Steven Wright, the great surrealist comedian, once inadvertently described how the last several weeks, if not the last three years, have felt to so many of us.
On his 1985 “I Have a Pony” concert album, Wright joked about the sensation of leaning too far back in his chair, but catching himself at the last second just before falling over backward. “I feel like that all the time,” Wright added. We’ve all done it at one point or another, and we’re all familiar with that momentary adrenaline rush of out-of-control panic.
With a pandemic rapidly circulating the globe, with the first stages of another financial crisis in progress and with a breathtakingly incompetent White House running the show, we’re all feeling a bit like we’re leaning too far back in our chairs. And we’re more or less experiencing that sensation “all the time.” So much of it’s in reaction to the aforementioned breathtakingly incompetent White House and our even more incompetent president. He’s supposed to be handling this with expertise and aplomb, as most previous chief executives have, but he absolutely isn’t. In any way.
Instead, it’s another crisis in which Donald Trump and his team of ass-kissing henchmen are dealing with it like the Three Stooges trying to fix the plumbing — Curly accidentally trapping himself in a cage of leaky pipes, while geysers of water shoot out of the light fixtures. Trump’s total absence of presidential qualifications, like the fuel rods at Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor, are becoming rapidly exposed, precipitating a political, economic and public health meltdown unlike anything we’ve experienced in the modern age.
For several years now, Trump has managed to bullshit his way through his presidency, walking a narrow path while pretending he knows what’s going on, pretending he has a handle on the details and responsibilities involved in serving in such a rarefied position.
Despite his inner delusions and outer bragging, he doesn’t.
For three years, Trump leaned heavily on his skills as a well-practiced New York con man, and, accordingly, continued to cultivate the fanboy adulation of his Red Hat cult as his exclusive audience. Thanks in part to the blinding velocity of the firehose of news and a successful whitewashing effort provided by Fox News, previous nightmares such as the president’s incompetent, callous and punitive reaction to Hurricane Maria have whizzed on by without Trump experiencing any blunt-force damage to his low-40s approval polling.
But now Americans at large are waking up to a grotesque, unavoidable reality: This isn’t new. Trump has always been staggeringly out of his depth as president, routinely overwhelmed by the rigors and requirements of the gig, while appearing to act based solely on his own political and financial desperation.
For those of us who are overwhelmingly aware of his record, Trump’s lack of qualifications for such a crucial job have always been blindingly obvious. As the coronavirus expands its reach, however, average voters who are neither political commentators or adoring loyalists deeply embedded inside his cult of tyranny are just now catching up in shocked horror to Trump’s inability to handle the job. You can almost hear the sickening thud of jaws dropping at one example after another of the president’s laundry list of fumbles in the face of a deadly emergency — job-performance deficiencies that make George W. Bush’s presidency seem like Abe Lincoln by way of Capt. Steve Rogers. These bungled and botched reactions are rapidly fusing into our third simultaneous crisis, a “Trump Crisis,” inevitably worsening both the pandemic and the stock market free-fall.
While Trump clearly didn’t cause the pandemic, his total absence of sober and, most important, trustworthy leadership has worsened it, not unlike the mayor of Amity Island’s reaction to the shark attacks in “Jaws.” This is where it might be nice to have a president who can be trusted, at least as much as Americans have trusted other presidents in a crisis, rather than a buffoon whose very appearance is a lie — a makeup-slathered, badly-coiffed hustler who lies with the same unblinking ease as the Stones performing “Satisfaction,” to the tune of nearly 17,000 lies in a little more than three years.
By deceptively telegraphing a false sense of security to his disciples — the last remaining voters who inexplicably trust him — Trump has already endangered American lives, potentially exposing his people to the virus by encouraging them to shop and travel, while also diminishing the threat by inaccurately noting that the coronavirus isn’t a big deal. Trump also continued to hold his usual ego-stroking rallies while fanboys infected with the coronavirus attended, potentially infecting Rep. Matt Gaetz, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Doug Collins, among others, at Trump’s CPAC rally.
Trump’s grossly pathetic reaction to the pandemic has effectively highlighted an aspect of the presidency that’s been lost in the fever swamps of social media and cable news. Despite what some of us have come to believe, the presidency is a real job, one that requires certain skills — skills which, for various reasons, around 40 percent of us just don’t prioritize any more.
At some point in recent years, the presidency became so utterly devalued that too many Americans have been led to believe that just about anyone could do it, including the doofus who bankrupted four casinos, the well-known bullshit artist and former host of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Too many Americans are badly mistaken.
Perhaps it was the Republican Party’s nonsensical pitch about electing someone we’d like to have a beer with, the notion that it was awesome and, indeed, patriotic to elect someone just like us. Frankly, I don’t want a president who’s just like me, nor should you. Why the hell would we want a surgeon or an airline pilot who’s just as undisciplined and as unskilled as we are? For that matter, why would anyone in their right mind allow someone who behaves like Donald Trump to operate on their pancreas or fly them across the Pacific Ocean? Along those lines, why, then, would we allow this badly incapable human to possess the authority to launch nuclear weapons or to manage the response to a global pandemic? There’s a different kind of sickness in America these days, a political one, and it has to be eradicated before we pass the zero-barrier between here and idiocracy.
The presidency used to be a job that required unmatched decency, experience, knowledge and discipline. It’s supposed to be our job as voters to choose a president, or any political leadership role for that matter, based on a strong predisposition for these ideals.
As voters, we’re hiring an employee to do something almost no one can do. We’re hiring a national steward to manage the most colossal and powerful government in human history. We’re not hiring a bug-eyed TV pundit to loudly regurgitate all our rants, biases and vendettas. The presidency isn’t luggage for stowing our feelings, our grievances or our social media brands. The presidency isn’t about our identities, it’s not about “owning” the other side and it’s not about telling us what we want to hear. It’s about rational, steady leadership, and there’s none of that in the White House today as the world shuts down around us.
As voters and as employers, we need to stop acting like selfish children, making our selections all about us and our hang-ups, and instead begin to realize that it’s a job that only 44 other people have been chosen to occupy. It’s a job of significant gravity and solemnity.
The presidency isn’t a show, elections aren’t a game and the president should never be a game-show host.
The ascendency of Donald Trump, along with this three-year, seemingly endless plasma stream of abnormalcy, now metastasizing into full-on Trump fatigue, is a consequence of this glitch in our fellow Americans’ perception of the modern presidency. This week and in the weeks to come, people will die because too many of us forgot what this job ought to signify and what qualities those who occupy it need to possess.
We’re all learning hard lessons right now, and one of them is that we urgently need to re-prioritize who we’re hiring and especially why we’re hiring them. There’s no hope for the current president, but there’s an election in less than eight months. It’s another opportunity to finally lean forward in our chairs, and end this madness before we fall over backward and break our necks.
Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel
The cabinet on Sunday approved widespread fiscal reforms that will cut the budgets of most ministries in order to fund the establishment of six new ministries, including the office of the “alternate prime minister,” in a series of controversial decisions.
A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.
The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the new offices created Sunday was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.
Other offices are Ze’ev Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries; Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Ministry of Community Empowerment; David Amsalem’s Cyber Ministry; and Tzipi Hotovely and Tzachi Hanegbi’s Settlements Ministry.
Gantz — who is currently defense minister, in addition to the new post of alternate premier — is set to take over as prime minister in 18 months under the coalition deal, at which point Netanyahu will become alternate prime minister.
As the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office was approved, Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports that the alternate prime minister would also be granted an alternate prime minister’s residence. “It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” he said.
In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi opposed the budget cuts to foreign service, whereupon the cuts to his ministry were reduced from NIS 11.5 million ($3.2 million) to NIS 4.8 million ($1.3 million), the Walla news site reported.
On the 22-item agenda, the cabinet was also voting on filling the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, led by Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, and other ministerial panels; appointing directors general of the defense and economy ministries; and giving the green light to new Finance Minister Israel Katz’s program to encourage employment amid the pandemic.
In a Saturday night address, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March. For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May. Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) have been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the treasury proposal during the meeting, arguing that it rewards employers who dropped their workers while harming those who kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.
Katz retorted: “There is an alternate prime minister. There is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority,” the Ynet news site reported.
Sunday’s cabinet meeting also saw Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri receive building and planning powers that were previously under the treasury’s purview, while the Health Ministry was granted additional powers to combat the coronavirus.
The meeting on Sunday was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing, according to reports.
Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.
“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.
“For redundant offices like the Water Resources Ministry, the nonexistent Community Empowerment Ministry and for deputy ministers that no one needs. Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”
Separately, last Wednesday, a bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament passed its preliminary Knesset plenary reading. The so-called Norwegian Law — which still requires three more votes to become law — would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.
The opposition has blasted the bill, and the coalition’s rush to pass it, as a way of pushing more people into sweetheart jobs on the taxpayers’ dime.
Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN
In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times
WASHINGTON — With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.
Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.
While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.
As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.
The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.
The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.
Mr. Trump praised the Secret Service for being “very cool” and “very professional” but assailed the Democratic mayor of Washington for not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, which she denied. While governors and mayors have urged restraint, Mr. Trump seemed more intent on taunting the protesters, bragging about the violence that would have met them had they tried to get onto White House grounds.
“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”
His suggestion that his own supporters should come to the White House on Saturday foreshadowed the possibility of a clash outside his own doors. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for his first campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Asked about the tweet later, he denied encouraging violence by his supporters. “They love African-American people,” he said. “They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” By evening, however, Mr. Trump’s supporters were not in evidence among the crowds at the White House.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded sharply on Saturday morning, saying her police department will protect anyone in Washington, including the president, and by Saturday evening her officers were out in force around the White House.
But she called the president a source of division. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”
After his morning barrage, Mr. Trump tried to recalibrate later in the day, devoting the opening of a speech at the Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX rocket launch to the unrest in the streets and clearly trying to temper his bellicose tone.
“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” he said. “We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”
The days of discord have put the president’s leadership style on vivid display. From the start of his ascension to power, Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. That appeals to a substantial portion of the public that sees in him a president willing to take on an entrenched and entitled establishment.
But the confluence of perilous health, economic and now racial crises has tested his approach and left him struggling to find his footing just months before an election in which polls currently show him behind.
“The president seems more out-of-touch and detached from the difficult reality the country is living than ever before,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “At a moment when America desperately needs healing, the president is focused on petty personal battles with his perceived adversaries.”
Such a moment would challenge any president, of course. It has been a year of national trauma that started out feeling like another 1998 with impeachment, then another 1918 with a killer pandemic combined with another 1929 given the shattering economic fallout. Now add to that another 1968, a year of deep social unrest.
It is fair to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year that has frayed the fabric of American society with an accumulation of anguish that has whipsawed the country and its people. But in some ways, Mr. Trump has become a totem for the nation’s polarization rather than a mender of it.
“I am daily thinking about why and how a society unravels and what we can do to stop the process,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “The calamity these days is about more than Trump. He is just the malicious con man who lives to exploit our vulnerabilities.”
As the nation has confronted a coronavirus pandemic at the same time as the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, whatever unified resolve that existed at the beginning of the twin crises quickly evaporated into yet another cultural clash. And the president has made everything into just another partisan dispute rather than a source of consensus, from when and how to reopen to whether to wear a mask in public.
Mr. Trump led no national mourning as the death toll from the coronavirus passed 100,000 beyond lowering the flags at the White House, posting a single tweet and offering a passing comment on camera only when asked about it. Rather than seek agreement on the best and safest way to restore daily life, he threatened to “override” governors who prevented places of worship from resuming crowded services.
“Crisis leadership demands much more from the White House than irresponsible threats on social media,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.
Mr. Trump’s initial response to the rioting in Minneapolis, where a police officer has been charged with murder after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe, underscored the president’s most instinctive response to national challenges. Threatening to send in troops, he wrote early Friday morning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Only after a cascade of criticism did he try to walk it back, posting a new tweet 13 hours later, suggesting that all he had meant was that “looting leads to shooting” by people in the street.
“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said, a reformulation that convinced few if any of his critics.
Even some of Mr. Trump’s usual allies were distressed at the original shooting tweet. Geraldo Rivera, the television and radio host who often spends time with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, decried “the recklessness” of that message and called on the president “to self-censor himself.”
“Come on, what is this, sixth grade?” Mr. Rivera said on Fox News. “You don’t put gasoline on the fire. That’s not calming anybody.” He added: “All he does is diminish himself.”
But many of the president’s defenders rejected the idea that he had mishandled the crises, pressing the argument that Democrats and the news media were to blame for the turmoil in the streets, which spread from Minneapolis to New York, Atlanta, Washington, Louisville, Portland and other cities.
“Keep track of cities where hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and serious injuries and death will take place,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote on Twitter on Friday night. “All Democrat dominated cities with criminal friendly policies. This is the future if you elect Democrats.”
Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Mr. Trump for tax fraud earlier this year, amplified the point on Twitter. “It should be no surprise that every one of these cities that the anarchist have taken over, are the same cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t handle their cities normally, so how are they going to deal with this?”
Mr. Trump, who this past week retweeted a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (though the supporter insisted he meant that in a political sense), picked up the theme on Saturday.
With crowds visible from his upstairs windows, Mr. Trump reached for his phone and again assailed the “Democrat Mayor” of Minneapolis for not responding more vigorously and called on New York to unleash its police against crowds. “Let New York’s Finest be New York’s Finest,” he wrote. “There is nobody better, but they must be allowed to do their job!”
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