Trumped: America in a Time of Corona Episode II

A perspective of life in the United States during an epidemic, based upon conversations with Michael L. Roberts, and in conjunction with The American Chronicle podcast series.

Episode II

So here I am. Finally, here on the Eastern Seaboard, in the city of my dreams; Boston, Massachusetts. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, but thanks to coronavirus, there’s not a damn thing to do. Except, perhaps, chronicle these rather strange times…

A 2 trillion-dollar stimulus package has now been approved by Congress and signed by President Trump, a truly remarkable occurrence. In 2008/9 a stimulus package was passed to try to save the American economy, but this has now been dwarfed by this package, an event made all the more remarkable considering it has been passed by a Senate controlled by the Republican Party, signed by a Republican president, without a word from members of the Tea Party who  were so adamant ten years ago that it is not the job of the American government to be bailing out the national economy. Yet now we have Republicans dishing out cash directly to American voters. This package was seen as something that would stabilize the situation, without actually starting to improve things. There will now doubtless be a move towards releasing even greater funds into the American economy. How that manifests itself will, in large part, depend on how this initial bailout is received once checks start arriving in the mail and money starts working its way into the system.

The threat to the continuity of Government continues. Quite where the Trump administration believes its apparent invincibility stems from is unknown. The age of the president and the vice president places both men in the high-risk category. There has been no word from the White House with regard to how is that Donald Trump and Mike Pence have avoided the virus, which is all the more remarkable considering the people they have been in contact with. They continue to meet with individuals who have subsequently come down with the coronavirus, and yet despite this, and despite the health risks that they are facing, they refuse to address the situation. There is no apparent end to their desire to be meet un-necessarily with people, to be in front of the cameras, to hold press conferences with dozens of people at the podium.  

Why are the president and the vice president not distancing themselves form one another at this point? There must be a very real risk to the health of President Trump at this point; were he to come down with this virus, both his physical and political life he would surely be in jeopardy. In the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, Vice President Cheney was repeatedly distanced from President George W Bush to ensure a continuation of government should the unimaginable occur. When you consider the danger that the coronavirus poses to someone of Donald Trump’s age, and as an individual who is constant contact with people, it is apparent that not enough is being done to safeguard him, or the office of the presidency, from the virus.

The only apparent concession has been in regard how the media has been allowed to work within the White House press briefing room. Simplistic efforts are being employed, using only every other seat within the press briefing room. This enables Donald Trump to have half as many journalists in the room as would otherwise be the case, which is probably still twice as many as he would like to be in the press briefing room at any one time.

As the coronavirus continues to spread its way across United States the reaction to the pandemic one is causing consternation and growing hostility between the White House and individual state governors. President Trump has spoken this week about how governors should be more appreciative of what it is that he is doing for their states, raising the issue of Trump’s ego and the extent to which he is unnecessarily injecting himself into the dynamic of this situation. The White House has raised the idea of a quarantine around New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and the movement of individuals between these states have become problematic. The Rhode Island police force have begun flagging down motorists with New York license plates who have crossed the state line, instructing them to self-quarantine, raising serious constitutional questions. Governor Cuomo of New York, who has emerged as a central figure, is talking about suing Rhode Island for unfairly identifying citizens of New York. However, since New York is the epicenter of this, people are trying to leave out of fear that a quarantine is about you put in place. As soon as the government starts clamping down on movement within one state, it raises the risk that people will flee that state and move to a neighboring state to stay in a second home. These issues raise questions not only about the role of state versus federal government, but also regarding patterns of illness across the country. 

There has now been a large outbreak in Louisiana, which many people are putting down to the Mardi Gras celebrations. Large outbreaks are also occurring in Illinois and neighboring Michigan. The virus has, therefore, reached the American heartland. As long as this is was something which was only threatening large, urban areas on the eastern seaboard and the West coast, many in the heartland, those classic Trump supporters, could dismiss this as a myth, or just another hoax. At this rate, no corner America is going to escape untouched, and the longer this goes on, and the greater the penetration into the American heartland, the more danger this poses not only to the health of the United States, but to Donald Trump’s and ability to win re-election to a second term. This has led to an interesting dynamic play out within the White House; between the need to attend to the health and the wealth of the nation, and the issue of what may or may not be in Donald Trump’s best political interests. The president has begun talking about wanting to get the United States reopen and ending restrictions on the free movement of people by Easter Sunday. This came just as more state governors were realizing the need to limit the movement of people within their states.  When Donald Trump talks about wishing to reopen the country in time for Easter Sunday, it is simply is not within his power to do so, because those restrictions on the movement of people which are in place have been put in place by state governors and it is their power and their power alone to reopen those states as they see fit, which  they will do on a case by case basis.

The White House has been desperate to present an image that all is well and that there really is nothing to panic about. This initial response to this virus, however, has clearly been flawed. President Trump’s continuing effort to talk about reopening markets, to make sure that the stock market rebounds, to enable people to continuing with their everyday lives, appears to fly in the face of the medical advice he receives, which suggests that doing so would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. To counter this situation, Donald Trump is no attempting to portray himself the one man who will personally bail out the United States. He has decided that the bailout checks that Americans will soon receive will be signed by him, as president. This is a profound shift, revealing the extent to which the American president is attempting to inject himself into the crisis and its solution. This is a distinct Donald Trump thing to do, and a very deliberate attempt maneuver ahead of the November election. Of course, some people who will need that money may not have bank accounts, so how will those checks will be cashed?  It’s also of possible that some people might chose to keep the check as a presidential souvenir instead of depositing it in a bank.

The on-going presidential election has been completely consumed by the coronavirus; elections have been cancelled, or postponed, and the reporting of primary elections hardly receives any coverage. This must be very frustrating for Joe Biden, who had a remarkable run of success in the primaries. He has seen his challengers drop out and endorse him, freezing out Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden, therefore, will be the Democratic candidate for president, unless something untoward occurs which no one can foresee. The primary season is meant to climax with two large rallies; one for the Democrats and one for the Republicans. At this point it is difficult to see how those two conventions, which are planned for late summer, can go ahead. These events take a great deal of planning and it’s difficult to see at this point how those conventions are going to take place.  Very clearly this virus is going to continue to have an adverse effect upon the American body politic and impact the ability to elect public officials to govern effectively. 

Despite this, all of the focus is on Donald Trump, because in time of national crisis it is to the White House that the American people and the American media look for guidance. Yet there is a recognition that Donald Trump is using his daily press conferences, not as public safety messages, but as political broadcasts at which he routinely takes the podium to talk about response to the coronavirus, to talk about his own personal actions, the actions of his administration and to then attack his opponents, demean them, and promote his own political interests. Many people are calling into question not only the suitability of these appearances, but also the veracity of his statements at this at these events. Concerns are growing that Trump is using this free airtime in a similar way that he did four years ago. The networks have realized what happened four years ago and are trying to avoid that happening once more. Calls are therefore being made for the media to stop broadcasting his daily appearances. 

At this point there has been very little upside to this current crisis for the White House. We have seen a very small 2% rise in Donald Trump’s opinion poll ratings, very minor compared to the double digit increase in public support which presidents have received during previous crises. Whilst there has been a minor bump for Donald Trump it is not the great rise that he would be hoping for and in several states, he continues to lag behind Joe Biden. This administration has been campaigning for reelection from the very first day of its term in office. It is now be facing the very real prospect of becoming a one term presidency.  

Clinton’s War on Terror Now Available

My third book is now available. Clinton’s War on Terror: Redefining US Security Strategy 1993-2001 was published by Lynne Rienner this summer, and can be ordered direct by CLICKING HERE.

I’m very proud of the book, which details the manner in which the Clinton administration seeks to address counterterrorism strategy in the years immediately prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The book very deliberately places the Clinton years in a broad historic narrative, detailing the long history of political violence within the United States and explaining the administration’s deadly inheritance.

Over the course of 270 pages, Clinton’s War on Terror details the challenges facing the administration including domestic terrorism, cyberattacks, rogue states, and the growing threat from al-qaeda. It also reveals the development of various methods used to address these threats, including rendition and drone technology.

I hope that you’ll consider supporting my research and ordering a copy today.

Murdoch’s Final Fate will be decided in DC, not in London

Forget what you think you know about the current furore surrounding Rupert Murdoch and News International. If you imagine that what is transpiring here in the UK will bring down News International or its illustrious leader, think again. What has started here will not conclude the story, or come anywhere close to it. The real damage will likely be done 3,000 miles away, across a vast expanse of water, on Capitol Hill.

You may recall that the story was slow to build in the UK. As long as phone hacking was confined to a few overpaid celebrities, more famous for being famous than anything else there was not too much to feel sorrow or anger over. What caused the great sea change? As soon as it was revealed that the organisation had acquired access to the phone messages of a murdered schoolgirl and of fallen members of the armed services. Once that occurred, all hell broke loose.

Well, America and Britain are not the same, as the Washington Post reminds us. In this case the Americans are not messing about with the preamble.

What will prove to be the undoing of the Murdoch empire will be any evidence that can be found that connects his business dealings to similar activity regarding fallen US armed service personnel, or worse still, victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The events of 9/11 remain an open wound in the United States; open for exploitation by politicians and the media. If the FBI establishes a link here, then what has transpired here in London this past week, will be but a sideshow to what will occur in the United States. Legal representatives from both the UK and US governments are already in conversation with regard to the situation and possible developments.

I wrote earlier today about the politics of revenge in relation to the UK. The same is true in the United Sates. With bells on.

Politicians are already lining up to call for charges to be filed against Murdoch. Blood is in the water and the feeding frenzy is about to start.

The great danger for Murdoch is that politicians from all walks of life, from all locations and from both sides of the political aisle are lining up to call for hearings and investigations. This is not a partisan issue but rather one on which no politician dare side with Murdoch. That Peter King, the Republican from New York who recently held hearings into the role of Muslims in American society, has refused to do so, speaks volumes. King is also, for the record, a Fox News contributor.

For do not forget that Murdoch’s holdings extend to the formidable Fox News, an organisation that many would love to give a bloody nose. Its critics may well now have the perfect opportunity to deliver this right to the face of the man himself. The network’s repeated efforts to critique its opponents as unpatriotic and lacking in empathy with the military or the victims of 9/11 appears likely to boomerang back on them in a dramatic twist of fate. The very least that this could lead to is the downfall of the Fox News Network.

The folks at MSNBC must be loving it.

The scandal also threatens Piers Morgan, Larry King’s replacement on CNN, due to his past ties to the Murdoch Empire. Like Murdoch, Morgan is another foreigner making his way in a land that will not take kindly to them if they are shown to have exploited the great national tragedy in any way.

The United Sates is the land of opportunity, where fortunes and reputations can be made. However, Rupert Murdoch risks discovering that what goes up can also come down. Having rejected his Australian passport in the 1980s to comply with US media ownership laws, Murdoch may well have exposed himself and his family to the full extent of American law if the FBI investigations go forward and if members of Congress decide to hold hearings into the actions of his organisation. The resignation of Rebekah Brooks has left his son and heir apparent, James Murdoch, terribly exposed to the investigations that are sure to be announced in the coming days. Murdoch may well have purchased his citizenship, but he will find that as a foreigner, he will not have been able to purchase himself any good will when times are tough. Americans are rightly loyal to their own and Murdoch may well find this out to his great cost.

Twenty years ago, Rupert Murdoch’s great rival in the UK, Robert Maxwell, disappeared in mysterious circumstances and turned up drowned in the Atlantic
Ocean at the height of a scandal surrounding his company’s pension fund.

Dishonour, ignominy, scandal: How history loves to repeat itself

It appears that, like Maxwell, the very methods that raised the Murdoch family to great wealth and privilege, risk bringing them shame and ignominy on a terrible scale.