Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.
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Paul Krugman: Why Can’t Trump’s America Be Like Italy?
On the coronavirus, the “sick man of Europe” puts us to shame.
A few days ago The Times published a long, damning article about how the Trump administration managed to fail so completely in responding to the coronavirus. Much of the content confirmed what anyone following the debacle suspected. One thing I didn’t see coming, however, was the apparently central role played by Italy’s experience.
Italy, you see, was the first Western nation to experience a major wave of infections. Hospitals were overwhelmed; partly as a result, the initial death toll was terrible. Yet cases peaked after a few weeks and began a steep decline. And White House officials were seemingly confident that America would follow a similar track.
We didn’t. U.S. cases plateaued for a couple of months, then began rising rapidly. Death rates followed with a lag. At this point we can only look longingly at Italy’s success in containing the coronavirus: Restaurants and cafes are open, albeit with restrictions, much of normal life has resumed, yet Italy’s current death rate is less than a 10th of America’s. On a typical recent day, more than 800 Americans but only around a dozen Italians died from Covid-19.
Although Donald Trump keeps boasting that we’ve had the best coronavirus response in the world, and some credulous supporters may actually believe him, my guess is that many people are aware that our handling of the virus has fallen tragically short compared with, say, that of Germany. It may not seem surprising, however, that German discipline and competence have paid off (although we used to think that we were better prepared than anyone else to deal with a pandemic). But how can America be doing so much worse than Italy?
And the minority he represents.
President Trump believes he represents the “silent majority” of the country against a dangerous, radical minority. He says as much on Twitter, frequently yelling “SILENT MAJORITY” at his followers. Accordingly, his campaign for re-election has tried to appeal to this “majority” with displays tailored to its perceived interests. [..]
Unfortunately for Trump, there’s quite a bit of distance between his perception and our reality. Most Americans support efforts to remove Confederate statues and monuments; most Americans welcome racial and ethnic diversity and few believe their communities should be less diverse; and most Americans are supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality — 67 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
There is a silent majority in this country, and it is arrayed against a radical, extremist minority. But it stands against Trump, not the other away around. He and his allies are and always have been in the minority, acting in ways that frighten and disturb the broad middle of the electorate. And as long as Trump cannot see this — as long as he holds to his belief in a secret, silent pro-Trump majority — he and his campaign will continue to act in ways that diminish his chance of any legitimate victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Michelle Cottle: The Battle for Joe Biden
He’s not listening to Twitter. So who does have the candidate’s ear?
For months, President Trump’s re-election team has been test-driving possible lines of attack against Joe Biden: He’s sleepy. He’s creepy. He’s corrupt. He’s soft on China. He’s soft in the head. So far, nothing has stuck. Which may explain why one theme Mr. Trump and his supporters have latched onto is that, whatever you think of Mr. Biden personally, he is “a helpless puppet of the radical left.”
To which the radical left would surely respond: If only!
As even Mr. Trump admits, the former vice president is no progressive revolutionary. The Democratic Party’s activist base, especially its younger members, harbors grave doubts about Mr. Biden and has vowed to keep the pressure on as he charts a path forward. One big, basic question on many people’s minds is, Just how far left will Joe go?
Looking to get a sense of how Mr. Biden’s governing vision is shaping up, I spent several weeks talking with his advisers, his allies, his critics and other party players. I wanted to know how the rolling crises have, for instance, impacted his search for the perfect running mate — the big reveal of which is expected any day now! — as well as how various policy proposals are being revised and expanded.
It was clear that, fundamentally, Joe is gonna be Joe. But he recognizes the need to respond to all the turbulence — and if there’s one thing Team Biden has a surfeit of, it’s people looking to influence how he does that.
Keep baking bread. Small grain companies may suggest a better path for American business.
By the established logic of the business world, Maine Grains, a small miller of flour in a rural part of the state, should not exist. With some 20 employees, it mills about 2,000 tons of flour a year in an industry where larger companies can mill more than 20,000 tons a day. Grain has long been a commodity business, and milling is driven by size and scale. Yet tiny mills like Maine Grains and small brands like King Arthur Baking Company and Bob’s Red Mill are thriving. They raise a bold question: Could flour, of all products, suggest a better path for more of the U.S. economy?
Milling flour, at the risk of stating the obvious, is not a new business. The basic technologies of milling were invented sometime in the third century B.C. For the early centuries of American history, local mills, powered by water, were economic anchors for small towns across the American colonies and, later, the nation. Their physical legacy is the hundreds of old stone gristmills scattered around the country, some converted to other uses, others quietly decaying. [..]
The flour industry might seem an unlikely arena for business innovation. There was once a time, in the 1990s and 2000s, when it was widely thought that Silicon Valley would show us the way to a better, fairer economy, creating entire ecosystems of companies with distinctive offerings. Yet that was before the emergence and eventual dominance of Amazon, Facebook and Google. Instead of high-tech, it is low-tech businesses like craft beer and community supported agriculture that seem to stand at the forefront of economic transformation.
If it can happen with flour, it can happen anywhere.
Trump already tried to distract voters from health care with racist paranoia — and that was before the pandemic
In 2018, Donald Trump’s very-stable-genius plan to win the midterm elections for Republicans was to hype the hell out of a so-called caravan of Central American refugees who were crossing Mexico in hopes of seeking asylum in the United States. About 7,000 people, mostly consisting of families with children, were indeed making the 2,500-mile trek to escape poverty and gang violence, but Trump and his Republican sycophants tried to convince American voters that they were coming to the U.S. to kill white people and burn down the suburbs. Through his preferred media of Twitter and Fox News, Trump endlessly hyped the “invasion” of these migrants, and suggesting they might be terrorists, and were coming to create gang warfare, not escape it.
The nonstop fear-mongering about the caravan did work its magic on the ever-gullible mainstream news media. A Media Matters study published two weeks before the election showed a precipitous rise in cable news coverage of what would have otherwise been a minor story, as similar caravans had been in previous years.
But if Trump and his minions succeeded in hijacking the news cycle with their racist hysterics, they failed in their goal of winning the 2018 midterm elections. While Republicans certainly leveraged their unfair electoral advantages to maintain a wildly disproportionate share of power, Democrats racked up historic wins, retaking the House of Representatives with a 40-seat pickup, as well as winning seven governorships and hundreds of state legislature seats. [..]
Now it’s time for another, even more important election and Trump, never one to believe that he was wrong just because he failed, is pulling out the same playbook. He’s replaced “caravan” with phrases like “professional anarchists, violent mobs or arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa,” all terms he uses to describe the largely peaceful protesters who have been demonstrating against police brutality and racism since May. [..]
Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 left many progressives wondering if he was some kind of political genius, even as he seems to think it’s a brag-worthy event to pass a cognitive test used to determine if someone has debilitating dementia. But that election was a fluke in many ways, a true black swan event. Thanks to his pathological narcissism, Trump cannot imagine what it would like to worry about losing health care access, and also can’t believe that other people might not be as racist as he is. So he’s running a campaign strategy, if you can even call it that, reflecting the “concerns” of a pampered racist poisoned by Fox News, instead of the things American voters are actually worried about. So long as Democrats stay out of the Trumpian media morass and continue to advertise their superior policies on real issues people, they have nothing to fear from Trump’s “anarchists and looters” strategy.
Joe Biden sees himself as a healer — as a campaign strategy, it’s working. Governing is quite a different matter
I don’t know how many people have been watching Joe Biden’s speeches or reading about his policy rollouts, but they’ve really been quite good. This week’s socially-distanced conversation between Biden and Barack Obama was well done. These events may be under the radar but if the polls are any gauge whatever Biden is doing, or not doing, is working. [..]
If Biden wins the election and we get through the transition without a constitutional crisis and civil unrest (and both are very possible) his administration will immediately have to deal with the economic fallout resulting from Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic. It’s highly likely that the health crisis will still be acute as well. On top of that, there will be an immediate need to deal with foreign policy and national security issues, as well as a full appraisal of the destruction wreaked on the administrative state, particularly with respect to environmental and financial regulation. It’s a lot.
But as much as I think that Biden’s campaign of unity and healing has been effective, I’m terrified that spirit will carry over too far into actual governance, to the extent that the assault on democracy we’ve seen under the Trump administration is swept under the rug — much as the electoral hardball and abuses of power during the Bush administration were ignored when Obama took office. He too ran as a “uniter” and was forced to face a major crisis from the moment he took office. Obama and his closest advisers decided they would not “look in the rearview mirror” because the new president was convinced he could deal with the Republicans in good faith. He set out his disastrous proposal for a Grand Bargain, including major budget cuts, even before he was inaugurated.