A Trump propaganda campaign goes very wrong

Early Returns
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If anyone thinks that President Donald Trump's bluster is irrelevant to the actual functioning of the government, here's the truth: His administration can't even manage to put together public-service announcements any more.

Politico's Dan Diamond has the story of a fiasco at the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump thought that the government should get lots of big-time celebrities to cheer people up about the pandemic. This was reasonable enough: Using celebrities to educate people about best practices — wearing masks and so on — is something the administration should've been doing since March. Unfortunately, that's not what Trump and his loyalists at HHS had in mind. Instead, they wanted to tape interviews to be used for propaganda purposes in which Trump would be praised and the virus downplayed.

Naturally, A-list celebrities declined. B-list celebrities declined. Trump-friendly celebrities declined. Dennis Quaid agreed to do it, then evidently had second thoughts when he realized what was going on.

Meanwhile, HHS took $300 million that could've been used to buy needed protective equipment and hired a group of cronies with no relevant experience to put together the ad campaign. A normal White House could've gotten plenty of top Hollywood talent to offer their expertise at little or no cost to taxpayers. But of course that would only be the case for real public-service announcements, not thinly disguised campaign commercials.

So now the administration is wasting resources, funneling money to friends, violating basic government ethics considerations and — to top it all off — accomplishing basically nothing: Most of the spots likely won't be ready to air before the election as intended.

Is this kind of thing occurring across the government? It appears so. That's what happens when the president has poor management skills and a high tolerance for lawlessness. It takes a while for the government to start breaking down. But we're seeing more and more stories like this as the professionals leave or simply stop trying. We've seen it at the Postal Service. We've seen it in immigration enforcement. We've certainly seen it at the Justice Department.

If Trump wins a second term … well, it's not hard to see where this goes.

1. Dave Hopkins on the first debate.

2. James Fallows also analyzes the debate.

3. Joanna Lewis at the Monkey Cage on China and coal.

4. Ben Ginsberg on why Trump's false claims of election fraud are bad for the Republican Party.

5. Fred Kaplan on the nuclear arms race that Trump may be ready to start.

6. Jamelle Bouie on the election of 1800.

7. Quinta Jurecic on Trump as just plain boring

8. And pre-debate, Jonathan Chait collected all of Trump's excuses for why things might not go his way.

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