Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
In 2001, in the wake of a series of anthrax attacks, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put together a 450-page manual detailing how public officials should communicate to the American people during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak. According a report about the manual in The Washington Post, “communication that is delivered early, accurately and credibly is the strongest medicine in the government’s arsenal,” and Donald Trump “is breaking every rule” in the book.
In another piece, the WaPo described Trump’s Wednesday evening address to the nation as “riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads.” The report noted that “his errors triggered a market meltdown, panicked travelers overseas and crystallized for his critics just how dangerously he has fumbled his management of the coronavirus.”
Trump’s relentless self-promotion is having a real-world impact. He continues to claim that he took early action to curb the outbreak, but he only moved quickly to shore up the stock market and his re-election prospects by downplaying the severity of the crisis. For weeks, he called it a hoax perpetrated by Democrats and the media, predicted it would soon pass and insisted that it was no more severe than seasonal influenza. Multiple polls have since found that Republicans are less likely than Democrats to take steps to protect themselves from infection, such as washing their hands regularly, avoiding touching their faces and maintaining some distance from other people.
Now, unable to bullshit his way out of the situation, Trump is finally taking the pandemic seriously. But according to The New York Times, “studies of previous epidemics have shown that the longer officials waited to encourage people to distance and protect themselves, the less useful those measures were in saving lives and preventing infections.”
The irony is that if Trump had done the right thing—if he had listened to public health experts and prioritized the interests of the American public over his own narrow political concerns–he would have gotten what he has always craved more than anything else: praise for being a strong leader and respect from people outside of his cult.
The power of the presidency and the opportunities for Trump and his family to profit are great, but for a raging narcissist like the president*, those things pale in importance next to the public adulation that soothes his inner demons. Trump is a shallow thinker and mediocre businessman who became a millionaire at age 8 thanks to his father’s tax fraud scheme, and he has always chafed at the fact that real tycoons saw him as a hustler rather than a peer. He desperately wants to be the serious, successful leader that he sees in the mirror, and he had an opportunity to achieve it with a rare crisis that he didn’t create.
Unfortunately for all of us, he only proved that he isn’t bright enough or lacks the foresight to have seen how doing the right thing for us would have given him exactly what he desires most.
This is the smoking gun.
Trump suppressed coronavirus testing to keep the numbers low and boost his chances at reelection. https://t.co/5zneoVL62T
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 13, 2020
In related news, “the White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.” [Reuters]
The Daily Beast reported this week that “the Pentagon is withholding more than $104 million from the military’s most important chemical and biological research facilities—including a lab that conducts cutting-edge work on infectious diseases—according to a senior Pentagon official.”
And that’s only one aspect of the military’s financial shortfall in the unfolding crisis. A document briefed to the top brass of the Army on Thursday and obtained by The Daily Beast from a second Defense Department official reveals that the service’s response to the coronavirus outbreak is short of funding by almost $1 billion.
According to Gizmodo, the US Navy is investigating a sailor named David Cole Tarkington, who is allegedly “a prolific Atomwaffen recruiter” who “also attempted to work with a representative of a group the UK government later classified as a terrorist organization.”
“The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), a trade group that lobbies on behalf of heating and cooling product manufacturers, paid President Trump’s Trump National Doral resort near Miami $700,650 for its Annual Meeting event in 2017,” according to the watchdog group CREW.
The giant payment coincides with ramped up lobbying spending by the AHRI in Washington, DC including lobbying the White House around the time of the event. The timing of the event is conspicuous because less than two weeks after the November meeting, the Trump administration announced its support for a policy the AHRI had lobbied in favor of.
While the Trump administration has been generally hostile to environmental regulations, going as far as pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, his administration has shown one environmental regulation support. The AHRI’s lobbying disclosure report covering the fourth quarter of 2017 includes lobbying “President of the U.S.” on environmental issues. One of two policies that was lobbied on in that issue area was, “Supporting the U.S. ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol,” an Obama-era policy that sets a timeline for phasing out the use of a greenhouse gas commonly used in refrigeration. The AHRI has argued that the policy would create manufacturing jobs and lead to more U.S. exports, and they’ve lobbied in favor of it during each quarter of the last three years.
On November 23, 2017, a State Department official announced—in the “most explicit and public” terms to date—that the Trump administration would support the policy. The next day the AHRI tweeted its support for the announcement.
Maybe climate change activists should start holding conferences at Trump’s properties.
In other Trump-corruption news, Propublica reports that “The Trump Organization paid bribes, through middlemen, to New York City tax assessors to lower its property tax bills for several Manhattan buildings in the 1980s and 1990s, according to five former tax assessors and city employees as well as a former Trump Organization employee.”
It’s become a cliché to wonder how Fox News would react if a Democratic president had done or said any number of the things Trump has with little notice, so our apologies for asking you to imagine how Republicans and their partisan media would have reacted if Barack Obama had gotten on the phone and “chatted with Taliban leaders [who are still] on a secret U.S. kill-or-capture list.”
It’s not even a bad thing–you have to talk to the enemy in order to negotiate a peace agreement. It’s just the asymmetry that stands out.
There was a time, not long ago, when Republicans took national security seriously even as they claimed that the rest of the government was a threat to liberty or whatever. That was then, and this is now…
Acting DNI Richard Grenell has declined to appear before Congress to speak about foreign election threats, citing apprehension about his preparedness to address sensitive subjects that tend to upset Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. https://t.co/DzdEAFUfq0
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 10, 2020
A former judge resigned his position on the Supreme Court Bar with a blistering letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, whom he accused of engaging in brazen judicial activism and returning the court to the Lochner era. Dahlia Lithwick has the letter and some commentary at Slate.
And we leave you with one bit of positive news from the courts. According to NPR, “a federal judge has issued an injunction blocking the Trump administration from adopting a rule change that would force nearly 700,000 Americans off food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The rule change was set to take effect April 1.