William Barr is obviously pretty far gone into MAGA world. But the most curious thing about his tenure is not how deeply he has politicized the Department of Justice, but how little he has done to maintain the veneer of credibility he had at the outset. Barr could have operated as Trump’s Roy Cohn within the areas he had control over, while maintaining his sober Washington wise-man demeanor, so as to lend his decisions maximum credibility. Instead he blows his cover with repeated public expressions of his lunatic right-wing views, in semi-hinged speeches and television appearances.
His most recent interview, with Fox News personality Laura Ingraham, yields more evidence that Barr has lost all touch with reality outside the extended Fox News cinematic universe. Barr delivered a series of alarmingly delusional views on the coronavirus.
1. Trump stopped the coronavirus by closing the border. “He closed the borders,” opined the AG. “And I think, when the history of this is written, that’s going to have saved a lot of lives.”
In fact, Trump tried to close off travel from China, but failed. After his “ban” on travel from China, 40,000 people still flew to the United States from there. Second, the coronavirus arrived in the United States via Europe, and has spread throughout the country. Given these proved failures, it’s beyond bizarre that Barr would repeat this Trump boast. It’s like bragging that you prevented your car from being stolen by locking the driver’s-side door, even though you left the driver’s-side window open, forgot to lock the other doors, and then the car was stolen.
2. Trump has conducted himself with dignity throughout. Barr admires the “statesmanlike” performance he seems to have imagined:
It’s very disappointing because I think the president went out at the beginning of this thing and really was statesmanlike, working with all the governors, keeping his patience as he got all these snarky gotcha questions from the White House media pool. And the stridency of the partisan attacks on him has gotten higher and higher, and its’s really disappointing to see.
In the real world, Trump has spent nearly every day accusing reporters, Democrats and sometimes apolitical officials in his own administration, of plotting against him; spreading conspiracy theories; inventing new bullying nicknames for Democratic governors (Jay Inslee is a “snake,” Gretchen Whitmer a “half-wit,” and so on); demanding praise; and denying all responsibility for his catastrophic failures.
It’s not clear what Trump would have to do for Barr to consider his tone to be undignified.
3. The lesson here is not to worry about climate change. One might think the government’s lack of preparation for the pandemic would teach us a lesson about firing government officials charged with detecting and containing pandemics. Perhaps it would even impart some lessons about investing in the prevention of long-term disasters whose costs may seem far off, or heeding the advice of scientists rather than dismissing them as deep-state plotters.
But no, Barr thinks the takeaway is that we all have been worrying too much about climate change, and should focus on locking down the border:
As horrible as this is and as tragic as it is, there are a couple good things that could flow from this. And one of those is appreciating the importance of borders, and controlling who is coming into the country. I thought for a long time that as much as people talk about global warming, the real threat to human beings is microbes, and being able to control disease, and that starts with controlling your border.
Again, Trump has been obsessed with controlling the border. The coronavirus spread here anyway. It didn’t arrive at “the border” at all, but through plane travel from Europe. Even sealing off all travel from overseas is not going to stop a pandemic if you can’t detect it extremely early.
4. Trump’s opponents politicized hydroxychloroquine. In Barr’s world, Trump was earnestly pursuing the development of treatments when he hit upon a miracle cure for the coronavirus, at which point the media decided to viciously attack him because they hate Trump:
And the politicization of decisions like hydroxychloroquine has been amazing to me. Before the president said anything about it, there was fair and balanced coverage of this very promising drug and the fact that it had such a long track record that the risks were pretty well known. And as soon as he said something positive about it, the media’s been on a jihad to discredit this drug. It’s quite strange.
In the real world, there are lots of potential coronavirus treatments being developed. Trump has grown fixated on one such treatment, even though scientific authorities — including his former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb and his current scientific adviser Anthony Fauci — have cautioned that its effectiveness remains unproved. Trump is promoting pseudoscientific claims and telling the public to take a drug that may or may not work.
5. Thirty days is enough social distancing. Trump’s economic advisers have been warning him not to allow public-health authorities to make decisions about social distancing. Barr is not an authority on economics or public health, but he seems to watch a lot of Fox News and has decided that 30 days of closing public spaces is enough.
“The cure cannot be worse than the disease,” he told Ingraham, repeating the slogan Trump used and then abandoned. “After the 30-day period, we have to find a way of allowing businesses to adapt to the situation and figure out best how they can get started.”
Why 30 days? What information does Barr have?