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Wednesday, May 6, 2020


We are becoming accustomed to describing the current medico-economic crisis as comparable to the Great Depression, which indeed it is, but without reminding ourselves that the Great Depression lasted twelve years, from September 1929 to December 1941.  While sheltering in place and coping with personal difficulties, I have been trying to think through the larger meaning of it all, without, of course, any medical expertise whatsoever.  There are at least three separate large questions:  First, what does it mean for the election?; Second, what does it mean for the economy?; and Third, what does it mean for American politics over the next generation or two?

The first question is the easiest to answer, so I will tackle that today, leaving the second and third for tomorrow.

I think it is quite clear that Trump is toast in the upcoming election, and that he is liable to take the Republican Party down with him.  There is a myth abroad on the left that Trump is the Teflon Donald, but nothing could be further from the truth.  He won the presidency by a fluke against a world-historically awful candidate, and ever since that time the Republicans have been losing mid-term elections, off-year elections, by-elections.  Whenever Trump steps into a local election and tries to make it about him, the hapless Republican candidate loses.  Before the virus hit, but after Biden was elevated by the Democratic Establishment to Presumptive Nominee status, every poll reinforced the impression that Trump would lose.  Trump’s ace in the hole, or so he thought, was the economy.  And now, in a matter of two months, he has swapped the longest expansion, the lowest unemployment, and the strongest stock market in living memory for another Great Depression, with the ranks of the unemployed swelling to unimaginable levels and businesses small and large going belly up.

On top of which, the pandemic has seemingly been crafted by a heartless, amoral Democratic strategist.  COVID-19 started in the deepest of Deep Blue states, making it a Fundamentalist Protestant wet dream – God punishing the heathens.  For what seemed like an eternity, we lived with Trump’s grotesque Corona Task Force performances, until finally he jumped the shark with bleach infections and decided that his only reelection chance was a reopened economy.  Now, at Trump’s urging, the Red States are reopening.  Inevitably, this means a dramatic rise in cases and deaths just in time for the election.  By October, which is now only five months away, Trump will be lucky if he is not lynched by an angry mob of rural non-college educated White men, their MAGA hats converted into masks.

So politically, this godawful disaster is, as it has become popular in certain circles to say, a win-win.  Where does that leave the economy?


David Palmeter said...

I sincerely wish I could share your optimistic view that Trump is toast. Perhaps I still haven’t gotten over how stunned I was when he won in 2016. My paranoia now leads me to fear a couple of things. First, his hard core will turn out and vote. Second, Biden will not inspire Democrats.

If they vote at all, then of course they will vote for him and presumably down-ticket Democrats. But Democrats are not in denial about the virus as many of the Republicans are. What will that mean for turnout? Even if Trump permits the Post Office to remain in operation—a big “if” in my opinion—the preference of likely Democratic voters on voting by mail opens up all sorts of new possibilities for the Republican voter suppression machinations. Every red state screwball state legislature will be passing all sorts of restrictions on absentee ballots.

I worry very much about our being able to accomplish what Chomsky recently said we must accomplish: getting rid of the malignancy in the White House. (All of this leaves aside the more conventional political worries: developments in the Tara Reade matter and Biden’s penchant for putting his foot in his mouth.)

Vince said...

Like David Palmeter, I wish Trump was indeed toast, but I do not think the pandemic is going to make the difference electorally. In my opinion, if Trump supporters by and large find that the virus was not Trump's fault (and, in addition, China's fault), any damage from the virus is not of Trump's doing, and he can be forgiven (perhaps even praised for his wonderful recovery).

As far as the economic damage in particular goes, you do not need to look any further than Trump's original electoral talking point, namely the economy. Trump supporters, before the crisis, seemed perfectly content with increased GDP and stock market rises despite the fact that those in these rural areas and others who are not well-off enough to be affected by the stock market *have seen none or very little of the benefits of this expansion.*

It is not clear to me that practical benefits really matter that much for many Trump voters. As long as Trump praises America and criticizes Nancy Pelosi, all is well.

Unknown said...
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Nathan N Harrison said...

Terribly sorry to hear about your wife this past week, but glad to see you back in the mix – giving us something more to chew on while shut-in at home. I hope you've both been able to relax.

If you get a chance, would you mind sending me an email? I've been hoping to talk with you and would love to schedule a chat sometime in the near future.

Anonymous said...

Trump is still polling at over 40% apparently. But I think if his gamble to rush the re-opening of the economy fails and results in massive death from a second wave, he is toast. He won't be able to get himself out of that one. Not to mention the virus will have taken out hundreds of thousands of his prime demographic by November if some estimates end up panning out.

David said...

I don't know whether Trump is toast or not,--I remember only too well when Biden was toast--but we can say that the virus has already established itself in rural counties across the United States. Here is visualization, based on NYT data, of the spread of infection into rural counties. Various models project a dramatic rise in Covid-19 deaths by May 30. Many of those deaths will be in rural counties, and people who today are chafing under restrictions will have loved ones who are infected or know people who have loved ones who are infected. By this summer, the virus will become personal for vast numbers of people. The pandemic will run away from any attempt of the GOP and Trump to propagandize its existence into oblivion.

Food insecurity has already risen dramatically and will continue to rise this summer. We will have to look after one another at a time when it has become more complicated to do so. The health care system has already been overwhelmed. Cancer screening, for example, is on hold in my state, and the wait-list is growing long. Some patients with Covid-19 have managed to survive only because of the extraordinary resources that were dedicated to saving them. By this summer, that will no longer be possible in some hospitals. Rural county hospitals, already under-resourced, will struggle to care for Covid-19 patients if they are swamped with infections.

It is hard to imagine what it will be like to live in this country when millions upon millions of its people are newly desperate, hungry, grief-stricken, weary. And that, I suggest, is state of the nation this summer. If the fall brings yet another new wave of the virus, what then?

Howie said...

A significant minority of Republicans and other disaffected Americans will follow Trump, not just into battle but into collective suicide- people have remarked how the Republican party is now a cult- there is no ideology that glues them together just a hostile nostalgia for glory days. Though that is an advantage to Trump insofar as he can not be attacked because he takes whatever position is expedient- for many people who voted for Trump, I'd gather, the con has worn off or has been torn off, and they will turn on him- that is Professor Wolff's conjecture and gambit- I think there's some merit to it, that's the big question

s. wallerstein said...

The Great Depression brought FDR in the U.S., but it brought Hitler in Germany.

The pandemia followed by a depression is going to disorientate and just plain frighten most people. Frightened people do not generally behave rationally and they could turn to a strong man figure, that is, Trump, just as they did in Germany with Hitler, without calculating whether that rationally is in their best interests.

Let's add to that that Biden turns no one on, lacks charisma completely and is actually just plain boring, not someone who you would turn to when you're scared, very scared, when your way of life collapses and when death by plague surrounds you.

The Democrats blew it. Bernie Sanders seems like a guy for a crisis and has a project that could give frightened people hope again. Those who voted for Biden in the primaries and not Sanders may well be responsable for re-electing Trump. Let's not blame poor Jill Stein or whoever the Green Party nominates if Trump is re-elected this time. I hope not, but Biden is a dud.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, Max Baucus was just on CNN comparing the current political atmosphere to Hitler's 30s, but from a different angle

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

David Palmeter -
I don't think voters need to be enthusiastic about Biden. The hatred, disgust, etc. of Trump and Republicans will suffice. Negative Partisanship, as the political scientists like to say, will do the trick. If 2018 is prologue, turnout will be in the neighborhood of 60% resulting in a landslide defeat, and Trump will take lots of down-ballot republicans with him.

I eagerly await Dr. Wolff's analysis of the incipient economic collapse. It will, I think, be epic in its scale. What seems clear is that there will be a huge number of bankruptcies. All kinds of small businesses will go under, including locally operated chain stores and franchises.
Enough! I should stick to what I know, and economics isn't it!

Anonymous said...

And what happens to turnout if November coincides with another wave of the virus, which could disproportionately hit big metro areas? Anything could happen in the next few months.

BruceK said...

Link Pro Woolf's little son, 2 points

First - If I remember rightly, in Democracy for Realists Achen and Bartels note, with some surprise, that the Spanish flu of 1918 did not seem to harm the Democrats at all (sorry, no page ref.). So I would echo Vince's remark above, that the virus will not necessarily change the allegiance of Trump supporters even after a severe epidemic.

Secondly, however traumatic the Covid epidemic I cannot see it being more traumatic than the Black Death, which, furthermore, did have major long term consequences in the view of many historians. But here long term does mean long. In the medium term the Hundred Years War resumed 7 years later and the battle of Poitiers took place in 1356 - 10 years after Crecy. So even if the epidemic does lead to major long-term change, we may not see this for several years.

David said...

s. wallerstein,

I'd like to address your excellent point about how people behave when they are frightened.

There are people who are already frightened by what's been happening in this country, with regard to its politics, its pandemic, and its unfolding economic ruin. Your point is that this fearfulness will only grow as people become more desperate. Given the diversity of conditions and populace here, I anticipate that people will react in a wide range of ways.

Many of us have already begun to tune out Trump and increasingly listen to our governors. Trump very badly wants to suck up the nation's attention, but it's become increasingly difficult for him to do that when all the action is at the state and county level. As economic conditions continue to deteriorate this summer, many will look to their governors for guidance, comfort and even hope.

Others have already used the quarantine orders as a license for armed public displays of white supremacy. It is entirely predictable that such displays will lead to yet more grotesque outbursts of violence. Different states will react to it differently. We already know how Trump will react.

And many, many others will simply try to get by. They will be consumed with the question of where they will find food or medicine or a place to sleep for their families. This will not just be an urban problem. Rural Yakima county, which already has a sizable tent city of homeless people, has the highest rate of Covid-19 cases on the West Coast.

Finally, there is the example of those people who braved the pandemic and lined up to vote in Wisconsin. I fully expect that in many parts of the country, we'll see such people come out and risk their lives to cast a vote in November. I don't know that Trump is toast, but I don't know that Biden is, either.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that most media is obsessed with how covid will affect Trump's chances. In the overall scheme of thingsto come, this is the least of our problems.

Jerry Fresia said...

I share the caution and apprehension about Trump being toast. I lay the blame at the feet of the Democratic establishment, both for their desire to coronate HRC and and now Biden.

At a time when the Republican candidate will be a man with a terrible policy record, one who shows signs of mental problems, and one who has been credibly accused of rape, the DNC - even after the '16 lost - has done everything in its power to put up a nominee who has a terrible policy record, one who shows signs of mental problems, and one who has been credibly accused of rape. At least the Republicans can't be accused as fervently with hypocrisy as can the Dems on the sexual assault issue.

And the one advantage that Trump clearly has over Biden that is terribly significant is that he has enthusiastic supporters who will turnout. Meanwhile the Biden campaign strategists respond with what amounts to their best strategy: hide Biden as much as is possible.

David Palmeter said...


I'm not much more thrilled about Biden than you are, but what is it that the Democratic establishment did that made him the likely nominee? As I see it, the disappointing fact is that Biden got more votes than Sanders. True, people like Clyburn endorsed him, but the voters still had to vote.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I think David has made some excellent points.

Democrats will have an absolutely compelling argument against Trump: 1) he failed to understand the threat and mobilize resources and plan for the pandemic, 2) he failed to use the powers of the president to mobilize the industry, and to marshall the resources of the federal government, and 3) the effort to deal with the impact on citizens has been largely a failure while they made sure corporations got hundreds of billions in aid. It is clear that the effects of the pandemic have been worse than than they could have been due to Trump's ignorance, malfeasance and nonfeasance.

The dozens of hotspots around the country due to the working conditions at meat processing plants provide an insight into what is versus what could have been. Industry could have been ordered to modify production processes and provide workers with the necessary protective gear. OSHA and the CDC have technical expertise to assist industry in that regard. Maintaining food production is an absolute necessity, and so Trump orders meat processing plants to stay open. But he did so without ordering plants to have safe working conditions. Even when he uses his powers, Trump fails. Workers at these plants have one question to answer: your wages or your life. The outbreaks in meat processing plants could have been mitigated. Production would have slowed, but workers, their families and communities would have been safer.

The fear of Trump continuing in office will win the day come November.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I find myself in a position I am not used to - being the optimist. All of polling data supports my analysis, as does the negative partisanship analysis of Bitecofer and others. There are all kinds of possible problems/situations that may or may not arise. They can't be predicted.

Regarding Jerry's point about how Biden become the nominee and his flaws: you're right. The way I see it, the Clyburn endorsement followed by Klobuchar, O'Rourke, mayor Pete and the rest was engineered by the party establishment, which is same ole steaming pile of you know what it has always been. I have never seen so many people drop out of a race just days before Super Tuesday. If I may add an inside baseball observation, Biden's campaign manager is the same person who ran Kerry's race. I know her, don't like her, don't think she is very smart (and the Kerry campaign was nothing to write home about) and she is a product of the Boston machine.

Trump's only path to winning is to depress turnout. Russian, and whoever else's interference may do it, a second wave of covid may do it. But keep in mind that Trump's base is not sufficient on its own to win. The blue wave of '18 was fueled by increased turnout and defections by Republican voters, especially educated suburban women and men (tho more women). And what provided the motivation for a huge increase in turnout? Trump.

As I mentioned before, liking Biden is irrelevant. Hating, despising, etc. Trump is motivation in and of itself, and more powerful than liking Biden.

David Palmeter said...


I don’t think people like Clyburn, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, and mayor Pete were following orders. They may have been persuaded by the argument that Biden is the inevitable nominee, that he’s weak enough as it is, and that we can’t afford to inflict anymore damage to his candidacy. Sanders himself bought that argument very quickly after he saw he had no chance. There’s nothing nefarious, in my view, with Tom Perez trying to coordinate such an effort. He, is after all, DNC chair, Biden is a Democrat, and Bernie is not a Democrat.

I couldn’t agree more with your view that the Kerry campaign was inept. I recall cringing while watching his acceptance speech: he came out, saluted, and reported for duty—a self-described war hero. Contrast that with the shrewdness of the Kennedy campaign. JFK, so far as I’m aware, never brought his WWII exploits up, modestly shrugged them off when others did, and made sure that other Democrats never stopped reminding the voters of his heroic exploits. He let others say he’s a hero, vote for him. Kerry essentially said “I’m a hero, vote for me.”

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Following orders, no. Induced to withdraw to leave only one choice in the moderate column, yes. Biden as the inevitable candidate, not if the process had been left to work out on its own. Biden had plummeted from 35% nationally to 15%, and had been unable to separate from the other moderates who were also stuck in the teens. His nomination was in no way inevitable. An unrelenting chorus of anti Bernie op-ed for the preceding month or so laid the groundwork. Believe me, many, if not most, of those articles were coordinated by the party.

Nefarious might be overstating it, and I doubt Perez had the clout to coordinate Biden's coronation. I wish the Democrats would decide to let their nomination process work itself out, or decide that they'll go back to party leaders picking the nominee. The latter is precisely what just happened. The party, after all, has been deeply afraid of another McGovern type candidacy - their party "hijacked" by a democratic process - since 1972. Full disclosure, I ran a county office for the McGovern campaign and watched the state and county party walk away. I was disgusted then, as I am now, by the party's actions.

BTW, I like your comments on Kerry's campaign.