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Ron Elving

The Week In Politics

Oct 10, 2020

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

No sooner had it become known that President Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus than controversy arose over the amount and detail and truthfulness of the information about his condition that was coming from the White House.

President Trump has been hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus. Doctors gave an update on his condition Saturday.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Through the years President Trump has been in office, Americans have grown accustomed to hearing of "norms" ignored and "guardrails" broken. Trump has fulfilled his supporters' desire for an unconventional leader unbound by the sort of unwritten rules other presidents have followed.

No reader should skip the prologue to Bob Woodward's new book on President Trump, because the author puts his best scene on its first page.

Woodward's Rage opens on the Oval Office, where the two top officials from the president's national security team are telling him that COVID-19 is a major threat to the U.S. and far worse than the flu.

"This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency," says Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser (Trump's fourth). "This is going to be the roughest thing you face."

The 2020 Republican National Convention this week began and ended with two performances by the man who designed it all, President Donald J. Trump.

Most of the attention went, of course, to the final night's event, when a live audience saw him "profoundly accept" his renomination in an hourlong speech delivered on the South Lawn of the White House. Backed by a forest of American flags, the president looked out upon members of his family and staff, members of his Cabinet and members of his party in Congress.

It turns out going virtual has its virtues.

Just ask the Democrats, grinning and basking after their first-ever online national convention this week.

No one knew what to expect, and there were plenty of doubters looking for glitches, flubbed cues and dead air — not to mention lots of dull and boring segments. Most significantly, we feared all involved would miss the sense of history being made in real time.

When former Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. becomes the Democratic Party's official nominee for president on Thursday, he will complete two historic and improbable comebacks.

Earlier this year, Biden rose from roadkill status in early February voting to effectively claim the nomination by the end of March.

President Trump has long been a champion of what's been called positive thinking — the power to make things that you want to see happen actually happen.

"Affirm it, believe it, visualize it, and it will actualize itself." Such mantras have characterized much of the Trump story from his childhood when he first absorbed it from the man who first spoke it, Norman Vincent Peale.

Norman Vincent Peale was born in 1898 in the town of Bowersville, Ohio, son of a physician who also became a Methodist minister. Another Ohioan named William McKinley was president, wrapping up the Spanish-American War and setting the stage for what would be known as the American Century.

It was a time of expanding commerce and industry — an era of skyrocketing confidence – and Peale would be part of carrying that spirit forward through a century of his own.

This week, two more books appeared on the ever-widening shelf of literature lambasting President Trump and his presidency. One sold nearly 1 million copies on its first day, based on the name of the author and weeks of publicity. But the other is the better book to buy for insight into what Trump's rise and rule really mean — here and abroad — for democracy in our time.

People once wished each other well on Independence Day by saying: "Have a glorious Fourth!"

A bit antique, perhaps, in the best of times, but a phrase you still heard. Until now.

Can you imagine well-wishers offering that sentiment this weekend, without a trace of irony or a wistful look?

Not likely, not in the summer of 2020, the summer of resurgent COVID-19 cases, of restaurants and beaches that had reopened only to close again — of workers recently returned to work who have been laid off again.

One of the oldest traditions in American politics is "running against Washington," which has been a common campaign theme since the city was first created as the capital and the home of the federal government.

In fact, candidates for president and Congress have found running against Washington one of the surest ways to get there. Some do it to stay there, too.

In 2020, things happen that never happened before. And right now, they seem to be happening all at once.

Atop a global pandemic and resulting recession, May and June have given us another dimension of head-spinning events. Following two weeks of widespread street protests after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, a change of attitude seems to have swept through the national culture like a sudden wind.

Two new polls out this week indicate a majority of Americans fear a "second wave" of COVID-19 cases in the near future, which may be washing away the chances for traditional presidential nominating conventions this year.

Updated at 10:25 a.m. ET

Presidents have been asked all manner of questions about their behavior, but no one had ever asked whether the president should wear a mask. Until now.

It now seems apparent that COVID-19 will dominate American life for months to come, quite possibly through the national election in November.

That means the disease, and efforts to respond to it, will likewise dominate the 2020 campaign and make it largely about something it has never been about before.

That something is science.

President Trump's nightly briefings on COVID-19 this week have featured stunning pronouncements and reversals.

Take the widespread response to the president's assertion on Monday that he could reopen local businesses by fiat — even against the wishes of governors: "When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total."

That sentence looks like a true-false question on a test in constitutional law class. (Answer: False.)

Perhaps the last thing we needed in this hyperpartisan election year was another reminder of what divides us as a nation. Then the COVID-19 crisis arrived and gave us one.

The virus is affecting everyone, in one way or another, but in terms of actual sickness and death, it is disproportionately afflicting people of color. So far, at least, it is afflicting primarily those people of color who live in the most densely populated cores of our metropolitan centers.

Mention government financing public works projects and sooner or later someone's going to bring up the Works Progress Administration.

That conjures scenes from the 1930s, the breadlines and soup kitchens and the wan-faced men selling apples on the street. And also the image of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the man elected president in 1932 promising a "New Deal" to end the Great Depression.

Let us all have a moment of sympathy – and perhaps even understanding — for Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky.

Massie was the guy who caught hell from all sides Friday when he tried to force a roll call vote on the coronavirus relief bill in the House of Representatives. He said he wanted every individual member to record his or her vote on the gargantuan $2 trillion package, which he called the biggest relief bill in the history of mankind.

On March 18, in the midst of a presidential news conference on the coronavirus, Donald Trump compared himself to a "wartime president."

This president has never been shy about casting himself in heroic roles. But his attempt to adopt the military mien raised more than a few eyebrows under the circumstances.

As the coronavirus shuts down their daily routines, some Americans have expressed the hope that the crisis would at last "bring us together" – or at least restore some sense of a shared national fate.

That is profoundly to be hoped. Public trust is essential in a public health crisis. Beyond that, there would be much to be gained by restoring a sense of national purpose.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Aside from times of genuine national crisis, it is hard to recall a week with as many events of political significance as the one we have all just witnessed.

As a kickoff for the re-election year of a president, it could scarcely have been more fraught. And as always, our perception of events was subject to our differing political perspectives.

Book-length critiques of the presidency of Donald Trump keep piling up on American reading tables, so it seems time for a one-volume wrapup on what we have learned so far.

Imagine, for a moment, a high-octane courtroom prosecutor summing up for the jury a case built on the vivid testimony of multiple eyewitnesses.

Updated at 12:25 p.m. ET

Viewers tuning in for the latest Democratic presidential candidates' debate Tuesday night may sense something missing in Des Moines.

Don't put too much stock in all those New Year's predictions you're hearing and seeing about American politics in 2020. Anyone saying they know what will happen is probably just trying to get our attention.

And probably succeeding. We've all fallen for headlines and clickbait proclaiming foreknowledge of events. We do it for sports, the stock market and just about any other outcome that cannot be foreseen.

That goes for elections — especially for elections — and particularly in a high-stakes, pivotal cycle such as we are in now.

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