The Morning Jolt


The Government Isn’t a Magic Wand

Senator Kamala Harris is joined on stage by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, after she accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination at the 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., August 19, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On the menu today: Kamala Harris pledges she and Joe Biden will “build that beloved community,” a bit of yearning for a government that works, and Donald Trump says everything about QAnon except a denial of the conspiracy theory.

Liberal Policies Return to Center Stage for the Democrats

Wednesday night, the Democratic National Convention served up a lot more of the usual red meat for the party’s base that would take center stage if the country wasn’t enduring a pandemic and a steep economic drop — progressive rhetoric on climate change, gun control, and immigration.

For this reason, and a few others, the convention felt really plodding by the third night. On the first night, we at least had the curiosity of how convention organizers would work around the considerable restrictions and complications of the pandemic. The second night we could watch to see if they adjusted anything based upon how the first night went — and Tuesday night at least focused on the human-interest aspect of Joe Biden’s story, with Jill Biden telling stories of how she met her husband. Biden’s choice to be officially nominated by the New York Times building security guard, who he met and charmed after apparently failing to impress the paper’s editorial board, was something of a cute little jab at the board members who found Biden so insufficient during the primary.

Wednesday’s big act was Barack Obama, who overshadowed Kamala Harris, giving a long speech, which made a comprehensive argument that Donald Trump is uniquely dangerous to American values and governance. Obama’s speech earned rave reviews from his fan base in the media, and it’s worth noting that he’s better as a communicator without the applause lines and pausing every other sentence for rapturous reaction from the audience in front of him.

Harris had the not-so-easy task of following Obama. Unsurprisingly, a lot of Republicans argued that Harris’s speech was bad. It was fine. It began with Harris describing her immigrant parents and growing up, and the personal biographical stuff is usually the meat and potatoes of a vice-presidential nominee’s speech. If you’re reading this, you probably know way, way more about Harris than the average voter or the average viewer Wednesday night; she reintroduced herself to a national audience that has probably only seen a little of her here and there.

Harris described the Biden agenda in the vaguest terms: “bring us together to build an economy that doesn’t leave anyone behind . . . end this pandemic and make sure that we are prepared for the next one . . . bring us together to squarely face and dismantle racial injustice, furthering the work of generations . . . build that beloved community, one that is strong and decent, just and kind. One in which we all can see ourselves.”

In this pretty, airy rhetoric, we hear what probably a lot of people like hearing from candidates: a vague, happy description of a near-utopian goal with no sense or specifics of how to get there.

Instead of counting on a septuagenarian in the Oval Office to build “a beloved community,” would we set the bar a little lower and more realistically and just aim for establishing a government that works, at all levels?

Democrats Continue to Talk about Government Like It Is a Magic Wand

Every presidential challenger makes the job sound easier than it is. Harry Truman famously declared that Dwight Eisenhower had a naïve and unrealistic sense of how running the executive branch would work. “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army . . . I sit here all day trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have sense enough to do without my persuading them. . . . That’s all the powers of the president amount to.”

A well-run executive branch that minimizes mistakes would be an epic achievement, but very few people in politics ever want to level with the American people.

We would like to have a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that could roll out tests that worked the first time. We would like a Food and Drug Administration that didn’t require the CDC to retest every positive coronavirus test run by a public-health lab to confirm its accuracy, slowing everything down when time is of the essence. If a team from the U.S. State Department visits a Chinese virology lab and writes a memo describing “a shortage of the highly trained technicians and investigators required to safely operate,” we would like that memo to not just sit in someone’s desk drawer for a year.

We would like a government that did not send infected and contagious recovering patients back into nursing homes and assisted-living homes, full of the kinds of people most vulnerable to the coronavirus. We would like a government that did not play games with the numbers, insisting that deaths that occur traveling to or from a nursing home, or nursing-home residents who die in a hospital, do not count as “nursing home deaths.”

If the government concludes that restrictions on large groups are necessary to slow the spread of the disease, we would like that government to be unafraid to say, “and this includes protests, too, even if we support the cause.” The moment elected officials showed up at large gatherings, violating their own executive orders, lots of people concluded that the restrictions on large groups were power-mad nonsense.

If a protest turns into violence, looting, or the destruction of property, we would like a government and police forces that stop it, identifies the perpetrators, and arrests them. We would like prosecutors to do their jobs, instead of unilaterally decreeing that they do not deem charges of disorderly conduct, interfering with a peace officer, or rioting to be crimes anymore.

We would like the government to ensure that the removal of any statue is done in accordance with preexisting laws, if for no other reason than to ensure no one ends up in a coma from injuries sustained while tearing down a statue.

We would like a government confident enough in its own role and duties to recognize that “abolish the police” is a nonsensical and unrealistic stance, as ridiculous as abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and unafraid to say so out loud. We would like a government that welcomes legal immigrants — still roughly 1 million per year, despite what is allegedly an era of xenophobic hysteria — and enforces the law against illegal immigrants. We would like a secure border. We would like the government to find the roughly 570,000 people who overstayed their visas last year and make them return to their home countries.

But making the case for change is easier when the incumbent generates his own controversies just about every day.

Just What Does President Trump Know about QAnon?

Is it too much to expect the president of the United States to not speak kindly of the adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory? Is that really setting the bar too high?

The full exchange from yesterday, lest anyone offer the tired excuse that the president’s words are being taken out of context: 

REPORTER: During the pandemic, the QAnon movement has been — appears to be getting a lot of followers. Can you tell us what you think about that, and what you have to say to people who are following this movement right now? 

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate, but I don’t know much about the movement. I have heard that it is gaining in popularity. And from what I hear, these are people that when they watch the streets of Portland, when they watch what happened in New York City in just the last six or seven months — but this was starting even four years ago, when I came here. Almost four years, can you believe it?  These are people who don’t like seeing what is going on in places like Portland, and in places like Chicago and New York and other cities — and states. And I’ve heard these are people who love our country, and they just don’t like seeing it. So, I don’t know really anything about it, other than they do supposedly like me, and they also would like to see problems in these areas, like especially the areas that we’re talking about, go away because there’s no reason the Democrats can’t run a city. And if they can’t, we will send in all of the federal, whether it is troops or law enforcement, or whatever they would like. We’ll send them in, and we’ll straighten out the problem in 24 hours or less.

You’ll notice that Trump’s initial answer suggests he thinks that QAnon is primarily focused on the riots of the past few months. But how do you know QAnon is “gaining in popularity” and not have any idea about the conspiracy theories of sex abuse, politicians, celebrities, etc.? But somehow, Trump manages to answer the question that does make it sound like he’s involved in sending in federal troops or law enforcement to “what is going on in places like Portland, and in places like Chicago and New York and other cities — and states.” God knows how many QAnon believers will interpret the president’s statement as affirmation of their theories.

REPORTER: What about the theory, this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this titanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals? Does that sound like something you are behind, or–?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have not heard that. Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know. If I can help save the world from problems, I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there. and we are actually! We are saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country, and when this country is gone, the rest of the world would follow. The rest of the world would follow. That’s the importance of this country. And when you look at some of the things that these people are saying, with defund the police and no borders, open borders. Everybody just pour right into our country, no testing, no nothing. You know, you talk about testing, no testing. Mexico’s, you know, is a very high rate of infection. Next week, the wall is going to be 300 miles long.

Our numbers are extraordinary on the border. And this is through luck perhaps, more than talent, though the talent is getting it built when one party refuses to allow it. You don’t hear talk about the wall anymore. But i will say this, We need strength in our country, not weakness. Too much weakness.

That is a heaping serving of meandering, vague, not-all-that-coherent word salad, and it would be easy to conclude that this is Trump just blurting out whatever phrases pop into his mind. But notice the president never says the word “QAnon” or anything specific about those nutty theories. He doesn’t repeat anything back to the reporter that could easily be put into a Biden campaign ad.

Also notice that at no point does Trump say, “No, I am not secretly saving the world from a titanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals.” The believers won’t even need to explain away a presidential denial.

Did Trump just offer his usual stream-of-consciousness free-associating riff? Or was this a very careful tightrope walk, designed to offer the right hints to the QAnon crowd, without signing on to the QAnon theories himself?

ADDENDUM: Last night, a Democratic convention video made a quick reference to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016 during a segment endorsing gun control. It was an inadvertent reminder of how spectacularly the public was misled about how and why the massacre happened.


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