Trumped: America in a Time of Corona

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 1

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…

The outbreak of the coronavirus has revealed a near-total disconnect between the federal government in Washington, and the individual state administrations, run by the governors of each individual state. Life has taken on the guise of a civics lesson, played out in real time as the President squares off against individual governors for reasons that have less to do with the virus and more to do with raw political power and the small matter of the 2020 election cycle that we are technically in the middle of, but which everyone seems to have totally forgot about. 

The initial weeks saw a pretty consistent position being adopted by Republican and Democratic governors across the nation, realizing the importance of trying to clamp down on the virus as soon as possible. States began issuing lockdowns, effectively placing a curfew on citizens, except for going out for exercise and to get necessary items. This resulted in the effective closure of American civil society in the hope that the virus may dissipate in a matter of months if not weeks. This had been expected for several weeks here in Boston before it was eventually announced, with friends sending alerts suggesting its imposition was imminent. Clearly, the state administration here in Massachusetts was hesitant to impose such a draconian measure, but when faced with the fact that it had been already been implemented in neighboring states, its enactment became a foregone conclusion.

The decision to do so by a growing number of governors across the nation placed them at odds with the White House, which has routinely provided a very different message. From the start of this crisis, Donald Trump has called for markets and supplies to be re-opened, a remarkable stance to adopt at a time when states across the nation began tightening their grip and closing down, exacerbating a clash between the federal and state governments. A schism has also been evident within the administration, between individuals working at the White House at an advisory level who seem to understand the importance of containing the virus, and others around the president who are seeing his political fortunes collapsing. The president is clearly trying to put a spin on the situation, having touted the success of the American economy since the morning of his election. To see those gains wiped out in space of two weeks must be terrifying as he looks ahead to the November election. 

There is a great deal at stake here, not least of which is the concept of continuity of government: The president and vice president are routinely in meetings together, placing both men in jeopardy, and endangering the continuity of government in the United States. Vice President Pence is theoretically in charge of the coronavirus task force, but right now he doesn’t appear to be in charge of very much at all. Both he and the president have taken test that have come up negative, but they have had contact with members of Congress and key White House advisers who have subsequently come down with the virus. It seems clear that the virus will eventually penetrate the White House; there are reports that Secret Service agents have come down with the virus. It seems clear that from the president down, there is a lack of seriousness being adopted at the White House with regard to the potential to transmit this from person to person due to physical proximity. This is most evident at the White House press briefings. The White House is a very small building, and the West Wing complex within which the most senior members of the administration work or meet, is remarkably small. The press briefing room used to be the White House swimming pool. If you were devising a modern press advisory area from scratch, you wouldn’t use the space because it is simply not up to the standard or dimensions required in the modern era. Yet the administration is routinely cramming very important people with very important decisions to make into this very tight space. When it subsequently emerges that these people have come into contact with people who have developed the virus, it seems all the more remarkable that there has not been a greater attempt to separate these people.

The politics of the virus are remarkable to consider. A consideration of its geography is revealing: if you look at a map of where the virus was initially impacting the United States, its focus was in Blue, heavily Democratic states. Those areas most affected are dominated by major cities that are home to large numbers of solid, Democrat voters, large urban areas on the northeastern seaboard corridor, between Washington and Boston, and on the West coast, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you were a Trump supporter in the Midwest, or anywhere between the Appalachians and the Rockies, you might have looked at this and thought, what virus? Initially, at least, the virus found focus in California and here on the northeastern seaboard, so it will be interesting to see the extent to which Donald Trump’s supporters view this as something that is happening to ‘The Other America.’ 

The geographical focus of the virus will also present a challenge to the administration in terms of its financial response. Not all areas of the country appear to have been impacted, or to be in equal economic need of a bailout. The government is planning to distribute money directly to all American citizens below a certain economic level. That’s a fascinating development, considering that great swathes of the nation appear to be an untouched directly by the coronavirus. Yet the virus has seen the government force organizations to effectively close down, force the closure of cafeterias, and restaurants, causing a knock-on effect. While the coronavirus is affecting parts of the nation directly, a further indirect impact is affecting businesses and livelihoods. The great fear, just as with the Great Depression, is that while most Americans don’t own stocks, a collapse in the American stock market will impact all business, leading to permeant closures and declining business confidence, impacting 401K pension funds and causing long-lasting detrimental impact to the American economy and American Society. 

Much will need to be learned from the reaction to the last financial crisis in 2007/2008. Then, it was believed that while Wall Street was bailed out, Main Street was left in the lurch. A conflict is playing out in real time in halls of Congress over the financial response to adopt: the initial bailout package failed to pass due to a lack of Democratic support, since it was believed to offer too much to the banking sector, and not enough support to average citizens. There’s going to be more debate, but the Republican leadership will need to acquiesce to Democratic demands, and create a more equitable financial package, because they are nowhere near the numbers required to get this through the United States Senate. 

Throughout the history of the American presidency, the presidents that are remembered are often those who rose to the occasion during a crisis: JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. They used great rhetoric to speak to the nation: Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural when he made it clear that all America had to fear was fear itself; John F. Kennedy in his inaugural, and his address to the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, offering calming yet decisive words. Donald Trump appears to be failing this test of leadership. He has not made effective use of what Theodore Roosevelt called ‘The Bully Pulpit.’ For someone who prides himself on his communication skills and ability to connect with the American people, Trump has not used the mechanism of the White House to his advantage. At this point to is difficult to think of anything Donald Trump has said that’s been positive and beneficial. Even when he is presented with softball questions by the media that would allow him to calm the nerves of anxious Americans, he instead uses them as an opportunity to attack the medium. You have to wonder about who is advising him, and why this approach appears to be his natural inclination. He feels the need to go on the attack all the time, when this really is a tremendous opportunity for President Trump to be presidential and distinguish himself from his Democratic opponent in November.

He has great tools available at his disposal, including the ability to address the nation from the Oval Office. When he has done so, however, it has proved calamitous, as he has stumbled over his delivery, apparently unable to read from his own script speech which had been cobbled together at the last minute, without any effort to adequately weave together important ideas or concepts. His briefings from the press briefing room are not an ideal setting for a president: this is a small, cramped room that has been stripped back to let fewer members of the fourth estate in to mitigate the impact of this virus. Every time the president has spoken in recent weeks has been accompanied by a drop in the stock market and a decline in support and enthusiasm. He is surrounded by people who are trying to give him the best advice, scholars, academics, medical professions, yet he seems to be unable to get his head around the seriousness of this. Part of the American president’s job is to offer encouragement, but there is a sense that the president either doesn’t get it or is underplaying the severity of this crisis.

The longer this drags out, the more politically damaging this will be for President Trump, as people start to raise serious questions about whether more could have been done earlier. You’re starting to see a state by state recognition that there needs to be a two week clamp down on the movement of people, which see the national borders sealed in large part. We have already started to see the clamp down on movement within the largest states, but we are still to see that absolute directive come from the White House. One will have to draw conclusions as to why that is, but you can see great hesitancy on the part the president to instigate a national lockdown for fears of a political pushback and electoral blowback. Whatever happens next, one thing is for certain, the Age of Trump will now be forever defined, at least in part, by the devastating impact of the Coronavirus and his administration’s response to it.

Live from New York, its…..JDB on Talk Radio Europe

As the station’s dedicated North American correspondent, I will be talking with Richie Allen, live from NEw York, on Talk Radio Europe’s Tonight Show, from 6.30pm London Time, that’s 7.30pm in Europe and 1.30pm in New York.

Expect to hear my thoughts and observations on a raft of issues that have arisen in the last few weeks including my take on the Republican Party candidates seeking to replace Obama in the White House come November 2012.

Obama, U.S. foreign policy and the link with the domestic constituency are all likely be covered, so tune in if you can.

Talk Radio Europe can be accessed on the internet at www.talkradioeurope.com and you can listen live and on-line through the options available at http://www.talkradioeurope.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1676&Itemid=125

Obama’s Greatest Possible Gift: His Potential Opponents (Part One)

Ever since John McCain and his renegade running mate lost the presidential election in November 2008, vast sections of American society have been longing for redemption in the form of electoral defeat for their unloved and in their eyes un-Christian and un-American president. In the mid-term elections, the Democratic Party received a bloody nose from its opponents, losing its majority in the House of Representatives and their super filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Much attention was paid at the time to the rise of The Tea Party (as though such a single entity actually exists. It does not) and to the visceral loathing that President Obama attracts in many parts of the nation (which he does.) Parallels were rightly drawn between the mid-term election of 2008 and the mid-term election of 1994. In both cases the Democratic majority in the House was ended after the first two years of a Democratic Administration who had promoted a radical health care agenda. In 1994 that health care agenda had failed to even make it out of the committee hearings and the Republicans romped home, taking not only the House but also the Senate. For a while this made Newt Gingrich the seemingly most powerful man in Washington. His now famous Contract with America was credited with unifying the Republican Party after its defeat in 1992 and with delivering an historic result that ultimately allowed the party to impeach the president some years later.

That however, may be where the parallel ends, for what went less noticed last November was the total lack of a Gingrich-esque figure in the Republican Party. No one individual emerged to unite the party and the Tea Party Candidates as endorsed by the former Alaskan governor, former vice presidential candidate, former beauty queen, former mayor, former this, former that, failed to sweep the board as expected. Neither did the Speaker of the House-elect, John Boehner hardly inspired confidence or exhibited great signs of leadership by bursting into floods of tears at the drop of a hat.

However, given the Democrat’s thumping at the recent mid terms, you would be forgiven for thinking that a whole host of credible candidates would be lining up to challenge for the right to contest the presidency in 2012. But you would be mistaken. Instead we have a roll call of the desperate, the deluded and the downright unelectable.

This group of misfits has started inundating the good people of Iowa in the hope of gaining the all important momentum that comes following the votes that occur there and in New Hampshire in the first days of the election cycle, which of course, don’t actually occur until January 2012. This, however, is the all-important pre-game, where the campaign is arguable won or lost, where the money game is decided and where reputations are made and discarded. Front-runner status can easily handicap candidates, perceived arrogance can derail favourites and unknown politicians from unheard of locations can emerge from, well, nowhere.

So who are these singularly unimpressive individuals who seek to challenge for the presidency? You may have heard of some of them. Indeed, when you look over the list you may be forgiven for thinking that I have made some glaring error and merely replicated the list of candidates from 2008. But again, you would be mistaken. What emerges is the fact that no one has emerged in the last four years to be a credible candidate and what makes these characters think that they will fare any better this time around, having been trounced by Maverick McCain in 2008, is anyone’s guess.

But anyway, here we go with a rundown of runners and riders and the handicaps that they face on the road to eventual humiliation at the hands of the man they view as being a Kenyan Muslim Socialist/Communist usurper yellow-belly president…

Sarah Palin

A no-show in Iowa recently, apparently replying on her front-runner status to leave an announcement to the last minute. Massive problems with this. This state is all about Retail Politics, meaning you have to press the flesh and meet the voters personally else they will think they are being overlooked. Front runner status can disappear over night here, and Palin is in serious trouble of overcooking her celebrity status.

Newt Gingrich

Sure, you remember him, famously tagged as The Gingrich that stole Christmas for forcing the last government shutdown, that led to federal employees not being paid, that led to interns filling vital roles, that led to Monica delivering pizza that led to you know what, that led to “I did not have sexual relations…” that led to “Indeed I did have a relationship that was inappropriate,” that led to impeachment, that led to a Bush victory in 2000….that led to war in Iraq. Now he’s back, with his 17th wife, umming and arring about whether to run or not. Mario Cuomo was once called the Hamlet on the Hudson for his inability to decide whether to run for the White House or not. We need a new name for Newt’s level of indecision….

Mick Huckabee

Mmm, slap that bass, Mick. With his hopes of making the bass guitar a sexy instrument about as realistic as his hopes of making it all the way this time round, Huckabee’s candidacy will make life interesting if nothing else. I mean, who wouldn’t want to vote for a creationist who believes in the threat of death panels?

Tune in next time for more on this non-event. Trust me Obama is beatable on paper, it’s just in practice that he seems so much more credible than anyone who could challenge him at this stage…