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The pre-shutdown Donald Trump is back

CNN's National Security Analyst Samantha Vinograd analyzes President Trump's firing of the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, saying the "timing of this could not be worse."

Posted: May 16, 2020 10:31 AM
Updated: May 17, 2020 9:15 AM

On February 28, President Donald Trump told rallygoers at the North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina that 'the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus.' Painting it as 'their new hoax,' deployed after the impeachment trial failed, Trump pointed to the small number of confirmed cases at that point and said, 'And so far we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States. Nobody. And it doesn't mean we won't and we are totally prepared.'

In mid-March, with the virus spreading fast, Trump reversed course and backed an extraordinary shutdown of ordinary life to protect health. But last week, as Covid-19 deaths exceeded 80,000 in the US, he was back to charging that people who differed with his approach were exploiting the crisis.

Reacting to news that Los Angeles County might extend its stay at home order through July, he told Fox Business network's Maria Bartiromo, 'Los Angeles, I think they're doing that for political reasons...They would rather see our country fail. And you know what that means, because part of failure is death. They would rather see that than have me get elected.'

When Trump supported the shutdown, he was acting in part on the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Increasingly Trump and his supporters in conservative media are challenging Fauci's guidance.

As Jill Filipovic wrote, Fauci warned that 'reopening the nation without adhering to the clear guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be a colossal, deadly mistake.' She added, 'expert opinion has been repeatedly undermined by the Trump administration. The President, after all, is still lying about the number of tests available; months into this pandemic, there is still no comprehensive national testing, tracing and treatment program.'

The Trump administration shelved detailed reopening guidelines prepared by the CDC. That mystifies experts like Jennifer Prah Ruger, director of the Health Equity and Policy Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote: 'We've forgotten the CDC, a national treasure that successfully eliminated malaria in the United States and has worked heroically to control multitudes of infectious diseases known to humankind.'

An editorial in the medical journal The Lancet said, 'There is no doubt that the CDC has made mistakes, especially on testing in the early stages of the pandemic...But punishing the agency by marginalising and hobbling it is not the solution.' The article concluded, 'A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic. Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.'

Without a scientifically based plan to combat Covid-19, the US could face the 'darkest winter in modern history,' Rick Bright told a Congressional subcommittee Thursday. Bright said he was removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority because of his warnings about the disease and his objection to promoting an unproven drug favored by Trump as a possible treatment for the disease.

'Bright is making some dire predictions,' wrote Peter Bergen, but 'he says he was right when he warned earlier this year that the coronavirus was likely to be a big problem and unless we have a coherent national response he may be right again about the winter of discontent that we may enter at the end of this year.'

To mask or not?

Scientists say that wearing masks is one of the most important steps people can take to lessen the likelihood they will spread the virus to others. After two staff members came down with Covid-19, the White House made mask-wearing mandatory but that appears not to apply to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. 'Real men don't wear masks -- at least, that's the message Trump sends through his behavior,' wrote Ruth Ben-Ghiat. 'Like all authoritarians, the President cultivates an aura of masculine invincibility.'

Writing about Pence's general reluctance to wear a mask, Michael D'Antonio wrote, 'Pandemic denial has become, like climate change denial, a culture war fetish. Just like the automatic weapons brandished by some of those protesting stay-at-home orders, bare-faced public appearances tell the world that you consider the right to infect others a freedom that must not be abridged.'

On Monday, Trump presided over what was meant to be a celebratory Rose Garden briefing, in front of banners saying, 'America leads the world in testing.' He cut it short though after a reporter asked a question he didn't like. Jeff Yang observed, in a piece addressed to the President, 'in response to a legitimate question about Covid-19 testing from CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, you told her to 'ask China' instead. Your response wasn't just disrespectful to her as a prominent member of the press. It was a thinly veiled microaggression aimed at her race and ethnicity, and she was rightly shocked and appalled to have been so targeted.'

Like most parents who are homeschooling their kids while working from home, Scott Jennings is stressed and anxious. But what really worries him is thinking about sending his children back to school in the fall: 'As much as I want my kids to return to the classroom, I do worry about the trauma of the 'what ifs.' What if one child at school becomes extremely ill from Covid-19 or, God forbid, dies? What will that do to our kids, and what will it do to parents? Will they rush to pull their kids out immediately? What if a teacher contracts Covid-19 and gets very sick...or dies?'

Jennings acknowledges that there are all kinds of everyday risks we accept when we send our kids off to school, so how does the pandemic risk fit in? 'Ahead of the 2020-21 educational year,' he writes, 'schools and parents need to adapt to a 'new normal' to mitigate risks to the most vulnerable people as we allow our children, who are by all appearances the least vulnerable, to resume their education.'

It's going to be November 3

We're less than six months away from the Nov. 3 presidential election. No one is publicly advocating for any change in the election date over worries of a fall wave of Covid-19. But Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner made headlines this week when he failed to initially rule out such a change. Frida Ghitis wrote that only Congress can change the date. 'Is Kushner ignorant of the law, or did he let us know about the swirl of ideas being batted around in a nervous White House?'

Alyssa Milano wrote that 'Trump made it clear from the beginning of his presidency that he's willing to undermine US election results and make it harder for people to vote. After he won, he made ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims about illegal voters allowing Hillary Clinton to beat him in the popular vote -- even though he won the White House in the Electoral College...And now, as Americans look to ensure they can vote safely during this Covid-19 crisis, he's come out against vote-by-mail -- even though he himself has voted by mail.'

Gates are open

The Watergate scandal made history in two ways. It was the only time an American president, Richard M. Nixon, was forced to resign. And it gave us the suffix '-gate,' which has been used globally and endlessly as a tag for scandals, including Deflategate, Travelgate, Debategate, Bridgegate, Kanyegate, Pastagate and even Gategate.

Now President Trump is proclaiming 'Obamagate,' a hazy attack on his predecessor in the White House. Asked to describe the crime that he believes former President Barack Obama allegedly committed, Trump said, 'You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody.'

While Obama was the ostensible target of Trump's allegation, it was really aimed at 44's former vice president Joe Biden, the Democrat challenging Trump in November. 'How do you win reelection with a raging pandemic and an economy in decline?' asked Julian Zelizer. 'The answer is to convince voters that your opponent is just as unlikable as you. That was the strategy Trump used in 2016 with Hillary Clinton.'

Trump's conspiracy theories 'might not work on you,' Jack Shafer wrote in Politico, 'but that doesn't bother Trump. His hardcore supporters are the target of the tweets, speeches, pressers and conspiracy theories. The more he does to make himself look persecuted and reviled by the 'elites' and the press, the more heroic he appears to his base.... His goal is a permanent schism in American society, a cold civil war, with lots of finger-pointing and yelling and demagoguery. Even if he loses in November, his audience will endure, and he'll do whatever he needs to make sure we never take our eyes off of him.

Trump's team has accused Obama's administration of using the intelligence community's powers to cook up what Trump says was a bogus controversy over his campaign's contacts with Russian officials. Attorney General William Barr lent support to Trump's condemnation of Obama by orchestrating what he hoped would be the dismissal of criminal charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

'Barr's move to clear Flynn is outrageous and transparently political,' wrote Elie Honig. 'Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. He admitted under oath that he knew it was a crime to lie to the FBI, that he was not entrapped, that he was 'in fact guilty of the crime charged,' and that he had committed additional crimes relating to his work for Turkish interests in the United States.' As Honig noted, a federal judge slammed the brakes on the Justice Department's move this week.

On Friday, Trump revealed that he had fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. 'Linick is the fourth IG or acting IG to be removed in six weeks, and his ouster goes to show that for Trump, getting rid of inspectors general without just cause isn't a coincidence -- it's a trend,' wrote Samantha Vinograd. 'The President's attempts to sideline or silence IGs...will only support the politicization of our federal government and prop up officials who accede to pressure and turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.'

The color of Covid-19

In the early days of the pandemic, the message to younger people was as reassuring as the signals to the elderly were frightening: that the disease posed significant danger only to those over 60 or with underlying health conditions. That outlook has changed, as people in their 20s, 30s and 40s have proved susceptible. And now doctors are raising the alarm about small numbers of children who developed 'multisystem inflammatory syndrome,' which resembles Kawasaki disease.

Roxanne Jones' son was a toddler when he got seriously ill with Kawasaki disease nearly 20 years ago. 'Emergency room doctors and his pediatrician failed to notice his skin rash and blue swollen fingers and toes,' she wrote. 'They went strictly by the medical books, which then (and now) mostly warn of a 'pink rash' and show photos of how the rash looks when present on white skin. It apparently never occurred to any of them that a 'pink' rash would present differently on brown skin. And though my son was showing known symptoms -- an extremely high fever, skin rash and swollen fingers and toes, I was told to go home, hydrate my baby and give him aspirin.'

Fortunately a 'young black medical resident ... walked over to me to help soothe us after we were told to go home, she noticed his rash and skin discolorations herself. And she was confident enough to take her concerns to the doctors, suspecting Kawasaki disease...Turned out she was right. She saved my son's life.' Jones said today's doctors and nurses should take note.

Covid-19 has disproportionately affected the African American community, and NAACP President Derrick Johnson argues that's a factor in the debate over what to do now.

'For a minute there, it looked like we were all in this together, Johnson wrote. 'And then we weren't. From embracing stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of Covid-19, we've come to see armed protesters storm state capitols to end the lockdown. Why has the attitude toward the pandemic crisis shifted so greatly? Data emerged that, for the first time, specified infection and death rates by race -- and the face of the pandemic changed. It became black. And the fragile sense of social solidarity that was keeping millions of Americans at home to protect themselves and each other began to crumble.'

For more on Covid-19:

Giovanna Gray Lockhart: I was already juggling a lot, then Covid-19 hit

Kaytlin Beckett: What I've learned grappling with my cancer diagnosis under lockdown.

Kent Sepkowitz: Why is Russia's Covid-19 mortality rate so low?

David Andelman: Uh oh, Putin's following Trump's Covid-19 playbook

Peter C. Goldmark, Jr.: We saved New York once. We can do it again for all states.

Rohini Dey: Restaurants will need a miracle to survive the coronavirus pandemic

Yaneer Bar-Yam: Don't let governors fool you about reopening

Mark Osler: Minnesota's coach-governor has his own Covid playbook

A different kind of graduation

As Covid-19 cancels graduations, disrupts internships and swallows up job offers, some worry about 'a 'lost generation' emerging,' wrote Samuel J. Abrams and Jeremi Suri.

'We see reasons for optimism in their new burst of coherent political activism, partially facilitated by the pandemic,' they said. 'College students and recent graduates are well situated to organize, connect and build a new consensus on policy reforms. Young Americans, in particular, are showing commitment to a pragmatic center of policy priorities: affordable health care for all, environmental sustainability, international cooperation, civil rights and economic justice. Despite their current isolation, most young Americans embrace empathetic leadership and they are devoted to serving their communities.'

Eliza Shapiro is graduating from high school this year in New York City. She celebrated her 18th birthday on Zoom but won't be handed her high school diploma at a graduation ceremony.

She's part of a 'digital native' generation and so the assumption is that Eliza and her classmates would seamlessly adapt to life lived only online. But 'we value in-person interactions more than many may think,' Shapiro pointed out. 'And now that this privilege has been taken from us, it's just plain obvious...There are people I might never have occasion to reach out to remotely, but still appreciate seeing on a daily basis -- my favorite middle school teacher; a girl in my math class who helps me when I'm struggling; the friendly security guard who always gives me a high five.' This 'sense of serendipity' is crucial for making 'kids my age feel noticed, supported and happy.'

Don't miss

Joey Jackson: Will justice be served for Ahmaud Arbery?

Anushay Hossain: Massacre at maternity ward shows a chilling truth for women in Afghanistan

Gene Seymour: How Little Richard kicked open the doors to rock 'n' roll

Holly Thomas: 'Hamilton' is opening the room where it happens.

Melissa Bunni Elian: Maker of Michelle Obama documentary captures magic

Jennifer Rodgers: Supreme Court can finally tell Trump he's not above the law

Joe Lockhart: Why aren't editorial boards screaming: Trump has to go?

Allison Hope: The world lost an LGBTQ hero this week but her fight isn't over.


RIP Jerry Stiller

It doesn't seem possible that Jerry Stiller won't be making us laugh in a new guise. After all, the comedian, who died this week at 92, reinvented himself multiple times over decades to remain relevant. On the day his death was announced, Stiller and a bunch of his famous comic memes trended on Twitter.

'Stiller's show-business career spanned more than half a century -- from the 1960s as part of a comedy team with his wife Anne Meara to acting in the 2016 film, 'Zoolander 2,' directed and co-written by his son Ben,' Dean Obeidallah wrote.

'But it was Stiller's cantankerous and ever-shouting Frank Costanza on 'Seinfeld' that made him beloved. Even when Frank sought to find some level of peace by repeating the words from a relaxation tape intended to bring down his blood pressure, he would say it while screaming: 'Serenity now!''

'Yelling at people doesn't usually elicit their love,' Obeidallah noted, 'Unless the person doing the screaming is Jerry Stiller.'

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

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