Why I’m an optimist on Covid

Because I’m an optimist on everything– that’s just my wiring :-).  But, I truly believe a fair assessment of what we know currently know about the state of the virus and the state of biotechnology/biopharmacology research gives plenty of reason for optimism.  Brilliant people around the world are now supremely dedicated to finding an effective treatment and with the tremendous breakthroughs in our understandings of human biology and diseases in recent years, I think it more likely than not that we will– well before the 18 month till vaccine scenario– have a variety of treatments good enough that we can prevent bad cases from going severe and severe case from going critical/fatal.  

Sarah Zhang has a nice piece in the Atlantic summarizing all the potential lines of treatment and the various progress being made.  Her conclusion is modest, but, I think undersells the potential:

Much of the early research into drugs against COVID-19 has focused on repurposing existing drugs because they are the fastest way to get something to a patient in a hospital bed. Doctors already know their side effects, and companies already know how to manufacture them. Unless researchers get very lucky, though, these repurposed drugs are unlikely to be a cure-all for COVID-19. Still, they might just work well enough to keep a mildly ill person from becoming severely ill, which is enough to free up a ventilator. “We can do better probably as time goes by,” says García-Sastre, “but right now we need something to start.”

But, of course, keeping mild from becoming severe and keeping people off ventilators is actually a really big deal.  Again, we’re not there, but there’s so many different strands of encouraging research and drug development.

The New Yorker profiles David Ho and his quest for a “pandemic pill.”  No, he’s not going to save us now, but and many other super-smart people he’s working with have made great progress and learned so much about defeating viruses in the process.  The article talks a lot about how we dropped the ball after after SARS and the problematic economics behind properly funding this research.  But, I’m also optimistic that we’ll now actually clearly value and properly fund this area of research going forward.

And, no, a Tuberculosis vaccine is not going to be our magical savior, but there really is some interesting data that suggests it really could help as it seems to be at least somewhat effective for an array of respiratory infections.  

Likewise, will this new pill invented at UNC save us?  Probably not.  It’s intriguing and promising, but a lot of “if”s:

The paper has yet to undergo peer-review, which means there might be undiscovered flaws that undercut the findings. The medicine, EIDD-2801, still needs to be tested on humans. But if it performs in human trials as it has both in animals and in test tubes—and if there are no dangerous side effects—it might be a game-changing treatment for not just COVID-19 but other diseases caused by closely related coronaviruses. 

Though, I just googled again and it’s already FDA approved for a human trial.  

[And, just after posting, I also saw this Scientific American article on it.  This sentence really caught my attention: 

In addition to planning clinical trials in the U.S., Ridgeback has also asked U.K. authorities to start tests there as well. “We’ve done three to four years of development work in just the past three to four weeks in response to the new pandemic,” Holman says.

Exactly.  All over the world, researchers under this amazing pressure are doing years worth of work in weeks.  I can’t help but believe that will pay off]

So, chances are EIDD-2801 will not be our savior, or that the Tuberculosis vaccine will not, or that Remdesivir will not, or that cytokine inhibitors will not, but, it really does strike me that with the intense and comprehensive global effort to find effective treatments, and the very clear progress that science has made in this type of research, there’s every reason to believe we could have a number of effective Covid-19 treatments by sometime this summer.  And, if that’s the case, we’ll still have a pandemic on our hands, but one that is suddenly much less fatal, much less likely to overwhelm localized medical resources, and therefore one that actually lets us get back to our lives.

And, given that obvious difficulty we’ve had in scaling up testing in any meaningful way.  Not to mention the difficulty in containing a disease with a disturbingly high percentage of asymtopmatic and presymptomatic transmitters, effective treatments strike me as our most likely way out of this.

Or, maybe the pessimists are right and life totally sucks for 18 months (the longer range given for a new vaccine, which, unsurprisingly, I find pessimistically long given the unprecedented efforts).  But, damn it, I’m being an optimist and betting on human ingenuity.  

Leave the damn parks open!

What a metaphorical breath of fresh air Zeynep Tufekci (who had a great op-ed on masks pretty recently) on the importance of keeping parks open.  I keep waiting for an actual epidemiologist to say it (Tufekci is a social scientist), but the balance of evidence is so clear that your risks of disease transmission are so much lower outside than inside.  Throw in a proper 6-foot distance and you are in good shape.  Sure, its theoretically possible.  And sure, somebody near you may have a coughing and/or sneezing fit just as they walk by you in the park, but these are going to be very rare events.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Cary, NC public parks the last month and you will have to work hard to convince me that I was not safe in doing so.  In all my time, I have yet to come across another person/family group who was not clearly respectful of social distancing.  And, sure, there may occasions when public places are just too crowded (e.g., DC made the right call in closing down the Tidal Basin which was packed with cherry blossom viewers).  Okay, shut them down.  But closing non-overlycrowded public spaces as a preventative is truly counterproductive.  The default should be that public spaces are open unless there clearly is a problem (or clearly will be) with human density such that proper social distancing is not possible.  I imagine this means certain parks or certain parts of parks may need to be closed.  But save the closing for the dense spaces. It was kind of amazing to see all the people bashing this on twitter (just stay inside damnit!) with claims that people were just too dumb to social distance.  Well, in my little bubble of Cary, NC, we’re clearly not and I suspect we’re not particularly unique.  And, again, where people really cannot properly distance, okay, that’s what the closures are for.

Anyway, Tufekci:

In the short run, closing parks may seem prudent, when our hospitals are overrun and we are trying so hard to curb the spread of COVID-19. But in the medium to long run, it will turn out to be a mistake that backfires at every level. While it’s imperative that people comply with social-distancing and other guidelines to fight this pandemic, shutting down all parks and trails is unsustainable, counterproductive, and even harmful…

Exercise, the outdoors, and sunshine are essential, not just as luxuries but as ways to sustain population health and resilience. [emphases mine] That makes it important to set the right policies now. Once parks are closed, opening them back up will be harder. Authorities may dig in their heels and the issue may become more polarizing. Instead, we should start with sensible and viable policies as early as possible.

The outdoors, exercise, sunshine, and fresh air are all good for people’s immune systems and health, and not so great for viruses. There is a compelling link between exercise and a strong immune system. A lack of vitamin D, which our bodies synthesize when our skin is exposed to the sun, has long been associated with increased susceptibility to respiratory diseases. The outdoors and sunshine are such strong factors in fighting viral infections that a 2009 study of the extraordinary success of outdoor hospitals during the 1918 influenza epidemic suggested that during the next pandemic (I guess this one!) we should encourage “the public to spend as much time outdoors as possible,” as a public-health measure…

Unlike poorly ventilated apartment buildings that are often very conducive to spreading infections, sunlight and natural ventilation outdoors help decrease the threat of infection. This doesn’t mean that you can bake in the sun and consider yourself sterilized, or that you should ignore social-distancing rules outside. And plain sunlight shouldn’t be confused with medical sterilization methods such as UV-C light boxes. However, there’s a good reason sunshine was used as a form of treatment and disinfectant before we had more advanced methods. From many lab and other studies, we know that “ultraviolet radiation inactivates influenza virus and other viral pathogens and that sunlight kills bacteria.” While we should not allow any park to turn into a concert-like situation, with people standing shoulder to shoulder and no space between groups, there’s no reason to panic if a few thousand people are sunning themselves in a park the size of Brockwell, which is 125 acres and can easily accommodate many thousands with sufficient distance among them…

When the efforts to “flatten the curve” start working and the number of known infections starts going down, authorities will need to be taken seriously. Things will look better but be far, far from over. If completely kept indoors with no outlet for a long time, the public may be tempted to start fully ignoring the distancing rules at the first sign of lower infection rates, like an extreme dieter who binges at a lavish open buffet. Just like healthy diets, the best pandemic interventions are sustainable, logical, and scientifically justified. If pandemic theater gets mixed up with scientifically sound practices, we will not be able to persuade people to continue with the latter.

Like so much in life, people just want stark choices and reject nuance.  The pretty clear answer is “leave most of the parks open most of the time and adjust according by usage patterns and where other evidence suggests it is wise.”  So, go to the park!  (Unless the situation warrants otherwise).

[Postscript: after I wrote this but before it went live, I learned that Paris is banning all outdoor exercise between 10am-7pm.  That sounds like foolish overkill to me (and I expect you’ll see more crowded streets between 7am-10am, but maybe it really is that bad there).]

 

Quick hits (part II)

Yeah, this is out late today.  But you weren’t going anywhere were you :-).

1) Eric Levitz on the pandemic and progressivism:

As the UC Irvine legal scholar Mehrsa Baradaran writes for The American Prospect, the coronavirus has conspicuously affirmed some of the progressive movement’s core premises: among them that “our actions affect other people even when we aren’t aware,” that the imperatives of economic growth can conflict with the general welfare, and that we are perfectly capable of rapidly reordering society to subordinate GDP growth to human needs.

Baradaran’s litany is worthy of expansion and elaboration. Coronavirus has provided an object lesson in humanity’s interdependence, which is to say, in the ways that the deprivation of some threatens the well-being of all. When one nation lacks the public-health infrastructure necessary to contain an infectious disease, the public health of all nations are undermined. If millions of Americans cannot afford to stay home from work or access medical care when they are ill, the well-being of all Americans is jeopardized. COVID-19 has rendered these realities sufficiently undeniable for conservative Republican congressmen to endorse socializing the costs of coronavirus testing and treatment and for the president to sign his name to (grossly inadequate) paid-leave legislation. 

Meanwhile, as a historic recession threatens to throw nearly 50 million Americans out of work, the prospect of mass un-insurance in the middle of a pandemic has thrown a spotlight onto the perversity of our nation’s employer-based health-care system. The deepening economic crisis has also exposed the inescapably political foundations of the market economy. For decades, the right has reconciled the public to gross inequality and wrenching economic dislocation by framing impartial market forces for the crimes of reactionary policy-makers. But it is hard to maintain the fiction of an apolitical economic sphere when the “invisible hand” is so clearly attached to Jerome Powell’s forearm. It is rare for an improbable misfortune to propel an entire economy to the verge of financial ruin. But it is quite common for such tribulations to ruin individual workers and business owners. The coronavirus crisis provides a vivid reminder that the state is perfectly capable of sheltering its constituents from the market’s mercilessness; the question has only ever been whose risks it wishes to socialize.

Finally, the pandemic has raised awareness of the profound social value that grocery-store clerks, warehouse workers, and deliver drivers create — and the failure of markets, as currently structured, to adequately compensate such labor. This development has not merely earned service-sector workers a former president’s public tribute but also facilitated their efforts to organize and assert power over their employers.

2) More good stuff on the political science of Trump approval:

The mechanism by which disaster leads to higher approval is subtler. It’s less about how voters react to the crisis itself, experts say, than about the signals they get from political leaders and the media. When disaster hits, or war is launched, the opposition party becomes a bit less oppositional, dialing back its criticism of the president and giving mainstream journalists fewer negative quotes to pass along to readers. That sends a powerful message.

“Most partisan signals in Washington are not very credible to anyone other than the partisans of the two parties,” said Tim Groeling, a UCLA professor who coauthored a book on the topic with Baum. Republicans aren’t going to change their mind about Trump because Nancy Pelosi criticizes him, and vice versa. “But, when you have a ‘rally’ event, something that causes those partisan patterns to break down, you can get significant effects. When a Democrat says something nice about Donald Trump—three months after an impeachment based on partisan lines—that is very credible information to voters.”

The Trump approval bump shows these dynamics in action. It hasn’t been driven by Republicans; they already supported the president so uniformly that they were nearly maxed out. Rather, the change is coming from Democrats and independents, who started from a lower baseline and who are more likely to take their cues from the media and Democratic Party leaders.

“It’s not that people aren’t criticizing Trump,” said Adam Berinsky, a political scientist at MIT who studies public opinion. “It’s that criticism, to the extent that it exists, is being minimized relative to a typical week of the Trump presidency.” In Congress, Democratic leaders actually worked with the Trump administration and the GOP to pass a historic, $2 trillion economic recovery package. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has shied away from a full-throated attack on Trump’s handling of the crisis. And at the state level, Democratic governors like Andrew CuomoJay Inslee, and Gavin Newsom have offered at least tepid praise for the federal response. Meanwhile, TV networks have been broadcasting Trump’s daily briefings live, giving the president an opportunity to appear serious and pushing the media to cover what he and his team are saying, rather than what the government has actually accomplished. “These blips in Trump’s approval have been independents and Democrats giving him another chance because of those credible messages,” said Groeling…

“A lot of these rally effects don’t often translate into good electoral fortune for a president,” said Stephen Ansolabehere, a political scientist at Harvard. “The economy will be the bigger thing, and the great case of that was the first Gulf War.” George H. W. Bush’s approval shot up dramatically when the United States launched Operation Desert Storm, and soared even higher, above 90 percent, after the conflict’s successful resolution. But a tanking economy proved more significant, pulling Bush’s approval down into the 40s for most of his reelection year and paving the way for Bill Clinton’s victory.

3) Was pretty intrigued to learn about the potential importance of “viral dose.”

The importance of viral dose is being overlooked in discussions of the coronavirus. As with any other poison, viruses are usually more dangerous in larger amounts. Small initial exposures tend to lead to mild or asymptomatic infections, while larger doses can be lethal.

From a policy perspective, we need to consider that not all exposures to the coronavirus may be the same. Stepping into an office building that once had someone with the coronavirus in it is not as dangerous as sitting next to that infected person for an hourlong train commute.

This may seem obvious, but many people are not making this distinction. We need to focus more on preventing high-dose infection.

Both small and large amounts of virus can replicate within our cells and cause severe disease in vulnerable individuals such as the immunocompromised. In healthy people, however, immune systems respond as soon as they sense a virus growing inside. Recovery depends on which wins the race: viral spread or immune activation.

Virus experts know that viral dose affects illness severity. In the lab, mice receiving a low dose of virus clear it and recover, while the same virus at a higher dose kills them. Dose sensitivity has been observed for every common acute viral infection that has been studied in lab animals, including coronaviruses…

Despite the evidence for the importance of viral dose, many of the epidemiological models being used to inform policy during this pandemic ignore it. This is a mistake.

People should take particular care against high-dose exposures, which are most likely to occur in close in-person interactions — such as coffee meetings, crowded bars and quiet time in a room with Grandma — and from touching our faces after getting substantial amounts of virus on our hands. In-person interactions are more dangerous in enclosed spaces and at short distances, with dose escalating with exposure time. For transient interactions that violate the rule of maintaining six feet between you and others, such as paying a cashier at the grocery store, keep them brief — aim for “within six feet, only six seconds.”

Because dose matters, medical personnel face an extreme risk, since they deal with the sickest, highest-viral-load patients. We must prioritize protective gear for them.

4) And a possible genetic factors on why people respond do differently:

There may also be a genetic influence.

“One of the things that we’ve learned from human genetics is that there are extremes at the human phenotype distribution, and pathogen susceptibility is no different,” Stanford geneticist Carlos Bustamante told the journal Science. Stanford is part of a “COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative,” a Finnish effort to link genetic variants associated with COVID-19 susceptibility and severity.

“There are going to be people who are particularly susceptible, and there are going to be those who are particularly resistant,” he said.

Biologically, what’s going on?

One leading theory is focused on the “doors” of a cell that permit the virus to enter. We know that the virus enters the body through epithelial cells in the respiratory tract. To get inside the cell, the virus uses a “door” — a receptor called ACE-2 (angiotensin converting enzyme 2) — on the cell’s surface.

Individual variations in this receptor could make it harder or easier for the virus to enter, cause infection and burrow deep into the lungs. In some of us, the cell “door” may open easily; in others, it may stay closed.

Or perhaps some people simply have more of these receptors on their cells. With more “doors,” the virus may enter more readily, so patients suffer worse infection and more serious disease, said Schwartz.

5) Good God the Kennedy family has so much tragedy.  Mom and 8 year old son head out into Chesapeake Bay in a canoe to chase after a lost ball.  Dead.

6) Everywhere you look, the federal government has screwed up, “Federal government spent millions to ramp up mask readiness, but that isn’t helping now.”  And sure, it cannot all be laid upon Trump, even a Clinton/Obama administration would have missed on some of this stuff.  But, really they have gotten everything wrong.

In September 2018, the Trump administration received detailed plans for a new machine designed to churn out millions of protective respirator masks at high speed during a pandemic.

The plans, submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by medical manufacturer O&M Halyard, were the culmination of a venture unveiled almost three years earlier by the Obama administration.

But HHS did not proceed with making the machine.

The project was one of two N95 mask ventures — totaling $9.8 million — that the federal government embarked on over the past five years to better prepare for pandemics.

The other involves the development of reusable masks to replace the single-use variety currently so scarce that medical professionals are using theirs over and over. Expert panels have advised the government for at least 14 years that reusable masks were vital.

7) Republicans saying the quiet part out loud about mail voting and easier absentee voting: “Georgia GOP Leader: More Absentee Voting Will Help Turnout, Be ‘Devastating To Republicans’ “The president said it best ― this will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia,” said state House Speaker David Ralston.”

8) Easily the best thing I’ve read on the run on toilet paper.  Think about all the toilet paper not being used in office buildings, universities, etc., while we are now using way more toilet paper at home.  And that office toilet paper is definitely not Charmin, so this is not an easy transition.

9) Of course, we got ventilators wrong, too:

It was 2010 and Newport Medical Instruments, a small medical device company in Costa Mesa, California, was excited. They had just signed a federal contract to design and build up to 40,000 mobile ventilators, which would be placed into the national stockpile in the interest of pandemic preparedness. After SARS and bird flu and swine flu, the government needed to steel itself should a deadly infectious disease go viral.

Newport agreed to deliver the devices at a low-cost, not only to maximize federal purchases but also to build a reputation that could increase sales to other countries and the private sector. The company sent prototypes within a year, and was on track for market approval by 2013.

But before that could happen, Covidien, a larger firm, announced a bid to purchase Newport for $108 million in March 2012. The Federal Trade Commission didn’t even give it a second look; the deal closed in May. And Covidien sold its own ventilators. They weren’t interested in developing a new model that could cut into its existing profits. Covidien immediately asked for more money from the government, and by 2014 they called off the deal because “it was not sufficiently profitable for the company.” The government started over, found another little company to make the ventilators, and they were just about to start delivering them—in mid-2020, too late to assist the immediate COVID-19 crisis.

Amazingly, this maneuver, where a large company buys out an upstart making an innovative product that could outcompete their tried-and-true model, is relatively common. In a 2018 paper called Killer Acquisitions, researchers at Yale and the London Business School found an average of 45 instances per year of pharmaceutical firms buying out competitors developing rival drugs that could cut into their profits, and subsequently putting the new therapeutic on ice. Last October, Roche purchased a small firm called Spark Therapeutics, which was successfully testing a one-time hemophilia A treatment. Roche’s hemophilia drug Hemlibra requires a dosage every four weeks, so they had plenty of incentive to put the one-time drug, or in other words the cure, on the shelf.

10) This Adam Serwer piece on what the present situation reveals about the differences between the parties is a real must read.  A great look at how the parties responded to crises under Democratic and Republican presidents.  The short version is that Democrats did what was needed for the good of the country under both circumstances.  Republicans– not so much.  Really– you are inside social distancing anyway– read it.  “We Can Finally See the Real Source of Washington Gridlock: America’s political dysfunction is rooted not in ideological polarization, but in the Republican Party’s conviction that it alone should be allowed to govern.”

McConnell, who had demanded to know “how we’re going to pay for” the $831 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, enthusiastically supported the $2 trillion CARES Act. Graham, who had complained that $800 billion was far too much spending in 2009, said last month’s bill would “help save the country.” Grassley bragged about having “beefed up” funding for small businesses and unemployment insurance. Alexander declared, “We are here not as Democrats and Republicans, but we are here to work together to do whatever we can to address COVID-19.” The soaring spirit of civic responsibility that was altogether absent during the Great Recession suddenly reasserted itself, even as the overriding concern about excess government spending disappeared.

The distinction between 2009 and 2020 cannot be explained by the fact that this economic slowdown was a necessary part of combatting the coronavirus. Although those affected today are hurting through no fault of their own, the same was true of millions of Americans in the Great Recession. For that matter, most Republicans—including McConnell, Graham, Grassley, and Alexander—had voted for the 2008 bank bailout prior to voting against the stimulus. In other words, they voted to help those most responsible for the Great Recession, then voted to stiff those Americans whose lives and livelihoods had been destroyed by the bankers’ greed and regulators’ ineptitude, and who would suffer through a sluggish recovery as a result...

The complete Republican reversal on the need for the federal government to address an economic crisis is not merely hypocrisy, although it is also that. Ideological divides between the left and right did not evaporate during the negotiations—in fact, they fell along familiar lines. Democrats wanted more generous provisions for unemployment insurance and aid to families, and Republicans wanted more money for big business and fewer strings attached to it. But those differences did not prevent Congress from legislating. Washington gridlock does not stem from ideological differences about the size or role of government, although those conflicts inevitably shape legislation. It stems from the ideological conviction, held by much of the Republican Party, that the Democratic Party is inherently illegitimate and has no right to govern. [emphasis mine]

11) And while we’re at it, OMG is the Wisconsin GOP just the absolute apotheosis of this.  Their behavior is exactly how democracies die.

Wisconsin Republicans have spent a decade eroding democracy in their state, entrenching their power against shifts in the popular will. With the help of former governor Scott Walker (R), GOP state lawmakers rammed through one of the most extreme gerrymanders the country has ever seen, assuring them a lock on the legislature. They imposed stringent voter ID laws intended to suppress Democratic votes. And when Tony Evers (D) won the governorship in 2018, the legislature voted to strip him of the power to, among other things, alter government benefit programs, before he could take the oath of office. Conservative judges largely blessed these power grabs.

Now Wisconsin Republicans are testing whether taking a hard line on voting rules during the coronavirus crisis might give them an even more pronounced — and even less legitimate — electoral advantage. The state is set to hold its primary on Tuesday, and Republicans have filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court, asking the justices to shorten the deadline voters have to submit their absentee ballots. This is just one example of Wisconsin Republicans insisting on rules that make it difficult to vote during this public health emergency, using the crisis as cover to limit democratic participation.

If they successfully benefit from exploiting covid-19 this week, they will show Republicans everywhere that they can use the coronavirus for political gain. The credibility of November’s presidential vote is at stake.

Unlike other states that have moved their presidential primaries, Wisconsin has stuck to its April 7 Election Day. The election will decide not just who gets the state’s primary delegates but also the final makeup of the state Supreme Court and a variety of local offices. Among those on the ballot is an extremely conservative Supreme Court justice up for reelection.

This is the context in which the state GOP has rejected pleas to make it easier for those who do not want to show up to a crowded polling location to vote.

The governor asked the legislature to relax a requirement that mail-in voters upload their voter IDs, despite the fact that some may not have the technology or the know-how to do so and cannot go to the libraries shuttered by the pandemic for help. Republicans refused. Evers asked lawmakers to extend the deadline for people to return absentee ballots, as a surge in requests overwhelmed state workers. State GOP leaders said no. He requested that every registered voter simply be sent an absentee ballot. No, again.

On Saturday, the governor forced the legislature to convene a special session to consider canceling in-person voting and giving Wisconsinites until late May to return mail-in ballots. GOP lawmakers met but did nothing.

The courts have ordered only limited changes. U.S. District Judge William M. Conley on Thursday moved the ballot deadline, allowing ballots that arrive by April 13 to be counted. And he eased a requirement that all mail-in ballots be signed by a witness — a nonsensical standard in the era of social distancing. State and national Republican officials appealed the ruling, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit stayed Conley’s adjustments to the witness signature rule. Republicans’ emergency Supreme Court petition asks the justices to roll back part of Conley’s deadline extension, too.

The result is that, barring some last-minute shift, many Wisconsans will have to choose between risking their health to vote in-person and not voting at all. But voting in-person is not much of an option. Thousands of polling workers have said they will not show up. Polling places across the state will be closed. If people can even find an open location, they will be jumbled with many others who would usually vote elsewhere, risking the spread of disease between communities who are otherwise sheltering apart.

12) Dan Drezner with a nice summary we see the worst of Trump’s toddler-like behavior with the current crisis.

Trump’s toddler traits have significantly hampered America’s response to the pandemic. They aren’t new, either. In the first three years of his term, I’ve collected 1,300 instances when a Trump staffer, subordinate or ally — in other words, someone with a rooting interest in the success of Trump’s presidency — nonetheless described him the way most of us might describe a petulant 2-year-old. Trump offers the greatest example of pervasive developmental delay in American political history…

Trump’s short, toddler-like attention span has been a problem throughout his administration. One former high-ranking government official told me that a 45-minute meeting with the president was really 45 different one-minute meetings, in which Trump would ask disconnected, rapid-fire questions such as “What do you think of NATO?” and “How big is an aircraft carrier?” One book reported that Trump would interrupt his first chief of staff to pepper him with questions about badgers. That inability to focus laid the groundwork for the bad pandemic response. During the transition, the Obama administration prepared a tabletop exercise to brief the incoming Trump team about how to handle an influenza pandemic. The president-elect did not participate, and a former senior official acknowledged that “to get the president to be focused on something like this would be quite hard.”

13) And Max Boot makes a good case that, yes, now we can fairly consider Trump to be the worst president ever.

14) I get that not everybody is always great at social distancing outdoors, but I still think people are over-reacting, like this column.  If you were going to get Covid just from momentarily walking or biking past some one at 3 feet instead of 6, Covid would be measles and have an R0 over 10, not the R0 of 2-3 that scientists estimate.

15) This was sobering, “What You Should Know Before You Need a Ventilator”

16) We can reuse N95 respirators 20 times effectively and safely with the equivalent of the lowest setting in your oven.  The shortages suck and were preventable, but nice to see this kind of innovation on the fly.

17) Annie Lowery, “The Economy Is Collapsing. So Are Trump’s Reelection Chances.”

As a general point, the economy matters for presidential campaigns—not to the extent that it is the only thing that matters, but it matters more than almost anything else. Research shows that voters seem to care about financial conditions more in the year of an election than in the prior years of a president’s term. And they seem to care more about the direction in which the economy’s headed than about its overall health.

The economy helps explain Jimmy Carter’s loss in 1980 and George H. W. Bush’s loss in 1992, as well as Barack Obama’s victory in 2012. The jobless rate was rising sharply during Carter’s and Bush’s reelection campaigns, with the ravages of stagflation and the fallout from an oil-price shock, respectively, souring voters on the incumbent presidents. Although Obama was presiding over a dismal economy when he fought Mitt Romney in his 2012 reelection bid, things were turning around.

This year’s projected headline numbers look dire for Trump, far worse than the numbers ever were for Carter, Bush, or Obama—far worse than they have looked for any postwar president. The jobless rate is anticipated to jump fivefold or tenfold in a matter of weeks, from its current rate of 3.5 percent. Growth is anticipated to tip down from a 2 or 3 percent annual rate to –18.3 percent, as Zandi estimates, if not lower. Household income is anticipated to collapse in unprecedented terms too. Taken by themselves, these statistics point to midnight in America, and a Reaganesque victory for the Democratic nominee.

“The historical parallels are obviously far from perfect, but voters have seemed pretty willing to punish incumbents for the economic impact of global depressions, droughts and floods, and all manner of conditions beyond any president’s control,” Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, wrote in an email. “The economic numbers in the next six months will probably look unlike any we’ve seen in the period covered by most statistical analyses of economic voting, so it would be rash to extrapolate the magnitudes of effects implied by those analyses, but even a muted effect will be far from moot.”

Trump, however, may not fit the usual pattern. Whatever the country has pitched into is not a normal crisis or recession. And the American electorate is behaving differently from how it has behaved in the past…

Still, in lay terms, bad things are bad. Reelection campaigns become more challenging during downturns. Negative headlines, about deaths and ventilators and ruined businesses and doctors wearing homemade protective gear and historical spikes in jobless claims and ineffectual federal aid, dim voter perceptions of the country’s leadership. The rally-’round-the-flag effect tends to be short-lived, often lasting just a few weeks or months. Nothing might persuade Trump’s strongest supporters to abandon him. But the death, destruction, and economic collapse this election year—millions of Americans will inevitably judge Trump for that.

18) This is really good and a sad testament to wear Republican’s reflexive anti-government/strangle it in a bathtub philosophy has gotten us.  “How Tea Party Budget Battles Left the National Emergency Medical Stockpile Unprepared for Coronavirus

19) And the one article everybody on lefty twitter seems to agree is the absolute must-read of the last few days– deeply-reported Washington Post story, “The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged: From the Oval Office to the CDC, political and institutional failures cascaded through the system and opportunities to mitigate the pandemic were lost.”

Let’s do this 

NPR’s Planet Money interviewed economist Paul Roper about what do do about our current crisis and his ideas about a far more proactive federal role make a hell of a lot of sense.  Like, hey– let’s do these things!  To wit:

But Romer believes that if the federal government pursues a new strategy, where it coordinates industry, sets up and staffs testing sites, and buys virus-fighting equipment at massive scale, we can have a way better option within a month or two.

The way he sees it, the current two choices aren’t nearly as good. One is continued social distancing until scientists deliver us a vaccine available for widespread use, which could take two years. Waiting that long, Romer says, would mean “the end of the economy and life as we know it.”

The other choice is returning to normal before we get a vaccine, with everybody reintegrating into work and social life at the risk of hundreds of thousands of deaths. “We’re either gonna keep destroying the economy or we’re gonna start killing people,” he says…

Romer and Garber advocate that the federal government mobilize the nation like it’s a war and implement measures that might allow us to reenter a somewhat normally functioning economy without massive loss of life.

As others have been advocating, they want the government to make COVID-19 tests universally available, done frequently, and used as a green light for each of us to reenter economic and social life. The problem, Romer says, is there are only about a hundred testing machines in the U.S. and we need at least 5,000 of them. And that “isn’t going to happen if we just sit around and pray and hope,” he says. He thinks it’s going to require massive government funding and centralized direction. He envisions government-sponsored testing sites throughout the country.

Romer and Garber also want mass production of face masks, gloves, full-body suits, hand sanitizer, ventilators, and everything it takes to make it safer for social interaction. “It’s just a tragedy that we don’t have enough masks and face shields – and god help us – we may not even have enough gloves soon for people to do their work at the hospital,” Romer says.

Economists usually like it when the market provides solutions. But building factories, buying machines, training workers, and doing everything else it takes to produce massive quantities of medical equipment on an aggressively short timeline will cost a lot. And, Romer says, without government intervention, companies won’t do this on their own.

That’s because corporate America naturally worries that demand for this equipment will evaporate once the crisis recedes and that even during the crisis, they might not be able to charge much for it. With historically high demand and limited supply, the market’s natural response is sky-high prices. Everybody hates them, but high prices provide an incentive for manufacturers to produce. Yet, Romer says, “the reality is our political system, our emotions, will not let companies charge like ten times as much for the masks right now as we’re trying to get a surge in production. So that’s why the market can’t do its job. We won’t let prices do what they have to do.”

With corporate America caught between a short demand spike and price controls, Romer and Garber want the federal government to step in and do whatever it takes to increase the production of testing machines and protective equipment. Romer compares it to what the government did after Pearl Harbor.

This strikes me as sensible as a matter of health care, economics, and politics.  Alas, I’m afraid the fly in the ointment is that too many Republicans– including the president– are simply opposed to using the federal government in this way even though it represents, quite possibly, the best way out of this mess.

I was kind of depressed thinking about things today because I keep seeing good plans that, in large part, rely on a smart and massive response of the federal government.  And, yet, it seems that with our current leadership we are quite unlikely to get what we so clearly need.

Miscellaneous Covid thoughts

1) I so loved this article about why we all need to wear masks once we come out from under social distancing.  In part because I’ve already been reading so much, this one really convinced me on the value of masks.  And, the fact that we should just use good-old fashioned surgical masks and definitely save N95 for medical personnel.  And, in making its case, I learned so much about respiratory virus transmission.  Lots of really, really good stuff here.

2) It seems that this coronavirus seems to be mutating pretty slowly as these things go.  That’s great news, as it suggests that once we get a vaccine, it will actually work for a while.

3) And this was a terrific primer (put together by the good folks at NC State) on viruses and viral evolution with a bunch of scientists– again, learned so much.

4) If you only think you know what you are talking about, never, never submit to an interview with Isaac Chotiner.  Richard Epstein is a law professor who thinks he’s an epidemiologist and wrote a very influential piece (likely influencing Trump) suggesting we are over-reacting.  Rarely, oh so rarely has an emperor been seen to be so starkly naked as he is in this interview.  It really is a must-read– just trust me.  Also, just a great example of “if all you have is a hammer…” and his hammer is evolution despite knowing nothing evolution in viruses.

Honestly, reading #2 and #3 above you will definitely more about evolution in viruses than Epstein does and yet he based a whole policy argument based on what he doesn’t understand.

5) Will Covid-19 diminish in Summer?  Lots of science, and… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  Though, more than anything… don’t count on it.  And, if it does, we’ll get to say… it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.

6) It’s really hard to know what I would have made out of this when I was a very young adult before I had settled on political science.  But, I can say, if I, as in some crazy body-switch movie, went back to being 18, I would so go into epidemiology.

7) I really wish I had had some more warning the library was closing.  Just cannot do e-books and really wanted to read a novel, but not a lot of unread novels lying around my house.  So, I made the very rare for me decision to re-read a novel and I started re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Very good call

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting piece from Seth Masket comparing Covid to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927:

The flood was the product of several freak storms in the winter and spring of 1927. The flood surge destroyed the homes of roughly 700,000 people as it worked its way down the Mississippi River, killing 500 people and flooding 27,000 square miles of land (an area larger than West Virginia). Damages in today’s currency would likely exceed a trillion dollars. It remains the most destructive river flood in American history. 

Here’s the part that really echoes: as the flood surge approached New Orleans, city leaders there made a fateful decision to dynamite the levees that were protecting the poorer regions of St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish, saving the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. 

Now, the specific details of the flood aren’t that much like the COVID-19 virus, obviously. But the similarities lie in what the flood revealed about the society it tore apart.

As Barry argues, a powerful popular belief at the time was the idea of noblesse oblige, the idea that the wealthy and powerful would look after everyone else because it was their obligation to do so. Of course there was rampant economic and racial inequality in the 1920s and well prior to that, but it wasn’t so bad because the people on top would take care of everyone else when the chips were down. 

That philosophy died hard when New Orleans city leaders blew the levees. Now, I need to be clear what “city leaders” here means. As Barry describes it, the leaders were not so much elected officials as they were the city elders, leaders of prominent families, and especially the elite clubs known as krewes who held the real power in town. (Krewes today have much more pleasant tasks like creating Mardi Gras floats — back then they more or less ran the city.)

The flood, and the calloused and self-dealing manner in which city elites responded to its threat, undermined their rule and the ideology of noblesse oblige that had propped them up for so long. Poorer citizens would no longer trust elites to do the right thing in a crisis. The flood’s aftermath created an environment for populist politicians like Huey Long to rise to power by running against the elite families. Herbert Hoover, then the US Secretary of Commerce, organized a massive federal relief effort in the region, setting a precedent for federal remedies for local and regional catastrophes (and also bolstering his 1928 presidential run). 

Importantly, when the Great Depression hit a few years later, there was little expectation that local elites or wealthy patrons would remedy the problems. The federal government was expected to fix it.

We may be seeing something like this at work today, although we are still only at the beginning stages of the Coronavirus pandemic. President Trump, while seeking efforts to shore up the economy, has largely resisted using governing tools like the Defense Production Act to respond to demands for masks and ventilators and virus tests, instead insisting that governors and private industry should be doing more. 

2) Be suspicious of a wine bar that starts selling gourmet pizza during a pandemic, “A restaurant in South Carolina has been accused of reselling Costco pizzas at a 700% markup as ‘gourmet Roman-style thin crust pizza'”

3) If Hillary Clinton had been president we probably would have not closed the border as quickly, but we would have done virtually everything else so much better.  Max Boot.

4) Meanwhile the fundamental rule of law in our court system continues to be undermined.  Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

Nowhere is the problem of asymmetrical rhetorical warfare more apparent than in the federal judiciary. For the past several years, federal judges, notably those appointed by Donald J. Trump, have felt unmoored from any standard judicial conventions of circumspection and restraint, penning screeds about the evils of “big government” and rants against Planned Parenthood. Most of the judicial branch, though, has declined to engage in this kind of rhetoric. There are norms, after all, and conventions, standards, and protocols. There seems to also be an agreement that conservative judges demonstrate deeply felt passion when they delve into such issues, while everyone else just demonstrates “bias” if they decide to weigh in. So when Justice Clarence Thomas just last year used a dissent to attack the integrity of a sitting federal judge in the census case, it was mere clever wordsmithing. But when Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests, as she did recently, that the conservative wing of the high court seems to be privileging the Trump administration’s emergency petitions, she is labeled—by the president himself—unfit to judge. It’s such a long-standing trick, and it’s so well supported by the conservative outrage machine, that it’s easy to believe that critiques of fellow judges by conservative judges are legitimate, while such critiques from liberal judges are an affront to the legitimacy of the entire federal judiciary…

A startling number of Trump judges appear to believe that, like Ho, their job is mainly to own the libs in print. Neomi Rao, a Trump judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has created a cottage industry out of writing preposterous Trump-friendly polemics. On the same morning that South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman expressed his outrage at Adelman’s article, Rao issued yet another dissent that would protect Trump, this time by denying the House of Representatives access to the unredacted Mueller report. Rao’s position is so extreme that Thomas Griffith, a conservative George W. Bush appointee, penned a separate concurrence just to shred it. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Rao keeps running interference for the Trump administration, making arguments that are promptly shunned. And it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that her lengthy, contorted dissents begin with the proposition that Trump must triumph and work backward from there.

5) NPR, “Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Far Lower Than In Other Countries”  Testing.

6) Enjoyed this little history of toilet paper.  Also, glad my wife went out and bought one big jumbo pack at the beginning of the craziness so we didn’t have to worry.

7) I really wish more people understood how fundamentally white Christian evangelicalism in America is tied to white supremacy in the South.  (MB will definitely want to read this whole link).

I grew up in a rural Indiana town surrounded by symbols of American exceptionalism. Despite our size, we maintained one of the biggest Fourth of July parades in the state. Bright red, white, and blue flags and bunting decorated our houses and businesses year-round, including our plethora of churches. At the time, I had no idea that I was being raised in a nationalist, white-identity, Neo-Confederate cult that worshipped power, white supremacy, and hypercapitalism. I’ve come to call this massive and dangerous sect the Cult of the Shining City.

The America I knew—the America that so many of us grew up believing in—was not simply true, it was the only truth. The history we were taught in school focused on the United States of America as the one certain hope in a world of danger and evil. That message was echoed in our preachers’ sermons every Sunday morning as figures like Jesus Christ and George Washington were treated with similar reverence. What those history lessons and sermons didn’t teach us was the means by which evangelical Christianity had come to merge with the secular worship of wealth and power, creating a nationalist, racist faith.

8) Fixing the economy, Nordic style:

In Denmark, political parties from across the ideological spectrum joined with labor unions and employers associations this month to unite behind a plan that has the government covering 75 to 90 percent of all worker salaries over the next three months, provided that companies refrain from layoffs.

The Danish government also agreed to cover costs like rent for companies that suffer a shortfall in revenues. These two elements are collectively estimated to cost 42.6 billion Danish kroner (about $6.27 billion), after factoring in the savings on the unemployment insurance system.

The Netherlands produced a similar scheme, with the government stepping in to cover 90 percent of wages for firms that show losses of at least 20 percent of their revenue. The British government pledged to cover 80 percent of wages, and on Thursday extended those protections to the self-employed.

The aim of this approach is to prevent the wrenching experience of mass unemployment, while allowing businesses to retain their people rather than firing and then hiring them again. Once normalcy returned, companies would be in position to quickly resume operations, restoring economic growth.

“There was quickly an understanding that we were in an exceptional situation where it was necessary to very quickly produce exceptional initiatives,” said Carl-Johan Dalgaard, an economist at the University of Copenhagen and chair of the Danish Economic Council, which advises policymakers. “If you can tide firms over and thereby reduce the severity of bankruptcies and firings, you can expedite the return to normal.”

The primary reason that this sort of approach appears unthinkable in the United States is the same one that limits options to expanding health care and lowering the cost of university education: Wealthy Americans have proved adept at shielding themselves from taxation.

“You don’t have a comprehensive welfare state in the United States, because it implies a politically unacceptable level of redistribution,” said Jacob F. Kierkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As long as you’re not willing to tax wealthy people and give some of the money to people who are not wealthy, these sorts of options are not on the menu.”

9) OMG Thomas Massie really is the worst and I love the way that Dana Milbank points out that he’s very much a creation of the perverse dysfunction that is the modern Republican Party (also, he apparently went to MIT, just more proof that you can have high IQ and be a moron):

Massie, a believer in the “deep state” conspiracy, is a product of the tea party, a protege of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a collaborator with outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff, when they tried to oust then-Speaker John Boehner. “I’m ready to be unpopular,” Massie said after his 2012 election, and he has opposed even anti-lynching and human rights legislation — and celebrated when he uses “the process” so that “things die.”

He is emblematic of the newer Republicans who congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann say have turned the GOP into an “insurgent outlier,” rewarding bomb-throwers and making compromise with Democrats all but impossible.

“Newt Gingrich gave them the theme that the best thing they can do is discredit government and blow up all of government,” Ornstein told me Friday as Massie perpetrated his shenanigans. Massie, he said, “is a monster created by their deliberate attempt to get people to have contempt for government and institutions that are part of government.” That contempt gave rise to Trump, but it also remade the Republican caucus in Congress.

10) Peter Wehner on how astonishingly unsuited Trump is for this moment:

The thing to understand about Donald Trump is that putting others before self is not something he can do, even temporarily. His attempts to convey facts that don’t serve his perceived self-interest or to express empathy are forced, scripted, and always short-lived, since such reactions are alien to him.

This president does not have the capacity to listen to, synthesize, and internalize information that does not immediately serve his greatest needs: praise, fealty, adoration. “He finds it intolerable when those things are missing,” a clinical psychologist told me. “Praise, applause, and accolades seem to calm him and boost his confidence. There’s no room for that now, and so he’s growing irritable and needing to create some way to get some positive attention.”

Adam Serwer: Trump is inciting a coronavirus culture war to save himself

She added that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”

It’s useful here to recall that Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.

Read: How the pandemic will end

But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies about COVID-19, including that it will soon magically disappear, as Trump claimed it would, don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.

So as the crisis deepens—as the body count increases, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the economy contracts, perhaps dramatically—it’s reasonable to assume that the president will reach for the tools he has used throughout his life: duplicity and denial. He will not allow facts that are at odds with his narrative to pierce his magnetic field of deception.

11) Love this idea from Jay Rosen:

What: A daily briefing on where we are in fighting the Covid-19 virus. 

When: Every day for the forseeable future, 4 to 5 pm ET. 

Where: On the internet. Streaming video and audio always. Broadast whenever a particpating channel or station decides to pick it up. All guests appear remotely. All questions asked remotely. 

Why: For the same reason there needs to be a daily briefing at the White House, but this one is independent from the White House. It provides a stream of factual and relevant information from experts who can speak with authority, and people on the front lines who are in a position to know. 

Who: Originated by the “network pool,” a consortium of ABC, CBS, NBC, FNC and CNN that already collaborates on big occasions like the State of the Union, plus a few other events like this. Any other media company can join for free, submit questions live, and carry the video or audio, which are also available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as a podcast. 

How: Features 4-5 guests a day who have advanced knowledge or a vital perspective: public health experts, epidemiologists, scientists, hospital officials, governors. Journalists who are part the AMDB can submit questions live. Anyone on the internet can submit questions in advance. 

12) This is great from Parker Molloy, “By reframing Trump’s incoherent inaccurate ramblings as bland political copy, journalists are carrying water for the president.”  Lots of great examples at the link.

13) Farhad Manjoo, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask: A very American story about capitalism consuming our national preparedness and resiliency.”

14) You are probably not getting things wet enough or leaving the moisture long enough with your disinfecting wipes for them to actually do the job.  I’ve just been wiping lots of stuff down of late with straight-up rubbing alcohol.  

15) It is utterly amazing to watch people trash their reputation to give the president the most ridiculous and literally incredible praise (here’s looking at you, Dr. Birx.  But my friend, Michael Cobb, raises the good point that we should not put scientific experts in the position where they feel they have to do this to save their job.  

16) I’ve been telling people I’m really glad I live in a state with a Democratic governor.  Now, some empirical backing:

 

Quick hits

1) Given how right-wing evangelicals have so perverted the fundamental teachings of Jesus, sure, I’ll happily blame them for Trump.

2) Of course Europe is responding with smarter policy for mass unemployment.  NYT Editorial, “Why Is America Choosing Mass Unemployment? European countries are paying to preserve jobs during the coronavirus crisis. Sadly for American workers, the United States is charting its own path.”

3) It is somewhat encouraging that Americans really get the fact that Trump is utterly lacking in basic human empathy.  He polls really poorly on this.

4) Head of China’s CDC says our biggest mistake is not wearing masks.

5) I remain cautiously optimistic that Remdesivir will be a genuinely effective treatment.  Here’s a more sober, but mildly optimistic take.

6) Rachel Bitecofer is out with her 2020 election prediction model.  It suggests good things for Democrats.  She hedges a lot, rightly, but I almost feel like a politically predictive model in the midst of Covid should just wait for after Covid.  Talk about uncharted waters.  Still:

As the Democratic primary winds down, with a Biden nomination a delegate-math inevitability even if contests remain on the calendar, it is time for one of the few updates I plan to my forecast, this one, the post-primary update. Of course, this update comes at a time of incredible turmoil, not only in America, but worldwide, as the unprecedented COVID19 pandemic unfolds — bringing the global economy to a halt and forcing much of the world’s population into self-imposed quarantines. In the July 2019 release of this forecast, I said that little could occur that could alter the basic contours of this election cycle: Democrats are fired up in a way they were not in 2016 because of negative partisanship powered by backlash to Trump and thus would increase their turnout significantly and be less likely to defect to third-party candidates.

I also said, “barring a significant shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency.” Significant disruptions I identified included an economic recession, but with the market humming along, willing to handicap Trump even on trade wars with China and Europe, and rate cuts keeping the economy around its 2016 metrics in terms of growth and unemployment, a recession seemed unlikely. Now it is all but certain this fall’s general election will take place immersed in a serious one, with some early reports suggesting potential unemployment numbers, at least in the short term, well into the teens.

To be sure, voters will likely see this recession as they saw the first term of Obama’s presidency, in context. No president can do much to avoid a total standstill of the global economy from an unprecedented virus. But Trump’s mismanagement of the underlying pandemic causing the economy to melt down will be judged by voters, and it’s already clear that the president’s missteps in the early days of the pandemic are exacerbating America’s economic woes.

If Trump had political capital to spend heading into this crisis, that would be one thing. But after the Russia investigation was followed in short order by the Ukraine scandal, Trump’s political capital tank is already on empty, with few Americans outside of Republicans capable of trusting him. Trump will be heading into the fall with the dubious distinction of being the most embattled, controversial, and scandal-plagued president to seek reelection in the history of the republic — and that was before this virus emerged to create a massive public health disaster and destroy his strongest claim for reelection: the economy.

But Donald Trump does have one formidable asset to help his reelection prospects: political polarization and hyperpartisanship, which even in the face of a recession and potential fallout from COVID19 management will likely provide him with a steady and reliable base of support, preventing the type of erosion in approval ratings we saw in the second term of George W. Bush’s tenure.

7) Thomas Edsall with, basically, everything political science can tell you about religion and politics.

A steady religious realignment has reshaped the white American electorate, turning religious conviction — or its absence — into a clear signal of where voters stand in the culture wars.

As mainstream Protestant denominations have declined over the past half century, there has been a hollowing out of the center among white Christians of all faiths. New generations of Americans have joined the ranks of evangelical churches, while others, in larger numbers, have forsaken religion altogether.

These two trends have transformed the strategic underpinnings of political campaigning.

The more religiously engaged a white voter is, the more likely he or she will be a Republican; the less religious the voter, the more likely to be a Democrat. But, as we shall see it’s not that simple: The deeper you go, the more complex it gets.

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University, has tracked religious trends for the past 30 years using data from the General Social Survey.

He reports that in 1988, 55.7 percent of Americans were members of traditional, mainstream denominations, 36.6 percent were members of evangelical and born-again denominations and 7.7 percent said they were not religious.

By 2018, membership in traditional denominations had fallen 20 points to 35.5 percent, born-again evangelical church membership had grown by 4.8 points to 41.4 percent, and the share of the nonreligious had tripled to 23.1 percent.

In an email, Burge warned that “in just a few years there will be no moderate Protestants left.”

This has been a windfall for the Republican Party.

Sorry this is short.  Spent too much time reading about Covid and not enough time on this post.  More later in the day :-).  But, heck, you’re probably under a stay at home order and not going anywhere anyway.

%d bloggers like this: