Opinion: No President has ever had a week like this

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Last Sunday afternoon, The New York Times broke a story that in two recent years, self-proclaimed billionaire President Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes, and that in the next few years, hundreds of millions of dollars of debt he personally guaranteed is coming due. “Ultimately,” noted the Times, “Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.”

On Tuesday, a contemptuous President cratered a debate with his Democratic rival Joe Biden, as moderator Chris Wallace vainly tried to stop Trump’s constant interruptions. The President evaded Wallace’s invitation to condemn white supremacists (he finally did so two days later) and insisted without evidence that the widespread use of mail-in ballots in the pandemic would result in a “fraudulent election.” Trump warned, “This is not going to end well. This is not going to end well.”

And then — at 12:54 AM Friday — Trump tweeted the news that he and first lady Melania Trump had been diagnosed with Covid-19, the disease that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and cast a huge shadow over his bid for re-election a month from now. Friday afternoon, the White House announced that Trump would be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center so doctors could monitor and treat his symptoms.

No President has ever had a week like this. And the future is completely unpredictable.

“This is a code red moment for the US government,” Samantha Vinograd pointed out. It sends “a global message that the White House would not or could not do what is necessary to protect its own staff, and the President.”
Best wishes and prayers for Trump’s health came from many across the political spectrum. Americans “should wish the President and first lady a speedy recovery, understanding just how serious the virus can be,” wrote Julian Zelizer. It “should be a wake-up call to everyone in the country that until there is a vaccine and treatment we need to do everything that we can to mitigate the spread of this virus while trying to let society function in the process. Otherwise, the virus will get us. Even the President of the United States isn’t safe,” Zelizer noted. He pointed out that at this week’s debate, Trump mocked Biden’s consistent use of a mask.
“Truth reasserted itself,” wrote Issac Bailey. “It has taken center stage back from a man who has spent months during a world-threatening pandemic telling lies that repeatedly put those under his charge in harm’s way. Nothing President Donald Trump says now can distract us from the reality of his diagnosis with Covid-19.”
Trump’s diagnosis came as parts of the US and the world are seeing a new surge in Covid-19 cases. “A false sense of security seems to have taken hold,” Jill Filipovic wrote.

“Masks are coming off. Gatherings are getting bigger and personal safety protocols looser. Schools, gyms, salons and indoor restaurants are reopening. Many students have returned to college campuses, where they are already socializing in groups and spreading the virus. Temperatures outdoors are dropping, which will inevitably push many more people inside to dine, exercise, celebrate and socialize … The question, experts say, isn’t whether a second wave is coming; it’s how devastating a second wave will be.”

Disastrous debate

Even before Trump contracted Covid-19, there was doubt about whether the final two presidential debates would take place. The Commission on Presidential Debates, acknowledging the debacle in Cleveland, promised to change the ground rules for the next two encounters between Biden and Trump, who said he would refuse to agree to any alteration in format. With Trump in the hospital, the matter may be moot.

The vice-presidential debate is scheduled for Wednesday and promises to be far tamer than the Biden-Trump fiasco, which Scott Jennings called “a hot mess.” Writing shortly after the 90-minute face-off ended Tuesday, he noted, “If you love Trump’s smashmouth style, you loved tonight. If you are mortified by his behavior, you are madder than a hornet at the way he treated Biden. And if you were truly undecided, you learned very little.”

SE Cupp was struck by one line Trump interjected after Biden talked about the tragedy of families who have lost loved ones without being able to be at their side. The President said, “You would have lost far more people.”

“In a night of damning lines,” Cupp wrote, “to me, it was one of the worst of the night. And it made me sick to my stomach. President Trump, defending his response to Covid-19, which has brought an explosion of sickness and death — all on his watch — used those deaths as a political punchline to deflect from his own failures. To call it grotesque is to be too kind. And for suburban women like me, who Trump has lost in droves, it’s exactly what turns them off. In a moment of American crisis, he can’t see the forest for the trees, and instead can only wage petty, personal attacks that seek to deflect blame or accountability.”
Van Jones wrote, “on a global stage, in front of my children and your families, he was given the opportunity multiple times to condemn White supremacy and he refused.” What does the US need right now? “A leader with great empathy to bind up the wounds of America and bring peace and stability … on the big, moral issues that transcend partisan debate — it is clear which candidate won.
Paul Callan looked at a different facet of the debate and came up with the same conclusion: “History will record that Joe Biden won Tuesday night’s debate by demonstrating one important thing: he is not senile.” Before the debate, Trump and his allies, including Rudy Giuliani, had questioned Biden’s mental capacity and floated a host of unfounded theories about him. “Biden’s most important job in the debate last night was to demonstrate that he is a calm, professional and entirely sane alternative to Trump,” Callan wrote. “He clearly demonstrated those traits while Trump ranted, raved, and interrupted all attempts at rational discussion.”

For more on the debate:

Debate coach Todd Graham: Why this debate went terribly wrong
Bill McGowan and Juliana Silva: Biden’s secret body language weapon

Taxes

When Trump ran for president in 2016, he broke with the tradition of candidates releasing their tax returns. Now Trump is in a last-ditch legal battle to shield them from New York prosecutors.

But The New York Times said it had obtained Trump’s tax information, and its report was not a positive one. Tax expert Edward J. McCaffery wrote that “Trump emerges as a man living large, losing large, and constantly staying just one step ahead of his creditors.” Trump and his company’s lawyer have disputed the accuracy of the Times reporting. But if it is true, wrote McCaffery, the details “paint a picture of a man using fairly standard tools of tax planning for the wealthy, but to lavish extremes: aggressively claiming business expense deductions for matters that look personal; using huge losses generated from some businesses to get out of paying taxes on his wages from other businesses; using debt heavily to get cash; and putting the kids on the payroll.”
For many, wrote John Avlon, the first reaction was “fury at the fact that, as [Daniel] Hemel notes, a self-styled populist billionaire paid less in federal income tax than an unmarried full-time worker making $9 an hour.” Also troubling, Avlon observed, is the idea that Trump “may not just be running for a second term — he may be running to stay one step ahead of his creditors and possibly his prosecutors.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio wrote, “Trump has never seemed capable of running complex businesses — witness his failures with a Trump-branded airline and many casinos — and the record should have caused the country to doubt his ability to run something as vast as the United States government. But he kept saying he was a winner, and he had played one on his TV show ‘The Apprentice’ for so long that nearly 63 million Americans expressed their confidence in him, with their votes.”

Poll watching

In the debate, President Trump again wouldn’t commit to accept the results of the election and encouraged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” By contrast, Biden said that after all the votes are counted, “if it’s me, in fact, fine. If it’s not me, I’ll support the outcome.”

Historian Nicole Hemmer wrote that “Trump’s call from the debate stage for freelance poll-monitoring dramatically increases the odds of voter intimidation in the 2020 election. But so does the expiration of a 1982 consent decree put in place to prevent Republicans from engaging in voter intimidation schemes. The 2020 election will be the first presidential election in nearly 40 years without those protections.
Frida Ghitis wrote, “With every passing day, Trump’s tactics look more ominous. We cannot wait until November 3 to come up with a strategy to defend against Trump’s latest ploy.”
Policy and government professor Justin Gest recommended three steps to increase public confidence in the election, including state governments announcing in advance how long they expect it will take to complete vote-counting, in light of the expected surge in mail-in ballots. “The doubt that Trump is sowing and exploiting is now spreading to American democracy itself,” Gest wrote. “It is time we take affirmative steps to cultivate and renew our faith — first in our electoral system, next in our fellow citizens.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest’s legacy

Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at Old Live Oak Cemetery.
Jane Greenway Carr grew up in Tennessee. But she didn’t know that there were more monuments there to Confederate general and native son Nathan Bedford Forrest (31) than to the three presidents hailing from that state — until she read a new book by Connor Towne O’Neill about reckoning with Forrest’s legacy.

A slave trader, Forrest rose astonishingly fast within Confederate ranks, becoming a lieutenant general in the Civil War and presiding over a battle in which his “men brutally massacred more than 100 surrendering Black Union soldiers.” After the South surrendered, Forrest became the KKK’s first Grand Wizard.

Now Forrest’s legacy is at the center of the battle over removing Confederate monuments. Carr writes, “In one particularly striking episode that reveals the depth of such belief in their hero, Towne O’Neill visits a meeting with a Memphis chapter of the SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans), where members seek recommendations from each other on how to ‘choose between their church and Forrest’ — after some of their pastors have signed a letter in support of removing the city’s Confederate monuments, they know they can no longer worship there.”

“Towne O’Neill walks a tightrope in trying to bring Forrest back to life in order to put him to rest. The line wobbles from time to time, but the book’s richest achievement lies in the author’s ability to make a Klansman the prism whose refracted light illuminates the shadows of racism in a post-2016 America.

Don’t miss

AND…

Chrissy Teigen’s sad news

In a Twitter post, supermodel Chrissy Teigen and musician John Legend said that they were “shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before.” As Peggy Drexler noted, “On Instagram, Teigen posted an intimate photo of herself hunched over and crying, her hair in a hairnet and hospital bracelets around her wrists.” They had lost their baby, following pregnancy complications, “a tragedy that according to the March of Dimes affects some 10 to 15% of pregnant women a year.”

Many people praised the couple for sharing their sad news, while some others had different reactions. In response to those who were critical, Drexler wrote, “no one should be forced to deal with sadness in any prescribed, even socially acceptable way — Teigen included.”

“It’s to her credit that Teigen did not abstain from sharing even if, she surely realized, someone else out there — lots of someone elses out there, in fact — might have it worse,” observed Drexler.

“Miscarriage is often stigmatized, uncomfortable to talk about and uncomfortable to hear about, and as such encourages many women not to talk about it at all. This, in turn, leads them to feel ashamed — as if their bodies were failures — and alone. Like anything, the more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes and the less shame is attached, and the easier it will be for women and their families to find and offer support.”





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