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 +
  • Trump Time Capsule #119: 'That Makes Me Smart' vs. 'They Don't Pay'

    “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in a famous dissent. Donald Trump begs to differ. (Wikimedia Commons)

    After Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, he was asked on Fox News about his views on NATO and other American alliances. He gave his familiar “they’re freeloaders” answer:

    The fact is we are protecting so many countries that are not paying for the protection. When a country isn’t paying us and these are countries in some cases in most cases that have the ability to pay, and they are not paying because nobody is asking….

    We’re protecting all of these countries. They have an agreement to reimburse us and pay us and they are not doing it and if they are not going to do that. We have to seriously rethink at least those countries. It’s very unfair.

    This has of course been a repeated theme in his speeches and interviews. Another example: after the Democratic convention, Trump told John Dickerson on Face the Nation, “I want these countries to pay for protection”—“these countries” being the usual range of U.S. allies.

    On Monday night, in his debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump essentially acknowledged that he might not be paying any federal tax himself. Here was the remarkable passage:

    CLINTON: Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

    TRUMP: That makes me smart.

    That makes me smart. Among the several hundred people watching the debate at the site where I saw it, there was an audible gasp at this line.

    Everyone tries to minimize taxes. But not many “normal” people manage to avoid them altogether, or even contemplate doing so. Most Americans, regardless of politics, resent the rigged nature of our public systems and look for ways to corner-cut annoying obligations (“Yeah, yeah, juries are really important, but I’d just as soon not get picked”). But most still recognize some basic obligations we all bear—school taxes even if we don’t have children, paying for highways or emergency relief even in places where we don’t live—to keep the system going as a whole.

    You might call this mutual burden-sharing part of Making America Great Again. You could call it “the price we pay for civilization,” if you were Oliver Wendell Holmes. Or “paying for protection,” if you were Donald Trump.

    ***

    I’m not sure Trump would recognize any tension between his own outraged demand that allies start paying their way, and his reflexive response that “it makes me smart” for him to avoid paying his own way. And I realize that his committed supporters might embrace both sentiments at the same time: Those foreigners are screwing us! And, at least one shrewd guy figured out how to keep the IRS from screwing him!

    But I can imagine this staying on as a reminder of the gap between Donald Trump’s economic/civic role in society, and that of most of his supporters. It was one of several related moments in the debate—significantly, all of them coming in unprompted responses rather than the usual lines from his speeches:

  • Trump Time Capsule #118: John Warner, Arizona Republic

    Former Republican senator John Warner, right, greeting former Senator Bob Dole in 2008. Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was one of the long series of GOP nominees whom Warner endorsed, until this year. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

    Republican newspaper. Earlier this month, the Dallas Morning News made a first-in-modern-times recommendation of a Democrat for president over a Republican, in endorsing Hillary Clinton.

    The news this evening from Phoenix is if anything more dramatic: the Arizona Republic has also endorsed Hillary Clinton. Why is this newsworthy? The beginning of the editorial, whose title is “Hillary Clinton is the only choice to move America ahead," spells it out:

    Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles.

    This year is different.

    The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.

    That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.

    The editorial’s tone gets tougher as it goes. The common theme in this series of for-the-record time capsule notations is things that have not happened before. The Republic endorsing a Democrat is one of those.   

  • Trump Time Capsule #117: Chinese Climate Change

    Donald Trump on Twitter

    In my current debate story I quote a body-language expert named Jack Brown on a surprising aspect of Donald Trump’s performance skills. Brown argues that while Trump’s gestures and expressions seem unusually operatic, they actually cover a smaller range of variation that most people’s do. You can go to the article for the rationale, but the non-obvious upshot, according to Brown, is that it is easier for Trump to lie “convincingly” than for most other people. There are fewer “tells” in his face and expression.

    This is a way of setting up, for the record, another extraordinary aspect of Trump’s debate performance last night: his reeling off statements that he must have known would be trivially easy to disprove.

    In the NYT today, David Leonhardt has a formidable list of Trump’s misstatements in the debate, with the straightforward headline “The Lies Trump Told.” It follows “A Week of Whoppers,” by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, in the NYT three days ago.

    Here’s just a single illustration that jumped out at me from the debate:

  • Trump Time Capsule #116: ‘Somebody Who Likes to Eat’

    Alicia Machado (R), in 1998 shortly after her reign as Miss Universe, interviewing model Nathalia Paris. Reuters

    There’s no way to tell which moments might end up being remembered from last night’s first Clinton-Trump debate.

    Perhaps Donald Trump’s implicit confirmation that he had not paid taxes (“That’s called smart!”)? Or his acknowledgement that he’d “sort of hoped” for and profited from the devastating crash of housing values in 2008 (“That’s called business, by the way”)? His Montgomery Burns-like comment that he had not paid subcontractors because “he was not satisfied with their work”? His frequent “manterruptions” of Hillary Clinton (“Wrong!”) or talking over her answers, as a modern counterpart of Rick Lazio’s over-aggressive stage manners toward her during their New York Senate debates in 2000? His resurrection of his false claims that Hillary Clinton had started the birther movement, and that he had opposed the Iraq war?

    We won’t know for a while. But there’s a good chance that the already-famous exchange in the debate’s final few minutes, about the beauty-pageant winner he called “Miss Piggy,” will have a lingering effect.

    The NBC story about it is here and the NYT’s is here; NBC is the source of the video below. Their subject is of course Alicia Machado, a one-time Miss Venezuela who was chosen as Miss Universe in the period when Donald Trump was in charge of the Miss Universe pageant.

  • Trump Time Capsule #115: The First Debate

    Vice president Dan Quayle (left), Democratic VP nominee Al Gore (right), and Admiral James Bond Stockdale at the Vice Presidential debate in 1992. Stockdale was a hero of the Vietnam war, but he was unsuited to modern politics, and his debate performance was generally viewed as disastrous. It's the main standard for comparison with tonight's performance by Donald Trump. AP

    Details later, because I start very early tomorrow morning, but: in the history of debates I’ve been watching through my conscious lifetime, this was the most one-sided slam since Al Gore took on Dan Quayle and (the very admirable, but ill-placed) Admiral James B. Stockdale (“Who am I? Why am I here?”) in the vice presidential debate of 1992.

    Donald Trump rose to every little bit of bait, and fell into every trap, that Hillary Clinton set for him. And she, in stark contrast to him, made (almost) every point she could have hoped to make, and carried herself in full awareness that she was on high-def split-screen every second. He was constantly mugging, grimacing, rolling his eyes—and sniffing. She looked alternately attentive and amused.

    If you were applying the famous “How does this look with the sound turned off?” test, you would see a red-faced and angry man, and a generally calm-looking woman. Hillary Clinton’s most impressive performance-under-public-attack so far had been the 11-hour Benghazi Commission hearings. This was another 90 minutes more or less in the same vein.

    (Is this strictly a partisan judgment, since obviously I believe Donald Trump should not become president? I don’t think so. I  had no problem saying that for foreseeable reasons, Mitt Romney clearly bested Barack Obama in their first debate four years ago. Similarly, George W. Bush showed surprising strength against Al Gore in their 2000 debates.)

    I don’t expect that this evening will change the minds of any of Trump’s committed supporters. But they have topped off at around 40 percent of the electorate. The question is the effect it will have on undecideds in a handful of crucial states. Especially undecided women (seeing Trump constantly interrupt Clinton while she was talking, and end up challenging her “stamina”), non-whites (hearing his praise for stop-and-frisk), and environmentally conscious younger and older people (hearing him say, falsely, that he had never said that climate change was a hoax engineered by the Chinese). We’ll see.

    For now, a bad evening for the Republican nominee. Details soon.

  • Trump Time Capsule #114: Trump Foundation and Taxes

    Then-vice president Spiro Agnew, in sunglasses next to former president Lyndon Johnson, at a space launch in 1969. Four years later, he resigned because of a corruption scandal. Donald Trump's financial tangles are the most complex of any national-ticket nominee since Agnew. (NASA Great Images series, via Wikipedia)

    In the waning moments before this evening’s first debate, let me note another remarkable story by David Fahrenthold in the Washington Post that in any other campaign would by itself qualify as major news.

    Fahrenthold reports just now another entanglement between Trump’s business interests and his ostensibly charitable foundation. You should read all the details in his story, but in essence: Trump directed some of his business partners to take at least $2.3 million in money they owed him as normal business expenses, and instead send that money to the Trump Foundation as “donations.”

    Why does this matter? Because at face value it’s a tax dodge.

    • The person or company paying the money gets to classify the payment as a tax-deductible charitable donation rather than a normal business expense, which in many cases would mean more favorable tax treatment.

    • Trump and his companies, which earned this money as income, never have to report it as income at all, and therefore never pay the resulting taxes on it—federal, state, city, payroll, etc. This is so even though, as Fahrenthold has shown in other stories, Trump then freely used the Foundation’s money to pay personal, political, or business expenses. As he summarized in today’s story:
      Previously, The Post reported that the Trump Foundation appears to have violated laws against “self-dealing,” which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to help themselves. In particular, Trump appeared to use $258,000 from the charity to help settle lawsuits involving a golf course and an oceanside club. Trump also spent charity money to buy two portraits of himself, including one that he hung in the bar of one of his golf resorts in Florida.

    • If Trump had reported the money as personal income, and then donated it to the foundation, he would have received some tax benefits—but because of deduction-limits and for other reasons, he almost certainly would have owed more tax than he does by not reporting the income at all. Exactly how much money he might have saved is impossible for outsiders to say, since he has refused to turn over his tax returns.

    In my memory of politics, this is the closest thing we have seen to prima facie evidence of financial misconduct since Spiro Agnew had to resign as vice president for accepting cash bribes.

    ***

    Points to reflect on:

  • Trump Time Capsule #113: Zero for 100, Zero for a Dozen

    Donald Gregg, longtime advisor to George H.W. Bush and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, speaking to the press in Beijing after one of his negotiating trips to North Korea. He has just announced his support for Hillary Clinton. Reuters

    Noted for the record, since nothing like this has happened before:

    1) Business leaders. Rebecca Ballhaus and Brody Mullins of the WSJ surveyed political donation records from the CEOs of the Fortune 100 largest companies in the United States. Historically and by class interest, this is a group that would generally vote Republican and support GOP candidates.

    This year none of them (zero) have made donations to Donald Trump’s campaign. Four years ago, nearly one-third of them gave to Mitt Romney. In this year’s cycle, 19 have given to other Republican candidates, and 11 have given to Hillary Clinton.

    You could take this as a sign of Trump finally standing up against the elite. Or, you could take it as a sign that people who know something about business want nothing to do with Donald Trump.

    ***

    2) Opinion leaders. It’s possible that the survey here in Wikipedia is incomplete—because, it’s Wikipedia! But it appears that of the dozen or so major publications that have made general-election endorsements so far, none (zero) have supported Donald Trump.

  • Trump Time Capsule #112: Gennifer Flowers

    Donald Trump on Twitter.

    Donald Trump tweeted today that he has invited Gennifer Flowers, subject of controversies involving Bill Clinton’s infidelities when he was governor of Arkansas, to sit in the front row during his first debate next week against Hillary Clinton. This is in apparent retaliation for Hillary Clinton’s reportedly inviting Mark Cuban, anti-Trump billionaire, to sit at the debate.

    Flowers soon confirmed that she had accepted the invitation.

    Obvious time-capsule point #1: Nothing like this has happened in a general-election race before.

    Head-scratcher point #2: Trump is running against the first female major-party nominee in U.S. history. And he focuses attention, in this important first debate, on a decades-old controversy? Involving the nominee’s husband? Whom she has stayed with through more than 40 years of marriage? And whom the Republican party of the 1990s destroyed itself trying to impeach?

    Talk about impulse control.

  • Trump Time Capsule #111: Ads

    The famous 'Daisy Girl' ad, for Lyndon Johnson and against Barry Goldwater, was shown only once during the 1964 campaign but is famous more than 50 years later. Wikimedia

    Most campaign ads, like most billboards or commercials, are unimaginative and formulaic. Our candidate is great! Their candidate is terrible! Choose us!

    With the huge majority of political ads, you would look back on them long after the campaign only for time-warp curio purposes—Look at the clothes they wore in the ’80s! Look how corny “I like Ike!” was as a slogan! Look how young [Mitch McConnell / Bill Clinton / Al Gore] once was!—or to find archeological samples of the political mood of a given era.

    The few national-campaign ads that are remembered earn their place either because they were so effective in shifting the tone of the campaign, as with George H. W. Bush’s race-baiting “Revolving Door” ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988; or because they so clearly presented the candidate in the desired light, as with Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” ad in 1984. Perhaps the most effective campaign advertisement ever, especially considering that it was aired only one time, was Lyndon Johnson’s devastating “Daisy Girl” ad, from his campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964. The power of the Daisy Girl ad was of course its dramatizing the warning that Goldwater might recklessly bring on a nuclear war.

    ***

    It’s impossible to judge these things in real time, but I think there’s a good chance that “Mirrors,” an ad released this week by the Hillary Clinton campaign and shown after the jump, is another one that people will look back on.

  • Trump Time Capsule #110: Diplomats, Boss, Enquirer

    A large group of former diplomats is urging a vote against Trump. So is this guy. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

    Today’s harvest of things that haven’t happened in presidential campaigns before:

    1. Diplomats. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, some 75 former prominent former ambassadors and other diplomats, from Republican and Democratic administrations alike, signed an open letter opposing Donald Trump and, more strikingly, going on outright to endorse Hillary Clinton.

    The full text of the letter and list of names is here. Sample of their argument:

    We have served Republican and Democratic Presidents with pride and enthusiasm.

    None of us will vote for Donald J. Trump.

    Each of us endorses Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Because the stakes in this election are so high, this is the first time many of us have publicly endorsed a candidate for President.Very simply, this election is different from any election we can recall. One of the candidates—Donald J. Trump—is entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief. …

  • Trump Time Capsule #109: ‘Unqualified and Unfit’

    Robert Gates (center) receiving the Liberty Medal five years ago. Gates has served under every Republican president since Richard Nixon, and every Democrat since then too. This week he said that the GOP nominee was "unqualified and unfit" for office. Tim Shaffer / Reuters

    Robert Gates is as experienced a national-security figure as America now has. He joined the Air Force when Lyndon Johnson was president and has served under every president, Republican and Democratic, since then. He was deputy CIA director under Ronald Reagan, CIA director under the first George Bush, and Secretary of Defense under both the second George Bush and the only Barack Obama. He is also very sure-footed in bureaucratic, domestic, and international politics, as his long record of appointments might suggest and as his surprisingly score-settling memoir Duty makes clear. In foreign policy he is more “realist” than neocon.

    In an essay for the the Wall Street Journal this week, Gates takes a little time getting to his conclusion, including laying out the reasons he’s lukewarm to (his onetime Cabinet colleague) Hillary Clinton. But conclude he does, in forthright terms:

    At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.

    ***

    If you’re keeping score at home, here are some of the senior figures who have declared Donald Trump “unfit,” “dangerous,” “reckless,” or in other ways unsuitable for service as President:

  • A 'Trump-Pence' Car in Deepest Hollywood

    The Club™ in action, via Winner International.

    A reader in Southern California whom I’ve corresponded with over the years sent several photos with accompanying description. I’m not using the pictures, for the contradictory reasons that they are blurry looking but also clear enough that they might be identifiable. But I’ve seen them and can say that they support the case the reader makes.

    Why is Trump popular? The reader says that he is the living human version of that familiar car safety device, The Club™ from Winner International.

    Or, that if Richard Hofstadter were rewriting The Paranoid Style in American Politics, he would need a multi-volume special edition to cover 2016. Over to the reader:

    I work on a studio lot in Los Angeles. Hollywood is lousy with liberals, so you can imagine my surprise when I pulled in next to a car with a Trump 2016 sticker. [The reader sent a photo.]

    I immediately liked the owner of the Trump car, in the same way that I would like the owner of a Clinton car in the Bible belt. Going against the grain like that takes independent thinking, guts.

    But what really got my attention was The Club. [A photo of this, too, across the steering wheel.]

    I don't know if you remember The Club, but it was popular in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a long steel bar that you stick in the steering wheel. Truly the only way to prevent car theft.

    I haven’t seen a car with The Club in a long time, but I saw one today. It was protecting the Trump car. And this, for me, perfectly sums up the Donald Trump supporter.  

    To begin with, consider the driver’s morning. To get onto the lot, they had to pass through a security checkpoint. Once on the lot, they were in an officer-patrolled environment. In fact, every inch of this place is monitored with security cameras.

    In other words, this is a safe place.

  • Trump Time Capsule #108: Bush, Fahrenthold, Kagan

    George H.W. Bush in his prime, in a famous statue at the George Bush International Airport in Houston (PresidentsUSA)

    Without elaboration, here is a for-the-record note of some publicized news of the past few days:

    1. George H.W. Bush. For the first time in modern history, a former president of one party has said he will vote for a nominee from the other party.  

    The president who is taking this step is of course the senior George Bush, who this week reportedly told a crowd of 40 people that he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. Set aside the ensuing flap over whether Bush “intended” something he said in front of several dozen people to become “public.” (If you want to keep something confidential, you don’t say it in a crowd. You especially understand this point if you are yourself a former U.S. president and vice president plus CIA director, with two sons who ran for the White House and one who made it. And once the news got out, Bush’s spokesmen didn’t even deny it. He just said that Bush’s vote would be “private,” which is code for “the report is true.”)

    Ill will between the Bush and Trump empires is no surprise. Just think back to the days of Trump mocking “Low-Energy Jeb,” or of Barbara Bush saying early this year that she was “sick of Trump.” But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first-ever case of a former president from one party saying that he would vote for a nominee from the other party.*

         — Even in 1964, the esteemed former Republican president Dwight Eisenhower officially “supported” the highly controversial Republican nominee Barry Goldwater.

         — Even in 1972, the beleaguered former Democratic president Lyndon Johnson technically endorsed the controversial Democratic nominee George McGovern, who had built his campaign on opposition to Johnson’s own Vietnam war.

    But in 2016, with 47 days and a few hours until the election, we take another step into the unknown.

  • Can You Handle It? Every Trump Tweet, in a Big Searchable Database

    A new archive makes the thoughts of the nominee available and searchable. For instance here, the 63 times he has called someone "lightweight." Trump Twitter Archive

    Talk about a time capsule! This is quite an amazing piece of work. Courtesy of a Georgetown grad and former Peace Corps volunteer who now works as a programmer, we now have a searchable archive of 16,000+ tweets from @realDonaldTrump since 2009.

    The main page, with selected highlights, is here. The search utility is here. For instance, if you’d like to see all 63 tweets in which Trump calls someone (usually Little Marco) “lightweight,” you can just click here.

    You can donate to support the site here. (I have no involvement with it or its creator in any way, except as a citizen grateful for further documentation of our times.)

    48 days and a few hours to go. The Republican leadership, minus one former president, is still saying: He’s fine!

  • Trump Time Capsule #107: Sidney Blumenthal Is Not a Birther

    Orly Taitz (in red), leader of the "birther" movement until Donald Trump took on that role, at a Tea Party convention in 2010 Josh Anderson / Reuters

    For the past few days Donald Trump has been saying that Hillary Clinton and her campaign launched the racist “birther” smear against Barack Obama.

    Birtherism was a lie, as Trump now sort-of admits. But his claim that birtherism started with Hillary Clinton, in her losing campaign against Barack Obama in 2008, is a follow-on lie. For details, check back on installment #105 or an admirably direct story yesterday in the New York Times with the admirably blunt headline: “Donald Trump Clung to ‘Birther’ Lie for Years, and Still Isn’t Apologetic.”

    Today Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who generally has been playing the Good Cop in presenting a nicer version of Bad Cop Trump’s own arguments, went on Meet the Press and pinned specific blame for the supposed Clinton-world birther campaign on Sidney Blumenthal—author, former Bill Clinton staffer, and long-time Hillary Clinton ally.

    Based on everything I know, which includes some first-hand experience, I view this as almost certainly yet another lie. It’s disappointing, to put it mildly, to hear Kellyanne Conway retailing it and so far being allowed to get away with doing so.

    ***

    Here is the real sequence of birtherism, as I’m aware of it:

  • Trip Down Memory Lane, With the Birthers and Mad Magazine

    Back in 2009, when I was living in China, I was digging into the birther issue. This was before Donald Trump made it his own. But it reflects part of the genius of Trump’s multi-year birther crusade. Let’s think about the fundamental idiocy of the line that the Republican nominee was pushing for many years. Here’s the 2009 post:

    I don’t know whether the birthers are petering out on their own. If they’re still around, here’s an additional challenge for them that springs from the glory days of Mad magazine.

    A friend has recalled a classic Mad riff from its “Strangely Believe It!” series, produced by comedian Ernie Kovacs in the late Fifties as a knock-off of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It concerned—well, see for yourself, in this detail of a scan of the original page, courtesy of Scott Gosar at TheMadStore.

    MadMag.jpg

  • Trump Time Capsule #106: ‘Let's See What Happens to Her’

    This was the subtitle of my book 25 years ago! Trump in Miami tonight. Mike Segar / Reuters

    This evening, in Miami, the Republican nominee for president referred to his opponent and said (emphasis added):

    “I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Miami. “I think they should disarm. Immediately. What do you think. Yes? Take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns. Take them. Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, O.K. It will be very dangerous.”

    I am aware of only one other case in which a major-party nominee has “joked” about bodily harm against his opponent. As it happens, that was from this same Donald Trump, five weeks ago saying (in installment #73) that “the Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about Hillary Clinton’s ability to appoint Supreme Court justices.

    I’ll say it again: Nothing like this has ever happened before. It’s 52+ days until the election; the tax returns (and non-Dr. Bornstein health reports) still not forthcoming; and Republican leaders still saying: Sure, he’s fine!  

  • Trump Time Capsule #105: Two Big Bold Lies

    Donald Trump at his new hotel in Washington today, before a press conference at which he lied about the birther controversy. Mike Segar / Reuters

    I think this day, 52 days before the election, is one that people will look back on. At his press conference /  hotel promo / endorsement spectacle just now in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump said this, and only this, about the long-running “birther” controversy that for years he led and whipped up:

    Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.  I finished it.  You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.

    In detail:

    1. Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.” This is a flat lie. In an internal memo, people in the 2008 Clinton campaign considered applying an “othering” strategy against their rival Obama. It did not involve any challenge to Obama’s birth or citizenship, and in any case it was not put into effect. What Trump said is a flat lie. More here and here and here, with links to countless other sources.
                                                                                                                             
    2. I finished it. I finished it.” This is a flat lie. Trump started this phony and racist controversy [or: brought much more attention to what had been a fringe view] and kept it going. (Racist? Yes. As Bernie Sanders pointed out today, Sanders’s own father, like Obama’s, was born overseas. But Sanders said that no one has ever asked him to prove that he was a “real” American.) Even after Trump claimed to have “finished” it with the appearance of Obama’s birth certificate five years ago, Trump has continued to put out Birther tweets and innuendos. You can see a sample at the end of this Vox piece; also here and here. Below is one from December 2013, two years after Trump supposedly “finished” the issue. As of this moment this is still live in Trump’s Twitter feed:
      Trump on Twitter
    3. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” Unlike the other two, this is not a lie. It was read in exactly the tone of a negotiated hostage statement.
  • Trump Time Capsule #104: Jimmy Fallon

    Jimmy Fallon "charmingly" mussing Donald Trump's hair. This will merely be amusing if Trump loses on November 8. It will be something worse if he wins. (NBC / Reuters)

    Mainly because he’s talented, partly because of the similarity of our names, I’ve paid attention to Jimmy Fallon from the start.

    Effective 53 days from now, he may have a lot to answer for. Performances like the one he put on this evening with Donald Trump, including a “charming” mussing of the candidate’s famous hair, are a crucial part of the “normalizing” process of a candidate who is outside all historical norms for this office.

    In my current cover story I wrote:  

    Trump’s rise through the primary debates, and his celebrations of successive victories at rallies in between, made it appear that one of his gifts was the ability to combine unvarying emphases and messages with a wide range of dramatic styles. One day he was egging on huge crowds by picking out scattered protesters and yelling, “Get ’em outta here!” The next day he was talking earnestly with sympathetic hosts on Fox News or conservative talk-radio shows—and then in the evening chatting urbanely, in a “we’re all New Yorkers here” style that was a less risqué version of his old radio exchanges with Howard Stern, to win over presumptively less sympathetic figures such as Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel on their shows.

    Last November, Trump served as host (and danced in a parody rap video) on Saturday Night Live. In February, just after the New Hampshire primary, Stephen Colbert allowed Trump to phone in to his Late Show—and Colbert, for once overmatched, ended up making Trump seem as if he was in on all the jokes rather than the object of them.

    One reason for Trump’s rise has been the effective merger of the entertainment and political-campaign industries. Jimmy Fallon accelerated that process tonight. He did so on the same day in which Trump put out a crazy economic plan and still refused to say that the incumbent (black) president was a “real” American.

    Fallon’s humoring of Trump was a bad move, a destructive and self-indulgent mistake, which I hope Fallon becomes embarrassed about but the rest of us don’t have long-term reason to rue.

  • Trump Time Capsule #103: ‘Asking Questions’

    Donald Trump Jr., at right, with his brother Barron and stepmother Melania at the Republican convention. Today he weighs in about taxes. Carlo Allegri / Reuters

    This one is just a note for the record. Please recall the sequence:

    • Four years ago, Donald Trump said that Mitt Romney should release his tax returns. That’s hardly a surprising position: Every major-party nominee since Richard Nixon has been expected to do so, and has.

    • Through the past year, Trump has said repeatedly that he’d be happy to release his tax returns but can’t because they are “under audit.”

    • That excuse is bullshit. No lesser authority than the IRS has said so repeatedly and unmistakably. Whether or not the returns are actually being audited (as discussed here), there is no legal reason whatsoever to keep Trump from releasing them.

    • While Trump has stuck with his utter-bullshit rationalization, and while establishment Republicans from Paul Ryan on down have averted their eyes, reasons have mounted up to think that a disclosure expected of all previous nominees is especially important for him. These include: the shady operations of his Trump Foundation; the unsubstantiated nature of most of his claimed donations; and, significantly for a president, the extent of his reliance on foreign creditors and customers.

    • Even without any of these complications, tax returns are part of the “transparency” expected of a potential president. Michael Dukakis had no complicated wealth to speak of, nor Joe Biden or Barack Obama as nominees, but still all of them had to turn over the records. Donald Trump’s finances are more complex than those of any prior nominee and thus of greater potential public significance. But he has stonewalled, and his enablers in the party have allowed him to get away with it.

    Finally today two campaign representatives shifted the rationale, as if the previous one had not existed, to one that is more completely indefensible.