President Mike Pence could be convinced to toss out the results during the official counting on January 6th? What if Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger could be berated into somehow “finding” 11,000 votes for the president?

Where has this all led? Around 10,000 Americans have been dying of COVID-19 during each of the weeks that these hapless nihilists focused all of their energy on stealing the election. No one knows when or under what circumstances the lame duck president will leave the White House. He will not attend the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

A supermajority of Republican voters now believes the election results were not just unfortunate but rigged, and they have also been turned against heretofore uncontroversial methods of voting. A white nationalist mob was whipped up to descend on the nation’s capital. After some encouragement in a sullen morning speech by the president himself, these yahoos stormed the U.S. Capitol, created an active shooter situation that menaced the entire national legislature and held our elected representatives hostage for several hours as the President of the United States dithered and law enforcement took its sweet time clearing the building.

In spite of this climate of fear and horror, which reached its apex yesterday, Democrats got lucky. Rather than doing everything in his power to save incumbent Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Georgia, President Trump, ever the chaos agent, seemed bent on tackling them at the 1-yard line. His caterwauling about the alleged perfidy of Georgia’s Republican election officials might have convinced a meaningful sliver of the GOP electorate to sit out the runoffs, while his call for $2,000 stimulus checks somehow led Mitch McConnell to smack down a popular idea just days before Loeffler and Perdue faced the voters. The favorable national environment Democrats have enjoyed in some form since 2016 persisted into 2020 long enough to deliver the narrowest of Senate majorities.

But that all comes to an end when Biden is sworn in. The party will own whatever happens for the next two years, and if they don’t take measures to reinforce their power by making the political system itself more resilient and fair, they will have no one to blame but themselves when it all slips away in 2022. A set of reforms to do just that is now de rigeur on the activist left, including D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood and the enlargement of the U.S. Supreme Court. The most important, though, might be a new Voting Rights Act to cut off the now-inevitable state-level GOP push to eliminate things like mail balloting and to impose even more draconian restrictions on in-person voting.

They will need to move swiftly. The election cycle is merciless, and Democrats will have, at most, 18 months to save American democracy before the 2022 election cycle kicks into high gear. Especially with extraordinarily narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, the party simply can’t afford a months-long debate about whether to eliminate the filibuster.

How can the moderates be convinced to dispense with the fantasy of bipartisanship and do what needs to be done? I don’t know, but how about this: their counterparts just spent two months plotting to overthrow the duly elected government of the United States while thousands of Americans a day died needlessly of a deadly virus because of the president’s incompetence. While dozens of elected Republicans indulged the president’s dangerous fantasies by delaying the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, the poisonous fruits of their collaboration with the worst president in our history got splattered all over the Capitol in the form of an appalling breach of security, an embarrassing and shameful episode that caused shock and horror around the world.

The GOP’s next act in power will be worse. Today it is half-baked insurrection. Tomorrow it will be something more coordinated, led by someone who isn’t too lazy and stupid to finish the job of destroying this democracy. There is only one way to stop it from happening, and the time to act is now or never.

Stop worrying about tit-for-tat retaliation and the hallowed norms of the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Think about what it felt like to cower in your offices as the president’s goons tried to kill you. Do they seem like the kind of people who, if the tables were turned, would shy away from D.C. statehood because norms?

You know the answer to that question. This is an emergency. And the clock is ticking.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBS Evening News: “Democrats secure Senate control as Warnock, Ossoff clinch Georgia runoffs”

Less than 8 Weeks to Save our Democracy from a Grotesque, Bigoted, illiterate Game Show Host and Real Estate Grifter https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/democracy-grotesque-grifter.html Tue, 08 Sep 2020 04:04:18 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193033 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – In 2016, thanks largely to the antiquated, nonsensical design of its creaky electoral system, the U.S. presidency was awarded to a candidate who lost the election by nearly 3 million votes to his opponent. This elderly man, a functionally illiterate game show host and petty real estate grifter with an unbroken, lifelong trail of stiffed creditors, unpaid workers, disastrous bankruptcies, acrimonious divorces and criminal allegations, oozes at every moment a grotesque, seething and conspiracy-laced resentment against women, minorities, immigrants and what he nearly always calls “the Democrat Party.” He pours this toxic ensemble into a cocktail shaker with empty embarrassing braggadocio, adding in equal portions of a genuinely bottomless ability to lie shamelessly and an all-around lack of even the most rudimentary ability to head the executive branch of the most powerful country in the world. The resulting concoction has been force-fed to us for nearly four years now.

It is the worst drink I’ve ever had.

This unctuous, insecure narcissist slithered into office in January 2017, already wildly unpopular, and began a relentless around-the-clock assault on our senses, our institutions and our decency that has been much more successful than is widely acknowledged. A catalog of President Trump’s misdeeds could fill a supertanker, so it is easier for the sake of brevity to paint them in broad strokes: The elevation of bloodthirsty conspiracy theorists into positions of power, the ceaseless retweeting of fascists and Nazis and certifiable kooks, the defense of mass murderers, the casual extortion schemes he has unfurled to remain in power, the constant bleating about his own persecution and helplessness, the sad transformation of the Republican Party into his personal enablement vessel, the daily violations of ethics laws and informal norms meant to prevent the use of the federal government as a vehicle for the president’s revenge quests, the blithe permission granted to Republican officials to commit crimes, defy subpoenas and hide behind his pardon power, the casual unleashing of a terrible, violent, racist ugliness across the land, the staggering mismanagement of the worst public health crisis in a century, the manic hyper-partisanship in every statement, Tweet and policy decision, the diseased relish with which he cavorts with tyrants and thieves while spurning democratic allies.

The last four years have been an exhausting, non-stop crisis. Political scientist Paul Musgrave wrote recently that it has been “a struggle between firefighters and a spree arsonist,” as the Trump administration has taken delight in using the immense power of the federal government to threaten disfavored groups and marginalized citizens with sudden policy reversals and outrageous indecencies, overwhelming those fighting back with the sheer quantity of provocations. As Musgrave writes, many of these trial balloons go nowhere (like the threat to eliminate birthright citizenship), but others have succeeded. The cumulative effect is akin to the fog of war.

In perhaps the most justifiably famous essay of this era, The Atlantic’s Adaw Serwer argued that the message of this vindictive mayhem is that “Only the president and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it. The rest of us are entitled only to cruelty, by their whim.” The dispiriting trajectory of this period in our history has proven the scholars who doubted that our vaunted institutions would save us from authoritarianism completely right.

As Masha Gessen wrote in the aftermath of the election, “The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.” Trump has validated her fears by proving that the presence of laws on the books is not enough to prevent criminal conduct and illegal maneuvering, because his allies figured out early on that they could tie it all up in the courts almost indefinitely. Once the takeover of the federal judiciary is completed in a second Trump term, even modest legal pushback will evaporate.

Gessen’s good faith has been most conspicuously absent from the only organized group of people with the power to put a stop to any of it. The most disturbing development of the past four years has been the near-total capitulation of the Republican Party to President Trump’s lawlessness. The sight of GOP senators scampering away from reporters asking them about the latest outrage has become a kind of ongoing self-parody. Almost no elected Republican official has been willing to stake his or her career on a real confrontation with the president. The few who chose not to go along retired rather than suffer the humiliation of the president’s invective or endure a primary defeat.

They rolled over when Russia ran an open and illegal disinformation campaign with the eager assistance of Trump and his allies. They rolled over when President Trump refused to divest himself of his financial interests and hired as advisors a coterie of self-dealers who made a mockery of the “drain the swamp” campaign slogan. They rolled over when he tried to sabotage the 2020 election by extorting our Ukrainian allies to fabricate damning information about eventual Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his son.

They rolled over when the Attorney General William Barr revealed himself to be a GOP operative who goes on hyper-partisan talk shows to yap about how Democrats have become a “Rousseau-ian Revolutionary Party that believes in tearing down the system.” They rolled over when President Trump installed one of his lackeys to obliterate the Postal Service and unapologetically tried to delegitimize vote-by-mail. Of course, none of this should be surprising – they rolled over in October 2016 when a tape surfaced of Trump bragging about sexual assault, and they haven’t stopped tumbling downhill since.

If nothing else they really must be quite tired.

Even if former Ohio Governor John Kasich standing at a literal crossroads during his brief video for the Democratic National Convention was hokey, he’s not wrong. The ever-gentle Biden campaign won’t come out and say this directly, but the 2020 election will likely decide whether American democracy can recover from its current shambolic state, or whether as a society we decide that this slide into autocracy that is undeniably unfolding before our eyes is just fine. The political assassins of the Lincoln Project, briefly on our side for this campaign, have snappily termed it “America or Trump.”

But this is not quite right. The thing that most Americans don’t understand about authoritarianism is that for most people, life goes on. They struggle and go to work and school and get married and have kids and rent apartments and shop at fully stocked grocery stores and host dinner parties and go to the gym. In all but the most ruthless, violent dictatorships, or states in the midst of full-on collapse, everyday life has a veneer of normalcy that it takes some effort to pierce. There is talk of politics everywhere, and the rulers are frequently the subject of disdain, ribaldry and mockery.

You have to spend significant time in these kinds of countries to get a sense of what is lost or missing, as it is experienced in daily life by the people who actually live there. In the soft authoritarian or hybrid regimes that the United States increasingly resembles, elections are hotly contested and deeply fraught but ultimately unfair with more or less preordained outcomes. Opposition parties and groups hold some leverage, and leaders cannot necessarily act with total impunity at all times, but the regime’s power is a fortress surmounted only with sustained, creative and extremely dangerous organizing. Its authority is passed along to designated successors while regime insiders identify critical points where power can be temporarily relaxed or reinforced.

The systems of patronage and elite privilege in authoritarian countries are not all that different from the way that wealthy Americans have gamed just about every institution in the country, from college admissions to unpaid internships and plum clerkships, to their advantage. As in the United States, substantial numbers of citizens conclude that the political system can do nothing for them, and they simply stop caring. This also is to the dictator’s benefit.

All of which is to say that the world will not suddenly wink out like some exhausted celestial body if Donald Trump is re-elected president of the United States on November 3rd. We will wake up the next day and trudge to work like we did in 2016, even if that slog is just to a different room in the house. Right wing militias will not kidnap you in the middle of the night and disappear you into some black site, nor will Trump have yet fully conquered the judiciary, which might maintain appellate circuit redoubts of opposition throughout his second term. The long-term arc will be more like aging, where you gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, lose your capabilities, your parents, your friends and your siblings. It does not happen all at once. But make no mistake – the various offensives that Trump and his allies have mounted, some successful and some not, on America’s democratic institutions will be given fresh life. And once the two elderly liberals on the Supreme Court step down or die, as they almost certainly will before 2024, there will be almost nothing to stand in the way of further backsliding.

The difference between the United States and Russia or Egypt today therefore is one of degree, not kind. The chief and most important distinction, for now, is that it is still possible, despite all of the absurd obstacles including the Electoral College, rampant voter suppression, the attempted knifing of the USPS and whatever the Russians have in store for us, for Democrats to win the presidency and take full control of Congress in 2020. The U.S. military, for now, wants no part of any scheme to annihilate popular democracy so that the GOP’s doddering president can continue ruling on behalf of a rapidly vanishing white majority. The election theft scenarios drawing thousands of likes on Twitter, such as the idea that GOP state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin can anoint Republican electors on some flimsy pretext even if Trump loses the state, are far-fetched. This is not to say that the playing field is even, or that nefarious efforts are not underway to tilt the election to Republicans, but rather that Trump has no clear way around a decisive defeat other than a break with the constitutional order that would likely fail spectacularly.

Yet it is not encouraging that this break feels much less fanciful than it might have four years ago. Then as now, Trump mused about not accepting the results of the election if he didn’t like them. What has changed is that in the interim, he has convinced some 40% of the country that he could not possibly lose, that an electoral defeat cannot be the product of his political incompetence and loathsome character but rather must be an electoral fraud conspiracy launched by the “deep state,” abetted by “suppression polls” and the “fake news media.”

In a very real sense, Trump’s ignominious reign has ensured that unprecedented numbers of Americans will never believe that the results of the 2020 election are real. Over 50% of Republicans in a recent survey agreed with the statement that “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” Fewer than 10% disagreed with the idea that “It is hard to trust the results of elections when so many people will vote for anyone who offers a handout.” Rank-and-file Republicans now talk about – and sometimes assault – members of the media in ways that would sound perfectly plausible coming out of Kim Jong Un’s press shop, and have been whipped up into a fervor that may not be controllable should Biden win. While not everyone in Trump’s base is necessarily one election loss away from taking up arms, the seed of future armed conflict has been planted. It seems like the kind of plant that can flourish even in the shade.

A Trump victory would return the utterly shameless group of people who produced this wreckage to power. And the slide from there could be irreversible. You can read How Democracies Die cover to cover without encountering a country that recovered from a descent as far into authoritarianism as the United States will plummet in a second Trump term without suffering a prolonged period of tyranny and violence. In a very real sense, winning this election will not save American democracy, but rather grant us an extended opportunity to do so. While a Biden landslide would likely be impossible for Trump and his minions to overturn, a narrower win or a 2000-style contested outcome might require further heroic efforts from those who have spent the past four years fighting incipient tyranny.

Even if Biden is sworn in on January 21st, confronting the forces of chaos and white nationalism that Trump has cultivated and loosed on us will be a perpetually urgent task. And should we fail yet another test and send President Trump forward for another 4-year-term, it is more likely than not that ordinary Americans will eventually have to graduate from calling their representatives, donating money and showing up for the occasional protest to actions typically seen overseas – general strikes and massive occupations of urban centers, or if there is another Electoral College misfire, to arrive at a real conversation about dividing this broken country.

If, on the other hand, you’d rather just win decisively and then fight from a position of power rather than abject weakness, you have less than eight weeks left to help make it happen.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The Damage Report: “Trump Supports Kyle Rittenhouse, Because of Course He Does”

Trump has Quit on Us: The President is conducting a sit-down strike in his bedroom while the country burns https://www.juancole.com/2020/07/president-conducting-country.html Wed, 08 Jul 2020 04:05:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191938 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – Over the past month, it has become painfully clear even to millions of people who voted for him in 2016 that Donald Trump is deeply uninterested in doing the job he was entrusted with. In the face of the worst crisis to confront human civilization in nearly a century, the President of the United States went AWOL, abandoning his citizens to the ravages of the Coronavirus while he dawdled and complained and pitied himself ceaselessly. He did what all cowards do when faced with genuine hardship and uncomfortable travails: he packed up and quit on us. The President of the United States is conducting a sit-down strike in his bedroom while the country burns, because his vindictive petulance is an inexhaustible resource and because he is incapable of admitting errors of any kind.

If you, like me, just lived through the worst, most stressful four months of your life with no salvation in sight, it is worth considering what the president was doing during this terrible time. While you were burying your parents, the President of the United States was (falsely, of course) shitposting on Twitter about a Black NASCAR driver and caterwauling about the potential renaming of the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians. While you were watching your toddlers around the clock for the 118th straight day or homeschooling your adolescents and simultaneously Zooming with your bosses and clients and students, the president was barking about the injustice of affixing new monikers to military bases bearing the names of traitors responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

While you were sealed in your houses dreaming about hugging your grandchildren and consumed with fear of asphyxiating to death alone in a hospital where your final moments will be overseen by some anesthesiologist you just met, the president was delivering an address from a national monument about the merciless war being waged upon us by ‘cancel culture’ on what was once a joyful national holiday.

While you were sweating through another death-and-horror filled shift at the hospital, hoping your improvised protective equipment spares you the infection murdering your patients while your spouse and kids literally hide from you, President Trump was taking meetings with Laura Ingraham and toting Sean Hannity around on Marine One and entrusting your fate to his talentless son-in-law, a little wisp of a man who seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once.

While you were walled off in your assisted living facility living joylessly in constant terror of infection, stealing precious of moments of succor with your loved ones over FaceTime, the president was gearing up his re-election campaign to protect not you and your remaining years on this Earth, but rather the honor of calcified statues of turncoats and mass murderers and the flag they designed to represent their commitment to chattel slavery, a symbol enthusiastically adopted and revered still today by millions of loathsome devotees of the Lost Cause. While you were joining millions of your fellow citizens in peacefully protesting the undeniable reality of systemic racism, the president was calling you a thug and a looter and an anarchist and an Antifa agent and not-so-quietly encouraging the police to abuse you or shoot you to death.

While you were furloughed or permanently separated from your job and picking up dreary extra work as an Instacart shopper, the president was golfing, always golfing, and when he wasn’t golfing he was musing about how a virus that has killed 33,000 Benghazis worth of your fellow citizens and is spreading exponentially across the country might just disappear of its own accord like a headache or a foul odor or the lingering memory of a bad dream. While you were putting your education and your future on hold to protect strangers you’ve never met, living the same day over and over like some unfunny episode of Russian Doll, the president was trying to force the governor of North Carolina to let thousands of unmasked Republican yahoos set off a Coronavirus grenade in downtown Charlotte so that you might be hoodwinked into thinking that everything is fine.

While you were waiting for the next round of stimulus from Congress, figuring out how not to get evicted in the middle of a pandemic, idling in the punishing heat waiting to sign up for unemployment benefits from your sclerotic state government or trapped in an endless queue waiting for food assistance, Donald Trump was trying to shutter his own Covid task force and aligning himself with Mitch McConnell’s demented refusal to do anything about any of this until Democrats agree to waive all liability for corporations and institutions who get their employees and customers and students killed.

Are you happy with how the president has spent his time during four months that felt like four years to most of us? I’m not. Donald Trump took an oath to defend the United States and faithfully execute its laws. But when a real crisis descended upon us with all of its destructive wrath, the only country that the president decided to defend was the Confederacy, which is easy for him because it no longer exists and requires no actual work. The laziest administration in the history of this country, staffed with thin-skinned mobsters and aspiring genocidaires and sniveling crooks with a well-justified sense of their own impunity, actually made a conscious decision to sacrifice as many of us as possible so that bars and restaurants and gyms and car dealerships could reopen, to offer people a simple binary: your money or your life. They have declared the pandemic over and told us that America is open for business but this happy talk is difficult to square with the ruined landscape of economic misery and death and illness that surrounds anyone who isn’t rich enough to make it all go away.

Try not to forget that when we all opened our eyes to this grueling nightmare, the president had a choice. He could fight the virus with all of the awesome powers and resources of the federal government, or he could fight Colin Kaepernick on Twitter. He could battle the plague, or he could battle governors doing their level best to safeguard their citizens and fill in the many gaps where the federal government and its coordinating mechanisms were supposed to be. He could burn the midnight Fritos devising ways to return the country to some kind of attenuated normalcy until a vaccine or silver-bullet treatment is available, or he could stay up all night insulting the former Republicans who run the Lincoln Project and huddling with his advisors to figure out a more effectively diminutive nickname for Joe Biden.

He could rise to the occasion, or he could sink further into the hateful morass of grievance and pettiness and self-interest that has characterized his adult life. He could work, even halfheartedly, for us, or he could do what he has always done with things go sideways on his watch – slink away, stiffing and hurting and sliming whoever he can on the way out the door, all the while projecting his own inadequacies and failings on the very people who are trying to clean up his mess.

The grim reality is that our ordeal will go on for months longer than it needed to because the President of the United States walked off the job and didn’t even bother giving us two weeks notice. If this is OK with you, if you still actively approve of the job that this inept megalomaniac is doing, you should just admit to yourself that you elected this guy to prosecute a culture war and to harness and channel your incoherent rage about the passing of white supremacy rather than to competently run the country. The rest of us still need a leader who won’t bail on us the second things get hard and we’re counting down the days until we can elect one.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

WAPO: Trump Admin. Wants America To ‘Grow Numb’ From COVID-19 Deaths | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

Kooks, Never-Maskers and our Pandemic Death Toll: The High Cost of Republican Malevolence https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/pandemic-republican-malevolence.html Fri, 26 Jun 2020 04:04:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191721 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – Today the United States eclipsed 125,000 deaths from the Coronavirus pandemic, and the worst might be yet to come. Despite having months to right-foot the White House’s initial, lackadaisical response to the looming disaster, the country is in many ways in a more dire position than it was in March. After never fully crushing the first wave like pretty much every other developed country on the planet managed to do, the United States is currently on possibly the worst of all trajectories, with cases soaring in populous Florida, Arizona, Texas and California. The conscientious citizens who locked themselves down for months in a hopeful display of national solidarity so that the government could collect its sorry self and create systems to rub out new clusters sacrificed their livelihoods and sanity mostly for nothing.

The villains in this story are many, but there is a single, unifying theme: the Republican Party in its current iteration is an incredibly dangerous organization, led by credulous fools whose information diet is produced by bloviating con artists and who are so desperate to maintain their ill-gotten power that they will sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to do so. The sneering ringleader of this death cult is the President of the United States himself, who squandered critical weeks of preparation time early in the pandemic, and then prematurely decided the crisis was over sometime in late April. President Trump’s gratuitously stupid and misleading press briefings have been replaced by precisely nothing, giving the deliberate and false impression that the virus has been vanquished.

His vain refusal to mask up in public has turned a cheap and effective public health intervention into yet another front in the right’s fevered, paranoid culture war. He pimped miracle cures like Alex Jones, leapt like Pavlov’s dog at any opportunity to brag about ephemeral economic rebounds, and forced terrified governors to mount clandestine operations to obtain and hide medical equipment. His every utterance worsened the general atmosphere of confusion and hopelessness by demonstrating the abject uselessness – or often the outright malevolence – of the federal government. The White House even invented comical explanations for the president’s lethargic buck-passing, by claiming that President Trump had empowered “our great governors” and harnessed the energy of federalism. Lies, lies, lies. At every stage of this nightmare, you could count on whatever flimflam the administration peddled to the media to be counterfeited by actual facts days or weeks later.

The president’s steadfast refusal to take seriously the worst health calamity in a century infected nearly all of his slavish devotees in statehouses and state legislatures across the land. While Republican governors like Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker largely followed the lead of public health experts, most chose to downplay the threat, imposed weaker restrictions than necessary and then jumped to reopen their states at the earliest possible opportunity. To do otherwise would have put them on the wrong side of Trump’s wrathful cult, to invite the derision of the whiny, grievance-obsessed diehards who cracked up in spectacular fashion just weeks into social distancing while the country’s heroic essential workers selflessly risked their lives to keep society intact. It is hard to look at the collection of hysterical protestors in places like Michigan and Illinois and remember that these are the descendants of people who fought and won World War II.

But like nearly all of the disasters which have befallen us this century, the indefensible policies of state and national Republicans were accelerated, justified and then weaponized by a relatively small number of spiritually dead charlatans in the conservative media universe. These Covid truthers have been given an extraordinary amount of media attention and their uninformed musings ricocheted predictably around the right-wing pinball machine, building hostility first to the lockdowns and then to any remaining mitigation measures during reopenings. As they were designed to do. The right-wing hackverse exists almost solely to prop up the interests of capitalists and white supremacists.

Former New York Times reporter and certified weirdo Alex Berenson, who refers to masks as “face diapers,” now has 135,000 followers on Twitter. His ebook, Unreported Truths About Covid and Lockdowns, is a bestseller on Amazon and his articles and tweets are linked prominently on conservative sites like Real Clear Politics. On April 28th, he tweeted, “The apocalypse came and went and 99.99.% of us under 85 are still alive.” He insists that calls for expanded testing are “panic porn” propagated by “blue checks” on Twitter. (Berenson, but of course, is a blue check himself). Contact tracing is “viral theater.”

Berenson is not alone. Law professor and Hoover Institution gadfly Richard Epstein got himself famous in all the wrong ways by predicting in March that Covid-19 would kill only 500 people in the United States. He later revised his estimate to 2,000 deaths while accusing governors like J.B. Pritzker of Illinois of “hysterical and sloppy” projections and calling for Coronavirus decisions to be made “at the level of plants, hotels, restaurants, and schools than remotely by political leaders.” Meanwhile, more people died in Pritzker’s Illinois in May alone than Epstein predicted would perish in the whole country. These articles are still linked proudly on the Hoover Institution’s website. America’s Oracle of Wrong just can’t quit. On June 8th, he declared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “Today, there is really a tale of two Americas — one blue and one red — that will determine just how fast the economy will open. The red states have lower death rates and higher levels of economic activity.” Check back in on that one in two weeks, right?

A common thread for most of these dreadful predictions is to take a snapshot of noisy data and then to make sweeping, unsupported conclusions based on little more than wishcasting and motivated reasoning. Former “family values” scold and militant Trumper William Bennett wrote a popular series of articles in March and April with a talk show host named Seth Leibsohn dragging the lockdowns. On March 27th they wrote that “we have engaged in the volitional destruction of the economy and caused unbridled panic over a number we don’t know we will reach but most think will not surpass the combined annual death toll of the regular flu and annual traffic deaths, to say nothing of opioid deaths.” You will be unsurprised, dear reader, to learn that we are on the precipice of surpassing the combined 2018 totals – about 137,000 – of all three. That should happen sometime in early July. At this point doubling that number might be an optimistic scenario.

Bennett and Liebsohn also took delight in gloating about the supposed genius of Florida governor Ron DeSantis. “In March,” they wrote in an April 28thth article for Fox, “Florida was projected to be the second-worst state for COVID-19 deaths, with predictions of 174 per day and a total of nearly 7,000 by the end of the summer. Nothing like this has transpired and it will not come to pass.” Seeing as how Florida is currently setting record after record for new daily new cases, 7,000 deaths will, in fact, come to pass, and if DeSantis doesn’t take dramatic action, and soon, the state will blow past that number like a hurricane on its way to landfall. It is certainly starting to look like, contra Rich Lowry, DeSantis is not owed an apology after all but rather a thorough ass-kicking the next time he’s up for election.

Neither Bennett nor Leibsohn had a scintilla of expertise on the subject they were pontificating about. Neither does Berenson. Neither does Epstein. Yet you could find them all on Fox News and OANN peddling their pet theories about how viruses always become less deadly with time or how hot weather kills Covid or how maybe Hydroxychlorquine can save lives just like the president says or how masks are a sign of weakness or how we should just wall off the olds and go about our daily lives, and on and on and on. And there are legions of pundits ready to pick up the baton of subservience to President Trump from these guys by declaring that the lockdowns were “possibly, the worst mistake the world has ever made.” Having been proven catastrophically wrong with their fingers-in-ears denialism, the conservative media has now taken its cue from President Trump and mostly moved on. Pandemic over! Nothing to see here. As I write this, there are eight links on the Fox News opinion page about mobs tearing down statutes and one about the Coronavirus even though the disease is now eating its way through the four biggest red states in the country.

Did “the experts” get every single thing right? God, no. From the baffling early messaging discouraging mask-wearing to the slow realization that outdoor transmission of the virus is quite unlikely, public health officials have made their share of missteps. Everyone might have been better off from the get-go had experts admitted that there remains much about the virus that we don’t know, including why certain states and cities were hit so much harder early on than others. But dismissing entire fields of painstakingly acquired human knowledge because a forecasting model was off the mark or because Anthony Fauci said a bad thing about masks highlights the astonishing turn away from expertise that the Republican Party took decades ago.

On the one hand, you have tens of thousands of well-meaning, hard-working scientists, doctors and public health leaders doing their very best to respond to a new virus, offer advice to policymakers and adjust as quickly as possible to new information. On the other hand, you have disgraced pundits, shouty radio jockeys, the most ignorant executive in American history and millions of followers who seem not to believe in the germ theory of disease transmission, a monumental scientific breakthrough from the 19th century. Which group of people do you trust to be right more often than not? When you click a link to an article by a guy whose signature intellectual achievement is an unintentionally hilarious book about how marijuana turns people into homicidal psychopaths, do you not take a moment to pause and reflect on whether you should believe what they say about Covid-19?

The cost of living in a country run by inept, malevolent buffoons and a political party that proudly leans into this know-nothingism in nearly every conceivable area of public policy has turned out to be quite high. As functional societies in Asia and Europe return to some level of normalcy, the United States has already absorbed a staggering death toll, and might be in full-on crisis mode until either the day a vaccine starts hitting bloodstreams or we all get it. It could be months or even years before Americans are granted entry into countries who have gotten their outbreaks under control. Schools may have to remain fully or partially closed through the fall, while parents already teetering on the edge of insanity are called back to work. The delusions of stock market investors will be shattered when it becomes clear just how much of the economy will remain shuttered or operate well below capacity because our leaders lacked the will and the competence to get things right.

If misery truly loves company, it should be thrilled with its 330 million new companions, a whole country full of people whose lives are being ruined and immiserated because a nihilist minority of voters in 2016 wanted to roll the dice. Whee! I hope they’re having fun. If there’s a silver lining to this national casket, it’s that the scale of the Trump administration’s unforgivable malfeasance may finally be dawning on an electorally significant slice of the electorate, which at this moment appears set to deliver the worst defeat for an incumbent president and his party since 1932. I wouldn’t want to channel my inner Larry Kudlow by calling it “airtight,” but I do feel increasingly optimistic that in 130 days we’ll be bringing the number of Trumps in the White House down to zero.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Trump’s Government Is MIA As Coronavirus Pandemic Worsens | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

The Authoritarian Logic of Killing Protesters https://www.juancole.com/2020/06/authoritarian-killing-protesters.html Wed, 03 Jun 2020 04:04:36 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191278 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – On October 9th, 2011, Egyptian army vehicles plowed into a Coptic Christian protest outside of the Maspero state television building in the capital city of Cairo, killing more than two dozen peaceful demonstrators. Less than a year after the Arab Spring came to Cairo and dislodged the country’s longtime authoritarian ruler in a spasm of hopeful protest and national unity, the Maspero Massacre, as it came to be known, was a depressing early sign that the revolution had sputtered out far short of its goals. More ominously, the willingness of the state to use lethal force against demonstrators meant that the country’s real rulers – the armed forces – had abandoned their brief pretense of being on the side of the people and felt confident enough in their long-term position to resume killing innocents with impunity.

Embed from Getty Images
Egyptian protesters hold portraits of members of the former military council as they march in Cairo on October 9, 2012 to mark one year since nearly 30 demonstrators were killed in a Coptic Christian demonstration (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/GettyImages).

I haven’t been to Egypt in almost a decade, but I thought of those heady revolutionary days in Cairo as I sat in my Chicago basement this past week, three months into a seemingly endless disruption of normal life from the COVID-19 crisis, and watched video after video of metropolitan police forces across America unleashing unprovoked or wildly disproportionate violence on protestors at the behest of America’s deranged tormentor, a pitiful figure whose racist venality is matched only by his staggering ineptitude. It felt like witnessing the second stage of an uprising, the part where regime hardliners win the day and convince the generals to start shooting.

It’s all horrible. The senseless mayhem. The chilling sociopathy of state-sanctioned killers relishing the opportunity to crack heads and spill blood. The feeling that something is unraveling and no one knows how to stop it, and no one is coming to save us. Not knowing whether the black-shirt-clad meatheads are protestors or baltageya, undercover provocateurs posing as ordinary demonstrators. Not being able to envision an end to any of it. Knowing that 40% of your fellow citizens couldn’t care less if cops murdered unarmed civilians like George Floyd every day for sport.

If you’ve spent time living in an authoritarian country, you know exactly what I mean. As long as you’re in a democracy, you have a sense that there is a net beneath you, that you can only fall so far. You can call a lawyer. You can’t just be disappeared. In a dictatorship, you know that arbitrary coercion can be deployed against you at any minute. They can murder you on live television and there’s nothing you can do about it. What today’s African American protestors are telling us, in addition to the simple fact that they’ve had enough, is that for them it has always been like this. To be black in America is to exist in a bubble of tyranny inside something that everyone else calls a democracy.

The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder has afforded the rest of us an extended look at what that despotism looks and feels like in practice. Millions of Americans already traumatized by three months of a brutal, isolating, terrifying pandemic have little else to do right now but look on in horror. And what we are seeing on the streets of American cities this week is the naked logic of tyranny, the use of violence unbound from law or decency, the police everywhere seeming determined not to prevent mayhem but to stoke it, not to keep the peace but to obliterate it forever. For liberals accustomed to revering their precious urban oases and looking the other way at the many injustices that surround them every day, the behavior of the police is finally opening eyes. Cops are attacking everyone – protestors, journalists, bystanders, old men with canes.

Why are they doing this? Step back from the partisan passions of the moment, from the horserace polls and the VP speculation, from the permanent campaign. Put the particular grievances of the protestors and the identity of the looters out of your minds for a moment. Forget the additional layer of horror and suffering that the virus has inflicted on us, and ask yourself a simple question. Why would police officers across the country feel empowered to attempt vehicular homicide and other acts of blatant escalation against protestors when they know that a thousand people are filming their every move?

For starters, they have a well-earned sense of impunity. They’ll get away with it, or most of them will, and the ones who don’t will get off with a smack on the wrist. This too is authoritarian logic, placing those enforcing the state’s monopoly on violence above any conceivable accountability. This is nothing new here but it is startling to see it happening in dozens of cities at once, and the absurdity of it all in a country in love with its own false sense of equality and justice is being laid bare for all to process.

But there’s something deeper transpiring in the United States, a worrisome fusion of interests between the Republican Party and its carceral state allies. Cops, immigration enforcers, border patrol agents and seemingly even senior figures in the military have converged, dangerously, on the idea that the Democratic Party is illegitimate, that any attempt to rein in the excesses of law enforcement is capitulation to anarchy. Many of them are drunk on paranoid, white supremacist agitprop or the demented philosophy that law enforcement officers are “sheepdogs” keeping the wolves at bay, and they have been whipped into a frothy rage by the President of the United States, who has repeatedly invited police to engage in brutality. And here they are, taking him up on his offer for all to see. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff roaming D.C. at night in his battle fatigues like some post-invasion viceroy was one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen in this country.

It is hard to shake the feeling that these people, who can clearly murder me or you or anyone they please with near-total freedom, see themselves as an occupying army sent to pacify recalcitrant natives. Even America’s biggest, bluest cities are patrolled by cops who mostly hate the citizens they are meant to be protecting and live as far apart from them as the law allows. They are prison guards, and to them we’re the incarcerated. It’s a siege-state mentality, worsened by decades of austerity that have left millions close to destitution and have dramatically worsened inequality in precisely the places most likely to erupt in chaos.

By openly taking the side of injustice, oppression and violence, law enforcement has forfeited its unearned place as one of the last trusted institutions in America. Why are protestors getting brain bleeds from rubber bullets and looters are allowed to roam freely? Why are armed white irregulars patrolling the streets with the permission of police while peaceful protestors get gassed and crushed underfoot? This is what happens when the logic of authoritarianism is adopted deep inside institutions that ostensibly exist to safeguard us. When you view peaceful, or even rowdy, protestors as the enemy, when you decide that you are willing to run them over and drive away, what it means is that you regard your fate as inextricably linked to the regime in power. You wrap yourself even more tightly to the fate of the corrupt rulers, because you know that their downfall is your downfall. That is why for a short period in early 2011 the Egyptian armed forces abandoned the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, precipitated his ouster and then eventually installed General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in his place. They couldn’t continue playing their long game of corruption and abuse if they were seen by the public as having crushed the revolutionaries directly themselves.

To the American security services, our very own amn el-dowla (what else to call these lawless instigators?) President Trump is not just another executive, to be swapped out in five months or four years for someone else to serve. He is their General Sisi. Without him, they might have to face some kind of reckoning for their reckless, callous abuse of American citizens. The gentle pushback from the Obama Department of Justice spurred not a reappraisal of tactics or a thoughtful reexamination of relations between police and the communities they serve, but rather a desperate, reactionary alliance with Trump’s Republican Party.

Law enforcement and the Republican Party, to borrow another idea from the Arab Spring, are now one hand. To change, to adapt, is to die. Their marching orders are to destroy, to throw kindling on the bonfires of rage burning in our cities and to turn enough voters against the cause of racial justice to throw the election to Trump.

In purely political terms, this has so far been a grave miscalculation – the president’s polling continues to crater, and broad majorities of the public believe George Floyd was murdered, that the protestors have legitimate grievances that must be met and that the president is badly mishandling the problem. President Trump, who really is incapable of getting out of his own way, has humiliated himself by alternating incendiary rhetoric with magnificent acts of cowardice, most recently when he ordered his goons to teargas peaceful protestors so that he could march his useless self across the street to hold a bizarre photo op at a church. I pity whoever is running comms for that operation because the dude is literally unreachable. Every time he opens his mouth he alienates another independent voter and further imperils his re-election.

Yet the specter of democratic collapse cannot be dismissed. Many casual comparisons to the Middle East – that our cities are “like Baghdad now” or that anything is as bad as it is in Egypt –are both stupid and racist. And there are important contextual and institutional differences between the United States and your average regional dictatorship.

But to note that democracy has not yet ended here should not give us any confidence that it won’t. And identifying the points where Trumpism is being fused with people and organizations capable of destroying democracy is one of the critical ways that comparative political scientists can help Americans understand the nature of the danger. Egypt is important here not because we are on the verge of plunging into full-on autocracy but because the country’s politics provide a glimpse into the shape of things if internal and external security forces fall completely into the hands of the GOP in the coming years. Right now it feels like they are testing the waters. How many innocent people can we terrorize and kill with impunity? Can we push frightened citizens back into their houses and force them to submit our power? If it works now, could we try it again closer to the election?

Today, they test the waters. Tomorrow, they could plunge us all to the depths together. And we have five months to make sure that it doesn’t happen.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

WGN News: “Protests continue on North Side as citywide curfew in effect”

The Scum of all Fears: America declines the Trump Administration’s Invitation to Die https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/declines-administrations-invitation.html Thu, 23 Apr 2020 04:02:56 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190464 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – President Trump, facing the prospect of possibly the worst electoral environment ever to face an incumbent president, is borrowing a page from the last Republican administration, the one that ended with a sitting president so universally reviled that he decided to skip his own party’s nominating convention. America’s 45th president is trying to create his own reality, one in which we shrug off the Coronavirus nightmare through a combination of plucky determination, emotional compartmentalization and business-as-usual stoicism. And his blinkered plan to rush headlong into an even more grave Covid-19 crisis is not likely to end much more pleasantly for the president and his collaborators than it did for George W. Bush.

By decreeing that America is “open for business” and that what he has taken to calling “The Invisible Enemy” (which is better than the China Virus, to be sure) is nearly vanquished, the president is making arguably the most insane gamble in political history: that he and his gang of scientifically illiterate, dim-bulb governors, rich-doofus grifters and slavish op-ed hacks know more about epidemiology and virology than tens of thousands of doctors, public health officials and nearly every other government on Earth, and that together they can either jumpstart the U.S. economy before November without widespread human carnage, or successfully dodge accountability for the ensuing disaster as they have thus far done with every other act of self-interested, homicidal malfeasance over the past four years.

There’s certainly some history to justify this attitude. In October 2004, just as the American project in Iraq was beginning to bloodily unravel, a senior Bush administration official famously scorned the “reality-based community” to which the New York Times Magazine writer Ron Suskind apparently belonged, and warned him that “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.” No matter how badly Iraq actually goes, the aide was saying, we can spin our way out of it.

Had Twitter existed at the time, thousands of liberals would instantly have changed their handles to some version of the term ‘reality-based community.’ As it was, the term became a kind of blogosphere shorthand for the fact-based universe that the Bush administration had so frequently sneered at and, seemingly, conquered. People only remember that quote, but the whole piece was revealing, a portrait of a president who might not have been a malignant narcissist like the current White House occupant, but who was disturbingly similar to Trump in his wildly unearned confidence in his uninformed opinions. The source of Trump’s incoherent arrogance is unclear, but probably involves a lifetime of “succeeding” despite plunging every person or venture he’s ever been involved with into profound crisis. Bush, on the other hand, believed himself to be a vessel of God.

h/t Wikimedia.

Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett said that Bush “dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts.” Even Joe Biden makes an appearance, pressing the president on the details of the deteriorating situation in Iraq, to which Bush responded by puffing up about his “instincts.” Former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman recalls being accused of “disloyalty” each time she requested facts to justify a particular decision. The article was the source of Bush’s famous confusion of Sweden and Switzerland and relayed a quote from a Republican senator who described Bush saying “Look, I want your vote. I’m not going to debate it with you” during a meeting about the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq. He would “pray on” major decisions seemingly without any kind of policy review process that might have avoided the administration’s more calamitous blunders.

When Bush won re-election in 2004 with a majority of both the popular and electoral votes, it validated, for a time, the new right’s arrogant disregard for empirical truth and contempt for expertise in public policy. But the facts eventually caught up with them. As the body count in Iraq piled inexorably up, the American people turned decisively against the whole misbegotten adventure. And when the global economy cratered in 2008, there was nowhere for this two-term president to hide and no one else to blame it on. Oh they tried – the same set of mountebank-class apologists did their best to pin the blame on poor black folks and “Freddie and Fannie” but at least for a short time Americans successfully placed the onus for the twin catastrophes exactly where it belonged and behaved accordingly by handing Democrats massive majorities in Congress and electing Barack Obama president.

Since then, the right-wing misinformation apparatus has grown larger, more sophisticated and even more thoroughly unmoored from any sense of decency. It has notched victory after improbable victory, keeping the Trump core intact through a series of mishaps, outrages, policy missteps, public relations fiascos and, of course, two of the biggest scandals in American history, along with the president’s daily eruptions of divisive insanity on Twitter. Many people earnestly believe, with some justification, that nothing matters, that there is not one single thing the president can do to break his suicidal compact with his own cult-like supporters. He turned the Mueller investigation on its head by conducting a daily public inquisition against his inquisitors, convincing millions that the charges were not just groundless but a conspiracy launched inside the American government itself. He twisted his attempt to extort the Ukrainian government for political gain into yet another media witch hunt designed to overturn the results of the 2016 election. The base lapped it up. Republican elected officials who knew better were kept in line with the threat of primaries and Twitter abuse.

They are trying to run the same playbook one more time, because why not right? Why fix what’s not broken? Following whatever lead the president offers them, the propagandists at Fox have spent the past two months alternately questioning the seriousness of the virus, a position which eventually became untenable when people starting expiring in droves, and now loudly demanding that states begin the process of “reopening” their economies. When the well-coiffed mouthpieces at Fox speak, they emit a spectacular burst of ideological viral particles, which are then inhaled and spread around by the president himself and the various organs of the alt-right’s media empire until they have infected even conservatives who don’t watch or read any of it. Trump’s approval rating has so far survived his very public two-month refusal to approach the crisis soberly or to do much of anything about it. We’re closing in on 50,000 dead Americans and his approval rating seems glued at 45 percent. Who’s to say he can’t keep it up for another six months and pull of another Electoral College ‘victory’?

There are actually some reasons to believe that the GOP’s reckless handling of the Covid-19 pandemic will end less like Trump’s impeachment saga and more like the Bush-era effort at reality-building in Iraq. President Trump’s most successful propaganda efforts have involved issues that ultimately did not touch or effect ordinary Americans much at all. While the Russian election interference operation may have contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss, it was probably not the decisive factor. As the economy continued to boom, Russiagate moved further and further into the periphery of apolitical voters mostly concerned with kitchen table issues like unemployment or true believers who get cross-faded by culture-warring and wealth-worshipping at the same time. Ukrainegate met a similar fate. Despite the president’s wildly illegal efforts to extort the Ukrainian government into opening a bogus investigation into Joe Biden’s son, his numbers held. The Senate firewall remained intact. If anything, the president emerged from the ordeal in an even stronger position politically.

The crucial point is this: Rank-and-file conservatives were free to believe that both things were part of the same elaborate hoax cooked up by the Deep State and various Angry Democrats, and they paid no price for it in the real world. Most illusions are costless. No one in Red America was worse off for giving into whatever motivated reasoning led them to dismiss these irrefutable allegations as partisan hackery. It’s the same with climate change. Unless they happen to own property on the Outer Banks or something, most people can cling to climate denialism without really bearing any sacrifice beyond seeing the eyes of their grandkids rolling so hard into the back of their heads that they practically topple over every time grandpa goes on a soliloquy about the evils of political correctness.

Unlike the Russia collusion and the Ukraine bribery fiasco, President Trump’s bumbling, bizarre, selfish and venal approach to battling the novel Coronavirus has already led to actual suffering for those that voted for him. Hundreds of millions of Americans are shuttered in their homes living in abject terror of COVID-19. Voters over the age of 60 are increasingly repulsed by the GOP’s position that the elderly, along with heavily exposed frontline workers like doctors, nurses and grocery store clerks, should sacrifice themselves en masse on the altar of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The president might struggle to get 3% of the vote from health care professionals this November, and while people might not be up for 18 months of sheltering in place, most have also not yet reached the end of their ropes. An electoral message of “Please Die For Me, Bob and Tina” is already demonstrating the limits of its appeal.

In order for President Trump to successfully weather this storm, his cartoonish goons have to actually be right. That means that when Georgians are commanded to go back to their gyms and tattoo parlors and nail salons and restaurants over the next week at the behest of their illegitimate governor, they need to not spike another Coronavirus outbreak across the state. If, on the other hand, the maniacal drive to ‘reopen’ the economy in the midst of the worst pandemic in a hundred years leads to predictable and undeniable disaster in the form of a bunch of fresh Covid-19 hotspots overseen by groveling little Republican Pétains and then to another round of nightmarish lockdowns and economic mayhem, it is difficult to see how even these skilled gaslighters will navigate the fallout. The president has deliberately and quite publicly set up this confrontation between public health officials and the drive to prematurely return to normal. There’s no running away from it this time, even if Trump wants to have it both ways by criticizing Georgia’s plan.

We are now heading into what might be the most harrowing six months of American history since the Civil War, led by a callous, spiteful man for whom hundreds of thousands of deaths are an acceptable cost for another four years in power, a person utterly devoid of empathy, public spirit, curiosity and skill, perhaps in a literal sense the worst human being in the country. Not even Vladimir Putin could have dreamed that Trump and his sidekicks would have been granted so incredible an opportunity to destroy the country. The Trump administration has no feasible plan to get the country back on its feet, no capacity to engage in the herculean acts of leadership and coordination that the moment plainly demands, no ability to appeal to all Americans to come together to endure through painful sacrifices and suffering, no interest in or respect for the public-minded experts still gritting it out inside the federal bureaucracy for the greater good and no qualms about their behavior whatsoever.

They have only what they believe to be a bottomless bag of rotten rhetorical maneuvers and flimsy magic tricks, and they will keep reaching into it until we prove to them that it’s empty. Maybe I’m naïve, but there’s already some evidence that Trump has run out magic griftie dust, that his elderly base is turning on him and that American voters will ultimately hold these horrible people accountable for what they’ve done to us.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Los Angeles Times: “Gov. Gavin Newsom on protests and President Trump’s ‘liberate’ tweets”

Maybe that Imperial Presidency Idea wasn’t so Great: The Coronavirus Reveals that America Long Since Fell Apart https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/imperial-presidency-coronavirus.html Mon, 30 Mar 2020 04:03:19 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189977 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – If you were asked three months ago, when news of the novel Coronavirus we now call Covid-19 was just emerging from China, which rich country in the world was the most defenseless against a global viral pandemic, would you have said anything but the United States? The Coronavirus crisis has, just a month into our national nightmare, exploded the increasingly unsustainable mythology that America is a country superior in anything but sheer military prowess. It has been like starting the rehab on a gorgeous old house and discovering that termites have gobbled up the support beams, the walls and the roof. One false move and you’ll plunge clear through to the basement.

This is a country in an accelerating freefall. The United States is already the world leader in total number of Covid-19 cases, and it will likely only be a few weeks before we take the lead in deaths from Italy. Given that roughly half the country is still not taking the kind of serious measures needed to flatten the infection curve, and that millions of credulous imbeciles, mostly Republicans, still don’t believe this is a serious threat, we are probably only at the end of the beginning of our ordeal. Everything that is wrong with American politics and society will not only prolong our suffering, but make its aftermath more difficult to recover from.

The virus almost immediately exposed advanced sclerosis in a number of critical administrative and social processes. Our health care system was, seemingly, equipped for no more than a week-long fight against any kind of deadly airborne pathogen. We operate by far the most expensive and wasteful medical system on the face of the Earth, and as it turns out, disappearing trillions of dollars into insurance companies rather than investing them in human beings did not build much resiliency at all. The heroic selflessness of the country’s doctors, nurses and support staff is not an inexhaustible resource.

Our hallowed sense of solidarity is so fundamentally broken that Congress just recessed for weeks after cutting people stimulus checks that won’t even cover a single month’s rent or mortgage payment for millions. 3.3 million newly unemployed and newly insurance-less Americans will descend upon a collapsed medical system, many of them with the virus. Uninsured and underinsured Americans and undocumented immigrants will either crash ERs or, worse, refuse to seek treatment at all. Who or what will pay for the ones who seek care is anyone’s guess, and Congress could not be bothered to ask.

Covid-19 also put another nail in the coffin for presidentialism as a political operating system. As other countries took decisive action both to contain the virus and to cushion the blow to their citizens, the United States dithered for weeks. Much of that wasted time can be laid at the feet of the petulant, conspiracy-mongering ineptocrat in the White House, a man whose name is now destined to be synonymous with ignorance, greed, stupidity and corruption until the end of time, whose ghoulish indifference to human suffering and total lack of interest in governing the country he was elected to lead will to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

But precious time was also wasted with negotiations between branches of government controlled by different parties. What took weeks to achieve here could have been dispensed with in days in any functioning parliamentary system. Instead of coordinating the effort to stand up additional medical resources in the states, the federal government instead decided to pit governors against one another, throwing everyone at the mercy of the “free market.” The only person with the power to commandeer industries in the service of a great national effort to fight the virus decided instead to fritter away more time feuding with longtime nemeses like the country’s largest automobile manufacturer.

The onset of the pandemic also revealed that millions of Americans are selfish, ignorant fools, being led to their ultimate doom by a conservative movement that long ago chose the pursuit and preservation of political and economic power over any obligation to the common good. There is no reaching many of these people because the infection long ago migrated to the brain. How else can you explain why so many people, to this day, are still gathering together in public like they want to be infected? How else can you explain the empty posturing of the American right in February and the first weeks of March? After China locked down its citizens in January, anyone with two eyes and an Internet connection could see that something dreadful was this way coming. The seriousness of the situation was certainly not lost on the mostly Republican vultures who sold off stock portfolios after getting a private briefing on January 24th.

Yet the institutional Republican Party and all of its attendant propaganda organs, spent those critical weeks not feverishly scrambling to prevent onrushing disaster, but instead trying to prop up the almighty stock market, convincing a gullible base that the Coronavirus was not a mortal threat to the United States but rather a plot to undermine President Trump himself. The usual villains were trotted out to take incoming – the sensationalist “Fake news” media was overhyping it, the scientists were more interested in grant money and doom-and-gloom notoriety than the truth, Democrats were rooting for an economic crash so they could finally undo the results of the 2016 election, and so on.

This Covid-19 denialism has many causes. One is, I think, a natural refusal to believe that something so decisively foreign to the lived experience of nearly anyone alive today could truly happen, and what has been revealed as a blind faith that science had made this kind of pandemic an impossibility. Looking back now, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003 and the swine flu pandemic in 2009 almost certainly made ordinary people overconfident that even when pathogens break out, that plucky scientists and determined policymakers can shut them down.

SARS in particular should have been an instructive lesson, and a much more dire warning. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the technical name for Covid-19 is SARS-CoV-2. In other words, it is a closely related virus, probably produced by the same chain of zoonotic events. While SARS “only” killed about 774 people worldwide, it was a terrifying disease, a full-on assault on the human respiratory system with a case fatality rate of 15%. But it was containable by virtue of a lucky fluke. “Symptoms tend to appear in a person before, rather than after that person becomes highly infectious,” wrote David Quammen about the disease in his 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. “That order of events allowed many SARS cases to be recognized, hospitalized, and placed in isolation before they hit their peak of infectivity.”

SARS was effectively contained. But Quammen saw this all coming in 2012. He warned that the next big viral pandemic wouldn’t be that way. It will be characterized by “high infectivity preceding notable symptoms. That will help it move through cities and airports like an Angel of Death.” SARS CoV-2, thankfully, does not have such a high case fatality rate – if COVID-19 were killing people at a clip of 15% it would be much more of a human civilization-threatening event than it is, something like the plot of Contagion, except worse, since the authorities in that film appear to know what they’re doing and to be operating in good faith.

Covid-19 is spread largely by people who are asymptomatic – that is, they can infect others before they even know they have the disease. And none of this should have been a surprise to policymakers. Indeed, the Obama administration’s National Security Council produced a 69-page document with detailed recommendations for what to do should something like this crisis unfold, and it was of course casually binned by the Trump people.

But America’s coming nightmare wasn’t produced solely by a failure – shared by much of the global community – to properly prepare for a more easily transmissible version of SARS or something like it. When Covid-19 first arrived on these shores, it found itself staring at every virus’s dream – a country teeming with hapless Republicans whose minds have been completely and dangerously warped by the right-wing outrage machine, people who have been taught by their huckster media overlords to distrust all forms of scientific knowledge and expertise, trained to dismiss credible warnings of doom as just more nattering from “blue checkmarks” and inured to the consequences of their ignorance by little more than good fortune.

Most consequentially, this form of aggressive psychological decay, catalyzed by the runaway negative partisanship cooked up in the political weapons labs at Fox News and The Federalist, gradually spilled over from the closed-circle conservative media circus into the halls of actual governance around the country, producing an outbreak of unqualified, cartoonish quislings catapulted into executive power in red states all around the country by the sheer force of President Trump’s cult of personality. This is how you end up with a 4th-rate middle manager called Ron DeSantis in charge of the country’s third most-populous state, and a truly repugnant lickspittle named Tate Reeves as the governor of Mississippi, who overrode local shelter in place orders and invited the very worst case scenario to visit his state.

The president, unsurprisingly, is doing everything in his power to jam the Coronavirus catastrophe into the only framework his shriveled little mind is capable of processing: a map of the infernal Electoral College, in which evil “Dem” governors in blue states are trying to destroy his presidency and mooch off the federal government, while scrappy red-staters remain open for business. He has attacked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He has repeatedly lit into Michigan Gov. Gretchen Wittmer, who of course has the misfortune in Trump’s world of being born a woman. He has feuded with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. All of them are, unsurprisingly, Democrats. We’ve seen this film before, because it’s exactly how he dealt with public officials in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Not enough people cared back then because….well, you know why.

With some notable exceptions, like Ohio’s Mike DeWine, many Republican-governed states have taken their cues from the president’s poll-fueled denialism and remain in a state of almost complete unpreparedness today. Only 26 states have issued partial or statewide stay-at-home orders – most, though not all led by Democratic executives. Many of the red state governors burying their heads in the sand about this pandemic happen to lead some of the poorest populations in the country. “Y’all, we are not California, we’re not New York, we aren’t even Louisiana,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, in words that will surely haunt her for the rest of her days and beyond. All of it is going to lead not just to human and economic disaster, but also potentially to an ugly political reckoning.

You can already see President Trump laying the groundwork to blame blue states and their cities for this crisis. He’s talking about quarantining New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – but not, unsurprisingly, deep red Louisiana, which has a much worse per capita problem than Connecticut today. Not Florida, an important swing state. The way he talks about Florida is telling. “Restrict travel, because they’re having problems down in Florida, a lot of New Yorkers going down. We don’t want that.” According to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the president is playing dangerous games with federal resources, and it isn’t hard to imagine him directing critical assistance to states where he has an active political interest, or to governors who are sufficiently obeisant to him. In fact, he has already said this is how it will work.

After such a betrayal, it is hard to imagine who or what could heal these wounds. If blue states are starved of resources while bearing the early brunt of this crisis, only to see unprepared red states showered with assistance when their pandemics rage out of control, you can start to see some cracks forming in the national foundation. By late summer, it will be clear that the Republican President of the United States and his amoral toadies are responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary American deaths, possibly the worst and most tragic mismanagement of a crisis in all of American history. If red America is determined to return this man, a mass murderer, to power in November, can the union itself survive? In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, might blue state governors (and the handful of states governed by sane Republicans) not ask whether they might be better off pooling their resources and going their own way?

Remember, the case fatality rate for Covid-19 goes up significantly for older victims.

America is 233 years old. Say your prayers.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Trump Tries To Rewrite History After Delayed Coronavirus Response | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

The Dem Primary is Over, and we need Bernie Sanders to lead on Health Care from the Senate https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/primary-sanders-senate.html Thu, 19 Mar 2020 04:19:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189753 Chicago (Special to Informed Comment) – On Tuesday, I cast a joyless vote for the very much politically doomed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Illinois primary, in an elementary school where hushed whispers and fearful glances had replaced the normal din of an election day. There was no one standing just outside the perimeter hustling me to vote for this or that candidate. There were no throngs of voters with whom to share that elusory joy in exercising your basic democratic rights. It was the first, and I hope the last, ballot that I ever cast wearing latex gloves. There are, I think, very good and important questions about whether this election should have been held at all.

But it was, and Illinois Democrats willing to risk getting the dreaded virus handed Sanders a decisive loss. Together with lopsided routs in Florida and Arizona (Ohio rescheduled its primary) this is, or should be, the end of the Sanders campaign. There are, frankly, no lessons to be learned here, nothing remotely generalizable. This was a race transformed, suddenly and inexplicably, at a critical moment by a terrible deus ex machina that threatens to inflict once-in-a-century damage on human civilization.

Whenever we talk about 2020, it will be in terms of before and after. Before the virus, there was a lively Democratic primary that began with more than 20 hopefuls, with many of the same fault lines, grievances and fears as 2016. After the virus, the remaining centrist candidates quickly and unexpectedly coalesced around former Vice President Joe Biden and dealt Bernie Sanders an almost unthinkable series of defeats in the Super Tuesday contests. Before the virus, this was a race dominated by a seemingly endless debate about health care policy and whether the United States should opt for a fundamental and far-reaching restructuring of its system. After the virus, there was hardly room for even trembling disagreement.

More importantly, as the scale of the Covid-19 crisis has dawned on a terrified public over the past two weeks, it became clear that a decisive majority of Democratic primary voters no longer had much of any interest in this contest. The measures put into place by states and cities, from shutting down restaurants, bars, schools, universities and public places to the shuttering of all major American pro sports, are so far outside the normal scope of imagination, so sudden in their obliteration of everyday life, so unsettling in their lack of even a rudimentary time horizon, as to annihilate all other concerns and considerations.

Over the past three Tuesdays, Democratic voters have made it clear that they want to consolidate around Biden, and they have done so in such staggering numbers as to make a Sanders delegate majority close to a mathematical impossibility. With many states in the coming weeks likely to punt their primary elections to early summer, and with Biden now holding double-digit leads in national primary polling, it’s not just that Sanders has no real path to the nomination. It’s that the park containing the path is closed. The race will be frozen with Biden holding a roughly 300-delegate lead that is insurmountable given the party’s proportional allocations rules even under normal circumstances. That is a shame, because Sanders has better plans for this crisis than Biden, along with a narrative that correctly blames the long-term hollowing out of the public sector and the gross failure of the neoliberal state to prepare us for this moment. We live in a wrecked society now being held courageously together by grossly underpaid grocery store clerks, harried Amazon delivery drivers and determined health care providers. In America, only the doctors and nurses receive their due, and even they are embedded in a tragically warped system that has led us to be nearly defenseless against a crisis that scientists have been warning us about for decades.

You don’t have to think that single-payer health care is the answer to our every problem or believe that a magic wand can be waved to bring it into existence to see that Sanders is the only candidate left in the race capable of seeing this fallen state for what it is and pursuing policies to remedy it. Sanders offers us a vision of society as it might be. Biden extends the nostalgic promise of returning us to a recent past that is already buried much deeper than he and his supporters believe it is. Think of it this way: the political class in this country is so fundamentally broken that they have already wasted precious days debating half-measures that no sensible economist believes will be remotely sufficient to prevent a massive economic collapse.

Nevertheless, it was not meant to be for Bernie this year. There is no sensible argument for staying in the race now that he needs to win more than 63% of the delegates to get to a majority. There will be no repeat of 2008 and 2016, when trailing candidates floated the idea of flipping the so-called ‘superdelegates’ at the convention and reversing the popular will of the voters. Due in large part to pressure from the Sanders campaign itself, the DNC changed the rules so that superdelegates can’t vote on the first ballot. There isn’t going to be a second one, so there will be no one inside the party left to persuade.

A zombie campaign premised on amassing delegates to influence the party’s platform at the convention is not worth running and is certainly not going to inspire the kind of donations he would need to compete in the remaining states. The platform itself is a hollow prize anyway. No one reads or cares about it, the nominee isn’t bound by it and before the ink is dry, Biden and his team will have taken over the party.

More than ever, Sanders is actually needed as a progressive leader in the Senate, to help shape the coming bailouts and spending packages in a more humane direction. He himself seemed to acknowledge this obliquely yesterday, when he snapped at a reporter asking whether he would drop out: “”I’m dealing with a f—ing global crisis,” he told CNN”s Manu Raju. “Right now, I’m trying to do my best to make sure that we don’t have an economic meltdown and that people don’t die. Is that enough for you to keep me busy for today?”

The best thing Sanders can do for the American people is dedicate himself to pushing the coming bailouts and stimulus packages and emergency response plans in as progressive direction as possible from his influential perch in the Senate. He’ll be much less effective at that if he’s halfheartedly campaigning to compete in primaries that might not happen for months. And as much as it comes as a disappointment to a progressive movement that just weeks ago seemed to be on the verge of capturing the Democratic Party’s nomination, this thing is over and the sooner Biden can start fundraising for the general election the better. He is not the ideal vehicle to lead the party through a historic crisis, but Donald Trump has proven again and again during this unfolding ordeal that there is an abyss where the president should be, a vacuum of moral, political and administrative leadership that may get hundreds of thousands or even millions of people killed. Fighting a two-front war against the president and the virus is enough. The third front – the primary – needs to be shut down, and progressives need to lick their wounds and hope there is something left of society to fight for in 2024.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Sanders says coronavirus crisis highlights dysfunction of health care system | ABC News