Pandemic journal (# 25): Pandemic Showing Weaknesses of Free Market Capitalism                 

This is the conclusion posed by Dirk Philipsen, Associate Research Professor of economic history at the Sanford School of Public Policy and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.[1]

Free market capitalism, he says, “rewards competing, positioning, and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. [On the other hand, this system] does not value “empathy, solidarity, or concern for the public good, . . . social stability, health, or happiness. As a result, . . . the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere — public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment — in favor of private gain.”

This system also “fails to recognize the obvious: every private accomplishment is possible only on the basis of a thriving commons — a stable society and a healthy environment.”

In addition,. many “successful” corporations in the U.S. version of free market capitalism seek and obtain government bailouts, tax  breaks and subsidies. One example, during this pandemic, is the recent adoption of the CARES Act to provide stimulus to the economy. Yet more than $5 billion was disbursed, under this Act, to 20 large hospitals that had more than $108 billion of cash on hand and whose lobbyists helped the Department of Health and Human Services devise formulas for such disbursements.that did not include hospitals existing financial resources.[2]

Here are two other recent examples of such exploitation by the wealthy.  “A package of $170 billion in federal tax breaks . . .will go overwhelmingly to many of the country’s richest people and biggest companies. A program to rescue small businesses initially directed hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to publicly traded companies while many smaller firms were frozen out.”[3]

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[1] Philpsen, Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good, The Week  (May 25, 2020).

[2] Drucker, Silver-Greenberg & Kliff, Wealthiest Hospitals Got Billions in Bailout for Struggling Health Providers, N.Y. Times (May 25, 2020).

[3] Ibid; .Drucker, The Tax-Break Bonanza Inside the Economic Rescue Package, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

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[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (#23): Different Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic 

Previous posts have reported that  according to Fareed Zakaria, Peggy Noonan and Ross Douthat, two classes of U.S. society have different opinions about how the U.S. should respond to the coronavirus pandemic: the Managerial Overclass or the Remote Class favors maintaining the lockdown until the virus has been controlled while the Underclass or the Exposed Class favors abandoning those policies and reopening as soon as soon as possible.[1]

Another New York Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg, disagrees. She believes that the conflict over policies regarding the pandemic are better explained by political party affiliations.[2]

Her dissent cites a recent public opinion poll in which “74 percent of respondents agreed that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Agreement was slightly higher — 79 percent — among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed.”[3]

Another basis for her opinion was research at the University of Chicago that found that “when it comes to judging policies on the coronavirus, ‘politics is the overwhelming force dividing Americans,’ and that ‘how households have been economically impacted by the Covid crisis so far’ plays only a minimal role.”[4]

More specifically, the Chicago survey showed that roughly 77 percent of Democrats favored lockdown measures remaining in place as long as needed compared with roughly 45 percent of Republicans. On the other hand, roughly 30 percent of the Republicans wanted such measures to remain no longer than a few more weeks versus roughly 4 parent of Democrats. The report adds, “the data reveals no strong association between having lost income due to COVID-19, or fear of losing one’s job, and views about the right length of the lockdown. Among survey respondents, 41 percent indicate having been negatively impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, all else being equal, these respondents were not more likely to favor a quick reopening.”

Goldberg also says, “Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump’s base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.”

On the other hand, “The push for a faster reopening, even in places where coronavirus cases are growing, has significant elite support. And many of those who face exposure as they’re ordered back to work are rightly angry and terrified.”

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[1] Pandemic Journal (# 19): Class Conflicts in Responses to Pandemic (May 15, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic (May 16, 2020); Comment: Endorsement of Pandemic Pragmatists (May 16, 2020).

[2]  Goldberg, The Phony Coronavirus Class War, N.Y. Times (May 18, 2020).

[3] Washington Post-Ipsos coronavirus employment survey, May 4, Wash. Post (May 20, 2020).

[4]  Bertrand, Briscese, Grignani & Nassar, Wave 2: When and How the U.S. Should Reopen Is a Matter of Politics, Trust in Institutions and Media, Survey Says, ChicagoBooth.edu (May 5, 2020).

 

A Conservative’s Critique of Trump  

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, writes a most damning critique of Donald Trump as president.[1]

The coronavirus pandemic, Douthat says, provided Trump with the opportunity to consolidate political power. “Here was a foreign threat, an invisible enemy that required a robust government response, a danger that arguably vindicated certain nationalist and populist ideas, a situation in which the normal rules of politics could be suspended for public safety’s sake.” This “was exactly the scenario that people alarmed by his ascent most feared — a case of History granting a president temperamentally inclined to authoritarianism a genuine state of exception in which to enact his fantasies of one-man rule.”

“But Trump didn’t want the gift. It’s not just that our president was too ineffective to consolidate power, that any potential authoritarianism was undermined by his administration’s incompetence. . . . Trump clearly lacks both the facility and the interest level required to find opportunity in crisis. In this case, . . . he 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. Which is why, tellingly, his most important virus-related power grab to date has been the airtime grab of his daily news conferences — a temporary coup against the cable television schedule, a ruthless imposition (at least until the reviews turned bad) of presidential reality TV.”

The more important aspects of his character are a “fear of claiming any power that might lead to responsibility and someday blame, a showman’s preference for performance over rule, a media addict’s preference for bluster over deeds.”

The “great crisis of his presidency has revealed the vast gulf that separates him . . . 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.”

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[1] Douthat, Donald Trump Doesn’t Want Authority, N.Y. Times (May 19, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic         

Pandemic Journal # 19 set forth Fareed Zakaria’s analysis of the U.S. class conflict over responses to the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis is shared by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.[1]

Stephens’ terms for the two classes are “Remote”  and “Exposed.” “The Remote are, disproportionately, knowledge workers, mostly well educated, generally well paid. Their professional networks, and many of their personal ones, too, are with people who also work remotely” or roughly 37 percent of American workers. The other two-thirds, the Exposed, “include everyone — shop owner, waiter, cabdriver, sales associate, factory worker, nanny, flight attendant, and so on — for whom physical presence is a job requirement. They are, typically, less well educated, less well paid.”

“For the Remote, the lockdowns of the past two months have been stressful. For the Exposed, they have been catastrophic. For the Remote, another few weeks of lockdown is an irritant. For the Exposed, whose jobs are disappearing by the millions every week, it is a terror. For the Remote, Covid-19 is the grave new risk. For the exposed, it’s one of several. For the Remote, an image on the news of cars forming long lines at food banks is disconcerting. For the Exposed, that image is — or may very soon be — the rear bumper in front of you.”

Says Stephens, “The 2020 election will hinge on who decisively wins the vote of the Exposed.” Although the Democrats’ emphasis on containing the virus seems to have more support than the “open up” strategy, Stephens expresses some skepticism. One  assumption of the containment argument is “that Covid-19 is containable and will eventually be curable. If it isn’t, what are the lockdowns really achieving, other than delaying the march toward herd immunity while imposing ruinous costs on those least able to afford them?” Another assumption of the containment argument is “that the lockdowns are the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma. But what if they’re really a form of politically induced necrosis, killing jobs and businesses that will never come back?” The third assumption of the containment strategy is “that the balance of public sympathy will rest with the comparatively small numbers of acute Covid-19 sufferers. But what happens when their numbers are dwarfed by those suffering from awful personal hardship?”

Yes, many Democrats believe that they will win the November election because of “Trump’s catastrophic failures in managing the crisis. But Trump’s political stock-in-trade is resentment, above all toward those who mistake their good luck for superior merit, or confuse virtue signaling with wise policy, or who impose policies on others without fully feeling the effects themselves.”

Stephens finds this analysis presciently discussed in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, who  “made the distinction between two classes of people: the ‘protected’ — that is, the well-off, the connected, the comfortably insulated — and the ‘unprotected’ — everyone else.” She added, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.” This larger point, said Stephens, was that Trump was going to win the 2016 election, which was “unfathomable to so many people at the time (including me).” [2]

Conclusion

I am a Democrat who fervently wants Trump to lose the November election. Yet, Stephens, Zakaria and Noonan make persuasive points that need to influence Democratic strategy in the upcoming election.

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[1] Stephens, In this Election, It’s the Remote Against the Exposed, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Noonan, Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected, W.S.J. (Feb. 25, 2016).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 19): Class Conflict in Responses to Coronavirus Pandemic       

Fareed Zakaria, a noted political commentator, sees class conflict in different responses to the coronavirus pandemic.[1]

He starts by noting that today many “wonder why partisanship has become so strong in the United States that people will not listen to experts, even at the risk of their own health.” This observation, however, obscures a broader distrust.

That broader distrust, says Zakaria, is illuminated by a book, The New Class War, by Michael Lind, an author and professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of PUblic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the U.S. today, according to Lind, there is an “overclass” that dominates “government, the economy, and the culture.” The members of this overclass “tend to be urban, college-educated professionals, often with a postgraduate degree. That makes them quite distinct from much of the rest of the country. Only 36 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree, and only 13 percent have a master’s or more. And yet, the top echelons everywhere are filled with this ‘credentialed overclass.’”

“For many non-college-educated people, especially those living in rural areas, there is a deep alienation from this new elite. They see the overclass as enacting policies that are presented as good for the whole country but really mostly benefit people from the ruling class, whose lives have gotten better over the past few decades while the rest are left behind. In this view, trade and immigration help college-educated professionals who work for multinational companies but hurt blue-collar workers. So when they hear from ‘experts’ about the inevitability of globalization and technological change and the need to accept it, they resist. It does not resonate with their lived experience.”

This especially is true now during the pandemic, writes Zakaria. ‘Imagine you are an American who works with his hands — a truck driver, a construction worker, an oil rig mechanic — and you have just lost your job because of the lockdowns, as have more than 36 million people. You turn on the television and hear medical experts, academics, technocrats and journalists explain that we must keep the economy closed — in other words, keep you unemployed — because public health is important. All these people making the case have jobs, have maintained their standards of living and in fact are now in greater demand. They feel as though they are doing important work. You, on the other hand, have lost your job. You feel a sense of worthlessness, and you’re terrified about your family’s day-to-day survival. Is it so hard to understand why people like this might be skeptical of the experts?”

This class divide is also seen in the differing “job flexibilities” of U.S. employees. “Of the top 25 percent of income earners, more than 60 percent can stay home and still do their jobs. Of the bottom 25 percent, fewer than 10 percent can do the same.” The latter know that “it is a luxury to be able to work from home.”

Therefore, Zakaria concludes “we need to hear many voices as we make these difficult decisions [about responding to the pandemic], and that those making the decisions need to have empathy for all Americans — those whose lives are at risk, but also those whose lives have been turned upside down in other ways by this horrible disease.”

Conclusion

The Michael Lind book was also cited before the pandemic by Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, as seeing the current polarization as “the consolidation of economic power by a ‘managerial’ upper class’” and the resulting weakening of “any institution — from churches and families to union shops and local industries — that might grant real power to groups outside the gilded city, the Silicon Valley bubble, the Ivy League gate.” This phenomenon coupled with libertarianism of Regan and Thatcher promoted “economic and social permissiveness . . . [and] a new class divide, between thriving meritocratic hubs and a declining and demoralized heartland, . . . [that] explains both the frequency of populist irruptions and their consistent futility.”[2]

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[1]  Zakaria, Experts have jobs. They need to understand those who don’t, Wash. Post (May 14, 2020).

[2] Douthat, The Many Polarizations of America, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2020);  Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 15, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 17): More Demonstrations of Trump’s Incompetence

Pandemic Journal (# 11) set forth at least some of the reasons why, in my opinion, Donald Trump is utterly incompetent as president. Every day seems to bring more proof for that conclusion, and I prefer to avoid documenting those reasons so that I have time to do something more personally enriching.

However, two recent incidents are so outrageous that I cannot let them go without adding them to his many sins.

 Trump’s Interview in the Lincoln Memorial[1]

On Sunday, May 3, Trump arranged to have his interview by two Fox News anchors (Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum) televised from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

During the interview, the President said the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic may reach as high as 100,000, which was twice as high as he had forecast only two weeks ago. He also claimed that his efforts had prevented that total  from reaching “a million two, a million four, a million five, that’s the minimum. We would have lost probably higher, it’s possible higher than 2.2million.” Nevertheless, the President said he favored lifting the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions.

While he admitted he had been warned about the virus on January 23, he said it was presented as “not a big deal.”  A week later, on January 30, he decided to block entry to the U.S. by most foreign nationals coming from China, but he said that was not caused by the earlier warning.

“I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said Lincoln – nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”

Max Boot, an historian, best-selling author, foreign policy analyst and Washington Post columnist, places this Trump interview in a broader context. Boot observes, “We are in the midst of a once-in-a century crisis, with death totals having already exceeded the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War and unemployment numbers approaching Great Depression levels. We are desperate for leadership of the kind provided by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We need a president who will empathize with an ailing nation while explaining why the current sacrifice is necessary on the road to victory.”

Instead, says Boot, “we have a president who threw a pity party for himself at the Lincoln Memorial, claiming he is ‘treated worse’ than a president who was assassinated. The Civil War leader whom Trump resembles is not the resolute Lincoln but the failed Gen. George McClellan — who was indecisive, conceited and intolerant of criticism.”

Dana Milbank, another Washington Post columnist, agrees. He says, “Only a man of Trump’s peculiar sense of victimhood could believe that he has been “treated worse” than a predecessor killed by an assassin’s bullet. And a review of press criticism of Lincoln confirms, as expected, that Trump’s self-pity is as silly as it sounds.”

In response to criticism about holding the interview in the Lincoln Memorial that his aides had arranged by getting the Secretary of Interior to waive a rule against political events inside the Memorial, Trump even said that this location was Fox’s choice, not his.

 Trump’s Response to President George W. Bush[2]

On May 2, former President George W. Bush’s three-minute videotaped segment was presented on TV as part of a 24-hour live-streamed “The Call to Unite” that also featured former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Shriver, Julia Roberts. Martin Luther King III, Sean Combs, Quincy Jones, Naomi Judd, Andrew Yang and others.

Mr. Bush said, in part, “Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” while in the background were music and photographs of medical workers helping victims of the virus and of ordinary Americans wearing masks. Bush then concluded, “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together and we are determined to rise.” He did not mention President Trump.

Early the next morning, Trump fired off a tweet. First, he paraphrased a Fox News personality as saying, “Oh by the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.” Then Trump added, “He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!”

A Washington Post columnist, David Von Drehle, violated his own rule for not commenting on Trump’s Twitter comments by doing so for this one because it was “so nakedly revealing of its author’s values and character.” This Trump Tweet “embraced and simplified the idea that Bush’s remarks should properly be viewed through the prism of Trump’s political fortunes. . . . No doubt the president’s florid narcissism explains part of this reaction . . . . As the only noteworthy occupant of his own psychological state, Trump seems to think everything is about him. . . . Yet here, a plea for national unity [by a former president] is the occasion for a presidential rebuke. The only sensible explanation: the president has no interest in unity. . . . Bush’s statement hit Trump like an indictment. He knows that unifying the public is not on his agenda. He has no interest in bringing us together.”

Drehle concludes, “Our life-or-death struggle with a new disease has become, for Trump, just another chance to divide the country, to leverage resentments, to fuel suspicion, to antagonize his critics — in the slim hope that he’ll galvanize his supporters while demoralizing the opposition. That’s why he thinks the Bush statement is about him.”

More General Criticism of Trump[3]

Thomas Edsall, a New York Times columnist and a full-time member of the faculty at Columbia University Journalism School, quoted the following observations about Trump from prominent academics:

  • Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard, said that Trump has responded “to the [coronavirus] crisis with his now-familiar playbook: blaming others, denying responsibility, invoking racial differences and ‘foreign’ dangers, and trying to discredit honest reporting so that he can sell a false narrative about the great job he’s doing.”
  • Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote, “The U.S. government’s pandemic leadership has been its own special brand of catastrophe. The American president denied the threat, rejected scientific expertise, spread misinformation, and left state and local governments to fend for themselves in public trust violations of the highest order. With shambolic self-governance, the U.S. government has placed its own citizens in unnecessary peril, while sidelining itself from acting as a global crisis leader in a way that is unprecedented in the last seven decades. China is all too happy to fill the vacuum.”

As noted in a previous post, George Conway and several other prominent Republicans have formed a group (The Lincoln Project) to defeat Trump’s re-election this November. Conway recently reported that Trump had responded to this group in an early morning Tweet on May 5, attacking the members of this Project as “‘LOSERS,’ ‘loser types,’ ‘crazed” and ‘a disgrace to Honest Abe.’ About me, he said, ‘I don’t know what Kellyanne [Conway, a Trump aide] did to her deranged loser of a husband, Moonface, but it must have been really bad.”

This latest example of Trump’s outbursts prompted George Conway to say, “Now, it’s more obvious than ever. Trump’s narcissism deadens any ability he might otherwise have had to carry out the duties of a president in the manner the Constitution requires. He’s so self-obsessed, he can only act for himself, not for the nation. It’s why he was impeached, and why he should have been removed from office.”

“And it’s why he reacts with such rage. He fears the truth. He fears being revealed for what he truly is. Extreme narcissists exaggerate their achievements and talents, and so Trump has spent his life building up a false image of himself — not just for others, but for himself, to protect his deeply fragile ego. He lies endlessly, not just in the way sociopaths do, which is to con others, but also to delude himself. He claims to be a ‘genius,’ even though he apparently can’t spellcan’t punctuatecan’t do math and lacks geographic literacy, and even though his own appointees have privately called him a ‘moron,’ an ‘idiot,’ a ‘dope,’ and ‘dumb.’  Now, God help us, he fancies himself an expert in virology and infectious diseases.”

George Conway concluded, “Trump’s lying, his self-regard, his self-soothing, his lack of empathy, his narcissistic rage, his contempt for norms, rules, laws, facts and simple truths — have all come home to roost. Now he sees his poll numbers fall accordingly, and lashes out with ever-increasing anger. For deep in his psyche he knows the truth. Because he fears being revealed as a fake or deranged, he’ll call others fake or deranged. Because he fears losing, he’ll call them losers instead.”

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[1] Rogers, Most Events in the Lincoln Memorial Are Banned. Trump Got an Exception, N.Y. Times (May 4, 2020); Baker, Trump foresees Virus Death Toll as high as 100,000 in the United States, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2020); Wolfe, Dishonest Don’s Lincoln backdrop highlights his monumental errors, Guardian (May 6, 2020); Boot, Trump’s dithering proves one thing: We’re at war without a leader, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020); Milbank, ’I believe I am treated worse.’ Trump says. As if, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020).

[2] Baker, George W. Bush Calls for End to Pandemic Partisanship, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2020); Von Drehle, I usually ignore all Trump’s tweets. Not this one, Wash. Post (May 5, 2020).

[3] Edsall, Why Isn’t Trump Riding High? N.Y. Times (May 6, 2020); George Conway, George Conway: Trump went ballistic at me on Twitter. Here’s why he reacts with such rage, Wash. Post (May 6, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (#16): Immense Increase in Global Poverty

The World Bank “says that for the first time since 1998, global poverty rates will rise. By the end of the year, 8 percent of the world’s population — half a billion people — could be pushed into destitution, largely because of the wave of unemployment brought by virus lockdowns, the United Nations estimates.”[1]

While everyone will suffer, “the developing world will be hardest hit. The World Bank estimates that sub-Saharan Africa will see its first recession in 25 years, with nearly half of all jobs lost across the continent. South Asia will likely experience its worst economic performance in 40 years. Most at risk are people working in the informal sector, which employs two billion people, many of whom are women, who have no access to benefits like unemployment assistance or health care.”

“The financial shock waves could linger even after the virus is gone, experts warn. Countries like Bangladesh, which spent heavily on programs to improve education and provide health care, which help lift families out of destitution, may now be too cash-strapped to fund them.”

Abhijit Banerjee, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for economics, said, “These stories, of women entering the workplace and bringing their families out of poverty, of programs lifting the trajectories of families, those stories will be easy to destroy. There will be groups of people who climbed up the ladder and will now fall back. There were so many fragile existences, families barely stitching together an existence. They will fall into poverty, and they may not come out of it.”

“The gains now at risk are a stark reminder of global inequality and how much more there is to be done. In 1990, 36 percent of the world’s population, or 1.9 billion people, lived on less than $1.90 a day. By 2016, that number had dropped to 734 million people, or 10 percent of the world’s population, largely because of progress in South Asia and China.”

“Famines that once plagued South Asia are now vanishingly rare, the population less susceptible to disease and starvation. But that progress may be reversed, experts worry, and funding for anti-poverty programs may be cut as governments struggle with stagnant growth rates or economic contractions as the world heads for a recession.”

Responding to this crisis, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Ably Ahmed, proposes that global creditors immediately should cancel the bilateral and commercial debt of low-income countries. This will free up resources that “will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.”[2]

The Prime Minister claims that in 2019, “64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health.”

His own country, Ethiopia, “spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing. The International Monetary Fund described Ethiopia as being at high risk of external debt distress.” In short, “The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods? Lives lost during the pandemic cannot be recovered; imperiled livelihoods cost more and take longer to recover.”

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[1] Abi-Habib, Millions Had risen Out of Poverty. Coronavirus Is Pulling Them Back, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2020).

[2] Ahmed, Why the Global Debt of Poor Nations Must Be Canceled, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 15): Declining U.S. Gross Domestic Product 

On April 29, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of the year declined at a 4.8% annual rate. “That is the first decline since 2014, and the worst quarterly contraction since the country was in a deep recession more than a decade    ago.” [1]

Moreover, “Economists widely expect the Commerce Department to revise the first quarter figure even lower as more data becomes available. Goldman Sachs says the true decline was likely over 8 percent. JPMorgan Chase says it was likely over 11 percent.”

Most of this quarter that ended on March 31 “came before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns and layoffs. Economists expect figures from the current quarter to show G.D.P. contracting at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.” As the Wall Street Journal stated, this number “indicated the economy is sliding toward a near-certain recession and signaled the end of the longest economic expansion on record.”

“Many economists [already] have said the pandemic has put the U.S. in a recession. The number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits in recent weeks, at more than 26 million, points to an unprecedented wave of layoffs, and readings on consumer and business activity are showing record declines.”

Conclusion

These numbers confirm what everyone in the U.S. (and the rest of the world) already knows. The pandemic has caused and will continue to cause enormous economic pain in the U.S. and around the world.

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[1] The U.S. economy contracted by the most since the great recession,,N.Y. Times (April 29, 2020); Torry, U.S. Economy Shrank at 4.8% Pace in first Quarter, W.S.J. (April 29, 2020); Long, U.S. economy shrank 4.8 percent in first quarter, the biggest decline since the Great Recession, Wash. Post (April 29, 2020).