Whether the “Karen” meme that has taken off among some Millennials and members of Generation Z is sexist and ageist or whether it’s a legitimate critique of white privilege and class privilege — there has been a lot of debate on the left — journalist David A. Graham uses a humorous “Karen” analogy in a May 28 article for The Atlantic, asserting that there is no bigger “Karen” in the United States than President Donald Trump.
According to the meme, a “Karen” is a privileged, demanding white soccer mom who goes out of her way to make life unnecessarily difficult for low-paid workers in the service sector. Graham puts it this way: “A Karen, if you’ve somehow missed the memo, is the type of person who demands to see the manager or calls the cops — like the dog owner who summoned the NYPD to Central Park after an African-American man asked her to leash her dog.”
Some feminists view the term as both sexist and ageist. But others on the left have strongly disagreed, stressing that the term is not promoting misogyny or ageism, but calling out the abuses of white privilege and class privilege (the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah, who is African-American, defended the term in an April 28 op-ed). And some Gen-Xers and Boomers are puzzled by the meme, noting that a lot of the women they have thought highly of over the years were named Karen (like Karen Carpenter or Karen Black).
“The term is most commonly applied to middle-aged women, but why abide by that sexist standard?,” Graham writes. “A man can easily be a Karen, as Donald Trump is proving this week.”
Graham goes on to explain why Trump is the essence of a “Karen.”
“When Trump gets sufficiently angry about anyone who dares criticize him,” Graham notes, “he is quick to work the referees, attempting to use the force of the law to bully the critics into submission and to try to intimidate would-be critics from opening their mouths. That’s what Trump is doing in resurfacing old and spurious accusations of murder against the TV host Joe Scarborough, and in preparing an executive order to punish social-media companies after Twitter dared to fact-check his words.”
“Karen,” according to the meme, is known for demanding to see the manager at Starbucks if her latte doesn’t arrive promptly. Trump, meanwhile, does things like promoting the nonsense conspiracy theory that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (one of Trump’s most outspoken critics on the right) committed murder when he was serving in Congress in 2001 and then throwing a tantrum when he is fact-checked.
“Trump’s pressure can take forms both hyper-targeted and personal or broad and policy-based,” according to Graham. “For some time in May, but escalating over the past few days, Trump has been attacking MSNBC host Joe Scarborough — a friend and ally turned strident critic — and falsely accusing Scarborough of murder in relation to the 2001 death, from natural causes, of a staffer in his Florida office when Scarborough was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The claim is not new; it has been made over the years, first by the left and now by the right, and has been repeatedly and authoritatively debunked.”
The U.S. passed a grim milestone this week when researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported that more than 100,000 of its residents had died from coronavirus. And while Trump briefly mentioned that landmark on Twitter, he spent a lot more time tweeting about his critics and railing against Twitter for fact-checking two of his tweets (neither of which Twitter actually removed).
“The approach that Trump is taking with Scarborough is the same as that of Karens everywhere: call the cops, even if there’s no actual violation, and make life miserable for the people having the cops called on them,” Graham asserts. “In both cases, the point is to punish the people who dared to challenge him.”
‘I will never surrender’: Far-right Mississippi mayor refuses to resign after mindlessly defending officers involved in George Floyd’s death
Some conservatives and libertarians — from MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News — have been vehemently outspoken about the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, asserting that his death was absolutely inexcusable. Napolitano, in fact, has called for all four of the officers involved in Floyd’s death to face murder charges. But Hal Marx, the far-right Republican mayor of Petal, Mississippi, has defended the officers, and critics are calling for Marx’s resignation.
On Thursday, May 28, USA Today reports, the Petal Board of Aldermen held a meeting in the hope of persuading Marx to resign. But the Petal mayor has refused to step down.
“I will never surrender to the mob mentality,” Marx declared.
On Tuesday, May 26, Marx insisted that the police officers who arrested Floyd on May 25 did nothing wrong and painted them as victims, tweeting, “If you are talking about the incident in MN, I didn’t see anything unreasonable. If you can say you can’t breathe, you’re breathing. Most likely that man died of overdose or heart attack. Video doesn’t show his resistance that got him in that position. Police being crucified.”
Mississippi mayor, Hal Marx, criticized for supporting police after George Floyd’s death: https://t.co/5GeKEEbqF7
“I didn’t see anything unreasonable— if you can talk, you can breathe.” pic.twitter.com/qo1pgDg2eK
— Complex (@Complex) May 28, 2020
Marx went on to say, “Why in the world would anyone choose to become a police officer in our society today?” All four of the officers were fired after Floyd’s death, but so far, none of them have faced criminal charges.
One of the Twitter users who objected to Marx’s comments said of law enforcement, “Would be nice to get a few in there that understand reasonable force, when it’s needed, and don’t give the rest of them a bad reputation.”
Floyd’s death has been followed by demonstrations not only in Minneapolis, but also, in cities ranging from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles. Most of the protests have been loud but peaceful, although Minneapolis has suffered civil unrest, looting and rioting — which the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights activists have vehemently condemned.
Some prominent law enforcement officers have been quick to condemn the killing of George, including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw — both of whom have demanded justice for Floyd.
A long list of liberals and progressives, from the Rev. Al Sharpton to Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, have vehemently condemned the violence and civil unrest that Minneapolis has suffered following the death of George Floyd — an African-American man who, in a horrifying video, can be seen telling four police officers, “I can’t breathe” while handcuffed and pinned to the ground. But they have also stressed that the anger surrounding Floyd’s death is perfectly justified and encouraged peaceful, nonviolent protests. And Robinson expresses some of that anger in his May 28 column, asserting that the type of abuse suffered by Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery has to stop.
In Georgia, Arbery (also African-American) was out jogging when he was fatally shot in what has been widely condemned as a vigilante-style lynching.
“I condemn riots, destruction, property theft and all manner of senseless violence, but I understand the feeling that animates these spasms,” Robinson asserts. “When I watch the video of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, choking the life out of him and ignoring his cries of distress, I want to throw something. When I see the video of Gregory and Travis McMichael accosting and shooting Arbery, I want to throw something else. I can’t help but think of my own two sons and how, for either of them, a routine encounter with police — or a run-in with self-appointed sheriffs — could be fatal. I want to scream.”
Robinson, who is African-American, notes that although he enjoys a “comfortable” middle class lifestyle, racism is a major source of frustration for him — and he wonders how much worse that frustration would be if, instead of black and middle class, he were black and poor.
“I feel this way even though I have status in this society, an income that allows me to live comfortably, and a megaphone — in the form of this column and my television appearances — with which to make my complaints and opinions heard,” Robinson writes. “I wonder how I’d feel if I lacked these things, if I were powerless and voiceless. I wonder where my frustration and rage would find their outlet.”
Robinson makes a point that many others have been making following Floyd’s death: like Arbery and the late New York City resident Eric Garner — who also used the words “I can’t breathe” when he was arrested — Floyd was black and unarmed. Garner died after being arrested for selling loose cigarettes.
“Floyd’s last words of anguish — ‘I can’t breathe’ — were the same as those of Eric Garner, who in 2014, was approached by New York policemen for standing on a Staten Island sidewalk, selling loose cigarettes,” Robinson explains. “Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold and killed him. Pantaleo was never charged with a crime. He wasn’t fired until last August, and he is suing the department, arguing that his termination was ‘arbitrary and capricious’…. Not only do these unwarranted killings of black men keep happening. They also keep going unpunished.”
The unrest in Minneapolis comes 55 years after the Watts Riots of 1965 and 28 years after the Los Angeles Riots, which followed the acquittal of officers involved in the brutal beating of black motorist Rodney King.
“Do you want to prevent the kind of rioting, looting and arson we saw in Minneapolis on Wednesday night?,” Robinson writes. “Then stop police officers and racist vigilantes from killing black men, like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Stop treating African Americans like human trash and start treating us like citizens.”
John James, the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Michigan, privately told African-American leaders in the state that it was pointless to publicly call out President Donald Trump’s racist statements — shortly before he publicly criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for “hurtful” remarks he made about black voters. “When I do talk about a prosperity agenda, that’s the goal, is achieving equity and equality for our people, not standing up on Twitter and condemning folks,” James said in a leaked video obtained by Salon, in response to a question about why he had not spoken out about the president’s racist rhetoric. “We’ve had our minds twisted to believe that speaking out is tantamount to fixing things.”
Vice President @JoeBiden ‘s latest quote is both pathetic & hurtful. Challenging millions on their blackness is condescending. The GOP was started to oppose slavery. I have the right to think and vote for myself along with all other Americans, including black Americans. pic.twitter.com/RRURX1eMbY
— John James (@JohnJamesMI) May 22, 2020
James, who is black, made the comments after he was conspicuously silent during Trump’s racist attacks on Democrats of color. Just weeks after the April call, James lit into Biden for telling a black radio host that being unsure about backing his candidacy means “you ain’t black.”
“Vice President Biden, with all due respect, your latest comments are both pathetic and hurtful,” James said in a video posted to Twitter. “You challenging me and millions of other people out there on their blackness, descendants of slaves, from you, is some seriously condescending, out of touch bull-crap. You’re embarrassing yourself, Mr. Vice President.”
James followed up the video by publishing an op-ed at Fox News titled “Hey, Joe Biden, I’m black enough to think for myself.”
James’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The candidate’s comments about Trump came during a video conference with African American community leaders on April 30, first reported by Politico.
The appearance drew criticism when James, who previously declared that he supported Trump “2,000%,” insisted to the leaders that he disagrees with Trump on “plenty of issues.”
“Everything from cutting Great Lakes funding to ‘shithole countries’ to speaking ill of the dead,” James said, according to Politico. “I mean, where do you want to start? And so yes, there’s gonna be places that I disagree with the president and those are just a couple.”
“John James is willing to have these tough conversations with voters,” Gail Gitcho, a campaign spokeswoman, told the outlet. “John James is his own man, and he will point out when he agrees with the president and respectfully point out when he disagrees with him.”
But in the video obtained by Salon, James argued that publicly disagreeing with Trump would hurt his candidacy.
“Do you think that Esther could have saved her people by spitting in the king’s face?” James asked, referring to the biblical queen who saves the Jewish people from a massacre planned by her husband, the Persian king. “No. She was able to do that, because she was in the king’s chambers. Do you think that Moses was able to speak to the pharaoh multiple times? No, it’s because he was raised in those and was able to get into those chambers. And all throughout, how things have worked has been the ability to access.
“Look, Donald Trump doesn’t need less black folks around him, he needs more. And that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do is to look at my actions, because they say actions speak louder than words. I’m asking you to look at my actions and recognize that, working in reality, that I have to make sure that I get to the seat so I can help people, which is why I’m having this call here.”
The comments came in response to a question from a Michigan pastor who asked whether James was willing to stand up for his community against the president’s offensive remarks.
“I don’t need somebody that is going to be supported by the president, I need somebody that is going to actually stand. And sometimes standing is not just saying it behind closed doors, but it’s saying it in the front line,” the minister said.
The questioner then took issue with James’ claim that he disagrees with the president on numerous issues, given his reluctance to criticize him.
“I’ve looked at your campaign throughout the months. As I looked at some of the material, I don’t see you standing out front saying, ‘No, I condemn this regardless of my party affiliation,’” the pastor said. “You say that you will say something. I don’t want to wait until you’re in a seat to hear you say something.”
James, an Iraq war veteran and business owner, lost his first Senate bid against Sen. Debbie Stabenow by 6.5 percentage points in 2018. James is running against Michigan’s other Democratic senator, Gary Peters, this time around.
After the comments were first leaked to Politico, James insisted that he is willing to criticize Trump.
“When the president is right on what he’s doing for Michigan, I’ll support him. And when I disagree with him, I will let him know. It benefits the state of Michigan to have that perspective and that voice,” he told The Detroit News. “The fact that this was leaked with the intent to hurt me just shows that there’s some folks in Washington that are so out of touch with a Michigan that’s desperate for experienced leadership and fair representation.”
The Michigan Democratic Party accused Jones of trying to have it both ways when it comes to Trump.
“A failed politician who says one thing in public and another behind closed doors will continue to be a failed politician,” party spokeswoman Elena Kuhn told The Detroit News.
Trump aides, ironically, are also “suspicious that James is trying to have it both ways,” according to Politico.
Those suspicions have not stopped Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. from headlining fundraisers for James, who has also gotten plenty of financial support from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ deep-pocketed Michigan family.
Donald Trump Jr. downplayed James’ comments about disagreeing with the president at the fundraiser last week.
“This is the nonsense that we will be living the next six months, so I can assure everyone that John is all for the agenda. He understands it,” he said. “He’s going to implement it, and he’s going to be an incredible United States senator.”
“After taking heat for talking out both sides of his mouth, James’ move to rake in campaign cash with Trump Jr. is a clear indication of where his loyalty really stands,” Kuhn told The Detroit News. “2,000% with Donald Trump, not with Michigan families.”
Nursing homes fought federal emergency plan requirements for years — now they’re coronavirus hot spots
On Dec. 15, 2016, the nation’s largest nursing home lobby wrote a letter to Donald Trump, congratulating the president-elect and urging him to roll back new regulations on the long-term care industry.
One item on the wish list was a recently issued emergency preparedness rule. It required nursing homes to draw up plans for hazards such as an outbreak of a new infectious disease.
Trump’s election, the American Health Care Association, or AHCA, wrote, had demonstrated that voters opposed “extremely burdensome” rules that endangered the industry’s thin profit margins.
“Part of the public’s message was asking for less Washington influence, less regulation, and more empowerment to the free market that has made our country the greatest in the world,” AHCA wrote. “We embrace that message and look forward to working with you to improve the lives of the residents in our facilities.”
The letter was another salvo in the industry’s fight against regulations designed to stop diseases like COVID-19 from devastating elderly residents of the nation’s nursing homes, according to a review of documents and data by New Mexico In Depth; The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina; and ProPublica.
The lack of pandemic plans helps explain why nursing homes have been caught unprepared for the new coronavirus, patient advocates and industry observers said. Across the country, more than one in four nursing homes have registered an outbreak, according to mediareports. More than 16,000 nursing home residents and workers have died, accounting for 17% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide, according to an AARP tally on May 18. That figure is likely an understatement of the true scope of the harm.
Ongoing questions about the regulations may also have played a role. The 2016 rules mandated planning for all kinds of hazards, citing Ebola as an example. In 2019, the Trump administration clarified that nursing homes needed to include a specific plan for outbreaks of unfamiliar and contagious diseases — such as the coronavirus.
The plans must address how facilities will respond in an emergency — specifying how nursing homes will decide to shelter in place or evacuate and how they will provide residents with food, water, medicine and power. Nursing homes have to train their staff on these plans and practice them at least twice a year, if possible by participating in a drill with local agencies.
Some nursing homes were slow to comply, according to an analysis of inspection data, watchdog reports and interviews with ombudsmen and advocates. Inspectors have found more than 24,000 deficiencies with nursing homes’ emergency plans between November 2017, when the so-called “all hazards rule” took effect, and March 2020, according to public data reviewed by the news organizations. The violations occurred in 6,599 facilities, equal to about 43% of the country’s nursing homes.
Because of how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tracks the data, it’s not possible to say exactly how many of the emergency planning violations related specifically to a failure to plan for an infectious disease outbreak. Failures to meet routine infection control standards were excluded from the analysis.
But nursing home advocates say that more detailed plans accounting for expected staff and equipment shortages would have likely resulted in fewer deaths and illnesses at nursing homes stricken by the coronavirus. The current rule requires nursing homes to make contingency staffing preparations, but it doesn’t require stockpiles of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“It’s just a river of grief, and it could have been prevented,” said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
Emergency plans help facilities train their staff ahead of time and guide tough decisions during a crisis, said Ted Goins, the president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas, a nonprofit based in Salisbury, North Carolina, that runs several highly rated elder-care facilities.
“COVID-19 is a perfect example of why we have emergency plans in our facilities, and I’m sure that’s why it’s a requirement,” Goins said.
AHCA declined to make any executives available for an interview. In a statement, the group said the pandemic shows that nursing homes should be a bigger priority for resources but not for regulation.
“As we assess the COVID-19 pandemic and how to prepare our healthcare system for future outbreaks, more regulation is not necessarily always the answer,” AHCA said in the statement. “There will be time to look back and determine what we can do better for future pandemics or crises.”
One place to start: a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with five deaths and 42 infections tied to a COVID-19 outbreak and no plan for dealing with a pandemic, according to its employees and New Mexico public records.
“Pandemic response? I mean, I don’t think anybody was really prepared for a pandemic of this level or this quickly,” said Edwardo Rivera, the facility’s administrator. “We did have some things in place, but nothing could have prepared us for what COVID-19 was.”
An Emergency Call
Robert Potts, 91, once flew America’s leaders around the globe.
A retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions in Korea and Vietnam, Potts returned to the United States to serve as pilot for Air Force One and Air Force Two in the 1960s, according to service records and a family member. He spoke of flying President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
After he fell at home and hit his head in March, Potts wound up at Advanced Health Care of Albuquerque, part of a nationwide network of 22 post-hospitalization rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities.
The Albuquerque facility is a top-rated rehabilitation center with personal bedrooms and wine glasses in the dining hall. It takes care of patients needing physical, occupational or speech therapy after hospitalization.
In early April, AHC of Albuquerque staff and residents began testing positive for the coronavirus. Concerned about her father’s health, Potts’ daughter Susan wanted to bring him home. Somebody from the facility — Susan could not remember exactly who — assured the family that Potts had tested negative for COVID-19.
When the AHC of Albuquerque van arrived at the Potts residence in the city’s affluent Northeast Heights on the afternoon of April 10, the Potts family’s caretaker was there to greet him. Rosemary Ortiz, 57, recalled that the driver reassured her that Potts was negative for COVID-19.
Ortiz, however, noticed that Potts had symptoms that corresponded with the disease: a runny nose and a dry cough. The next day, Saturday, those symptoms worsened. By Sunday morning, he complained of shortness of breath and chest pain. He was dizzy, Ortiz recalled.
Ortiz drove him first to an urgent care facility, where he registered a temperature of 100 degrees. At a nurse’s recommendation, Ortiz drove Potts to Presbyterian Hospital in downtown Albuquerque.
“Wouldn’t it be something if I had the COVID and I gave it to you guys, to the family,” she recalled him telling her.
“Don’t say that, we don’t want that!” Ortiz responded.
At Presbyterian, Potts tested positive for COVID-19. He was admitted to the fourth-floor ICU.
Ortiz returned to her home that evening, a two-room casita in Albuquerque’s South Valley that she shares with a roommate.
She worried that Potts was dying.
Something Pretty Basic
The drive to ensure that nursing homes were better prepared for emergencies began amid disaster and disease.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that nursing homes were unprepared for emergencies despite complying with existing federal standards. The watchdog recommended strengthening the federal requirements to be more specific about the elements that must be in a disaster plan and encourage more coordination with state and local emergency management officials.
In 2009, the Government Accountability Office examined preparedness for a flu pandemic and recommended that the federal government do more to advise health care providers on emergency plans and monitor their performance. The shortcomings were underscored by an outbreak of swine flu that year, which sickened nursing home residents nationwide.
In 2013, the concerns over infectious outbreaks began to take concrete form. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, proposed updating the emergency preparedness requirements for all health care providers that participate in Medicare and Medicaid, including nursing homes.
“This was really something pretty basic,” said Richard Mollot, the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, which advocates for nursing home residents and their families.
But nursing home operators didn’t see it that way. They objected to the new requirements, arguing they would be costly and burdensome. Over the next three years, they repeatedly voiced their concerns as CMS finalized the new rule.
“We are concerned that CMS has underestimated the amount of time, training and resources necessary to implement many of these requirements,” Catholic Health Initiatives, which operates 40 long-term care, assisted-living and residential-living facilities, said in a formal response to the CMS proposal.
The Continuing Care Leadership Coalition, which represents nonprofit and public post-acute and long-term care providers in the New York metropolitan area, told CMS that the additional personnel and equipment — such as backup generators — needed to comply with the new regulations risked the economic stability of some of its members. “We view the proposed changes as considerable from a financial standpoint, in excess of appropriate minimum standards to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and we expect they would necessitate significant staffing and operational enhancements,” the organization said.
CMS rejected the appeals, issuing its final rules in September 2016. Nursing homes and other facilities had one year to implement the changes.
A few months later, AHCA sent its letter to Trump. The group followed up by asking Tom Price, Trump’s first HHS secretary, to stop implementing the new requirements and write a new rule. “We are happy to work with your team and CMS staff to provide more specific suggestions,” the industry group said.
The following year, the Trump administration proposed fulfilling some of AHCA’s wishes. The organization had warned that creating and updating the plans risked taking time away from patients.
Advocates for nursing home residents objected that CMS was contradicting its own conclusions. Public health officials said a rollback would undo potentially life-saving improvements.
CMS ultimately decided to remove the mandate for nursing homes to document coordination with local authorities.
But the agency remained insistent on the need to plan for pandemics and other outbreaks of new diseases: “CMS determined it was critical for facilities to include planning for infectious diseases within their emergency preparedness program,” it said in a memorandum issued in February 2019.
A Confused Response
On March 10, just a day before authorities announced New Mexico’s first positive COVID-19 case, Kate Brennan was listening to sports radio on her way to work at AHC of Albuquerque, located in a neighborhood of industrial and business parks. The most senior physical therapist at the facility, she listened with alarm to news about the spread of the coronavirus.
She pulled into the parking lot at the same time as Edwardo Rivera, the top administrator. What were they going to do to protect patients and staff from a COVID-19 outbreak, she asked.
“Katie, it’s nothing more than the flu. It’s not a big deal,” she said he told her.
Rivera said he could not recall making such a statement. But on March 13, CMS issued new COVID-19 measures for nursing homes nationwide. The agency recommended the screening of residents and staff for fever and respiratory symptoms, restricting “all visitors, effective immediately,” except for end-of-life visits, and canceling all group activities and communal dining.
The measures appeared to catch Rivera and his management team by surprise. Their response over the next several weeks was confused and uncertain, employees and patients’ family members said.
By March 15, AHC of Albuquerque announced a halt to family visits. Staff and contractors were checked at the facility door for fever. But group therapy in the gym did not immediately stop, according to former employees who were there at the time. Patients were given the option of eating meals in their own rooms, according to an employee’s cellphone text, but meals in the facility’s dining room continued.
Brennan grew increasingly worried that AHC was not adequately preparing. Despite the CMS regulations, Brennan and several others said they had never received any kind of training on how to handle an epidemic.
“We never talked about COVID-19 training, I know that. Never. Never,” Brennan said.
Nurse Carole J. Welch agreed, as did two other AHC of Albuquerque employees interviewed on the condition that they remain anonymous. Fire drills were the only disaster planning and exercises about which Welch and Brennan were aware, they said.
“There was never anything mentioned about COVID-19,” Welch said. “At all-staff meetings, everybody signs a sign-in sheet. If state inspectors ever ask them for documentation for in-service training or sign-in sheets for COVID-19 trainings, unless they’ve made them up, there aren’t any.”
Nor did the facility participate in any community drills or exercises in recent years other than fire drills, Welch and Brennan agreed.
Rivera said several COVID-19 training sessions had been held since early January. Asked if AHC of Albuquerque had conducted staff training to prepare for the pandemic — explaining how the coronavirus can be transmitted and what precautions are needed to avoid its spread — Rivera said they’d been doing such training “for a while now,” a claim vociferously denied by staff.
In March, the New Mexico Department of Health rushed inspectors to AHC of Albuquerque as part of a statewide effort to review facilities’ emergency response plans in anticipation of the coronavirus pandemic. No deficiencies were noted in either planning or training. Health Department officials did not respond to questions about whether inspectors specifically examined the pandemic response portion of the facility’s emergency plan.
But Rivera acknowledged that AHC had no pandemic response plan, as federal rules require, just a more general disaster response plan. He noted he had not coordinated with local health officials to plan or drill for an epidemic to identify potential problems.
“We did not coordinate much when it comes to an epidemic of this fashion with the [state] Department of Health,” Rivera said. “They did review all of our policy procedures and emergency preparedness plan and everything was checked off and OK’d. But there was never any official training with the Department of Health.”
When asked directly whether AHC of Albuquerque had a generic emergency plan rather than one specific to the needs of a pandemic (such as infection control and PPE supplies), Rivera said: “Correct.”
To Brennan, Rivera’s attitude was too lax for the situation facing the facility’s patients and residents. She believed the lack of guidance was putting her and her patients at risk.
Brennan said she would not work with patients without appropriate PPE and announced she was taking personal leave on March 16. She was fired. Welch asked to be changed from full time to an on-call nurse on April 5 because of similar concerns as Brennan’s. She later learned she, too, had been fired.
“I think in 2 weeks we will see a lot occur … and perhaps our standards will rise … or won’t need to,” Brennan texted to a supervisor. “But in the meantime, I felt we should do more, be more.”
Rivera declined to comment on personnel matters.
“The Cost Is Human Lives”
AHC of Albuquerque’s failure to create a pandemic plan is not unique among nursing homes. A 2018 report by Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee concluded that nursing homes are still unprepared even for more common emergencies like hurricanes.
While some homes have devoted a lot of energy to protecting their residents from disasters, many facilities are doing the bare minimum, according to David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
“I don’t think it’s ever been a major area of focus,” Grabowski said, “somewhat because CMS hasn’t forced this and really held their feet to the fire.”
The inspectors who verify whether a nursing home meets emergency preparedness standards are supposed to read the plan to make sure it’s updated and “encompasses potential hazards.” They should also confirm that the nursing home has been training its employees on the emergency plan and ensure that the facility has made preparations for communicating and delegating authority in a crisis.
The most commonly cited problem for nursing homes’ emergency preparedness is failing to rehearse their plans in a community drill, usually organized by local emergency management or a hospital-led health care coalition.
Since inspectors are tasked with identifying immediate hazards, they may be less focused on scrutinizing emergency plans, said Eric Carlson, directing attorney of Justice in Aging, which advocates for impoverished seniors.
In 2019 and 2020, the HHS inspector general found that inspectors in at least five states — California, New York, Florida, Texas and Missouri — were not thoroughly policing the new emergency preparedness rule. CMS has said it will expand its oversight of states’ enforcement.
Another indication of underenforcement is how much violations vary across the country. Advocates and experts say the variation more likely reflects different states’ inspection priorities rather than how much facilities are actually doing.
California has one of the highest citation rates, with inspectors finding more than three emergency-preparedness violations per facility since November 2017, according to the analysis. At least 56 facilities have been cited for failing to plan for potential pandemics.
New Mexico cited nursing homes for emergency-preparedness deficiencies at about the same rate, but it’s not possible to say how many of those deficiencies related specifically to failing to plan for confronting a new infectious disease. Today, nursing homes account for 31% of all COVID-19 deaths in New Mexico.
The citation rate in New York, where more than 5,800 nursing home residents died with confirmed or presumed infections, was much lower, roughly one deficiency per nursing home.
North Carolina registered few deficiencies. Although the state has more than 400 nursing homes, its inspectors issued just 44 emergency-preparedness citations to 40 facilities, none related to a nursing home’s failure to prepare for an epidemic.
Despite this apparently clean record, North Carolina’s nursing homes have been ravaged by COVID-19. Nursing home residents make up more than half of the state’s deaths. About 20% of facilities have had outbreaks, and some have been unable to stop the virus’s spread before virtually every resident was infected.
At Louisburg Healthcare and Rehabilitation, all but five of the facility’s 61 residents caught the virus and 19 died. Despite the federal directive to coordinate with local emergency managers, the nursing home didn’t submit its plan for review.
Jeff Bright, the emergency manager of Franklin County, where the nursing home is located, said the first time he talked to the facility’s administrator was after the outbreak began. “The initial conversation was, ‘Oh good gracious, we’re overwhelmed,’” he said.
In a statement, the nursing home’s management company, Liberty Healthcare, acknowledged that local emergency officials had not reviewed the facility’s emergency plan. But the company said its plan contained a section on pandemic influenza response that proved helpful. State inspectors have reviewed the nursing home’s emergency plan three times since the new rule took effect, the company noted, and each time the facility was found in compliance.
Regulators should do more to make sure that nursing homes and local emergency officials work together, advocates said.
“Facilities should have been better prepared for this,” Melanie McNeil, Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman, said. “The cost is human lives. That’s the cost of not being prepared. We know that people in long-term care are vulnerable.”
The Outbreak Begins
Brennan’s concerns proved prescient on April 3 — the 13th day at AHC of Albuquerque for an elderly Navajo patient in Room 222.
That day, the man had coughing fits in the dining room and therapy gym, according to current and former employees. The next day, on Saturday, he was still coughing and had a fever, so staff quarantined him in his room and administered a nasal swab to test for COVID-19.
Word of his positive test result came the following day, April 5 — Palm Sunday. He was the first person known to have become infected at the facility.
That morning, the facility’s nursing director told staff to assign only one certified nursing assistant, or CNA, to enter the patient’s room, Welch said. But the CNA working in Room 222 was not told to avoid contact with other patients to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus, according to Welch. Several people who the CNA attended were later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Rivera said the CNA took necessary precautions, including the use of personal protective equipment. But employees present at the facility on April 5 said the CNA was wearing a surgical mask, not one of the more protective N95 masks.
Rivera acknowledged that staff likely played a role in spreading the virus by mid-April.
“I would say it was indirect” spread between residents by staff, Rivera said. “At that time, we had all of our patients, remember, in isolation at that time, in their rooms.”
Between April 5 and May 8, 42 people — 18 patients and 24 staff — at AHC of Albuquerque would test positive for the disease, according to the state Health Department. Patients were sent home or to other nearby facilities like The Watermark assisted living center and the Canyon Transitional Rehabilitation Center, but only after testing negative twice, Rivera said.
Five residents died, including two men and two women in their 70s and 80s, and Roslyn K. Pulitzer, 90, a distant relative of the newspaper family who created the Pulitzer Prize, the nation’s highest journalistic honor.
Pulitzer, a psychotherapist and fine arts photographer, drew her final breath holding the ungloved hand of Kay Lockridge, her partner of 36 years, at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, April 30, at the University of New Mexico Hospital’s intensive care unit.
“If we had known they had a case, Roz wouldn’t have gone there,” said Lockridge, a journalist. “I wish we’d known.”
Outbreaks, Staff Cuts and a Disengaged Doctor
AHC of Albuquerque had a history of problems with containing infectious outbreaks, according to employees and a review of state Health Department inspection reports dated 2009 to 2020.
There have been recurring infections involving Clostridium difficile, commonly called C. diff, according to current and former AHC of Albuquerque employees and state inspection reports. C. diff is a drug-resistant bacterium that causes diarrhea and potentially lethal gut inflammation. Rivera said the facility has had no C. diff cases in 2020. He did not return calls regarding previous outbreaks.
Repeated problems with C. diff are a red flag for infection control problems, said Dusti Harvey, an Albuquerque attorney who previously worked for Sun Healthcare Group, a long-term nursing and post-hospitalization rehabilitation company.
Federal regulations for nursing homes, including those for infection control, have been in place since 1989, Harvey noted.
“This is something that nursing homes should have been doing for the last 30 years,” Harvey said. “Nursing homes should have been set up for COVID-19 way before it happened.”
AHC of Albuquerque was also short-staffed, according to employees. Changes in billing for physical therapy had led to layoffs in September 2019. The facility had also begun to accept older, more fragile patients.
The situation was a “perfect storm for things to go awry with the introduction of COVID-19 into the facility,” Brennan said. “Less staff, less cohesion, less communication, less direction. They brought in more patients that were inappropriate for effective group therapy due to their numerous medical issues.”
Rivera insisted the changes to Medicare payments did not affect patient demographics and that staffing was not a problem.
A final concern for some employees was Dr. Ralph S. Hansen, the facility’s medical director and one of its two designated infection control specialists. Neither Hansen nor the other designated specialist, a nurse, have a current credential in infectious disease management, according to records from the American Board of Medical Specialties and the New Mexico Board of Nursing.
“Dr. Hansen has an infectious disease background,” Rivera said. But Hansen had not conducted any staff training, he acknowledged.
Current and former workers described Hansen as “disengaged” and “disconnected.” Patients’ missed doses of antibiotics and delayed lab results went unpursued.
Hansen was fired by a medical group in California and subsequently surrendered his California medical license after he allegedly stole other physicians’ prescription pads and self-prescribed Ritalin under his own and fictitious names 326 times between 2004 and 2007, California Medical Board records show. He was charged in 2007 with 15 felony counts of burglary, forgery and obtaining controlled substances by fraud, the records show. In a November 2007 plea bargain, he admitted only to obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.
But the following year, he moved to New Mexico, where he was issued a conditional medical license in March 2009 requiring monitored drug-abuse treatment and quarterly self-reports on his compliance with treatment, board records show. He went to work for the state prison in Los Lunas and the state Health Department. In 2014, the New Mexico Medical Board granted Hansen an unrestricted medical license, records show. He stopped working for the state in October 2015.
Hansen did not return repeated calls and messages.
By May 7, the COVID-19 outbreak at AHC of Albuquerque had peaked and largely resolved, Rivera said. As of Monday, May 11, the facility had only five patients who tested positive.
Rivera did not return recent phone calls seeking updated figures.
At least two other people might be uncounted victims of the outbreak at AHC of Albuquerque.
After Rosemary Ortiz dropped off Robert Potts at the hospital, she drove back to her own home, the two-room casita where she has lived since childhood.
The following week, Ortiz developed a cough and shortness of breath. She soon became dizzy and feverish, with terrible headaches. Despite the small size of her home, she had trouble walking to the front door.
Ortiz tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I was so sick I thought I was not going to see my kids or my mother ever again,” she said. “I thought I was going to die.”
At home, Ortiz had kept her distance from her roommate, fearful of infecting her. But then she heard the woman coughing.
The roommate, too, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Reached by phone, Ortiz stopped to catch her breath and announced that she had been weeding her yard, back on her feet. As of Tuesday, May 26, she had still tested positive for the coronavirus, even though she felt better.
Inside, Ortiz’s roommate was still sick and coughing.
“But I think she’s doing better,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz had learned that Potts had been transferred to the Canyon Transitional facility for hospice care after several weeks at Presbyterian hospital. Ortiz said Potts’ health has improved and he may be released to go home in a few weeks.
“I miss him. I miss Mr. Potts very much,” she said.
Police in Minneapolis on Friday arrested CNN’s Omar Jimenez and his entire camera crew on live television.
In the middle of a broadcast about the civil unrest in Minneapolis that occurred in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Minnesota State Police surrounded Jimenez and put handcuffs on him.
After Jimenez was taken away, the officers proceeded to arrest every other CNN employee on the scene.
Police did not initially give a reason for arresting Jimenez, although they claimed shortly afterward that he and his crew were taken into custody because they refused to move when instructed. However, no footage shown during the broadcast shows Jimenez refusing an order to move.
CNN anchors John Berman and Alisyn Camerota expressed shock that police would arrest journalists.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, Alisyn,” Berman said.
“They were standing where they were told to stand by police previously,” Camerota said. “They were out of the way. We don’t know why they were being arrested… they are allowed to be reporting on the unrest that’s happening right now, but for some reason the State Police decided that they need to be under arrest.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Berman repeated.
Watch the video below.
The social networking site Twitter hid one of President Donald Trump’s tweets early Friday morning.
“This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence,” Twitter noted.
“However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” the president’s favorite social networking site added.
In the tweet in question, Trump referred to protesters as thugs and said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Twitter hides one of the two Trump tweets from tonight for “glorifying violence.” pic.twitter.com/ngPtw7g0m3
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) May 29, 2020
Wow: After attaching a fact-check to a pair of presidential tweets earlier this week, @Twitter has now hidden Trump’s tweet suggesting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” for violating its rules about “glorifying violence.” pic.twitter.com/b89W3S3TOU
— Gabe Fleisher (@WakeUp2Politics) May 29, 2020
Wow this is a whole new war that Donald Trump is in. Good luck @Twitter we will be watching, What will we wake up to tomorrow #100KDead #GeorgeFloydprotest https://t.co/TKQjROFpS0
— Peter Oxford (@Peter_Oxford) May 29, 2020
Donald Trump, by design, is a chaos monster who shovels crap out faster than people can process it. Unencumbered by normal human qualities like empathy or conscience, Trump can bounce from one awful behavior from another — grifting, sexual assault and harassment, racism, lying, conspiracy-mongering, criminal schemes — with astonishing speed, doing more wicked deeds in a day that what most aspiring villains can accomplish in a year or even a lifetime.
In an effort to get a handle on the endless deluge of awfulness pouring out of Trump, it’s become common to describe some of the godawful things he does as “distractions” from other awful things he does. It’s an effort to triage our response, apparently on the theory that figuring out which Trump evils rank higher than others can somehow sharpen our efforts to process and resist them. It’s an honorable desire based in empirical evidence: Indeed, Trump sometimes does or says nasty things to divert public and media attention from other nasty things he does or says. Unfortunately, this often fails to understand that the nasty stuff Trump does to distract us from other nasty stuff is incredibly dangerous on its own terms, and can’t just be shrugged off as a pure or content-free distraction.
Today’s case in point: Trump, who has frequently indulged in late-night binges of Twitter vitriol while most Americans are asleep, was at it again late on Wednesday night when he decided to promote a video by a cowboy cosplayer and Trump superfan named Couy Griffin declaring, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”
“Thank you Cowboys. See you in New Mexico!” Trump said of the video, which echoed a 19th-century slogan — “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” — used to justify genocide against Native Americans.
So far, however, the mainstream media reaction has been a big, fat shrug. And it’s easy to see why. Indeed, it’s fair to argue that Trump’s trolling antics of late are an attempt to distract attention from the real-world disaster unfolding in this country, largely due to his negligence. The U.S. has officially crossed mark of 100,000 dead from COVID-19. More than 40 million people who have filed for unemployment. Trump has entirely given up on even pretending to have any national strategy for fighting the virus, beyond demanding that states “reopen” ASAP to let the virus wash over us and kill untold thousands more.
“This whole thing is a distraction, and you know it,” Chris Cuomo of CNN said on Wednesday night, adding that Trump stirs the pot with this hateful nonsense to distract “from the dead and the dire situation that [he’s] basically ignoring.”
On Thursday morning, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who has been fending off Trump’s vile and baseless murder accusations in recent weeks, made a similar point. Trump defames him and others, Scarborough said, to distract us from the fact that he ignored or neglected the coronavirus pandemic for months. He would rather have people “talk about how vile his tweets are or how dangerous his fight with Twitter is” than about the 100,000 dead.
Neither Cuomo nor Scarborough was talking specifically about Trump tweeting out violent rhetoric toward Democrats — Cuomo’s segment aired shortly bit before Trump did that — but about the mountainous garbage fire of the president’s Twitter feed in general, of which this threatening rhetoric was just a small piece. Trump is absolutely throwing out whatever he can in a desperate bid to regain control of the conversation so that his massive failures aren’t the focus. That’s led to at least two nights where he stayed up late and sent more than 100 tweets, in hopes of coughing up something outrageous enough to seize the headlines.
So it’s true that these things are blatant distractions. But it doesn’t follow that the best approach is necessarily to ignore Trump’s childish behavior. The fact the president of the United States is encouraging domestic terrorism against “Democrats” — not just against specific politicians, which would be bad enough, but against anyone who identifies as a Democrat — is not a small thing. On the contrary, it’s incredibly dangerous.
It wasn’t all that long ago, though it may seem like another epoch, when a domestic terrorist apparently set out to murder Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the staffers at CNN — among others — with mail bombs, because he loved Trump so much. In fact, the president’s level of plausible deniability was higher then: That was before Trump had openly called for such violence. Now there’s an army of angry reactionaries with guns — whom Trump has eagerly encouraged with his “LIBERATE” tweets — who hang on his every word and appear ready to escalate to open armed insurrection. It’s undeniable that at least a few people, and perhaps more than that, will interpret this as a push to lash out with targeted violence in the middle of an election year. The only real question is how widespread that violence will be.
Let’s not fool ourselves here. In the video Trump tweeted, Griffin pivots from his incendiary language to claim that he only wishes Democrats dead “in a political sense.” This falls somewhere between legalistic ass-covering and standard-issue gaslighting, with Griffin trying to hoodwink people into ignoring what he said just moments before. He’s trying to have his right-wing shitposting cake and eat it too, openly encouraging violence while also trying to evade responsibility with digressive, rambling explanations of how you can’t believe he really means what he just said.
But Griffin means it, and Trump does too. As Will Sommer of The Daily Beast found when he interviewed Griffin, the guy does a piss-poor job at disguising his obvious longing for violent retribution against Democrats, who he believes have no legitimate claim to representation in politics.
“You get to pick your poison: you either go before a firing squad, or you get the end of the rope,” Griffin said of Democratic governors, right after claiming he wasn’t seriously proposing killing anyone. When asked whether anti-lockdown protesters were considering violence, Griffin said, “There’s not an option that’s not on the table.”
Like Donald Trump, Griffin’s an obvious coward who wants to push violent rhetoric but isn’t willing to face the consequences for doing so. By pushing Griffin’s speech, Trump is engaging in stochastic terrorism, in which a prominent voice puts out the suggestion of radical violence, but refuses to acknowledge any responsibility if and when someone else acts on it.
Trump is desperate and clinging to anything he can use, including threats of violence, to scare Democratic voters away from the polls in November. Since the presidential election is our last available mechanism to remove Trump and replace him with someone vaguely sane and competent, this is no small thing. In the age of the coronavirus, in fact, replacing Trump with someone competent is more important than ever. It’s quite literally the only hope this country has of saving lives and saving our economy.
There’s a way to call out Trump’s violent trolling while also keeping the focus on the rising numbers of dead and unemployed. It’s about going meta — pointing out not just the facts of Trump’s behavior, but why he’s doing the things he does.
That’s actually what Cuomo and Scarborough did in their TV segments, ironically enough. Neither man is actually ignoring Trump’s Twitter antics. They highlight that stuff while also explaining to viewers the not-so-hidden purpose of such trolling: Trying to divert attention away from the 100,000 dead and 40 million unemployed. Their segments are good examples of how to walk and chew gum at the same time. They’re not taking the “ignore his antics and he’ll go away” approach. Rather, they’re doing what all journalists should be doing, which is closer to a both/and approach — calling out Trump’s often violent and mendacious distractions while also highlighting the real toll of his leadership failures on the American people.
That’s what everyone in media should be doing. Ignoring Trump won’t make him go away. He is still president, unfortunately. He will always have a direct line to his followers, and now he’s using that connection to deliver unsubtle hints that they should use violence to prevent Democrats from voting him out of office. He’s also playing the same game with his false accusations against Scarborough, creating a permission structure for some lunatic with a gun who wants to avenge his orange godhead against the “fake news.”
Sadly, men with guns who want to hurt you isn’t a problem we can just ignore away.
We can focus instead not just on what Trump is doing but why he’s doing it. What: Using incendiary rhetoric in hopes of inspire his followers to take violent action on his behalf. Why: Because he’s becoming aware that, thanks to his massive failures as president, he probably can’t keep power through nonviolent and legal means. Donald Trump’s increasingly dangerous flirtation with using mob violence to subvert democracy isn’t a small story. It must be covered, but covered carefully — and always by pointing toward the dark goals he hopes to accomplish with this vile behavior.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, major media outlets provided us with a constant stream of stories about the people who voted for Donald Trump. I suspect that the obsession with that storyline came from the shock all of us felt about the outcome of that election. But hearing from the racist nostalgia voters got old after awhile.
We now have a counterbalance. A new website just popped up titled “Republican Voters Against Trump.” Springing from the same people who founded The Bulwark as a home for Never Trumpers, its purpose is to publish videos of Republicans who are vowing to not vote for Trump in 2020. They have already collected almost 100 videos. Here are a few examples.
It is fascinating to listen to these people as a way to understand those who Adam Gopnik once described as “honest opponents” as opposed to “toxic enemies.”
What’s needed against Trump now is…not an ideologically narrow, politically focussed opposition but the widest possible coalition of people who genuinely value the tenets of democracy, meaning no more than the passionate desire to settle differences by debate and argument, rather than by power and cruelty and clan.
While many of these Republicans (or former Republicans) made it clear that they still disagree with Biden on some issues, what they want in a president is, as Tom suggested, someone who can restore dignity and competency to the White House. One of the most common complaints about Trump is that he has put his own interests above those of the country. Many of them also recognize how the president has deepened the divide among Americans by demanding complete loyalty and spreading hate. I was a bit surprised by the fact that the corruption of the Justice Department under Attorney General Bill Barr came up on several occasions. There are those who have given up on the Republican Party altogether and those who have talked about the need for reform in order to, as one person put it, clean out the stench of Donald Trump.
Just as many of these people don’t agree with Biden on some issues, Democrats might reject their claims that Ronald Reagan was a uniter and that Republicans have traditionally been the party of fiscal responsibility. But as one woman put it in her video, the priority right now is to ensure that Trump isn’t reelected, then we can get back to hashing out those differences.
Given that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans has hovered somewhere between 75-90 percent over the course of his presidency, it is clear that the people in these videos represent a minority in their party. But as Amanda Carpenter wrote a few months ago, they could become the “silent majority-makers.”
Trump needs Republicans to win. Not just his MAGA-hat-wearing, self-avowed deplorables. He needs all of them. He needs GOP suit-and-tie Chamber of Commerce types, the suburban yoga moms, and the buttoned-up Sunday school teachers alike. Even those camped out in the farthest nooks and crannies of the most gerrymandered districts in the swingiest of swing states. Why? Because he’s never even entertained the concept of reaching out to Democratic and Independent voters…
Remember, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a total of just under 80,000 votes in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Trump got a shade under 63 million votes in 2016, which means that if he loses one tenth of one percent of those people, his margin is gone…[R]ank and file Republican voters—the people out there in the suburbs who don’t have to report to Captain Trump, but do turn out in November, pose a very real danger to Trump’s prospects. Therein lies the quiet significance of NeverTrump. While not many Republicans identify as “NeverTrump,” an important bloc vote like they are.
I am not suggesting that Biden should alter his policy priorities to garner support from these Republicans. Based on what we see in these videos, that is not necessary. They already know his history and recognize that they won’t always agree with him. What they want is someone who can beat Trump and restore honesty and decency to the presidency. They’ve already decided that Biden is the man for that job.
While President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order on Thursday supposedly trying to rein in overly partisan social media companies is being covered by many outlets as a policy story, this framing is deeply misleading. Though the policy details are relevant, this isn’t about policy. This is about the president throwing a fit.
Twitter took the unprecedented move on Wednesday of appending a mild fact-check to Trump’s lies about California’s initiative to let people access vote-by-mail options. All of his other lies were allowed to stand with no additional information, of course. Many critics of the president weren’t even impressed with Twitter’s rebuke, pointing out that the note inserted by the company could misleadingly suggest that it was providing additional warnings about the supposed risks of mail-in voting, rather than contradicting Trump’s lies.
Nevertheless, with this mild and equivocal admonishment from Twitter, Trump exploded. Many attributed his outburst to anger, though it may be at least as plausible that he was embarrassed to be called out so directly for his lies — and on Twitter, where he has spent so much time establishing his brand, of all places:
….happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
It was after this move that the White House announced a forthcoming executive order supposedly addressing bias at social media companies.
Now, conservatives have been complaining for years — with little evidence but many anecdotes — that they were being treated unfairly by social media companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Some GOP officials, such as Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, have seriously raised the prospect of taking significant actions to regulate these companies, even as the right-wing has been on a decades-long quest against business regulation.
But clearly, the new step taken Thursday wasn’t about these simmering right-wing populist ideas. It grew from them, and it exploited conservative anger and generalized outrage about treatment on social media. But the impetus for launching this effort now was that Trump’s feelings were hurt. He specifically felt victimized, so he decided to push immediately for an executive order. He wants to paint himself as the victim of censorship, even though he has a bigger platform to make his voice heard than anyone else on the planet, and it’s his actions that genuinely threaten to undermine the First Amendment.
So what did he actually do?
As the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng explained, the White House dug up ideas that it had previously tossed around.
“Trump’s social media EO signing today had been in the works for many months. About a year ago, the WH was holding meetings on crafting the precise language, and had to be reminded by agency envoys that early draft sounded… not lawful,” he said.
Essentially, the idea behind the order was to reverse the section of federal law that allows social media platforms to avoid liability for the claims made by their users. Trump and other conservatives like to say that if a social media platform makes any content moderation decisions, it is, therefore, acting as a publisher rather than a platform, and so it should be held responsible for whatever it prints the way a news outlet is.
But this isn’t what the law actually says, so any effort to enforce the order will likely be challenged in court.
Mike Masnick of Techdirt explained:
To be clear: the executive order is nonsense. You can’t overrule the law by executive order, nor can you ignore the Constitution. This executive order attempts to do both. It’s also blatantly anti-free speech, anti-private property, pro-big government — which is only mildly amusing, given that Trump and his sycophantic followers like to insist they’re the opposite of all of those things. But also, because the executive order only has limited power, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing in there for very little actual things that the administration can do. It’s very much written in a way to make Trump’s fans think he’s done something to attack social media companies, but the deeper you dig, the more nothingness you find.
The actual executive order is, in all likelihood, largely toothless. If the Trump administration actually did try to take the steps the president seems to be envisioning, its actions would almost certainly be struck down even by the judges appointed by the president himself. Though they may have an allegiance to the conservative movement and the GOP broadly, they’re unlikely to abandon their dislike of regulation to support the president’s anti-Twitter whims.
Despite the fact that the order is in many ways antithetical to traditional conservative thought, and despite the fact that it is clearly motivated by his own sense of personal grievance, it’s unlikely to lose him much support in Congress or among voters. Sure, there are many more important things he could be doing — continuing the fight against the ongoing, deadly, and devastating pandemic, for one — but those who are still bough in on the president accept his relentless egotism and self-absorption. The GOP truly does operate as a personality cult now, because any insult toward the leader is taken as an insult to the whole.
And insulted is exactly how Trump feels.
Asked on Thursday if he would leave Twitter, the president just whined about the media: “If we had fair press in this country, I would do this in a heartbeat. There’s nothing I’d rather do than get rid of my whole Twitter account. But I’m able to get to I guess 186 million people when you add up all the different accounts, and add Facebook and Instagram.”
The president would actually likely improve his public standing if he backed away from his Twitter account. He often creates unnecessary controversies with his posting habits, and his instinct to always play to his base likely turns off more voters than it wins him; anyone who appreciates his tweets is already a solid Trump voter.
None of which is to say Trump’s tantrum doesn’t have real consequences. If nothing else, his retaliation and outbursts are undoubtedly causing a lot of headaches at Twitter headquarters. And any regulatory uncertainty can make large companies very wary. Trump likely hopes to discourage Twitter from doing anything that would challenge him again. The goal seems to be to impose enough of a burden on any social media company that tries to counter his and the Republican Party’s active disinformation campaigns, thus discouraging the companies from even trying.
“This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, told the Washington Post.
In the case of Facebook, it seems to be working. Mark Zuckerberg has made clear he intends to let Trump lie on his platform with very few limits, and the president appears to be quite happy with that. Companies like Facebook know they’re better off if they can keep those in power happy, so it won’t let a little thing like truth get in the way of the bottom line. (To be fair, though, there are serious practical, logistical, and philosophical quandaries that emerge when platforms get into the business of fact-checking.)
This may make it easier for prolific right-wing liars to win power. The saving grace, at this point, is that the public is getting weary of Trump’s shtick, and voters may not be willing to swallow four more years of his lies.