If Trump’s intentions weren’t clear, just listen to his lawyer!

On Saturday, August 8, Donald Trump signed four new executive orders (actually, three separate memoranda and one order) by which he purports to solve the Congressional deadlock on extending COVID-19-related relief. He claims he can do so by, unilaterally, providing executive authority for extended supplementary unemployment payments, an eviction moratorium, a further suspension of student loan payments and, while he is at it, a suspension of the payroll tax for certain taxpayers.

Trump asserts that, as president, he has the authority to do these things simply through the power of the Sharpie. But these orders are (1) evil, and (2) little more than political theater designed to shore up his support in the upcoming election. In other words, it’s all another big lie, dressed up in the pomp and circumstance of a presidential signing ceremony.

Political Theater

Let’s start with my second contention. I say that this is all nothing but political theater because Trump doesn’t actually have the authority to do what he is pretending to do.

Under the U.S. Constitution, only the House of Representatives has the power to tax and spend money for the federal government.  (We know the president hasn’t read the Constitution, but you should. See Article I, Section 7, Clause 1: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.”) Similarly, the president is not permitted to draw money from the Treasury unless Congress has specifically passed a law allowing him to do so for a specific purpose. (See Article I, Section 9, Clause 7, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”)

The House of Representatives actually has tried to appropriate funds that would, among other things, extend the $600 supplemental unemployment payment. Way back in May (seems like a lifetime ago), the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which would have provided billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief, but Mitch McConnell has not allowed the Senate to consider it, much less to vote on it.

This gave Trump the opportunity to swoop in and appear to show that—in the infamous words he uttered in his Republican nomination acceptance speech in July 2016—“I alone can fix it.” Moreover, in doing so he and the Republicans are trying to convince the public that executive action was needed because “Congress” didn’t act to help suffering Americans, when in fact the Democratically-controlled House did act, while the Republican-controlled Senate decided to go on vacation.

One of the other memos extends the deferment of student loan payments through December 31, which is a good thing, as far as it goes (the CARES Act deferment would have expired on September 30). As for evictions, Trump issued an executive order which basically says, yeah, the relevant federal agencies should see what they can do to help. Which is probably nothing.

Why Are These Actions Evil?

So how does Trump say he will pay for all these things? This is where the evil comes in.

Trump proposes to use his emergency powers to divert $70 billion from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to provide unemployed workers with $300 per week on top of what they receive from the state in which they live. But for expenditures from the DRF, states are required by law to contribute 25%, so he is depending on already cash-strapped states to find that money. States also have to provide an additional $100 per week from the money they already received pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, assuming it has not been spent already. (Note that even in the unlikely event all of these stars were to align, the total would only be $400, as opposed to the $600 per week the unemployed received under the CARES Act.)

Whether this will actually result in any additional payments to the unemployed is an open question. Many states, which are losing tax revenues and are precluded by law from running deficits like the federal government can, may simply be unable to come up with the money. (Or perhaps this is the Senate’s evil plan, since McConnell has floated the idea of allowing states to file for bankruptcy, presumably because he assumes this would affect mostly blue states.)

Trump is also directing the Secretary of the Treasury to defer payroll taxes as of September 1 on taxpayers making less than $104,000 per year. Though not stated explicitly in the memo, this is clearly meant to put more money in the pockets of those lucky enough to have jobs. (To make this clear: this does nothing for the more than 50 million Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits since March.) The Secretary is also ordered to “explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred pursuant to the implementation of this memorandum.” In other words, though payroll taxes are only being “deferred” for now, the medium-term plan is to eliminate the requirement that such deferred taxes ever be paid. (See below for the long-term plan.)

Why are these presidential acts evil? First, because they set the stage for what Trump hopes to do in his second term.* One major goal is to get rid of the payroll tax altogether. Remember, the Social Security system is funded by the payroll tax! Those are your tax dollars (plus tax payments from employers) that are supposedly being put away for future retirement. It has long been a Republican goal to get rid of Social Security. This is a step toward achieving that long-term plan. Moreover, Medicare is partially funded by payroll taxes as well. Would you like to have reasonably affordable health insurance once you’re retired? Then you might want Medicare to survive a few more years.

This tweet has it just about right.

I would also contend that diverting disaster funding is foolhardy, especially during hurricane season in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

The real danger—the real evil—lies precisely in the political theater surrounding these “orders.” The White House surely knows that all of these directives will be challenged in the courts. As such, they are unlikely to have any practical impact. The real impact, to my mind, is the fact that Trump issued these orders at all. By doing so, he is going well beyond the “unitary executive” theory so beloved by Attorney General William Barr, under which the president has expansive powers to control all aspects of the Executive Branch. Here, he is also seeking to extend his power over a key function of the legislative branch, which is to make laws deciding how our tax dollars are to be spent. This is a dangerous, perhaps unprecedented, power grab. Don’t forget: Trump has (falsely) said that the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want”.

If you read the actual documents, they are replete with rhetoric about how the virus that is the cause of all this trouble began in China (which is relevant to … what, exactly?), and how the Trump administration has been such a raging success in every way. But they do little to accomplish the goals Trump claims to be solving with the flick of a pen. All they do is take us one step further down the road of autocracy.

As always, I recommend the informative daily newsletter by historian Heather Cox Richardson for more depth and detail (available on Facebook, on or via email subscription). She wrote about these presidential orders in her newsletter of August 8, 2020.


* But please, dear god—no, I should say “dear voters”—don’t let Trump win a second term!

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Heather Long, “Here’s what’s actually in Trump’s four executive orders,” Washington Post (Aug. 9, 2020).

Heather Cox Richardson, “Trump to the Rescue: Executive Orders Galore,” Moyers on Democracy (Aug. 9, 2020).


Image credit:

When Mary Trump started writing her very interesting book, Too Much Is Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, one of her biggest fears was that the Narcissist-in-Chief would be responsible for loss of life by wittingly or unwittingly starting a war. At the time, she had no idea that he would be responsible for a huge number of American deaths through his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But neither Mary Trump nor many other observers have focused on what I firmly believe to be true: that Trump is not just responsible for the thousands upon thousands of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Trump is, in fact, largely responsible for the entire global pandemic, and the millions of deaths, untold suffering and economic devastation that will ultimately result from it.

It has been widely reported that the White House ignored the pandemic response plan the Obama Administration left for the new administration. The Trump Administration later dismantled the federal government’s pandemic response team (the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense) in May 2018.

Around the same time, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before the U.S. Congress that “[w]hen you have a respiratory virus that can be spread by droplets and aerosol … there’s a degree of morbidity associated with that, you can have a catastrophe.” He went on to say, “We’ve experienced in [the] real world those types of things. The one we always talk about is the 1918 pandemic which killed between 50 and 100 million people.” Dr. Fauci couldn’t have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet he basically predicted the COVID-19 pandemic—and nobody in the Trump Administration listened.

Relatively less attention, however, has been paid to the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had a U.S. public health official—a medical epidemiologist—embedded in China’s disease control agency until the Administration eliminated the role in 2019.

The American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, “was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases,” according to an article from the Reuters news agency. She was forced to leave her post—officially known as Resident Adviser to the U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in China—as the result of a bitter U.S.-China trade dispute that erupted in July 2019, during which it was announced that her position would be defunded and eliminated as of September 2019.

Had Dr. Quick remained in her position in China, she might have served as a valuable liaison between Chinese and U.S. officials when early signs of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged in China’s Wuhan province in November 2019—the virus that causes the disease that has been dubbed COVID-19 (CO standing for “corona,” “VI” for “virus,” “D” for disease, and “19” for 2019, the year the virus and the disease emerged).

This is only speculation, of course, since there have been suggestions (which the Chinese government has disputed) that China was also negligent and delayed letting the rest of the world know about the gravity of the virus that emerged in Wuhan. But it’s possible that if Dr. Quick (or someone else in her position) had remained in China, she could, in fact, have alerted not only the U.S. but the rest of the world about the virus weeks earlier than Chinese officials did—and months earlier than the Trump Administration notified the American public. If so, the entire course of what became a worldwide pandemic could potentially have been suppressed.

For this reason, I say that the entire global COVID-19 pandemic is Donald Trump’s fault. I won’t even get into his Administration’s deplorable “response” (if you can call it that) to the crisis in the United States, where we have four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases.

Suffice it to say that the man has blood on his hands.

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SOURCES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING (more or less in the order in which these topics are addressed above):

Mary Trump, Too Much Is Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

Obama team left pandemic playbook for Trump administration, officials confirm,” NPR (May 15, 2020).

Beth Cameron, “I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it.”, Washington Post (Mar. 13, 2020).

Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly, “Was the White House office for global pandemics eliminated?”, Washington Post (Mar. 20, 2020).

Marisa Taylor, “U.S. axed CDC expert job in China months before virus outbreak,” Reuters (Mar. 22, 2020).

Video clip, “Fauci in 2028: ‘influenza-like respiratory virus … is the one that keeps me up at night,” C-Span, June 15, 2018 (where he says, “[w]hen you have a respiratory virus that can be spread by droplets and aerosol … there’s a degree of morbidity associated with that, you can have a catastrophe. We’ve experienced in [the] real world those types of things. The one we always talk about is the 1918 pandemic which killed between 50 and 100 million people.”). See also

China delayed releasing coronavirus info, frustrating WHO,” Los Angeles Times (June 22, 2020).

China rejects report that it delayed COVID-19 information sharing with WHO,” Reuters (June 3, 2020).

Scottie Andrew, “The US has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of its coronavirus cases,” CNN (June 30, 2020).


Chart courtesy of Beci Orpin (@beciorpin on Instagram)

A friend posted this useful chart on her Facebook page today. It was created, and posted on Instagram, by a graphic designer. When I first looked at it, it made a lot of sense. It’s simple, easy to follow and clearly sets out the steps one should take after one gets tested for the COVID-19 virus.

Then I noticed one glaring issue that makes clear that this flow chart definitely did not originate in the United States. Before reading on—can you spot which chart applies to the United States, and which one applies to, you know, civilized countries?

Apparently, in Australia (which is where the chart’s creator, visual artist Beci Orpin, resides), state- or territory-level public health authorities contact each patient who gets a positive test result to instruct them on next steps. For example, in Victoria, it is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)—as listed in the chart above—that performs this function. The point is that in all Australian states and territories, there are public health workers who will follow up with infected patients and make sure they get the advice and care they need. There are also 31 public health networks (PHNs) that coordinate health services in local areas.

Here in the “greatest country in the world” we also have federal and state public health authorities, but their leadership and funding have been decimated, and they are certainly not contacting every person who tests positive for COVID-19. (Why would they? It’s not as if we have a national healthcare system in the United States. And it’s not as if we have a national strategy of comprehensive testing and tracing of COVID-19 cases.)

So I doctored up Beci Orpin’s chart to provide a US version. Good luck.

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Link to Chart by Beci Orpin (@beciorpin on Instagram)

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Victoria – Getting Your Results

The Australian health system…/the-australian-health-system