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A Tale of Two COVID Scandals: Phil Hogan and Donald Trump

A top Irish member of the EU Commission, Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, resigned yesterday after a week of disclosures of the many ways he violated Ireland’s COVID guidelines to attend a shindig at a golf course. I won’t pretend to understand Irish politics yet. I’ll let Henry Farrell do that:

Hogan’s political troubles began when he attended a dinner organized by a golfing group associated with Ireland’s Parliament. A number of current and former politicians and officials attended the dinner, which reportedly broke Ireland’s strict coronavirus rules banning gatherings of 50 or more people. When news of the dinner leaked, there was an outpouring of angry public commentary from Irish citizens, who, like people elsewhere, have endured months of restrictions on travel and social life. Ireland’s agriculture minister, who was at the dinner, resigned swiftly, but Hogan declined to follow suit, initially making a statement that blamed the dinner’s organizers.

Unfortunately for Hogan, the golf dinner was only the beginning of the story. People entering Ireland are supposed to self-isolate for 14 days to minimize the risk of coronavirus spreading. Furthermore, specific travel restrictions were recently applied to parts of the Irish Midlands, where there were a number of coronavirus clusters. It soon became clear that Hogan had traveled extensively across Ireland during the 14-day period, including within the restricted zone. Hogan claimed in an official memorandum to the European Commission president that he no longer had to self-isolate after the first few days he spent in Ireland because he had received a negative coronavirus test result. He also argued he had a “reasonable excuse” for entering the restricted zone.

However, Ireland’s Department of Health disputed his claim that he didn’t have to self-isolate after the coronavirus test. Even worse, new information emerged this morning about an apparent witness who has claimed Hogan ate at a restaurant the evening he arrived in Ireland, instead of self-isolating as he said he did. Another person said Hogan was seen in public areas during the same period. Hogan’s spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations, but it became increasingly clear over the day that his position was unsustainable.

[snip]

Because he helped defend Ireland’s interests in an important policy area (setting trade policy), the Irish government initially didn’t want him to leave. It has no guarantee whatsoever that his replacement will get a similarly influential position. Because Hogan was an E.U. official, the Irish government had a plausible-sounding excuse for inaction: It had no authority to sack him — his boss was the president of the European Commission.

Eventually, however, the government decided that Hogan was becoming a serious political liability, as new stories kept on emerging that seemed to contradict his previous explanations.

It has been disorienting watching the scandal unroll. It took just one week for privileged hypocrisy and serial lies to bring down a powerful man. That’s how democracy and political accountability are supposed to work, but I’ve forgotten how it can work.

Over the course of that same week, Trump took the next step in his six month COVID scandal, overseeing a change in CDC guidelines while Anthony Fauci was under anesthesia, in surgery, to make testing virtually useless — ending its recommendation that those exposed to COVID get tested. Multiple reports say the move came at the behest of the White House, which makes sense, given that Trump has been falsely claiming that the reason the US has the worst record among rich nations is because we test more.

But, as noted, that’s just the latest event in a marathon scandal, going back to 2018 when Trump dismantled the pandemic unit inside the NSC, blew off early warnings about the virus, refused to prepare as it grew, and — even after he started trying to secure supplies — still refusing to use the Defense Production Act and instead encouraging the kind of looting that his son-in-law has mastered. Starting in March, with Kimberly Guilfoyle’s birthday party, Trump held a series of public events where people were exposed to, if not contracted COVID, leading up to the event where he announced his opposition to testing, an event that may have led to Herman Cain’s death. At every single stage, Trump has defied public health guidance (the sin that led to Hogan’s resignation), most recently in last night’s RNC event.

Trump’s policies encourage the spread of COVID. Those policies have led to the deaths of 180,000 Americans, and the devastation of the US economy. His sins are not just sins of hypocrisy and arrogance (though by cowering behind a testing regime that protects him but not others, it is that, too). They are sins that have directly harmed America and Americans.

And yet there’s virtually no political pressure on Trump to change his ways, much less resign in disgrace.

Shame ceased to function in the United States (perhaps because many Republicans are willing to cheat to win the next election), at least with respect to the President, and it is getting people killed.

Back in April, the Irish Times published a column that deserves renewed attention (the column came out days after my spouse and I decided to make this move, so had nothing to do with our ultimate decision to do so, but certainly reinforced in my mind the tangential advantages of doing so; here’s a version that’s not pay-walled).

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

Trump’s response to COVID has solidified Americans fall from power, with repercussions on every aspect of life (and many of those repercussions are just starting).

The Irish, who so long looked to America as a land of promise when Ireland itself struggled, now declare their pity. Some of us Irish-Americans are even “returning,” generations later, and discovers it improves our quality of life.

And yet Trump, who has made American the object of pity, has evaded most accountability for the catastrophe.

In sane countries, powerful men can be forced from office for mere hypocrisy about public health; even Boris Johnson can be embarrassed. But in the United States, Trump has managed to repeatedly contribute to the damage wreaked by the virus, and yet he remains a viable political force.

Update: In the latest video from Republican Voters Against Trump, his former Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention talks about how Trump’s incitement of racist violence and failures on COVID have made us less safe.

RNCC 2020: Night of a Thousand WTAFs

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

I didn’t watch the first night of the Republican National Committee’s Convention. No way am I giving the RNC any traffic via broadcast or cable TV.

I did, however, like many of you, experience it vicariously and filtered via Twitter (do click through the date links in the tweets below for full effect).

All I can say is: Holy crap, WTAF?

And this, WTAF?

I think the Republican Party left the planet without leaving a forwarding address and the grifting squatters who remain are trying to con the public into believing the GOP is still here, large and in charge.

This is totally performative, mere playacting at politics. They don’t even have a platform.

Which is what really gets my goat: the Democratic Party is fielding candidates for POTUS and VP who went through the full primary process and a raftload of debates, only to run against people who are pretending to be a political party instead of a brand of grifters.

The left is flinging hurtful shit between factions over which policy is the most effective or most popular or most ethical, while these self-medicated fronts for a transnational crime syndicate go through the motions as if this were an English-language telenovela or a Turkish romance series centered on an election.

Nikki Haley and Tim Scott both spoke tonight. I can’t recall a thing they said after these two characters performed their brand of drama. It’s kind of sad.

I am trying to maintain my sense of humor about this mess. I could only laugh when I realized the photo I wanted of Donnie Jr.’s squeeze could be obtained by searching Twitter using the term, “evita.”

I am also amused at how Twitter’s algorithm has suppressed the word “cocaine” this evening to keep it from trending. “Coked,” however, slipped through.

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One thing I had hoped would show up in my timeline tonight:

The gloves are off, it seems.

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This is an open thread. Bring your varying degrees of disgust to air out in thread.

On Ronna McDaniel’s (Still Undisclosed) Test Results

Update, 3/18: The Detroit Free Press just reported that McDaniel’s test (finally) came back negative. That’s both a relief — given who she interacted with before being tested — and a real testament to how long it still takes for (even powerful) people ot to get a test result.

On Friday night, RNC Chair Ronna [Romney] McDaniel got a test for COVID-19, the first high profile Republican tested based on the inadequate testing guidelines rolled out by the CDC rather than concerns arising just from exposure. That is, she had exposure and flu-like symptoms and tested negative for alternative explanations before she took the test.

I can find no follow-up report on the status of her test — though both Saturday and Sunday’s Michigan test reports included the description of a positive test for someone who could be her.

Oakland County, adult female with history of contact with someone with a confirmed case.

[snip]

Oakland County, adult female with contact with a person with COVID-19.

Meanwhile, on Saturday NYT updated a story — first published Friday afternoon — on how Kimberly Guilfoyle’s birthday party a week ago exposed a number of high profile people to the illness. The update quoted aides bitching that McDaniel revealed that she had “publicly acknowledged her illness.”

The president has sought for weeks to play down the severity of the outbreak and been especially sensitive about giving the impression that he himself was at risk. Indeed, several advisers to Mr. Trump on Saturday privately expressed irritation at Ms. McDaniel for publicly acknowledging her illness.

This is not confirmation McDaniel tested positive. Rather, it’s silence and expressed “irritation” about McDaniel’s honesty where other prominent Republicans like Matt Gaetz and Mark Meadows — to say nothing of the President himself — have disclosed both taking the test and their negative results without similar irritation.

As such, it’s an indication that the White House no longer wants to talk about the multiple exposures people within the White House and top ranks of the government or the Republican Party have had, and probably would not tell us if someone who had been exposed tested positive.

Negative or positive, McDaniel is entitled to her privacy, and I wish her the best with whatever was causing her symptoms. But President Trump has a duty to convey the seriousness of this disease and explain how easily one can come in contact with a person who, at the time, appears healthy, but who nevertheless might be contagious.

He hasn’t done that. As of yesterday’s press conference, however, he exhibited a new sobriety about this disease.

In the days ahead, the number of positive cases in a number of states are going to spike, in part reflecting second generation infections, in part because for the first time testing is becoming more widely available. For its part, Michigan announced a new case reporting, covering what will sure to cover those spiking numbers today, that eliminates the kind of individualized information that would allow someone to track a known potential case.

Which suggests that at the moment where we’ll finally begin to track asymptomatic transmission, the public will have less information with which to do so.

That probably explains why governments across the country just got more serious about stopping transmission without such critical data.