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 +
  • This Is What the Resistance Sounds Like

    Governor Jerry Brown of California got Twitter-verse attention for saying two days ago that if Donald Trump shuts down satellite collection of climate data, “California will launch its own damn satellites.”

    I’ve now seen the short speech from which that line was taken, thanks to a tip from reader CS. It’s remarkable enough to be worth your time. It’s a genuine fighting speech, with a tone that is resolute but positive, rather than resentful or doomed. It’s a rousing call-to-battle against the environmental backwardness and larger disdain for fact of the coming era, from a person who as he nears age 80 has struck a distinctive Happy Warrior tone of resistance. Happy, in its confidence. Warrior, in its resoluteness.

    The 13-minute clip of an obviously extemporized speech is below, followed by a viewer’s-guide annotation:

    Points to note:

    • Brown is speaking to the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in San Francisco two days ago. As reader CS says, this is “probably the largest single yearly gathering of geophysics related scientists in the world; close to 25,000 people attended it this year.” Brown’s remarks begin at around time 2:00, and you’ll see that he swings right from the introductory applause into a call for renewed energy on behalf of fact-based policies, science, truth.
    • From about time 3:30 to 3:50, the sound on the video fades away. Just wait it out.
    • From 4:30 to 5:15, Brown begins one of his “we’re ready to fight” riffs. The speech as a whole is unpolished, but among its charms is Brown’s ability to seem self-aware and even self-mocking. An example is in this passage: First he says that Big Tobacco was brought down by a combination of scientists and lawyers. Then, “And in California, we’ve got plenty of lawyers! … We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight!”
    • At 5:30, he introduces the “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Brown? You’re not a country” argument, about the way California has used its technical advances and sheer scale to set national and even international environmental standards. “We have a lot of firepower! We’ve got the scientists. We’ve got the universities. We have the national labs. We have a lot of political clout and sophistication for the battle. And we will persevere!
    • From 7:00 to 7:15, the defiantly confident declaration: “We’ll set the stage. We’ll set the example. And whatever Washington thinks they’re doing, California is the future!”
    • At time 8:00, Brown makes an offhand reference to “Breitbart, and the other clowns.” In the following minute and onward in the speech, he increasingly stresses the need for reality, fact, “honest science,” truth.
    • My favorite part of the talk starts at 8:30, when Brown embraces a role that long ago he seemed to resist: that of a consummate politician, who knows both the nobility and the squalor of his business as intimately as anyone still performing on the national stage. This was the theme that fascinated me when I was writing my profile of Brown for the magazine three years ago. During Brown’s first incarnation as California’s governor, when in his 30s he seemed to resist the craft of politics into which he had been born. During his second stint, when in his 70s he is the oldest person ever to be California’s governor, he has fully embraced the importance and the value of political skill. You get a distilled version of how he feels about politics in this brief passage,  through time 9:20.
    • Starting at 10:00, the “our own damn satellites” riff. It also has a great “Governor Moonbeam” cameo.
    • At 10:50, a similarly defiant stance about how Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and the rest of California’s science establishment will stand proudly against a fake-science, no-truth trend. If you’ve watched this far, stay through the “we can take a few data bases more” punchline.
    • Time 11:55, “This is not a battle of one day or one election. This is a long-term slog into the future. And you [the climate scientists in the AGU crowd] are the foot soldiers of change and understanding and scientific collaboration.”
    • Time 13:00, a nice in-your-face challenge to Rick Perry, who as governor of Texas had urged California companies to move to his lower-tax state. It ends with, “Rick, we’ve got more sun than you have oil, and we’re going to use it!”
    • Brown’s talk ends by time 15:45, following a “scientists of the world, unite!” pitch. I think that nearly every part of it is novel enough, in the current political world, to deserve a look.

    This is one of the first speeches of the Resistance era that actually makes me feel better.

    White nationalism, no. But I could go for some Brown nationalism of this sort.

  • Which Department Should Rick Perry Head? The Answer Will Come to You.

    I have a soft spot for Rick Perry, finding his aw-shucks demeanor more natural-seeming than most politicians’. I can even remember the time, in the summer and fall of 2011, when Perry seemed the strongest Republican challenger to Barack Obama for the 2012 race. The reasoning back then: like George W. Bush before him, Perry was an affable-seeming, popular incumbent governor of an important state. Also like Bush, he was unusual among Republicans in maintaining broad Latino support without alienating immigration-hardliners in his own party.

    Then came the Republican-primary debate of November 9, 2011, when Perry had his extended “Ooops!” brain-freeze. If you’ve forgotten the episode, Perry had promised to eliminate three whole federal cabinet departments. But when he tried to name them, he got through two (the Departments of Commerce and Education) but couldn’t come up with the third, not even after checking his notes and thinking about it.

    If you haven’t gone back to see this moment in a while, it’s worth another look, in the clip below. Perry actually takes his on-stage embarrassment with good humor. Still, it is as agonizing a 60-second stretch as you’re likely ever to see in a live debate. And, as I remarked during the Time Capsule series, it was the sort of gaffe that back in the pre-Trump age could de-rail an otherwise promising candidacy, as it appeared to do to Perry’s.

    Again, I find Perry more appealing as a person than some of the other characters now coming onto the national stage. But it is somehow an appropriate metaphor of our era that, if he is nominated and confirmed, this could be the sequence of U.S. Secretaries of Energy:

    • 2009-2013, Steven Chu, winner of the Nobel prize in physics, professor of physics at UC Berkeley, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab;
    • 2013-2017, Ernest Moniz, professor of nuclear physics at MIT, former under secretary of Energy;
    • 2017- , Rick Perry, the man who couldn’t remember the department’s name.
  • Landslide Donald

    Kellyanne Conway, on Donald Trump’s “blowout” win

    As I mentioned in this post in late November, and in this followup, and also in a discussion with Diane Rehm on her new podcast series yesterday, Donald Trump’s lies differ from those we have encountered from other national figures, even Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton during their respective impeachments. The difference is that Trump seemingly does not care that evidence is immediately at hand to disprove what he says. If he believes what he’s saying, at least in that moment, why shouldn’t we?

    For the record, the latest entry of this sort is the repeated insistence by Trump and his associates that he won a “landslide” or “major” victory. For instance, this was his transition team’s response to reports of Russian attempts to swing the election in his favor:

    “Now time to move on.”

    Translation: “A long time ago” is actually one month, and “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history” is actually one of the least impressive. Here are the facts:

    • In terms of his Electoral College margin, which will probably end up at 306 to 232, Trump will rank #46 among the 58 presidential elections that have been held, or just above the bottom 20%.
    • In terms of his popular vote margin, Trump will probably end up with the third-worst popular vote result ever, or if you prefer 56th ranked of the 58 winning candidates in history. (Obviously the 58 elections have produced 45 presidents, some of them winning two terms and FDR winning four.) This ranking is based on Trump’s losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by a little more than 2 percent, or a little less than 3 million votes. John Quincy Adams lost the popular vote by 10 percent in 1824 to Andrew Jackson, and also came in second in the electoral vote—but became president when the race went to the House, since none of the four candidates had an Electoral College majority. He is #58 out of 58, in terms of popular-vote mandate for winners. Rutherford B. Hayes, who won the electoral college while losing the popular vote by 3 percent to Samuel Tilden in 1876, is #57. Donald Trump, losing by 2 percent, is #56. Every president except J.Q. Adams and Hayes came to office with a stronger popular-vote mandate than Trump.

    None of this changes the fact that Trump ended up ahead in this year’s electoral vote. But the next time you hear Trump, his campaign managers, his transition team, or anyone else call this a “landslide” or “one of the biggest victories ever,” remember the numbers. This is 46th out of 58 in electoral college terms, and 56th out of 58 in the popular vote.

    ***

    Here is the embed for my discussion yesterday with Diane Rehm:

  • WG600; Lucas Jackson / Reuters

    Despair and Hope in Trump’s America

    Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?

  • Dear Mr. Obama: You Are Still the President

    U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference in a packed White House press briefing room on November 14, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

    In the four weeks since the election, which seem like four centuries, Donald Trump has dominated the news and done real strategic and economic damage with his stream of intemperate tweets. For a reckoning of the chaos that his tweets about Taiwan and China have already induced, please see these Atlantic items: by Uri Friedman with Shen Dengli, by David Graham, by Chris Bodenner, and by Isaac Stone Fish, with links to many other analyses. The harm he petulantly inflicted today on Boeing, a company that is perennially the United States’s leading exporter and one of its most important high-tech manufacturing employers and standard-setters, is only the latest and most flagrant illustration.

    This is not responsible behavior. This is not normal. This is not something the United States, or for that matter the world, can really withstand from a commander in chief. But this ungoverned, thin-skinned impetuosity is something the “responsible” GOP has decided, to its enduring shame, that it dare not criticize.

    One other thing is true of Trump’s destructive outbursts. They come from a person who does not yet exercise any official power. The American-democratic principle of peaceful transfer of power includes the tenet that the United States has only one president at a time. And for the next 44-plus days, that president is Barack Obama.

    As president, Obama has often been at his best in moments of national trauma, stress, or confidence-destroying emergency. I am thinking, for example, of one of  his very greatest speeches: his “Amazing Grace” eulogy and exhortation after the gun massacre last year in Charleston, South Carolina.

    Our current exposure to Donald Trump is a moment that even experienced Republicans will say—carefully off the record—represents a confidence-destroying emergency. (How do I know this? Like most reporters, I have heard first-hand—but of course not from anyone willing to be quoted. This is the party of Lincoln.) A man whose temperament makes him manifestly unfit to command the vast military, surveillance, investigative, and enforcement powers of the U.S. government stands mere weeks away from assuming that command.

    There is nothing Barack Obama can do about the transition scheduled for January 20. But in the meantime he is the president, and he needs to be present— and visible, and heard from. So far he has been deferential to a fault, letting the chaos emanating from Trump’s Android phone disrupt markets and alliances. His latest major press conference was on November 14, more than three weeks ago. (Trump, of course, has not held a press conference since the election, and none at all since July.)

    Obama’s lowkey approach is no doubt an extension of his statesmanlike invitation to meet Trump just after the election, and their strained handshake at the White House. It’s in keeping with “no drama Obama.” He has never been known for seeking confrontations.

    But if he thinks that America stands for values different from Trump’s daily outbursts, if he thinks the institutions of the country can survive the tantrums of the man scheduled to control them, if he thinks democratic norms and limits deserve defense, if he thinks the United States can find a steady path in the world despite a most unsteady leader—and we assume that Obama believes all these things, and may even have thoughts about the path forward—then let’s start hearing from him. Why not another press conference tomorrow? And then one a week after that. And then maybe we’ll all take a week off for Christmas and Hanukkah—but other presidents have given post-holiday greetings, and he could too. And remember hearing about Dwight Eisenhower’s greatest speech, his farewell address, three days before John Kennedy was sworn in? As his next rhetorical target, Obama could set for himself the goal of topping that to give the most-influential ever farewell address.

    Everything Barack Obama has stood for, Donald Trump—not yet in office—is doing his best to discredit. For the next 44 days, Obama will still be the most powerful person on Earth, so he might as well sound that way. Remind us of what the country is, what it should stand for, how it can find a steady path ahead.

    As the current saying goes: What the hell does he have to lose?

  • ‘There’s No Such Thing Anymore, Unfortunately, as Facts’

    Population-adjusted county-by-county cartogram of the 2016 presidential vote. M.E.J. Newman at the University of Michigan

    This morning, straight off the plane from Shanghai, I was on The Diane Rehm Show with Margaret Sullivan, much-missed former Public Editor of the NYT who is now with the WaPo, and Glenn Thrush of Politico. We were talking about how to deal with the unprecedented phenomenon that is Donald Trump, related to the “Trump’s Lies” item I did two days ago.

    You can listen to the whole segment here, but I direct your attention to the part starting at time 14:40. That is when Scottie Nell Hughes, Trump stalwart, joins the show to assert that “this is all a matter of opinion” and “there are no such things as facts.”

    You can listen again starting at around time 18:30, when I point out one of the specific, small lies of the Trump campaign—that the NFL had joined him in complaining about debate dates, which the NFL immediately denied—and Hughes says: Well, this is also just a matter of opinion. Hughes mentions at time 21:45 that she is a “classically studied journalist,” an assertion that left Glenn Thrush, Margaret Sullivan, Diane Rehm, and me staring at one another in puzzlement, this not being a normal claim in our field.

    It’s worth listening in full. This is the world we are now dealing with.

  • A More Detailed Guide to Dealing With Trump's Lies

    I have seen this portrait, at Mar a Lago, with my own eyes, and took this photo.  (It was years ago, during an entirely non-Trump-related event that happened to be held there.)

    Yesterday from China, I did a long item on the utter inadequacy of standard press practices in the face of a person like Donald Trump. Everything about “balance” and “objectivity” as news standards rests on a benefit-of-the-doubt assumption about public figures, and about the public audience. For the public figures, the assumption is that they’re at least trying not to lie, and that they’d rather not get caught. For the public audience, the assumption is that they’ll care about an ongoing record of honesty or deception. But those assumptions do not match the reality of Trump.

    You can read the whole thing here. The summary is:

    • Unlike other public figures we’ve encountered, Donald Trump appears not even to register the difference between truth and lies. He lies when it’s not “necessary” or even useful. He lies when disproof is immediately at hand. He shows no flicker in the eye, or “tell” of any kind, when he is caught in a flat-out lie. Richard Nixon looked tense and sweaty when saying “I am not a crook.” Bill Clinton went into his tortured “it depends what the meaning of is is” answer precisely because he was trying to avoid a direct lie.
      Trump doesn’t care. Watching his face for discomfort or “tells” is like looking at an alligator for signs of remorse.
    • Thus the media have to start out with the assumption that anything Trump says is at least as likely to be false as true. He has forfeited any right to an “accurate until proven to be inaccurate” presumption of honesty. Thus a headline or framing that says “Trump claims, without evidence, [his latest fantasy]” does more violence to the truth than “Trump falsely claims...”

    Now, two readers write in with detailed practical tips. The first, from a reader outside the U.S. with experience in publishing, is mainly about journalistic practices. This reader correctly refers to Trump’s behavior as narcissistic, without assuming any underlying medical diagnosis. The reader’s predictions and advice:

    • The mania for reporting every false or outrageous tweet as major news will eventually fade as everyone, including the public, gets tired of it. Smart people also know it’s a diversionary tactic and most people will eventually catch on. Smart people also know they’re lies, even if those persons are too partisan or embarrassed to admit it. Most  people will eventually catch up on that front too. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. There will be some settling down around the time of the inauguration, followed by a steady slide. People only have so much patience for temper tantrums. Narcissists get old and ugly, especially when overexposed to sunlight.
    • In the meantime, less scrupulous members of Congress and appointed officials will use the diversions for their own ends. There must be continuous vigilance directed at these people as well and it might be up to the hometown media to be vigilant. It’s a great opportunity for ambitious young journalists to make a name for themselves, even if it’s stories about how Congressman Whosit rolled over and played dead. It is necessary to keep them honest. The hometown reporters will be the first to notice when someone is living beyond their expected means.
    • Pressure on members of Congress will help to keep pressure on the president, in turn ensuring that they act as a check and balance. The media can then report White House news indirectly from that angle, even if they can’t get a direct angle.
  • How to Deal With the Lies of Donald Trump: Guidelines for the Media

    The Washington Post on November 27. Headlines like this are a step toward recognizing the plain reality of today’s politics.

    A man who will literally have life and death power over much of humanity seems not to understand or care about the difference between truth and lies. Is there any way for democratic institutions to cope? This is our topic in the post-Thanksgiving week.

    ***

    Being back in China in the U.S.-election aftermath naturally leads to thoughts about how societies function when there is no agreed-on version of “reality,” public knowledge, or news.

    We take for granted that this was a challenge for Soviet citizens back in the Cold War days, when they relied on samizdat for non-government-authorized reports and criticisms. Obviously it’s a big issue for China’s public now. But its most consequential effects could be those the United States is undergoing, which have led to the elevation of the least prepared, most temperamentally unfit, least public-spirited person ever to assume the powers of the U.S. presidency.

    The United States is seeing both a chronic and an acute new version of this public-information problem. The chronic version, recognized but nowhere close to being solved, is the rise of separate fact-universes into which different segments of society silo themselves—occurring at the same time as the “normal” news media are struggling against economic and other pressures.

    The acute version is the emergence as president-elect of a man whose nature as a liar is outside what our institutions are designed to deal with. Donald Trump either cannot tell the difference between truth and lies, or he knows the difference but does not care. Tiniest example: On a single day during the campaign, Trump claimed that the National Football League had sent him a letter complaining that the presidential-debate schedule conflicted with NFL games (which the NFL immediately denied), and then he said the Koch brothers had begged him to accept their donations (which they also flat-out denied).

    Most people would hesitate before telling easily disprovable lies like these, much as shoplifters would hesitate if the store owner is looking at them. Most people are fazed if caught in an outright lie. But in these cases and others, Trump never blinked. As part of his indispensable campaign coverage this summer, David Fahrenthold (and Robert O’Harrow) of The Washington Post offered astonishing documentation of Trump being caught in a long string of business-related lies and simply not caring.

    The news media are not built for someone like this.

  • Action at the Local Level, D.C. Edition

    As I mentioned yesterday in another note on Erie, Pennsylvania, I’ll try to send out some reports on still-functional local-level activities around the country. This one is an update on the D.C.-area campaign to hasten the (inevitable) shift from grossly polluting, and nuisance-generating, old-tech leafblowers and other lawn equipment, to the dramatically cleaner and quieter electric alternatives coming onto the market. We’ve been doing a lot, with a minimum of public notice, in the past few months. These updates:

    • In the innocent days just before the national election, Councilmember Mary Cheh, who has been leading these efforts in D.C., held a committee hearing on accelerating the shift. Courtesy of the D.C. government, here is the video, which begins with an intro by me.

    • In our Atlantic-family publication CityLab, David Dudley has a very good piece on the damage done by ambient noise, and why various aspects of “convenient” technology have gotten out of control and what could be done about it.
                               
    • Adrian Higgins of The Washington Post also has a very good piece about the underappreciated effects of omnipresent urban noise. Eg: “There is a weird human phenomenon at work here: Sound is far less irritating to its creator than to its recipient. Erica Walker, a doctoral student at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, seems to have hit on one reason for this: “Recipients of nuisance noise have no power over it.”
                                         
    • More on noise and the city, from NoiseAndTheCity.org

    We’ll have a real web site up soon on this theme. Onward, city by city.

  • Missing Thanksgiving Day

    How different would this have been if it were a giant chicken? Or a duck? Norman Rockwell, 'Freedom From Want,' US National Archives

    When you are an American living overseas, Thanksgiving is an even more powerful nationally unifying holiday than the Fourth of July. All the Americans know something special is going on; for everyone else, it’s just another Thursday. Even for non-Americans who are aware of the concept, the shifting date means they can’t quite keep it in mind, as they can with July 4. So the overseas bands of Yanks figure out where they can scrounge up our national-cuisine oddities like actual turkeys (usually we made do with great big chickens in Malaysia, and once a duck in China), cranberries, filling for pumpkin and pecan pies, etc. Even the tiny marshmallows to go with sweet potatoes. Then the American expats gather at someone’s home in the evening. Back in the days of VCRs, we would play a tape of some old football game for atmosphere.

    This is on my mind because this is the first Thanksgiving that I will technically miss, for dateline reasons. I’ll get on a plane when it’s still Wednesday night in the U.S., and get off on the other side of the Pacific when Thursday is almost done. It’s a brief out-and-back trip and a long story, but “2016: The Year Without Thanksgiving” is an uncomfortably close match for my mood.

    Nonetheless! As time allows in the coming days and weeks, I’ll put up some brief Thanksgiving-toned items about regrowth, recovery, resistance, reform, renovation, renaissance, and overall re-themed efforts at the local level. Let me start with this one now, which involves one of the towns that epitomized the mainly white, economically beset, distressed-manufacturing zones that were Donald Trump’s mainstay. This is our frequent haunt of Erie, Pennsylvania, long a Democratic stronghold that this time went narrowly for Trump. But even as the votes were being counted, the city had some good news.

  • How the Vote Broke, in Historical Perspective

    The projected count for the electoral college in 2016 via Wikimedia

    From the inbox, an engineer who is directly involved in the technology for tabulating votes in a number of states sends this report on the historically unusual gap between Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote lead and Donald Trump’s electoral college margin. (Andrew McGill has been covering this issue for us since the election.) The engineer wrote over the weekend with this summary:

    It looks as if Hillary Clinton will top the popular-vote margin in percentage points of President Carter in 1976, also JFK in 1960, three elections in the 1880s and James Knox Polk in 1844. And I should include the 2000 election as well.

    That is, he said, a total of seven people will have taken the presidency with a winning margin that is smaller, as a proportion of the popular vote, than Hillary Clinton will probably end up having over Donald Trump, in defeat.

    Now, the background, in a note from this same reader a few days earlier:

    I work in the election industry—on the counting side, not the political side. When I went to sleep on election night, Trump’s lead was a million votes and climbing. This was not my preferred outcome, but I accepted the selection of the people—only it wasn’t, as it turns out.

    My calculation today gives Clinton a 2.5 million vote margin when everything is counted. (Vote-by-mail states count slowly—more paper handling for mail-ins. California has three million uncounted ballots, one million in LA County (3 to 1 for Clinton) and another half-million in San Diego County (3 to 2 for Clinton).) She may also pick up more votes in other vote-by-mail states out west—think Oregon, Washington, Colorado.

  • On the Future of the Time Capsules

    Four years ago, the man on the left won 47.2% of the popular vote for president. When all of this year's votes are counted, the man on the right will probably come in slightly below that number. Mike Segar / Reuters

    Back in May, I kicked off a Trump Time Capsule series, designed to note what we knew, when we knew it, about the man who was trying to become president. Earlier this month, just before the election, I wound up the series with installment #152.

    From the beginning I imagined this as a temporary, moment-in-time project. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether it would last beyond 10 or 15 entries. Now that the race is over and the reality of the 45th presidency is sinking in, every day I’ve received numerous notes like this one:

    I saw a clip of Paul Ryan the other day, blithely dismissing concerns about Trump’s kids running his business and being part of the transition team. The thought occurred to me: This should be in the Trump Time Capsule.

    Really, why did the Trump Capsule end? I know it was to record abnormal aspects of his campaign, but it was also a way to pressure and shame Republican leaders, by making them—and the public—fully cognizant of what they were supporting. I feel like we need that now. You’re still mentioning abnormal things that Trump is doing in the transition. I think it’s important for the public to know and to prod Republicans.

    Also, if you would seriously consider restarting this, can make a suggestion? What about having a conservative/Republican join you in this? (Think of someone like Alan Simpson.) This would be a booster shot to the project, inoculating it against the liberal bias virus. This could give more authority to your observations. Actually, it’d be great if a group of journalists, politicians, academics from across the political spectrum could band together and speak in one voice on these issues.

    Good question. Answer after the jump.

  • A Video for the New Age

    As a study of oratorical styles, this is genuinely worth watching, even if you don't understand a word of Italian. Spend even 30 or 40  seconds and you will see what I mean. Or for a highlight skip to the passage from 0:50 to 1:50.

    The speaker’s enunciation is so emphatic and precise, his wording so blunt and simple, and his argument so straight-ahead that even I, who last coped with Italian many years ago, can follow just what he is telling us. Oversimplified, the message is: make Italy great again! (And specifically its navy.) But again the real message has nothing to do with a particular language. It involves personal carriage, facial expression, stance of dominance, and interaction with crowd. I am sorry I had not taken time to watch this before. (Thanks to John Kenney for the lead.)

    ***

    In the time since the election, I have been otherwise-engaged about 20 hours a day: writing an unexpected article for the next issue; discussing my article in the current issue, about China, on various shows (including Brian Lehrer here, Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal here, and Charlie Rose here); traveling for Atlantic and other events about the next stage of American re-invention (e.g., here and here and here); and reflecting, though not sleeping.

    I see that several thousand emails have arrived in that time. With this latest article done and with press junkets on pause for the moment, I’ll start sharing some of the reaction that has come in, plus positive news from familiar places like Erie, Sioux Falls, San Bernardino, and Fresno. All this in a buildup to what I expect will be a necessary declaration of Email Bankruptcy at the end of the year and a clean start on many fronts.

    For now, please watch the video. Please. Closely.

  • Oliver Munday

    China’s Great Leap Backward

    The country has become repressive in a way that it has not been since the Cultural Revolution. What does its darkening political climate—and growing belligerence—mean for the United States?

  • After the Election: ‘What a Pathetic Thing Is Decadence’

    Across the generations: Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, exemplar of the personal qualities, civic outlook, and record of service that were ideal goals for one era of Republican leaders. The Republican who will be 45th president exemplifies other traits. (Wikimedia)

    Thank you to readers for the hundreds of messages that have been pouring in daily. In most of the time since the election, I have been in transit for a long-scheduled set of American-innovation events in the mountain west, Cheyenne and Laramie in specific; and trying to write a completely unscheduled article for the magazine; and absorbing the psychological and intellectual effects of what our country has just done to itself. I had not expected that I would ever again feel as paralyzed, withdrawn, and downcast as I did after my father died eight years ago. But that expectation was a failure of tragic imagination on my part. I was wrong.

    The main thoughts I’ve made public since the election were immediately afterwards, early Wednesday morning on not much sleep, in a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross. You can listen to it here. I’ve also just done a talk with Kai Ryssdal for Marketplace, probably for tomorrow’s show.

    For now I will try to share some of the messages that have come in, and also do updates about the ongoing civic activity we have encountered across the country, like the one my wife Deb provided yesterday about the historically significant library in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ll share reader mail in this ongoing Trump Nation thread, since that is what the nation has become; we’ll do rest-of-America updates in the American Futures threads; and meanwhile please check out a new reader-interaction thread, Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?

    ***

    I hope you will read carefully this note from Joseph Britt. I sent Mr. Britt an email saying that I would like to quote from his message, and that I assumed he would prefer—as is our default practice—that I not use his real name. His reply wins my great respect:

    It’s kind of you to make that suggestion. Not an easy call in these times.

    But where is it written life should be easy? Use my name. Say, “Joseph Britt in Wisconsin, who has worked on campaigns and in government for Republican politicians...”

    So here is Joseph Britt in Wisconsin, who has worked on campaigns and in government for Republican politicians. I leave in one of his setup points about me, because it provides context.

    You mentioned on Twitter not wanting to continue the “Time Capsule” series, which is fine. The Atlantic, however, should pick it up, using a team of writers of which you could be one if you chose. America is heading into uncharted territory as I write this, both as a nation and in our relations with the wider world. The path we walk should be documented in a systematic way.

    I wanted to say something about the election results that may be obvious, perhaps too obvious to be much remarked upon.

    In The Atlantic and other publications, I have read in recent days long essays about people who supported Donald Trump, who had previously voted for Barack Obama or hadn’t voted at all, who were nostalgic for the imagined world of their parents’ generation, or who for whatever reason had so little hope for the future they were willing to trust in the remarkably general promises of a man who made his fortune putting up hotels and golf courses.

    Journalists struggling to understand Trump’s support have been keen to describe—or have these people describe themselves—their feelings, in considerable detail.

    All well and good. Rural white voters and voters at a loss in the face of economic and social change are certainly an important story, because of their critical marginal influence in electorally significant states.  They may have pushed Trump over the top, but they are not the most important reason he seems about to become President.

  • First Thoughts on the Election

    Jonathan Drake / Reuters

    Most of what I think about last night’s results I discussed in a long talk early this morning with Terry Gross, which will be on the Fresh Air this afternoon. The embed for our discussion just went live and you can listen below.

    More in this space when I can manage.

    ***

    An ongoing theme here in recent years has been the contrast between increasingly paralyzed and bitter national-level politics, and a positive-minded and forward-looking sense of practicality at the community level. In that silver-lining spirit, I am happy to report that all of the local initiatives and candidates I mentioned two days ago came to what I consider the right result:

    • The voters of California rejected Proposition 53, which would have made it much harder for the state to undertake big, long-term investments.
    • The voters of Stockton approved Measure M, a small sales-tax increased devoted to the city’s libraries and recreation centers. The measure needed a two-thirds majority for approval, and it got nearly 75 percent.
    • The voters of San Bernardino approved Measure L, which will reform the flawed city charter that in itself is a source of the city’s problems. The measure required only a majority vote, and was getting more than 60 percent.
    • The voters of San Bernardino, Redlands, and environs comfortably re-elected former Redlands mayor Pete Aguilar to a second term in the U.S. House.
    • The voters of the District of Columbia comfortably elected Robert White (and David Grosso) to at-large seats on the City Council, and approved the statehood referendum by 86 percent to 14 percent.

    We’ll take progress where we can find it.

    On the larger prospect, after the jump a thought for the day from W.B. Yeats.

  • Why Not Dodge? Why Not Stockton?

    Citizens of Stockton at city council meeting considering library expansion "Raising Literacy," Robert Dawson

    I mentioned yesterday that several local initiatives could mean as much to their communities or states as the outcome of most national races. The two historical examples I naturally think of are from California, Propositions 13 and 187. Prop 13, which was passed nearly 40 years ago, strictly capped property taxes—and in so doing helped shift California’s public schools from among the best-funded in the country, as they were in my school days, to among the worst.

    Proposition 187, which was passed in 1994, limited public services for illegal/undocumented immigrants. It was a Republican-backed measure, championed by then-governor Pete Wilson, and was very unpopular with Latinos. You can’t prove exact cause and effect, but there’s no denying this change: In the decades leading up to Prop 187, the California of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan was a reliably Republican state in presidential elections. Since then, coincident with its growing Latino population, California has been the Democrats’ most important bulwark. (In the 11 presidential elections from 1948 to 1992, Harry Truman through Bill Clinton, California went Democratic only twice. In every election since then the Democrat has won, with margins that keep going up.)

    Two of the measures I mentioned yesterday were city-wide. One is San Bernardino’s long-overdue reform of its dysfunctional city charter, via Measure L on today’s ballot. The other is Stockton’s attempt, through its Measure M, to approve a very small (quarter-cent) sales tax increase to fund libraries and recreation centers for young people and families who now badly lack them.

    Stockton, once a site of commercial and industrial wealth, has become one of California’s poorer cities. Many of its people are immigrants; the population mix is roughly “40/30/20/10,” or roughly 40% Latino, 30% white, 20% Asian, and 10% black. “We’re the most diverse medium-sized city in America,” Mas’ood Cajee, a Stockton dentist who is one of the leaders of the Yes on M movement, told me yesterday.

  • How I'd Vote, If I Lived In ...

    Stockton, a recently bankrupt city in California, is one of the venues considering important measures in tomorrow's election. Robert Dawson

    A for-the-record personal-preference note on election eve.

    • Yes for Aguilar. If I lived in my original hometown of Redlands, California, tomorrow I would vote to give the city’s former mayor, Pete Aguilar, a second term as Representative from California’s 31st Congressional district. His district includes San Bernardino, site of the horrific massacre nearly a year ago, and he has done a good job both in the immediate aftermath of the killings and in addressing the city’s deeper, longer-term economic challenges. He’s part of the next generation of practical-minded leadership for the state.
                                                                                                                        
    • Yes on Measure L. If I lived a few miles west of Redlands, across the city line in San Bernardino itself, I would vote in favor of Measure L. This is a long-overdue proposal to revamp the city’s unusual and dysfunctional governing charter, which itself has been an important reason the city has been officially bankrupt for four-plus years. I wrote about the bankruptcy, and the charter’s role in it, last year here and here. Ryan Hagen of the San Bernardino Sun, who has chronicled the city’s recent ups and downs, did an explainer on Measure L and how it would change the charter here. The Sun’s editorial board formally endorsed Measure L last month. Some previous charter-reform efforts failed. A lot depends on the city’s ability to pass this one. Yes on L!
                                                                                                                        
    • Yes on Measure M. If I happened to be living instead in California’s other best-known recently-bankrupted city, Stockton, I would vote in favor of Measure M. (Stockton formally entered bankruptcy in 2012 and left it last year.) I’ll plan to say more about Stockton tomorrow, but its story has much in common with San Bernardino’s. Each is physically close to a rich and glittery part of California—San Bernardino and its Inland Empire are an hour’s drive away from Los Angeles, Stockton is due east from the tech riches of the Bay Area—but economically and culturally they are far removed. Stockton’s arc in the past century also resembles, on a smaller scale, Detroit’s: industrial and commercial wealth, and the civic benefits that came from it, and then a long decline. The story of its downtown resembles Fresno’s, which we’ve written about here.
                                                                                                                        
      Measure M, whose official description you can read here, would approve a very small sales tax, one-quarter of one percent, to develop libraries and recreation facilities for a city that badly lacks them. The measure passed the city council with a 7-0 vote but now requires a two-thirds supermajority approval to go into effect. Here’s more from the Yes on M group, and a wonderful profile from the Stockton Record about one of the people behind it, a local dentist name Mas’ood Cajee. The story about him is titled, “Man passionate about using books to rebuild Stockton.” More to come about the larger lessons from this kind of investment.
  • ‘A Disturbing Series of Events’: The Comey Aftermath

    Gary Cameron / Reuters

    Ten days ago I argued that FBI Director James Comey had changed the dynamics of the 2016 election in an irreversible way, with his announcement of a new trove of potentially “relevant” emails on Anthony Weiner’s computers. After Comey’s “oh, never mind” followup yesterday, less than 48 hours before election day, I argued that his series of mis-judgments about the FBI’s proper role in electoral politics, and his apparent lack of control over the agency, meant that someone else should take his place. But it would be better all around, according to me, if Comey resigned sometime soon after the election, instead of forcing either the president who appointed him (Obama) or the next president in line (presumably Clinton) to fire him.

    Readers disagree—most of them because they think Comey deserves harsher treatment, but some for the opposite reason. Here we go:

    There is a silver lining. A reader in the tech industry says that the whole episode might have one positive result:

    It should put to rest the storyline that Clinton obstructed justice by destroying damaging emails. This previously unknown cache of unscreened email yielded no evidence of criminality, thus undermining the argument that Clinton’s emails were sanitized.  

    ***

    ‘Egregious error.’ From a lawyer on the East Coast:

    I disagree with your conclusion that Clinton, if she wins, should not fire Comey (or demand his resignation, which amounts to the same thing).  Yes, to some people, particularly the Trump supporters, this might look like revenge. And certainly, GOP elected officials will take the opportunity to make the same claim. But those people are incorrigible, and trying to appease them or seek their approval is a no-win situation.

    The fact is that pretty much everyone, including Republicans, agree that Comey made an egregious error in judgment. Can you think of any other post-Hoover FBI Director who has made such a significant public mistake?  But for the twisted political environment we’re in, that alone should be grounds for firing. Assuming that Comey stumbled innocently with his original letter a week and a half ago, he should, within 48 hours, have issued a clarification intended to remove any unintended implications. That he waited in silence until now compounded his error.

  • The Future of Mr. Comey

    Director Comey, before his latest two intrusions into the election. Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    With his ill-advised intrusions into this year’s election, FBI Director James Comey has already damaged U.S. interests and the fabric of American democracy more grievously than even Hillary Clinton’s harshest critics could contend that her email-policies have done.

    Damaged, how? I made the long-term case a week ago, after Comey’s reckless announcement about the Anthony Weiner emails. The shorter-term case is evident right now: No one can ever know how the 2016 election would have turned out—in ultimate victor, in margin and “mandate,” in the way specific states go, in down-ballot and Congressional effects—had it not been for Comey’s decision to put himself in the middle of charge and counter-charge.

    We can’t ever know, because some 40 million people have already voted. We can’t ever know, because his latest last-minute announcement comes too late to be fully digested by the time everyone else votes on election day.

    I have no reason to believe that Director Comey was operating out of base motives. He probably thought he was doing the right thing for the right reasons. But he was mistaken, and the results were damaging—to the country, to the political process, to the FBI and the Department of Justice, and to Comey himself.

    ***

    In the hyper-litigious current political realm, the usual next step would be hearings and investigations—hearings like those on the deaths at Benghazi, investigations like the endless ones on email. American public life at the moment is all too hearings-bound and criminalization-crazy. Hearings or investigations into whatever has happened at the FBI would not be worth it for anyone.

    So what, instead?

    • Hillary Clinton, if she wins, should not fire Director Comey. If she cares about the norms of governing, as she should and presumably does, she would realize that this would inescapably look like revenge and a purge.

    • For similar reasons, Barack Obama, who appointed Comey to this job in the first place, should not fire him. FBI directors are given 10-year terms precisely to insulate them from politics. Obama should observe the letter of that apolitical norm, even if Comey himself has not.

    • But as soon as the election is over, Obama should make clear, bully-pulpit style, what Comey has done wrong, and why Comey has tarnished his bureau’s reputation, lost Obama’s trust, and forfeited the public’s deference to his judgment.

    • And then, sometime soon, Comey should resign. He shouldn’t be fired, but if he cares about his institution and its values, he should recognize that his continued presence is an unavoidable source of continued harm.

    • Plus, he is sure to get a lucrative follow-on job.

    We’ve had enough hearings and investigations. But this was a big and damaging mistake.

    No one should fire Director Comey, because a firing would damage governing norms. But in defense of those norms, Director Comey should resign.