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A Pandemic of Madness

In the midst of the coronavirus, America has an outbreak of crazy.
May 5, 2020
A Pandemic of Madness
(Collage by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

1. This Is Us

Can we just pause and consider the moment we are in?

While polls show that most Americans still support stay-at-home policies, many have grown impatient and annoyed with the mitigation efforts. President Trump is already pitching his comeback narrative and states are beginning to open back up. And all of this is happening at the very moment we are getting word that this deadly pandemic is spreading and growing. (We are also getting reports of a new mutant strain that may be even more contagious.)

Even as it shifts into rah-rah mode, the administration has a new model projecting a steady rise in coronavirus infections and deaths over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths by June, which would be double the current rate. This is all happening in plain sight: 

While the worst-hit parts of the United States have seen new infections recede and hospitalizations drop after strict social-distancing measures were put in place, the country is still in the firm grip of a pandemic.

For every indication of improvement in controlling the virus, new outbreaks have emerged elsewhere, providing a steady, unrelenting march of deaths and infections.

As states continue to lift restrictions, impatient Americans are freely returning to shopping, lingering in restaurants and gathering in parks. New flare-ups and super-spreader events are expected to be close behind.

The mood has been set from the top, as Trump has pivoted “to where he preferred to be: cheering an economic revival rather than managing a catastrophic health crisis.” The result is a pandemic of confusion and madness, where mixed signals, conspiracy theories, paranoia, and tribal loyalties clash with common sense medical practices.

Some dispatches from the front lines of crazy. Here’s a scene from Massachusetts:

And Arizona:

And in Stillwater, Oklahoma, city officials had to quickly back off an order requiring the wearing of face masks, after threats of violence against employees of private firms who tried to enforce it. Ohio also had to back off a similar mask order after pushback as well. Here is the city manager explaining the decision to back off:

In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse. In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm . . .

Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view. In fact, a recent Federal lawsuit against Guthrie’s face covering order was fully dismissed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, Fox News hosts kept up the drumbeat. While Sean Hannity came out against armed protests, Laura Ingraham continues to disseminate bogus death counts, peddle her favorite malaria-drug, and criticize “social distancing,”

This part can’t be stressed too strongly: all of this comes as we get new evidence that the worst of this pandemic is ahead of us.

On Monday, the widely watched model from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine said that it is now projecting 134,000 coronavirus-related deaths, up from 72,000. But that is just a guesstimate, and with the model’s margin of error, deaths could range anywhere from 95,000 to 243,000.

By now it should be clear that whatever the number turns out to be, Trump will declare victory and his defenders will find a way to rationalize the tradeoff. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie makes what will quickly be the Ur-Trumpian case that Americans are “gonna have to” accept that there will be more deaths. Asked specifically whether the public would accept a daily death toll of 3,000 a day, Christie said: “They’re gonna have to. We’re in the midst of a pandemic that we haven’t seen in over 100 years. And we’re going to have to continue to do things. . . . The message is that the American people have gone through significant death before.”

No comment yet from the Party of Life.

2. Trump Chooses a Troll

Bulwark contributor Tim Miller writes in Rolling Stone:“With Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Isn’t Even Pretending the Truth Matters.”

Unlike most of her predecessors as White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany didn’t come to the job with a background as a reporter or a career press secretary. She never had a prominent role in a political campaign or in government. Instead she is the first of a new type of press secretary, one that if current trends are any indication we will have to get used to. She blazed the path to the podium on the back of her experience as an internet troll turned cable news pundit. (Fun fact: McEnany was rejected by Fox before getting scooped up by CNN’s Jeff Zucker who was looking for a new “character in a drama” — his words — who was willing to defend Donald Trump on the network. And what a character she has become).

In this way, and others, her elevation mirrors that of her boss.

In her supporting role on CNN’s production of “The Orange King,” McEnany has learned from Trump’s approach to public relations: discard all modesty in paeans to the Trump brand and admit no wrongdoing, no matter the absurd lengths required to do so.

In her career as a Trump shill, she turned his most despicable actions into signs of his greatness.

Read the whole thing in Rolling Stone.

3. The Problem With Tara Reade

Amanda Carpenter, writes in this morning’s Bulwark about TrumpWorld’s attempts to exploit Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden. But, she notes, the Trump play is problematic.

The list of women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct is so long that the media has quit keeping track and describes them as “dozens.” President Trump, who denies all accusations of sexual assault and misconduct from these women, has shown that he has no interest in applying vigorous, equal standards when it comes to investigating allegations of sexual assault. When asked about their claims, he has called the women liars, suggested they are too unattractive for him to be interested in, and depicted himself as the victim.

Trump has never permitted himself to be subjected to any real vetting of these claims; he only mocks them.

You can read the rest in the Bulwark.

Speaking of Reade, JVL also looks at some of the many problems with Reade’s allegations:

From a certain perspective, Reade’s allegation might look like Blasey Ford’s. Her quasi-contemporaneous relation of her story was closer to the event than Blasey Ford’s and named Biden (Blasey Ford’s was more ambiguous).

But in other respects, it looks more similar to the other three allegations. Reade:

Also, the timing of her change in story closely aligns with her strong support of Bernie Sanders. It’s possible that new evidence may emerge, but as of right now the Tara Reade allegations look more like the politically motivated actions of the other three Kavanaugh accusers.

In case you haven’t seen it before, the Putin stuff is rather extraordinary. In her since-deleted essay, Reade gushes at length over the Russian thug.

Through my lens, President Putin brought a chaotic and failed nation to become a vibrant, creative, economic force within a decade… just admit that his sheer, calculated vision and willful energy brought Russia back…

President Putin’s obvious reverence for women, children and animals, and his ability with sports is intoxicating to American women.

President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity. It is evident that he loves his country, his people and his job.

You can read the whole amazing thing here.

Two exit questions: (1) Why did she delete it? and (2) How would the Federalist-Breitbart-WashEX crowd have reacted if it turned out that Christine Blasey Ford wrote gushing love notes to blood-soaked dictators? Would they have thought it was irrelevant? Or would they have lost their sh*t? (Trick question, I know.)

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.