Trump's cynical plan to provoke chaos in America's cities is working

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The best-case scenario, if everything is rosy, could be October," — Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel on how soon we could know if its vaccine, which begins Phase Three trials today, works.

WHAT'S HAPPENING

Trump's National Security Adviser tested positive for coronavirus.  Robert O'Brien is the highest-ranking administration official to test positive, and has "mild symptoms," according to the White House. 

Senate GOP bill would cut unemployment payment to $200 per week. The Republican relief bill being introduced today would slash the emergency unemployment payment from $600 per week to $200 — at least until a program is phased in to pay workers 70% of their previous wage instead. It's part of the $1 trillion GOP bill, which also includes another $1,200 stimulus check. The Democrats' already-passed House bill would maintain the $600 benefit, which expires this week. 

Marlins outbreak puts MLB season in jeopardy already. The team has 14 cases, 12 among players. They played Sunday against the Phillies despite already having four players test positive. The Marlins have canceled their Monday game, and the next Phillies game is canceled too. 

Portland protests reached their 60th straight night. Demonstrators shot fireworks at the federal courthouse and threw rocks and cans.

VIEWS OF THE DAY

President Trump's cynical plan to provoke urban chaos is working

The nationwide protest movement inspired by the murder of George Floyd has entered an unhappy cycle. When protests subsided in many cities — and the slower work of legislation and police reform began in some of them — protests continued in Portland. 

Largely but not entirely peaceful, these protests gave President Trump an idea for his reelection campaign. He dispatched masked, unidentified paramilitaries from DHS to crack down on the demonstrators. This served to accelerate the Portland protests, which got larger and hotter and induced more violence from the feds. It also caused the protests to jump to other cities.

Now places like Seattle and Oakland are experiencing chaotic, intense gatherings, which in turn has led to more violence and tragedy. Seattle police have made tons of arrests and pepper-sprayed demonstrators. In Austin, Garrett Foster was shot and killed in an encounter with someone who was driving toward a crowd of demonstrators. 

In short, the federal intervention has infuriated protestors, which caused more tumultuous demonstrations against the feds, which provoked an even more aggressive law enforcement response. The cycle of mutually reinforcing havoc doesn't help anyone, except perhaps President Trump. 

June's vast, peaceful protests brought unprecedented attention to systemic racism and police reform ideas, and were viewed very sympathetically by the public. The current wave of protests feels much more inchoate, and is much less likely to gain public approval. 

The arson, vandalism, and mayhem caused by demonstrators is overshadowing and distracting from the message of the BLM movement. 

President Trump has succeeded in manufacturing the urban chaos he so obviously craves. If demonstrators want to end his presidency and his policies — which they surely do — they need to keep the protests as peaceful as possible, and to work even harder to discourage the mischief-makers and anarchists. — DP

The vaccine news is all good, but remember to be realistic. 

In this March 16, 2020 photo, a subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for the coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.Ted S. Warren/AP

Moderna begins Phase Three trials of its coronavirus vaccine today, and it's a sign of how much the world has changed that we don't really even need to explain what that means. Half of the 30,000 test subjects will receive two doses of the vaccine 28 days apart, and half will get two doses of saline, and we'll find out in the fall if it prevents infection. (The trial is occuring at 89 sites in the US, which is a great place to test a vaccine because COVID is so rampant here.)

Moderna's vaccine might fail, but even if it does it's very likely one of the other scores of promising candidates will succeed in preventing infection. Still, we need to be realistic about what a vaccine might or might not be. For starters, even if it works, it will take awhile to gear up production. Moderna has said it has the capacity to make 500 million doses annually starting in 2021, but the world population is 7 billion. It also can't make every dose on January 1. Vaccine production is hampered by other supply chain issues, such as the supply of specialized glass vials. It also appears likely that any vaccine will require two doses separated by several weeks, which doubles the number of needles, vials, and appointments required. 

Herd immunity won't make us safe till we have 60 plus percent of people vaccinated or already infected. Given that one fifth of Americans say they won't take a vaccine, and another 31 percent have doubts, it's going to take a major PR campaign and months and months of work to get us there. 

So even in a best case, we're unlikely to have widespread vaccination and herd immunity until spring 2021 or later, which means an entire lost year of school — not to mention a crippled year for restaurants, retail shops, mass entertainment, and sports. 

None of this will stop Trump from running for reelection on a vaccine. Given that he's botched the rest of the pandemic, it's the only message that makes sense. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told Insider today that October is the earliest they'd have evidence that the vaccine works. Trump being Trump, he will almost certainly announce a vaccine triumph in October no matter what Moderna finds, and try to take credit for it. When he does, just remember that relief, safety, and a semblance of normal life will all still be months and months away. — DP

The fight over mask wearing is not a culture war

Donald Trump wears a mask as he visits Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland' on July 11, 2020.ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

In my weekend column I wrote that America should stop calling Trump's resistance to wearing a mask a "culture war," because that's not what it was. 

What Trump was really doing by refusing to wear a mask was using his power to impose his fantasy on all of us — the fantasy that the coronavirus isn't lethal and running rampant in the United States.

This kind of aggressive reality bending is something you see from totalitarian leaders around the world, but we Americans don't feel comfortable talking about any authoritarian strains in our politics. So we use words that are comfortable and familiar to us, that fit better in our democratic understanding of ourselves.

But Trump's response to masks didn't have the features of a culture war — a debate over social values eventually settled by majority consensus. It was a mass gaslighting. Americans are in favor of wearing masks in numbers that would settle any culture war. Trump's refusal to wear one, or endorse wearing one, was not an attempt to build consensus, but rather to impose his will.

Mercifully, when Trump realized he didn't have the power to impose his will — he couldn't get Republicans to defund testing in the upcoming coronavirus aid package — he reversed course. Expect that to change if he senses his power returning. Trump feels entitled to bend reality in favor of himself and his followers when it suits him. Even if he isn't a fascist by name, he certainly is one by nature.

Trump's mask stance is just one incident of what one sociologist calls "an autocratic attempt" — when an individual or party starts knocking down institutions to see which will fall in order to eventually take power. It's less a slide, more of a tug of war. If democracy is going to survive, we need to pull harder. — LL

Ignorance and incompetence are features, not bugs, of the Trump project

"[Trump's] incompetence is militant. It is very much part of his political self. It's not that he would like to be smarter and better at this, but is falling short. It's that he's hellbent on destruction," says Masha Gessen, the New Yorker staff writer, National Book Award winner, and author of the new book, "Surviving Autocracy." 

I spoke with Gessen in a wide-ranging interview about how Trump's version of autocracy is distinct from Putin's, how his relentless crass racism makes news editors wait for "a really big bombshell to use the word racist," and how the institutions have failed to save us. 

In one particularly insightful exchange, Gessen argues that Trump's disastrous coronavirus response is wholly in line with his views on governance itself:

"His campaign message was very much in line with other populists: things don't have to be so complicated. I can do this. Anybody can do this. It's all real simple. But his way of being president has been to create destruction, to dismantle agencies, to defund agencies, to deregulate. Part of it is the politics of deregulation, but mostly he doesn't think anybody should be good at this, because this is worthless. That's his contempt for government and his disdain for expertise. 

And of course we've seen both the display and the consequences of that with COVID. That's one important reason why I think his incompetence is not a mitigating factor, it's very much the nature of the beast." — AF

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Gold hits record high. It topped $1,940 an ounce on Monday, and may break $2,000 soon. China-US tensions seem to be driving the price surge. 

"Operation Slay Hydra" A fraud scheme called Hydra is creating fake app traffic, selling ad impressions against it, and pocketing millions. Inside the effort by Google and others to wipe out the bogus traffic. 

LIFE

Two shoppers were banned from a Minnesota Walmart for wearing swastika facemasks. The video is depressing. 

Foreman warns that the Sept. 12 Tyson-Jones fight is dangerous for both of them. George Foreman, who fought into his 50s, says Mike Tyson, who's 54, and Roy Jones, who's 51, should cancel the bout. 

THE BIG 3*

The mystery of the Chinese seeds. Several Americans have received packages from China they didn't order, labeled "jewelry" but actually containing unidentified seeds. The feds are investigating if it's some kind of invasive species. 

Sen. Tom Cotton calls slavery a "necessary evil." He was trying to attack the New York Times 1619 Project. Later, Cotton said he had been describing "the views of the Founders." 

Police reveal the identity of the protester killed in Austin. His name is Garrett Foster, and he was shot during an encounter with a driver who menaced a crowd of demonstrators. 

*The most popular stories on Insider today.

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