Countdown Journal; 41 days To Go
Russian collusion redux, this time in plain sight. The temptation of anti-Catholicism. Another whistleblower speaks. The McCains back Biden. Ronjon’s epic fail. And more white-knuckle polling from Arizona and Florida
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 41 days to go until Election Day and then 78 days until the inauguration.
Sometime on September 20, 2020, America passed the ghastly milestone of 200,000 coronavirus deaths. At almost the same moment, Donald Trump was bragging that “it affects virtually nobody.”
Even though the United States has only 4 percent of the world’s population, it now accounts for 21 percent of the deaths.
And many of those deaths could have been avoided. As John Pitney Jr. writes in today’s Bulwark, “No amount of spinning will make the bodies disappear. And yet, Trump and his minions have tried to dodge this basic fact.”
The dodging, however, continues.
This is one of the most reckless moment in this reckless presidency, with predictable and deadly consequences. The most widely used model now projects that the death toll could double in just a few months. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is now projecting more than 378,000 deaths by January 1.
This tragic toll could also be mitigated by (1) masks, (2) social distancing, and (3) accurate and honest information.
Instead … here’s a picture of Trump’s rally last night in Pennsylvania. He was so proud of this picture that he tweeted it out.
Trump has not merely downplayed the coronavirus from the beginning; he continues to treat it with a calculated indifference layered with healthy dose of crackpottery.
Instead of modeling empathy, Trump has reacted with callousness. Instead of urging responsible behavior that might save lives, he has encouraged the politicization of mask-wearing; and has been an ongoing vector of disinformation. (A recent ABC poll found that only 9 percent of Americans had a great deal of confidence in Trump’s comments about a vaccine.)
This also seems like a good time to look back on the way Trump’s media allies attacked the models, the science, the experts, and the media, as they sought to downplay the possible death toll. Oliver Darcy brings the receipts:
>> Rush Limbaugh: "It's now down to 60,000. What happened to 240,000? What happened to 100,000 to 200,000? What happened to 240,000?"
>> Brian Kilmeade: "The fact is, when someone says 200,000 people die, oops, I mean 60,000. And it's not going to be right away, it's going to be in August. That's how good we are doing and how off the models were..."
>> Bill O'Reilly: “The [death toll] projections that you just mentioned are down to 60,000, I don’t think it will be that high..."
>> Candace Owens: "FACT: we went from 2.2 million, to 100,000, to 60,000 predictive #coronavirus deaths because the models were always bulls**t, the media was always lying, and the virus was never as fatal as the experts that are chronically wrong about everything, prophesized..."
>> Laura Ingraham: "They were off by a factor of 33 from 2.2 million projected COVID deaths at the top, which was terrifying to a little bit more than 60,000 deaths projected today..."
>> Mark Levin: "We've seen these numbers, these so-called models and the data over the last six to eight weeks. They have fluctuated wildly. Millions might die. Hundreds of thousands might die. Now, they're saying 60,000 give or take, maybe less than 60,000...."
>> Tucker Carlson: "Sixty thousand deaths -- that's a very big number. ... Yet, at the same time, it is far fewer than many expected. It is a much lower number...."
>> Martha MacCallum: "You cannot help but look at the numbers that caused it and the models which were incorrect that really were one of the biggest push points to shut down the United States economy. It is quite possible that you’re going to end up with numbers of fatalities in this Covid-19 tragedy of those that have been affected that will be south of the numbers in the 2018 flu season..."
>> Dinesh D'Souza: "Most people have no idea how way off the #Coronavirus models have been. A nutcase virus denier who predicted ZERO deaths would be closer to the mark (ie to the current 60,000 projection) than the best-case scenarios, taking into account social distancing, of 100-240,000 deaths..."
>> Jim Hoft: "STUNNING! IHME Reduces Their Model Predictions AGAIN! — Now Say Peak Is ON EASTER and Only 60,000 Deaths …Like a Typical Flu!"
Collusion. Again. In another political universe, this story would be dominating he headlines this week. Instead, I have to flag it, in case you missed it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election against former vice president Joe Biden, which involves a prominent Ukrainian lawmaker connected to President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top-secret CIA assessment concluded, according to two sources who reviewed it.
On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in the November election in an internal, highly classified report called the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, the sources said. CIA analysts compiled the assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI, based on several dozen pieces of information gleaned from public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources. The assessment includes details of the CIA’s analysis of the activities of Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach to disseminate disparaging information about Biden inside the United States through lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts with figures close to the president.
This tracks with what FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress last week, when he said “that Russia is still working to influence the U.S. presidential election, and hoping to ‘denigrate’ former vice president Joe Biden because it sees the Democratic nominee as part of an American policy establishment antagonistic toward Moscow’s interests.”
Russia’s job has gotten a lot easier. Check out this NYT piece: “The Russian Trolls Have a Simpler Job Today. Quote Trump.” In 2016, they often had to make stuff up. This year? “They are largely amplifying misleading statements from President Trump, mostly about the dangers of mail-in ballots.”
The danger of anti-Catholicism. The Wapo’s Dave Weigel has this exactly right. Trump now seems likely to appoint Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and Republicans are hoping that “Americans will meet the Indiana judge, view her warmly and then recoil as Democrats unleash the most anti-Catholic campaign since the 1920s.”
“Oh Lordy! The anti-Catholic bigots are coming out of the woodwork and crawling out from under the rocks now!” wrote Robert P. George, the conservative Catholic academic who founded the American Principles Project, on Monday. “And Amy Coney Barrett hasn't even been nominated (yet).”
The McCains choose. Not really a surprise, but yet another prominent GOPer breaks decisively with Trump.
“My husband John lived by a code: country first,” McCain tweeted. “We are Republicans, yes, but Americans foremost. There’s only one candidate in this race who stands up for our values as a nation, and that is @JoeBiden.”
President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are locked in close races in Florida and Arizona, according to a pair of Washington Post-ABC News polls in two Sun Belt battlegrounds the president won in 2016 that are crucial to his hopes for reelection in November.
In Florida, likely voters split 51 percent for Trump to 47 percent for Biden, while registered voters split 47 percent for Trump to 48 percent for Biden. In Arizona, Trump’s margin is even smaller at 49 percent to Biden’s 48 percent among likely voters. Among Arizona’s registered voters, Trump is at 47 percent and Biden at 49 percent. All these differences are within the polls’ margins of sampling error.
On the other hand:
There are 41 days to go.
1. Trump’s Bizarre History Conference
But now we must ask (using Greenberg’s words about Zinn): Who is in the “cohort of scholars” that “enlist[s] history in the service of a political crusade or a social agenda”? It once was the Old Left and the New Left; today, as last week’s conference made clear, it is composed of the historians who, however good their intentions, let themselves be treated as props by the president or otherwise participate in his particularly repellent use of history.
To put it differently, there is good history and bad history, and either can be written by historians on the left or on the right. There is no such thing as left-wing history or right-wing history. There is only historical research and the conclusions drawn from evidence.
Also see Robert Tracinski’s piece on ‘Trump’s Unpatriotic ‘Patriot’ Education:
As for myself, I would prefer that instead of trying to teach “patriotic history” or any other ideological flavor of history, we simply teach accurate, factual American history—in the confidence that if the story of America’s past is told truthfully, our country will come out looking pretty good.
America’s present, on the other hand, is frankly a little embarrassing.
2. McConnell’s Only Principle Is Power
This is sophistry. There never was a principle and there isn’t now. No one exemplifies the charade better than Sen. Lindsey Graham, who invited opponents to “hold the tape” as he declared fealty in 2018 to the iron law of thou-shalt-fill-no-vacancies-in-an-election-year. On Saturday, he mumbled, “The rules have changed as far as I’m concerned.”
They have. We are spiraling down to a position where there are no rules, and that is a perilous place for the nation.
Both Democrats and Republicans have drunk deeply from the cup of hypocrisy on all subjects and on nothing as much as Supreme Court nominations. And both sides have inflicted and suffered wounds. But this is beyond hypocrisy. Republicans sat on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the better part of a year explaining that in an election year, the Senate need not act on the president’s nomination. To reverse themselves now is not just to be hypocrites, but to make fools of those who accepted their explanation four years ago. The appropriate words here are fraud and deceit. There are times—or there ought to be—when you’ve boxed yourself in. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If not, you invite chaos. If no one’s word can be trusted, not even a little bit, everything comes down to force.
1. Keeping It Classy
1. The Debates Could Seal Biden’s Fate
Trump says he isn’t preparing at all ahead of the first debate, which is set for September 29. And many Americans aren’t particularly interested: In a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 44 percent said the events are “not at all important” for deciding their vote; 18 percent said they were “extremely important,” and 11 percent said “quite important.” Almost every Democratic operative I’ve spoken with in the past few weeks remains petrified that Biden is going to bungle the debates in a way that costs him the election—perhaps by looking old or confused, confirming the worst paranoia and conspiracy theories about him being unfit for the job. They see the debates as Biden’s best chance to blow an election that, based on the current polls, seems like his to lose.