Jul 6, 2020

Trump's speech at Mount Rushmore.

Trump's speech at Mount Rushmore.

Plus, a question about Biden's immigration plan.

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Today’s read: 12 minutes.

Donald Trump’s Mt. Rushmore speech, a question about Joe Biden’s immigration platform and a COVID-19 update.

Photo: X-Weinzar / Wikicommons

Quick hits.

  1. COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the U.S., triggering a wave of states that are slowing or reversing their reopening processes. 40 out of 50 U.S. states are now seeing cases rise, and in many instances, the states being hit hardest are ones that largely avoided the worst of the pandemic early on. You can read more about this in the “COVID-19 update” section after today’s main story.
  2. Kanye West, the famous hip-hop artist who has expressed support for President Donald Trump, announced over the weekend that he planned to enter the 2020 presidential race. Despite widespread shock at the announcement, West hasn’t actually filed any of the necessary paperwork to join the race and would face significant hurdles to get on the ballots should he actually try to follow through.
  3. Speaking of celebrities running for president (again), Fox News host Tucker Carlson is rumored to be a potential 2024 Republican nominee. Prominent donors in Republican circles are floating his name as the potential next leader of Donald Trump’s movement. Carlson has been championed as a voice of “Trumpism,” though he doesn’t shy away from criticizing the president, too. “Let me put it this way: If Biden wins and Tucker decided to run, he’d be the nominee,” Sam Nunberg, a former top political aide to Trump, said.
  4. The U.S. put on its largest display of naval power in recent memory throughout the South China Sea this week, a sign of rising tensions with China in one of the most valuable trade routes in the world. “Strike fighters and electronic-warfare jets took off day and night from two U.S. aircraft carriers in the South China Sea to simulate sustained attacks on enemy bases,” The Wall Street Journal reported. China had no immediate reaction to the drills but conducted its own military exercises in the nearby Paracel Islands.
  5. Congress is staring down a funding cliff for the coronavirus. The House and the Senate are on recess and won’t return until the end of July, when they’ll have just 11 days to draft, vote on, pass and ship a new economic relief bill to Donald Trump for his signature before the last one runs out. “In typical Congress fashion, lawmakers have teed up a crunch time crisis this month,” Politico reports. House Democrats passed a second bill two months ago, but it’s been ignored by Senate Republicans, who say July 31st is an artificial deadline and the House bill was a liberal wish list. Senate Republicans have yet to reveal their own bill and the federal weekly unemployment subsidy runs out July 25th for much of the country.

What D.C. is talking about.

Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. On Friday, the president delivered an address in the shadow of the Mt. Rushmore monument for the fourth of July. In the face of falling poll numbers, the COVID-19 pandemic, and widespread civil unrest after the death of George Floyd, the president’s remarks were highly anticipated — and also seen as a look into how he might campaign for the next four months (we’re 120 days from election day).

The president began by thanking the members of the military who made his visit possible and “the doctors, nurses, and scientists working tirelessly to kill the virus.” He lauded America as the “most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth,” praising everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to Muhammad Ali and Harriet Tubman.

He also decried “Cancel Culture” and fascism, warning that “angry mobs” are trying to tear down statues of our founders and our most sacred memorials in an attempt to destroy and re-write American history. In doing so, he also announced that he was signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a “vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.”

You can read his full speech here.

What the left is saying.

It was almost uniformly criticized. The New York Times called it “dark and divisive” in their straight news write up. The Washington Post described a president’s “unyielding push to preserve Confederate symbols and the legacy of white domination, crystallized by his harsh denunciation of the racial justice movement Friday night at Mount Rushmore.” CNN’s Michael D’Antonio called it a “master class in rhetorical deception,” saying Trump “lumped together the racists of the Confederacy with the figures on Mt. Rushmore, insisting they are all being reconsidered in the same way.”

Stetson Kastengren wrote about the complexity of Mt. Rushmore in The Washington Post, noting that “this idea of Mount Rushmore as a goosebump-inducing holy site to these liberal and patriotic ideals ignores that the land was stolen from the Sioux Nation,” after which new residents put a $50 bounty on Native Americans captured dead or alive. “We can acknowledge the sordid chapters in our history, which sit alongside our more noble values and actions, and attempt to right wrongs, or we can continue to ignore the real story of our past, further fracturing our country,” he wrote.

Charles Blow described them as “race-baiting” speeches, attempts to “rile up his base” and jump-start his campaign for re-election. Responding to Trump, who said protesters were defiling the memories of Washington and Jefferson, Blow wrote this:

“Is it a defilement to point out that George Washington was an enslaver who signed a fugitive slave act and only freed his slaves in his will, after he was dead and no longer had earthly use for them? Is it a defilement to point out that Thomas Jefferson enslaved over 600 human beings during his life, many when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and that he had sex with a child whom he enslaved — I call it rape — and even enslaved the children she bore for him?”

What the right is saying.

It might be his best yet. The National Review’s Richard Lowry called it “superb” and “tough, but appropriately so.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board called it “one of the best speeches of his Presidency.” Rob Dreher said that “most of this speech was an entirely appropriate defense of the Founding and the Founders,” adding that “If an American president — not just Trump, but any American president — cannot or will not give a speech like that on the occasion of Independence Day, this country is in deep trouble.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board mounted a complete defense of Trump’s derision of “cancel culture,” saying the left has been “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.”

“Newspaper editors are being fired over headlines and op-eds after millennial staff revolts,” the board said. “Boeing CEO David Calhoun last week welcomed the resignation of a communications executive for opposing—33 years ago when he was in the military—women in combat. The Washington Post ran an op-ed this weekend urging that the name of America’s first President be struck from Washington and Lee University. Any one of these events would be remarkable, but together with literally thousands of others around the country they represent precisely what Mr. Trump describes—a left-wing cultural revolution against traditional American values of free speech and political tolerance.”

The New York Sun seemed to scoff at the absurdity of calling Trump’s speech racist, race-baiting or divisive. On the contrary, they say, Trump “managed to extol everyone from Muhammad Ali to Harriet Tubman, Irving Berlin, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Wright Brothers, Jesse Owens, Frederick Douglass and Wild Bill Hickok,” all while declaring “equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed.”

“We get that the President is behind in the polls,” the paper said. “It’s hard to recall, though, a moment in this campaign in which the lines have been more clearly articulated by any Republican.”

My take.

I didn’t watch Trump’s speech live, since I was busy spending time with my family on the fourth (and trying to avoid the news for a couple of days), but I did read it twice. It reminded me of something The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman said that is part of Trump’s brilliance: he manages to say a little bit of everything. That way, anyone watching can latch on to different parts of a speech like this and find something they like. Trump has and always has had a smorgasbord of political views, so each half of the country can pick the things they like and ignore the things they don’t.

This speech was no exception. Both sides are right: he stoked the racial and cultural tensions we’re seeing by reducing protesters to rioters tearing down statues. He also eloquently framed the promise of America — one that we continue to try to live up to — which is built on liberty and equality for all. What Trump understands that some people don’t is that the Black Lives Matter movement means many different things to many different people, and he’s willing to hone in on that tension and contrast for his own political gain.

For Americans who understand Black Lives Matter as a movement for racial equality in our justice system and policing (as I think most Americans do), Trump’s speech would seem divisive, scary and off-putting. For Americans who view the Black Lives Matter movement as a left-wing political operation and have read the organization’s manifesto, which includes a call to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” there may be comfort in a president trying to “preserve” what this movement is fighting.

The complexity of issues and history here created an opening for Trump, and he took it. I thought the speech had its moments of profound American pride but was far too couched in a blind, unsupported reading of American history for me to enjoy or extol it. I don’t understand how he could celebrate Muhammad Ali, while in the same breath he derides massive civil unrest against police violence and racial inequality. Does he not understand the history of Ali’s activism?

There was also some intense irony in his speech. This line, for one, stuck out to me:

Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but they were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.

It’s ironic because the people on the left that Trump is attacking are fighting, in large part, for more nuance in our teaching of American history. They are the ones who believe every fact is distorted and every virtue magnified in order to purge our history of its complex and conflicted morality. Yes, there are clueless lefty protesters who are now tearing down monuments of abolitionists and statues of Frederick Douglass. But mostly, the pushback from the left is about the fact that our children have been taught to love our country relentlessly and blindly, with no acknowledgment of its original sins, because of its original promise.

As a consequence, our children have been taught the history of our country through the eyes of the Spanish and English conquerors who wrote it, and not the many oppressed and conquered peoples who are at the center of so much of our cultural and historical roots. The “web of lies” is not a history that embraces and speaks to the sins of our founding fathers, it’s a history that ignores their complexities as people — overlooking that they were both evil and great, brave and cowardly, brilliant and limited.

I also couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of Trump decrying ‘cancel culture’. He is, after all, one of its greatest proponents. If cancel culture is the organized destruction of dissent, who does it better than Trump?

He’s banned journalists he doesn’t like from the briefing room, called for boycotts of TV news stations he thinks are biased, tried to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner to punish CNN, and tried to force the Postal Service to raise its prices on Amazon as a way to get back at The Washington Post, since both Amazon and The Post are owned by Jeff Bezos. He continues to purge his cabinet of officials who disagree with him and has forcibly cleared out protesters from around the White House so he could pose in front of a church with a Bible, unobstructed.

Shoot, as I write this, Trump’s lawyers are fighting to stop the publication of a book by Mary Trump, his niece, just weeks after they tried to stop former national security advisor John Bolton from publishing a book about his time in the White House. I could make a good argument that there is no president or political figure in U.S. history who has embraced the idea of crushing dissent and engaging in ‘cancel culture’ more forcibly than Trump. If ‘cancel culture’ has a king, it is Donald J. Trump. His grievance is not with cancel culture, it’s with the fact that the left is organized against things he apparently holds dear.

COVID-19 update.

Today’s biggest story is the seven day average for new daily cases of COVID-19, which hit a record high for the 27th straight day yesterday. New cases of the virus are now rising in 40 out of 50 U.S. states. The total number of new cases is far out-pacing new tests, as illustrated by these charts from Axios:

The spread of the virus is particularly bad in Florida and Texas. In Texas, officials are warning that the hospitals are on the verge of being overrun as they were in New York, and many expect that to happen in the next 10 days. It took roughly four months for the coronavirus to infect its first 100,000 people in Florida, which happened on June 22. It took less than two weeks to rack up another 100,000 infections in the state.

It also seems to be circling the White House like a bird of prey. Kim Guilfoyle, the Fox News host and girlfriend of Donald Trump’s eldest son, tested positive for COVID-19 before the president’s speech at Mt. Rushmore. She’s the third person in close proximity to Trump to test positive, after a personal valet who served Trump his food and the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence both tested positive for the virus in early May. The Vice President also had to delay a trip to Arizona on Thursday after several secret service agents responsible for organizing the trip tested positive or were showing symptoms.

By the way, it’s now been six months since this wire ran in The Washington Post. It’s stunning to think that this little news blurb has since turned into what might be the defining news event of the 21st century:

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. You can ask a reader question, or chime in with any feedback at all, by simply replying to this email.

Q: What's Biden's take on immigration? Do you think it would be possible for Biden to work with Congress on immigration reform at a legislative level, even if Obama couldn't and/or didn't? Or do you think US immigration policy will be at the whim of subsequent presidents with broad powers to limit it for the long term?

— Shu, New Haven, CT

Tangle: Joe Biden’s vision on immigration can best be summed up by this section of his website:

Unless your ancestors were native to these shores, or forcibly enslaved and brought here as part of our original sin as a nation, most Americans can trace their family history back to a choice–a choice to leave behind everything that was familiar in search of new opportunities and a new life. Joe Biden understands that is an irrefutable source of our strength. Generations of immigrants have come to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs, the hope in their heart, and a desire to claim their own piece of the American Dream.

The Biden immigration plan seems to reckon with the legacy that Obama left office with — one that many progressive activists have criticized. He’s repeatedly refused to acknowledge mistakes that were made under Obama, who was dubbed the “deporter in chief” for deporting more than 3 million immigrants between 2009 and 2016, the most of any president ever. Obama’s deportation plan was supposed to target violent criminals, but families were often torn apart over traffic tickets during the purge.

“By acknowledging plainly the real pain that American families around the country feel today, Biden’s plan signals an openness to discussing the evolution of the Obama-Biden approach to immigration enforcement over the course of their eight years in office and how the lessons learned from that process would shape a Biden administration in its first 100 days,” Tom Jawetz from the Center for American Progress has said. “That is a conversation that should continue over time.”

Biden’s immigration platform would end the practice of keeping immigrants in long-term detention centers and separating families, as well as put an immediate halt to immigration raids that are aimed at arresting undocumented immigrants already working and living in the U.S. He’s also promised to end the “public charge” rule that makes it harder for low-income immigrants to come here legally and promised to undo the travel bans, wall construction and tightening of asylum rules that force migrants to wait for hearings in Mexico or the country they came from.

Basically: he’s promised to undo everything Trump has done via executive action. Which, largely, speaks to the second part of your question. A Biden presidency would almost certainly continue a now constant drumbeat of executive action on immigration that sends our policies flopping back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations.

Another thing he’s promised to do is increase the number of refugees we accept to 125,000 annually, far more than the 18,000 we’ve taken in over the 2020 fiscal year. He’s also said he would send $4 billion over four years to Central American countries in an effort to combat corruption, attract investment and create incentives for countries to act on their own reforms. Many foreign policy experts have argued this kind of investment would reduce the flow of migrants by creating better circumstances for them in their home countries.

Compared to the Democrats he ran against, Biden has also been a bit more moderate on immigration. One of the most notable examples of this is that he has not embraced a proposal from Julian Castro to decriminalize the act of crossing the border without authorization. Castro and other progressives have called for repealing a legal provision that makes border crossings illegal, which would ensure that immigrants are “never charged with a crime, immediately deported, or detained for more time than strictly necessary for crossing the border,” Dara Lind explained in Vox.

Biden has also called for investment in programs that would reduce the number of detentions on the border. Right now, when a migrant surrenders themselves to border patrol or is caught trying to cross the border, one of two things happens: either they are detained for a period of time while they’re processed for an asylum claim or investigated, or they are briefly arrested and then released after being assigned a court date. Biden’s idea is to pour money into programs that release migrants with ankle monitors and offer social services that ensure they show up for the immigration appointments and court cases (research suggests about 44% of migrants never show up for their court cases after being released — though the numbers are hard to estimate because of poor government data. Some estimates say the number is lower, but the Trump administration has inaccurately claimed the number is more like 90%).

As for how far he can go, that largely depends on the election itself. If Republicans hold the Senate, which they’re still expected to do, you can almost guarantee that immigration reform will be stymied. In that case, you can expect another four years of executive action making piecemeal changes to the immigration system. If Democrats win the Senate, we’ll be in totally uncharted territory. I have no idea what happens if Biden has full control of the Senate and a competent cabinet around him (two big if’s) but I imagine he could get a lot done. Some seem confident that even without the Senate in Democrats’ hands, Biden could push through major immigration reform.

Paul Waldman wrote in The Washington Post that he thinks Biden could pass a pathway to citizenship deal with Republicans — which would be the most significant immigration reform in recent memory. That would mean giving legal citizenship to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already here in exchange for new immigration laws going forward. His argument centers on the idea that if Biden wins, many Republicans will back off the anti-immigrant sentiments and see it as a political loser. Part of that comes from what Waldman says was Trump’s failure to make the 2018 midterms about a “caravan” of migrants.

I’m less optimistic. Immigration, behind health care, is probably the thing that needs the greatest overhaul in the U.S., but Congress has repeatedly failed to take any meaningful steps in doing so. I still think it’s a divisive enough issue that even if Biden were to win, the two sides would be too busy playing to their base to make concessions and pass meaningful reform. Perhaps I’m a pessimist from watching it fail so many times, but that’s just my gut instinct. Still, a Biden win would absolutely mean major changes to how we treat immigrants — and could mean the most progressive immigration platform in American history.

A story that matters.

Hundreds of self-proclaimed militias, bikers, skinheads and far-right groups descended on Gettysburg this weekend in an effort to help prevent an organized flag burning amidst Civil War monuments that was being organized online. The only problem: the flag burning was a hoax, an elaborate ruse set up by an online troll who convinced people in Facebook groups there would be an anti-flag demonstration on July 4th in Gettysburg. The virality of the alleged flag-burning episode, along with the gullibility of the people who came to stop it, speaks to the way fringe political views and misinformation continue to spread online and are being used to sow conflict amidst the most extreme of America’s citizens. Incredibly, it’s one of several instances since May where armed vigilantes have assembled because they read about fake “antifa protests” coming to a town near them. The others happened in Idaho, New Jersey, South Dakota and Michigan. Click.


  • 31. The number of Major League Baseball players who have tested positive for coronavirus as the league prepares for opening day on July 23.
  • 53. The number of countries backing Beijing’s new national security law for Hong Kong, which is “widely viewed as the death knell for Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
  • 27. The number of countries that have criticized the law.
  • $141 million. The amount of money raised by Joe Biden and the Democratic Party in June.
  • $131 million. The amount of money raised by Donald Trump and the Republican Party in June.
  • 239. The number of health experts who signed an open letter calling on the WHO to revise its recommendations and say that the coronavirus is an airborne-transmitted virus.
  • 45.94%.The percent of the likely voters in Florida who plan to vote for Donald Trump.
  • 45.90%. The percent of the likely voters in Florida who plan to vote for Joe Biden.

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Have a nice day.

Two friends who met over a poker game may be on the verge of remaking how we clean our wastewater using gene-edited yeast. The product, which has brought in $250 million of revenue, is said to work better than traditional chemical cleaners, and it’s also petroleum-free. Their water treatment process is being used on everything from oil fields to spas, and they have their eyes on water sources polluted by fertilizer next. Some have them pegged as the next “unicorn,” or billion-dollar company, because they have found an effective and more environmentally friendly way to treat wastewater. Click.

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