GELFAND’S WORLD--As the late television news explained on Wednesday -- ever so pointedly -- Donald Trump somehow forgot to mention the 100,000 dead in this country from Covid-19.
One television station did mention that only a month ago, Trump was predicting a much smaller death toll of around 60,000. So here it was, May 27, 2020 and this country had, in barely 3 months, lost more people to a virus than we lost to enemy fire in Viet Nam or Korea. So what did Trump comment on this historically important day? His feelings were hurt that Twitter pointed out a factual error he made about mail-in voting, and now he was threatening to abolish the First Amendment by way of revenge.
“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that.... ....happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”
The complete hypocrisy in this is telling – consider the existence of Fox News or talk radio – but apparently in the conservative universe, the right wing line is Truth and any alternative is worthy of suppression. Later, as reported on the news, the White House promised that there will be an executive order coming down sometime soon to deal with social media.
Sure there will.
Trump has made a latter day career out of threatening the news media. The rest of the time, he commits the ultimate act of psychological projection by claiming that the news is fake. This from the guy who has been rolling up the lies by the thousands, then the tens of thousands, since his first day in office. So now the United States of America is being threatened with a presidential order that would say, in effect, that the president can use a privately owned medium to spread his own propaganda, but the owners of that medium cannot use it to tell a story of their own. I doubt that something this egregious would survive even in the Roberts court.
Short postscript: Sonovabitch. He actually did it. He got his staff to put together an executive order that doesn’t exactly give him control over Twitter, but it would (if it could) make it possible for people to sue internet services such as Facebook and Twitter for content that was put there by users. For example, if somebody says something bad about me on the local Facebook page, I wouldn’t have to try to find out who that person was. I could simply file a lawsuit against Facebook for allowing the libel to go up on the site. The problem with Trump’s latest act is that it is probably illegal for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that it attempts to circumvent a federal law that was passed by both houses of congress and signed by a former president, and has been in force ever since. For a very polite discussion of the weaknesses in this executive order, see here.
Also a late addition: Kevin Drum led off a piece with the heading “Donald Trump is Mentally Unhinged.” It leads off with 90 words of summary gold, and gets better from there. Read it.
If this were a science fiction story, I could explain to the reader that there could be two different endings, and then give them both, one after the other. The first would be to recite in depressing detail how Trump botched the Covid-19 response, even if what he did was totally in keeping with the way he has managed (actually mismanaged) governmental affairs since day one. That story would include, in gruesome detail, how Trump appoints loyalist mediocrities (his cabinet officers), and fires any competent individual who happens to tell an uncomfortable truth to the American people (Dr. Bright). The current attempt to minimize the publicity on Covid-19 deaths is in keeping with that approach.
The voters are polarized on Trump’s performance, with the modest majority finding his performance wanting.
To continue on this first alternative:
Trump is lashing out at anyone and everyone who says anything bad about him, particularly with regard to the virus, but that’s nothing at all new. And his chosen method of assault is and has been Twitter. We might stop and consider how weird this is. Remember how the Republicans blasted Hillary for her supposed errors in maintaining proper secrecy with government documents – her emails? But Trump reveals state secrets on the phone and on Twitter (when he is not merely being a jerk), and the conservative press fails to call him out on it.
But still, consider the idea that an American president governs by Twitter, then complains that his chosen instrument – social media – does not function as a governmental agency.
That’s one ending to the story – Trump is unhappy that the masses are not unified in his praise, and he threatens to regulate a member of the mass media.
The alternative ending is to point out that Twitter isn’t the real target here. It’s the fates.
Let’s follow that latter fork in this pathway.
It’s the fates. In his mind, Trump was rolling towards an easy reelection based on upbeat economic numbers and strong support from the hard-core right wing. Then blind fate intervened with an epidemic that, as late as December, 2019, was still being ignored by most western governments.
No matter how you slice it, Trump is looking at a beating in the November election due to a remarkable episode of terrible luck. Even a pinhead like Trump can understand that historically, presidents with healthy economic numbers tend to ride to easy reelections. He was counting on that. He bragged about his economic numbers. My view is that he was just riding the recovery engineered by Obama, but my views don’t override the decisions of a hundred million voters. From Trump’s crazily narcissistic point of view, he was going to redo what he did in 2016. I had my doubts that Trump would win, even in a moment of moderate economic growth. But that’s what Trump was counting on, and at a logical level, it’s not that far out of current reality. The Democrats were going to have to win on Trump’s personal unpopularity.
And then came that virus and the economic pain that necessarily followed. And Trump, in his own limited-intellect way, saw the economic downturn as a threat to his reelection, and therefore as a big threat to his squishy little sense of self-worth.
So that’s why we were being inundated with all those presidential complaints about America being closed down. Trump – for his own reasons, none having to do with saving lives – complained about the economic realities, and the right wing noise machine followed suit. Within a few days, we were being inundated with maskless protestors wearing red caps. They’ve made a simple act of medical precaution (wearing a mask) into a political dividing line.
There is another act of fate that Trump has been unable to stem. Trump is failing to move up in the polls; he remains six or seven points behind, no matter what he does, even after acting almost mature in those Covid-19 press conferences. Biden just sits at home, and holds onto the same lead, week after week. The careful statisticians who follow presidential elections have remarked on how stable the polls have been.
A chaotic primary season for the Democrats and a more-or-less healthy economy would have allowed Trump to run out the game and squeak by in another election, humiliating the opposition and sealing his place in American history. It’s a nightmare from my point of view, but a real possibility from the conservative point of view. And then came the virus – something that nobody predicted (at least specifically in species and time).
It’s the fates.
The virus has been that asteroid strike, that black swan that appeared out of nowhere and messed up a good thing for Donald J Trump. It’s now very hard for him to run on the economy, and it’s also hard to campaign in the traditional way. The thousands of Trump surrogates would, in an ordinary election year, be out making speeches and posting falsehoods. They can’t do that now. And the first story in the news has been the rising number of cases and the accumulating toll of the dead.
And as the days go by, Trump seems to have lost any ability to deal with reality when it comes into conflict with his inner needs: He wants a big convention with thousands of screaming supporters, and the virus is getting in the way, so he threatens to move the Republican convention. To the rest of us, it comes across as totally infantile, but till now, elected Republicans have learned that they dare not cross Trump on anything.
Are other Republicans starting to sense that Trump is fated?
When fate intervenes, others begin to notice.
Are those rats beginning to sense that the ship is sinking and that they have to desert? Obviously, all those elected Republicans can read the polls, but they also continue to fear the backlash of the Trump diehards. It’s a conundrum. So what we are seeing is Republicans doing a little splitting of the differences. A few Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Trump in their reelection campaigns because they have to. Of course they have to be really subtle and try to stay under the right wing radar (You don’t want to be attacked by Sean Hannity or Donald Trump) but they are worried about waking up November 4 on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
So two things are going on. The first is that Trump is acting nuts because the electoral reality is driving him nuts. The second is that he tries to create diversions (what the pundits refer to as waving shining objects) to distract the voters from the rising death toll and the crummy economy. While all of this is going on, the Republicans up for reelection can read the polls for Pennsylvania, Florida, and now even Georgia, and they start to think about post-election life as lobbyists. Because that’s what Republicans who are defeated for reelection do.
Finally, on Thursday, May 28, Trump posted a serious, sober message that was sympathetic to the dead and their survivors. Apparently, his public relations people can get to him every now and then, and somewhere there is somebody who can write a sympathetic message.
What’s it going to take to get Jose Huizar to resign? How many more guilty pleas by people from his entourage? On May 27, the news came out that another person had pled guilty to crimes that directly implicate Huizar. As reported by Eric Leonard, former aide George Esparza agreed to plead guilty to a series of charges that involve bribery and other fun stuff:
“The plea agreement and criminal complaint made public Wednesday also allege that an individual identified as, "Councilmember A," accepted $215,000 in bribes and benefits in the form of casino gambling chips, trips on private jets, hotel rooms, spa services, meals, alcohol, and, "prostitution/escort services.
“Councilmember A is separately described in the complaint as Esparza's boss, meaning Huizar, though the councilman's name is not printed in the filing.”
This isn’t the first time that Huizar has been implicated in the slowly widening scandal, but this time we have the number $215,000 as a bribe attached to his name, along with all that other stuff about prostitution and gambling. It’s getting to be like an early episode of Crime Scene Investigation.
But we have a series of guilty pleas and felony indictments – including one former City Councilman by the name of Mitch Englander, who has agreed to plead guilty, as described in the Times by Zahnizer, Smith, and Rubin.
What’s going on here? Are the feds working on Huizar to make his own guilty plea? Are they building up to a blockbuster trial that would include Englander and the others? Or – more enticingly, are they working a case that will ultimately involve additional high ranking officials? Maybe one or more people from the county government?
As CityWatch writer Jack Humphreville has pointed out, the rest of the City Council had to know about the corruption involving land use and planning. All those campaign donations in the tens and hundreds of thousands to multiple council members are now paired with indictable felonies.
So, there don’t seem to be a lot of alternatives. Either Huizar is just putting things off, because it’s nicer to be enjoying life at home instead of sitting in jail, or the feds are working Huizar (and others) to put together a case against one or more additional members of the City Council, or the mayor’s office, or in one or more of the city’s many departments, or in county government.
Is Huizar so important (or hard to indict) that the feds are working this case like the Watergate investigation? Is somebody more powerful and important the ultimate target of this investigation? Whatever is going on, there will be increasing pressure on the officers of the City Council to put this scandal to bed.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])