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Littwin: Trump backs down on shipping foreign college students out, but there’s more backing down to do

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges across the country, it’s long past time for Trump to understand the real problem: When you mix science and politics, you get politics.

In a stunning reversal, Donald Trump backed down from the absurd notion that ICE would kick out of the country those foreign students whose colleges had decided to offer only online classes.

It’s stunning because it is an embarrassing admission from Trump that he has backed down under pressure. And it is stunning, mostly, because this kind of thuggish blackmail is the president’s go-to move. It could be Ukraine. It could be K-12 education. It could be anywhere the language of quid pro quo is spoken.

I’m waiting to see what comes next. Trump did wear a mask in public after all. That was something. OK, it was once. We’ll see if it ever happens again.

He did call off a rally in New Hampshire. He said it was because a storm was coming. It was actually because he was afraid hardly anyone would show up. It was an admission — not that he would ever admit it was an admission — that the coronavirus pandemic is out of control.

Mike Littwin

There’s so much more that Trump could back away from.

He could back away from saying that the per capita mortality rate in the United States is low. We have the sixth highest rate in the world.

He could back away from saying that tests account for the rise in the number of cases in the country. It’s not only obviously true, but it couldn’t account for the growing number of hospitalizations and for the growing number of deaths.

He could back away denying how many peer countries have COVID-19 basically under control while we do not. Here’s a list of cases from Monday via the COVID-19 tracker (h/t Washington Post’s Paul Waldman): 

France 580, UK 564, Spain 546, Germany 365, Canada 299, Japan 259, Italy 200, Australia 158, South Korea 52.

And the United States: 55,300.

Once, Trump’s strategy for dealing with coronavirus was to wish it away. You know, one day, miraculously, gone. We saw how that worked out.

Then he turned to being the wartime president, in which he took over the daily briefings, which turned into hours-long airing of Trumpian grievances. That didn’t work so well either.

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And now, he wants to reopen America as we head toward November and Election Day. That’s why he wanted colleges open, for them to play the role of a 21st century Potemkin Village. The theory being: If it looks as if things are getting better, then the virus will be fooled and, you know, just leave town.

That’s why he insisted on moving the GOP convention from Charlotte — where the mayor wanted those in attendance to wear masks and socially distance — to Jacksonville — just in time for Florida to set a record of more than 15,000 cases in a single day. Republicans are now considering an outdoor venue for the convention while many GOP politicians are quietly considering staying home.

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That’s also why Trump and his loyal followers have been desperately trying to throw Tony Fauci — and his scientific bona fides — under the bus.  If you’re in the mood to see something appalling, follow me. Here’s a now-deleted Douglas County GOP tweet comparing the burden of wearing masks to the police killing of George Floyd. It was so repugnant that several DougCo Republicans blasted it. Or how about this one blaming Dr. Fauci, courtesy of Trump’s deputy chief of staff for communications?

If anyone is counting on that working, they haven’t been paying attention to the polls. In a New York Times/Siena College poll, 67% of Americans trust Fauci on coronavirus; 26% of Americans trust Trump. Yes, Fauci got a few things wrong early, but then as the science improved, so did his predictions.

Science is the issue. Science denial doesn’t work. It hasn’t changed the dangers of climate change. It doesn’t change the dangers from COVID-19 that Trump has so badly mishandled.

The big challenge now facing America is the reopening of K-12 public schools. Everyone wants schools to reopen. Many fear, with good reason, schools reopening. And Trump’s insistence on reopening, his threats to withhold funds, his ludicrous decision to send Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to the Sunday shows to argue his case, is simply making matters worse. 

There’s a great op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times by John M. Barry, who wrote the brilliant and frightening book, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.”

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Barry says the pandemic could get worse — much worse. His lead is simple, and yet absolutely spot on.

“When you mix science and politics, you get politics. With the coronavirus, the United States has proved politics hasn’t worked. If we are to fully reopen both the economy and schools safely — which can be done — we have to return to science,” Barry writes.

He says it’s possible to open up the economy and reopen schools, but only if we’re able to bring the virus down to EU levels and that “half measures” won’t work.

“Half-measures,” he writes, “will leave transmission at a level vastly exceeding those of the many countries that have contained the virus. Half-measures will leave too many Americans not living with the virus but dying from it.”

In California, the Los Angeles and San Diego school systems have announced they will do online learning for the first semester. Meanwhile, the state is moving nearer to a lockdown. In Dallas — yes, in Dallas, Texas — the mayor, who had been ready for five-day, in-school learning, says he is now reconsidering. As Texas set another state record for coronavirus cases Tuesday, Austin announced that it will open the school year with virtual learning.

In Colorado, we’ll see what happens with schools. At a news conference Tuesday, Jared Polis said he looks at other states and admits he’s concerned by the small, but consistent, uptick of cases in our state. It’s worrisome enough that Polis said recently on his Facebook page that those who refuse to wear masks are “selfish bastards.” He cited science, too, noting that new studies show masks are even more beneficial than we knew.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

At his news conference, Polis was asked repeatedly about his refusal to issue a statewide mandate on masks. “I want to do everything I can to convince people to wear a mask,” Polis said, adding, “It certainly would help sway me toward (a mandate) if there was strong evidence it increased mask-wearing compliance.”

The evidence apparently isn’t clear. What is clear to Polis, and should be clear to all, is that Colorado, like any other state, is at risk of a Texas-like, Florida-like, California-like, Arizona-like explosion of cases. Holding that possibility at bay, Polis said, depends on wearing masks, socially distancing, staying in small groups, washing hands. And, of course, paying attention to the medical science.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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