To hear Michael Steele tell it, the Republican Party is at a crossroads in its stance on Afghanistan. After having campaigned on more troops, more funding for those troops, and more aggressive deployment of them in every election cycle since 9/11, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele suggested to Republicans at a small gathering that President Obama started the war in Afghanistan and that Republican candidates should campaign against his decision to send more troops there. Literally.
Here's what he said:
Keep in mind, again, our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those, one of those areas of the total [horde?] of foreign policy...that we would be a background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the president who tried to be cute by...flipping the script deomonizing iraq while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right? Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways that we can engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops...
And so now for our candidates, whether they're running, you know for, Congress or the United States Senate, there is a whole text of resources available to them through our office, through the RNC, through the congressional committees, the senatorial congressional committees, and even some of the think tanks that help frame those arguments so that you know you don't get stopped on, 'Well, George Bush--' you know, fill in the blank. I think that that's going to be very helpful...
And here is the video:
This, of course, is blatantly disconnected from historical fact. Yes, Obama did demonize Iraq in favor of Afghanistan, as war efforts go; yes, occupations of Afghanistan have failed before; yes, there may be other ways to influence Afghanistan through diplomacy and geopolitics (Vice President Biden has suggested some of these). But George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan, and fewer than 10 percent of Americans opposed his decision to do so.
Michael Steele has consistently taken criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for "gaffes," the political term for doing something that's buffoonish or otherwise not quite right. Some of these appeared to matter, and some didn't. It was a "gaffe" to some when he said Rush Limbaugh wasn't the leader of the Republican Party, and that instead he himself was; it was a "gaffe" when he called abortion an "individual choice" in an interview with GQ. The meme caught on, and almost everything out of the ordinary that Steele has said since the spring of 2009 has been called a "gaffe" by someone, whether a slip of the tongue or an expression of true sentiment that wasn't calibrated perfectly to the pitch of Republican donors' ears.
This one, however, appears to be the biggest, and here's why:
1) Wars are more serious, and they are taken more seriously in politics.
2) He's advocating that federal candidates push this line. Who cares if Steele personally maybe leaned pro-choice, as his GQ slip seemed to indicate? That's his deal. In this case, it's about pushing Republican candidates in a tangible direction and supplying them with the materials to move in that way.
And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It's an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they've been asked to take on by our elected leaders.
4) Steele's comments don't just fly in the face of how Republicans have stood on Afghanistan; they contradict an entire wing of the GOP -- its national security branch. That encompasses neocons, hardened veterans of the Senate, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and almost anyone who rose to prominence during the Bush administration. As new GOP soft-money groups emerge, Bush-era figures like Karl Rove are helping to raise millions to support the party. It's a wing of the GOP that still exerts massive influence.
Steele has always had his enemies, but he's been insulated from their criticisms and calls for his job, largely because it doesn't really hurt the GOP that much when he says unexpected things; the process to remove a chairman is so onerous; it would look bad if he stepped down; and it would look bad if the GOP, with its old-white-guy image, fired its first black chairman because he wouldn't get in line with what everyone else wanted him to do and say.
Don't take this latest statement by Steele as an actual redirection of GOP policy toward the war. It's not within Steele's power to guide such a shift, and the RNC issued a statement on Steele's comments that essentially reiterates GOP policy toward the war, placing the burden of Afghanistan on Obama.
Steele will probably survive this, for all the reasons listed above. Despite how unhappy some are about this, it is far easier for the committee to wait until Steele's term is up in January and let challengers mount their bids. And in his propensity to utter what so many call "gaffes," Steele actually evades more criticism. He just lets it rip. For better or worse, people expect things like this.
How the election looks to backers of the Republican nominee
Perhaps the hardest thing to do in contemporary American politics is to imagine how the world looks from the other side. I’ve made no secret of why, as a Republican, I oppose Donald Trump and what he stands for. But I’ve also been talking to his supporters and advisors, trying to understand how they see and hear the same things that I do, and draw such very different conclusions. What follows isn’t a transcription—it’s a synthesis of the conversations I’ve had, and the insights I’ve gleaned, presented in the voice of an imagined Trump supporter.
“You people in the Acela corridor aren’t getting it. Again. You think Donald Trump is screwing up because he keeps saying things that you find offensive or off-the-wall. But he’s not talking to you. You’re not his audience, you never were, and you never will be. He’s playing this game in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen. And he’s winning too, in a different way from anybody you’ve ever seen.
The most personally moving, and most fundamentally patriotic, moment of the Democratic National Convention was the appearance by the bereaved parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan, and the statement about the meaning of their son’s life and death, and about the Constitution, by Mr. Khizr Khan.
After Khizr Khan spoke, politicians and commentators on most networks said they were moved, humbled, inspired, choked up. (Commentators on Fox did not say these things, because their coverage cut away from the Khans for Brit Hume and Megyn Kelly, plus a Benghazi ad.)
Not the people—the term. How generational divisions have driven down voter turnout over the last century of American politics.
Throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential election, pundits and activists have debated how to get more Millennials involved in politics, always stressing their distinctive character. But it was actually this tendency to slice up the electorate into unique generations that drove young people from politics in the first place.
In the 19th century, children, youths, and adults “mingled freely together” at rowdy campaign rallies, lured by the holy trinity of booze, barbecue, and bonfire. Older citizens introduced young people to politics, helping to drive voter turnouts to their highest levels in U.S. history. “It’s the ‘big fellow,’” observed the Republicans canvassing in pool halls and saloons in the 1880s, who does the best job getting “the ‘little fellow”’ into politics.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:
Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?
Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.
He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.
Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:
Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.
A collection of books recommended by The Atlantic’s editors and writers
The Atlantic’s editors and writers share their recommendations for summer reading—new titles, old favorites, and others in between.
By Yaa Gyasi
In her first novel, Yaa Gyasi cleverly weaves the intergenerational tale of a family through a series of short, but interrelated stories set in what’s now Ghana during the mid-18th century. The two women at the center of the novel, Effia and Esi, are half-sisters who wind up on vastly different paths. One is captured during a battle between tribes, sold, and winds up on a slave ship bound for the U.S. The other—separated from her village and married off to a British slaver—ends up living on top of the dungeons that hold her own kin and hundreds of others who would also become slaves. The novel traces the lineage of these women through the tales of their children, and their children’s children, and so on—up until the present day.
Learning how to bond with my daughter, who found comfort in the familiarity of being alone, has come through understanding reactive attachment disorder.
My hands hover over the computer keyboard. They are trembling. I hold down the shift key and type the words with intention, saying each letter aloud: “R-e-a-c-t-i-v-e A-t-t-a-c-h-m-e-n-t D-i-s-o-r-d-e-r.” The words “reactive attachment disorder” are memory beads I gather into a pile and attempt to string along on a necklace.
I think back to when Judith, my neighbor who is a psychiatrist, offhandedly threw out the term the first time she met Julia. We were talking about babies who start their lives in orphanages, and she mentioned the disorder. She wasn't suggesting that my daughter Julia showed any signs, but she’d said it was a well-known problem with children who’d been adopted from Romanian orphanages in the '80s and '90s. I remember nodding my head and thinking, Shut up, Judith. We got Julia young. It shouldn't be an issue.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.
It’s a staple in American homes, but at what environmental cost?
As Hurricane Katrina raged through New Orleans in 2005, neighborhood after neighborhood collapsed from flooding. Of the houses that stood, many still had to be bulldozed due to mold within the walls. But one building, a plantation-home-turned-museum on Moss Street built two centuries before the disaster, was left almost entirely unscathed.
“The Pitot house was built the old way, with plaster walls,” says Steve Mouzon, an architect who helped rebuild the city after the hurricane. “When the flood came, the museum moved the furniture upstairs. Afterwards, they simply hosed the walls—no harm done.”
The other houses weren’t built the old way. “All the homes around the Pitot house were lost because they were built with drywall,” says Mouzon.
Last month, my wife and I found ourselves in a disagreement about whether or not our apartment was clean enough for guests—the type of medium-sized disagreement that likely plagues all close relationships. In the midst of it, there was a lull and, feeling exhausted all of a sudden, I got up and left the living room. In the bedroom, I immediately fell face down into the sheets. The next thing I knew it was 20 minutes later and my wife was shaking me awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep; I just felt so fatigued in that moment that there was nothing else I could do.
This wasn’t new for me. A few weeks earlier, I had come into conflict with an acquaintance over some money. We were exchanging tense emails while I was at my office, and I began to feel the slow oozing onset of sleep, the same tiredness that came on when, as a child, I rode in the backseat of the car on the way home from some undesired trip. A sleepiness that overtakes the body slowly but surely and feels entirely outside of your control.