Cassandra's foreboding is worse: The question came to President Trump at yesterday's somewhat less universally televised briefing.
Every one of our analysts groaned in despair. The question went like this:
REPORTER (4/10/20): Thank you, Mr. President. Speaking of testing, some experts, including Scott Gottlieb, have talked about 750,000 tests per week being needed before the economy is opened. Can you address that? Do you agree with those numbers? If not, how many tests per week do you think we should have before the economy is open, sir?Amazingly dumb as that question was, the president's response may have even been dumber.
Set aside the question of how much testing we should be performing before we loosen restrictions. Focus instead on Trump's cluelessness. His full response went like this:
TRUMP (continuing directly): Yeah. I don’t like using the word "needed" because I don’t think it’s needed, but I think we’re going to try and hit a number like that. That’s a very high number, but we’re going to be trying to hit it, and we probably might be able to do that.The president said they might be able to do it! The country might be able to perform 750,000 tests per week! Not that we need to, of course!
What made that question and answer so dumb? According to widely-accepted records, the country already is performing that many tests on a weekly basis.
Indeed, Trump has been boasting about it. Here he was in his televised briefing all the way back on Thursday, April 2:
TRUMP (4/2/20): We’re now conducting well over 100,000 coronavirus tests per day. It’s over 100,000 tests a day, and these are accurate tests and they’re moving rapidly, which is more than any other country in the world, both in terms of the raw number and also on a per capita basis, the most.Ignore the claim about conducting the largest number of daily tests on a per capita basis. Focus on the highlighted claim, in which Trump said we were "now conducting well over 100,000 tests per day."
Trump had first made a similar claim in his March 27 TV show. This seems to have been one of the rare instances where his factual claim was correct.
According to the COVID Tracking Project, daily testing exceeded 100,000 for the first time on March 27. The number has been been well over 100,000 per day ever since.
In short, the ace reporter asked the president if we'd be able to reach a weekly goal we've long since exceeded. Our president displayed no awareness of this fact when he gave his bungled response.
It fell to Vice President Pence to address this latest fail. Below, you see his first remarks after Trump left yesterday's briefing, mere moments after his fail:
PENCE (4/9/20): Well, good afternoon everyone. At the present moment, we have now cleared a more than two million tests across the country, and I’m pleased to report we’re testing more than 100,000 people a day now...Pence seemed to be correcting the misimpression the president may have left. But in that initial Q-and-A, you see the nature of our national problem:
A handful of upper-end journalists are allowed to play a role in the president's daily TV show. The journalist who asked that question seemed to be working live and direct straight outta La-La Land.
His question was "answered" by our clueless commander. The cluelessness was mutual here—commander and journo alike.
Next week, we expect to explore the hapless behavior our upper-end press corps has put on display at these daily TV shows. In part, their haplessness has gone on display in the ways they've failed to question or challenge the commander's repeated absurd misstatements.
The upper-end corps and this clueless commander were basically made for each other. Yesterday's hopeless Q-and-A was the latest example. Our analysts tore at their hair.
In large part, this constitutes an anthropology lesson—a lesson about the limited intellectual horizons of our floundering species. Paul Krugman raises a related matter in his new column today.
On Tuesday, sheer insanity was put on display in the state of Wisconsin's election. Voters under stay-at-home orders were forced to stand in long lines, for hours, in order to cast their vote.
In Milwaukee, the usual 180 polling places were reduced to a mere five (5). Poll workers appeared in full Hazmat gear. Voters were given masks.
Truly, this is astonishing conduct. Republican leadership caused this lunacy to occur.
All too sensibly, Krugman interprets this as an act of voter suppression. As he ends his column today, he looks ahead to November:
KRUGMAN (4/10/20): Does anyone seriously doubt that something similar could happen, very soon, at a national level?Krugman looks ahead to November with foreboding. As we've told you, Cassandra's forebodings are worse.
This November, it’s all too possible that Trump will eke out an Electoral College win thanks to widespread voter suppression. If he does—or even if he wins cleanly—everything we’ve seen suggests that he will use a second term to punish everyone he sees as a domestic enemy, and that his party will back him all the way...
What if Trump loses? You know what he’ll do: He’ll claim that Joe Biden’s victory was based on voter fraud, that millions of illegal immigrants cast ballots or something like that. Would the Republican Party, and perhaps more important, Fox News, support his refusal to accept reality? What do you think?
So that’s why what just happened in Wisconsin scares me more than either disease or depression. For it shows that one of our two major parties simply doesn’t believe in democracy. Authoritarian rule may be just around the corner.
Cassandra has suggested to us that there may not be a November election. Does anyone doubt that President Trump, under cover of pandemic, may not try to conduct such a move?
These ruminations involve basic anthropology lessons. Krugman often fails to distinguish between Republican leaders and Republican voters. Let us do so here:
On the leadership level, it may well be that "one of our two major parties simply doesn’t believe in democracy." Arguably, this raises questions about the possible extent of "sociopathy" and its near neighbors among this leadership class.
On the level of the rank and file, it has become increasingly clear that we human are strongly inclined to accept all tribal narratives at times of great tribal division.
"Man [sic] is the rational animal," we have long been told. In fact, we humans are the tribal animal, despondent anthropologists increasingly say.
That Q-and-A from yesterday's TV show describes a two-part problem. What happened in Wisconsin is just this side of insane.
That said, our discourse has been crazy for at least three decades now. The craziness has emerged from super spreaders in our burgeoning partisan media—in talk radio, in cable news and of course all over the web.
Our discourse has been crazy for decades. In one last anthropology lesson, amazingly few of us rational animals have seemed to notice or care.
Coming tomorrow: For our current 9-year-old kids, a look at how Wittgenstein starts