Rage, Monitized, Generating Wealth Beyond the Dreams of Avarice

 

Text of the Communications Decency Act, Section 230

Maureen Dowd, Think Outside the Box, Jack: Trump, Twitter and the society-crushing pursuit of monetized rage.

NPR, As Trump Targets Twitter’s Legal Shield, Experts Have a Warning

Forbes, Why A Repeal Of Section 230 Could Hurt Trump & Help Trolls, Bullies & Pedophiles

Section 230 uses a lot of words, and does a lot of things, but perhaps its main effect is to preempt the laws of defamation of the 50 states, to the extent that these laws might otherwise impose civil liability on Twitter and Facebook and their ilk for disseminating false and defamatory statements, and making gobs of money for doing so.

Thus, as Maureen explains, the law allows Twitter and Facebook to set up their algorithms to gin up, exploit, and monetize rage.

The Right Answer to the Wrong Question

Sometimes we give the correct answer to a legal or public policy question, but we still fall in the shithole, because we asked the wrong damn question.

And this, I believe, is what has happened here.

Traditionally—think back to those golden days of yesteryear, before Al Gore invented the internet—publishers of defamatory material were as liable for defamation as the people whose lies they were spreading. Publishers meaning newspaper publishers, book publishers, etc. Publishers could also include gossipy neighbors, who pass on false and malicious statements they have heard from others.

But distributors—the bookstore, the paper boy, the corner newsstand—are not liable. They perform a useful service, and it would not be practical for the paper boy to read every word in the paper and check for defamatory statements before he tosses the paper onto your lawn.

The Wrong Question

Are firms like Facebook and Twitter more like a newspaper publisher or are they more like a paper boy?

The Right Answer to the Wrong Question

Facebook and Twitter are more like the paper boy because, like him, they do not exercise editorial control over the materials they distribute.

The Right Question

But imagine—still thinking of those golden days of yesteryear—that a new business arises in town. Sam’s Rumor Spreading Service opens its doors. For a modest fee, Same invites folks who hate their neighbors to pass along hateful observations—inflammatory opinions, true but harmful information, totally false “information”—doesn’t matter to Sam. Because, in exchange for a fee, Sam will cheerfully spread the information all over town for you.

So, here’s the right question. As a matter of fairness, logic, and good public policy, shouldn’t we at least hold Same legally liable for the false “factual” information he spreads like manure, in cavalier disregard for its truth or falsehood.

We’ll let old Sam keep on spreadin’ those hateful opinions and those malicious statements of fact that are actually true. But shouldn’t we draw the line at immunity for false and defamatory information?

The right answer to the right answer is that, yes, indeedy, we should do that very little thing.

The Simple Solution

The simple solution would be to amend Section 230 so that defamation suits against Twitter and Facebook are no longer preempted by federal law.

In that scenario, Facebook and Twitter could still publish offensive opinion. They could still publish hurtful but factually true information. And they would still enjoy the strong First Amendment protections afforded by cases like New York Times v. Sullivan and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell.

And, last but not least, Facebook and Twitter would still be free to argue to the state courts that they should be treated more like a paper boy than like a newspaper publisher.

Maybe Wyoming would decide one way, and Massachusetts would go the other way.

But at least there would be some legal disincentive to curb the worst of Facebook’s and Twitter’s  worst behavior.

So, Joe, Here’s the Lowdown

Morning Psycho

So, today, Morning Joe took a breather from his homicidal career as a serial intern killer, to go on another long rant about the cowardly Republican senators, who have cast their lot with Captain Orange Man, even as he steers the ship into the iceberg.

Joe, let me explain this to you, because it’s pretty clear what is happening.

This onion, I think, has several layers.

First off, stop marveling that the Republican senators elected in 2014, 2016, and 2018 are mostly lacking in public spirit and moral fiber. You remind me of the man who visits the zoo and expresses wonderment that all the animals in the place marked “Tiger Cage” have stripes. But this is no cause for amazement. The zookeepers put all the big cats with stripes into the “Tiger Cage,” and they put all the other guest animals in other places. It did not happen by accident.

By like token, all the recently elected Republican senators are people who thought it would be a good career move to be a well compensated towel boy, or girl, in the plutocrats’ brothel. Just-do-the-right-thing is not exactly the go-to life strategy of people for whom that is an attractive career move.

Now, I know your next question: well, even if they are not guided by morality, why are they willingly sailing into the iceberg on Captain Orange Man’s ship?

I do not believe it is very challenging to reverse engineer what they must be thinking.

Pardon my blunt speech here, but the time is long past to mince words. The Republican braqnd and the Republican organization rests on three stools: (1) the plutocrats, or at least a good part of the plutocrats; (2) the Main Street country club types, or at least a good part of them; and (3) the white trash, whom the plutocrats and the country club types have heretofore manipulated and exploited for fun and profit.

It looks as if, in 2020, the stool is probably going to come apart, and the Republican Party will face a great crisis. But guess what? After the debacle, there will still be plutocrats, and the plutocrats will still need towel boys and girls for their brothel, and the towel boys and girls will still be well compensated.

Maybe Humpty Dumpty will somehow be put back together again, this time without Trump. Maybe the plutocrats and the Main Street country club folks will form a third party, to be called the Rational Conservative Sensible Pro Growth American Centrist Party, or something along those general lines. Whatever. The plutocrats will still need to buy politicians and lobbyists. And they will want to buy loyal politicians—people who bloody well know how to take a bullet for the team. They will not want to hire people whose escutcheons are blotted by any hint of adherence to science or to the first principles of Judeo-Christian ethics.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Would Like You to Know that Orange Man is Debsing the Presidency

great seal

The infamous far left clique that is the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal has expressed this collective opinion:

Donald Trump sometimes traffics in conspiracy theories—recall his innuendo in 2016 about Ted Cruz’s father and the JFK assassination—but his latest accusation against MSNBC host Joe Scarborough is ugly even for him. Mr. Trump has been tweeting the suggestion that Mr. Scarborough might have had something to do with the death in 2001 of a young woman who worked in his Florida office when Mr. Scarborough was a GOP Congressman.

“A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe Scarborough. So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk, & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story than that? An affair? What about the so-called investigator? Read story!” Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday while retweeting a dubious account of the case.

He kept it going Tuesday with new tweets: “The opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough was not a Donald Trump original thought, this has been going on for years, long before I joined the chorus. . . . So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?” Nasty stuff, and from the Oval Office to more than 80 million Twitter followers.

There’s no evidence of foul play, or an affair with the woman, and the local coroner ruled that the woman fainted from an undiagnosed heart condition and died of head trauma. Some on the web are positing a conspiracy because the coroner had left a previous job under a cloud, but the parents and husband of the young woman accepted the coroner’s findings and want the case to stay closed.

Mr. Trump always hits back at critics, and Mr. Scarborough has called the President mentally ill, among other things. But suggesting that the talk-show host is implicated in the woman’s death isn’t political hardball. It’s a smear. Mr. Trump rightly denounces the lies spread about him in the Steele dossier, yet here he is trafficking in the same sort of trash.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, had it right when he tweeted on the weekend: “Completely unfounded conspiracy. Just stop. Stop spreading it, stop creating paranoia. It will destroy us.”

We don’t write this with any expectation that Mr. Trump will stop. Perhaps he even thinks this helps him politically, though we can’t imagine how. But Mr. Trump is debasing his office, and he’s hurting the country in doing so.

What if They Hold a Republican Convention and Lots of Delegates Don’t Show Up?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Politico sucks its thumb at great length this morning on the topic, Why Trump Needs a Packed Convention. Spoiler alert: it’s because he’s psychologically needy.

Quelle surprise! That means “Who’d a thunk it?” in French.

But here is my question.

The Republican Convention—whatever form it takes and wherever it is held—will run from August 24 to August 27.

Let’s say, just for the sake of the discussion, that you are an affluent, politically active businessman in St. Louis, and a member in good standing of the Norwood Hills Country Club. Let’s say that, as a token of general esteem and appreciation of your financial contributions, the Missouri Republican Party has selected you as a delegate to the 2020 convention. Let’s say it’s the third week in August, 2020.

Are you really going to want to get on a plane and fly to Charlotte or Atlanta or Miami, and plop your abundant posterior down in a seat along with 50 thousand yahoos, screaming at the top of their lungs, most of them without masks?

Perhaps it will help to focus your mind if you take a look at the above photo, which depicts the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the convention is currently scheduled to take place.

Just an Old Sweet Song Keeps Covid on My Mind

Chris Smith writes,

Florida has been the national leader in tragicomic political events since at least the Bush–Gore recount of 2000—but lately, Georgia is giving its southern neighbor a run on the weirdness-and-depravity front. There’s Brian Kemp voter-suppressing his way into a win in the 2018 race for governor; claiming, in April 2020, that he had just learned that the coronavirus could be spread by asymptomatic people—and now inviting the Republican National Convention to come to the state this summer. …

“You’re seeing an influx of new voters to the state, but what you’re really finding is white women switching,” says a top Georgia Democratic strategist. “They were solidly, reliably Republican until Trump and Parkland. Those two things have turned those voters. They’re embarrassed by Trump, and I think there’s an argument to be made that they’re also embarrassed by Kemp and Loeffler.” …

Nope. Not the sort of person you want to entertain down at the country club.

And the thought of an August convention/Nuremberg rally in downtown Atlanta—with 50 thousand coughing and spitting knuckleheads closely packed together? Not exactly something calculated to warm the cockles of your heart.

I Really Must Insist on This

I Has It

Paul Waldman, Trump’s accidental culture war over wearing masks

As the headline says, Waldman argues that the culture war over masks is something that Trump accidentally started. He writes, “It’s as if he fell into a culture war he knows he’s losing and would like to withdraw from, but he can’t quite bring himself to do it. He’s a slave to his own character flaws.”

I really must insist on this: he is a slave, not so much to his character flaws, as to his delusions. In the sewer that constitutions his mind, the existence of the pandemic falls into the category of information that makes him look bad—and, therefore, information that is untrue.

First, he acted as if the pandemic threat was unreal—see preceding paragraph.

Next, for a few weeks, he pretended to believe in the reality of the threat—hoping to garner the glory that would follow from appearing to defeat a foe that was (in his delusional mind) non-existent. In short, he acted on the assumption that most everyone else was delusional.

But that did not work. The glory did not come. So, now he is back to the default position. No one is giving him credit for defeating the enemy, so he reverts to the delusion that the viral enemy does not exist and never existed, because if it does and did exist, then that would be information that would make him look bad, and that, by irrefutable Trumpian logic, is untrue information.

Folks, he does not wear a mask because he does not believe there is a pandemic.

A Legal Remedy for Virus Hoax Talk?

flashing yellow

Eric Wemple, Fox News has never been so right

Mr. Wemple, who writes a WaPo blog on media issues, is dreadfully upset that someone in the state of Washington is pursuing legal action against Sean Hannity and Fox News—based largely, it appears, on the assertion that Fox News virus hoax talk misleads Washington’s consumers, in violation of that states consumer protection laws. Wemple is understandably upset that a judge in a faraway state might conceivably tell him what things are true and what things are not true, what opinions are legitimate and what opinions are illegitimate.

He sees what we lawyers call a big slippery slope problem. Such concerns are entirely legitimate, and Wemple makes some very good points.

That said, I wish to play devil’s advocate and invite you to reflect on this question:

Is there a First Amendment right for a person, knowing that his words are false, and motivated by malicious intent, to use words that are likely to cause those relying on his statements to risk death or serious physical injury?

In Schenk v. United States (1919), Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

The quote from the good Justice was, as we shysters like to put it, high dictum—”a judge’s expression of opinion on a point other than the precise issue involved in determining a case.” The case at bar was not about intentionally and falsely uttering words likely to cause physical harm. Instead, the case at bar was about writing words intended to encourage people to disobey the law—and, on that specific question. a lot of legal water has flowed under the bridge since Justice Holmes’ 1919 decision.

And yet, I believe it remains interesting that, writing 101 years ago, Justice Holmes thought it axiomatic that the Constitution does not forbid punishment of one who, knowing his words are false, utters words in such a manner, and in such a place and time, that his words are likely to result in death or serious physical injury.

Now, just because Justice Holmes thought his dictum stated an axiomatic truth does not mean that you or I have to accept the assertion. But, on the other hand, if we disagree with the Holmes dictum—and if we claim, therefore, that Fox News ought to be immune from any legal accountability for its actions—then, I submit, it is incumbent on us to defend that position with compelling logical arguments. And this, I think, is hard to do.

And, I would further submit that any argument advocating extreme deference to free speech and freedom of the press ought to be evaluated in light of the legal context.

Political Speech. As a general matter, speech uttered in a political context is immune from scrutiny. In short, you have a constitutional right to lie. I think the policy considerations underlying that doctrine are obvious.

But do you have an absolute constitutional right to lie in other contexts? Nah, not so much.

Untrue Speech that Injures Reputations. State tort law prohibits false speech injurious to reputation—in other words, the law of defamation—is constitutional, with this proviso: if the person claiming to have been defamed is a public figure, the Constitution blocks the claim of defamation unless the victim shows “actual malice,” i.e., the speaker knew that his claim was false or recklessly disregarded whether it was true or false.

I would suggest therefore, that if you advocate blanket immunity for Fox News, you need to show either that reputational interest is more important than the law’s interest in protecting law and health, or that the entire body of case law on the intersection of defamation and free speech is wrong, and should be overthrown.

Commercial Speech. The First Amendment affords some protection to firms advertising their products, but does not protect commercial fraud—i.e., lying to sell your product.

Commercial Speech about Medicines. Finally, note that the Food and Drug Act allows heavy regulation of commercial speech relating to medicines.

Laws Forbidding Reckless Endangerment. My state makes it a misdemeanor to, intentionally or recklessly, create a situation where others are exposed to serious physical danger. I am sure that such laws are common in other states as well. The statute was not written with Fox News’s conduct in mind, but its language certainly seems to fit the bill.

Human Wickedness—Common or Novel

The forms which human wickedness can take are numerous. For the most part, if we behave perversely, our iniquitous conduct fits some common pattern of evil, and the law has established a remedy for it.

At times, however, a person or group will engage in a novel form of wickedness—something not specifically addressed in any statute or judicial decision. That can create a quandary for those advocating legal accountability—and I am sure that Sean Hannity and Fox News will avail themselves of each and every possible argument to dodge responsibility. I do not know whether they will succeed or fail.

But I am pretty sure they do not enjoy a constitutional right, acting maliciously and with knowledge of the falsity of their statements, to encourage their followers to endanger their lives, contrary to the findings of science and medicine.

The Mask That Orange Man Wears

Trump Mask

Maureen Dowd writes,

The fact is that Donald Trump has been wearing a mask for a long time, like Eleanor Rigby “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.” He studied larger-than-life titans like George Steinbrenner and Lee Iacocca and invented a swaggering character called Donald Trump with a career marked by evasions, deceptions and disguises.

The young builder was intent, as T.S. Eliot wrote, to take the time “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Early on, Donald locked in his costume for the masquerade, the look of a C.E.O. in the ’80s. His body armor was a dark suit, white shirt and monochromatic silk tie. His hair was a blond helmet, his war paint was orange.

“He is the most vaudevillian performance artist who ever inhabited the White House,” says his biographer Tim O’Brien. “He has a consuming desire to always be center stage, yet he never wants to reveal who he really is. He masks his finances, his taxes, his friendships, his ongoing family conflicts of interest, his ignorance and his inadequacies. He’s constantly making up areas of expertise he doesn’t have.

“He doesn’t read the Bible and he doesn’t live as a Christian and love thy neighbor. But he is demanding that the churches be reopened because his evangelical base will love that. Everything he’s doing right now is to stave off a loss in November.”

Governor Doug Bergum (R-N.D.) Would Like the Your-Mask-Smacks-of-Socialism Crowd to Just Get a Life

***

Yesterday’s readers came from Belgium, Canada, China, India, Portugal, Slovenia, and the United States. Quite a few from Portugal, for some reason. Dr. Aardvark and I definitely want to visit Portugal, but we are going to have to wait a while. (And, not to slight anyone else, we greatly enjoyed Belgium, Canada, China, and India, and we made it pretty much to the Italian border with Slovenia.)

I Once Knew a Saint

colors

This post is a point of personal privilege.

I once knew a saint. Her name was Barbara. Actual name this time. Barbara was taken from us, way too early, due to a fast-acting cancer. A decade or so before that unfortunate development, Barbara found herself situated in life such that she could spend all her waking hours going about doing good. And that is exactly what she chose to do.

Among her many saintly projects was her “adoption” of a large group of refugees in our city, who were Vietnamese children of American servicemen of various colors. They all came to the memorial service, which ranks among my most moving life experiences. Some of the Vietnamese children, now grown to young adulthood, were Catholics, and they spoke of their desire to see Barbara again in heaven. Others were Buddhists, who prayed to be with her again in their next reincarnation.

Barbara held herself to a high standard. Probably the thing that most embarrassed her was the occasion when she was working with young children in the inner city. They were coloring together when Barbara, unthinkingly, asked one of the kids to “pass the flesh-colored crayon.”  When she realized what she had just said, she was mortified. It never stopped bothering her.

Somewhere—in the next reincarnation or whatever—Barbara is looking with approval on the news that Crayola Unveils New Inclusive Skin Tone Crayons: The “Colors of the World” line aims to promote representation and acceptance.

Barbara, this song is for you.

If Orange Man Were Sane, He Would Still Be Evil, But He’s Not Sane, and We’re Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Approach the question abstractly. You know someone whose name is Al. Al faces some life choice. He can choose Course A, the course of action that is, objectively, in his own best interest. Or he can pick Course B, the exact opposite of Course A, which no one in Al’s position would pick if he were not delusional. Al picks Course B.

If that happens just one time, you might say of Al, well, everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes they are big mistakes.

But the same thing happens the next month. Faced with a choice between A and B, he once again picks B.

And it happens a third time, and a fourth time, … and a twenty-second time.

What conclusion do you reach? The conclusion you reach is that Al suffers from delusional thinking, and that Al is badly in need of a checkup from the neck up.

My main point is that many of the pundits are still attributing Orange Man’s behavior to some kind of evil but rational strategic behavior. They still think that Trump is consciously putting his reelection prospects ahead of massive human suffering and loss of life. What I say is this: if Trump understood himself to be facing that choice, I am confident he would pick the massive suffering and death alternative in a New York minute. But that is not the choice as he understands it. Because he labors under two overarching delusions.

Overarching delusion number one is that he understands war better than the generals, economics better than the economists, and medical science better than the medical scientists. He says this all the time. And his actions can only be explained by positing an actual believe on his part in his world-historical genius.

Overarching delusion numero dos is that any information that conflicts with his genius, or that (he thinks) makes him look bad, is a hoax concocted by his personal enemies. Incapable of good faith himself, he is incapable of grasping that others, acting in good faith, are using their professional expertise to understand objective reality.

Some examples from today’s news.

Item: The swing states are being hit very hard by unemployment and state tax revenue loss, but

Trump appears dead-set against [new relief], even though it’s often argued he does not share the same ideological aversion to government help for the economically devastated that many conventional Republicans and conservatives do. So holds the mythology of his “economic populism,” anyway.

Why is Trump dug in? He and his advisers insist that the economy and jobs will roar back quickly. “The states are opening up,” Trump says. “It’s a transition to greatness.”

Maybe Trump is so convinced he can dramatically ramp up the economy again through sheer force of will and tweet — even though he’s failed to scale up robust testing, making it less likely people feel safe to resume activity — that he doesn’t want to even act as if urgent new infusions of aid are needed.

Item: Trump claims that medical scientists at two respected institutions are acting solely out of political motivation when they find that his miracle cure is in fact harmful.

Item: Trump is encouraging the religious to crowd together in church tomorrow, even though, as surely as God made little green apples, some of the congregants will be asymptomatic superspreaders.

Item: Current data show that “24 states still have uncontrolled coronavirus spread.” And the big fool tweets that everybody must now transition to greatness at the risk of their lives.

No, ladies and germs, these are not the words and deeds of a sane person. They are not even the words and deeds of a sane but profoundly evil person.

It is well past time to sweep the mental illness under the rug.

Pandemic Tribalism

Jesus Trump mask

Thomas B. Edsall, When the Mask You’re Wearing ‘Tastes Like Socialism’: The partisan divide over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic has deepened over the past few weeks

Mr. Edsall’s piece of May 20 cites and summarizes a large number of social science studies on what I suppose we might call the social psychology of idiocy. I will not attempt to summarize his summary; please read it for yourself if you want to find your way deeper into the social science.

He ends by quoting a U.C. Irvine psychologist for the proposition, “In 21st century American politics, truth is tribal,” followed by these observations of his own:

In other words, the pandemic has become another example of Trump’s mastery over his most loyal subjects, his ability to manipulate them into violating their own instincts. It is this power over a substantial bloc of the electorate that has put him in the White House — and continues to make him so dangerous.

But, as many recent polls are teaching us, the my-mask-tastes-like socialism-crowd is only a part of the core Trump base—around 10 to 15 percent or so of the total population.

Georgia as a Petri Dish

The point is born out, for example, by Steve Rattner’s charts of this morning. With Georgia having officially shut down late and opened up early,

  • the good news is that so far covid-19 hasn’t sparked
  • but that’s mainly because behavior in Georgia has closely tracked behavior throughout the country—and Georgians by and large have stayed home, rather than obeying the governor’s ideologically driven commands, and, as you would expect
  • Georgians are not stimulating the economy with high levels of consumer spending, and business distress and unemployment remain high.

It’s the Delusion, Stupid

Trump is running around encouraging the nutjobs to take their AK-47s and storm the legislature. He is demanding that people fill church pews this coming Sunday. Many attribute this approach to desperation. But that, friends, is not the right term.

When you are losing money on every sale but think you can make it up on volume, that is not a strategy, that is a delusion.

Likewise, when you practice wedge politics by driving a deeper and deeper wedge between 15 percent of the country and everybody else, that is not a coherent strategy to win. That is delusion, rising to the level of psychosis.

Up, Up, and Away!

It was May 14 when we last looked at fivethirtyeight.com’s weighted poll of polls. On that day, Trump disapprovers outnumbered approvers by 8.4 points.

As of today, the comparable number is 10.5 points. That’s apples to apples, looking at the data set for “all polls.”

When we look today at the narrower, and perhaps more accurate, weighted average of polls limited to “likely or registered voters,” the number in 10.6 points.

Orange Man is twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.

The Lord of Misrule Ramps it Up One More Notch

Lord Misrule

As multiple reports surface of efforts to cook the books on the covid stats, at the state and level, Trump once again tried to own the libs by claiming he is taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic. Charlie Sykes mourns the death of satire:

Keep in mind that the supposed—but unproven—benefits of HCQ are as a therapeutic for people who have COVID-19, not as a prophylactic to prevent you from contracting the virus.

Also keep in mind that it’s an open question as to whether or not the president of the United States is

    • Taking an unproven and unnecessary medication which the medical establishment has warned is dangerous in the context of COVID-19, or
    • Lying about taking this medication.

Satire despairs.

This clusterfork came two days after one of the president’s grown-ass sons, Eric, claimed that the novel coronavirus which has killed, officially, more than 90,000 Americans will “magically vanish” after the November 3 election, freeing the country to reopen.

Why will it vanish after November 3? As Eric explained Fox’s Jeanine Pirro there is a “cognizant strategy” by Trump’s enemies to use COVID-19 to thwart his father’s ability to hold his trademark rallies. After daddy’s glorious reelection, the Deep State Fake News Whatever will no longer need this phantom threat, so it will simply vanish.

Aardvark’s Animadversions

If Orange Man wants to take a drug that is likely to cause his heart to fail, and if he takes it and his heart fails, then so be it.

And if Orange Man think’s it’s all a hoax, and if he wants to revive the Nuremburg rallies, there’s no need whatsoever to be deterred by the media. No need at all. Let Trump revive the Nuremburg rallies, and let his followers come in droves, coughing, spitting, and high-fiveing, and let the consequences be what the consequences will be.

The Great Pretender Tugs on Superman’s Cape

Today, I want to lift up two op-eds.

Ross Douthat, Donald Trump Doesn’t Want Authority: The coronavirus crisis offered the president an opportunity to consolidate power. It turns out he only wants attention.

Douthat trenchantly points out the strong similarities between Orange Man and Victor Orban of Hungary—and the fundamental difference as well. Orban used the pandemic to consolidate his power, but Trump

showed no sense of the pandemic as anything save an inconvenience to be ignored, a problem to be wished away, an impediment to his lifestyle of golf and tweets and occasional stream-of-consciousness stemwinders. And when reality made ignoring it impossible, his only genuinely political impulse — the only impulse that related to real power and its uses — was to push the crucial forms of responsibility down a level, to the nation’s governors, and wash his presidential hands.

In this the coronavirus has clarified, once and for all, the distinctiveness of Trump’s demagogy. Great men and bad men alike seek attention as a means of getting power, but our president is interested in power only as a means of getting attention. …

So while both his critics and his allies imagined him, in different ways, as an American Orban — a subverter of democracy or a tough guy for tough times — the great crisis of his presidency has revealed the vast gulf that separates him not only from Hungary’s leader but from almost every statesman ever considered uniquely dangerous or uniquely skilled.

In the fourth year of this presidency the black comedy has finally given way to tragedy. But not because Trump suddenly discovered how to use his authority for dictatorial or democracy-defying purpose. Rather, because in this dark spring America needed a president capable of exercising power and found that it had only a television star, a shirker and a clown.

Eugene Robinson, Trump’s attempts to smear Obama could backfire spectacularly

In 2008, Obama’s historic triumph, the rate of black voter turnout nationwide essentially equaled white turnout for the first time in history. In 2012, black turnout actually exceeded white turnout, 66.6 percent to 64.1 percent, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. But in 2016, while white turnout inched higher, black turnout fell to 59.6 percent — the first decline in a presidential election in two decades.

I’m not going out on a limb by positing that there is a unique and enduring bond between African American voters and the first African American president. When Trump yells “Obamagate!,” he’s strengthening that bond, not weakening it, and motivating black voters to turn out in the fall for Obama’s loyal wingman, Biden. …

I thought everyone knew you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. But apparently Trump still thinks you can get somewhere by spitting into the wind.

There You Go Again

There You Go Again

WaPo, Faced with a Trumpian barrage of attacks, Joe Biden chooses to look the other way:

In a return to his old fighting form last week, President Trump suggested that his electoral rival, Joe Biden, should go to prison for an unspecified offense he labeled the “greatest political crime in the history of our country.”

In response, Biden did nothing, holding back in silence for hours after Trump’s interview aired Thursday on Fox Business Network, until the presumptive Democratic nominee’s campaign finally sent out a tweet.

“There’s nothing that the American people cannot accomplish when we stand together — one nation, united in purpose,” it read.

My Two Cents

Biden is right not to take the bait every time Orange Man throws some out.

But he needs to develop a catch line, that he can use to dismiss each childish taunt.

Something along the lines of, “Well, there he goes again—saying anything that comes into his damn fool head, to distract you from what really matters to YOU: getting back to work but staying safe, too.”