Look past the words at the actions
As the saying around Washington goes, “President Donald J. Trump frequently steps on his own message”. Nowhere is that observation more accurate than in the matter of his leadership during the current crisis. His verbal descriptions of the steps he has taken and the reasons for each step sound a lot like bragging – even, at times, a plea for credit. But in few cases do they clearly and accurately convey either the obstacles or the strategy that led to these decisions – both of which have been significant.
Let’s do a brief recap. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the country into the worst crisis since Pearl Harbor. The President started our national response virtually alone. As the crisis began to take shape, he enlisted the aid of the public health experts, the national laboratories, the privately-owned laboratories, then the hospitals, the manufacturing industry, and so on, as new requirements arose, one after the other. When called upon, these Americans put aside their personal feelings and opinions about politics and proceeded to perform nearly miraculous feats –as when the Army Corps of Engineers created a hospital in Central Park in three days!
What inspired this sensational cooperation? Trump’s mixture of salesmanship and pressure. The appeals of the President to the patriotism of the participants would not have been sufficient to effect the desired outcomes had the President not presented each group with specific, well-thought-out tasks which fit the capabilities of each party. This is called detailed planning.
The result was that each party was asked to do something they knew how to do and were capable of doing. And, in problem after problem – from medical supplies to hospital beds to pharmaceuticals to supply chains to manufacturing — the results were astonishing.
Then the President organized the governors of the 50 states and the territories into the most important role they have ever played as a group – perhaps in American history! Even the bitterest critics of the President joined the coalition and developed a working relationship with the federal administration and the President and Vice President (a former governor). We witnessed the greatest example of federalism in the history of the Republic – James Madison would have been proud the see it in action.
And there were also side effects of this strategy. First of all, it was the most practical solution to the extremely complex problems of a national recovery which featured thousands of varying local circumstances and conditions. Clearly, the Democrats’ call for a “national” one-fits-all policy would not work.
But that observation reveals another side effect. By sticking to the Constitution, the President’s approach also made those criticisms of the opposition so obviously misguided that even the friendly Press disregarded them.
In all, we saw the most impressive example of presidential leadership perhaps since Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
The Press, of course, missed this amazing spectacle which was unfolding before their very eyes. For the most part, those eyes were blinded by the same unthinking bias which had caused them to join the Dems’ insane attempt to overthrow that presidency earlier this year.
I have commented in the past that other speakers, such as Vice President Pence, frequently describe the President’s actions more clearly and convincingly than does the President himself. However, the forum does make a difference.
The President is very effective during his famous rallies in describing the mountains he has climbed as president and the results he has achieved. In fact, his ability to attract and entertain thousands of people in his rallies is unparalleled in modern politics. In this realm only entertainers can compete. This ability is so unique that any discussion of Donald J. Trump’s communication skills must begin with his rallies.
Next would be his set speeches which have improved with practice and since he learned to use the teleprompter. Finally, would be his impromptu press briefings on his way to the airport. But his formal press conferences not so much.
In the end, of course, as the Bible says, “By his works you shall know him.”
Why nothing sticks to Donald Trump or Joe Biden
It was congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Democrat from Colorado, who labeled Ronald Reagan the “Teflon” president in a fit of exasperation in August 1983. What frustrated Schroeder was that nothing “stuck” to Reagan—not the recession, not his misadventures in Lebanon, not his seeming detachment from his own administration. Reagan’s job approval had plunged to a low of 35 percent at the beginning of that year, but his numbers were rising and his personal favorability remained high. “He is just the master of ceremonies at someone else’s dinner,” she said.
Ironically, the one thing that did stick to Reagan was Schroeder’s nickname. The phrase was so catchy that writers applied it to mobsters (“Teflon Don” John Gotti) and to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Teflon presidents, gangsters, candidates—we have had them all. What we have not experienced until now is a Teflon campaign.
Between March 11, when the coronavirus prompted the NBA to suspend its season, and May 14, some 84,000 Americans died of coronavirus, more than 36 million lost their jobs, and Congress appropriated $3.6 trillion in new spending. It is not foolish to suppose that these world-shaking events would affect the presidential election. On the contrary: One would expect a dramatic swing toward either the incumbent or the challenger. But look at the polls. Not only has there been no big shift. There has been no shift.
On March 11, Joe Biden led Donald Trump by 7 points in the RealClearPolitics average. On May 14, he led Trump by 5 points. “Biden’s advantage,” says Harry Enten of CNN, “is the steadiest in a race with an incumbent running since at least 1944.” He has never been behind. His share of the vote has been impervious to external events.
Neither good nor bad news has an effect. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign on April 8 and endorsed Biden on April 13. Biden received no bump from this display of party unity. Tara Reade accused Biden of sexual assault on March 25, and Biden did not respond directly to the allegation until May 1. His margin over Trump did not shrink. It remained the same.
Why? The incidents of this election cycle are not the reason. Epidemics, depressions, and sex scandals have happened before. What is distinct are the candidates. One in particular.
If this race has been the steadiest in memory, it is because public opinion of the incumbent has been the most consistent in memory. “Trump’s approval rating has the least variation of any post-World War II president,” notes Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight. Whatever is in the headlines matters less than one’s view of the president. And he is a subject on which most people’s views are ironclad.
When the crisis began, Trump’s approval rating was 44 percent in the RealClearPoliticsaverage. On May 14, it is 46 percent. A social and economic calamity befell the country, and Trump’s approval ticked up. Not enough for him to win, necessarily. But enough to keep him in contention.
Americans feel more strongly about Trump, either for or against, than about any other candidate since polling began. His supporters give his approval ratings a floor, and his detractors give his ratings a ceiling. There is not a lot of room in between.
For years, Trump voters have said that they are willing to overlook his faults because they believe the stakes in his victory and success are so high. Heard from less often have been Trump’s opponents, who are so desperate to see him gone that they dismiss the failings and vulnerabilities of whoever happens to be challenging him at the moment.
Recently the feminist author Linda Hirshman wrote in the New York Times that she believes Tara Reade’s story but will vote for Joe Biden anyway. “Better to just own up to what you are doing,” she wrote. “Sacrificing Ms. Reade for the good of the many.” Hirshman is the mirror-image of the Trump supporter who, as the president once said, would not be bothered if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Intensifying tribalism makes this election a nonstick surface.
What gives Biden the upper hand is that there are more people who feel negatively than positively about Donald Trump. What gives Trump a chance is the uneven distribution of these people across the country. That was the case before coronavirus. It is still the case today.
Watching the numbers hardly budge over these past months, I have sometimes wondered what could move them. War? Spiritual revival? Space aliens?
Don’t think so. Throw anything at it. Nothing adheres to this Teflon campaign.
It may just be that Donald Trump’s biggest sin—as it was with Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan and others who preceded him on the national stage—is that he has blocked what the intellectual heirs of Marx who populate the Democratic Party believe is the United States’ inevitable slide into a permanent socialist welfare state.
Some will argue this is nonsense. They may be right about that—but the debate about these luminaries on the political right so often devolves into character assassination and the politics of personal destruction that it is hard to be sure. The leaders of America’s elite culture, who have the power to shape people’s thinking and economic behavior as well as influence how they vote, are a leftward lot who cannot be happy they are saddled with Sleepy Joe Biden as a presumptive presidential nominee.
Since coming into office, Trump has complained that he has been the victim of a coordinated campaign to discredit him. The allegation that his campaign colluded with Russian intelligence operatives to tilt the election in his favor—which so many senior congressional Democrats and former Obama administration senior officials assured everyone was both serious and substantive—turns out not to have been true at all.
This is troublesome. Some of the same people who were on television as often as possible reiterating there was truth in the charge were telling congressional investigators that they had no evidence to back up their claims. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
We’ll probably never know everything that went on but, from what we do know, there’s more true than not true about the suggestion, for example, the FBI under James Comey—perhaps at his own direction—sought to intervene in the 2016 election to Trump’s detriment. Using a phony “dossier” as cover that they apparently knew to be full of falsehoods (and paid for, in part, by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign), they wiretapped Trump campaign headquarters looking for dirt. And they set up retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who, for a brief time, served as national security advisor, on the charge of having lied to them.
There are those—and count me among them—who find the idea that lying to the FBI is a crime questionable, especially since the United States Supreme Court has affirmed the FBI and other police agencies can lie to you without penalty or sanction in the course of an investigation. That, it seems reasonable to assert, tips the scales of justice unfairly towards the interests of the state. But that’s an issue of another day.
The fact the Flynn investigation is so badly tainted by misconduct, not just by the investigators but also by the prosecutors, taints all the subsequent investigations and prosecutions touching on the Russia collusion investigations. Perhaps they deserve reconsideration, especially the case against longtime Trump political associate Roger Stone—which moved forward, he claims, only after he refused an entreaty to make everything go away if only he would go along with the government’s assertions regarding phone conservations with the president that matched the narrative the FBI was trying so hard to establish.
This whole saga is a black stain on the American system of jurisprudence. The Stone case, from the obvious bias of the judge and jury foreman to how a key witness, it was recently learned, contradicted himself between his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee and what he said in federal court, ratifies rather than reassures the American public that something is rotten in Washington.
It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest, were there not profound political considerations connected to the action, that President Trump should pardon everyone who was convicted or pled guilty to process crimes arising out of the collusion investigation.
Which brings us to the unfortunate tale of Judge Emmett Sullivan. By inviting the submission of amicus briefs and appointing a retired federal judge to argue against the dropping of the case against Flynn—as the Justice Department now wants to do—Judge Sullivan is only prolonging the inevitable. Even if Flynn’s plea of guilty to the charge he lied to the FBI is somehow sustained in Sullivan’s courtroom, it will almost certainly be reversed on appeal.
A pardon would short-circuit that but would make it hard for Flynn and others to claim they were both set up and exonerated. Justice requires they be able to do both.
By Red State•
The COVID-19 virus, which was effectively shipped to the U.S. and around the world from China, and the political response to the virus seem to be the lead story every day.
In this veritable flash flood of virus news coverage, one thing many media outlets have missed is the U.S. Postal Service’s release of its second quarter financials. Perhaps, Postal Service financial information sounds boring, but we must pay attention because they’ve been requesting $85 billion in what is essentially bailout funds as part of the numerous stimulus packages.
If the Postal Service gets its way, you and your children may be on the hook once again for the Postal Service’s failed business model and its refusal to get its finances in order. After all, the USPS has lost more than a billion dollars for 13 consecutive years. And it has promised time and again to revise its business model and reform itself but has not made good on that promise. As a result, they are coming back to the taxpayer asking for billions in bailouts.
Maybe the public doesn’t really care if the USPS is losing money or uses a failed business model. After all, if some local business operates inefficiently and loses money, the problem will solve itself as it will go out of business and others who perform the service or provide the product more efficiently will take its place. But that’s not how government related things work.
When a government related organization loses money and begins to fail, the taxpayer is asked to pump billions into it to keep it afloat. It refuses to change its business model or to right its financial ship because it doesn’t have to. It can go to Congress and ask for more cash. Why restructure? Why innovate? Why focus on core profitable business products? Just ask Congress to give you billions to maintain the inefficient and wasteful status quo. That’s the Postal Service’s business model.
One of the curious things revealed in the financial report is that the Post Office claims that its package delivery business is highly profitable and it experienced an almost exponential increase in its package delivery business. That should be good news. Anytime a normal business is able to sell more of its profitable goods or services, that means higher profits. But not so with the Postal Service which still claims to be losing billions. How do you dramatically increase the sale of your most profitable products and still lose money?
Separately, in regard to letter mail, the Postal Service has a government granted and enforced monopoly on First Class Mail. It is illegal for any competitor to provide a competing First Class Mail service. So naturally, the Postal Service makes a lot of money on First Class Mail. Quite frankly, if you can’t make money as a legally sanctioned monopolist, you’re horrible at what you do.
The Postal Service takes the profits from that monopoly business and uses it to compete with other private companies in the package delivery business. And despite the Postal Service’s claims, it is clearly losing a lot of money on its package delivery business. Their financial records and cost attribution practices are so poor and substandard that they can lose billions and still claim that almost all of their products, including packages, are profitable. But the bottom line can’t lie and the bottom line reveals that the Postal Service is losing its shirt in package delivery.
That may explain why a group of USPS customers have come out to support the Postal Service’s request for a taxpayer provided bailout. If you could get taxpayer subsidized shipping and thereby lower your costs, you’d be for it too. It’s just a matter of self interest.
So these companies using the Postal Service’s package delivery services are effectively asking every American to subsidize their multi-billion dollar business and help them keep their shipping costs below market rates so that they can increase their profits. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could reach into the taxpayer’s pocket to increase our salaries?
All of this is troubling. But the fact that a government sanctioned monopoly is using its monopoly profits to subsidize competition with other legitimate businesses is even more troubling. Imagine if the government set up a monopoly with guaranteed profits and then unleashed that monopoly to compete with you and used its monopoly subsidies to undercut your line of work. They could afford to lose a ton of money, but still harm your business, reduce your salary and profits, and get the taxpayer to cover their massive losses. Does that sound fair? Is that a good use of government power and taxpayer funds?
While the Postal Service claims that its package delivery service is profitable, that simply cannot be true. If it were true, as their package business grew, they would stop hemorrhaging so much money. But they haven’t stopped losing money. Every quarter, when they release their financial reports, it’s just more bad news. If you drill down in their financial information, it is clear that the Postal Service is delivering packages at a loss. But the USPS uses its profits from First Class Mail to subsidize those losses. And when their losses overwhelm their monopoly profits, they call upon the taxpayer to bail out their failed business model.
It is time for real reform at the Postal Service. It is time to stop the perpetual taxpayer bailouts. If nothing is done, next year even after COVID-19 has passed, the Postal Service will concoct another excuse to get more taxpayer bailouts. The Administration should impose meaningful reform because it is in the taxpayer’s interests for the Postal Service to get its business model and financial house in order. COVID-19 shouldn’t be used as a phony excuse to bailout failed monopolists.
The United States of America is being tested acutely in the crucible of the COVID-19 emergency. This novel coronavirus outbreak has followed closely at the heels of perhaps the most grievous constitutional crisis in American history. Alternately dubbed “the Russia Collusion” or “the Russia Hoax,” this extremely well organized campaign to delegitimize the 2016 presidential election and its winner Donald J. Trump has been designed to upset the peaceful transfer of executive powers from one administration to the next.
Having started out with a huge bang and having been kept illegally alive for more than three years through the totally baseless Mueller investigation as well as the absurd impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, which ended with an embarrassing whimper in the Senate, the attempted coup d’etat by the Democrats against the duly elected President has demonstrated the fragility of the constitutional republic vis-a-vis the nefarious quest of a determined minority for absolute power over the majority.
The only true meaning of the constitutional republic and of its accompanying system of government called democracy is that through the eligible members of the whole society, the majority elects its representatives among those candidates who would govern according to their views, traditions, and morality. Therefore, the objective of democratic elections is to determine the present and future course of a nation, according to the mentality and the ideas of the majority and not to allow a minority to “fundamentally” change, experiment with, or overthrow the practical and spiritual realms of the nation.
On November 8, 2016, the Republican Donald J. Trump beat the Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton by the electoral margin of 304 to 227. Put it simply, the majority of voters in the majority of states rejected the attempted overthrow of the constitution, its principles, and the Bible-based spiritual order of American society, with the vague notions of duplicitous social justice, fake human rights theories with their multiculturalism and non-existent “white supremacy” lies, economically destructive and baseless global warming hysteria, anti-religious revolution, and the already debunked utopian ideal of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, in the United States of America, the loser(s) accepted the verdict of the citizenry and organized itself to remain in opposition until the next election in four years. Meanwhile, this opposition labored hard on developing ideas and policies that would meet with the approval of the majority of the electorate. Clearly, constructive opposition has confidence that those ideas and policies are sound enough to win the next presidential election. However, when the opposition does not believe that its ideas and policies are winnable, the only way to gain the coveted political power is to delegitimize, or even to attempt overthrowing the legitimately elected president and his administration. The preferred methods are pseudo-legal, outrightly illegal manipulations with the help of corrupt civil servants, and defamation of character.
The Democrat Party and its representatives have been guilty of all of the above. Moreover, to achieve their illegitimate goals, they have enlisted the unelected and corrupt heads of several intelligence agencies, the equally unelected and corrupt heads of the premier law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as the overwhelming majority of the written and electronic media.
In the absence of a constructive opposition, America is devoid of a political middle. What the country has is an extremely radicalized Democrat Party on the proverbial Left, with its presumptive, washed out presidential nominee. On the other side, there is a sitting President fighting for his political future amidst increasingly strong headwinds.
Meanwhile, the victim of this abysmal situation is the United States of America and its citizenry. Judging by the wave of unconstitutional measures under the guise of saving lives at all cost, the Democrat governors and their colleagues in Congress again have been pursuing criminally destructive policies, in order to damage as much as possible President Trump in particular and the Republicans in general. From arbitrary prohibitions to idiotic actions they have been pushing ultrarevolutionary socialist and communist agendas to the detriment of democracy and the rule of law. The most glaring examples have been the violations of the First, Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. While selling alcohol and drugs of all kinds as “essential” goods, churches and gun shops have been closed – supposedly for the sake of protecting the health of all Americans. Moreover, the House of Representatives, with its clueless Speaker, has been blackmailing the President and the Senate with her unrealistic economic and financial fantasies, and pursuing vehemently the release of President Trump’s tax returns. To add insult to injury, Representatives Schiff and Nadler have been searching feverishly for new phantoms, which might be grounds to impeach the President again. Finally, former President Barack Obama has shown a new small-minded and vindictive self. Attempting to destroy an American hero just because he hated him, and masterminding a coup d’etat against his successor, are vivid remainders of his true character.
Nobody is perfect. However, President Trump has been fighting against all odds to restore the constitution and the Judeo-Christian ethos of America. On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats have been waging a war against the nation, religion, and family. Their ideas and policies are bad, because they lead to faulty compromises. And bad compromises always end in bottomless vacuums, or hopeless cul-de-sacs. Yet, one could traffic in antithetical ideas but cannot play with contradictory emotions.
Tradition, religious spirituality, respect for the rule of law are the cornerstones of peace and stability in every society. Without those values, no great nation can endure long.
The judge’s temporary restraining order sets the stage in Illinois and perhaps nationally for a legal battle over public health experts’ far-reaching demands for public confinement.
In one of the nation’s first successful legal challenges to mandatory quarantine directives, an Illinois state judge has thrown a wrench into Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of his stay-at-home order until at least May 30.
The judge’s temporary restraining order sets the stage in Illinois and perhaps nationally for a legal battle over public health experts’ far-reaching demands for public confinement against the rising fear about the drastic consequences of a nationwide economic shutdown.
In the case, Downstate Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney on Monday temporarily restrained Pritzker from enforcing the lockdown order against state Rep. Darren Bailey, a Downstate Republican from tiny rural Xenia. Bailey sued Pritzker for violating a provision of the state Emergency Management Act that allows such drastic closure actions for only 30 days. Because Pritzker originally issued his order on March 8, Pritzker’s authority expired on April 8, Bailey argued.
Bailey said he is “irreparably harmed each day he is subjected to” Pritzker’s executive order. In a statement, he said, “Enough is enough! I filed this lawsuit on behalf of myself and my constituents who are ready to go back to work and resume a normal life.” The judge cited in his order Bailey’s right, in “his liberty interest to be free from Pritzker’s executive order of quarantine in his own home’
The suit follows an argument made earlier made by Northbrook, Illinois attorney Michael Ciesla, who first pointed out on his law firm blog how Pritzker’s extension violated the 30-day provision and that even the governor is required to follow the law. Ciesla’s argumentation was widely ignored while Pritzker, Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and the Chicago media scorned or dismissed the suit as a cheap political stunt.
So when McHaney saw enough merit in the lawsuit to issue an injunction against the extension, Pritzker and Lightfoot claimed the action threatens everyone’s health. But they utterly failed to address the heart of the lawsuit—the plain language of the act that clearly lays out the 30-day restriction.
Technically the decision applies only to Bailey, but legal experts agree that the precedent gives weight to any Illinoisan who chooses to challenge the order. Just how seriously Pritzker and Lightfoot take the decision can be measured by the depth of their denunciations.
Pritzker warned that if his order were immediately lifted “people would die” and deaths would “shoot into the thousands by the end of May…. Our hospitals would be full, and very sick people would have nowhere to go.” Lightfoot called the decision “troubling and wrong” and despite it would continue her lockdown policies “to stay the course.”
The “course” is some of the country’s most stringent controls, such as Lightfoot’s closing of parks and other outdoor activities. Pritzker’s new order, effective May 1, would among other things require everyone in Illinois to wear a face mask outdoors, while including some modifications such as opening state parks.
Bailey says he was hoping to push Pritzker into creating a “more realistic plan” reflecting the fact that Illinois is such a diverse region, requiring different approaches for the mostly rural Downstate and metropolitan Chicago. Bailey’s hometown of Xenia has a population of 364. It’s located about 100 miles east of St. Louis in Clay County, which has recorded just two confirmed coronavirus cases and no deaths.
Chicago’s Cook County has 31,953 confirmed cases and 1,347 deaths, but the most feared outcome hasn’t materialized. The city’s sprawling exhibition hall, McCormick Place, had been fitted with 3,000 emergency beds to handle the expected overflow from jammed hospitals, but because of low usage, 2,000 beds are now being removed.
Tensions between the state’s two regions are an historic constant. Most recently those differences show up in a growing movement by Downstaters to separate Chicago from the rest of the state. In this, Illinois is but a microcosm of how heavily infected, urbanized New York and vast swathes of Middle America are vastly different and require tailored approaches in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It also reflects the argument—opposed by many liberals—that the fight is best carried on the local level.
Illinois’ regional differences will play out in an expected high-speed appeal of McHaney’s stay. The Downstate appeals court that would hear the case is dominated by Republicans, who, being elected, would not be expected to overturn McHaney’s decision. The Illinois Supreme Court, which could hear the appeal directly, is controlled by Democrats, and considered likely to ultimately back Pritzker.
Still, with growing sentiment that the various shutdown orders have gone too far, with increasing public protests against the restrictions, crushing unemployment, and the unease that epidemiologists and their models are running the country, what’s happening in Illinois could presage even more objections to unprecedented assaults on liberty.
So, naturally, Democrats are pushing to have them sent to every voter — or ‘voter.’
Enormous pressure is being mounted to use our current crisis as an excuse to transform how we vote in elections.
“Coronavirus gives us an opportunity to revamp our electoral system,” Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder, recently told Time magazine. “These are changes that we should make permanent because it will enhance our democracy.”
The ideas Holder and others are proposing include requiring that a mail-in ballot be automatically sent to every voter, which would allow people to both register and vote on Election Day. It would also permit “ballot harvesting,” whereby political operatives go door-to-door collecting ballots that they then deliver to election officials. All of these would dramatically reduce safeguards protecting election integrity.
But liberals see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sweep away the current system. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that a mandatory national vote-by-mail option be forced on states in the first Coronavirus aid bill. She retreated only when she was ridiculed for shamelessly using the bill to push a political agenda. But Pelosi has promised her Democratic caucus that she will press again to overhaul election laws in the next aid bill.
If liberals can’t mandate vote-by-mail nationally, they will demand that states take the lead. Last Friday, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed an executive order requiring that every registered voter — including those listed as “inactive” — be mailed a ballot this November.
This could be a disaster waiting to happen. Los Angeles County (population 10 million) has a registration rate of 112 percent of its adult citizen population. More than one out of every five L.A. County registrations probably belongs to a voter who has moved, or who is deceased or otherwise ineligible.
Just last January, the public-interest law firm Judicial Watch reached a settlement agreement with the State of California and L.A. County officials to begin removing as many as 1.5 million inactive voters whose registrations may be invalid. Neither state nor county officials in California have been removing inactive voters from the rolls for 20 years, even though the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed last year, in Husted v. Randolph Institute, a case about Ohio’s voter-registration laws, that federal law “makes this removal mandatory.”
Experts have long cautioned against wholesale use of mail ballots, which are cast outside the scrutiny of election officials. “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud,” was the conclusion of the bipartisan 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James Baker.
That remains true today. In 2012, a Miami–Dade County Grand Jury issued a public report recommending that Florida change its law to prohibit “ballot harvesting” unless the ballots are “those of the voter and members of the voter’s immediate family.” “Once that ballot is out of the hands of the elector, we have no idea what happens to it,” they pointed out. “The possibilities are numerous and scary.”
Indeed. In 2018, a political consultant named Leslie McCrae Dowless and seven others were indicted on charges of “scheming to illegally collect, fill in, forge and submit mail-in ballots” to benefit Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris, the Washington Post reported. The fraud was extensive enough that Harris’s 900-vote victory was invalidated by the courts and the race was rerun.
Texas has a long history of intimidation and coercion involving absentee ballots. The abuse of elderly voters is so pervasive that Omar Escobar, the Democratic district attorney of Starr County, Texas, says, “The time has come to consider an alternative to mail-in voting.” Escobar says it needs to be replaced with “something that can’t be hijacked.”
Even assuming that the coronavirus remains a serious health issue in November, there is no reason to abandon in-person voting. A new Heritage Foundation report by Hans von Spakovsky and Christian Adams notes that in 2014, the African nation of Liberia successfully held an election in the middle of the Ebola epidemic. International observers worked with local officials to identify 40 points in the election process that constituted an Ebola transmission risk. Turnout was high, and the United Nations congratulated Liberia on organizing a successful election “under challenging circumstances, particularly in the midst of difficulties posed by the Ebola crisis.”
In Wisconsin recently, officials held that state’s April primary election in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Voters who did not want to vote in-person, including the elderly, could vote by absentee ballot. But hundreds of thousands of people cast ballots at in-person locations, and overall turnout was high. Officials speculated that a few virus cases “may” have been related to Election Day, but, as AP reported, they couldn’t confirm that the patients “definitely got [COVID-19] at the polls.”
In California, the previous loosening of absentee ballot laws have sent disturbing signals. In 2016, a San Pedro couple found more than 80 unused ballots on top of their apartment-building mailbox. All had different names but were addressed to an 89-year-old neighbor who lives alone in their building. The couple suspected that someone was planning to pick up the ballots, but the couple had intercepted them first. In the same election, a Gardena woman told the Torrance Daily Breeze that her husband, an illegal alien, had gotten a mail-in ballot even though he had never registered.
“I think it’s a huge deal,” she said. “Something is definitely wrong with the system.”
The Los Angeles Times agrees. In a 2018 editorial it blasted the state’s “overly-permissive ballot collection law” as being “written without sufficient safeguards.” The Times concluded that “the law passed in 2106 does open the door to coercion and fraud and should be fixed or repealed.” It hasn’t been.
John Lieberman, a Democrat living in East Los Angeles, wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News that he was troubled by how much pressure a door-to-door canvasser put on him to fill out a ballot for candidate Wendy Carrillo. “What I experienced from her campaign sends chills down my spine,” he said.
What should also spook voters who want an honest election is a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. It found that, in 2016, more mail ballots were misdirected to wrong addresses or unaccounted for than the number of votes separating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. She led by 2.9 million votes, yet 6.5 million ballots were misdirected or unaccounted for by the states.147
It would be the height of folly for other states to follow California’s lead. In the Golden State, it already takes over a month to resolve close elections as mail-in ballots trickle in days and weeks after Election Day. Putting what may be a supremely close presidential election into the hands of a U.S. Postal Service known for making mistakes sounds like a recipe for endless litigation and greatly increased distrust in our democracy.
Fear is a powerful driver of public policy.
Ordinarily, that is not greatly troubling. We have speed limits, food sanitation laws, and many other regulations based on rational fear of harm.
Sometimes in extreme circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, fear is so pronounced that it leads government officials to declare an emergency, which under various enacted laws expands their powers to meet the crisis.
We have probably all been surprised, even before the pandemic, at the number of emergency powers Congress has extended over the years to the president. Likewise, governors and even mayors have exercised sweeping emergency powers in the face of the public health crisis.
But are those powers still bound by the Constitution, or do government’s constitutional powers expand in times of emergency? This question has been fiercely debated in presidencies spanning from Lincoln’s to Trump’s.
Few questions of constitutional law have categorical answers, but this one does: In our constitutional republic, emergencies do not expand the boundaries of constitutional authority.
The U.S. Constitution bestows enumerated powers upon Congress and the president. By its text, only one power expands in emergency: the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended in time of rebellion or invasion. The remaining powers and limits are firmly set.
Likewise, the individual rights enumerated in the Constitution do not contain emergency exceptions.
For states, the matter is somewhat different. As the organic units of American government, the states alone inherently possess the “police power” to regulate for public health and safety. By virtue of the Tenth Amendment, those powers not expressly delegated to the national government remain with the states or the people. Local governments, in turn, derive their powers from the state.
But state powers are not without limits: not only does the U.S. Constitution protect individual rights against abuses by state and local governments, but state constitutions provide greater protections of individual rights and stricter constraints on government power than do their national counterpart.
Two U.S. Supreme Court cases from the last century illustrate the debate over the expansion of government power in emergencies and its ultimate resolution. The first is one of the most reviled and discredited cases in the history of American jurisprudence: Korematsu v. United States.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, acting on his powers as commander in chief of the armed forces and later authorized by Congress, issued an order allowing exclusion of people from certain domestic military zones. In turn this led to military orders requiring internment of Japanese-Americans. Twenty-three-year-old Fred Korematsu refused to leave his home and was forcibly removed.
By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court upheld the internment as a “military imperative” based on reasonable fear: “There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short.”
The “compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes,” the majority recognized, ordinarily “is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions.” But the perceived emergency expanded the government’s constitutional powers: When “our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.”
In a dissenting opinion that Justice Antonin Scalia would later say was his favorite ever written, Justice Robert H. Jackson acknowledged the exigencies of war, but rejected the notion that constitutional rights shrink in their shadow. Jackson believed that the order, based on national origin, violated the due process rights of those forced to leave their homes. But he took the longer view: “a judicial construction of the due process clause that will sustain this order,” he urged, “is a far more subtle blow to liberty than the order itself.”
Jackson reasoned that the military order, noxious though it was, would expire with the perceived emergency. “But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution,” Jackson warned, “the principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a claim of an urgent need.”
The appeal of a strong response to crisis can be so alluring that both Justice Hugo Black, a fervent constitutionalist, and Justice William O. Douglas, a renowned civil libertarian, joined the Korematsu majority. But both justices may have experienced buyers’ remorse, because only eight years later they joined another 6-3 majority, this time expressly repudiating the notion of boundless executive power in time of crisis.
In the midst of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman feared that a threatened national strike would shut down the vital steel industry. Rather than use authority provided by Congress to avert the strike, Truman issued an order seizing the steel companies and requiring company managers to operate them to supply the war effort.
Truman defended his orders as commander in chief and under the president’s inherent powers. In Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, the Court rejected those arguments. “In the framework of our Constitution,” the Court declared, “the President’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.”
This time Justice Jackson was in the majority. He noted that when the president acts pursuant to congressional authority, his power is at its apex—but even then it is bound by the Constitution. As commander in chief, he controls its military forces, Jackson wrote, but is not thereby “also Commander in Chief of the country, its industries and its inhabitants,” and must exercise his powers “consistent with a constitutional republic.”
As to inherent presidential authority, Jackson observed, this was “something the forefathers omitted” from the Constitution. They “knew what an emergency was, knew the pressures they engender, knew, too, how they afford a ready pretext for usurpation,” Jackson argued. “We may also suspect that they suspected that emergency powers would tend to kindle emergencies.”
The president’s order, Jackson concluded, “represents an exercise of authority without law.” Truman promptly returned control of the steel companies to their owners.
The Youngstown steel case and others like it illustrate the principle that emergency powers, though broad and often justified by law, are always limited by the Constitution. Whether a constitution for a free people will endure is measured by its vitality in times of crisis; and so far, thankfully, ours has withstood many challenges. Still, the debate over whether constitutional powers expand in emergency persists.
But those seeking to invoke the expansive presidential power articulated in Korematsu are out of luck. In 2018, when the Supreme Court divided bitterly over presidential authority in a case called Trump v. Hawaii, all nine justices agreed on one thing: after nearly 75 years, Korematsu should be relegated to the jurisprudential dustbin. As Chief Justice John Roberts aptly put it, “Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided.” And so was its notion of unbounded executive power.
Here comes the 'dumb reopening'
Very soon, you and I will have to figure out how to navigate a semi-open America where coronavirus is a terrible fact of life. The lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that state and city governments announced in March are breaking down. This is not red-versus-blue. This is reality. Two weeks ago, Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp faced widespread criticism for his easing of restrictions on business and outdoor activities, even as Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis did the same thing. Now most states are joining in.
In the past few days, California’s Gavin Newsom has said he will begin relaxing parts of his statewide directives, and so has Virginia’s Ralph Northam. Maryland’s Larry Hogan has announced that residents of his state will be able to undergo non-emergency medical procedures and play a round of golf. Newsom, Northam, and Hogan are not the sort of politicians likely to be swayed by a “Lockdown Rebellion” protest. The governors have been led to these decisions by the realization that blanket limitations on individual behavior have done about the best they could do.
States imposed these rules to “bend the curve” of infection so that the medical system did not become overwhelmed. The policy worked, up to a point. New York City, where Ground Zero has taken on another, equally horrible meaning, avoided the nightmare Italian scenario in which doctors had to deny care to some in order to save others. Nationwide, the curve was not so much bent as flattened. The seven-day average of cases and deaths peaked in April. It has since leveled off, and tapered somewhat. Some 1,700 deaths per day for the near future is an awful statistic to contemplate. Especially because other democracies—Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand—were able to bring the disease under control.
America is not like them. Three are islands, and the fourth, Korea, is surrounded on three sides by water and on one side by the DMZ. America is also much bigger. We have six times the population of South Korea, and many more times the people of Australia, Taiwan, and New Zealand. We are a more diverse and less cohesive society. Our system of government is designed for inefficiency, to better protect individual liberty. Our bureaucracies show it.
America was unprepared. Unlike the smaller Asian democracies, America did not experience and thus did not learn from the SARS outbreak of 2003. George W. Bush’s 2005 warning was ignored. The sense of invulnerability that comes with living between two oceans, and with allies to the north and south, was once again exposed as an illusion. Leaders at every level of government—federal, state, local—downplayed the threat until it was too late. The desperate circumstances forced us to use the bluntest tool available: shutdown.
The lockdowns were necessary. They were also unsustainable. Americans, so accustomed to freedom, were bound to chafe at being told what to do. Justified fear of coronavirus devastated the food and beverage, travel, hospitality, and entertainment sectors. The economic toll could persist just for so long before it became unbearable. Nor are public health, personal freedom, and economics the only competing values in this emergency. Spiritual life has been harmed. For people living alone, the social and psychological costs of prolonged isolation can be traumatic. For children, extended separation from friends and socializing experiences will have unknown consequences.
The lockdowns are precarious. Therapeutics are in the trial-and-error phase. A vaccine, if one can be found, is many months away. What’s needed is a means of bridging the gap between pandemic and immunity.
The epidemiologists’ preferred strategy is test, trace, and isolate. That is how our fellow democracies suppressed the outbreak. It will be harder for us. The scale of testing required for the plan to work is massive. At the current rate of increase, it will take us months to achieve. There are also supply problems to consider and logistical obstacles to surmount. It’s not a matter of snapping one’s fingers. Frontline medical personnel, for example, continue to identify shortages of personal protective equipment months into the crisis.
Amassing the significant labor force necessary for “contact tracing” might not be too difficult in a time of mass unemployment. What will be harder to overcome are the legitimate worries Americans will have over violations of privacy. Not to mention how they might respond to the techniques of “isolation.” Checking oneself into a government-approved corona-hotel requires a deference to authority and devaluing of autonomy that runs against the American grain. We have enough trouble getting folks to wear masks.
John Cochrane of Stanford’s Hoover Institution calls the expert recommendations a “smart reopening.” He also says it is unlikely to happen. Instead, we are in for a “dumb reopening,” where people tentatively resume patterns of life resembling normality until they hear of rising infections in their area and reduce social contact voluntarily, causing a decline in new cases. “There are hundreds of little behaviors each of us take that push the reproduction rate around.” Think of a turtle retreating to his shell.
It is astonishing (and frightening) to consider that, despite our technology and wealth, America seems fated to respond to the coronavirus much in the same way it responded to the Spanish influenza a century ago: stop and go, in fits and starts, a 3,007-county patchwork of closings and re-openings and more closings, where individual responsibility and self-discipline matter as much as, if not more than, bureaucratic fiat. A “dumb reopening” would not suppress the disease, but it might provide a chance to address some of the economic, social, religious, cultural, and psychological damage that the coronavirus has wrought. And, given the recent decisions by officials both Republican and Democratic, a “dumb reopening” lies ahead. Whether we like it or not.
The South Dakota governor rejected the mandatory government-forced shutdown. Now, the media claim her decisions were made out of emotion and naked ambition, not courage.
As the Coronavirus spread from Wuhan, China, to the United States, most governors quickly acquiesced to the media’s demand that they force a governmental shutdown of their states in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. The media continue to be heavily invested in the shutdown model, even as the country realizes that hospitals are nowhere close to being overwhelmed and, in fact, many hospital systems are furloughing doctors and nurses due to the mandatory cessation on handling most non-COVID-19 cases.
With the predicted hospital demands being dramatically off, the media’s goalposts have shifted violently from demanding a shutdown to “flatten the curve” of exponential growth that would overwhelm hospitals to demanding a continued shutdown to lower the number of COVID-19 deaths, no matter the consequences, including long-term economic damage, serious harm to the food supply, or death from other causes. While the media generally praise “government shutdown” politicians such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who kept unsanitary subways running, forced people into deadly nursing homes, and demanded tens of thousands of ventilators he never used — they condemn politicians such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has strongly encouraged social distancing measures but not used government force to accomplish public health goals. The media predicted that Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ more measured approach would result in horrific disaster. It hasn’t. Unlike Cuomo, DeSantis focused on nursing homes more than the low likelihood of transmission on big, sunny beaches.
The media sense that they will face less scrutiny for their preferred policy position if they can remove sane alternative policy approaches from the table. To that end, Noem and others who reject the mandatory, long-term, government-forced shutdown model as the preferred option for their states must be condemned. The media aren’t uniform in condemning alternate policy approaches, it should be noted. Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is one of the media’s enemies for encouraging phased reopening of his state while Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who is following the same approach, has not received similar media hatred.
Whether it relates to sexual harassment claims, or Coronavirus policies, the media play by two different sets of rules. To get good coverage as a Republican, in this and all other storylines, one must typically condemn conservatives or President Donald Trump. Just ask Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, or Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for more details on how to secure friendlier media coverage.
MSNBC’s histrionic Rachel Maddow devoted nearly a week of programming to condemning Noem in mid-April, around the time the Washington Post ran a piece of panic pornography headlined, “South Dakota’s governor resisted ordering people to stay home. Now it has one of the nation’s largest coronavirus hot spots.”
The article, which was tweeted out by the New York Times’ Ken Vogel, CNN’s Jake Tapper, NBC News’ Sahil Kapur, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and many others, was written at the time that South Dakota had 6 deaths. As of May 3, the number had risen to 21. The outbreak was at a Smithfield pork processing facility that even the most stringent of state lockdowns would have deemed an essential business to allow to keep open in preservation of the country’s food supply.
Modelers predicted South Dakota would need 10,000 beds if no government order were put in place and nothing were done to stop the spread of Coronavirus. While no government stay-at-home order has been put in place and Noem has simply encouraged citizens of the state to make good decisions, the latest prediction is that the state will need a peak total of 127 beds on June 20. Noem argues that this shows her state’s population is properly practicing social distancing. The state was one of the first to launch a contact tracing application as well.
The latest media attack on Noem comes from out-of-state reporter Thomas Beaumont, filing from Iowa, and his colleague Stephen Groves, both of the Associated Press. It’s a bizarre piece. The article begins with an unflattering photograph of Noem, a difficult feat given how attractive the governor is. (Noem was rated the most beautiful member of Congress when she served in the House.)
The two men who wrote the article purport to get into the governor’s mind and ascertain that her policy goals are driven not by her leadership or rational decision making but by emotion and naked ambition. It is unclear why they believe they’re qualified to perform this type of analysis, much less how these men developed their theories about this woman’s political path. Courageous leadership is certainly a way to stand out, but comes with extremely high risk in our media environment, as articles such as this attest. It would seem that a more ambitious politician would attempt to find safety in the herd. They admit that the media politically oppose the governor but suggest that they’re not alone, “It’s not just the media who have questioned her approach,” they write.
The two men cite the mayor of Sioux Falls as a prominent Noem critic. They repeatedly cite the talking point that Mayor Paul TenHaken called for “sweeping stay-at-home orders,” which was true a few weeks ago. They do not note that he has since declined to institute a stay-at-home order for his own city, even after saying he was going to do soin mid-April.
During a historically tough year for Republicans, Noem’s winning of the state most politically famous for having previously produced Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle is redefined as “She won the governor’s office with just 51 percent of the vote in 2018.” Her opponent, the reporters forget to mention, was an extremely popular state senate leader.
Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that a Tax Foundation analysis shows that South Dakota has the lowest percentage in the country of a state’s workforce filing unemployment claims. Nowhere in the article is last week’s parade in honor of the governor mentioned. The parade featured hundreds of cars, and one horse.
The article has a few other factual problems. Without evidence, and in the face of contrary evidence, it suggests Noem is following Trump’s lead on mandatory shutdowns. His comments have been inconsistent but his administration has strongly supported government shutdowns and he himself has condemned Kemp for attempting to restart his state’s economy. The article falsely claims that there is no evidence that the veteran malaria drug is effective for Coronavirus treatment. While the effectiveness is hotly debated by doctors and researchers, multiple perspectives have evidence in support of their claims.
For her part, Noem seems unlikely to be bullied by media. In a Coronavirus update at the end of April, she told citizens, “As governor, I did not dictate to the people of South Dakota, tell people which activities are officially approved or not, or begin arresting, ticketing, or fining people for exercising their rights. Nor am I doing that today. I will, however, continue to lead and help South Dakota navigate a path forward in this uniquely difficult and challenging time.”
Noem praised the prudent decision making of the people of South Dakota in the face of a global pandemic, saying it was them that make the state great, not the government. “The people of South Dakota are the source of the power and legitimacy of our government – not the media, not politicians and not political parties. That’s a healthy perspective for any elected official to keep in mind.”
By Fox News•
“Of all tyrannies,” C.S. Lewis once observed, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”
We’re seeing the truth of these words play out right now all across the country, and if you don’t believe me, just look at the headlines.
While we try to help each other stay healthy and safe, state and local authorities are seizing unprecedented amounts of power in the supposed pursuit of that goal, setting dangerous precedents along the way.
Economic czars in the form of governors, including in my own state of Kentucky, are taking it on themselves to decree which businesses will live and which will shutter for continually extended lengths of time, leaving those who have poured their entire lives into their businesses to try to pick up the pieces and do their best to survive and feed their families in the meantime.
The czars decide who can and can’t get medical treatment and restrict fundamental liberties such as the right to gather to worship.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear went so far as to tell some churchgoers their license plates would be scanned, and they would be forced to quarantine for two weeks – never mind that, having an interest in their own health, these worshippers are more than capable of conducting their services safely.
Innocence is not allowed to be presumed. Comply or else.
In Michigan, a self-appointed monarch dictates away basic needs such as landscaping. Not willing to let a little thing like the state legislature get in her way, she simply charges ahead and ignores it when it refuses to support continuing a state of emergency. Gov. Gretchen Wittmer seems to have forgotten she serves the people of Michigan and is not living in Buckingham Palace a century ago when subjects would bow obediently to their sovereign.
Incredibly, in California, a paddleboarder was chased, not by one but two government boats – all while he was about as socially distanced alone in the ocean as one can get. I’ve heard of high-speed car chases in California, but this might be the first high-speed boat chase involving a paddleboarder.
Concerns are also being raised both at home and abroad over excessive use of force.
In West Odessa, Texas, the county sheriff showed up with a SWAT team in response to a local bar reopening and protesters peacefully assembling. Surreal news footage shows the owner being taken away by an officer, hands behind her back.
Let’s take an important second to get something straight: I actually support the concept of states taking the lead in responding to the pandemic, and I applaud President Donald Trump for following this approach as he focuses on broader federal efforts that no state could do on its own.
Is it any wonder, when tensions are already ratcheted up due to the virus itself, that we are seeing false accusations and outright violence and threats?
But it does not excuse abuse of authority. It does not require executives to ignore their legislatures or place unreasonable or unconstitutional burdens on Americans, and we should call those overreaches out when we see them.
In fact, I have said time and again that reopening our nation will require an even more tailored local response, right down to the city level. Bowling Green is not New York City or even Louisville, for example, and should be free to take different steps to get its local economy going again.
This means state and local leaders working with each other instead of acting unilaterally.
In some cases, authority figures are turning Americans against each other, echoing stories we once thought we would only hear coming out of the Soviet Union or Communist China as neighbors are encouraged to turn one another in to the authorities if they see or even suspect anything less than perfect compliance with often arbitrary guidelines.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying, “[W]e still know there’s some people who need to get the [social distancing] message,” has encouraged New Yorkers to take a picture when they think social distancing guidelines aren’t being followed and text it to the city. “[A]ction will ensue,” promises the mayor.
Is it any wonder, when tensions are already ratcheted up due to the virus itself, that we are seeing false accusations and outright violence and threats?
A dad and mom taking their young kids into a bank to try to open a joint account are criticized for supposedly not socially distancing enough and are – anonymously – turned in to Child Protective Services on false accusations.
A woman identified as a teacher in New Jersey wishes “a long, painful death” from coronavirus on students playing football. We read stories of alleged choking over social distancing, and the antagonism plays out in attacks online.
C.S. Lewis also warned us that “[t]he robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
There is little government cannot – and has not tried – to justify with the words “for our own good” or “to keep us all safe.” And once that justification – even if genuinely offered – is allowed to automatically stifle debate, actions build “without end.”
You don’t have to look far back into our own history to see where such roads can lead, as the federal government’s response to 9/11 morphed into surveilling innocent Americans. Yet I and others cannot even bring the issue up in Congress without being accused of not taking our national security and safety seriously.
Already, we hear talk of how much additional surveillance we will be expected to tolerate due to the pandemic – for our own good, of course.
As concerning as these issues are, I remain encouraged by the many positive stories that exist of Americans coming together to face this challenge, and I am confident we will beat it as we have so many others.
But it’s imperative we do so while protecting both life and our unique way of life – defined as one that gives the benefit of the doubt to freedom and responds from that philosophical grounding.
Recent events again prove the Founders’ wisdom in deliberately spreading power out and decentralizing our system to try to curb infringements on our liberties.
That is supposed to set us apart, and it is up to each of us to make sure it continues to do so.
A matter of language
Fox News presented a “virtual Town Hall” program last evening featuring President Donald Trump answering videotaped questions for two hours. For those who have been catching the President’s daily news conferences, there was little new information. Apparently, the President’s assumption was that the audience had not been following the daily briefings. For those voters this was a status report on the country’s efforts to recover from the pandemic, both medically and economically.
Rather than attempt to summarize the status report – most of which is already familiar to those who follow the news — we will look here at whether the interview was an overall success of the interview.
The first item on that agenda is the President’s style. On the positive side, he reveals his command of the facts involved on a wide variety of issues. Equally important is his candor in admitting when he does NOT know something. Another characteristic which comes through is his sincerity. He clearly believes what he is saying – and it is this sincerity which allows him to connect with people.
On the other hand, he speaks in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style, which is well suited to his amazingly successful rallies but does not serve him as well when the question requires an authoritative response. His manner of speaking is entirely consistent with his overall approach to many of the issues he deals with. That is to say that he is a transactional thinker. He thinks in terms of negotiating each issue rather than in factual terms.
Thus, in answer to a speculative question like, “when will America return to normal?” his answer will be to list some of the elements of the prediction rather than giving a simple answer like “I think we will be back to normal by January 2021”. Instead, he starts thinking of all the elements which go into such a prediction, like: “Americans really want to get back to work. We are not meant to sit around waiting etc.” After surveying the main elements of the prediction, he finally opines that he expects the third quarter, 2020 to be transitional, the fourth quarter to be very vigorous, with a return to the booming economy by the beginning of 2020.
The effect of this style is frustration on the part of the listener. The President seems to be wandering all around the problem, touching on some points that seem irrelevant before finally stating – or not stating – a simple answer to what seems like a simple question. In his mind, he is reviewing all the possible items that might influence an action; he is “negotiating” with the questioner.
It is for this reason that several results occur: 1) he is hard to listen to when the questions concern results rather than the elements of an answer; 2) he is better judged on the basis of his actions rather than his words; 3) a more effective presentation of his accomplishments is done by others. This latter point was graphically illustrated last evening when Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared with the President in the last segment and explained the President’s accomplishments more convincingly than did the President himself.
Another aspect of the President’s transactional mode of thinking occurred near the end of the interview when he was asked about his intentions regarding tariffs on China’s imports. He indicated that the question was forcing him to explain his negotiating position prior to opening talks with China on the issue. In other words, like any good trader, he does not want to reveal his “hold card” (his true goals) in advance. It is often the case that only if the opposition is approached with no prior conditions will talks even commence.
I have noted this characteristic many times before, specifically in terms of his press relations. Reporters always want to know the goals of any negotiation before it even starts, obviously so that they can judge the results as success or failure. They don’t realize that such an approach to negotiations constitutes a set of demands rather than a negotiation. After all, prior to engagement, how does anyone know what might be agreed to in the final outcome. But the press just doesn’t get it. The bottom line is that President Trump likes to play his cards close to his vest – and the press hates him for it!
My conclusion is that President Donald Trump is better judged on results than on discussions. Let him tell his story in his own words at rallies and let others tell us about his accomplishments at town halls, virtual or otherwise. After all, in the end what counts is, “Promises made, promises kept!”
Government policies restricting the operation of markets usually do more harm than good. Even in times of crisis, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, policymakers should do everything possible to keep markets working and private incentives strong.
The unprecedented shutdown of much of the US economy that has been ordered by federal, state, and local governments is understandable given the need to slow the coronavirus’s spread. Too often, however, well-intentioned and often long-lasting government interventions prevent markets from working properly and thus do more harm than good. Even in times of crisis, markets solve problems well, because they provide the right incentives to use resources effectively.
Policymakers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic should therefore do everything possible to keep markets functioning and private incentives strong. And history can serve as a useful guide in this regard.
For starters, government should impose minimal restrictions on firms and employees when harnessing the private sector for temporary emergency purposes – whether producing tanks in World War II or ventilators now. Extraneous or overly aggressive government policies often hinder both recovery and the economy’s long-run health. Indeed, in most cases (with some sensible exceptions), less regulation is a good prescription for economic success. Today, for example, why not relax occupational licensing requirements for retired doctors and nurses to help relieve pressure on overwhelmed hospitals?
Preserving individual responsibility is also crucial. Frequent government interventions in major labor disputes during the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson always ended up with a settlement in the White House. That destroyed private bargaining, because executives and unions didn’t make their best offers until they got to Washington. But when President Richard Nixon was faced with a longshoremen’s strike in 1969, he let the parties know that they had to take responsibility and settle the matter themselves; once that message registered, they did.
Next, policymakers should not intervene in pricing. Having inherited inflationary pressures throughout the economy, the Nixon administration eventually introduced mandatory wage and price controls in 1971, with broad bipartisan support. Although these measures initially seemed to work, they wound up harming the economy. By contrast, President Ronald Reagan went back to tried-and-true macroeconomic policies, lifted the regulatory burden, and swiftly reduced tax rates – all of which worked where earlier government intervention hadn’t.
Another guiding principle is to let markets adjust. In the summer of 1971, US deficit spending and domestic inflation caused the dollar to become overvalued, triggering a run on Fort Knox as European countries began redeeming their currencies at the fixed rate for gold. Nixon then closed the gold window and began a move toward a global system of flexible exchange rates.
After an initial fight to defend this new regime, it ended up working well. As Milton Friedman later explained: “Suppose we had continued with the system of fixed exchange rates […] When the  Arab-Israeli war broke out, and when the oil embargo came on, there would have been a major international financial crisis […] None of that happened. Why not? Because there was a free price system operating.”
Similarly, policymakers should not let public magnanimity displace private markets. Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was in political trouble because his country’s economy was imploding. In order not to “lose Russia,” world leaders urged the United States to lead a huge bailout, including the delivery of a large quantity of US government surplus wheat. But that would have destroyed Soviet agriculture, which had been partly freed from planners’ controls. Instead, President George H.W. Bush’s administration minimized its assistance, and the crisis was solved by markets.
More governments need to appreciate that open markets improve economic outcomes. When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, oil prices spiked to the equivalent of about $200 per barrel today. The two deepest US recessions since World War II had followed similar dramatic oil-price increases, caused by the Arab oil embargo and Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Indeed, one proposal was to shut down the oil futures market. But after intense debate, cooler heads prevailed, and markets remained open.
Today’s market interventions will need to be unwound. Sometimes, a government must act to prevent previous desirable government actions from being abused and threatening the functioning of a vital market.
Such was the case when the US government resolved the Savings and Loan (S&L) debacle in the early 1990s. The combination of federal deposit insurance and pension pass-through to it had enabled many insolvent S&L institutions to stay open, taking greater investment risks while paying ever higher interest rates on deposits to keep the money flowing in. That was threatening solvent financial institutions’ lifeblood, so rapidly taking over many insolvent S&Ls, while unpopular, limited the ultimate damage.
Governments must take care to intervene properly. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush’s administration worked to keep markets open. The immediate task was to cut off al-Qaeda’s financing without disrupting global financial flows needed for economic growth. The strategy proved successful: The economy did not tank, and the 9/11 Commission later awarded the administration’s economic-policy response its only “A” grade.
Finally, policymakers must focus on economic impact. During the 2008 global financial crisis, Congress passed a temporary “stimulus” package of tax rebates, while a bailout mentality had started earlier that year with the rescue of Bear Stearns. But people largely saved the rebates, and the economy continued to sink. During the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, US taxpayers must be encouraged to spend their temporary cash payments from the federal government – including in parts of the economy that are still operating and may grow in the future, such as online sales and remote work.
Looking beyond today’s public-health imperatives, the US must develop an economic strategy that does not override markets. Effective implementation of such policies will require continuous interaction between government and private-sector actors, lest bureaucratic inertia and needless red tape slow things down. That has been the main lesson of many crises over time: Keep markets open and private incentives strong.
We feared hospitals would be overwhelmed. Instead, in many states, they’re emptying out and laying off doctors and nurses.
We had to destroy the hospitals to save them.
You could be forgiven for thinking that’s the upshot of the coronavirus lockdowns that have suspended elective surgeries and generally discouraged people from going to hospitals.
Many hospitals are getting pushed near, or over, the financial edge. At a time when we feared that hospitals would get overwhelmed by a surge of patients, they have instead been emptied out. At a time when we thought medical personnel would be at a premium, they are instead being idled all over the country.
We are experiencing an epidemic that bizarrely — and in part because of the choices of policymakers — has created a surfeit of hospital beds and an excess of doctors and nurses.
Not everywhere, of course. Hospitals in New York City and parts of New Jersey have been tested to their limits. But throughout much of the country, hospitals are drastically underutilized, both because states have banned elective procedures and people have been too afraid to show up.
One reason that we didn’t want hospitals to get overrun by COVID-19 patients is that we didn’t want to crowd out everyone else needing care. But, as a deliberate choice, we’ve ended up crowding out many people needing care — even where COVID-19 surges haven’t happened and probably never will.
Drastic measures were called for when the coronavirus hit our shores and began to spread out of control, especially in urban areas particularly susceptible to the pandemic. It is understandable that we wanted hospitals to prepare for the worst, and to preserve and muster equipment necessary to safely care for infected people. Hospitals themselves can become a vector for spread of COVID-19, so keeping away people who didn’t absolutely need to show up was a reasonable impulse.
But this is a case where the cure may be really worse than the disease — or at least has created its own crisis.
Elective surgeries are a major source of revenue for hospitals, which have taken an enormous hit as they have disappeared, often in response to state orders.
West Tennessee Healthcare, based in Jackson, lost $18 million in March after the state prohibited elective surgeries, and furloughed 1,100 out of a 7,000-person staff, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. Summit Healthcare in Arizona expects as much as a 50 percent drop in revenue after the state’s ban on elective surgeries. Philadelphia-based Tower Health, also dealing with a 50 percent drop in revenue, furloughed 1,000 employees out of 14,000.
The examples go on and on and on. Even hospitals in New York State, a center for the virus, are feeling the pinch. Catholic Health and Kaleida Health in Buffalo are furloughing workers. So is Mohawk Valley Health System in Utica, Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, and Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson.
Elective surgeries aren’t necessarily what you think. As a piece in The Atlantic pointed out, they aren’t just knee replacements. They include procedures for serious illnesses such as cancer. A recent New York Times story was headline, “The Pandemic’s Hidden Victims: Sick or Dying, but Not from the Virus.” It led with the story of a Rutgers University professor who couldn’t get treatment for the recurrence of his blood cancer.
As with the lockdowns in general, it’s not clear how much of the reduced traffic in the hospitals has been the result of people changing their behavior on their own based on fear of the virus, and how much has been the result of state edicts. But it’s certainly true that the prohibitions on elective surgeries — more than 30 governors had issued some version of them as of late April — were too clumsy and sweeping, and not geographically selective enough.
Governors in some states are now loosening them up, and it’s time for other governors around the country to follow suit, except in true hot spots. In retrospect, the bans fail the cardinal rule of health care: First, do no harm.
The COVID-19 crisis has taken America to places no one thought possible. The social lockdown ordered by so many governors to “flatten the curve” has turned into a kind of soft repression threatening the free exercise of rights guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution.
That’s not a popular opinion or one that’s readily accepted by those who influence what the average American thinks day by day. Those in positions to filter the flow of information before it reaches the masses have people so concerned about the possibility of dying of coronavirus, they’ve forgotten there’s more to life than just being alive.
Think back to the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson didn’t cite “life” as our only unalienable right. He put “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” alongside it, two things we’ve lost sight of as fear dominates our days and nights.
Consider how the goalposts have been moved regarding the need for us to self-quarantine. In the beginning, we were told it was to prevent the rapid spread of the coronavirus from overwhelming the nation’s health care system. Too many patients for the available supply of doctors, nurses, hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment would be catastrophic, it was explained, leaving most of us willing, in the beginning anyway, to go along with what the public health experts were advising.Ads by scrollerads.com
They may have been right—but there’s still much we don’t know. We don’t know how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 or how many have built up antibodies and immunities. We don’t know the full range of risk factors to determine who is vulnerable. We don’t know exactly how many people who contract it can be expected to die. And we don’t know if nature is building up herd immunity, the strength or duration of immunity or if the mitigation efforts have been successful. Nonetheless, the curve appears to be flattening in many states.
That should be good news. But rather than see it as a reason to open up the national marketplace, health experts and some politicians are arguing that the United States should not reopen until testing and tracing procedures are much more widespread and that a return to normalcy won’t be possible until a vaccine is available.
That’s a recipe for disaster. The need to return to something resembling regular order is obvious. Americans are getting restless. They’re beginning to think about their “liberty” and their ability to pursue “happiness” in the same breath as their right to “life.” The salve coming from Washington in the form of trillions of dollars in aid, whose economic impact remains questionable, isn’t pacifying anybody.
The political class is responding with efforts to evade accountability. Credit Republican Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky for trying to force a recorded vote on the $2.5 trillion CARES Act in the House of the Representatives. His effort was blocked by lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, who wanted the bill passed with no fingerprints on it and to stay out of town. That’s outrageous, but not as much as the push by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in the Democratic caucus to set up a system allowing proxy voting on legislation before the House of Representatives during the coronavirus pandemic.
That idea has been blocked, at least for now, by Republican opposition. Pelosi’s too smart to attempt a change in the rules that profound without getting buy-in from the opposition because she recognizes how much it would change the institution over which she presides.
Allowing proxy voting on legislation could destroy accountability among members of Congress. We don’t expect much of our representatives, not really. The old saying attributed to Woody Allen that 90 percent of the job is just showing up comes to mind. Just be there most of the time, vote when called upon to do so and issue a press release once in a while so we know you’re there, and the American people will vote to re-elect you better than 90 percent of the time every two years.
What the Democrats want—and are pursuing in the name of crisis preparedness—would allow a few members to control everything that happens in the U.S. House. The leadership could keep votes in their pocket for when they were needed, in effect nullifying the impact of any petition the people may make to those whom we vote to put in office. Proxy voting could lead to a concentration of power that would make the House more like the Senate, which the founders specifically didn’t want.
Like the economy, we should want the government to be transparent and open. Voting by proxy, which would soon become the norm once Congress goes over the top of that slippery slope, would be a step toward autocracy and away from self-government. It’s an idea that should be allowed to die a quiet death.