Where Is the President of the United States?
Donald Trump is AWOL. And his disgrace is hiding in plain sight.
Before we start: Tonight we’re doing a livestream that I’m hoping will go down in legend as The Bulwark version of the Star Wars Holiday Special. The first 12 minutes will be entirely in Wookie. After that Bill Kristol will lead us in a Life Day celebration. It’ll be tight!
If you’re not a Bulwark+ member, sign up today so you can join us tonight at 8:00 p.m.
I promise to say at least one optimistic thing.
This week we crossed the 317,000 dead mark from this pandemic. Even though vaccinations have begun and the end is in sight—several months from now—tens of thousands of more Americans will die from COVID because the public health response from the federal government wasn’t just ineffective—in many cases it made the pandemic worse.
One out of every 1,000 Americans has now died from COVID. In New Jersey, the number is 1 of every 500. I want you to read that again: One of every 500 residents of New Jersey has been killed by COVID-19 over the last 10 months.
The entire federal government has been hacked by Russia—the autocratic state which President Trump has spent his entire administration buttering up. (You may remember the time he publicly sided with Russia’s dictator against his own intelligence agencies.)
This same state did everything in its power to help get Donald Trump elected in 2016 because Vladimir Putin believed that a Trump presidency would be good for Russia.
Putin turns out to have been completely—totally—vindicated in this belief. Donald Trump has been the greatest boon to Russia since the discovery of the Bovanenkovo gas field.
And millions of unemployed Americans who have been put out of work by the virus are facing economic ruin, foreclosure, or eviction. We still do not have a third round of stimulus—which is desperately needed. And it appears that while we might finally get a stimulus deal, it will only be as a defensive measure: So that Republicans can make sure Joe Biden doesn’t get credit for getting money to families in need.
These are three gigantic problems. The kind of challenges that require a diligent, competent, effective president.
And what is the president of the United States doing about them?
In 45 tweets this week (so far) the president has not said a single word about the record deaths from COVID. Or economic stimulus. Or the Russian hack. Not. One. Word. Instead, it is an endless litany of complaints, self-aggrandizement, and conspiracy theorizing.
We have never seen a dereliction of duty at this scale from an American president. With citizens dying by the thousands every single day and the federal government being raided by the intelligence services belonging to his good friend, he pouts and rages and tweets and tries to overturn a free and fair election in order to break our democratic republic.
There is no precedent for this. No historical analog to help us understand the scale of destruction and the level of irresponsibility, stupidity, and derangement.
At least not in American history.
Of all the depredations of the Trump era, the thing that grinds my gears the most is the sophisticates who airily wave away the danger we have been in. Guys who strut around saying, Oh don’t be so dramatic. He’s just a clown. Everything is fine.
To my mind, that sort of posturing is more dangerous than the Stephen Millers of the world. Because with Stephen Miller, at least he’s open with what he’s about. He tells. you what he really thinks. He’s not calculating to find the optimal career track that lets him maintain his perch in Conservatism Inc. while still getting invites to the Ideas Festival at Aspen.
We don’t do that.
At The Bulwark we will always tell you what we really think. We’re not interested in preserving access or having a seat at some imaginary table at the cool kids club.
No favors. No hard feelings. Because that’s the job.
Swallowing the truth and making excuses for the people “on your side” is a big part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Come with us.
In my buddy Damian Penny’s newsletter today he talks about China’s newest target of religious persecution: the Jews. It’s bad.
In the course of his discussion he brings up something I’d missed: That China’s forced labor in Xinjiang now includes the picking of cotton. Which means that something like 25 percent of the world’s cotton supply is probably the product of ethnic minorities being held at labor camps by an authoritarian regime. And because China is the size it is, there’s not a whole lot the rest of the world can do about it without taking the conflict to 11.
We will keep doing it, at least until China makes a move against Taiwan. I think globalization is a wonderful thing, compared to world stifled by nationalism and protectionism, but I can’t deny that it has a darker side.
I’m not sure I’d go as far as that. Globalism is an okay thing, that results in net improvements for the world, but at real costs for lots of specific segments of people. And not just displaced factory workers in Ohio, but people like the Uighurs.
I tend to think of globalism much the same way I think of capitalism: A system that is less bad than all the others, but which must be constantly monitored in an effort to temper its very real downside effects.
3. Murder in Malta
Amazing piece by Ben Taub:
Daphne’s sons worried about her. She was fifty-three and lived in an old stone farmhouse on the edge of Bidnija, a hilltop hamlet on the island of Malta. From the dining-room table, where Daphne wrote, she could see the morning sunlight glisten on the Mediterranean. But she hadn’t been to the beach in four years. When she left the house, people spat at her, followed her, photographed her, and hurled insults and abuse. Once, when she was taking an afternoon walk in a nearby village, a former mayor gathered a mob and began chasing her. She took refuge in a monastery, where the villagers pounded on the heavy wooden doors. All over the island, there were people who were certain that they hated her but had never read a word she had written. They simply knew her as is-sahhara tal-Bidnija—the witch of Bidnija.
Beyond “this little rock,” as Daphne referred to Malta, she was known for her reporting, which exposed malfeasance and hypocrisy within the governing class. She had come to think of the country as fractured by time, with all the worst elements of globalization grafted onto a population that was otherwise stuck in the past. “Malta is 17 miles by nine and flooded with cocaine, corruption, and filthy money,” she wrote. Her blog, Running Commentary, laced deep investigations with withering taunts, and had an online readership as large as all of Malta’s newspapers combined. In late 2016, Politico Europe included Daphne—along with George Soros, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Sadiq Khan—on its list of “people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe.” She was “the blogging fury,” the list read, “a one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption in Malta, an island nation famous for both.”
But her subjects were her neighbors—the Prime Minister lived just down the hill. In recent years, he and his Cabinet had sought to smother her with libel lawsuits. People in his office used their work computers to post cruel gossip about her, accompanied by unflattering photographs. There was little serious effort to refute Daphne’s reports—only to disdain her as an élitist, partisan fraud. . . .
On the afternoon of October 16, 2017, Daphne prepared a plate of tomatoes and mozzarella for Matthew, her eldest son. He was thirty-one, a computer scientist and a journalist himself. An expert on shell companies, he had shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers leak. He sometimes got so caught up in his work that he forgot to eat.
Daphne set down the plate and put on her shoes to go to the bank. . . .
Across the valley, a man peered at the house. He watched Daphne climb into her car, and called his brother, who was waiting on a boat just offshore. When she was partway down the hill, the man on the boat sent a text message: “REL 1 = ON.”
A local farmer heard a pop and a scream, and watched Daphne yank the emergency brake. Then the gas tank exploded, launching her car into a field.
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