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The Simple Strategy That Can Defeat Trump’s Plan To Steal The Election

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

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A small silver lining in this fraught moment in history is that Donald Trump and his cabal aren't at all subtle.

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Trump Can’t Win By Stoking White Fear Of Riots

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Nineteen-sixty-eight was one of the most tumultuous years in American history. Cities across the country burned after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Robert Kennedy was gunned down a few months later. There was a lot of crime, and widespread unrest in response to the seemingly endless war in Vietnam. A bloody police riot marred the Democratic National Convention.

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Red States Facing A Perfect Storm Of Illness And Death

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rural, conservative-leaning states have so far been spared widespread outbreaks of COVID-19. But experts say that they're simply behind the curve of denser, more urban states like New York and Florida. The New York Times reported this week that "many communities that watched the pandemic unfold in faraway places are now experiencing the crisis firsthand. More than two-thirds of rural counties have confirmed at least one case." Forty-two states now have over 1,000 confirmed cases of the disease, and many red states are among those conducting the fewest tests.

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Why COVID-19 Trutherism Is So Popular On The Right

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Thirty days ago, Donald Trump said confidently that “we have 15 cases of COVID-19 that have been detected in the United States… [but] because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low. … within a couple of days [the number of cases] is going to be down to close to zero.”

Today, less than a month later, we will hit 100,000 confirmed cases. And experts say that because of limited testing capacity, many more than we know are infected. If current trends persist, we’ll have one million cases on April 6.

Yet despite the rapid spread of the disease, there’s still an abiding belief among many conservatives that this is no more serious than the seasonal flu, and the problem is being hyped by Democrats and the media to hurt Trump’s chances in November. A poll released this week found that over 60 percent of Fox News viewers embrace that view. Right-wing pundits talk about the annual death rate from influenza and car accidents, and while doctors and nurses say that many COVID-19 fatalities are going unreported, some on the right are convinced that the rising death toll is also exaggerated.

On its face, the reason for this disconnect is straightforward. The president is a serial liar who’s incapable of processing events in any context other than his own interests, knows this is a catastrophe unfolding on his watch, and has been telling this story to his base every evening on The Donald Trump Pandemic Show during the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force briefings.

But let’s dig down a little deeper.

First, we should acknowledge how incredibly appealing this storyline is. Grappling with the reality that public health experts describe is downright scary. Take a step back, and it’s easy to see how comforting it must be to believe that everything is basically normal, this pandemic is only fatal for a handful of older, sicker people and that another deep recession is only approaching because the pernicious media aren’t reporting the scope of the problem accurately. At this point, who among us wouldn’t be thrilled if that were really true?

Motivated reasoning–the process of embracing even dubious information that supports one’s strongly held views and rejecting that which contradicts them–requires two things. First, you need motivation. Nobody engages in motivated reasoning over mundane things, or issues that they don’t feel strongly about.

They have that in abundance. Studies have long found that “political conservatism is associated with an increased negativity bias, including increased attention and reactivity toward negative and threatening stimuli.” This a fearful time, and people on the right tend to be highly sensitive to threats.

The second component is having seemingly legitimate, reassuring information to latch onto. In this case, they see the White House, Republican officials at all levels of government and the conservative media unified around the message that this pandemic is a readily manageable problem being overblown for partisan purposes.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the outbreak has so far hit urban areas and blue states hard, while in many rural, conservative parts of the country it is still an abstraction. Fourteen states have 1,000 or more confirmed cases, and only four are red (Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana) or reddish (Georgia). When people see others in their own communities suffering grave illness or death or lose loved ones to the disease, reality will break through the partisan spin, but that hasn’t happened yet.

It will. The data show that COVID-19 spreads exponentially unless or until aggressive social distancing measures are put into place and enforced, and the 28 states that have not done so are mostly led by Republicans. And polls show that those believe the COVID-truthers on Fox News and among their elected officials are less likely to wash their hands regularly, avoid large gatherings or take other measures to avoid infection. According to Nate Silver, on Tuesday “cases increased by 31 percent in Trump states as compared to 21 percent in Clinton states.” That trend is likely to continue or accelerate as long as conservatives hold onto the belief that this isn’t really a historic public health crisis.

It’s a tragic paradox: Pandemic denialism won’t survive widespread outbreaks in conservative communities, but it all but guarantees that they will suffer a lot of illness and death in the coming weeks and months. But this is what happens when a political movement eschews expertise and dismisses science–and rallies around a leader who cares deeply about his political prospects but seems unconcerned about the health and well-being of his supporters.

Why Trump’s Iran Hit Won’t Help Him In 2020

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

This article was paid for by AlterNet subscribers.

It’s become a cliché to point out that there’s an old “tweet for every occasion” by Donald Trump. But that doesn’t capture the degree to which he was obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama would launch a war of choice against Iran in order to bolster his chances of being re-elected in 2012, or to distract the American public from various alleged domestic failures.

But Trump, and a significant share of the conservative commentariat, are deluding themselves in their belief that assassinating Iranian commander Qassim Suleimani will benefit the president* politically next year. This can go one of two ways: Either it escalates into a broader conflict and young Americans once again begin coming home from the Middle East in body bags, or Iran finds ways to retaliate against us that allow cooler heads to prevail and averts a shooting war. In the first scenario, Trump betrays a key campaign promise and loses some of his less fervent supporters, and in the second, the strike is forgotten in the deluge of outrageous news that has marked the Trump era. Nobody remembered the airstrikes he ordered against Syria a month after the fact.

Foreign policy no longer ends at the water’s edge and Americans will not rally around this president*. Those who believe he is competent and has the capacity to put the national interest ahead of his own will approve of this action and the rest of us won’t. Trump’s standing  with the public has been pretty much baked into the cake. His approval ratings have consistently been detached from the state of the economy, and, to a lesser degree, from most of the major events of his presidency.*

This dynamic is invariably chalked up to partisanship and polarization, and lamented by pundits. And it’s clearly true as far as it goes–politics are intensely tribal, and a qualified, well-briefed Democrat or Republican would face blind opposition to his or her policies. But blaming partisanship for the entrenched views of everything Trump touches is a form of normalizing the aberrant.

Democrats are prone to partisanship but attributing their blanket opposition to Trump’s policies elides the objective facts that he is unqualified, does not tolerate detailed briefings or rely on the counsel of experts and has made over 15,000 “false or misleading statements” over the past three years, according to The Washington Post’s tally.

Similarly, chalking up Republicans’ unfailing support for Trump to partisanship erases a sprawling conservative media ecosystem dedicated to hailing Trump’s supposed virtues and simply ignoring negative stories whenever possible.

And in this specific instance, the idea that it’s all about polarization elides the crucial context that Trump demagogued and then withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran that was bearing fruit for purely political reasons, and that doing so touched off the latest round of tensions with the Islamic state.

We live in a polarized society but focusing on how that shapes public opinion to the exclusion of these realities is a subtle form of normalization of a president* who is anything but.