James Fallows
James Fallows
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. More +
  • Labor Day Software Update: Tinderbox, Scrivener

    An example of a very dense, complex map with Tinderbox AlexStrick.Com

    Over the eons, starting with a word processing program called The Electric Pencil back in the late 1970s, I’ve mentioned software I’ve found interesting in a more-than-utilitarian way. You’ll see several previous installments collected in the thread on this page. Today, quick updates on two programs I use all the time and mention frequently, and that continue to evolve:

    Tinderbox, an all-purpose organizing, note-taking, info-visualizing program that I’ve relied on in all sorts of ways over the past seven or eight years.

    To say that a program is “all-purpose” is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the open-endedness of applications. It’s precisely because I don’t know the exact way in which you’d use a pencil—or a bicycle, or a working knowledge of algebra or of HTML—that those tools are useful. It’s a curse in the challenge of explaining the specific thing you might use the tool for.

  • America by Air: Alongside a Rainstorm

    Looking toward Lancaster airport, in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, as it is drenched in a downpour. Deborah Fallows

    Genuine thunderstorms, of the type that form a long line when a cold front is moving across the country into warmer, wetter air, or that pop up as isolated cloudbursts on summer afternoons, are weather perils that even big, powerful airliners must avoid. When you’re flying in thunderstormy conditions, you hear airline pilots asking controllers for re-routes around the storms. “New York Center, United 1234, we’ll need to go 30 degrees left to avoid these buildups.”

    The updrafts and downdrafts of wind around a thunderstorm “cell” can be so powerful that small aircraft are supposed to fly at least 20 miles away from the storm’s edge to avoid being tossed up and down. But “non-convective” rain showers, those not from thunderstorms, are more benign. On a trip this past Wednesday from Eastport, Maine, all the way back to the Washington area in a little Cirrus, my wife Deb and I flew in rain for most of the journey. But the rain was falling from a flattish, non-stormy cloud layer far above us, and it spattered on the wings and windshield as we flew in clear skies at 4,500 feet. (For the aviation crowd: this whole trip was VFR and free of turbulence and clouds at 6,500, then 4,500, then 3,500 feet, KEPM to KGAI, with a fuel stop at KPSF.)

    And sometimes we passed localized rain showers, always keeping a respectful distance. Here is how the area just over the Lancaster airport, in the heart of the Amish country of Pennsylvania, looked at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday, from 10 miles to the east, outside the rain.  What looks like a cloud reaching all the way to the ground, off the plane’s wingtip, would have seemed to people in Lancaster to be a drenching downpour. The gray you see reaching from cloud to ground is rain.  

    From the ground, it’s hard to see or imagine weather other than what is affecting us at the moment. From a distance in the air you can see, godlike, the movement of different weather across the land.

  • Trump Time Capsule #91: Debate Camp

    John Kennedy, who had served as a Congressman and Senator, felt he had to practice for his presidential debate in 1960. Richard Nixon, who had spent eight years as Vice President, practiced too. Donald Trump says that practicing is for losers. (AP)

    A new story in the NYT says this about Donald Trump’s debate preparations:

    He has been especially resistant to his advisers’ suggestions that he take part in mock debates with a Clinton stand-in….

    Instead, Mr. Trump asked a battery of questions about debate topics, Mrs. Clinton’s skills and possible moderators, but people close to him said relatively little had been accomplished….

    Mr. Trump, in the interview, said he saw little use in standing at lecterns and pretending to debate his opponent.

    “I know who I am, and it got me here,” Mr. Trump said, boasting of success in his 11 primary debate appearances and in capturing the Republican nomination over veteran politicians and polished debaters…  “I mean, it’s possible we’ll do a mock debate, but I don’t see a real need.”

    This is either extremely clever or bottomlessly stupid. It’s clever if it lulls the Clinton camp into thinking (as it won’t) that they too should just coast into the debate. It will be all the more brilliant if it masks actual preparation on Trump’s side.

    It is bottomlessly stupid in all other circumstances.

    I have a big piece coming out in the magazine in a few weeks elaborating on who has what to gain and lose in the debates, and why. So I’ll save the full explication for then.

    For now I’ll just say: No previous non-incumbent candidate has ever applied the “I know who I am: why prepare?” approach to the general-election debates, and there’s a reason. The reason is, these head-to-head showdowns are very different from the multi-player primary-debate scrums, and doing well at them is an acquired skill. Incumbent presidents have been tempted to apply this approach to their first debate with a challenger (for reasons explained here). This is what Barack Obama did before his first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012, and it is much of the reason he badly lost that debate to Romney, as incumbents who believe themselves to be above practice repeatedly have done.

    So three-plus weeks from now either Trump will show us that once again all previous rules of politics are nullified via his existence; or, as with so many other missteps he has made in the past month, he’ll show once again that he is out of his depth in a general-election campaign.

    Details to come in the magazine soon, and over the airwaves starting September 26.

    ***

    The NYT has unveiled a nice time-capsule-like feature, which matches a timeline of Trump’s outlandish statements with a list of the Republicans who have announced that they can no longer support him. It’s elegantly done.

    Meantime, as the clock nears 69 days to go until the election, Trump rumbles on: with stolid support from the party’s “leadership,” and no tax return or plausible medical report on hand.

  • Notes From the Rest of the Country: 'Now That I've Got a Look at This Place, It's Not So Bad!'

    Eastport, Maine, "the little town that might," where we're back for a return look at a city trying to remake itself. James Fallows

    My wife Deb and I are on the road again this week, but as a reminder of the ongoing theme:

    • People across the country are aware of the serious economic, political, cultural, social, public-health, infrastructure, environmental, and other problems of contemporary America during this Second Gilded Age;  but
    • in most parts of the country, the possibility of dealing with those problems seems closer at hand, and more encouraging, than it does in national politics.

    Updates for today:

    1. Syrian Refugees in Erie. Two weeks ago, Donald Trump gave a big, angry speech in Erie, Pennsylvania, about the economic decline of the area and the threat posed in particular by Syrian refugees. Just after that, Deb spent time with a Syrian refugee family in Erie. You can read her report here.

    The more we have traveled in parts of America that are actively undergoing ethnic and cultural change—whether western Kansas with its Latino immigrants, or South Dakota with its refugee arrivals, or Allentown, Pennsylvania, as it shifts from Pennsylvania Dutch to Latino, or Holland, Michigan, as it shifts from Dutch-Dutch to a more varied population—the more frequently we have witnessed the ongoing power of the American assimilative process.

    Around the world and over the eons, ethnic change and newcomer-adjustment has never been automatic or problem-free. But the process moves on more irresistibly in the United States than in most other societies. And based on what we have seen, in most parts of the country it’s occurring with less tumult and trauma than at many other points in our past. (For instance: 1840s; 1880s-1910s; mid-1960s; early 1980s.)

    Deb’s report on the Zkrit family—formerly of Aleppo, now of Erie—conveys part of what we have seen. But so does this response, which came in from a reader in the Midwest:

    Is it possible to send the Zkrit family packages, welcoming them? Maybe a PO box?

    My wife and I have two girls, 8 and 5, and are heartbroken at what is happening to the Syrian people. We’re blessed to know we’ll never know this type of suffering: for ourselves and for our kids.

    Deb put the reader in touch with the refugee-resettlement group in Erie. Obviously this is just one note from just one (generous) family. My point for now is how heavily the anecdotal evidence weighs for us on this same side. Over the years we’ve seen and heard more of this kind of response than the “build a wall” “send ’em back” “we don’t want them here!” tone so familiar from political news.

    ***

    2. Where government works, in Oklahoma. When it comes to national voting patterns, Oklahoma is arguably the very most conservative state. The current FiveThirtyEight polls-only reading gives Donald Trump a 99.4 percent chance of victory there. A reader in an Oklahoma city sends this note:

    My wife and I were enjoying a libation on the front porch this Sunday evening in the heartland, when we hear someone cry out “Call 911!” We see smoke a few houses down. Within two minutes, the first fire engine. Within 10 minutes, two more, plus police and EMT. [JF: The reader sends a photo of the immediate response, which I’m not using because it would identify the neighborhood.]

    After it is clear everything is under control, the fire is out, and the house was empty, we turn to leave. I mention to my neighbors, “Ya know, folks complain about gummint, but look what we just saw happen.” A neighbor replied, “Yep. Gummint works here in *[city name]*...”

    And of course by extension it doesn’t work anywhere else.

    ***

    3) Worst place in America. A year ago, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post wrote that by some objective measures the “worst place” to live in America was the tiny city of Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. Of course he’s aware, as everyone is, that other cities could seem “worst” by other measures. San Bernardino, where Deb and I have spent a lot of time, is arguably worse-off than any other place in California. Mississippi usually has more than its share of “worst” lists. Erie is seriously threatening to close its public high schools.

    But Red Lake Falls could make its case. Earlier this year, as a journalistic and data-analysis experiment, Ingraham, his wife, and their small children actually moved there. This past week he wrote about what he has found.

    By now you can probably guess what’s coming: Ingraham reports that things are actually going better in this “worst” place than you would ever guess from afar. Sample from his story “What life is really like in ‘America’s worst place to live’”:

    The data do not tell you about the relentless industriousness of the people here. Everybody seems to have three or four jobs. One of our neighbors runs a beef cattle operation during the day, drives a bulk mail truck between Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., at night, and picks up odd trucking jobs here and there on the side. He and his wife built a lovely stone patio behind their house earlier this summer, which I’ve seen them use twice.

    The spirit of industry is shared by the younger generations, too. Shortly after we arrived, our friends who run a tubing business in town offered to see whether any of their high school-age summer staff would be interested in babysitting for us on the side. “A lot of the kids are looking for a second job,” they explained. Throughout the summer, kids have stopped by periodically to ask whether there’s any yardwork that needs doing, to make a few bucks for the county fair.

    Even though everyone seems to be holding down multiple jobs, opportunities for additional work abound. Around here, you see “help wanted” signs everywhere—at gas stations and restaurants, even hanging on the window at the Red Lake Falls Gazette, the local newspaper serving the town, which publishes once a week.

    Statisticians also have not figured out a great way to capture neighborliness, either. Since we moved here three months ago, folks have gone out of their way to help us feel at home.

    Of course I realize (as Ingraham must) that the “everyone has three or four jobs” detail could also be a data point for the wage-slavery of modern America. And of course the pressure on middle-income jobs is the fundamental problem of just about every economy in the world, from America’s to China’s to Egypt’s.

    But the part of the country where Ingraham now lives, like many others we have visited, was never based on the high-wage factory jobs whose loss has been so traumatic for former paper-mill workers in northern Maine or former steelworkers in Allentown. I know what Ingraham means in talking about “industriousness,” rather than immiseration, as a way some smaller communities have worked for a long time (it is familiar from my small-town upbringing) and that is not automatically associated with economic resentment or fatalism. The piece is very much worth reading.

    ***

    4) The dynamics of news. In the same vein, a reader who I believe lives outside the U.S. writes about the split between widespread pessimism on America’s overall prospects, and much brighter feelings about the parts of America people know first-hand. During the Republican convention, Politico had the headline: “GOP Delegates Say the Economy is Terrible—Except Where They Live.” The reader writes:

    If this is a generalized phenomenon, it would seem to be a result of the news and opinion media those folks were ingesting. That is, their view of themselves was sincere and positive but their view of the country as a whole was skewed by the information they were taking in.

    The combined reality of each of their data points, however, would actually be that the general malaise we hear about is not supported, at least not by their anecdotal evidence.

  • Accountability for Trump

    A thought for the morning from one of the two people who might become president. This is one of the Tweets that appears to come from Trump himself. How do we know? It’s from his Android phone, rather than the staff’s iPhone or iPad (and they haven’t bothered to all buy Androids yet). Also, Trump always misspells judgment this way. Also, who else would write or say something like this? Something this crass—and also, something this foolish. After all, of the many ways in which Donald Trump might want to invite comparison with Hillary Clinton, brainpower and “judgement” are not his areas of most obvious advantage.

    Seventy days (plus a few hours) until the election, with something like the “real” campaign beginning, these thoughts arrive from readers on how the nation, the party, the press, and others reckon with the reality of a candidate Trump.

    1. Asking about torture. A reader suggests a line of questioning:

    Why don’t journalists ask Trump surrogates to address Trump’s repeated view that he would advocate torture and killing of families of known terrorists? This seems as abhorrent as any of his positions. Maybe I have missed it but I have never, for example, heard a reporter ask Pence whether he supports this extreme position at odds with basic tenets of civilized behavior, Geneva Convention, rule of law,  the reason why we fought WWII, etc.

    ***

    2. Why the Berlusconi comparison is so useful. An American reader who has been in Europe writes:

    I was in Spain this past week, where the collective question about the U.S. political campaign can only be translated as “WTF?” While I am not familiar with members of the entire political spectrum in Spain, my acquaintances are generally shocked at the recklessness and the intellectual vapidity of one of our leading political candidates.

    Spaniards tend to respect the U.S. Even those who view the U.S. as a malign force think of it as an incredibly capable country filled with smart (if misguided) people. Mr. Trump’s success is not something they can easily reconcile.

    I write that as a preamble to my response to the Black Trump Supporter who chastised you for your coverage of Trump. [JF note: It was from a man named Jamie Douglas, here.] In criticizing your coverage, he points out problems afflicting America and African Americans, in particular. He makes some valid points about the relative (a term to be stressed) success of Black Caribbean and Nigerian immigrants compared to African Americans with long family histories in this country. Smarter people than I will engage on this point. I will only point out that his observations are not reasons to support Donald Trump.  They are, at best, reasons to punish Democrats and to “stick it” to those Blacks with whom you’ve disagreed over the years. [JF: I assume this is the impersonal “you,” like on in French or “with whom one has disagreed...” in English. Rather than meant for me!]

    ***

  • Trump Time Capsule #90: The Death of Nykea Aldridge

    From Donald Trump on Twitter

    When news broke about the horrific mass shooting in Orlando ten weeks ago, Donald Trump’s first reaction, as noted in Time Capsule #19, was to send out a Tweet saying “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

    When news broke today about the horrific fatal shooting of yet another person in Chicago, 32-year old Nykea Aldridge, mother of four and cousin of basketball star Dwyane Wade, Donald Trump’s first reaction was via the Tweet shown above.

    This time he didn’t say “appreciate the congrats” on being right in his argument that life for African-Americans is so terrible that “what the hell do you have to lose?” by voting Trump. But his reaction was just as it had been with Orlando: bad news for someone else was significant mainly in being good news for him.

    ***

    As outraged reaction built to Trump’s callous response, he put out another Tweet about 80 minutes later. It read:

    Trump on Twitter

    Here is the notable aspect of that follow-up message, apart from its expressing the thoughts most public figures would have begun with. The meta-info at the bottom of the message says “Twitter for iPad,” thus:

    Virtually all of Trump’s countless previous messages have either been labelled “Twitter for Android,” for the more free-swinging ones he appears to write himself; or “Twitter for iPhone,” for the more policy-oriented ones that appear to come from his staff. I don’t recall seeing a “Twitter for iPad” label ever before. Some could have been there, but if so they’re rare. (The first message came via Twitter for iPhone, although its tone is more like that of Trump on Android.** See tech update below.)

    Either Donald Trump has, in the course of this morning, suddenly turned to a new technology platform to express a more appropriate-sounding correction to his initial narcissistic reflex, or someone else has stepped in via iPad, to try to save him from himself. My money is on the latter.

    Either way the point is, with 72 days until the election and the party leadership still standing firm behind its nominee, this is public behavior of a sort we have not previously seen from presidents or nominees.

    ***

    ** Tech update Thanks to several readers who pointed out that what I am calling the “first” message, the one shown at the top of this post and composed via iPhone, was actually not first. Trump’s original Tweet, now deleted, had the same contents but misspelled Wade’s first name as “Dwayne.” It’s impossible to know now, but I would bet that in fact it came via Trump’s own Android—with its misspelling, and with its instant “VOTE TRUMP!” reaction to tragic news. It’s the re-post, with the correct spelling of Dwyane, that was via the staff iPhone.

    Thus the sequence would be:

    • Message #1, now lost to the ages, presumably via Trump on Android [update and via the Politiwoops archive of deleted tweets, confirmation that this first one really was from Android];
    • Message #2, with correct name spelling, via staff iPhone;
    • Message #3, “thoughts and prayers,” via someone on iPad who realizes that the previous ones could look bad on their own.

    Of course I would never presume to offer advice to campaigners. But why not just buy a couple more Androids for the comms team, so that all the Tweets “from” Trump wouldn’t start out with such obviously different markers?

  • Trump Time Capsule #89: The Medical Report

    What Trump announced on Twitter, before he went to his doctor’s office and, with limo running outside, told the doctor what he would like the letter to say.

    Every few entries in this series, I have mentioned that Donald Trump has departed from past norms by refusing to release either his tax returns, as all nominees since Richard Nixon have done, or a plausible medical report, an expectation that goes back even further than Nixon.

    The tax return matters for Trump because it matters for everyone, let alone someone with his complex financial history. The medical report matters because, if elected, Trump would be the oldest person ever to assume the presidency; because his supporters have been recklessly suggesting that Hillary Clinton is ailing or impaired; and because Trump’s own bearing and behavior raise legitimate questions about whether he is perfectly well.  And the health report matters because the only information Trump has put out so far on the subject has been an utter farce.

    The “medical” report Trump offered late last year was a one-page letter, devoid of details, and written with Trump’s favored “win so much you’ll get tired of winning!” approach to nuance. Its memorable conclusion was: “Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  

    Over the months I’ve speculated about who its real author might be. The North Korean News Agency? The Onion? The ghost of Mobutu Sese Seko? Trump himself? You get the idea. The asserted real author is a New York doctor named Harold Bornstein. Last week a doctor named Jen Gunter wrote about the many signs that made his letter simply impossible to believe.

    Yesterday NBC News managed to interview Harold Bornstein in his office about the circumstances in which he wrote the letter.  You will not do better in capturing the spirit of Campaign 2016 than to watch the brief NBC video below:

    Bornstein tells NBC that he took his guidance on language from Trump himself, which comes as no surprise. My favorite part is the end of the clip, when Bornstein says “I got rushed, and I get anxious when I get rushed, so I tried to get four or five lines done as fast as possible.” More from NBC is here. Other angles here and here.

    ***

    Every so often I think: later on, people will not believe that things actually happened this way—the way they are happening around us, in real time, in late August of 2016. But thus it stands, with 72 days until the election, and neither tax information nor a plausible medical report forthcoming from one of the two people who could become the 45th president.

  • The (Intentional?) Silence of the Republicans

    Last night, in Time Capsule #88, I noted the deafening silence of Republican officialdom, after Hillary Clinton delivered her calmly devastating indictment of Donald Trump’s racist themes.

    After this frontal attack on their own party’s chosen nominee, the rest of the GOP leadership said ... nothing. The cable-news Trump advocates were out in force, but senators? Governors? Previous candidates? Wise men and women of the party? Crickets.

    A reader who is not a Trump supporter says there’s a logic to the plan:

    I think you might be missing the GOP strategy here regarding Sec. Clinton’s bigotry speech, and the fact that no Republican came forward to defend Donald Trump. Republicans know that she spoke the truth—the indefensible truth about Donald Trump—and they want to squelch any discussion about it. That’s what they are doing.

    Because they don’t want this speech on the airwaves, debated on panels, over several news cycles, with more and more of the dirty laundry getting debated in the mainstream news cycles, leading the Nightly News with dramatic music. Screaming headlines. Any any—ANY—statement by a Republican will trigger that discussion that no GOPer wants.

    The mainstream news guys are sitting there at their email boxes, waiting, waiting, for statements, so they can write a piece on it. Benjy Sarlin mentioned it on Twitter, which you probably saw. [JF: I have now] And a couple of other journos, agreed.

    But without some outraged statement from Ryan, Cruz, anybody, the mainstream journos have nothing to write about, there is no news cycle, no panels, no screaming headlines, no multi-news cycle. Just a Wow! Clinton gave a rough speech!” End of story. And that’s the strategy. Bury this story. And it’s working.

    That’s how the GOP handles this kind of story. And it works just fine, every time. The mainstream journos can't find a both-sides hook, and they are nervous about this alt-right stuff anyway, so the story dies. Journos fear the brutality of GOP pushback. So it goes. Every. Time.

    Contrast that with the non-story about the Clinton Foundation. Every GOPer was sending out a truckload of statements to keep that story going. Chuck Todd has stated in the past that he—they—have no choice but to write about whatever the GOP is upset about because they all put their shoulder to the wheel. And the GOP always has something for journos to write about. Controversy! And no fear of brutality from the Democrats. That’s how that goes.

    That’s why we hate the media. Still. Even more than ever.

  • Trump Time Capsule #88: Crickets

    Hillary Clinton in Reno today Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

    As with a previous “Crickets” installment, #13, this one notes something we have not heard, and whose absence is remarkable in the history of presidential campaigning.

    Today the Democratic nominee for president said this about the Republican party’s chosen nominee:

    From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties….

    He promoted the racist lie that President Obama isn’t really an American citizen – part of a sustained effort to delegitimize America’s first black President.

    In 2015, Trump launched his own campaign for President with another racist lie. He described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals….

    Since then, there’s been a steady stream of bigotry.

    And she went on, in detail. It amounted to as blunt a criticism as one nominee has made about another since … well, I can’t remember a comparable case.

    And here is a list of the first ten senior Republican party officials who sprang to their nominee’s defense. These were the senators, governors, cabinet secretaries, former candidates who rushed to say that of course he’s not a bigot, of course he’s not playing on prejudice, of course he’s not legitimizing racism:

    1.

    2.

    3.

    4.

    5.

    6.

    7.

    8.

    9.

    10.

    ***

  • Trump Time Capsule #87: Land of 10,000 Lakes but Not Even 1 Republican on the Presidential Ballot

    One-time wrestling-world figure Jesse Ventura, shown while he was governor, won the support of voters in Minnesota. One-time wrestling-world figure Donald Trump might miss the chance to get Minnesotans' votes. Eric Miller / Reuters

    The sample ballots recently sent out by the Minnesota Secretary of State included, as presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton of the Democrats, Gary Johnson of the Libertarians, Jill Stein of the Greens, Dan Vacek of the Legal Marijuana Now Party, and a variety of others. But neither Donald Trump nor any other Republican candidate was listed.

    Why? The GOP had apparently missed the deadlines and procedures for getting on the ballot—deadlines that the Legal Marijuana Now Party, to name one, had been able to meet. The story from City Pages is here.

    Presumably the Republican party will figure out a last-minute workaround. And anyway, Minnesota has a modest total of 10 electoral votes, which have gone Democratic in every single election for the past 40 years. (The estimable Walter Mondale carried two states when running against Ronald Reagan in 1984: the District of Columbia, and his own home state of Minnesota.) So maybe it wouldn’t make a difference one way or the other.

    But once again, I’m not aware of anything like this having happened with a major party before. Managerial excellence is of course central to Donald Trump’s promises of what he would do in office. What he’s managing now is his campaign.

  • Trump Time Capsule #86: Presidential Economists Offer No Support

    Early this month, a group of 50 national-security officials who had served in Republican administrations—Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II—released a statement opposing Donald Trump and saying that he would be “the most reckless President in American history.”

    A few days before that, a former head of the CIA formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that Trump had become “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” That was a day after President Obama declared Trump “unfit” for the presidency, and a former prime minister of Sweden said Trump was “a serious threat to the security of the West.”

    Today Ben Leubsdorf, Eric Morath, and Josh Zumbrun of the WSJ published the results of a survey of all living former members of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, with service dating back to the time of Richard Nixon. Not one of them expressed support for Donald Trump. All of the Republicans who expressed a preference opposed him.

    From today’s WSJ

    The story quoted a post by Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the CEA under George W. Bush:

    “I have Republican friends who think that things couldn’t be worse than doubling down on Obama policies under Hillary Clinton. And, like them, I am no fan of the left’s agenda of large government and high taxes,” Mr. Mankiw wrote. “But they are wrong: Things could be worse. And I fear they would be under Mr. Trump.”

    I’m not aware of anything like this having happened before. Noted for the record, with 74 days to go until the election, and with no tax returns or plausible health report yet on public offer.

  • Nick Warren / Erie Reader

    Erie and America

    The challenges of Rust Belt America are real, and well-known. What’s less familiar is the response some mid-sized cities are making.

  • Trump Time Capsule #85: The Immigration Pivot

    Donald Trump in Jackson, Mississippi this evening, with Nigel Farage. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

    The previous 84 items in this series cover developments that might concern Donald Trump’s opponents. Tonight we have one that might concern his most fervent supporters.

    In an interview aired Wednesday evening with his supporter Sean Hannity, Trump showed that he understood the logic behind immigration-reform proposals like that of Marco Rubio’s “Gang of 8.” The starting point for such proposals has been the reality that millions of people are already in the United States without legal permission. Some are ordinary criminals, who if they’re caught are usually jailed or deported. But many others are parents, students, workers, or others who lead regular law-abiding lives except for their illegal immigration status.

    What do you do with them? From George W. Bush to Barack Obama to the bipartisan members of the Gang of 8, the answer was: you don’t pretend you’re going to round them up and expel them. It can’t and won’t happen, and shouldn’t. But Donald Trump’s answer since the start of his campaign has been: Yes it can! And will and should! Find these illegals and send them home. That was the basis of his attack on softies like Rubio (who ended up renouncing the Gang of 8) and Jeb Bush. It was the logical complement to his talk about the wall. It has been to his campaign what standing up to the Soviets was to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

    But in the interview tonight Trump said, in effect, Never mind! You can read the whole extraordinary transcript of his talk with Hannity in this Twitter post by Sopan Deb of CBS News. Here is a crucial passage:

    Transcript via Sopan Deb of CBS.

    “It’s a very, very hard thing.” It’s so tough to think of throwing a family out. These are exactly the real-world concerns behind decades’ worth of reform efforts. They’re the same concerns Trump has until now mocked as weak and loser-like. His hard line on deportation is what has attracted his most devoted supporters. One of those, Ann Coulter, had a pro-Trump book published this very day, in which she says: “There is nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.”

    Will his supporters still forgive him? Has his policy changed? Is it a policy at all? We’ll see. One way or another, this is a moment to note.

    ***

    Three more details about the pivot:

  • Trump Time Capsule #84*: We Didn't Start the Movement

    The video below is not by Donald Trump or from the Trump campaign. That’s why I put an asterisk in the title line. To be clear, he has no known official involvement with it whatsoever.

    But in a chronicle of what America is like, 75 days before the electorate decides whether Trump will be president, this is worth noting as an artifact. In previous campaigns—Obama-Romney, all the way back to, say, Carter-Reagan—I’m not aware of anything this blunt coming as close to “mainstream” respectability as the “alt-right” has done in informal alliance with the Trump campaign.

    ***

    Some readers have complained or wondered about the title of yesterday’s installment #83, “Rent Is Too Damn High.” I guess I should have spelled out that it was an allusion to a colorful figure named Jimmy McMillan, who ran for mayor of New York in the Bloomberg era on a platform of “The Rent Is Too Damn High.” It wasn’t that long ago, but evidently some people didn’t know about it.

    In the same err-on-the-side-of-clarity spirit, let me point out that this new video is meant as a take-off of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which after all came out nearly 30 years ago and is about the milestones of his (and my) much-deplored Baby Boomer generation.

    Bonus surprise explanation: a main figure in the new video and in the movement behind it is a man named Jared Taylor. You see him briefly, with a red necktie, at time 0:40 of the video and again at time 1:00. I am pretty sure it is him in the shades, straw hat, and blue Hawaiian shirt that you see in the static shot above and playing the saxophone from time 3:00 onward.

    Jared Taylor and I were good friends in the 1980s and 1990s, based on shared interest in Japan. He grew up there as the child of missionaries; went to Japanese public school and had native-speaker command of the language; and wrote an outstanding book about the strengths and weaknesses of Japan called Shadows of the Rising Sun.

    We stayed in touch in the U.S. in the 1990s and I still think of him in friendly terms. But our views have diverged.

    Taylor has become an organizational and intellectual leader of the “American Renaissance” movement, progenitor of what is now called the alt-right. The Washington Post’s David Weigel, from whom I learned about the video, wrote about Taylor and his movement last week. That will give you background on the ideas and people behind a video like this.

  • Trump Time Capsule #83: Rent Is Too Damn High

    Roger Stone at the Republican National Convention last month. Now he says that Donald Trump should release his tax returns "immediately." Alex Jones, of Infowars, is half-visible in profile on the left. What appears to be a "Hillary 2016" blue t-shirt on the man holding a cameraphone in the background actually says "Hillary for Prison 2016" James Fallows / The Atlantic

    I am pivoting toward a sanity-protecting, time-preserving policy of simply noting “norm-changing” activities from the Trump campaign. That is, words or actions for which there is no known precedent from other nominees. Two from today:

    1) S.V. Date’s story in Huffington Post on how the Trump campaign raised the rent (for space in Trump’s own buildings) once donors started picking up the tab. Sample:

    Trump nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign, according to a Huffington Post review of Federal Election Commission filings. The rent jumped even though he was paying fewer staff in July than he did in March.

    When “profiteering” or “self-dealing” complaints have arisen in past campaigns, they’ve usually involved consultants or pollsters who might, say, coordinate big TV-ad buys and then take a commission on all the purchases. I’m not aware of any that have involved the candidate’s own businesses before.

    2) Roger Stone, one of Trump’s most ferocious advocates, says that Trump should release his tax returns “immediately.” The norm-changing aspect here is Trump’s ongoing refusal to release his tax information, an obligation that even Stone recognizes. Fred Goldberg, who served as commissioner of the IRS under the first President Bush, writes to underscore the fatuousness of Trump’s “they’re under audit” excuse for not releasing his returns.

    Both noted for the record, with 76 days to go.

  • Trump Time Capsule #82: Illness, Immigration, and TV Shows

    Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump in North Carolina last week Carlo Allegri / Reuters

    Reminder: The original idea behind this Time Capsule series was to record, in real time, what the American public knows and learns about Donald Trump while it is deciding whether he should become president. Mainly I’ve tried to stick with norm-changing events, those for which there is no obvious precedent. Here are four recent items that, to the best of my knowledge, differ from what we’ve ever seen from major-party nominees or their campaigns.

    1) “Hillary Clinton is sick.” In stump speeches Donald Trump has been saying that Hillary Clinton looks bad and has to sleep a lot. His campaign representatives Rudy Giuliani and Katrina Pierson have been much more direct, implying that Clinton either has a serious disease or is suffering cognitive damage. You can read about it in David Graham’s new item here, and also here, here, here, and here. On CNN, Amy Kremer of Women Vote Trump likened the aftereffects of Clinton’s concussion several years ago to traumatic brain damage for NFL players.

    On the merits of such claims, Clinton’s doctor, Lisa Bardack, has released a statement denying these reports and affirming her “excellent health.” (As a reminder, the only health information Trump has released is the Onion-style report from last year, which states “unequivocally he will be  the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”)

    As for the norms of campaigning: Health questions obviously have a long history in presidential politics. Franklin Roosevelt was gravely ill when he ran for a fourth term in 1944 but did his best to conceal that—as he had (with press connivance) minimized awareness of his paralysis throughout his time as president. There were whispering campaigns about Ronald Reagan’s age and mental condition when he ran for re-election in 1984, about John Kennedy’s ailments including Addison’s disease in 1960, and of course about Thomas Eagleton’s history of mental illness, which drove him from the Democratic ticket in 1972. But I’m not aware of a previous case in which senior campaign representatives came right out with public suggestions of ill health, as Trump’s are doing now.

    ***

    2. Deportation? Maybe not. Reports over the weekend suggest that Trump might be reconsidering his promise to find people without legal immigration papers and send them back home.

    “Adaptability” has always been part of politics. FDR ran as a fiscal conservative in 1932 but then launched the New Deal. Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 as the president who “kept us out of war” and then took us into war. Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, both previously in favor of the TPP trade deal, now are both against it—the same is of course true of Hillary Clinton. There are examples from almost every president or nominee.

    But again I’m not aware of another case of a nominee suggesting a change on so fundamental a premise of his campaign. It is as if Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, had indicated that he was open-minded about secession, or like George McGovern in 1972 saying that maybe the Vietnam War wasn’t so bad. (And to spell this out: Lincoln and McGovern were right in the views they had and stuck with. Trump’s deportation plan, in my view, is wrong, but it’s been the heart of his campaign.)

    ***

    3. A new season of The Apprentice? A report by Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair indicates that Trump talked with NBC officials, before he ran, about possibly hosting new seasons of the show from the White House. Obviously nothing like this has occurred before. Closest imaginable counterpart: if Ronald Reagan, after becoming president, had revived General Electric Theater, a TV series that he hosted in the 1950s and early 1960s.

    ***

    4. Insecure. An actual tweet this morning from Trump.

    Trump on Twitter

    Every president ends up resenting the press. While in office Harry Truman got so mad about a hostile Washington Post review of his daughter’s piano concert that he sent a personal letter to the reviewer, Paul Hume, threatening to beat him up. (The letter is here, and it is amazing. For instance: “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”) But the Truman episode is famous because it’s so unusual.

    The main other illustration: During the 2000 campaign, then-nominee George W. Bush stood at a podium with running mate Dick Cheney and, not realizing the microphone was on, referred to a certain New York Times reporter as “a major league asshole.” Cheney replied, “Yeah, big time.” This is like what Trump keeps doing with his tweets, except that Bush and Cheney didn’t think they were doing it in public, whereas Trump is deliberately sending the message to millions of followers.

    It’s now 77 days until the election: no tax returns or plausible health report forthcoming; official GOP leadership still standing firm with the nominee.

  • A Black Trump Supporter Weighs In

    The candidate in Virginia today Carlo Allegri / Reuters

    Last night, in chapter #81 of the Trump Time Capsule series, I argued that Donald Trump’s recent “outreach” to black voters amounted to talking about African Americans as a problem group, rather than to them as part of the “us” of America.

    Reader Jamie Douglas, who is black, writes in to disagree. I am leaving in some of the complimentary things he says about non-Trump articles I’ve written, because they provide context for what he doesn’t like in my recent political coverage. After his message I’ll summarize why I see things differently.

    Over to Jamie Douglas:

    I’ve read many of the articles you published about the new China.  I lived in Sichuan and Guizhou for several years (from about 2000-2005) and your articles, I felt, focused on things that Americans really needed to understand about where China was and is headed.  Other journalists spent way too much time in Beijing writing about the machinations of the Communist party, and in doing so, they missed the real story.

    I’m not writing today about anything related to China. Rather, what concerns me is your coverage of Donald Trump. I’m a black American from New York. My parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Grenada in the 1960s. And I wholeheartedly support the Trump campaign.

    You’ve made it clear that you think Trump would be a disaster and that he has to be stopped. Trump inspires strong feelings, and from what I knew of you, I would have been shocked had you not been strongly opposed to his campaign.

    I’m surprised, though, by how willing you are to do the easy thing and focus on Trump’s many gaffes, his off-putting braggadocio, and his very nontraditional tactics. There is a bigger story here and I’m still waiting for a journalist of your stature to address it. I believe that someone capable of writing something as honest and introspective as, “What Did You Do In the Class War, Daddy?”  is very much able to produce a similar piece honestly analyzing Trump’s appeal and the visceral dislike that you and your colleagues in the media feel for him.  

    ***

  • Trump Time Capsule #81: 'What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?'

    Donald Trump makes his appeal to black voters before a crowd in Dimondale, Michigan. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

    Donald Trump’s comments last night in Dimondale, Michigan, have already received a lot of attention. They’re worth noting as part of his campaign’s evolution, and worth watching in the video below, for these reasons:

    • They come after, not before, the latest “pivot” to a more compassionate, more general-election-minded tone in the campaign. This is the nice Trump.
                                                                               
    • They resemble appeals with a long and sometimes honorable history. Some black conservatives, and more whites, have argued over the decades that the taken-for-granted status of black support for Democratic candidates leaves the African-American vote, well, taken for granted. The most heartfelt and appealing version of the argument that black voters should consider voting Republican came from the late Jack Kemp, due to his sunny bearing and his own bona fides from a career in the integrated world of sports. It was different from the version Trump presented here.
                                                                               
    • Trump ostensibly made his argument to black voters, asking “what do you have to lose?” But if you watch the clip you’ll see that in context he is talking about black people, to an audience that was mainly white. (Audience composition is something you can largely control if you’re running a national campaign. Where you hold the event, where you drum up attendance, whom you seat in the prominent on-camera places behind the candidate and in the front of the crowd—these all have an effect and can be tuned.)
                                                                               
    • Most remarkable was a tone that amounted to treating black America as a problem, rather than as a group that has some problems. The tension between statement and insinuation was similar to Trump’s inaugural statement last year about Mexicans: “they’re sending rapists.” He wasn’t explicitly saying, “Mexicans are rapists.” But the tone and insinuation were those you would never use about a group you cared about, or respected. Also, the repeated you when talking to or about black Americans was not matched by a we, emphasizing that blacks, Mexicans, etc were all part of our America.
                                                                                 
      Listen to the passage starting at time 1:05 of the clip below. To me the unavoidable tone is the same: What is wrong with “you people”?

    • Trump rounds out this appeal by saying that if he’s elected, he’ll get 95% black support for his re-election. “I guarantee it!” This will probably end up being classified in the “sarcastic” bin, given that not even Barack Obama got that large a share of the black vote in his re-election run. He got about 93% in 2012; Trump right now is running between 1% and 3% black support, depending on the polls.

    Update Trump has said similar things, more clearly, on Fox News. It’s worth reading the report on  Think Progress. “Total catastrophe” is one of the terms he uses to describe the achievements and situation of black Americans.

    ***

  • Gawker, Hating the Media, Free Trade, and F-35: Today's Trips Down Memory Lane

    Peter Thiel, the man who intentionally put Gawker out of business, speaking on behalf of Donald Trump at the Republican convention last month. I was standing not far away and was one of those he walked past, accompanied by security agents, after the speech. As speakers do, he looked at the people he went by, many of whom said some version of "Good speech." I looked at him and did not say anything. Mike Segar / Reuters

    Here are some items from the archive that bear on the moment’s news:

    1. Gawker and the future of the news. This past week Gawker went down, driven in that direction by the punitive Hulk Hogan lawsuit secretly (at first) financed by the tech billionaire Peter Thiel. Different creators of today’s tech fortunes are leaving their marks in different ways. Bill Gates is known for his health and educational initiatives. Marc Benioff, for supporting schools and hospitals. Elon Musk, for his ventures in space exploration, solar energy, electric cars, etc. And now Peter Thiel for trying to bankrupt publications he doesn’t like (while working behind front-men), and supporting Donald Trump. By our works are we known.
                                                                             
      For background on Gawker when it was a nexus for many good and bad aspects of the new media world, please see this cover story I did five years ago. It obviously comes from a different time in the media environment, but I think a lot of it holds up.
                                                             
    2. The eternal problems of the news. Twenty years ago I published a book called Breaking the News, back in what now looks like a simple, Edenic era of press-politics-public relations. An excerpt of it ran as an Atlantic cover story, “Why Americans Hate the Media.” I am sorry to say that a lot of it still applies. You can read it here.    
                                                                     
    3. How the world works. A big theme in Donald Trump’s campaign is that if some Americans and some parts of America are having problems, as they obviously are, the main reason is that brilliant negotiators from Mexico, China, and Japan keep outwitting the dolts on the U.S. side. That’s the reason Americans lose and lose and lose.
                                                       
      By experience across the United States, and from living in both China and Japan, I have ended up much more in the “fair trade” than the “free trade” camp when it comes to international commerce. That’s the camp that recognizes that markets are peerless at separating efficient from inefficient producers, and that individual entrepreneurs create the new companies that collectively are the source of new jobs and opportunities. But this is the camp that also recognizes that public investments and policies can make an enormous difference in the speed, fairness, and success of economic development (as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson are the most recent authors to argue, in American Amnesia), and that international trade doesn’t automatically benefit all partners in any kind of fair or symmetrical way.
                                                        
      Because this case is at the heart both of the Trump campaign and the argument over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, I want to note these items from the memory vault. One is “How the World Works,” which ran as a cover story in 1993 (and was the foundation of my book Looking at the Sun). You can read it here. It made a case I think is still relevant, about distinguishing the things markets do superbly well from the ways they persistently fail. The other was a piece in the Washington Post from about the same time, making fun of the then-sacred cow Economist “newspaper” (it doesn’t call itself a magazine). It’s also on some of the themes Trump is discussing now. You can read it here.
                                                                            
    4. Uncle Sam Builds an Airplane. I’ve been remiss in not following up on the travails of the F-35 airplane, which Popular Mechanics has just done an update on. The details of military decision making are obviously a hundred times more nuanced than what we’ll hear about in this campaign. But a lot of money, and a lot of people’s lives (American and otherwise) are obviously tied up in our military decisions.
                                           
      For reference: here’s the cover story I did last year on “The Tragedy of the American Military,” of which the tragedy of the F-35 was a part; here is an Atlantic story from back at the dawn of time, when some military planners thought that the “Joint Strike Fighter,” as the plane was then known, might help solve some military-technology problems, rather than worsening them; and here’s an introduction to a variety of other links about the late John Boyd, an Air Force fighter pilot, aircraft designer, and air-combat theorist who would be sobbing if he got a look at what this poor airplane has become.
                              
      John Boyd is on our mind because we’ve just had an engrossing week in his original home town of Erie, Pennsylvania, with results to come in our American Futures reports. I’ll check back after you’ve had a chance to catch up on this reading.
  • Trump Time Capsule #80: Manafort, Adieu

    Two days ago, they were a team: Kellyanne Conway and Paul Manafort. Today, he is gone. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

    No larger point for now (still on the road, out all days on interviews in Erie), but here we note for the record the second major change in Trump campaign leadership within roughly two months.

    In June, Corey Lewandowski was out, soon to join CNN, and Paul Manafort was in. Today, Manafort is out, and Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon are in.

    To say something you might have seen before in this space: This level of churn and chaos very rarely occurs in a major-party presidential campaign. To the best of my knowledge, it has never occurred in a winning campaign.

    Now perhaps we’ll never know who was telling the truth about the change in the GOP platform, made at the convention, that favored Russia and Manafort’s pro-Russian former client, Viktor Yanukovych (as noted here two weeks ago). Members of the platform committee say that the Manafort-led Trump campaign asked for this change, and only this change, in the party’s platform. Manafort flatly and categorically denied that Team Trump had anything whatsoever to do with the change. “It absolutely did not come from the campaign,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “No one, zero” from the campaign was involved.

    The members of the platform committee had no reason to misrepresent what happened. Manafort did, and had a long record of Baghdad Bob-like flat denials of reality when speaking for the campaign. Thus I’ve assumed that he was the one dissembling. But presumably the press spotlight will for now move away from him and resolving this issue. Legal proceedings could be another matter.

    Eighty days to go until the election; still no tax returns or plausible medical report on offer from the Trump campaign; but it’s a new team with a new start. On to new reports tomorrow.