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Donald Trump wants to return to the White House. His candidacy should be the final test of whether the United States has truly overcome the lure of authoritarianism.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Lance the Boil
Trump is back. Twice impeached, facing a slew of legal and financial issues, the disgraced former president made good on his threat to run in 2024 in a weird and draggy hour-long mess of a speech to the faithful last night at Mar-a-Lago. The announcement was everything you’d expect from a Trump performance: the accordion hands, the singsong voice, the tussle with the teleprompter as if the machine were a hostile headmaster testing him on Latin declensions.
Whoever wrote the speech loaded up the usual gobbledygook about “globalist sellouts” and China and rebuilding the military, but to no avail. Trump, as usual, seemed uninterested in the prepared text, and he shifted to all the greatest hits, including his many grievances, the meandering stories, and the bragging that defies fact-checking. Among the many weird gems of improvisation, Trump said that, during the four years of his presidency, there were “decades without a war.” (Pretty sure that one’s inaccurate, but forget it, he was rolling.)
As a former speechwriter, I can’t really blame Trump for being bored by the text. Whatever Trump’s idiosyncrasies and failings as a public speaker, his speechwriters—I assume Stephen Miller, in most cases—are terrible, writing for themselves with attempts at high drama and Gothic menace, rather than for the simpler cadences of a Queens casino boss with a limited vocabulary.
I’m sure that many Americans, if they bothered to watch the speech, rolled their eyes. Even the loyalists at Fox kept cutting away, while reassuring the viewers that it was a great speech. (Among the network’s many over-the-top moments: Joe Concha said it sounded like a State of the Union address, which I suppose made sense if you couldn’t hear the actual words.) As I used to do during the Trump years, I live-tweeted my commentary on the speech, and many Twitter users angrily told me to ignore Trump—to stop amplifying him and stop giving him attention, as if he would just disappear if we looked away.
But I have to admit that I welcome Trump’s candidacy.
I know that Trump reentering the political fray is a threat to our political system and a pollution of our civic hygiene. I know that if he wins again, he will bring with him people who might be far less stupid, and therefore much more dangerous, than the gang of goons and opportunists who infested our institutions the last time around. And yet I think he should run.
It’s time for us to once and for all declare who we are as a people. There is still an illness lurking in our political immune system. We discovered (or rediscovered) in our elections last week that American democracy has great regenerative power. But the elections of 2022 only suppressed a fever. The people of the United States, until now, have been reluctant to lance the boil, cleanse the wound, and just get it over with.
America needs a reckoning. If Trump were to slink off into the night—that is, if he had even a microgram of decency—his supporters would never have to come to grips with what they, and he, have done to this country. Even worse, if Trump stayed in exile in Florida, Trumpists and their cowardly Republican enablers could quietly nurture a 21st-century version of a GOP Dolchstoßlegende, a modern stab-in-the-back theory in which Republicans and the conservative media could continue muttering darkly about how Trump was unfairly defeated in 2020 by The Swamp, or The Lamestream Media, or the “China Virus.” Some of them could even pretend they never liked him. All of them could bloviate at will while safe in the knowledge that they would never have to defend voting for Trump again.
To pretend, however, that Trump is irrelevant is not only a mistake; it provides no resolution to our democratic crisis. It is denial, the equivalent of a drunk driver telling us to ignore the whiskey bottles on the lawn and the damage to the family car, whining that dents can be fixed and that no one got killed—not this time, anyway.
Trump’s candidacy, by contrast, is an opportunity for a moment of clarity. We now know about Trump’s many offenses against the American nation. We now know, according to the January 6 committee, that Trump instigated an attack on the government of the United States; that he endangered the lives of elected leaders, including his own vice president; that he put national security at risk, repeatedly, for his own ego.
We now know, without doubt, that Donald Trump is every bit as unhinged and reckless and dangerous as his critics warned back in 2015, and that there can be no more excuses, from neither voters nor elected Republicans. Trump’s supporters should now say that they are with him, and admit that they care not a damn for democracy; Republican officials should now declare that they will support him—or oppose him—without burrowing into weaselly excuses about “the past” and “moving on.”
Trump’s candidacy is what millions of voters and many Republican officials claim to want. Let them have it, and let the contest begin to decide who we are and what we value.
- Senate Republicans reelected Senator Mitch McConnell as minority leader.
- Elon Musk gave Twitter employees a deadline of 5 p.m. eastern time tomorrow to decide whether they want to stay at the company.
- The NATO secretary general and Poland’s president said that an explosion that killed two people in the country yesterday was likely caused by a Ukrainian air-defense missile, though Ukraine’s president said he had “no doubt it was not our rocket.”
NASA’s Overshadowed Moon Launch
By Marina Koren
In the middle of the night, while many Americans were sleeping, NASA launched the country into the next era of space exploration.
A giant new rocket, the most powerful that the agency has ever built, soared into space just before 2 a.m. today, carrying a gumdrop-shaped capsule on a journey to the moon and back. It’s the first mission in the Artemis program, NASA’s ambitious effort to land American astronauts on the moon for the first time in 50 years.
More From The Atlantic
Read. “The Squirrel,” a poem by Ellen Bass.
“It’s the squirrel I keep seeing behind my closed lids as we begin to kiss, begin to go under into that realm of I don’t care, not now … The squirrel. And the squirrel’s eyes, black, glossy, rimmed in white.”
Watch. Season 5 of Yellowstone, on Paramount. One of the worst people on the show is also one of the best characters on TV, our critic writes.
It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up all night to finish a book. But then I picked up Leah Carroll’s Down City, her account of growing up in Rhode Island, where I have now lived for many years. From the first pages, I realized that this was no ordinary memoir. The book opens with Carroll’s mother being strangled to death by a brutal Mafia drug dealer who is convinced that she is a “rat” cooperating with the police. A few paragraphs later, her father, a Vietnam veteran, dies at 48 from alcoholism (and maybe from despair). And that’s just the prologue.
All of this happens around young Leah as she grows from a child of the 1980s who loved Inspector Gadget into a purple-haired, aimless 1990s teen who can’t finish high school, and then into a young woman who decides to find out the truth about her mother—and finally, as much as possible, to understand her father. I discovered the book because Leah’s husband, Nick, is an editor at The Atlantic, and he suggested it to me one day as we were driving around the Ocean State, talking about how it was the epicenter of Mafia activity in late-20th-century New England. It’s one thing to know that Providence was once a mob city, but it’s another to see the damage wrought by the mob ripple through a family for years. It’s a harrowing story, but told in a clear voice and, perhaps most important, without self-pity.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.