May 13 2020

Pondering the Pundits

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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Frank Bruni: Nobody Is Protected From President Trump

The simple accessory of a mask tells the story of a presidency and a pandemic.

I’ve heard of Muslim women in America being taunted for wearing hijabs, I’ve heard of Jewish men being mocked for wearing yarmulkes and now I’ve heard it all: A friend of mine was cursed by a passing stranger the other day for wearing a protective mask.

There is, of course, a rather nasty virus going around, and one way to lessen the chance of its spread, especially from you to someone else, is to cover your nose and mouth. Call it civic responsibility. Call it science.

But science is no match for tribalism in this dysfunctional country. Truth is whatever validates your prejudices, feeds your sense of grievance and fuels your antipathy toward the people you’ve decided are on some other side.

And protective masks, God help us, are tribal totems. With soul-crushing inevitably, these common-sense precautions morphed into controversial declarations of identity. What’s next? Band-Aids?

“Wearing a mask is for smug liberals. Refusing to is for reckless Republicans.” That was the headline on a recent article in Politico by Ryan Lizza and Daniel Lippman that noted that “in a deeply polarized America, almost anything can be politicized.”

I quibble only with “almost.” And I submit that the entire story of our scattered, schizoid response to the coronavirus pandemic can be distilled into the glares, tussles, tweets, deference and defiance surrounding this simple accessory.

On Monday the White House belatedly introduced a policy of mask-wearing in the West Wing — but it exempted President Trump. See what I mean about mask as metaphor? Trump demands protection from everybody around him, but nobody is protected from Trump. Story of America.

Michelle Cottle: Trump’s Barefaced Deceptions

He won’t wear a mask, fearing it will project weakness and defeat. Who does he think he’s fooling?

Masks are once again a hot topic.

Don’t worry: Their latest star turn doesn’t involve some new culture war clash over how much protection masks provide, when they should be worn or whether, as some of the more excitable social-distancing opponents charge, they are a form of government tyranny.

Rather, it seems masks are finally getting some respect at the White House. On Monday, the White House Management Office issued a memo requiring all of the staff to wear masks while inside the West Wing except when working at their own desks. Visitors will need to cover their faces as well. [..]

In early April, while announcing the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that masks be worn in public spaces, Mr. Trump made clear he would not be taking his own administration’s advice. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know,” he said. “Somehow, I don’t see it for myself.”

Aides have said that Mr. Trump’s resistance stems in part from not wanting to look ridiculous. From a health standpoint, this is ridiculous. But it comports perfectly with the warped logic of Trumpian machismo: Masks are for the weak — read: losers — and he is all about strength.

Michelle Goldberg: We’re All Casualties of Trump’s War on Science

The administration kneecaps experts as the coronavirus rages.

In 2004, “60 Minutes” aired a segment on what it called “virus hunters,” scientists searching for bugs that can leap from animals to humans and cause pandemics. “What worries me the most is that we are going to miss the next emerging disease,” said a scientist named Peter Daszak, describing his fear of a coronavirus “that moves from one part of the planet to another, wiping out people as it moves along.”

In the intervening years, Daszak became president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research organization focused on emerging pandemics. EcoHealth worked with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology to study coronaviruses in bats that could infect humans, and, as Science magazine put it, “to develop tools that could help researchers create diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for human outbreaks.” Since 2014, the EcoHealth Alliance has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health, until its funding was abruptly cut two weeks ago. [..]

This political hit on Daszak’s work is far from the only way that the Trump administration’s contempt for science has undermined America’s coronavirus response. Conservative antipathy to science is nothing new; Republicans have long denied and denigrated the scientific consensus on issues from evolution to stem cell research to climate change. This hostility has several causes, including populist distrust of experts, religious rejection of information that undermines biblical literalism and efforts by giant corporations to evade regulation.

But it’s grown worse under Trump, with his authoritarian impulse to quash any facts, from inauguration crowd sizes to hurricane paths, that might reflect poorly on him.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: The ingenuity keeping indie bookstores going

For nearly half a century, Charis Books was a fixture of Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood. The stuccoed building served as a gathering place for feminist readers to browse, congregate and participate in a litany of events. Before and after the bookstore’s recent move to Agnes Scott College, residents from across the city have relied on Charis Circle, its nonprofit arm, to access everything from homeless shelters to legal assistance.

In the wake of the pandemic, Charis Books has been forced to close its brick-and-mortar operation. Its owners are relying on online orders, gift-certificate sales and donations to their nonprofit to continue paying their staff and operating both the business and nonprofit. So many independent bookstores are in a similar bind. Literary hubs such as the Strand in New York and Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., had to lay off employees; others like City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Marcus Books in Oakland, Calif., are relying on crowdfunding campaigns to stay afloat.

It’s not for a lack of demand. These past few months have seen a surge of interest in books. But the profits, by and large, are being siphoned to Amazon. The corporate behemoth, launched as “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore” in 1995, has dominated the book industry for years. Today, Amazon owns its own publishing unit, literary social platform and line of e-readers. (And Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) The retailer accounts for more than half of all book sales in the United States, and some have projected that share to grow to 70 percent, based on Amazon’s performance in April.

Now, indie bookstores everywhere, confronted with the twin threats of Amazon and covid-19, are struggling to survive. And in response, readers across the country are banding together to save them.

Amanda Marcotte: Trump doesn’t really care about the economy — he just wants to fake it until November

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s economic happy talk — he’s willing to sell out a long-term recovery for short-term gain

Donald Trump thinks he can trick American voters into believing it’s a good thing that one in six workers is out of a job. That’s according to Nancy Cook at Politico, who reports that the mood in the White House was one of jubilation at hearing that the unemployment rate had soared to 14.7% — the highest since the Great Depression. That mood reflected “happiness that the figure wasn’t as high as it could have been,” Cook writes.

This allows Trump to use a strategy he often rolls out to trick the public into seeing his failures as a win: “Throwing out a huge number — like a future 25 percent unemployment rate, or 2 million deaths from the coronavirus — can, in turn, make lower figures seem like a relief.”

It’s a trick that Trump no doubt developed during his notorious business career, when he often tried to trick investors and banks into backing one failing venture after another by using trickery or outright lying, at least until the whole thing collapsed and he skated away, his personal assets intact, while the business went bankrupt.

Trump is trying to handle the the American economy much the same way he handled his many failed business ventures: By lying about the numbers to make things seem better than they are, while moving money around with accounting tricks in hopes of fooling investors — or voters, in this case — into sticking around just a little longer, buying Trump time to figure out how he can escape personal consequences when the whole thing inevitably collapses.