June 10, 2020
In fact, our Covid-19 numbers are up. They had begun to level off as hard-hit New York brought its infections under control, but now other hotspots are emerging. Arizona, Florida, and Texas, along with fifteen other states, are seeing increases in Covid-19 cases. Already, more than 112,000 Americans have died and more than 1.9 million are infected, and from now until July 4, epidemiologists predict 5,000 to 6,000 Americans a week will die from the disease.
The pandemic was not on the president’s mind today.
Today the Trump campaign delivered a cease and desist letter to CNN President Jeff Zucker demanding that CNN retract and apologize for its recent poll showing Trump 14 points behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The letter says the poll is “designed to mislead American voters through a biased questionnaire and skewed sampling.”
This is clearly the work of Republican pollster John McLaughlin, whom Trump hired on Monday. McLaughlin’s career is based in the (false) concept that political polls showing Democrats ahead of Republicans are deliberately skewed toward Democrats in order to discourage Republicans from voting.
CNN’s lawyer responded to the letter by noting that this was the first time in its history that CNN had been threatened with legal action over a political poll, and that “to the extent we have received legal threats from political leaders in the past, they have typically come from countries like Venezuela or other regimes where there is little or no respect for a free and independent media.” He noted that McLaughlin had little credibility, and concluded: “Your letter is factually and legally baseless. It is yet another bad faith attempt by the campaign to threaten litigation to muzzle speech it does not want voters to read or hear. Your allegations and demands are rejected in their entirety.”
Virtually every reputable poll shows Biden leading Trump by double digits, so why is the Trump campaign picking this fight? The cease and desist letter might be a way to calm down the president, who is apparently on edge these days. But it might also be a way to try to rally the Republican base around the idea that, as recent fundraising has said, the “Trump Army” must fight off “the Liberal MOB.”
The campaign seems to be embracing military language as opposition to the president intensifies. Today the retired federal judge who was asked to examine the Justice Department’s unusual request to abandon the case against Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn– after Flynn had pleaded guilty– filed his report. Judge John Gleeson accused Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department of “a gross abuse of prosecutorial power, attempting to provide special treatment to a favored friend and political ally of the President of the United States. It has treated the case like no other, and in doing so has undermined the public’s confidence in the rule of law.”
More than 1,250 former members of the Department of Justice also wrote today of the need to defend the rule of law. They asked the DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, to look into Barr’s involvement in last week’s attack by law enforcement on the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square before Trump’s walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
A rift between the administration and the military became clear last week when prominent military leaders opposed Trump’s use of force against demonstrators, supported the protesters’ concerns, and pointedly defended the Constitution. Trump deliberately widened that rift today, siding with white reactionaries rather than with current military leaders.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of whom had been caught in Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square, are eager to unify their troops, 43% of whom are people of color rapidly becoming disaffected. The idea of renaming Army bases named for Confederate generals has been on the table for awhile, and they talked of actually doing it in this tense moment, even as protesters and city officials are pulling down Confederate monuments.
To historians, this is a no-brainer. Confederate leaders tried to destroy the United States and succeeded in killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, so the idea that we have any federal recognition of them is wild. And they were fighting to enshrine human enslavement in the laws of a new nation, and from there to spread it across the world, so for a country founded on the idea of human equality to honor these men seems particularly self-defeating. As General David Petraeus, the retired Army commander in Iraq and Afghanistan said, “The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention.”
Politico reported that the military leaders thought the idea was an obvious move, but Trump shocked them with a series of tweets saying “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a… history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations… Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
Trump was clearly siding with his base, which is quite keen on Confederate imagery, rather than with those calling for equal justice. But that base is apparently getting smaller. Within hours of his tweets, NASCAR had banned the Confederate flag from its races and its venues because it “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR said.
The decision was announced before tonight’s race in Virginia, where Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only African American driver, was to compete in a Chevrolet with a #BlackLivesMatter paint job. Wallace, born in Alabama, had said there was no place for Confederate flags in the sport. Tonight he was wearing a black “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt, and applauded the decision. “This is no doubt the biggest race of my career tonight,” he said. “There’s a lot of emotions on the race track.”
Not everyone approved. Helmet artist Jason Beam tweeted: “ignorance wins again, NASCAR you realize the North had slaves too, lol not just the South, you want to remove the American Flag as well, idiots.”
It seems that the lines of Trump’s election campaign are solidifying. Two days ago, the Washington Post reported that Trump was trying to figure out how to turn call for racial justice into a fight over “LAW & ORDER”– as he keeps tweeting– but Republican Party leaders were trying to figure out how to keep that shift from turning into offensive race baiting. Trump’s announcement today that he is resuming his rallies makes that point now appear moot.
The first rally will take place in Tulsa, Oklahoma—where coronavirus cases are spiking—on June 19. This day is also known as “Juneteenth,” a day commemorating the end of slavery in America because it was that day in 1865 that African Americans in Texas finally learned they were free. Tulsa is also the site of the 1921 race massacre, in which white mobs destroyed the wealthy Black neighborhood of Greenwood (aided by firebombs dropped from private airplanes), murdered as many as 300 of their Black neighbors, injured hundreds more, and left 10,000 people homeless.