The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Predicting the future based on history

This morning, the Labor Department reported 2.1 million new unemployment claims, bringing the total to almost 41 million since the pandemic hit the US. As horrifying as that number is, I actually wanted to highlight two articles that appeared today.

The first, by Trump biographer Tony Schwartz in Medium, warns us that having a psychopathic president makes November's election "a true Armageddon:"

The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal and inflict pain to achieve his ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does. What Trump’s words and behavior make clear is that he feels no more guilt about hurting others than a lion does about killing a giraffe.

What makes Trump’s behavior challenging to fathom is that our minds are not wired to understand human beings who live far outside the norms, rules, laws and values that the vast majority of us take for granted. Conscience, empathy and concern for the welfare of others are all essential to the social contract. Conscience itself reflects an inner sense of obligation to behave with honesty, fairness, and care for others, along with a willingness to express contrition if we fall short of those ideals, and especially when we harm others.

So what does all this tell us about how we can expect Trump to behave going forward? The simple answer is worse. His obsession with domination and power have prompted Trump to tell lies more promiscuously than ever since he became president, and to engage in ever more unfounded and aggressive responses aimed at anyone he perceives stands in his way.

In the end, Trump does what he does because he is who he is, immutably.

Trump revels in attention, domination and cruelty. “The sociopath wants to manipulate and control you,” explains Martha Stout, “and so you are rewarding and encouraging him each and every time you allow him to see your anger, confusion or your hurt.” Even so, in order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently, against every single lie Trump tells, and every legal and moral boundary he violates. We must resist what Hanna Arendt has called “the banality of evil” — the numbness and normalizing that so easily sets in when unconscionable acts become commonplace. “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply,” Arendt has written, “but some people will not.”

Understanding what we’re truly up against — the reign of terror that Trump will almost surely wage the moment he believes he can completely prevail — makes the upcoming presidential election a true Armageddon.

The second, from Jeremy Peters at the New York Times, reviews a 1991 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that predicted the "Crisis of 2020:"

Their conclusions about the way each generation develops its own characteristics and leadership qualities influenced a wide range of political leaders, from liberals like Bill Clinton and Al Gore to pro-Trump conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Stephen K. Bannon.

Seems as if they were on to something. So now what?

More insightful than the date itself was the assertion that historical patterns pointed toward the arrival of a generation-defining crisis that would force millennials into the fire early in their adulthood. (Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe were the first to apply that term to those born in the early 1980s because they would come of age around the year 2000.)

More than just a novelty, their theory helps explain why some of the most prominent voices calling for political reform from left, center and right have been young — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30; Pete Buttigieg, 38; Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, 40.

And as baby boomers continue to age out of public service, the theory says, fixing the problems created by the pandemic will fall to this younger, civically oriented generation. Mr. Howe, who at 68 is a member of the cohort he is critical of, said in an interview that it was no coincidence that the boomer president and many people in his generation — especially the more conservative ones — have generally taken a more lax attitude toward the coronavirus than younger people.

But now, I have to debug an Azure function app...

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.

He wants us to fire him

Author Franklin Schneider, who wrote a book about getting fired from 13 jobs in 10 years, thinks the president is begging someone to fire him:

We didn’t need insider exposés about “executive time” spent shouting at the TV to know that Trump hates being president. It’s there in every seething tweet, every prickly exchange with reporters, every shrug of a coronavirus briefing. He despises everything about Washington — the modesty, the expertise, the functionaries around him who have the temerity to do their jobs and expect him to do his. At night, he must dream of telling them (us) to take this job and shove it, so he can return to his natural calling of selling subpar steaks and repeatedly filing for bankruptcy.

He wants out, but we all know he'd never step down. I get it. I do! It’s the reverse of the Groucho Marx saying about how he’d never want to be in a club who’d have him as a member: I’d never voluntarily leave an office where I wasn’t wanted. They had to drag me out each time, the HR lady snatching the key card out of my hand, then signaling for security to escort me to the elevator. Why did I resist leaving so many places I hated, and why does he? It’s a matter of spite: At some point, making your enemies unhappy becomes more important than making yourself happy. And if that was true for me, it has to be true for Trump, too: Spite animates his personality as much as his politics.

Take heart from this: No matter how horrifying a second Trump term sounds to you, it probably sounds even worse to Trump. And there’s still the outside chance that he could find the guts to seize his destiny and just quit. Donny, if you’re reading this, trust me: It feels wonderful when you finally escape. Resign, go home, block all your former co-workers on social media, and have a good cry. Someone else will take care of the whole coronavirus thing. It’s not like you were really trying, anyway.

Along the same lines, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says we should open up right away, no matter who it kills, and Josh Marshall points to the other billionaires demanding the same thing as evidence of an even worse divide in American life than we thought.

The sun! Was out! For an hour!

Since January 2019, Chicago has had only two months with above-average sunshine, and in both cases we only got 10% more than average. This year we're ticking along about 9% below, with no month since July 2019 getting above 50% of possible sunshine.

In other news:

Finally, having "walktails" with friends may be a thing, but because drinking alcohol on public streets in Chicago is prohibited by city ordinance, I cannot admit to ever doing this.

Domestic terrorism in Michigan

Charlie Pierce, noting that "[p]eople with firearms forced the civil government of the state of Michigan to shut itself down," wants to know in what sense this isn't terrorism. In other fun weekend stories:

And it's pouring, and will continue to do so for several more hours.

Mostly tangential news

Today I'll try to avoid the most depressing stories:

  • The North Shore Channel Trail bridge just north of Lincoln Avenue opened this week, completing an 11 km continuous path from Lincoln Square to Evanston.
  • Experts warn that herd immunity (a) is an economic concept, not a health concept and (b) shouldn't apply to humans because we're not herd animals.
  • Wisconsin remains in total chaos today after the state supreme court terminated Governor Tony Evans' stay-at-home order, approximately two weeks before a predictable, massive uptick in Covid-19 cases.
  • Delta Airlines has decided to retire its fleet of 18 B777 airplanes years ahead of schedule due to an unexpected drop in demand for air travel.
  • The pro-contagion, rabid right-wingers flashing placards saying "Be Like Sweden" clearly have no comprehension of Sweden's efforts to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
  • US retail sales declined 16.4% in April, pushing the total decline since February to nearly 25%, the worst decline in history.
  • Wired has a portrait of Marcus Hutchins, the hacker who stopped the WannaCry virus from killing us all and then went to jail for his previous activities designing and spreading malware.
  • Andrew Sullivan tells the story of Samuel Pepys, "the very first pandemic blogger."

Finally, Vanity Fair has reprinted its 1931 cover article on Al Capone, which seems somehow timely.

Today's...uh, yesterday's articles

My day kept getting longer as it went on in a way that people living through the pandemic will understand. So I didn't have time to read any of these yesterday:

Finally, Jon Oliver has put out a line of Last Week Tonight stamps to help support the US Postal Service. So naturally I bought some.

Unprecedented numbers

The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.

Once you've absorbed that, there's more:

Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.

The economic consequences of the pandemic

The differences in the way Democrats and Republicans have approached the pandemic shouldn't surprise or shock anyone, but one might still expect Republicans not to say the quiet parts quite so loudly. Last week, 3.2 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 33.5 million since mid-March and the unemployment rate to nearly 20%. The last time we had 20% unemployment, Herbert Hoover (a Republican, let's remember) sat on his ass in the Oval Office waiting for the market to fix itself. Millions starved and lost their homes. The economy didn't recover fully for over a decade, and then only because we had to mobilize the economy around the biggest war in human history.

So how is this Republican administration trying to save the economy? Pretty much the same way Hoover's did, except with less compassion and more stupidity.

This morning, the Small Business Administration announced that its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program had all but run out of money, so they won't accept new applicants and they will only give out $150,000 awards instead of the $2m loans people have applied for.

Here in Illinois, downstate Republicans want to reopen businesses soon rather than wait for the empirical triggers in Governor Pritzker's plan to apply. What they haven't said here, but what seems obvious from the experiences of other states, like Georgia, is that they want to reduce unemployment insurance payments by forcing low-income workers back to work even if it's not safe. What do the owners or Republican legislators care, right? See, if shops and businesses are legally entitled to open, and workers refuse to go in because, you know, they want to live a few years longer, then the workers will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance. QED. This is almost explicitly Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's plan.

As Josh Marshall wrote today, "Again and again, the Trump Era forces us to the crudest and most unsubtle portrayals of the role of wealth and privilege in our society. But it’s no surprise since that is the essence of Trumpism."

Finally, one of the president's valets tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which reportedly made the president angry. Did the president express concern for the guy or his family? Oh, how droll.

What's a Wednesday again?

Remember slow news days? Me neither.

  • Republican legislators and business owners have pushed back on Illinois Governor JB Pritzker's plan to re-open the economy, preferring instead to force their employees into unsafe situations so they can return to making money.
  • Professional dilettante Jared Kushner's leadership in getting a bunch of kids to organize mask distribution went about as well as one might predict.
  • More reasonable people simply see how it means we're going to be in this a while.
  • California has sued Uber and Lyft for violating AB5, claiming the two ride-sharing companies “gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by inappropriately classifying massive numbers of California drivers as independent contractors,” according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
  • Assuming states were allowed to go bankrupt, Crain's Steven Strahler believes an Illinois bankruptcy might not be what anyone actually wants.
  • Illinois' $560m shortfall in gasoline taxes right now has put transit projects at risk.
  • The BBC tries to help the rest of the world understand why the US has a backlash against face masks, as does NBC.
  • If you take New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut out of the equation, the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise in the US.
  • Bottled water sales have gone up 57% year-over-year, so Consumer Reports wants to know why people are paying so much for someone else's tap water? Especially since bottlers often don't pay their water bills while residents are getting their water shut off.
  • Anyone remember that it's the 20th anniversary of the ILOVEYOU virus?

And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.