James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 35 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot.
Fallows has won the National Magazine Award for his 2002 story “Iraq: The Fifty-First State?” warning about the consequences of invading Iraq; he has been a finalist four other times. He has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction for his book National Defense and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne (2012). He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the book Dreaming in Chinese. Together they have since 2013 been traveling across the United States for their American Futures project. They have two married sons.
Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the email button above. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Following this item on Donald Trump’s (ill-advised) criticism of Richard Blumenthal’s military record, and this exchange of reader mail, several more responses. I’m not planning an open-ended forum of everyone’s Vietnam-era memories, but I think these offer a valuable range of perspectives. More ahead.
From a recent veteran:
It is fascinating for me—a Millennial veteran, whose service was like that of Al Gore’s—to see the feedback you received from boomers on the Vietnam-era decisions that were made.
As a brief extra bit of background I can draw a straight line from 9/11 to my decision to serve. But I also made my decision as a response to the “Support Our Troops” marches in March 2003 regarding a theater I was morally ambiguous about (but did not oppose at the time). I can also draw a straight line from my service to my cynicism with the U.S. military and neo-con policy.
Your readers’ inputs show how much has changed in the era of the all-volunteer military. The Vietnam War is something still hotly debated, whereas I don’t know how many folks will talk seriously about Iraq—it’s so esoteric to most Americans. On the flip side, having played sports at an overseas base myself, the experience of the baseball player blows my mind a bit. It’s nice to know the military has changed for the better in some ways.
There were two other points from your first reader that I find interesting. The first is this:
“By the mid- to late-sixties, it was clear that Vietnam was a crime, a mistake, and an accidental catastrophe. Was this position morally ambiguous?”
Yes, I still think the Vietnam War was and is a morally ambiguous moment in American history. Better thinkers than I have written to defend America's involvement, so I won’t re-hash their arguments. However, I also have the utmost respect for those who opposed the war. MLK and Muhammad Ali displayed a courage that just did not need to exist in the era of Iraq with an all volunteer military.
But that brings up the other fascinating thing to me—the quote of yours about being unable to affect national policy. The crazy thing is, y’all did affect national policy! The Vietnam War ended. That’s how democracy should work—an anti-war movement shook up a major political party and pulled us out of a fight we weren’t losing because our involvement was not in line with what they believed our country should stand for.
Again—that hasn’t happened in today’s wars. They are endless, nobody has enough skin in the game to put on large-scale protests, and the DOD has largely insulated the average civilian from exposure to the wars rather than openly debate whether this is how American power should be used. They are talking of an Afghan viceroy in the White House!?
You’ve written about how the Iraq War was far less defensible than Vietnam, but our run-up to war was an unstoppable year-long process. There was no Gulf of Tonkin incident, just a highly covered invasion and then 14 years of mission creep around the world because people are scared of terrorism.
I don’t want to sound nostalgic for Vietnam-era civil-military relations, nor do I intend to frame Vietnam as a positive counterpoint to our current situation. More Americans died then, returning service members had a far less positive experience than I did, and your baseball contributor highlights the waste that came in a large army of draftees. But I do think there is much we can and should learn from Vietnam and the past 16 years as we wrestle with how best to apply American power in the current and future, and how best to check American power with American democracy.
On the origins of the term ‘Chickenhawk’. A clergyman writes:
I’m a long time ... admirer of Michael Kinsley. I believe, however, that Mr. Kinsley did not coin the term “chickenhawk.” I believe that Andy Jacobs, who for many years was a congressman from Indiana when I was in university at DePauw and later when I was a young curate in Indianapolis, first coined the term.
I remember hearing Mr Jacobs use that term at a town hall meeting in his district (he was my rep) in 1983 in reference to the chest thumping in congress over Nicaragua and other Reagan-era misadventures.
The moral ambiguities of Vietnam service. A reader who served in Vietnam writes:
Like many of my generation, I made my way through college during the 1960s (1963-1967) receiving annual draft deferments and not giving much thought to their receipt. As a college freshman in 1963, I am not sure I had heard about Vietnam, recalling that the cover of Time did have stories about Laos. Of course by the spring of 1967, we all knew about Vietnam.
As a graduate student in 1967–1968 the deferments continued and then ended abruptly after the 1968 Tet Offensive and the North Korean capture of the Pueblo. …
I eventually received a draft notice in the spring of 1969 while still in graduate school and reported to basic training in June 1969 and eventually landed in Vietnam in August 1970. When I attended infantry training in the fall of 1969, I found myself as a minority, as most of those training for the infantry were non-white soldiers. It was clear to me at that time that the draft had primarily caught those with no ability to seek an escape route, which primarily meant those from minority and low-income white families.
Interestingly, in basic training at Fort Bragg during the summer of 1969, there were more than a few graduate students and law students who had made it through two years of law school before being drafted [or perhaps enlisting in advance of the draft].
My point in writing these comments to you is that I long ago resolved in my own mind the conflict over how some of my generation avoided service in Vietnam or otherwise did not. We have observed this issue resurfacing from time to time over the years—often in dealing with presidential politics with candidates who would have been draft-eligible during the 1960s.
Life was unfair occasionally before Vietnam and has continued so afterwards. I have sensed in conversations in recent years with some of my contemporaries who missed the draft a general discomfort in discussing the whole issue of Vietnam and the draft. I do not bring it up in those conversations. I believe we should consider restoring the military draft but doubt that will occur.
‘Scorn’ is wrong. A note I quoted yesterday said that many returning soldiers “deserved scorn” for agreeing to serve in Vietnam. From one of many readers who disagree:
Your reader’s judgment regarding those who served is overly harsh and unfair. To “scorn” those who knew the war was wrong but served anyway ignores the extraordinary dilemma faced by those individuals, all of whom were very young.
In the first place, the conclusion that the war was “criminal” is a highly debatable judgment at best. Wrong from a strategic and political perspective, sure; maybe even immoral. But criminal?
Second, the decision to serve one’s country, even by serving in a war one doesn’t agree with, is a laudable impulse. I have no quarrel with, and indeed admire, those who refused to serve and endured significant sacrifice as a result of that choice. But at the same time, I find no fault with those who obeyed the law, complied with the draft, and served during the war.
(Full disclosure: I write this as one who had the benefit of a student deferment during my college years, at the end of which the draft had been discontinued.)
‘You send someone else to fight.’ What chickenhawk policy means:
I start by saying that I was briefly in the military during Vietnam. I didn’t see combat in ’Nam but had experience in a nearby nation that was involved in the conflict.
Like most young people, I took an extreme view. I was a domino-theory conservative. My experiences changed my mind as to the value of the war, as I saw little chance of our achieving our stated goal. These opinions were reinforced later by the book Of a Fire in the Lake. [JF note: by Frances FitzGerald, based in part on her reporting from Vietnam for The Atlantic. ]
To me, “chickenhawk” means you want to send someone else to fight. That’s the issue I have with our policy across administrations, that we’re going to send our children to some distant place to achieve some nebulous objective. Our leaders cannot even clearly define the reason why they send the young to die.
A second issue, and I’m being charitable, is unintended consequences. We’re in the Gulf area to provide energy security for Europe. The result has been a decades-long destabilization that has created European dependence on Russian energy.
‘Child Sacrifice Pure and Simple’. From another Vietnam-era vet:
I think there is one point missing from the discussion. At the time of the Vietnam War I was an adolescent, too young to go. Now, much older, I see those “older” (at the time) folks who went in a different light. They were kids. I think the “warriors” can be cut a fair amount of moral slack because they were really children.
The utter crime of the war was for the adults to rotate 18-year-old kids through something like that. Having seen life, one’s passions may peak at 18, but one’s considered decisions don’t really start until you are 30.
I once saw a documentary that concluded that the reason 18-year-olds are drafted is because a 25-year-old (who is still physically fit enough) is too old to buy the type of nonsense that they are expected to swallow whole: like nothing bad will ever happen to them, and killing and dying is somehow heroic and exciting, and that those in charge know what the hell they are doing.
The war was child sacrifice, pure and simple. Nobody should ever think that that is something that only happened thousands of years ago in pagan times and lands. It was the adults at the time who had blood on their hands.
By the time I got to college, there was the first Arab oil embargo. I remember a noted scholar saying that the country should be willing to go to war over oil. I remember quite clearly that the scholar was old and gray and that he knew perfectly well that he would not be going, but that I (or my generation) would be the ones dying for cheap oil. My blood was a price he was willing to pay, and I didn’t think much of him for that.
From north of the border. A reader on the ramifications for Canada:
Your current [chickenhawk] usage was new to me when you wrote on it two years ago. But in the AA fellowship, a chickenhawk is a “recovering” alcoholic, usually a man, who preys on incoming teenagers, usually adolescents and young men. This usage had been in place a long time before I first encountered it, during the mid-1980s.
In the Vietnam discussion there is a side of the story rarely if ever covered in American media. I was at university 1963-68 in Vancouver and spent the next few years as a newspaperman [across Canada]. The student left in all its factions was uniformly against the war and Canada’s participation in it (via the IOC overseeing the DMZ), though diverse in what to do about that.
But we all were enmeshed wily-nilly in the project of welcoming, aiding, and supporting American draft dodgers and war objectors. We found places for them to crash, places to meet, counseling, and immigration services—only to be met, in academia at least, over the next few years with an overabundance of overqualified Ivy-League war-objecting graduates cutting to the front of the queue for jobs. Ungrateful wretches.
Maybe this helps explain the overabundance of talented Canucks in US media, music, and comedy: Revenge, you elbow up to our table and we’ll shoulder up to yours. I myself am one such inky toiler; I married an American girl and moved to the States and spent my career in publishing.
Late last night I did an item arguing that Donald Trump represented a classic “chickenhawk” figure from the Vietnam era—someone who didn’t complain about the war, as long as it didn’t inconvenience him personally. With that background behind him, I claimed, it was all the more unseemly for Trump to criticize what anyone else had done in that era, from the long-time prisoner of war John McCain to the one-time Marine Corps reserve member Richard Blumenthal.
Responses have come in on all sides of this debate. I’ll revive this thread, started after my “Chickenhawk Nation” article two years ago, because the arguments are in fact connected to those earlier discussions. (By the way, where did the contemporary term “chickenhawk” come from, to denote people who are all in favor of wars that someone else will fight? The first use I’m aware of was by my friend Michael Kinsley, then in his role as TRB columnist for The New Republic, in the mid-1980s.)
Here are two dispatches from different perspectives. First, from someone who runs a tech company on the East coast, and who thinks I was too dismissive of the “Consistent Non-Warriors,” like Bill Clinton:
You describe those who opposed the Vietnam War, and who refused to participate in it, dismissively: “At least they’re consistent.” Part of the Great Chickenhawk Consensus, which you have so ably documented, holds that we must all atone for the sin of being right, that we ought to pretend that the War in Vietnam was just or that its end was clearly ordained.
[Quoting me:]The brutal fact that it was easier, for opponents of the war, to keep themselves from being involved than to change the whole nation’s policy left this group with its moral ambiguity.
I admire the modesty that underlies your description of those with principled opposition to participating in the War in Vietnam here, but I think it’s questionable both on the historical politics and in its contemporary echoes.
By the mid- to late-sixties, it was clear that Vietnam was a crime, a mistake, and an accidental catastrophe. Was this position morally ambiguous? I thought then, and to a considerable extent still believe, that the morally treacherous position was the one held by those who knew the war was wrong, but chose to aid it anyway. Those were the returning veterans we scorned, and (though most people today pretend otherwise) they deserved scorn: They went off to kill, they knew better, and in choosing to aid the war they made it harder for their compatriots to end it.
The moral position of the “Warriors” is scarcely better. Some, of course, were ignorant. Some were misled. Thoughtful professionals knew, or should have known, that the war was a crime and a criminal waste; those who allowed themselves to be used to extend and prolong the war deserve scant commendation.
After the Civil War, the US allowed itself to believe things it knew to be untrue for the sake of restoring the union. We always knew there was no Noble Cause, but we pretended otherwise. We knew that Lee and his fellows had committed treason, but it seemed a time to be magnanimous. A nation was patched together, though at great cost—a cost we continue to pay in remission of every last drop of blood drawn with the lash.
We’ve tried the same trick with the memory of Vietnam, hoping to find unity by ceding a merely rhetorical victory to the losers. That unity was always elusive, and after Trump it may well be forever broken.
For what it’s worth, my use of “at least they’re consistent” was meant to be wry shorthand, rather than dismissive. After all, this is the group in which I classified myself. As for the moral ambiguities, they centered on reluctance to face who was being drafted and sent off to fight, as the better-educated, better-connected young men were deferred, but at this point that is thoroughly plowed terrain.
Next, from a reader who was playing professional baseball, in the minor leagues, as the war ramped up:
I was playing ball in the ’60s and, through the team, got onto a “special” National Guard unit. I did have to go to Basic Training, but did not have to attend meetings. Until, of course, the whole matter became political and the Guard became sensitive …
My [baseball] career was going nowhere because of injuries, was moving every few months to different parts of the country, and I had zero interest in “participating” in the hopelessly juvenile antics of the guard. A knee surgery accorded me the opportunity to exit that organization gracefully.
However, the politics of the time, I presume, trumped that move. Two years later, I received a draft notice: ?? I pooh-poohed it, which was a mistake. They were serious, and they didn’t consider the knee surgery adequate reason for “failure to participate.” And as you no doubt recall, there was considerable sentiment at the time that it was your “duty.” Mostly offered by people who had no chance, nor desire, methinks, of serving.
Having seen the U.S. Army up close and personal, I had no desire of doing so again. I seriously eyed Canada as sanctuary. Even sought to volunteer if that would keep me out of the jungle …
I went in. Just about the time MLK and RFK were assassinated. It was a volatile time. And as I had predicted, but had been overruled by a bevy of doctors, my knee didn’t hold up well. An officer advised me I should NOT “fight back” in the induction center. I was “in” and there was nothing I could do about it, persevere, get assigned and address the issue there ...
At the end of my Advanced Infantry Training, a non sequitur if ever I heard one, I was “spared” Viet Nam by my brother going there shortly before I completed training. I was accorded the choice or going or no; I chose no. And wound up [elsewhere]. And my ass was spared.
My “story” didn’t end there, but the association with your matrix did. I suppose there IS a qualifying section for those who said no/yes albeit with qualifications. Those would include conscientious objectors, like Muhammed Ali, who took the heat, or others who allowed themselves to be inducted but refused to fight. Or others, like myself, who lucked out …
Two weeks ago I wrote about the things that had gone as expected in the Trump era—namely, the character and conduct of the man himself—plus a roundup of parts of the civic fiber that were responding more healthily than one might have expected, under unusual stress.
Here are few other illustrations of what they call in the aeronautics world “positive dynamic stability”: That is, a system that pushes back against dangerous dislocations after being upset, and tries to return itself to normal.
The Boy Scout Jamboree is a huge event that happens only once every four years. Whoever is president is always invited to speak. After Donald Trump converted this year’s Jamboree into a backdrop for a wholly inappropriate partisan rally (as explained by Yoni Appelbaum), the head of Boy Scouts of America publicly apologized for what had happened and implicitly criticized Trump for what he had done:
I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent.
The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937. It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.
This past week a young Eagle Scout named Benjamin Pontz, now a sophomore at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, wrote an eloquent rebuttal in his hometown news site, Lancaster Online. For instance:
I am disappointed in the president for exploiting a captive audience of young people to engage in flagrant self-promotion and to widen the chasm of division that pollutes our politics. I am disappointed in attendees who applauded the president as he demeaned his predecessor Barack Obama (who, incidentally, was involved in scouting), his former opponent Hillary Clinton, and the media.
And I am disappointed in commenters on social media who posted horrifying side-by-side images and comparisons of the Jamboree and Hitler Youth rallies.
Each group—presented with a unique opportunity to celebrate values that should guide our nation—displayed an appalling lack of self-control.
Pontz went on to offer a quite good alternative speech—which by an overwhelming margin visitors to the site said they wish Trump had given instead.
After Trump told an audience of uniformed police officers on Long Island that he wished they would physically rough up suspects in their custody, some members of the immediate audience cheered and laughed. By the next day police units and organizations across the country were formally rebuking the president for what he said. An early, terse, and direct example was a Twitter statement from Ben Tobias, of the Gainesville, Florida, police:
Even the Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island, where Trump had spoken, quickly criticized what he had said.
After Trump decreed, via Twitter, that henceforth transgender people would not be able to serve in the military, the leaders responsible for actually running the military emphasized that normal rules, procedures, and standards would still apply. For instance, the next-day headline in Politico’s story was, “Pentagon takes no steps to enforce transgender ban.” The officers and civilian leaders who were quoted emphasized their adherence to established order for setting and changing policy, and the respect owed to their “brothers and sisters in uniform” who had chosen to serve.
Through Trump’s first six months in office, there were no signs that Republicans in Congress would consider anything he said or did to be a step too far. Many senators and representatives would express “concern”; almost none would back up the concern with votes.
The defeat of the health-repeal bill this past week is obviously a major step in the other direction, led by Republican Senators Collins, Murkowski, and McCain. On their returns home, Collins and Murkowski have apparently been greeted as heroes. (I haven’t seen these accounts regarding McCain, but he has been returning for medical treatment.) For instance, see this report by Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald in Maine of Collins’s trip back to the state a few hours after the vote:
Friday morning, as she wearily walked off her plane at Bangor International Airport, Collins stepped out into a terminal gate packed with passengers waiting to board their outbound flight.
She recognized no one. But several of them recognized her and began to applaud.
Within seconds, the whole terminal was clapping, many people rising to their feet as their sleep-deprived senator passed.
Never before, throughout her two decades and 6,300 votes in the Senate, had Collins received such a spontaneous welcome home.
A story in the Washington Post quoted several Republican senators as saying that if Trump fired their ex-colleague Jeff Sessions from his role as attorney general, or Robert Mueller as special counsel, the GOP might move beyond “concern” to actually doing something. If it comes to that, we’ll see what actions match this talk, but even the changed talk is something.
Signs like these don’t solve the problem of our national government. But it is worth noting them, and encouraging more, as indicators that some parts of our formal and informal civic-society can still function.
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On a less cheering note, four days ago the New York Times’ new columnist Bret Stephens wrote a piece called “When the White House Lies About You,” about an unfounded and willfully distorted attack that White House officials had launched against him. Stephens is a conservative who was very tough on Trump before the election and has kept it up afterwards. His complaint was well justified, and it was a good column that addressed a real problem—although I could not help but recall an even nastier and more personal attack that Stephens himself, then a columnist for TheWall Street Journal, had made in early 2013. It was one of a series of criticisms he wrote of Chuck Hagel, a Republican who was then about to become Barack Obama's second-term secretary of defense, and this one claimed that Hagel was disqualified because he reeked of anti-Semitism. (Reeked? “The odor is especially ripe.”)
This was a charge that a prominent rabbi in Omaha called “extremely stupid” and that the former publisher of the Omaha World-Herald argued against in a column titled, “Impressive Omaha Jewish Support for Chuck Hagel.” Hagel’s time in the spotlight has come and gone, and in moving from the WSJ’s editorial page to the NYT’s Stephens is in a new role. I have to think that he would imagine the effects of such a column differently these days.
And as the object of baseless administration-driven criticism himself, he might even sympathize with someone he would usually oppose, the former Bill Clinton administration staffer and long-time Hillary Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal. As I’ve noted before, Sid Blumenthal and his wife Jackie have been personal friends of mine and of my wife for decades. His ongoing biography of Abraham Lincoln the politician, whose second volume has recently appeared (to mostly very favorable reviews), is grippingly and gracefully written, and tells me things I hadn’t known practically on every page.
But Blumenthal’s name has become a shorthand for what people don’t like about “the Clintons” or “crooked Hillary,” and this past week a U.S. senator unfortunately stooped to that game. Charles Grassley, a veteran Republican from Iowa, put out a statement that was a classic of “what-about-ism”—the tactic of answering a criticism of your own side with “well what about [some transgression]?” from your opponents. In this case Grassley reacted to questions about the multiple, undisputed foreign entanglements of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s onetime campaign manager, by saying: What about Sidney Blumenthal? Why all the hubbub about Manafort’s failure to register as a foreign agent—when Sidney Blumenthal didn’t register either? (If you think I’m exaggerating you can read Grassley’s statement for yourself.) As chance would have it, Fox News picked up the theme, with a story titled “Clinton confidant Blumenthal back under microscope amid Trump scrutiny.”
There are a lot of differences between the cases, but the simplest and most important one is this: Sidney Blumenthal was not a foreign agent. Love him or hate him, no one has produced any documents indicating that at any point he was ever in the pay of any foreign government, which is a clear contrast to Manafort. (Also: Donald Trump is in office and Hillary Clinton is not; Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager and Blumenthal had no official role; etc.)
I asked Sidney Blumenthal whether there was some aspect to this I wasn’t aware of—something that justified Sen. Grassley’s What about ..? pairing of his role with Manafort’s. For the record, this is his reply:
Senator Grassley’s statement is utterly baseless. I have never represented or taken money from any foreign government or foreign political party. To suggest otherwise is a flat-out lie. Senator Grassley has fabricated a completely false story to create a political distraction from the investigation into the intervention of an adversary foreign power in the U.S. presidential election of 2016. If he is relying on his memory it is faulty. If he is relying on his staff they are incompetent. If he is seeking to imitate Donald Trump he should instead think more of his responsibility in pursuing the truth.
After these recent items about the Senate’s failure to repeal Barack Obama’s health-care law—installments #1 (drawing a parallel with 1960s-era Senator Clair Engle), #2 (when McCain voted yes on Tuesday night), and #3 (when he finally voted no)—several follow-ups:
On the Media
Two days ago I spoke with Bob Garfield of On the Media about the varied roles John McCain has played during his long career, leading up to this past week’s votes. As I said in the earlier pieces and on the air, McCain got to cast the “decisive” vote only because Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins had been firm in their opposition to the bill, along with the 46 Democrats (some from states Trump had carried) and two independents who voted no. Still, McCain is the only former presidential nominee now in the Senate, with a long and colorful career, so his deliberation deserves its extra examination. I thought this segment was interesting, because of the way OTM produced it with lots of historical sound clips from McCain. See what you think.
Abraham Lincoln Brigade
In our interview Bob Garfield brings up some episodes of John McCain’s unconventional comments, including one involving Allahu Akbar. (I’ll let you listen to the tape to see the context.) Robert Ross, a sociology professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote to say that we missed the big story:
I listened with interest today as you discussed McCain’s somewhat unique persona. But his arguably most “interesting” comments are these—celebrating the Communist Delmer Berg who fought in Spain with the Lincoln Brigade. No possible political calculation of gain could have inspired this piece—unless he knew I would remember it. But then, I did not exist in his world, so I think we must chalk it up to sincerity. How strange.
It turns out that what he is referring to is a NYT op-ed last year by McCain, under the headline “Salute to a Communist.” McCain—as a Republican U.S. senator up at the time up for reelection—wrote of Berg and his comrades who had fought against Franco’s forces in the 1930s with the leftist Abraham Lincoln Brigade:
You might consider them romantics, fighting in a doomed cause for something greater than their self-interest. And even though men like Mr. Berg would identify with a cause, Communism, that inflicted far more misery than it ever alleviated—and rendered human dignity subservient to the state—I have always harbored admiration for their courage and sacrifice in Spain.
I have felt that way since I was boy of 12, reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in my father’s study. It is my favorite novel, and its hero, Robert Jordan, the Midwestern teacher who fought and died in Spain, became my favorite literary hero. In the novel, Jordan had begun to see the cause as futile. He was cynical about its leadership, and distrustful of the Soviet cadres who tried to suborn it.
But in the final scene of the book, a wounded Jordan chooses to die to save the poor Spanish souls he fought beside and for. And Jordan’s cause wasn’t a clash of ideologies any longer, but a noble sacrifice for love.
“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for,” Jordan thinks as he waits to die, “and I hate very much to leave it.” But he did leave it. Willingly.
I mentioned in a dispatch yesterday that if more Republicans had realized John McCain would ultimately vote no and thus, with Collins and Murkowski, doom the bill whatever the rest of them did, they might have saved themselves an awkward yes by joining him on that side too.
That was imprecisely put. The real difference McCain might have made to his soon-up-for-election colleagues, for instance Dean Heller of Nevada or Jeff Flake of Arizona, would be if he had voted no on the “Motion to Proceed” on Tuesday. This would have spared anyone the need to vote up or down on the bill that Lindsey Graham called a “disaster”—just before he, and all the rest of his fellow Republicans except Collins, Murkowski, and McCain went ahead and voted for it anyway.
A law professor in the midwest writes in to clarify the point:
I think Flake and Heller knew how McCain would be voting on the skinny repeal at least an hour, probably several hours, before it took place, and had time to consider the politics of their own votes. My guess is that they felt their own political futures were better served by voting the party line. Since the repeal and replace failed by virtue of the three Republican votes against (and the united 48 Dems), they may have felt their aye votes would not count much against them in the 2018 generals. We will see.
Today the president of the United States openly called on police officers to rough up suspects they were bringing into detention, half-an-hour into a speech in which he described as “animals” gangs of immigrants that were supposedly hunting down and sadistically cutting up “beautiful” young Americans.
And the uniformed police officers around him, on Long Island, laughed and cheered.
The rushed, secretive, reckless effort to get a “win,” any win, by undoing the Obama health care plan is at an end—for now.
It is over because the 48 Democratic and independent senators led by Chuck Schumer refused to be peeled off or to support a measure that was opposed by most of the public and by all professional groups involved in health care.
It is over because Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, refused to budge from her position that such a consequential bill needed to be considered in an appropriate, systematic way, and because Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, refused to be bullied into giving her support.
And it is over because John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, in the end cast a vote matching the principles he had expressed in his dramatic speech two days earlier, on his return to the Senate after cancer surgery.
Well done, 48 opponents. Well done, Senators Collins and Murkowski. Well done, Senator McCain, on making the “Clair Engle” choice at the end. (As did Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, who flew in from her own cancer treatment to speak passionately against the bill, and add her No vote.)
* * *
Would it have been “better,” or different, if John McCain had taken this step two days ago, when he could have stopped the final pell-mell drive toward the “vote-a-rama” and the slapped-together, last-minute “skinny” bill? On dramatic grounds, conceivably: His actions would have immediately matched his words. From the perspective of Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, two “moderates” up for re-election next year, almost certainly: If he’d voted No two days ago, they would not have needed to vote on the (indefensible) “skinny” bill at all, and if they’d known last night that his vote would doom the bill and make their own support moot, they could have afforded to oppose it too. (This is in keeping with the D.C. hypothesis that the bill would either pass by one vote—or lose by a lot, if reluctant senators realized that they didn’t need to line up behind an unpopular measure that was not going to make it anyway. In the end, it lost by one.)
But this is fine-tuning. John McCain did the right thing, as did Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, and the 48 other Senators who stood with them. Congratulations, and respect. They will all be remembered for it.
More than two years ago, soon after Donald Trump entered the presidential race, I noted online that no one like him—with no political, military, judicial, or public-service experience, with no known expertise on policy matters, with a trail of financial and personal complications—had ever before become president. Therefore, I said, it wasn’t going to happen this time.
Quite obviously that was wrong. Penitent and determined to learn from my errors, I’ve avoided any predictions involving Trump and his circles ever since.
But a few days ago, I edged back into the danger zone, after my very first look of the just-named White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, on TV. Via the ever-perilous medium of Twitter, I observed that he seemed more at ease on camera than Sean Spicer ever had, and less committed to flat-Earth stonewalling denials than Kellyanne Conway or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Maybe his smooth-schmoozy approach would be what the Trump team needed? Maybe the press should get ready to be handled by a pro?
Ooops. That looks wrong, too. Scaramucci’s half-hour live call-in to Chris Cuomo on CNN’s New Day this morning was unlike anything ever witnessed from other political “communicators,” and not in a good way. Among its charms is one David Graham quickly noted: Scaramucci’s off-hand reference to his relationship with Reince Priebus as being “like brothers” — as in “Cain and Abel.” I’m not quite sure which role—Cain as killer, or Abel as victim—Scaramucci thought looked better for him.
The whole thing, embedded below, is riveting, in a “Darwin Awards” or demolition-derby way. Congrats to Chris Cuomo for keeping his cool. I’d predict that your jaw will drop further, the longer you watch and listen—but that would violate my newly reinforced commitment to avoid any forecast whatsoever about Donald Trump and his team. Still, give it a look.
I’ve had my say about John McCain’s decision to support the rushed consideration of the Republican drive to repeal Obamacare. Installment one was here, and two was here. The theme of both was that McCain missed a historic opportunity to match the scolding-and-uplift of his much-praised words, about the need to avoid simple fights for partisan victories, with the weight of his actual votes, which in the crucial showdown this week supported just such partisan warfare.
Now Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years as a Congressional staffer mainly working for Republicans, and has since then become a noted author of The Party Is Over and The Deep State, writes in about the McCain he came to know from long observation on Capitol Hill. I’ve learned over the decades to take what Mike Lofgren says seriously, and in that spirit I invite close reading of what he has chosen to say:
Let us respectfully acknowledge John McCain’s past sacrifice to the United States and his present health struggles. Still, the media’s fawning over both his return to the Senate and his sanctimonious jeremiad against partisanship is difficult to bear. He rightly excoriated a grotesquely unfair Senate process, but then became the deciding vote allowing that process to move forward. Compounding his duplicity, he claimed he could not support the underlying legislation, but a few hours later voted in its favor—although nine of his Republican colleagues found the courage not to, defeating the measure.
Regardless of his vote on subsequent health care measures, should one of them pass and deprive millions of Americans of health insurance, McCain will have been the key enabling factor. The “Conscience of the Senate” would deny to those Americans the blessing which he takes for granted. But this chasm between his pretenses and his behavior has been a consistent feature of his Senate career.
His rhetorical denunciation of torture during the Bush years was loud and long—yet he never followed up, despite the fact that his moral prestige as a former POW would have carried great legislative weight. A ban on torture came only with Obama’s executive order. Likewise, a persistent feature of his career has been to bitterly scold pork-barrel spending in defense bills.
Yet, invariably, he fails to offer amendments to remove those offending provisions; nor does he vote against the underlying bill. As a staffer, I recall that almost all Senate Republicans, hardly a sensitive and swooning lot, really couldn’t stand his moral preening. But his tactics were a mechanism by which McCain got cheap credit from a lazy press looking for the One Righteous Republican they could lionize.
None of us vain creatures can bear scrutiny of the gap between our words and our deeds—but few, I fear, would suffer from that scrutiny more than John McCain.
His present obeisance to the reptilian Mitch McConnell, his strange non-reaction to Trump’s sliming of his wartime service, and his curious passivity towards the Bush campaign’s scurrilous attack on his family (later supporting Bush’s reelection as he stood by while Karl Rove defamed fellow Vietnam vet John Kerry), are all inexplicable incidents if one believes the standard narrative about McCain. The man who inflicted Sarah Palin on our suffering country and started us on the inevitable slide to the nightmare of Donald Trump is a far more complex, interesting, and fraught human being than the heroic caricatures depicted in the establishment media.
Offered as part of the ongoing record of our times. Let’s hope (as opposed to expect) that McCain will surprise us in the final stages of the Obamacare-repeal debate, and use the independence of this stage of his career to vote the way he himself has long recommended.
In response to three recent pieces—one discussing the public and private parts of the U.S. system of self-governance that are still working, another arguing that Donald Trump’s monologue to the New York Times represented a new frontier in self-revelation, a third saying that a handful of Republican Senators have the nation’s fate at their disposal—several reactions from readers.
What about the Democrats? A reader with long professional experience in government writes:
I just read your post calling for three Republicans to demonstrate civic courage. As you put it, “A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people.”
But it doesn’t—it relies on those three plus 48 Democrats. It is striking how often it’s just assumed that Democrats in this kind of situation will do the right thing.
But why should they? If the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection next year in states that Trump carried were consulting their political self-interest in the way that seemingly all Republicans are doing, some at least might not be resisting Donald Trump as they are. Yet they remain steadfast—just as Democratic members remained steadfast in 2009-2010 in voting for the ACA and cap-and-trade, even when their political futures were in jeopardy.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile sometime to do a post about how Democrats seem so much more able these days to maintain our standards of governance and to display civic virtue under pressure. That might be an edifying meditation.
What about the Attorney(s) General? In response to my noting that the Mueller investigation was (at the time) had not been derailed, a reader notes:
It is extraordinary that an article on this subject did not even mention the extremely important role played by the attorneys general of the several states in restraining Captain Combover. The role of the states in our political system has never been as significant as it is now.
Fair point. Last month at the Aspen Ideas Festival I did a very interesting (to me) Q-and-A with Xavier Becerra, long-time U.S. Representative from Los Angeles who has recently become California’s attorney general, on exactly this point. When a transcript or recording is available, I’ll post a link.
What about the Germans? I noted yesterday the historical, ummm... haziness with which Donald Trump discussed 19th- and 20th-century events in Europe, after his visit to Emmanuel Macron in Paris last week. (For instance: Trump apparently thought that Napoleon Bonaparte, conqueror of Europe who died in 1821, was the same Napoleon who oversaw the grand-boulevards redesign of Paris 50 years later. Like Frederick Douglass, you really couldn’t keep that Napoleon down.)
A reader who is originally from Europe and now works for a famous U.S. high-tech company, says Trump’s description was a little worse than I let on:
I just read your article about Trump’s NYT interview and was surprised (yes, really) about what he said about Napoleon and Hitler. Since I'm interested in WWII in general and the Soviet-German conflict in particular, I tried to parse this part, to no avail:
Trump: Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.
I guess this reflects a view many people hold—that the Germans went into war and froze to death because of lack of winter clothing—but it’s way too simplistic and doesn’t describe what really went on.
The Moscow campaign started in October when the going was still good for the Germans. They had been slowed down by the Russians but still had a chance. However, due to strong reinforcements from Siberia and very harsh punishments for deserters, the Soviets managed to stay in Moscow and even carry out a counter-attack. The latter was stalled after a while and the Germans held the ground over the winter through better tactics.
There were German deaths from cold in Stalingrad, but the city had been surrounded and there would have been deaths anyway. In fact, most of the “consolidations” (I would assume this means holding ground and strengthening defenses) of the German army actually improved their situation in the short run and hence prolonged the war.
The bottom line is, his description of what went on in WWII isn’t really any better than his account of Napoleon. Like I said to a friend, I used to be more focused on Chinese politics than American, but with Trump that has changed—it’s hard to focus completely on other parts of the world when this administration is in charge. That’s too bad.
By midnight on July 20, 2017, it seemed increasingly likely that Donald Trump will fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Mueller embodies what is admirable in U.S. public service: a wounded and decorated Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, longtime prosecutor and U.S. Attorney under both Republican and Democratic presidents, 12-year director of the FBI under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, unconnected to scandal or partisan suspicions at any point.
Donald Trump embodies the reverse.
Yet for now Trump has the legal power, directly or indirectly, to dismiss Mueller, if the investigation gets too close to Trump’s obviously sensitive financial concerns. And Trump himself, unaware of history and oblivious to rules, norms, and constraints, has given every indication that this will be his next step.
What happens then? Brian Beutler, of the New Republic, has just put up a bleak scenario, arguing that there really are no guardrails—or, as we observed in Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented stonewalling of a Supreme Court nomination, that the constitutional system’s real protections have been norms rather than formal rules. Someone unconcerned by those norms—McConnell last year, Trump now—can in fact blast right through them. “At the moment there are no reliable sources of accountability,” Beutler writes. “None.”
* * *
There are 52 Americans who have it within their power to prove that dark assessment wrong. Really, it would take a subset of just three of those 52. With the 52-48 current party lineup in the U.S. Senate, a switch of three votes of conscience is all it would take to have this branch of government fulfill its checks-and-balances function.
With three votes, a Senate majority could issue subpoenas and compel sworn testimony from Administration officials. It could empower its own thorough investigation, even re-hiring Robert Mueller to lead it. It could compel Donald Trump to release the tax returns about which he is so evidently nervous. It could act as if America in fact possessed a system of rule-of-law, rather than whim-of-one-man.
Ben Sasse could be one of those three, if he were willing to back up his lectures and essays about ethical public life. Lindsey Graham could, since he and John McCain have kept making the case about Trump’s recklessness. Chuck Grassley, who would be 89 years old the next time he’d have to face the voters. Dean Heller, who is in trouble anyway in a state Hillary Clinton carried, and whom Trump demeans and insults. Rob Portman, who has served in “normal” Republican administrations and could ally himself with his state’s governor, John Kasich, as forces for a principled future GOP. Jeff Flake, who in speeches has positioned himself with appeals to a more moderate politics, and who could take up the Maverick mantle of his colleague John McCain. Of course, McCain himself. Lisa Murkowski, who originally won without Republican Party support. Susan Collins, who drew a line at the rushed health-care bill. Richard Burr, who has made more-or-less common cause with his Democratic colleague Mark Warner on the Senate intelligence committee. Ron Johnson, who has just won re-election and appears to be mad at Trump. Rand Paul, also just elected, if he believed his radical limited-government pitch. Ted Cruz, if he had the courage of his anti-Trump stand at last year’s GOP convention. Even—let’s imagine here—the likes of Tom Cotton, if he were willing to roll the dice and elevate himself as a national figure, for the post-Trump leadership contest against the likes of Sasse, Cruz, and the rest. There are half a dozen other conceivable candidates. I’d like even to imagine John Barrasso, a broadly educated and broad-minded man who has for now thrown his lot in with Mitch McConnell.
It would take only three. Some—Grassley? Heller? McCain if he is able to vote?—might think: What do they have to lose? They might as well wind up with dignity. Others—Paul, Burr, Johnson, Murkowski—are so far away from re-election that a lot will happen in the meantime. And all of them are senators, part of a body self-consciously proud of its independence, its individual judgment, its role in defending the long-term principles of governance.
A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people. But the United States may soon be in that situation. These names will go down in history, depending on the choices they make.
The picture below is how it looked six months ago, when we were headed westward from Gaithersburg airport, outside Washington, to Redlands, California, where we’ve spent the intervening months. (This note follows up on two previous cross-country flying reports, here and here.)
It was below freezing back then; the wind was howling; we had an electric heater (the yellow cord) plugged into the plane overnight to keep its engine block warm enough to have a chance of actually starting. The second before this picture was taken I was saying, “I cannot believe it is this cold!” And the stuff around our feet is more or less what we’ve lived off in the past few book-writing months.
This afternoon, we arrived back in Gaithersburg, on what will probably (sigh!) be our final cross-country trip in this airplane. As we did with its predecessor when we moved to China 11 years ago, we must (sadly) sell this plane before heading to England late this summer. It has served us well. And we’ll hope to rent planes while overseas, and to buy back into the used-plane market on our return.
In closing the loop from the previous reports, here was FlightAware’s version of the route from Red Oak, Iowa, to the DC area today, with a stop for gas in Muncie, Indiana.
Long-term advice for your Fourth of July enjoyment: Nearly twenty years ago, when we were living in Berkeley, California, we happened to be flying in our earlier-model Cirrus airplane from southern California, where my parents lived, back to our home in Berkeley (really, the nearest airport, in Concord) on the evening of July 4. Going up through the Central Valley, in twilight, we saw from above the fireworks celebrations in Bakersfield, in Fresno, in Hanford, in Merced, in Modesto, in Stockton. Highly recommended if you ever have or make the chance.
I mentioned last night that we’d devised a plan to pick our way through passes and valleys in the Rockies, to get from the western slope — at Rifle airport in Colorado, a little more than an hour’s drive west of Aspen — to the other side of the continental divide. Here, from yesterday’s installment, was the plan:
Today things went more or less as forecast. We climbed out of Rifle and headed in the “wrong” direction, down the Colorado River valley toward the west, until we’d gained enough altitude to turn back eastward through the passes. (For the aviation crowd: we did the first part of this trip at 11,500 feet, and then 12,500 feet for the highest 45 minutes or so — and, yes, as is both required by rules and advisable for safety, I had a supplemental-oxygen can that I took hits from.)
Here is how the “actual” route looked today, via Flight Aware — “actual” in quotes, because of the odd mis-readings the Flight Aware recaps occasionally give. The green line is our path, according to air-traffic control radar as rendered by Flight Aware. This version picks up our radar track about 20 minutes into the flight, somewhere around the Kremling waypoint (the RLG VOR, for the aviation crowd). The path we took resembled what we’d planned:
Also as foreseen, we made an early refueling stop in Kimball, Nebraska, which is just past Cheyenne and the Wyoming-Nebraska border and is marked as IBM on the map. I hadn’t wanted the plane to be any heavier than necessary for the high-altitude Rockies portion of the journey, so once we got beyond the mountains, and into Nebraska, we took on more fuel. (There are people who enjoy mountain flying. I am not one of them.) Then onward across Nebraska, at a comfortable distance south of a static line of thunderstorms, to an overnight stay in the familiar town of Red Oak, Iowa, which is not far across the Missouri River from Omaha and is shown as RDK on the map.
We decided to stop and stay in Red Oak, rather than pushing on across Iowa or into Illinois, because it is in a way responsible for all of the travels and reports Deb and I have done over the past few years. Back in the summer of 2012, when we were headed westward from Washington to that year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, by chance we happened to stop for the night in Red Oak. We were amazed by the intensity of civic activity at the airport itself, as we’ll describe in our forthcoming book — and then spent an evening talking with a family from Jalisco, in Mexico, who had opened a very popular restaurant called Casa de Oro on the main drag in Red Oak. We spent the next few days saying to each other: if so much is going on, by such a variety of people, in a little place we had not paid attention to, what must be happening elsewhere?
This afternoon we came back to Red Oak, in the dead-calm wind conditions that make an approach to landing feel like swimming through the sky. In the evening we returned to Case de Oro, which appeared to be thriving. Tomorrow, on to the east coast.
The book is now (nearly) done; we’ve been occupied wall-to-wall over the past week-plus at the 2017 installment of the Aspen Ideas Festival; and tomorrow we begin the small-plane journey back to the East Coast, where we’ll rejoin the Atlantic staff, actually finish off the book, and get ready for our upcoming relocation to England.
This is a placeholder note with an aviation angle, on the way you deal with the Rocky Mountains if you’re flying a small, piston-powered, single-engine airplane.
Usually we have had to approach Aspen from the east, coming from Washington. Twice I’ve flown our propeller plane into the Aspen airport, and — having survived — I choose never to do that again. Instead we’ve landed at some flatland airport in the Denver area, either Centennial to the south of Denver or Boulder to the north, and then rented a car for the three-to-four hour drive into Aspen.
This year we were coming from the west, from our early-2017 base at the San Bernardino airport in California, with its elegant facility called Luxivair. A week ago we flew from there to the airport in Rifle, Colorado, on the relative flatlands of the Colorado River valley on the western slope of the Rockies, and rented a car for the hour-plus drive into Aspen.
Tomorrow, we start the route back east, in placid weather and with a comparatively benign course plotted to get past the Rockies and out onto the long descent eastward — across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and then over the Appalachians to the eastern seaboard. Here are the waypoint for the lowland route out of Rifle, through a series of valleys and passes, until we escape from the really challenging terrain around Laramie, Wyoming:
Then we’ll spend tomorrow night somewhere in Iowa or Illinois — maybe Red Oak, maybe Ottumwa, maybe Peoria, all dots on the map below, and all depending on how we feel, and the weather — and then onward to the DC area in time for festivities on the Fourth of July.
I’ve sort of missed, sort of not, having an online outlet. But ready to re-enter the fray. More to come — and if you’re in Nebraska or Iowa tomorrow, look up and wave.
The ousted White House chief strategist is back at Breitbart News, and he’s planning to make mischief.
Updated on August 18 at 6:25 p.m. ET
In firing Steve Bannon, President Trump has lost his chief ideologue, the man who channeled his base and advocated for the populist-nationalist policies that helped propel Trump to victory.
But he has gained an unpredictable and potentially troublesome outside ally who has long experience running a media organization, and an even longer list of enemies with whom he has scores to settle both outside the administration and inside. “Steve is now unchained,” said a source close to Bannon. “Fully unchained.”
“He’s going nuclear,” said another friend. “You have no idea. This is gonna be really fucking bad.”
Bannon had in recent days mused about leaving, according to people who have spoken with him; he has expressed to friends that he feels the administration is failing and is a sinking ship. And last week, he told people in a meeting that he would have 10 times more influence outside the White House than inside it.
The aftermath of Charlottesville has brought up important questions about who should be speaking, and who should be listening.
In a 2012 article published in the Public Opinion Quarterly, a group of researchers shared the results of a study they had done in the aftermath of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The researchers, based on panels with young voters, found that the impression of Sarah Palin that Tina Fey had made famous on Saturday Night Live—“I can see Russia from my house!”—had changed the public’s feeling about the actual vice-presidential candidate. Fey’s jokes, the researchers suggested, had proven comedy’s power, especially in times of question and perhaps also in times of crisis, to shape people’s sense of the world. The jokes had woven themselves into the workings of American democracy. The researchers called it the Fey Effect.
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
As the president cuts ties with establishment staffers, and forces out his populist firebrand, what’s left of Trumpism other than white identity politics?
Steve Bannon, the enigmatic but influential strategist who joined Donald Trump’s campaign at a low ebb, helped coax a win in the 2016 election from it, and then won acclaim and hatred as Trump’s eminence grise, is leaving the White House.
It is the latest in a string of senior departures from a White House that—like the Republican Party itself—was split between establishment Republicans and populist outsiders. But Bannon’s exit, following on the heels of those other departures, leaves Trump largely untethered from the Republican Party—and the president’s ideology, never especially defined on most issues, even more up for grabs.
In a statement Friday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.” The New York Times had reported that Trump had told aides he was going to remove Bannon. Rumors of Bannon’s demise have bubbled up repeatedly over Trump’s seven months in office, but each time they proved to be wrong—or at least premature.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Empty pedestals can offer the same lessons about racism and war that the statues do.
Six years before it would become the inspiration for bloody protests, the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, was vandalized. The 2011 incident capped off my 11-year residency in the small city—where I’d taught high-school history and where my understanding of the legacy of the Civil War was nurtured. There was no better place to teach the Civil War than Charlottesville. Some of the most important battlefields in Richmond, Fredericksburg, and the Shenandoah Valley are within an hour’s drive. But it was the region’s monuments that played a central role in my teaching, and I believed they should be left alone.
I argued my position in an essay for The Atlantic: “For better or for worse, monuments to Confederate heroes are part of our story, but each of us can choose how to engage with these places. We can express outrage over their existence. We can alter them with statements of our own. Or we can let them be, appreciate their aesthetic qualities, and reflect carefully on their history.” I fell short on understanding what they still meant to some in the community. I didn’t realize that so many of my neighbors didn’t need further reflection at all.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Trump has again recirculated a debunked history about terrorism. But what the general was really doing in the Philippines can tell us something more important about America.
Another day, another sputtering orgy of confusion following a cryptic Donald Trump tweet. This one came Thursday, a few hours after a van plowed into a crowd on the Barcelona pedestrian mall of Las Ramblas, an attack claimed by the reeling Islamic State. The president replied, via iPhone:
Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!
It seemed to be a reference to a story Trump told at campaign rallies during the 2016 primaries, which in turn was a garbled version of an Islamophobic meme that has made its way around the internet for years. In the fable, the legendary U.S. General John J. Pershing once ended a wave of Muslim terrorism in the Philippines by executing prisoners with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. Other superstitious fighters were so terrified by the prospect of being killed while touching part of a forbidden animal, the story goes, that fighting immediately stopped, for some period of time. (For 25 years, Trump said at a North Charleston, South Carolina, rally in February 2016; a few weeks later, in Costa Mesa, California, it had jumped up to 42.)
It can be beneficial to make marriage the cornerstone, rather than the capstone, of your adult life.
A compelling case can be made for the advantages, particularly for college-educated women, of delaying marriage until after the mid-twenties, as Eleanor Barkhorn recently wrote here. As a math-phobic English professor, I'm not one to wrestle with statistics, but I believe a robust case can be made, alternatively, for young marriage.
There are costs to delaying marriage, a phenomenon that has reached a new threshold, with the average age of marriage for men reaching the historic high of 29 and women 27. New research from Knot Yet, a project that explores the benefits and costs of delayed marriage in America, points to some of the risks of waiting so long to marry. While delayed marriage does have economic benefits for college educated women and is credited with bringing down the overall divorce rate, the news isn't all good: