The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

President Trump Keeps Shooting Himself in the Foot

President Donald Trump departs after speaking about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, following an event at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: Even when the president has a point, as with hydroxychloroquine or reopening schools, he tends to undermine his position by retweeting nutty conspiracy theories; Biden’s notes indicate he’s preparing to talk up Kamala Harris, but Politico hears that Susan Rice is among the top contenders to be Biden’s running mate.

The President Shoots Himself in the Foot Until He Runs Out of Ammunition

If you want to make the argument for the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, you can point to the Henry Ford Health System study. You can point to the assessments of Harvey Risch, professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health. You can point to the statements from the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons encouraging its use.

You can point to the fact that a widely-cited study declaring hydroxychloroquine dangerous, published in The Lancet, was retracted after questions about its accuracy and the expertise of those conducting the study.

If you want to make the argument for the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, you would probably want to avoid using a term like “cure,” because that’s more or less the terminology of every snake-oil salesman. Hydroxychloroquine is a treatment. There are positive studies that indicate that it could mitigate and minimize the effects of COVID-19 and give patients a much better chance of survival. That would be good enough as is; no one needs to oversell it.

If you wanted to make a really effective argument that reassures people you’re looking at all the data clearly and not just seeing what you want to see, you would probably want to at least acknowledge that some other studies show less encouraging results. One recent study showed no effect compared to a control group, the National Institutes of Health halted one clinical trial, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning. Human beings have different physiologies and their bodies work in different ways. Few drugs are effective in 100 percent of patients. A drug that works as an immunosuppressant might not always be exactly the right treatment for a patient fighting off a virus.

But you probably would not want to cite Steve Bannon as an authoritative source and endorse the contention that “Dr. Fauci has misled the American public on many issues,” as the president recently did on his Twitter feed, and you would probably want to check out Stella Immanuel a little deeper before you cited her as an authoritative source. If a doctor discusses “gynecological issues that are the result of having sex with witches and demons” at length, you’re probably going to want a second opinion.

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observed, “It’s always fashionable to say Trump is merely an expression or inevitable result of X or Y broader trend, but there’s probably not a single 2016 rival who would plausibly act on a weird viral video with no vetting that contradicted their own administration. That affects things.” Statements from the president of the United States are dependent solely upon what he sees in his Twitter feed and whether he interprets it as praise. The president has done this from the moment he started running, and there is no indication that Donald Trump has the desire or ability to control this habit.

If Trump does not win a second term, his sweeping lack of impulse control and unwillingness to evaluate sources will be big reasons why. Even when he’s got a plausible or defensible argument, he tends to make it in the least effective possible way. The president’s attention is much more likely to be drawn by sweeping statements on Twitter or conspiracy theories about sinister doctors covering up a cure than by lengthy, detailed, and even-handed medical-journal studies. But what is most persuasive and intriguing to the president is not necessarily what will persuade vast swaths of the public.

This is often characterized by the president’s ardent supporters as, “You just don’t like how he Tweets!” No, it’s that he’s such a poor communicator, he undermines his argument, even when he’s right.

We see this in issue after issue. The president wants public schools to be open this fall. There is a lot of evidence that schools in the United States can and should be open, at least partially, in some form or fashion, after precautions are taken to reduce the likelihood of the spread of the coronavirus. No one wants to go to work in a place where they fear they could catch the virus. The argument with reluctant teachers can and ought to be, “Okay, what do you need to see that will make you feel like your workplace is sufficiently safe for you to go about doing what you love, which is teaching children? Masks? Plastic partitions? Social distancing? Frequent breaks to wash hands or use sanitizer? Alternating days to reduce class sizes?”

Not every teachers’ union is being intransigent. Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said earlier this month, “Schools can open if they have the funding behind them. We are not saying that schools should be closed until we have a vaccine. Listen, it’s going to take a comprehensive plan and there are things that we can do.” Others, including some in my neck of the woods, are taking the “no in-person learning until there is a vaccine” position. (With a vaccine probably not reaching every American until spring 2021, these teachers are proposing that an entire year be effectively lost for many kids.)

The combination of teachers who want to teach (40 percent in my neck of the woods, according to a recent survey), administrators who want to get schools operating again, and parents who want their kids back in the classrooms at least part-time could make an enormously powerful political coalition — particularly if the opposition trots out the insulting, overheated, “You don’t really care about your kids!” rhetoric. All the president has to do is appear to be the adult in the room — the calm, reasonable one who’s focused on finding a solution that works, while the teachers’ unions are being obstinate.

Trump’s approach? Threaten to cut funding for schools that don’t reopen full time, when one of the arguments is that implementing the necessary precautions will take money. The president can only perceive issues as contests of wills.

Atop all of this, the president is now publicly whining in some fashion almost every day, and he clearly sees “illegal” and “unfair” as synonyms, a bad trait for the head of the executive branch in a constitutional republic. Earlier this week, he complained, “So disgusting to watch Twitter’s so-called “Trending”, where sooo many trends are about me, and never a good one. They look for anything they can find, make it as bad as possible, and blow it up, trying to make it trend. Really ridiculous, illegal, and, of course, very unfair!” He complains about Fox News and how it is putting up “phony polls.”

Yesterday, during the coronavirus briefing, Trump complained that Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have high approval ratings but he doesn’t. “And yet, they’re highly thought of — but nobody likes me. It can only be my personality.” He is constantly publicly exhibiting insufferable self-pity when Americans are trying to get through a pandemic. Welcome to the presidency. As Harry Truman may or may not have said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”

Right now, Joe Biden is not beating Donald Trump. Donald Trump is beating Donald Trump.

Are We on the Verge of Kamala Harris’s Big Moment?

Maybe Kamala Harris botching her interview with Joe Biden’s running mate adviser Chris Dodd won’t matter that much after all! The Associated Press reports:

As he took questions from reporters on Tuesday, Biden held notes that were captured by an Associated Press photographer. Harris’ name was scrawled across the top, followed by five talking points. “Do not hold grudges.” “Campaigned with me & Jill.” “Talented.” “Great help to campaign.” “Great respect for her.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean Harris is the pick. But it does indicate that Biden is thinking about her and felt the need to be prepared for questions about her. Then again . . .

Are We on the Verge of Susan Rice’s Big Moment?

. . . if, as Politico reports, the buzz around Susan Rice is serious and growing louder, Joe Biden might want to run as a pretty explicit restoration of the Obama administration.

If Biden picks Rice, I think a whole bunch of Trump-weary Republicans, conservatives, and right-leaning independents will start shifting back towards the president. Trump brings his share of headaches, but Rice will remind those who are right-of-center of everything they couldn’t stand about the Obama years. You will see a lot of anger out there. You could see protests. And if those protests get larger, they might get out of control, and could even lead to violence.

In the unlikely event that does happen, I am certain that Susan Rice will declare, “It began spontaneously as a reaction to a hateful video.”

ADDENDUM: A few bits of wisdom from Twitter this morning…

John Hood: “If you believe complex human problems have simple solutions, you are a history denier.”

Alex Berenson: “From the South Pasadena (CA) Unified School District: schools will be online-only. However, students UP TO 8th GRADE can go to “extended day care” eight hours daily – and attend their online classes while staying together in rooms holding up to 12 students!”

Scott Lincicome revealing why SkyNet or other robots and AI will not take away all of our jobs. A Japanese company “calculates that, even after all its robotic and automation technologies are implemented, productivity increases by about 10 percent . . . mostly because . . . a relatively large number of human workers are still on site to closely monitor the robots, and step in if necessary.”

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