Sunday, October 17, 2021

BTRTN: Part 7, The Jeremy Lin Saga Continues: Basketball Takes a Back Seat

We depart from political coverage and renew our annual series on the extraordinary career of global basketball icon Jeremy Lin. The links to the other articles in this series are provided at the end of this installment.  If you like the series, please share any or all of articles with others on social media.


The first article in this series, published in 2015, was titled “The Strange and Badly Misunderstood Career of Jeremy Lin.”  It covered the amazing highs and lows that had characterized this totally unique basketball player's career up to that time, when he was subbing for the immortal Ronnie Price on a terrible Laker team.

Little did I know.

At that point, the twists and turns he had experienced were indeed impressive.  Being overlooked and undrafted coming out of Harvard; the stints in the G-League and subsequent cuts by the Warriors and then the Rockets; catching on with the Knicks and finally getting a shot due to injuries to four other point guards; the Linsanity madness; the free agent snub by the Knicks, the new home with the Rockets as the face of the franchise -- until the weeks-later signing of James Harden; the benching for Pat Beverly; the trade to the Lakers; the disastrous coaching of Byron Scott.  All were mini-sagas in and of themselves, and together created more than a lifetime's worth of drama – all experienced by a young man who had just turned 25.

But the dramas that have occurred since are worthy of Odysseus.  The rebirth with the Hornets; the promise and the pain of his time with the Nets, the year off recovering and retooling in obscurity, the comeback with the Hawks, the championship, tinged with disappointment, with the Raptors, and his revival in the China Basketball Association, were all covered in subsequent articles.

And now we come to this past year, perhaps the strangest and most wildly divergent of them all, a year in which, for a variety of reasons, basketball took a backseat.  Never was there a year when Lin was more irrelevant on the basketball court – completing the COVID-suspended CBA season in the summer of 2020, and then, in 2021, toiling for a mere 9 games in the NBA’s G-League in a quixotic effort to return to the NBA – or more relevant off it, when he achieved global acclaim yet again, this time by embracing his status as a spokesperson for Asian-Americans in the wake of racist and violent acts against the AAPI community, a consequence of the COVID pandemic.  Once again it was a year replete with even more extraordinary highs and the lowest of lows. 

 

THE CBA RESUMES PLAY, JUNE 2020

We left off our story last year, in June, 2020, with the CBA about to begin its final stretch.  Play had been suspended in late January with the advent of the coronavirus, which ultimately shut down virtually all professional and amateur sports around the globe.  The CBA eventually resumed on June 20 for 16 more games, to go with the 30 they had played before the stoppage.  The Ducks entered the resumption in fine shape, with a 19-11 record, and Lin had played exceptionally well as their undisputed leader.  Lin excelled from the start, and kept up a strong pace through the first 30 games, putting together a very strong shooting slash line of 48/36/83, averaging 24 points per game along with six assists, six rebounds, two steals and, so typically for Lin (and other high “usage” types), nearly four turnovers per game.

And so we pick up in the “second half” of the CBA season, the rump season held in June and July.  The Ducks picked up right where they left off, ultimately winning 13 out of the 16 games to finish with a sterling 32-14 record, good enough for a tie for third among the 20 CBA franchises.  In the second section of the strange season, Lin played a bit less, averaging 29 minutes per game versus 34 in the first part, as he eased back into play, nursed a minor knee injury and shared minutes with his foreign teammates per CBA rules (which were more restrictive for foreign players under new rules following the stoppage).  He even sat out a game for “load management” purposes.

But despite the slightly reduced minutes, he was as productive as ever.  In the Ducks’ third game back, right after the knee issue, Lin scored 22 in just 21 minutes versus Shenzhen.  Soon after he popped for 26 against the Shanghai Sharks in a game that began an 11-game Duck winning streak.  The streak included back-to-back games in which Lin dropped in 29 points, and culminated with a 34-point explosion versus the crosstown rival Beijing Royal Fighters in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Two days later, in the season-ender, the Ducks served notice to the league’s best team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, losing by a single point to a team that finished the regular season with an astonishing 44-2 record.  The message was clear: the Ducks were not going to lay down in the playoffs to the reigning champs. 

The CBA playoffs began as the calendar turned to August.  The Ducks matched up first against the Fujian Sturgeons in the quarterfinals (Fujian survived a preliminary round, in which the Ducks had a bye), whom they handled easily, 107-75, with Lin leading the way with 26 points.

This set up the semifinals with Guangdong, a best two out of three affair with the Ducks who, despite the closeness of the regular season finale, were the decided underdogs.  Guangdong featured several superlative players, including ex-NBA players Yi Jianlian (20/10/1 in the regular season) and Sonny Weems (21/6/6).

Game 1 was a stunner, with the Ducks shockingly taking complete control of the game, leading by 17 points late in the third quarter.  But the Southern Tigers stayed cool and chipped away throughout the fourth quarter.  Still, down by four with less than 10 seconds to go, Guangdong forced a key turnover by trapping Lin’s fellow guard Shou Fang in the backcourt, setting up a last second, game tying, twisting bank shot by Weems.  Guangdong prevailed in overtime, but two straight 1-point wins over Beijing made it clear that the 44-2 record meant little to the Ducks, especially Lin, who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists in the loss.

That was even clearer in Game 2, when the Ducks finally broke through and prevailed over the Southern Tigers as Lin hit a trio of jump shots down the stretch, scoring 25 to go with 6 rebounds and 3 assists in a 90-86 win.  This set up the finale, which proved to be as hard fought and thrilling as the first two.  The Ducks trailed for most of the game, but cut the lead to one on a crucial three-pointer by Shou Fang with 17 seconds to go.  After Guangdong answered with a score, Lin came right back with a driving layup to cut it to one.  The Southern Tigers answered again, putting their lead back up to three, leaving seven seconds for Lin to try to find a way.  Harassed all the way upcourt, the best he could manage was a 35-foot attempt as time ran out, which clanged off the front rim, ending the Ducks’ season.

Guangdong thus survived the Ducks, and went on to defeat the Liaoning Flying Leopards in two out of three in the finals as well for the championships, though the games with the Ducks were far more competitive overall.

How did Lin fare in the CBA overall?  First and foremost, this marked a second injury-free year for Lin.  Since missing almost the entire 2017-18 season with Brooklyn after the torn patella in the opening game, Lin played in 74 out of 81 regular season games with the Hawks and Raptors in 2018-19, and in 39 out of 40 games with the Ducks that year (he also missed six games when he was briefly “rotated” off the active roster to make room for other foreign teammates, a stint that ended quicker than planned when the Ducks foundered in his absence).  Second, he had clearly upped his game not only from Toronto, but also from his best years in the NBA.  He was a bit more controlled and cautious when taking to the rim, opting for more floaters, bankers and short step-back jumpers to protect himself.  He also was more reliant on this midrange game, converting his deadly short jumper in the 15-foot range.  Perhaps most importantly, he returned to respectability from the three-point line, nailing 34% of his shots, albeit with the slightly friendlier CBA dimensions, which are about a foot shorter than the NBA. 

Of course there were critics – there always are with Jeremy Lin.  The rap would start with the CBA itself, a lesser league than the NBA, of course, and the Euro League.  That is uncontested, but the CBA is a very competitive league, not only with the two foreign players on each roster, almost all former NBA players (such as O.J. Mayo), but also with 1-2 local players per team who are NBA caliber. 

From there, the critics would move on to his stats, which, while impressive on an absolute basis (22/6/6), are quite low by CBA standards for foreign guards, of which the CBA abounds.  Joe Young, Dominique Jones, Darius Adams, Jamal Franklin, Lester Hudson all averaged more than 29 points per game, and they were not the only guards to outscore Lin.  But they shot far more often than Lin:  Young hoisted up 28 shot attempts per game, Jones 27 and Adams 25, while Lin took only 15 shots.  He was, of course, one of the most efficient players in the league.

Lin is simply not that type of player.  The prototypical CBA foreign player is paid to shoot and score, like the legendary Jimmer Fredette.  Lin cannot play that way, he plays to win, and his style is to make his teammates better.  He looks to get others involved in the game early, penetrates and dumps out to open players at the three point line, and looks to his big men for easy baskets after the pick and roll.  He also played very solid defense, never resting at the other end of the court.  His is not a one-dimensional game.

The league itself was certainly impressed:  Lin was named first team All-CBA (despite the gaudy stats of the other point guards), Guard of the Year (to drive home the point) and was also named to the All-CBA Defensive Team, a distinction not many would have expected.  Toss in the All Star Game MVP and the near colossal upset of Guangdong and you have ample factual validation of a superb year.

But one could also simply go with the “eye test,” which yields and even more impressive verdict that stats or awards.  Fans watching the games saw a player succeeding – even dominating -- while being double- and triple-teamed, forced to sit out stretches when only one foreigner could be on the court at one time, and subjected to outright violence on the court to such a degree you can find YouTube videos on the subject.  CBA opposition utterly pounded Lin, with little protection from referees, and yet he thrived.  (In one game, the Shanghai Sharks routinely practiced group muggings on Lin, but while this was a particularly egregious example, the general phenomenon was season long.) 

But apart from the pounding, or in spite of it, Lin simply was the best player in nearly every game, doing what it took not to simply score, but to win.  In one game, the Ducks trailed the Shenzhen Aviators by a point with just two seconds left after an Aviator three pointer.  Lin caught the inbounds pass in stride, crossed half court, and somehow managed to draw a shooting foul 40 feet from the hoop.  He calmly sank all three free throws for the win.  This was evidence of Lin’s ability to rise to the occasion and succeed down the stretch – and this was on an emotional night when the Ducks honored former captain Ji Zhe, who had died of cancer earlier that week.

One thing for sure:  Lin certainly looked NBA-ready, a far cry from the hesitant and still-injury-recovering benchwarmer of his Raptor days.

 

THE OFFSEASON, 2020

But whether one sided with the fans or the critics, Lin himself had no doubts about his performance at all.  He considered himself an NBA-caliber player.  A month after the end of the CBA playoffs, in mid-September, he informed the Ducks that he was leaving them and the CBA, and announced he wanted to return to the NBA.  The Ducks surely wanted him back, presumably at the same (or higher) $3 million salary he had earned in 2019-20.  In attempting an NBA return, he walked away from that, for even if he succeeded and made an NBA roster, he would likely earn the NBA minimum, which for him would have been $2.3 million – and if he failed, then far, far less.  Some of those close to him told him he was crazy to take walk away from guaranteed millions -- and a country that revered him -- but clearly, he burned with the need to prove that he was NBA-worthy, and was willing to do so, without hesitation.

It is safe to say that the NBA did not come running.  Lin later admitted that he contacted every team, as well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s office, in his attempt to get invited to a training camp, but not a single NBA franchise expressed any interest.  One of the calls Lin made was to former high school teammate Kirk Lacob, the Golden State Warriors’ assistant general manager and son of owner Joe Lacob.  It was the elder Lacob who, back in 2010, alerted the Warrior front office about Lin, resulting in his initial signing with the team to begin his professional career.

History seemed about to repeat, as the Lacob connection bore fruit again.  It became clear the Warriors were interested in signing Lin, with the purpose of assigning him to their G-League squad, the Santa Cruz Warriors.  But as the deadline approached, the Warriors could not get the requisite releases from the CBA on time, foiling Lin’s comeback plans.  But the NBA found another route, creating what became known as the “Jeremy Lin Rule,” which allowed NBA teams to designate one NBA veteran (five years plus) for their G League affiliate squad. 

So the comeback saga came full circle, with Lin seeking to continue his NBA career where it started.  It was the D League back then, and the Warriors’ affiliate was the Reno Big Horns, but now, just over 10 years down the road, Lin was set to start all over again in a near identical setting, with San Jose.  And while the Warriors were the sponsors of the San Jose team, Lin could sign with any NBA team that desired his service, at any time.

 

THE G LEAGUE, 2021

Lin took the court on February 10, 2021, as the starting point guard of the San Jose Warriors.  The G League is a development league, and veteran players like Lin are relatively rare.  Also rare are players who have an NBA future, but the league is geared to them.  These players are much better served developing their skills in real games than sitting on the bench in the NBA.  For the Warriors, San Jose essentially existed to develop two players in particular:  Jordan Poole, the Warriors first round pick in 2018, and Nico Mannion, their first pick (though in the second round) in 2020.  Poole and Mannion were both guards, and, like Lin, could play either the point or shooting guard.  Lin would have to share time with them, and also recognize that part of his job was to mentor and develop them.

The Warriors roster was a movable feast.  In their 16 games, the team had 16 players on their squad, 12 of whom started games (though none more than 11), 12 averaged at least 20 minutes played per game (not quite the same 12 who started), and each player averaged at least 14 minutes per game.  There would be no opportunity to develop any true team cohesion in this environment; the idea was to develop the two draft picks, Poole and Mannion, and see if there were any other hidden gems.  (One of them, the sweet shooting forward Alex Toupane, ended up with a championship ring with the Bucks.)

Lin excelled from the outset, looking every bit the veteran among kids, playing the role of steady hand and chief instigator.  The team was unimpressive at the start, losing three of their first four games, but Lin was solid, averaging 18 points, 8 assists with a terrific 48/48/89 shooting slash line, in only 30 minutes per game.  In his first game, he showed off a smooth three-point motion, and nailed his first one just two minutes into the opener.

The game that drew national attention was the third game versus, perhaps appropriately for the comeback theme, the Westchester Knicks.  This was the first win for the Warriors, and Lin went for 29 points on the strength of a stunning 7 for 9 performance from the 3-point line (which was, of course, NBA regulation distance).  The “Linsanity” headlines re-emerged and the comeback story got some play; importantly for the latter, the attention was focused on Lin’s newfound three-point touch, doing much to erase the memory of Lin’s dreadful 0-17 three-point start in Toronto two year earlier.  Using more of the “push” motion made famous by his former Golden State warrior teammate, Steph Curry, Lin’s confidence in the shot was easy to see.

But the comeback narrative quickly took a U-turn when Lin sat out the Warriors’ fifth game with back soreness.  Of all the reasons an NBA team might be wary to bring Lin abroad, his injury history loomed largest.  No one wants to sign a player, at any salary, who cannot stay on the floor.  Lin did an admirable job of damage control when he returned the sixth game and played superbly, with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, including 4 of 8 from three-point range.  Had he continued to play, and excel, one might have written off the missed game as simply an exercise in abundant caution, protecting a player who surely seemed to be NBA bound.

But then Lin missed the next five games.

There was no escaping that narrative.  Whatever interest Lin may have been generating was dealt a severe blow by his balky back.

He came back strong once again in the Warriors’ twelfth game, averaging over 20 points per game in the last four games of the regular season, and picking up where he left off, shooting over 50% overall (though with a slight slump in his three-point shooting).  The Warriors ended up at 11-4, good enough for the postseason, winning the first round of the playoffs (winning a game) and losing in the second (also one game).  Playing now without Mannion and Poole, both called up by the Warriors, Lin continued with the confident play and (once again) superb three-point shooting, and kept the Dubs in contention with the roving cast of characters.

Lin’s G League play overall reinforced and extended his performance in the CBA the year before.  He continued to find ways to be effective around the rim without putting his body at risk.  His midrange game continued to be superb.  But the final piece was the emergence of a deadly three-point shot.  Again, while the stats were there – 43% shooting (25 for 58, including the playoffs) – what was more stunning was the eye test, Lin confidently looking for the three, hoisting up more than five a game, well over his NBA career average of under three, more even than the four attempts per game he averaged in the CBA.  With his versatility on offense, capability on defense and strong playmaking skills, he was clearly a candidate to help an NBA team in the stretch run.

But the call never came.  It was not for lack of spots, or lack of action.  Of the 10 leading scorers in the G League, only Lin never signed an NBA contract.  And the NBA managed to find places for many guards; after the trading deadline, there were signings galore, of NBA veterans who were clearly past their primes (such as Jeff Teague and Isaiah Thomas), those who had rarely cracked NBA rotations (Gary Peyton II, Tim Frazier and Yogi Ferrell), as well as such household names (all guards) as Armoni Brooks, Ben McLemore, Tyler Cook, Shaquille Harrison, Devin Cannady and Mike James, among others. 

None of these players compiled a body of work as impressive as Lin’s in 2021, and some of them were Lin’s age or older.  So why did was he ignored?  There are a variety of theories.  Lin had been out of the NBA for a full two years by the spring of 2021, and such a lengthy absence, in and of itself, is a drawback.  The memories of that last stint with Toronto, the worst playing stretch of Lin’s career by far, surely lingered.  The injuries that caused Lin to miss most of two consecutive seasons also represented a red flag, reinforced, of course, by those missed six games with San Jose.  All contributed to the indifference.

But there was surely another factor as well:  Lin’s growing profile as a spokesperson for the Asian-American community, which heightened his already outsized presence.

 

THE SPOKESPERSON, 2021

Lin made news during the G League season when he revealed, in late February, that he had been called “coronavirus” by an opposing player.  Lin refused to name the guilty party, instead choosing to meet with him one-on-one to raise his consciousness (and the NBA launched an investigation).  But Lin did talk openly about what it’s like to be an Asian American, focusing not only on the recent racism against the AAPI community inspired by the origination of the coronavirus in China, but of the broader AAPI experience in America, unleashing a lifetime of deeply felt resentments.

“Being an Asian American doesn’t mean we don’t experience poverty and racism. Being a 9-year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court.  Being a man of faith doesn’t mean I don’t fight for justice, for myself and for others. So here we are again, sharing how we feel. Is anyone listening?

Something is changing in this generation of Asian Americans. We are tired of being told that we don’t experience racism, we are tired of being told to keep our heads down and not make trouble. We are tired of Asian American kids growing up and being asked where they’re REALLY from, of having our eyes mocked, of being objectified as exotic or being told we’re inherently unattractive. We are tired of the stereotypes in Hollywood affecting our psyche and limiting who we think we can be. We are tired of being invisible, of being mistaken for our colleague or told our struggles aren’t as real.

I want better for my elders who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a life for themselves here. I want better for my niece and nephew and future kids. I want better for the next generation of Asian American athletes than to have to work so hard to just be ‘deceptively athletic.’”

There was a time, back in the Linsanity days (and even before), when Lin downplayed his Asian roots, wanting to be seen, quite fairly, as a player first, not a curiousity or a cause.  As an Asian-American, of course, Lin has endured a lifetime of slurs and abuse.  As a collegiate athlete of some renown, this continued, even in hallowed Ivy League gymnasiums.  And as a professional athlete, more of the same.  Countless times Lin was refused entry to arenas because security personnel did not believe he was a player.  An ESPN sportswriter once memorably headlined an unfavorable article “Chink in the Armor.”  The “coronavirus” slur was hardly new.  But nevertheless, Lin took up the cause of his community as never before, and noted explicitely that he regretted his lack of leadership on these issues when he was at the height of his fame.

But he was ready now.  And the platform expanded dramtically, and globally when, on March 26, a mass shooting in Georgia resulted in the death of eight spa workers in three locations, six of whom were of Asian descent.  With the killings, the need for leadership in the global AAPI community deepened, and Lin was ready.  Suddenly he was everywhere; apart from his own outlets (primarily Instagram), he appeared on a variety of shows and forums, including The Ellen Show, CNN, PBS as well as the featured speaker on Class Day at his alma mater Harvard.  He articulated not only the ongoing racism but also the growing fear that the AAPI community was feeling in the wake of COVID and, now, the horrific events in Georgia.

“It feels very different.  Growing up it was always something that might be a little bit more subtle or verbal, but I think what we’re seeing right now is a lot of physical, actual violence, lives being taken, a lot of Asian-Americans who are looking over their shoulders when they go outside, when they go to the grocery store. And we’re starting to slowly see more and more reporting of what is going on, but this is something that is definitely hitting different.”

Lin even took on Donald Trump, explicitly and directly.

“The previous administration and the rhetoric that was being used.  You can even hear in the audio recordings, the cheers, the laughs, when it was called the ‘Kung Flu Virus’ and everybody was cheering. I think there’s just a lot of racially charged hatred right now that we’re seeing and feeling.  Asians have always been projected as being others or outsiders. We’re starting to see a lot of those microaggressions turn into actual acts of violence and it is really hard to watch. So I encourage people to watch these videos to see this is actually happening. These are real stories, real lives.”

And he committed himself to more activism in the future:

“We can’t stop speaking out, we can’t stop fighting and we can’t lose hope. If we lose hope, that’s the end of it.”

All of this leadership was surely tremendously helpful to the global dialogue, and Lin’s embracing of the role was something he saw as necessary.  But global spokespersons for non-basketball related issues are not what is typically sought from players who round out rosters, who are expected to immerse themselves in the team goals and wait for their on-court opportunities.

I remember listening a few years ago to Mike Francesa, the king of New York sports talk radio, as he discussed the apparent blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, the erstwhile Sanf Francisco 49er quarterback who protested police violence against Blacks in a powerful, visible and highly controversial way, by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem.  Francesa said, plainly, that NFL franchises did not want the “distraction” that would inevtiable arise if Kapernick was signed as a back-up QB.  Who would want the constant questioning of the coaching staff about Kaepernick’s views?  The second-guessing on why he was not being used, looking for racial motivation?  Why would an owner willfully provide him with a platform from which to espouse non-football views?  And at a position where the major demand is to be ready in case of injury, and otherwise man a clipboard on the sideline?

Lin is not at Kapernick’s level in terms of controversy, but he is certainly a highly visible player, one who has inspired a vocal global following and, at times, an equally vocal set of detractors.  His high profile was surely a factor for teams considering bringing him onto their team – in the past, when Lin was a solid rotation player, it was surely viewed as both a positive and a negative, the former given the marketing and sales potential inherent in Lin’s built-in fan base and his connection to the AAPI community. 

But throw the activism on top of that, and Lin’s status as a borderline rotation player at best, and one can readily imagine Lin being viewed as a needless distraction by NBA owners (despite the league’s reputation as a far more progressive entity than the other professional leagues).

This is not right, of course.  Lin's own unique qualities were surely working against him -- that which makes him different, makes him someone to avoid.  This is simply another form of racism -- blackballing.

In the end, Lin himself wrote the best take on his G League experience, on Instagram, after it became clear once and for all that an NBA contract was not in the offing.  The frustration was clear.

“May 16th.  In my mind was an imaginary circle around this date for an NBA callup. The final deadline.


After a year in the CBA where I overcame mental barriers from my past, I KNEW I was still an NBA player. Teams all asked if I still had the hunger, health and skill to hang in the NBA. They wanted to see me hoop in-person.

So I gave up a season overseas to go down to the G League - a move few vets dare make. Ive always known I need to jump through extra hoops to prove I belong so this was par for the course. Im really proud of what I accomplished - I killed it in the G League and objectively showed it being a league leader in all categories a PG should and shooting career-highs across the board.

For months, I saw others get contracts, chances, opportunities. I told myself I just need ONE ten-day contract, one chance to get back on the floor and I would blow it out the water. After all that's how my entire career started - off one chance to prove myself. 
For reasons I'll never fully know, that chance never materialized. But I proved Im better than ever and an NBA player. And like I've said before...dream big dreams, risk big heartache. 

Im blessed and had an NBA career beyond my wildest dreams. I had the luxury of taking a year to chase a dream w/o worrying about paying bills. My family, friends, business partners all waited on me as I gave up being a go-to player in China to go back to the G League. 

To the next generation of Asian American ballers - man, I so wish I could have done more on the NBA court to break more barriers - esp now - but you guys got next. When you get your shot, do NOT hesitate. Don't worry whether anyone else thinks you belong. The world never will. If theres any chance to doubt, they will. But when you get your foot in the door, KICK THAT DOOR DOWN. And then bring others up with you. 

I didnt get it done, but I have no regrets. I gave my ALL and hold my head high. As for whats next, I trust what God has in store for me. "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Thanks to everyone who's rolled w me on this journey. I love my squaddd.”

 

THE OFFSEASON, 2021

Lin did not wait long to make his basketball destination decision for 2021-22.  On June 14, a full six weeks before the NBA free agency period began, Lin announced that he was returning to the Beijing Ducks in the CBA.  In fact, Lin made the decision even though it was unclear that the CBA, given COVID, would even allow foreign players into the country to play, and, if so, what restrictions to foreign players’ playing time might be imposed. 

From Lin’s perspective, he wanted not only to bring some quick clarity to his future, without being at the mercy of others, but, practically speaking, he wanted to be in China physically, so he could get on the court quickly, whenever decisions were made, and not endure further quarantining or perhaps even an inaibility to return to China.

But nothing ever happens in a straightforward manner to Jeremy Lin, and, in this instance, he announced on his third day in China, while still in quarantine, that he had tested positive for COVID-19.  He ended up with a 30-day stint in the hospital, followed by more quaratining.  He finally was able to practice on the court earlier this week, joining the Ducks on Monday, October 11.  He noted on Instagram that it had been 11 weeks since he had been on a court, the longest since he started playing basketball as a 5-year old.  As a consequence, while the Ducks open the season today, Lin will not be playing.  He needs to build up his stamina so that he can be game-ready, perhaps later in the month.

As a now 33-year old, we can envision Lin playing many more seasons in the CBA if he wants, assuming he is and remains physically strong.  Stephon Marbury played in the league until he was 41.  Whether Lin actually does that remains to be seen.  He might choose to begin his next chapter, whatever that may be, much sooner.  Who knows, the NBA might come calling (though, clearly, that is more doubtful than ever, especially since the CBA season ends late this year, with the playoffs slated to continue through most of May).  But for now, he is on the cusp of another season, hoping to break Guangdong’s stranglehold on the CBA title as a primary goal – along with staying healthy, and, presumably, speaking out when his voice is needed.

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Here are the first six articles in the BTRTN Jeremy Lin series, in order, starting with 2015.
http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2020/06/btrtn-part-6-jeremy-lin-saga-continues.html

Thursday, October 14, 2021

BTRTN: No News Is Not Good News... Liberals are Tuning Out

Are you watching less CNN and MSNBC? Join the crowd. The worrisome question is, why are we all doing it?

In the past couple of months, I have been in any number of conversations with a consistent theme: people who pride themselves on being informed and up-to-date are saying that they are watching less news.

It happens – no surprise – that the vast majority of my chats are with left-leaning progressive types, and I am picking up a distinct trend. Now my peeps are going on nice long walks during Nicolle Wallace. They have abandoned The Situation Room. They are realizing that there is no law requiring progressives to watch Rachel Maddow at 9:00. They are letting Lawrence O’Donnell have The Last Word… all by himself. 

Come on, Steve, you say… just because a few of your friends have beaten a hasty retreat from Ari Melber’s The Beat, that’s doesn’t prove there is an epic national decline in Cable News viewing, right?

No, that does not prove it… but the Nielsen ratings do.

On September 28, 2021, Forbes reported on third quarter Nielsen ratings for the three major Cable News Networks (Fox, CNN, and MSNBC) and found that “all three networks were down year-over-year, with Fox News dropping 32% in prime—the smallest decline overall, compared to MSNBC (down 40%) and CNN (down 46%).” That means CNN has essentially lost half its audience in a year… a year, need I remind you, that we all spent way too much time locked indoors. 

What is particularly intriguing is that viewership of the two “lefty” networks – MSNBC and CNN – is declining more acutely than viewership of Fox. Forbes reported that in the month of January, 2021, both MSNBC and CNN had actually pulled ahead of Fox News in prime time viewers, but that by the end of the quarter, Fox was back out in front. Yes, Fox viewership has declined in 2021… but MSNBC and CNN have suffered far greater erosion.

Monthly Prime Cable News Avg. Audience (000)

                          Q1, 2021             Q2, 2021            Q3, 2021             Vs. Yr. Ago

Fox News           2,580,000           2,200,000           2,372,000               -32%

MSNBC              2,290,000           1,500,000           1,267,000               -40%

CNN                    1,990,000              914,000             822,000               -46%

Sure, you say – one year ago, we were locked in an election that would determine the fate of democracy, the American economy was on shaky ground, and the President of the United States tested positive for COVID 19. Of course we were glued to the news!

Well, here’s cause for concern. There's a strong argument that we should be a helluva lot more worried about the safety of our democracy now than on January 6. Then, our system of government was threatened but the pillars held. Now, it is under an even broader, more insidious, and more orchestrated assault… from voter suppression legislation, to the Republican institutionalization of “The Big Lie,” to the ever increasing momentum for Trump to run again in 2024.

Now, we should be ever more focused on what is happening.

And those other stories that supposedly explained our news watching peak in 2020? Well, it’s not like a shaky economy and COVID have gone away. The economy is still sluggish and was just put at risk of being plunged into the ice age because Republicans wanted to playing chicken with the debt ceiling, and the number of COVID cases per week as of September 18, 2021 – the exact period that Neilsen was measuring -- was three times higher than the comparable week in 2020.  

Ahah, you inquire skeptically – doesn’t cable news viewership always decline between an election year and the following off-election year? Nope. Look at the ratings change between the 3rd quarter of non-election year 2017 and the election year 2016. MSNBC viewership actually increased dramatically, and Fox was flat.

No, the votes are in, and the fact is that we are leaving news in droves. Why?

At one level, it is all very explainable; indeed, some would say obvious. Donald Trump is no longer president, stirring the cable news cycle with his daily assault of bombast, insult, error, outrage, and deceit. Duh.

We here at BTRTN commented any number of times that Trump appeared to often intentionally create a new controversy simply to blow his last horrendous media explosion out of the headlines. There are many examples of such behavior, but just to pick a particularly egregious one: remember back in January, 2020, Trump ordered the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani? That triggered an outpouring of “Wag the Dog” theories: that Trump seemed intent on provoking a war with Iran to distract popular focus from a particularly thorny domestic problem... the impeachment trial. Pulverizing the news cycle was Donald Trump’s superpower.

So, the explanation is easy, right? He left, and he took all the television ratings with him. There’s certainly truth to this view, but it does not explain everything… and most pointedly, it does not explain why the erosion in the two left-leaning cable news channels is far more pronounced than Fox. Lefties were intensely involved in the news in the election cycle and then through the first quarter of 2021, and then the bottom fell out.

It’s not like there has been a massive change in the content and personalities in left-leaning Prime Time Cable News programming to explain the shift. Yes, Joy Reid replaced Chris Matthews on the 7:00 slot on MSNBC… but that is the only change in the Prime Time line-ups in the past year.

So I have tried to engage people on a more qualitative basis to try to understand this phenomenon.  Certain themes emerge.

The first is what I will call the “Groundhog Day Variant” – there is no longer that much news in the news. We feel like every day is just re-living the day before. Tune it at 11:00 to hear Brian Williams deliver the olds

Here is a run-down of your typical Prime Time hour on lefty Cable News...

The A-bloc lead each night is some variation on an absolute refusal of Republicans to cooperate with Democrats, a nightly update on Washington gridlock now cast in concrete and frozen at absolute zero. This story is followed by a field report from the latest ER to be overrun by sickened anti-vaxxers who will take their allegiance to Tucker Carlson to the grave. Then we have the update about the seeming weekly assault weapon gunfire in a Kroger store or some southern high school. Then we learn more horrific details about the activities of right-wings insurrectionists prior to January 6.

After seemingly five-minute long commercials for Rybelsus and Trulicity, your favorite liberal nightly news show then returns with the latest weather catastrophe caused by global warming, followed by an intrepid Spanish-speaking field reporter who translates as she coaxes a migrant family to speak about the latest atrocity committed by U.S. law enforcement personnel on southern border. Then we learn still one more example of just how amoral the management of Facebook really is.

Erin Burnett takes a break during that really annoying ad for Ozempic (“Oh, oh, OOOH, o-ZEM-pic!”) and returns with yet another story about a U.S. ally disappointed to learn that the supposedly seasoned Biden State Department has once again readied, fired, and aimed.  There’s a mercifully short bit on a MAGA rally in which Trump tries to claim that the Cyber-Ninjas actually concluded that he won Arizona.  The hour ends with an extended segment in which we are forced to endure a report about one more piece of either racist or misogynistic legislation enacted by the state of Texas. Finally, some billionaire flashes a big “thumbs up” smile as he rides into space on his phallic rocket, blowing enough money in four minutes to make a serious dent in world hunger.

Cue Bill Murray and set the alarm clock. Tomorrow morning, CNN’s John Berman will rinse and repeat. Call me crazy, but CNN appears to be spending an extraordinary amount of air time on the horrific murder of Gabby Petito, perhaps in some small measure because her tragic story is at least a different tragic story than the horror stories that recur on a nightly basis.

But the deadly, wearying sameness of every night’s news is certainly not the only reason for the drop in viewership.

For Democrats, it could be that part of the news fatigue is the frustration borne of watching our own party flail incompetently. The past two months have been a very tough slog for the Biden administration, which had positioned itself as the experienced, professional, uber-competent professionals who would right the ship of state.

We knew that it would be tough for Joe Biden to pass his game-changing "Build Back Better" programs. We just didn't expect that Biden's problem would be in securing the support of his own party. But here we are, forced to suffer through a potential devastating failure caused by internecine squabbling. We have met the enemy, Pogo.

First, there is the frustrating intransigence of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Right now, Joe Biden’s Presidency is sliding downward, and the fate of 2022 and 2024 will turn on whether he is able to pass his “Build Back Better” initiatives. Whether you believe Manchin is acting on his own sense of fiscal principle or is posturing in order to the best chance of getting re-elected in a Red State, this much is clear: he is making Biden look weak and ineffective, and he is unquestionably putting his own agenda (whatever it truly is) above the need of the Democrats to pass Biden’s signature legislation.

To many, Manchin appears less concerned about whether his president or his party is crippled going into the mid-terms as long as he uses this opportunity for maximum political leverage. This means that Manchin believes that his own re-election is more important than Biden’s, or that his own view of economic policy should, uh, trump that of his party.

However difficult Joe Manchin is being, though, he is at least engaged in dialog and debate… in contrast to the infinitely more frustrating Arizona Senator Krystin Sinema. For years, progressives excoriated Republican 30-watt dimwits like Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert and Louisiana Senator John Kennedy. Now it is excruciating to watch Krystin Sinema prove that Democrats can be every bit as achingly vapid and unqualified for high office as Republicans.

Where Manchin is attempting to navigate supporting a Democratic agenda in a deeply Red State, Krysta Sinema represents a purple state that voted for Biden in 2021! Watching Clueless from Arizona run from the media in order to avoid being forced to actually articulate her objections to “Build Back Better” -- and cogently explain what she would actually support, and what number she could live with -- is one more reason to turn off CNN. Nobody wants to watch this form of Sinema vérité.

And don’t think that many Democrats aren’t getting a bit testy with the progressives who threaten Biden’s agenda from the left. Right now, we could use (as Eleanor Roosevelt is to have said of JFK) a little less profile and a little more courage from our friends Bernie and AOC. We listen as progressive Dems draw red lines defining exactly where they will refuse to cooperate or compromise, and we fear that the entire Biden agenda could die because of the intransigence of a person who goes to the Met Ball with a dress that says “tax the rich” and does not seem to see it as an ironic echo of Melania Trump flying to a disaster zone in a jacket that says “I don’t care.”

Note to AOC: rather than go to the Met Ball, intending to convey some moral high ground because you publicly diss your glamorous dinner companions, may I suggest this? Next time, stay home, and work on compromise legislation that – in getting passed – could actually result in an increased tax bill for the rich

Hey, Democrats in Washington! We voted you in to get stuff done. Lock yourselves in a room and figure it out! If you want a small hint about how your constituents feel about your behavior, maybe you should make an inference from the collapse in people tuning into MSNBC and CNN.  

At the end of the day, the truth is this: it would be absolutely amazing if Biden was able to push through all three of the American Rescue Plan ($1.9 trillion) and the two infrastructure bills -- even at significantly reduced and "compromised" levels -- in one year. But with all the toxic public pissing matches and internecine warfare, the Democrats are going to manage to make this extraordinary trifecta look like a disappointment... if they are lucky enough to pull it off at all.

And if they don’t? It could be the death knell to the mid-terms and possibly Biden’s re-election.

Cue Will Rogers: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

Watch the news so that you can keep abreast of global conflict? So far, we know of only two things that Tony Blinkin’s State Department has accomplished: a humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, and angering France so much that they recalled their ambassador.  Hey, lefties, we pride ourselves on facing facts – so dig into this one: no ally resorted to recalling their ambassador when Trump was President.

Yes, one real explanation for the lower television ratings may be as simple as understanding why I refuse to watch the New York Jets. The Jets are the team I followed my entire life, but finally I got sick and tired of their constant failure. Do I root for the Patriots? No. I just turn off the television. I go out for long walks. It's better for my mental health. 

A lot of people worked their asses off and gave a lot of money to put Democrats in power. Who can blame them if they all just turn off the television in frustration, and go off for a long walk.

There are indeed many other plausible explanations for declines in cable news viewership, and some could actually be interpreted quite positively. For example: a report from The Reuters Institute notes the growth of The New York Times podcasts, adding a quote from a Times official at an industry event:

“(The Daily)now averages 4 million downloads per day – twice the figure they were touting just one year ago. ‘The Daily is now becoming a very major news platform in ways we had never expected. It has become as big, if you do the math, as primetime Fox News,’ said presenter Michael Barbaro at a podcast event in September 2020.

It would be good news indeed if the decline in Cable television news was simply attributable to the rise in competitive resources that often provide greater depth than the three-minutes and out of a CNN story.

I wish that is what I was hearing my progressive friends saying.

Mostly, though, it seems that their disenchantment with the news is just killing the messenger with low ratings.

It isn’t Anderson Cooper’s fault that the news is oppressively depressing as CNN merely seeks to document and convey the dire health of our democracy, our standing on the global stage, and of our planet itself.

And tuning Anderson out doesn’t make the bad news go away.

No news – that is, people tuning the news out from their lives – is, unfortunately, not good news.

This sort of “no news” means people are not keeping on top of the steadily advancing attacks on our democracy from the right.

Turning away from the news hints at desperation that the problems we have created -- such as a vast under-educated population that cannot discern truth from lie, and a global climate crisis that we are blissfully ignoring as long as we have "climate peace for our time" -- have simply advanced too far to solve. They are metastasized cancers that are now beyond our ability to contain.

"No news" could mean that people are giving up. They are concluding that our government has reached a point of critical failure, a point where it is fundamentally detached from serving the needs of the people. It is too big and too broken to fix, and people would rather tend to their gardens. 

Here is my hope.

Maybe, just maybe, after nearly two years lost in isolation to an endless pandemic, a year of watching biggest lie in American history metastasize into broadly held belief, and ever more grim news on climate change, people are simply taking a mental health break. 

Maybe we are all just taking a much-needed walk.

Maybe we just need to retreat and re-charge, because we all know we must re-engage in the madness and fight ever harder in 2022 and again 2024.

But whatever the reason, it is not a good sign if fewer Americans are making a practice of staying informed.

No news is not good news.

 

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Monday, October 4, 2021

BTRTN: Biden Battles to Avoid Dreaded “B” Word

Tom with the BTRTN September 2021 Month in Review.

For a presidential administration there is one word that must be avoided at all cost, and that is the dreaded “B” word: “beleaguered,” as in "the beleaguered Biden Administration."

 

It is a word that conjures up images of LBJ after Tet, Jimmy Carter and the botched hostage rescue attempt, and George W. Bush after Katrina.  And while those singular events may have triggered the label, each were a culmination of sorts, the crushing blow in a series of disasters.  According to Webster, the word means “suffering or being subjected to constant or repeated trouble.”  It is often the kiss of death for an administration – note the single-term fates of two of those three presidents mentioned above -- a term that implies not only incompetence but also the sense of being overwhelmed by events, and ill-suited to manage them. 

 

Note that Donald Trump does not appear in that paragraph.  That is simply a function of so many worse adjectives that were applied to Trump from the outset of his presidency.  Trump’s method of operation was so ingrained from the start – the lying (remember the Inauguration attendance flap?), the refusal to listen to experts, the upending of norms, the lack of decency, the blaming of others, the grandstanding, and so on – that the adverse descriptors almost instantly soared well beyond “beleaguered.”

 

Biden is not quite at “beleaguered” yet.  But he and his administration are certainly in a bad stretch, which began with the messy Afghanistan pull-out in August and continued this month with the revelation that the revenge attack against ISIS-K instead killed an innocent family, including seven children; the apparently needless blindsiding of France in an arms deal with the UK and Australia; a Haitian migrant crush under a bridge in Texas; the persistence of COVID, where the corner has yet to be turned and confusion still reigns amongst policy guidance emanating from the FDA, CDC and the Administration; and then the current hot button, the legislative pile-up of “hard” and “soft” infrastructure legislation, an epic budget resolution (now resolved) and an economy-threatening impasse on raising the debt ceiling. 

 

That is quite a bad run, but as yet, the dreaded word has yet to be affixed to Biden.  He has worked through the media cycle of most of these issues by now, save the remaining legislation which, while already crucial to his economic agenda, has now become essential to saving a bloodbath in the midterms in 2022, if not his presidency in 2024. 

 

The problem with these issues – apart, of course, from the substance – is that each directly undercuts one of Biden’s supposed core strengths (and, in total, almost all of them).  Apart from running as “the anti-Trump” candidate, the Biden brand touted deep global experience that would lead to a restoration of both mainstream U.S. foreign policy and our global reputation; a steady hand and straightforward operating style; a unique ability to turn back the clock to craft bi-partisan legislation to meet the needs of our times; and a devotion to decisions based on science and facts.  Well, the Afghanistan and France fiascos have shaken our allies, Biden can’t seem to resist the temptation to get ahead of the science, and the legislative pile-up seems to defy negotiation – even though the Democrats, at this point, do not need a single additional GOP vote to get all four pieces of legislation passed.

 

Even the “anti-Trump” appeal of Biden is giving some pause.  While Biden is about as far from Trump as a politician can get, in terms of personal decency, integrity, empathy and so on, some of these events also carried an uncomfortable sense that not quite as much has changed from Trump as Democrats fervently not only hoped but assumed.  Both the Afghan exit decision and the undercutting of the French in the submarine deal echoed Trump’s unwillingness to work with allies, with the only apparent difference being that while Trump routinely dissed the allies, Biden at least says the right things.  But, of course, as was clear in the aftermath of Biden’s first U.S. address (not long after France recalled its ambassador to the US in protest) it is the actions that matter, not just the words.  This, of course, leads one to wonder what is going on in the minds of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, who reveled in the implied weakness of Trump’s America First policy and the NATO divisiveness it begat – and the implication for potential aggressiveness in, say, Estonia and Taiwan. 

 

(And yet another problem with the botched killing of the Afghan civilians is that it immediately undercut the Biden claims that the U.S. could monitor terrorist threats from beyond the Afghan border, or, as they gamely referred to it, “over the horizon” – which the GOP mockingly dubbed “over the rainbow.”)

 

The image of Haitian immigrants being tormented by Texas Rangers on horseback was, of course, a scene that could have been scripted by Trump’s immigration lackey Stephen Miller.  Biden strongly denounced the Rangers’ hideous efforts, but the whole sordid affair did nothing to allay fears that Biden’s immigration policy might merely be an extension of Trump’s.

 

On the COVID front, the Delta variant continues to rage despite over half the U.S. population being vaccinated.  New COVID cases declined from 3.6 million in August to 3.4 million in September, but deaths (which lag cases, of course) jumped from 33,000 to 55,000.  But whatever the trends, the absolute numbers are way too high, and concentrated (especially deaths) among unvaccinated people.  Biden finally got fed up with them, and announced a series of initiatives, including requiring the military to be vaccinated, and imposing a vaccination requirement on all companies with more than 100 employees.  These were announced with a noticeable shift in tone for Biden, from one of patience with the unvaccinated to one of disgust.  Clearly he is sick of educating them on the benefits of the vaccine – and he is catching up to poll numbers that show his supporters long ago passed the point of understanding with their unvaccinated neighbors.

 

But after decrying Trump continuously for not “following the science” with respect to COVID policy, Biden himself had trouble with the same issue.  He announced in late August that Americans should get a vaccine booster shot eight months after their first vaccination, a policy that was cleared in advance by neither the FDA nor the CDC.  For this, Biden was rightly excoriated.  When those bodies finally made their own determinations on the booster issue, they announced, in turn, three different policy formulations, none of which concurred with Biden’s.  The ultimate direction, announced by CDC chief Rochelle Walensky, was for those who originally received the Pfizer vaccine, boosters were recommended for those over 65, those under 65 who suffered from underlying risk attributes, and health and education professionals, all after six months.  Walensky’s policy essentially overruled her own team (who did not include the health and education professionals) and the FDA (her policy changes some individuals that the FDA said "should" get the vaccine to "may" get the vaccine).  After a month of those conflicting headlines, one might conclude that the Biden Administration has not been following the science per se, nor has it been a model of clarity in vaccine management communications. 

 

On the legislative front, it turns out that the easiest part of the negotiations was taming the GOP.  Even Mitch McConnell voted for the $1.2 trillion “hard” infrastructure package, along with 18 other Republican Senators.  Biden seemed like a magician when the Senate passed that bill.  Who knew that while he could corral the GOP, he would have even more trouble getting his own crazy party on board?  House progressives refused to pass the “hard” bill unless the $3.5 trillion “soft” infrastructure bill passed simultaneously as well.  House moderates refuse to pass the “soft” bill unless the Senate lined up behind it, which required the commitment of Senate moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.  But those two refused to back the “soft” bill because, in Manchin’s case, he thinks it is too expensive (he seems happy with $1.5 trillion, with certain conditions), while Sinema has been relatively silent on what it will take to get her to yes.

 

This is where the Biden deal-making, 36-years-in-the-Senate magic was supposed to come in.  Lord knows, he’s trying.  At this point, Congress managed to avoid a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution on the budget, kicking the can to December.  The others remain maddeningly out of reach.  House progressives’ intransigence forced Pelosi to postpone a vote on the “hard” bill not once, but twice, which is starting to annoy the House moderates – the “Mod Squad” – who thought they had negotiated with Pelosi a hard voting date of September 27. 

 

That the Democrats are committing political suicide with their bickering seems lost to those on the edges of the party.  Without these bills, in any form, Biden and the Democrats literally have no story to take into the midterms a year from now, apart from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in the early days of his administration.  And yet the principal problem may spring from that old political villain, “overreach.”  Biden’s epic legislative hopes for the bills, which rival in scope FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, were launched with the barest of margins in Congress – far from the mandate (and Congressional supermajorities) enjoyed by his legendary predecessors.  Progressives seem to think that just because we need everything they want, they and we should get it.  But that is not how it works.  If, in a single year, Biden could pass legislation of $1.9 trillion (his original American Rescue Plan), $1.2 trillion (the “hard” infrastructure bill) and, say, $1.5 trillion (Manchin’s number for “soft” infrastructure), that trio alone could stand alongside FDR and LBJ’s transformative packages.  But that simple fact has been lost.

 

There was one bit of news that, while awful for the many who are affected, was actually a gift from the GOP to 2022 Democratic electoral prospects, and that was the Texas bill banning abortions after six weeks.  This blatantly unconstitutional bill, which the Supreme Court remarkably has allowed to stand until the coming court challenges, has energized the Democratic base like nothing else.  That energy may go a long way to preventing the bloodbath.

 

Biden can also take comfort in the fact that the majority of Americans favor his agenda.  This generally means that there is still time to herd the cats and pass the bills, have them positively impact the economy and help with electoral prospects in 2022 and 2024.  There is also time for his COVID policies to work, with the help from growing corporate and entertainment venue vaccination mandates, along with a potential antiviral solution just announced by Merck. 

 

That is the game plan.  But the question is, can Biden, the LBJ-wannabe, display the skills required to get it all through, a la the “Master of the Senate” himself?  To avoid that “B” word, it is surely time for Biden to start tugging on some lapels.

 

 

MADNESS

 

The “Cyber Ninjas” completed their audit of the presidential election results in Maricopa County.  The group was hired by crazed Arizona republicans trying to do their bit to reverse the 2020 election results.  They pursued such lunatic tactics as exploring whether 40,000 ballots were made of bamboo, which would supposedly indicate they were shipped in from Asia and were all for Joe Biden.  But despite this, they actually found that Biden’s margin of victory in the county was 361 votes greater than that shown in the election.

 

Trump’s response was typically insane, saying at a rally in Georgia after the audit results were announced:  We won at the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn't believe," Trump told the crowd in Perry, Georgia. "They had headlines that Biden wins in Arizona, when they know it's not true. He didn't win in Arizona. He lost in Arizona based on the forensic audit."

 

 

BIDEN APPROVAL RATING

Joe Biden’s approval rating dropped another 3 points in August versus July.  His net approval went negative for the first time, from +3 to -4.  This is Biden’s low water mark for his presidency, and also is just below the highest monthly figure Trump managed in his four years in office (46%, in his first full month in office, in February, 2017).

 






HOW BIDEN IS HANDLING KEY ISSUES

Biden again showed slippage across every issue in the last month, though by less of a drop than in August, losing 1-2 points across each.  He is still substantially outperforming Trump’s ratings at the time he left office on all measures except his handling of the economy, Trump’s strongest issue.     

When compared to Trump’s levels across an average of the entire year of 2020, Biden looks about even with Trump, ahead of COVID, behind on the economy, and even in the other two areas.



 

 


 

 

BIDENOMETER

The “Bidenometer” remained virtually unchanged in September, moving from +64 in August to +63.  All five measures showed very minor movement, with the net being a drop of one point.

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

With a Bidenometer of +63, the economy is clearly performing much better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move upward to +63 under Biden.



 






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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.