Today in Trumpland

Mankato

The Democratic National Convention starts tonight. Even if we just considered what happened today, the speakers at the DNC will have a lot to work with. So what did happen in Trumpland today?

Miles Taylor, who was a former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Trump, endorsed Joe Biden. According to Taylor, Trump used the DHS “for his political benefit.” Taylor says that “years of DHS planning” for something like the coronavirus “have been largely wasted. Meanwhile, “more than 165,000 have died.” He adds: “It is more than a little ironic that Trump is campaigning for a second term as a law-and-order president. His first term has been dangerously chaotic. Four more years of this are unthinkable.”

In North Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill decided to move all undergraduate classes online after 130 students tested positive for Covid-19 in the first week of classes. Meanwhile, a Kansas teacher has created a national database of school closings, quarantines, cases and deaths.

As more people die everyday from Covid-19, Trump is getting medical advice from the My Pillow guy. Yes, you read that correctly. In the midst of a pandemic that most experts say is going to get worse in the next several months, Trump is spending his time entertaining a miracle cure promoted by a pillow salesman.

Trump continued his assault on a nearly 250-year-old institution. As Paul Krugman wrote today, the United States Postal Service (USPS) brings “Americans into better contact with one another and the world at larger….it has a universal service obligation,” “binding the nation together” and “facilitating citizen inclusion.” He calls Trump’s attempts to defund the Post Office as “the unbinding of America.”

Nancy Pelosi has asked the members of the House of Representatives to return from recess to consider a Postal Service bill that will prevent Trump from using the USPS to manipulate the November presidential election. Initial reports suggest that the bill will provide billions of dollars in funding to the Postal Service in an attempt to strengthen it in preparation for November.

Earlier today, after repeating five times that he signed an emergency declaration to help Iowa after the state got hit by a massive storm last week (and adding that he is doing well politically in Iowa), Trump again blamed Amazon for the post office losing money. It is a dubious claim.

By the way, Fox News is countering all this with reports that Barack Obama removed mailboxes during his presidency.

Truth-Telling and Persuasion: The Case of Paul Krugman

Krugman

This morning I read (in print!) The Atlantic‘s review of Paul Krugman‘s new book Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.  The reviewer, Sebastian Mallaby, spends most of his review trying to figure out why Krugman is angry all the time.  Here is a taste:

In the introduction to this collection of mostly journalistic writings, Krugman contends that he didn’t change. Rather, politics did. Republicans lost respect for facts and data, turning politically neutral technocrats into involuntary foes. “In 21st-century America,” Krugman writes, “accepting what the evidence says about an economic question will be seen as a partisan act.” He began to feel this viscerally before the period covered in this volume: George W. Bush anticipated the revolt against experts when he sold his tax-cut proposal dishonestly during the 2000 election campaign. But since then Krugman’s frustration has only grown deeper.

In the Obama years, technocrats determined that the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying in a depressed economy wouldn’t generate dangerous inflation, but “the official Republican view,” Krugman tells us, was that the Fed was being irresponsible. In the Trump presidency, technocrats have pointed out the lack of support for the claim that tax cuts for high earners will generate prosperity, but Republicans have preached this gospel regardless. Commentators in this post-evidence, post-truth environment find themselves “arguing with zombies,” to cite Krugman’s book title. They confront “ideas that should have been killed by contrary evidence, but instead keep shambling along, eating people’s brains.”

Faced with these alarming undead adversaries, Krugman has concluded that politically neutral truth telling is not merely impossible. It is morally inadequate. He duly sets out four rules for engaged public intellectuals. First, they should “stay with the easy stuff,” meaning subjects on which experts have achieved consensus: This is where an authoritative commentator can improve public understanding by delivering a clear message. Second, they should communicate in plain English—no controversy there. Third, and a bit more edgily, Krugman insists that commentators should “be honest about dishonesty.” If politicians deny clear evidence, they should be called out for arguing in bad faith. Finally, Krugman proclaims a rule that flies in the face of traditional journalistic tradecraft: “Don’t be afraid to talk about motives.”

Read the entire review here.  It is a very interesting reflection on how to balance truth-telling and the defense of facts with persuading people to your point of view.  Krugman’s points about engaged public intellectuals is also helpful..