Media (400)

 

A Second Desk

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

At the beginning of his presidency Donald Trump occasionally mentioned the fact that George Washington had two desks in his office, one to conduct his private business and one to execute the responsibilities of the US President.  This week Trump decided to emulate Washington, albeit with only one desk, after he received the news that 6 of the 7 most revenue generating hotels of the Trump Organization had been closed because of the corona crisis.  He started tweeting that by locking down towns and states and closing non-essential businesses America risked implementing a cure that would be worse than the problem.  At one of the daily press conferences of the Corona Task Force, when asked if his organization should be included in a government bailout of affected industries, the president wouldn’t give an answer but started whining about all the income he had lost by winning the 2016 election.  And with the number of COVID-19 infections rapidly rising, mostly in New York and New Jersey but also in California, Washington and many other states, Trump started talking about the need to ‘open up’ the country and ‘get people back to work.’

The president tested his back-to-work message at a Fox News virtual town hall last Saturday and felt sufficiently encouraged to announce that a ‘great victory’ over the corona virus was around the corner, and that the country would take off ‘like a rocket ship’ once it was open for business again.  It was the introduction to a macabre dance between Trump and experts like Dr. Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the daily pressers in the White House, a fight between fiction and fact, with the president making unfounded predictions about the spread of the virus, the timeline for the development of a vaccine and the availability of a cure, and Fauci arguing that you cannot rush a pandemic and even if lockdowns are maintained the number of infections would not peak before May.  The controversy reached a climax when Trump set April 12th, Easter Sunday, as the target date for the country to be re-opened, arguing that America has the choice between people dying from COVID-19 infections or from mass suicide because they cannot go to work, and predicting full churches all over the country.

Fortunately the president, who said that Easter Sunday was a ‘very special day’ for him but who didn’t discover that he is a Christian until the 2016 campaign, when he once blurted out ‘I’m a Presbyterian, do you believe it?,’ doesn’t have the authority to open anything, not even his own golf courses.  That authority lies with Governors and Mayors, who are facing deepening crises in their states, cities and hospitals, and so far have not shown any inclination to do what Trump would like them to do, which is why the president is now slowly backtracking on his demands.

Meanwhile in Washington, DC, Congress is passing a $2 trillion package to support the unemployed and low- and middle income taxpayers, hospitals, small businesses and corporations that can get loans to keep their workers employed.  Although the bill contains a provision that bars funds from going to companies controlled by ‘the spouse, child, son-in-law or daughter-in-law of the president’ it contains some loopholes that the Trumps and the Kushners can take advantage of.

Yesterday the Super PAC ‘Priorities USA’ started a $6 million blitz of a video that shows the rise of corona virus infections in the US synchronized with statements Trump made at different points in time that range from dangerously misleading to absurd.   The Trump campaign filed a ‘Cease and Desist’ motion in court, but doesn’t have a chance to stop the broadcasting of the video.


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Trump Always Knew

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In a series of pressers by the Corona Task Force that he felt he could best handle himself Trump’s opinion about the threat seemed to evolve but ultimately stayed the same.  Last Friday he criticized the CDC and Obama’s administration for changes in the testing protocol that according to him made testing harder, and said that the response to the swine flu virus in 2009 had been a disaster.  Changes that had been proposed at the time, however, were never implemented, and although 60 million Americans got sick and 12 thousand died, tests were shipped out two weeks after the first case had been reported and many lives were saved.  When asked if he accepted any responsibility for the lag in testing for the corona virus the president said ‘no, because we met a specific set of circumstances,’ which of course is always the case.  Asked about the disbanding of the pandemic response unit at the NSC Trump said that he didn’t do it and knew nothing about it, asked Dr. Fauci if he knew who did it and then said someone in the administration was responsible.  The microphones of the female reporters who had asked those two questions were shut off.

On Friday the president announced that by Sunday Google would have a website up and running for individual diagnostics, but it soon became clear that that project, initiated by Jared Kushner, who from the beginning had advised Trump to treat the crisis as a PR problem, was not going to work.   At Sunday’s presser the president said that he was ‘very happy’ with the Fed’s decision to cut interest rates, and on Monday he finally seemed to be taking the threat more seriously, giving many pundits hope that from now on we would see a different Trump, although the president also gave himself a ‘10’ for the way he had handled the crisis thus far and lied that he had only known about the virus for one month, while he had been briefed in Davos two months earlier.  Also on Monday Trump told the Governors of all states during a conference call that they were on their own where it came to securing medical supplies, ventilators and respirators.   He was back to his old tricks on Tuesday, talking about a ‘pent-up economy’ that would bloom after the crisis, and said that he always knew it was a pandemic, even before ‘they’ were talking about it.

The latter statement confounded observers who had heard Trump initially say that the virus was a ‘hoax’ and a Democratic plot against his presidency, but the president was not done.  He asked to put politics aside, but later attacked the Governors of New York and Michigan on Twitter.  When asked why the WHO test had not been used Trump gave the floor to Dr. Birx, who painstakingly tried not to lie by talking about an unnamed test that showed false positives and therefore could not be used, knowing that that was the CDC test.  The president happily adopted her non-answer.

At following pressers, each of which featured an obscene amount of brownnosing by Mike Pence and totally misplaced self-congratulations, Trump mostly limited himself to propaganda about a ‘very exciting great victory’ and a ‘big celebration’ after the economy would start growing again.  Instead of using his Twitter account with 74.4 million followers for giving his base useful directions on how to protect themselves and others it was cluttered with hollow pep talk as well.

When asked why he uses the racist term ‘Chinese virus’ the president simply said ‘because it comes from China,’ and his answer to the question why the well connected get tested first was ‘it’s the story of life.’  Yesterday Trump called himself a ‘wartime president,’ probably hoping that he would be compared with FDR, but he forgot that Roosevelt saw fascism coming and was prepared.


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Paying the Price

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

For three years Trump has treated the US population to a daily truckload of falsehoods, almost with impunity, but now his lies are catching up with him.  Visiting the CDC last week he called the corona virus ‘mean,’ but said that the tests were ‘beautiful,’ as perfect as his phone call with Zelensky.  Wearing a campaign hat the president added that everybody who wanted could now be tested, and that doctors told him ‘you know so much about these things,’ for which he credited his ‘natural ability.’  But in spite of all the good news Trump said that the patients on a cruise ship off the coast of California shouldn’t come ashore, because they got sick through no fault of the US and would raise the number of cases in the country.  Apparently the president didn’t want to acknowledge that there was barely any testing going on in the US because of the CDC’s botched attempt to develop its own test, while reliable tests from the World Health Organization were amply available and being used in all other countries.   Without mass testing epidemiologists don’t know how and where the virus spreads and fly in the dark, but Trump had done enough and went golfing.

Coming back from a weekend at Mar-a-Lago followed by a fundraiser in Orlando Trump was still in denial, and so were his advisors Kellyanne Conway and Larry Kudlow, who stated that the virus had been contained.  Yet the pandemic, now officially declared by the WHO, came closer to Trump when GOP congressman Matt Gaetz, who rode with the president in ‘the beast’ and flew with him on Airforce One, decided to self-quarantine after he had been in contact with someone at CPAC who carried the virus.   During the first half of the week the public heard competing messaging from Trump and experts like Dr. Fauci, with the president saying that ‘it will go away,’ and ‘stay calm’ because ‘a lot of good things are going to happen,’ and Fauci informing the nation about the seriousness of the situation.   But eventually Trump showed signs of understanding that there was a real problem, not so much because of the growing number of patients and deaths but because Wall Street was tanking and on its way to becoming a bear market.  Watching the main argument for his re-election evaporate before his eyes the president finally decided to take action.

Not surprisingly Trump’s attention first went out to supporting businesses that in his eyes were most affected by the crisis, like for example hotels, of which he owns quite a few.  Since in the middle of all the commotion Russia and Saudi Arabia got engaged in a price war the president added the oil and gas industry to the list of casualties. For the support of working men and women who might temporarily lose their paycheck he proposed eliminating the payroll tax for the rest of the year, a measure that would benefit higher income earners much more than their lower counterparts.

Last night, now realizing how dire the situation had become, Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office with a speech that could have been written for a hostage video and was delivered with the whining monotony he reserves for these occasions.   First the president pathetically seemed to congratulate himself for having done a much better job than Obama with Ebola, and then he announced a ban of travel from the European mainland for one month, followed by a few as yet tentative economic measures.

Not a word about testing or the badly needed expansion of hospital capacity in the US, and no explanation why travel from Europe minus the UK had been blocked but not travel from for instance South Korea, a country with thousands of corona virus cases.  When asked why European leaders had not been briefed Trump aggressively responded ‘they don’t brief us when they raise tariffs on us either,’ which suggests retaliation.


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Ignorance and Disinformation

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA) 

As long as he’s been president political observers have wondered how Trump would function in a crisis situation.  There were some opportunities to observe him in international conflicts, but he fell in love with Kim Jong-un and backed away from a military confrontation with Iran, with the latter making more sense than the former.  Now there is the corona-virus crisis, and the nation has a front row seat to watch the president rise to the occasion.  Initially Trump called COVID-19 ‘a new hoax,’ of which the purpose was to bring the president down, and spoke of the ‘great job’ his government had done preparing for all eventualities.  It soon turned out, however, that that job had consisted of cutting 80% of the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for a global disease outbreak and shutting down the global health security unit of the National Security Council.  Then Trump suggested that the virus might ‘miraculously’ disappear, but just in case it wouldn’t he put vice president Pence in charge of managing the government’s response.  Pence immediately told the CDC to stop issuing statements and pulled Dr. Anthony Fauci, its utmost expert, off the Sunday morning shows.

The message Pence sent to the CDC was essentially ‘stop informing the public,’ but because of the world-wide spreading of the virus  the White House could not remain silent, and since neither Trump nor Pence had anything sensible to say about the threat to the health of the US population it was inevitable that Fauci would re-emerge as a spokesperson.  What followed were bizarre moments, for instance when Fauci, flanked by the president and his VP, used the word ‘pandemic,’ and you could see Trump think ‘there goes the stock market’ while his face turned from orange to red and he was clearly enraged.  At another occasion Trump, again more concerned about the markets than anything else, tried to assure the American people that there would be a vaccine ‘relatively soon,’ followed by Fauci’s explaining the process of developing a vaccine and estimating that it would take a year to a year and a half before a vaccine would be available.  That was after a meeting with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry where the president first made clear that he didn’t know what a vaccine is and then asked if the flu vaccine would work in this case.

Trump preferably surrounds himself with staffers like his new National Security Advisor who don’t know much about the area they’re responsible for, which allows him to ramble without being contradicted, and he is therefore very uncomfortable in meetings with people who actually know what they’re talking about.  True to form he shared with representatives of the airline industry his optimistic view that Americans would fly less and stay in the country more to go shopping here and not elsewhere, probably making his audience worry about their own stock options.

The biggest blunder made so far was the administration’s initial inability to produce a diagnostic test kit for the virus, which put the US far behind other countries.  The CDC botched its first attempt to produce a reliable kit, and today it was announced that the deadline for its production would not be met.  According to Trump a decision by Barack Obama had delayed the approval of tests by the Food & Drug Administration, but health experts have no idea what that decision might have been.

Meanwhile the president’s attempts to misinform the public continue.  Last night on ‘Hannity’ he said that he ‘had a hunch’ that most COVID-19 patients have very mild or no symptoms and that some of them even go to work, and that therefore the World Health Organization’s fatality rate of 3.4% is too high.  The suggestion that patients could go to work is about the most dangerous message that can be sent right now.

 

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A Tale of Two Crises

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Before his departure to India Trump continued his cleansing of the security services with the removal of Deputy National Security Advisor Victoria Coates, although the White House denied that she was suspected of being ‘Anonymous.’  Devin Nunes’s henchman Kashyan Patel, who played a prominent role in smearing the Mueller probe, was hired as advisor to Richard Grenell, the new acting DNI, and ‘Johnny’ McEntee, charged with purging the administration of ‘bad people,’ is receiving help from Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni, one of the leaders of the ultra-conservative ‘Groundswell’ group.   The NSC process has already degenerated to the point where NSA Robert O’Brien reads the president’s tweets aloud at the beginning of meetings, so that the council’s advice can be tailored to what Trump wants to hear.  When asked about the removal of Joseph Maguire as acting DNI the president lied that Maguire had not been pushed out but that his term would have ended on March 11th anyway.  Maguire could of course have been the permanent appointee, but was not rewarded for keeping the whistleblower complaint away from Congress.

Trump was furious when the news broke that Russia is helping both him and Bernie Sanders in the 2020 election.  He still sees every mention of Russian support as an attempt to delegitimize his 2016 victory and claimed that he was never told that Russia is interfering again on his behalf, suggesting that Adam Schiff leaked the information.  The president stated emphatically that he neither got nor ever wants any help from Russia, but simultaneously used the opportunity to say that ‘of course Putin wants Bernie, because Bernie honeymooned in the Soviet Union.’  And then it was off to India, where the Trumps visited the Taj Mahal, namesake of the Atlantic City casino Trump ran into the ground in spite of frequent injections of money from his father.  At a presser the president called a rally in the world’s largest cricket stadium that seats 125,000 ‘the biggest event India has ever seen,’ apparently unaware that Dwight Eisenhower once drew a crowd of one million.  According to reporters, after Trump’s speech one third of the attendees had left the stadium, and after India’s president Modi had spoken only one third was still there.

Back in the US the president had to deal with the crisis caused by the corona-virus, misspelled as ‘carona-virus’ by him in a tweet.  Trump was furious with the Centers for Disease Control because of the virus’s effect on the stock market, for which he also blamed the media, the Democrats and in particular Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.  At a press conference he claimed that the risk to the US was minimal because of ‘great early decisions’ – which didn’t include moving money away from CDC for ‘the wall’ – and professed his ignorance with regards to annual flue deaths.

Incorrectly maintaining that there are only 15 corona patients in the US, who are all getting better,  Trump put Mike Pence in charge of the effort to contain the virus, to the surprise of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar who had not been informed.  According to the president Pence has a stellar record managing health crises as Governor of Indiana, although we were soon reminded that he caused the spread of HIV/Aids because he had ‘to pray on’ a containment strategy.

The presser, for once in the White House room reserved for such occasions, produced a bizarre tale of two crises.  On the one hand there were Trump and Pence, displaying a ‘no big deal, we have it under control’ attitude, and on the other multiple CDC experts who warned that a spread of the virus is inevitable.  Of course the latter are not as interested in the stock market as the president.


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