Looking Beyond 2020, Have Some Republicans Found Their Next Leader in Another TV Personality?

‘When Republicans look at the wreckage that came from their decision to make Trump their leader, the conclusion some are coming to is that what they need is just a better TV personality: someone plays on the same grievances and resentments, but might be a little more competent if given the most powerful job in the world….’

— Paul Waldman writing in The Washington Post

Waldman thinks this is a sign of how broken the Republican Party is, but that doesn’t mean the next demagogue wouldn’t be elected any more than it did Trump. What’s that saying about a populace getting the President it deserves? That will be as true in 2024 as it was in 2016.

If Trump is defeated in the fall, it will not be because of the failure of the appeal of his ideology but rather his colossal imbecility and massive ineptitude in applying it. Don’t expect the Republicans to repeat that mistake, but it would be foolish to expect them to turn away from divisiveness, racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Pundits’ reports of the demise of the GOP, of its inability to continue to compete any longer in a two-party system, are absurdly fanciful.

The massive Black Lives Matter uprising, for example, has provoked a massive backlash, as manifested in both the banal — BLM lawn signs being stolen in the middle of the night — and the terrifying — launching cars into crowds of protesters, mocking the deaths of black men in police custody.

And morbidity and mortality statistics are confirming how many Americans are willing to endanger everyone around them by eschewing mask-wearing and social distancing because it tramples on their god-given right to freedom and stupidity.

Therein lies a mentality — and an incredibly widespread one at that — ripe for the picking.

Covid-19 Can Persist at Least Several Months

Interesting article by one of my favorite science writers, Ed Yong, in The Atlantic starts out as a review of the “long-haulers” whose Covid symptoms don’t get better as expected. As an aside keep in mind that this does not mean that symptomatic people are still contagious, i.e. shedding virus. One of the big things we still don’t know about this disease are which symptoms come directly from viral devastation of various organs and which from the resultant immune response from the body.

But the interesting part of the article for me is Yong’s mapping of long-haul Covid infection to so-called medical gaslighting — the profession’s downplaying of patients’ physical complaints as being “all in their head” or caused by stress, especially in women and, as Yong points out, in communities of color. There is a long history of mysterious illnesses — most notably chronic fatigue syndrome (myalgic encephalomyelitis in the UK) and fibromyalgia — of unclear causes, debilitating chronic symptoms, and no clear treatments.

Clusters of ME/CFS have followed many infectious outbreaks and even those medical professionals who take them seriously and do not dismiss them as purely psychiatric syndromes may be forgiven for failing to recognize that they probably cannot be reduced to being merely longterm or chronic variants of their mother diseases. Long ago I wrote a book chapter on controversial syndromes on the medical-psychiatric borderline. I focused on chronic fatigue syndrome and was guilty as charged myself, reviewing the data that it was essentially chronic Epstein-Barr virus infection. And in recent years I have lectured and taught about what some of us have described as chronic Lyme disease. Not that I am any kind of expert on these conditions. In fact, that is exactly the point — that this should be in the domain of the immunologists or infectious disease specialists rather than the psychiatrists. It is too soon to see if my non-psychiatric colleagues will begin sending post-Covid patients to us to treat postviral syndrome symptoms as if they are “just” emotional reactions.

Dealing with a novel medical condition which the world had never seen even six months ago should humble healthcare providers by highlighting how much we operate in the realms of mystery and ignorance. On the front lines, the dizzying pace of refining our approach in the face of such a moving target has been unprecedented. The unfortunate cases in which Covid infection appears to simply not go away may actually help us to finally realize that there may be a common syndrome affecting some with systemic infectious diseases. Much as we have stopped diagnosing or teaching about chronic Epstein-Barr, we should perhaps stop considering entites like “chronic Lyme” or “long-haul Covid” to be distinct entities and acknowledge the commonalities.

Several teams of investigators are already planning studies of Covid infection survivors to see if any become ME/CFS patients. A unifying conception would help stigmatized patients and might actually point the way to elucidating underlying mechanisms that might facilitate therapeutic interventions, And, established as having real, albeit complicated, causes, maybe psychiatrists like me should stop considering them to be in our province, the province of “all in the head”, at all? Mental health providers are going to have their hands full as it is helping with the devastating neuropsychiatric and emotional consequences of this pandemic.

As Yong concludes:

Perhaps COVID-19 will … galvanize an even larger survivor cohort. Perhaps, collectively, they can push for a better understanding of neglected chronic diseases, and an acceptance of truths that the existing disability community have long known. That health and sickness are not binary. That medicine is as much about listening to patients’ subjective experiences as it is about analyzing their organs. That being a survivor is something you must also survive.

Trump’s Impeachment Provokes a Deeper Descent Into Demagoguery

Dana Milbank observes in The Washington Post:

‘Trump’s impeachment provoked him to descend still deeper into the depths of demagoguery. His impeachment-night campaign speech — just over two hours long — was an alarming blend of instability and rage….’

I would add that it appears to be not merely a descent into demagoguery but into mental instability. Even with the vanishingly slim odds of conviction and removal from office in the Senate, perhaps as his decompensation proceeds the Amendment 25 Section 4 process for removing a President when deemed too disabled to discharge his functions will become more possible?

Soros and Koch Brothers Team Up to End US ‘Forever War’ Policy

‘Besides being bilionaires and spending much of their fortunes to promote pet causes, the leftist financier George Soros and the right-wing Koch brothers have little in common. They could be seen as polar opposites. Soros is an old-fashioned New Deal liberal. The Koch brothers are fire-breathing right-wingers who dream of cutting taxes and dismantling government. Now they have found something to agree on: the United States must end its “forever war” and adopt an entirely new foreign policy.

In one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history, Soros and the Koch brothers are joining to finance a new foreign-policy think tank in Washington. It will promote an approach to the world based on diplomacy and restraint rather than threats, sanctions, and bombing. This is a radical notion in Washington, where every major think tank promotes some variant of neocon militarism or liberal interventionism. Soros and the Koch brothers are uniting to revive the fading vision of a peaceable United States. …’

Via The Boston Globe