Notes
First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress
Donald Trump at a rally in March, with a sign depicting his promised Wall. (Jonathan Drake / Reuters)

It’s increasingly evident that something is seriously wrong with Donald Trump. That would be his own business, and his own problem, except for the chance that he could become the next president and thus be in position to command major regulatory, investigative, and military powers. As a reminder, during this period when Trump could still become president, and when more and more of the Republican party is deciding to deem him acceptable, the items in this series are for-the-record notes of things he does and says that no real-world president would or should.

Daily Trump #7: May 27, 2016, the “Mexican” judge.

Reid Epstein of the WSJ has a riveting account of Trump’s speech yesterday in San Diego. Epstein’s account is the more powerful because he is so obviously trying to keep it deadpan, and let the facts and words of Trump’s statements speak for themselves.

The three crucial facts the story conveys are: 1) that Trump spent a full 12 minutes of his speech, an eternity in rally-time, in a personalized complaint about an ongoing fraud lawsuit against his Trump University; 2) that he did not argue the merits so much as dismiss the legitimacy of the suit and the judge hearing it, and in fact threatened retaliation against the judge; and 3) that among his complaints was that the federal judge was “Mexican.” That judge, Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana, received his undergraduate and JD degrees from Indiana University, and has spent his entire life and career in the United States. That career includes working as an assistant U.S. Attorney in California and as a drug-offense prosecutor there.

Samples from the story:

“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd of several thousand booed….

To the San Diego crowd, Mr. Trump argued that Judge Curiel should be removed from the case because he is biased against him. The evidence Mr. Trump presented: Rulings against him and the fact that Judge Curial was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama. The Senate confirmed Judge Curiel by a voice vote in September 2012 [that is, with no recorded opposition]….

Mr. Trump also told the audience, which had previously chanted the Republican standard-bearer’s signature “build that wall” mantra in reference to Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, that Judge Curiel is “Mexican.”

“What happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine,” Mr. Trump said.

Judge Curiel was born in Indiana….

“I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK? But we’ll come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. OK. This is called life, folks.”

***

What’s wrong here? Why is this something that would be considered out of bounds for real-world presidents or serious contenders? In ascending order of importance:

Read On + All notes on "Trump Talks" >

A reader, Patrick O'Connor, writes:

I was looking at some of your recent “Track of the Day” movie scenes. Thanks for these nuggets of beauty and inspiration. I was reminded of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film about the former editor at French Vogue who suffered a massive stroke and ended up suffering from Locked-in Syndrome, where he could hear and understand all that was going on around him but unable to communicate in any way except by blinking his eye.

There is a scene in the film where he is remembering back to a trip he took to the city of Lourdes with his mistress. They are driving in a convertible and her hair is flailing in the wind while the opening guitar riffs of U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light my Way)” is playing and the camera is positioned as if the viewer is in the back seat.

I will never forget that scene. It’s such a powerful combination of image and sound that elicit freedom and movement from a man trapped in his own body. It is one of the most visually stunning moments in cinema for me and also an awesome song.

(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@.)

All notes on "Songs in Cinema" >

Last week, I wrote a story about the economics of money bail, which focused on a new study using criminal data from the arraignment system in Philadelphia to look at whether being assigned money bail increases the probability of conviction. The findings were troubling: The researchers found that money bail increases the probability of conviction by about six percentage points.

But how does this happen? That’s something my piece didn’t address in great detail, partly due to the limits of an empirical study—which tends to look at big-picture impact rather than individual stories. One reader, a lawyer who previously worked as a public defender in Washington State, wrote in with a real-life example of how this plays out in the courts:

Reading the comments section of your piece, it appears many have no idea how bail can increase conviction rates and recidivism. But perhaps the following example (real-life examples that are common occurrences in our courts) is illuminating.

Washington State courts will often put in place bail amounts for those facing a second domestic violence (DV) charge or second DUI related offense. These don’t necessarily have to be serious allegations, since domestic violence is defined as any offense between family or household members.

For example, let’s say I get into an argument with my wife and, out of anger, smash a coffee mug on the table, breaking it. A neighbor or other household member calls law enforcement. Law enforcement responds to my neighbor’s call about the argument. I am then arrested for Malicious Mischief 3rd Degree (property damage of another worth less than $750) DV.

Read On +

Hike of the day. #Iceland #ايسلند پياده روى امروز

A photo posted by @bahmankalbasi on

A reader, Dave, responds to Rosa’s note with some fond reflections on Iceland:

It is hard to capture just how big and beautiful it all is. We hiked, drove, and mountain biked (with an emphasis on mountains), around Iceland. We saw fields of basalt with sharp-edged mountain ridges that seemed to be made of a single solid rock, covered in moss. We saw tens of thousands of acres with a single tiny road in, one out, and no other sign of humanity: no telephone poles, lines, pavement, agriculture, litter. We came upon waterfalls that would be the wonder of any Colorado resort town but are unnamed, flowing over unnamed ridges into unnamed basins.

Coincidentally one of my friends is currently in Iceland and just posted several photos and videos of waterfalls, including this one:

Last fall of the #Iceland trip.

A video posted by @bahmankalbasi on

Back to Dave:

Then there is the water. It is a force of nature, wonder, energy, and culture in Iceland. It rains, then pours down into rivers, makes up the glaciers, and is heated by ingenious people, then piped by above ground aqueducts into the towns, where it heats lovely, neat homes. And it heats public pools that make your college gym look like a swamp puddle. These heated pools and saunas were worth the trip entirely.

#Bluelagoon #Iceland #استخر آب معدنى #ايسلند

A photo posted by @bahmankalbasi on

And the water tastes like water; in many places you can drink it from the basin of that waterfall. When we came home, our filtered water tasted of metal and chemicals.

Then there are the miscellaneous: A jewel of a city, Reykjavik, where you can eat fish, horse, shark, and whale. Or have great Pakistani, decent Ramen, and awesome bread, and go to bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, stores of all kids. It’s the smallest biggest city outside Reno, full of Brits, French, Germans, Japanese, and Americans. And the natives: fun and lighthearted, but intellectually curious and fearless. Seemingly they are all industrious, beautiful, individualist and possessing what I'd call an American spirit.

For these and other reasons, if you ever get the chance to go: go.

Another reader who went is Rebecca Zicarelli, and her dispatch and photos will make you want to follow in her wake:

We just got back from Iceland. It’s a beautiful place.

Iceland is the newest landscape; it’s where the North American and Eurasian continental plates recycle back to the raw stuff at the heart of our planet. It’s also the oldest modern culture (if the rule of law is your metric of modernity), based on an agreement in the year 930 that just happened to be signed where the walls of this continental-plate collision rear out of the ground.

This photo is in Þingvellir, a national park where that government of rule-of-law was formed, looking down through the wall of the North-Atlantic plate the to the crack between continents and the plain where modern culture was born:

It’s a landscape of rocks thinly covered by moss, lichen, and small shrubs and trees. Besides the lifting of continental plates into mountains, the dominate feature is the seabed floor and volcanic rock eroding back into the ocean. The delicate landscape won’t survive too many footsteps.

Antiquities won’t survive, either. At dinner one night, a man who makes his living as an Iceland-adventure guide entertained his clients at the next table, and he spoke of this and the Icelandic distaste of saying, “No, don’t do this.” It’s a national ethic of being good stewards of the land, and one I loved. It was certainly lacking in the sign pollution that litters our national treasures proclaiming drug-free zones and don’t litter and don’t park and no dogs allowed and gun-free zone and on and on …

Read On +
The intensifying California drought, via Wunderground.

Daily Trump #6: May 27, 2016. Drought? What drought?

The rains of the past El Nino season have slightly offset the disastrous multi-year drought in California, which is the worst in the state’s recorded history. Just in case you skipped through that previous sentence too quickly: for as far back as weather records have been kept, there has never before been as long or severe a shortage of rainfall as what California has endured since 2012. (Tree-ring records show prolonged droughts in much earlier eras, some lasting for centuries.) Some reservoirs in northern California have been partly refilled by the recent rains; most in the south are still very dry. The water supply is nowhere close to back to normal, and what the new “normal” might be no one can say.

Everything about life in California has been affected by the drought. Governor Jerry Brown has turned to it in all of his recent State of the State messages, both as an emergency to confront and as a parable for the state’s future. For instance, here is the way he spoke about it in this year’s address (emphasis added):

One of the bright spots in our contentious politics is the joining together of both parties and the people themselves to secure passage of Proposition 1, the Water Bond. That, together with our California Water Action Plan, establishes a solid program to deal with the drought and the longer-term challenge of using our water wisely.

Our goal must be to preserve California’s natural beauty and ensure a vibrant economy – on our farms, in our cities and for all the people who live here. There is no magic bullet but a series of actions must be taken. We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture stormwater, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies – including desalination – and all the while recognize that there are some limits.

Achieving balance between all the conflicting interests is not easy but I pledge to you that I will listen and work patiently to achieve results that will stand the test of time. Water goes to the heart of what California is and what it has been over centuries. Pitting fish against farmer misses the point and grossly distorts reality. Every one of us and every creature that dwells here form a complex system which must be understood and respected.

***

This is the way a leader sounds if he has invested the time to understand an issue; if he recognizes the stakes in dealing with it seriously; if he is willing to take on the complex work of finding areas of agreement, including among groups with deeply conflicting interests; and if he is willing to begin a process that cannot possibly be completed on his watch but which his state cannot afford to delay. You can agree or disagree with Jerry Brown’s water policies or other aspects of his leadership. (I’m generally an admirer.) Either way, no one can doubt that he is giving this his all.

Here, by contrast, is the way a shallow narcissist sounds if he knows nothing about the issue, doesn’t care to learn, and is just shooting off his mouth with the latest thing he heard:

AP story, in Time
Read On + All notes on "Trump Talks" >
Carlos Barria / Reuters

The Politics of Saying Sorry

This week, Obama visited Hiroshima—the Japanese city on which the U.S. launched the first-ever atomic bomb strike—becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so. There, he laid wreaths at a memorial to victims of the blast, met with survivors, and pushed for an end to nuclear warfare. One thing he didn’t do? Apologize for the attack.

Should he have? Uri investigated the international “politics of apologizing”: “Setting aside the arguments for and against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what makes apologizing different for countries than for people?” And Alan compiled photos of Hiroshima—then and now.  

Berning Bridges

Another week down, still no Democratic nominee. “Is Sanders—the onetime liberal gadfly whose views few of his colleagues heeded—simply enjoying the spotlight’s validating glow for as long as it lasts?” Molly asked. “Or is he as delusional as some of his dead-ender fans? It’s impossible to tell."

Either way, it’s probably not good for the party. And “with Trump stirring in these early polls, that healing process can’t start too soon to soothe the nerves of anxious Democrats,” Ron wrote. Last week, Clare hit on this: “As the Sanders campaign presses forward, it must carefully consider whether the senator’s ambition for a political revolution is a goal best achieved by actively stoking the anger of his supporters—and, in a sense, encouraging them to tear it all down.” Readers are weighing in on the race here.

Brick by Brick

“If you want to look at how a toy evolves over time, Legos are probably your best bet,” Julie wrote. She and Adrienne both delved into the plastic-brick manufacturer’s transitions over time—and what they say about our society.

In 2012, the company launched its Friends line—which “includes a pop star’s house, limousine, TV studio, recording studio, dressing room, and tour bus; a cupcake cafe; a giant treehouse; a supermarket; and a hair salon”—targeted at young girls. Still, “Lego hasn’t been able to shake the perception that original Legos are for boys,” Adrienne writes. “Friends, not surprisingly, hasn’t helped.” Despite the rosy release, the overall amount of plastic weaponry in Lego sets has only increased: As Julie reported,“the proportion of sets [since 1978] that included weapons increased by an average of 7.6 percent annually.”

Read On +
Toru Hanai / Reuters

“The most powerful supercomputer in the world is not as good at recognizing things as the human brain,” Golan Levin, an artist and engineer.

“What we’re talking about is an inundation of under-qualified white guys.” Jack Teter, who runs a political action committee dedicated to convincing those guys not to run for office.

“Bran, who of all people should have some empathy for Hodor, is kind of an abusive little shit,” Lauryn S. Mayer, an English professor, on the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

(Previous quotes from our sources here)

A reader with the initials B.H. flags one of the great and truly transformative cover songs: The Gourds’s version of Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin and Juice’.” From the Wiki page for the Austin alt-country band:

Despite a sizable amount of original material, The Gourds are probably best known for a song they did not write. In fact, for most of the 16 years following their first live performance of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” fans could regularly be heard calling out for the band’s cover version of the song, sometimes before the show had even started. This led some to consider it an albatross, but the band continued to play the crowd pleaser, often adding a medley of impromptu cover songs to its midsection.

Update from our reader:

Glad you used it. The quote you included was quite apt. I saw The Gourds do a show here in Albuquerque once, and there were drunk frat boys howling “Gin and Juice!!!” after practically every song. They finally played it as an encore and it brought the freakin’ place down.

(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@.)

All notes on "Cover Songs" >

That would be a cruel irony, of course. In response to Ta-Nehisi’s new piece on Dylann Roof, reader Tim Tyson at Duke University makes a great point about martyrdom:

Ta-Nehisi Coates offers here a profoundly candid and well-considered critique of the Justice Department’s decision to pursue the death penalty for Dylann Roof, who murdered nine African Americans in Charleston in the name of white supremacy. It is indeed bizarre for a nation that applauded the generous spirit of the families of Roof’s victims in forgiving him to then turn around and execute him.

While it is inarguably true that governance itself entails some willingness to resort to violence, whether to defend or subdue the citizenry, and that violence may sometimes prove necessary to civilization, the death penalty is not unavoidable violence, but rather a chosen reliance on vengeance in the name of the nation. This vengeance is also implicitly in the name of the victims and their families. When both the nation and the families of the victims have indicated their rejection of vengeance, it seems particularly inappropriate in this case.

Capital punishment in this case will do nothing to deter similar violence. In fact, making a white supremacist martyr of Dylann Roof may ultimately cause more violence, just as the government’s lethal violence at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993 inspired the white supremacist terror bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Read On +
Incumbent Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at left, from the Liberal party (the conservatives, in U.S. terms), and his opponent Bill Shorten, Labour party leader, at a debate this month before the federal election in July. Australian citizens are required by law to vote. Thus the contending parties spend no time at all worrying about either “voter suppression” or “the turnout game.” (AAP / Mick Tsikas/via Reuters)

Last week, in response to a WaPo op-ed titled “We Must Weed Out Ignorant Voters,” I said that I disagreed with that plan  — but that failing knowledge of the mechanics of self-government known as “civics” was indeed something to worry about.

An American reader who used to live and work in Australia, and has an Australian spouse and “two little Aussie-Americans” in the household, writes with this point:

I was writing in response to your blog post on May 22 regarding the idea of disenfranchising low information voters.  

I see from your recent posts that you have been traveling to Australia frequently [yes, most recently on a program for the Lowy Institution] , so you are probably aware that voting is compulsory Down Under. [Also yes. There’s a minor fine for non-compliance, but most people comply, and seem proud of it.]

Few complain about this law, and I believe that compulsory voting has a tremendous moderating effect on politics there.  Until Tony Abbott's PM-ship, social issues were not really mainstream issues there.  His quick and harsh demise can be seen as an indication of the danger there of being so polarizing.

Similarly, the issue of guns is much more rational when you expand the vote and don't rely on getting out your base and suppressing the other side's core faithful.

Read On + All notes on "Trump Nation" >

A great sports analogy from reader Brad regarding this late moment in the Democratic race:

I have no preference over who wins the nomination. My comments are about the nature of competition in the homestretch. I’m tired of hearing about poll numbers and how Bernie should drop out of the race because the delegate count is impossible, etc. In the political arena, things can change on a whim just like in sports, or life in general.

This is a hilarious football play that shows my point:

Say Beebe saw that Lett had such a lead and thought, “There’s no way I can catch him” and gave up. Lett would’ve scored and been celebrating a lot more than he already was. But instead, Beebe hustled and stripped Lett at the last second.

Imagine these scenarios: Say a hot mic picked up Hillary saying something crazy or a racial epitaph or something. That might be something that could sway voters on the fence. Or let’s go back to 2008. Imagine if Obama got caught saying something crazy, or dissing women or whatever. I think that might have swayed a lot of people to vote for Clinton. Although these are extreme examples and the former isn’t likely, my point is that you play the game to the end because you don’t know what could happen.

If I were Sanders and came all this way, I wouldn’t stop; anything can happen. Similarly, if I was Clinton, I wouldn’t say “I got a such a big lead, I’m going to stop. No, I’m playing the game to the final whistle.”

All notes on "Hillary vs. Bernie" >
Contribute to Notes: hello@theatlantic.com
Most Popular On The Atlantic