Opinion
October 22, 2020

With less the two weeks to go until Election Day and the final face-to-face matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden looming in tonight's debate, we've entered the concluding stretch of the presidential contest, when candidates typically begin making what's referred to as their "closing arguments." What does the president want voters to have on their minds as they make their final decisions — about whom to vote for, and whether to vote at all? His campaign and its media cheerleaders evidently want them focused on the Democratic nominee's love for his only surviving son Hunter Biden.

Why in the world would Trump, his campaign, and its media cheerleaders think it would help them to raise suspicions about and even openly mock a father's affection and support for his troubled child? As Franklin Foer writes at The Atlantic, the president is "cruelly lashing Biden, not to explain the relevance of an esoteric scandal that doesn't directly indict the ethics of his opponent, but because he seems to hope that his raising the subject will induce an unbecoming outburst of emotion onstage." Trump, in other words, is a world-class jerk, and he apparently thinks that demonstrating this over and over again on a national stage will help him — because apparently he also thinks that America is filled with people who are jerky enough to be swayed by the president "engaging in a kind of psychological warfare."

Will it work? Almost certainly not. Trump demonstrated appalling levels of jerkitude in the first presidential debate, and his position in the polls has only weakened since then. I don't doubt there are some Americans — especially a certain class of American men — who think the only fitting response to a wayward child is tough love or worse (anger, the infliction of humiliation, the refusal of affection, renunciation). But my hunch is that many more Americans recoil at such cruelty, viewing it as exactly what it is: an expression of heartlessness, and in many cases the source of the child's problems rather than a solution to them.

But Trump obviously disagrees. So expect him to make another play for the jerk vote from the debate stage on Thursday night — and then expect to see his stance in the polls sink even further as we approach the election's finish line. Damon Linker

4:48 p.m.

Wealthy alumni are threatening to pull their donations from the University of Texas at Austin because student's have been protesting the university's controversial alma mater song, The Texas Tribune reports.

"The Eyes of Texas," which plays after football games, is a cherished tradition for many, but it was historically performed at campus minstrel shows, and the title is linked to a saying from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Students, therefore, have criticized the song as racist for a while now, the Tribune notes, but action has increased over the last year amid protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

It appears, however, many donors consider the movement to be the product of "cancel culture" and "Marxist ideology," and emails obtained by the Tribune show they're willing to pull their financial support for the university over the issue. UT-Austin President Hartzell has publicly confirmed the school will keep the song, but the emails suggest they want him to take an even stronger stand. A few donors even called for Black students to leave the university if they didn't appreciate the tradition.

"It's time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost," one donor whose name was redacted wrote to Hartzell. "It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it's time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor."

Larry Wilkinson, a donor and 1970 graduate of UT-Austin, argued in an email to Hartzell and an interview with the Tribune that because Black students make up only 6 percent of the student body, "the tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog ... Nothing forces those students to attend UT-Austin." Read more at The Texas Tribune. Tim O'Donnell

2:59 p.m.

Former President Donald Trump never ended up getting his COVID-19 vaccine publicly before he left office — but he reportedly did so off camera.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, Trump encouraged supporters to get their COVID-19 vaccine, renewing questions over whether the former president has done so himself. Numerous officials, including former Vice President Mike Pence, got vaccinated on live television as part of an effort to demonstrate to Americans that it's safe. Trump never did so.

But The New York Times' Maggie Haberman on Monday reported that according to an adviser, Trump actually did get vaccinated at the White House in January, as did former first lady Melania Trump, even though they didn't say so publicly at the time. The report was confirmed by CNN and Axios. The Los Angeles Times' Chris Megerian noted it was "noteworthy that the former president didn't do this publicly to boost public confidence in the vaccine."

In December, then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Trump had a "medical reason" for not getting the vaccine yet, as he "received monoclonal antibodies" when he had COVID-19, "and that is actually one scenario where we tell people, 'Maybe you should hold off on getting the vaccine, talk to your health provider to find out the right time.'"

CNN's Betsy Klein notes the White House had repeatedly declined to comment when asked if Trump had gotten the vaccine or intended to do so, even "as recently as January 18."

After Trump's CPAC speech, The Washington Post's Aaron Blake flagged his comments encouraging his supporters to get vaccinated as "perhaps the most significant thing he said," noting this was "something he avoided forcefully advocating for when he actually commanded the most powerful office in the world." Brendan Morrow

2:55 p.m.

It's not a foregone conclusion that the Biden administration will soon have to grapple with multiple market bubbles bursting, Politico reports, but there are potential culprits all across the board.

One of the more worrisome bubbles, per Politico, comes in the form of special-purpose acquisition companies, also known as SPACs or "blank check companies." They exist with the goal of acquiring private companies, generally intriguing startups, and taking them public without having to go through the normal initial public offering process. Larry Kudlow and Wilbur Ross, both former Trump administration officials, are setting up their own SPACs, as is former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal.

Joseph Brusuelas, the chief economist at at the consulting firm RSM US, said the SPAC bubble, along with cyber assets and gold, feels particularly high-risk. "I mean Shaq has a SPAC," he told Politico. "What could go wrong?"

Politico also lists the "huge surges" in cryptocurrencies as something that has market watchers concerned. Bitcoin is probably the most famous example in this category, and it's up 420 percent over the last year, but other cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin, which Politico notes was "created as a joke based on an internet meme," are also skyrocketing. And the real estate market could be vulnerable, too; data from Realtor.com showed median home listings are up 14.5 percent over the last year, marking the 28th straight week of double-digit price gains.

A recent survey of institutional investors carried about by the investment management firm Natixis seems to back up those fears, since 41 percent expect a market correction in real estate prices, and 39 percent are anticipating corrections for cryptocurrencies. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

1:20 p.m.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning states against rolling back COVID-19 restrictions as she expresses concern about a possible fourth surge of cases.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a COVID-19 briefing on Monday said she's "deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic," noting that data suggests recent declines in daily coronavirus cases have "leveled off at a very high number" and "appear to be stalling" at about 70,000 a day.

With this in mind, Walensky said she's "really worried" about states rolling back COVID-19 restrictions, especially given the spread of coronavirus variants, and she warned that "now is not the time" to do so.

"We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths," she said. "Please hear me clearly: at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress."

Walensky added that "we have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases" by continuing to follow public health guidelines. Her comments come after President Biden during an event last week warned Americans that even as COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out throughout the country, new cases could potentially start to rise again.

"While COVID-19 vaccinations are up, COVID cases and hospitalizations are coming down," Biden said. "But I need to be honest with you: cases and hospitalizations could go back up with new variants as they emerge. So I want to make something really very clear: this is not a time to relax." Brendan Morrow

1:20 p.m.

The Biden administration is seeking to give separated migrant families the option of reuniting in either the United States or their country of origin, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday. And, he added, if the families choose the former, "we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain" in the United States and "address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible."

President Biden established a task force focused on the reunification effort earlier this month via executive order. Under the Trump administration, The Hill notes, around 2,800 families were separated in 2018; some were reconnected, but around 550 children had not yet been reunited with their parents. Mayorkas said the Biden administration has brought 105 families together so far. Tim O'Donnell

12:12 p.m.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is far from satisfied with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) latest response to the sexual harassment allegations against him.

The New York mayor at a press conference Monday discussed Cuomo's Sunday response to a second former aide accusing the governor of sexual harassment. Cuomo said he "never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm" by teasing people "about their personal lives and relationships," and he expressed regret after saying comments he made may have been "misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation." De Blasio, who previously called for an independent investigation into the allegations against Cuomo, slammed this statement.

"That's not an apology," De Blasio said. "He seemed to be saying, 'Oh, I was just kidding around.' You know, sexual harassment is not funny. It's serious. It has to be taken seriously. And he just, clearly, was letting himself off the hook for something that, for the women involved, sounded pretty terrifying."

The mayor added that anyone who "purposely tried to use their power to force woman to have sex with them" should "no longer be in public service." After previously saying that allegedly threatening a lawmaker is "classic Andrew Cuomo," de Blasio also predicted there will be "more and more evidence" of Cuomo's alleged "pattern of abuse" that will come out.

Former Cuomo aide's Charlotte Bennett allegations of sexual harassment came after another aide, Lindsey Boylan, also accused the governor of harassment, alleging he kissed her on the lips without consent and asked her to play strip poker. Cuomo has been facing some calls to resign amid the scandal, and on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the allegations as "serious and credible." Brendan Morrow

11:59 a.m.

As the United States adds another COVID-19 vaccine to its arsenal and ramps up its distribution drive, potentially pushing the country closer toward herd immunity, concerns about vaccine hesitancy among the population remain. But overall, it seems, people are growing increasingly comfortable with getting a shot. Data from the KFF Vaccine Monitor shows 55 percent of Americans have either already received a vaccine dose or plan on getting one as soon as possible, Axios reports. For context, back in December only 34 percent of people said they were prepared for inoculation without hesitation.

The increase there appears to correlate with a decline in the number of people who are in the "wait and see" camp, especially because the number of surefire holdouts has remained steady. And even if folks in the latter group don't ever change their minds, Axios notes, herd immunity is feasible.

Additionally, while much has been made about hesitancy, driven by historical distrust in the U.S. health care system, among communities of color, Black and Latino Americans have rapidly and consistently joined the ranks of people who want a shot, polling conducted by Civiqs between November and February shows, per Axios. Overall, white Americans are now less likely to get vaccinated, and the stance is largely split along party lines. Tim O'Donnell

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