In contrast to Donald Trump’s theme, I’ve been saying all along that America Is Already Great Again™. But his campaign is certainly making the country even greater in one specific way, which is the volume of interesting and impassioned correspondence that is coming in about the man, the era, and the implications.
I’ll keep doling these out in regular increments, combining them thematically where possible. Today’s assortment starts with a question about his most likely general-election opponent:
OK, Trump’s an outlier, but why is Hillary Clinton considered equally beyond the pale? From a reader in California who was in grade school when Hillary Clinton became First Lady:
I have noticed that the Trump supporters you quote on your blog have a common disdain for Clinton. It's almost like their support for the TV actor is linked to her at least in part.
In fact, every person I have personally spoken to who supports Sanders or one of the Republicans mentions her almost immediately when asked why they prefer their candidate of choice.
Nearly all my life (I was 10 years old in 1992) I have heard of the horrors and evils of this woman. Yet, since I was a child and now into my mid-30s I haven't understood exactly why she is so hated. Do you have insight? What about this woman is so distasteful beyond basic partisanship? She seems like the only “serious” candidate to me and if she truly is that awful I would really like to know why!
From a reader on the East Coast who actually remembers the Clinton era:
In reference to one of your letter writers you posted earlier today: Is Hillary a congenital liar and in the pocket of Wall Street? These ideas are debatable. She certainly is widely disliked, or has “high negatives,” as they say.
I’d be interested in your views on this topic. I, for one, am not convinced she is a liar, congenital or otherwise. (Does your letter write who called her that disbelieve her denials about Vince Foster’s death?) She has been under attack for a quarter century and could arguably be seen as having the defensive posture of the perennially persecuted.
What do I believe about Hillary? Responding to all the various criticisms would take too much time, and I don’t need to do that anyway. But, I do believe she genuinely wants to make the world work better for people, and I believe she would work toward that goal as President. What led me to that conclusion? I read this article and learned about her improving the college library’s book return policy. Seemingly trivial? But, she thought it mattered. I think helping people is “in her DNA.” (I assume the story is true as is the story in the same article on her speech at her commencement.)
And, I admit to having concerns about her judgement. I get the long-term goal (helping people) but am often befuddled by her short-term strategy.
Similarly from Vasav Swaminathan, a University of Michigan graduate and Air Force veteran who is now in graduate school at Georgia Tech. Like the first reader, he was very young during the previous Clinton era:
I’m surprised by the number of your readers who consider voting for Hilary as unpalatable as voting for Trump.
To me, she’s a politician, who has made tough calls and done unsavory things that come from a lifetime in government. But she’s no worse than almost anyone else who’s been in the government for 20 years or more, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders since he was, until now, very much a niche candidate in a unique state.
When people talk about Benghazi but don't seem to see Iraq in the same light, I get confused. The biggest difference between the two situations is 2,495 American souls. And what other scandals does she have on her record? Whitewater amounted to very little. Her husband cheated on her. So … what?
For the record, I'’l be voting democratic in the general election.
Because life is short, I’m not even going to try to get into the question: why so many intense feelings about Hillary Clinton? (And I don’t plan to run any further back-and-forth about the meaning of the 1990s, or Whitewater, or Vince Foster, or Ken Starr, or — God save us — Benghazi.) Hearing the question is like being asked, by a non-American: Why is the GOP so upset about Obama? Where do we start? I’m just offering these notes as samples of a view contrary to some I’ve already quoted.
In the same email, Swaminathan went on to make a point several others have mentioned. It’s based on a previous pro-Trump note from a man who identified himself as “A Machinist,” and then criticism of the machinist’s views from a electronic engineer in the defense industry.
Unrelatedly, I also found the EE [engineer] who commented to be full of himself.
First of all, skilled machinists are pretty dang important to the modern economy, even in the world of numerically controlled machines. Those guys can read machine language as well as you read Mandarin. The difference between him and the machinist isn't necessarily brainpower—among other things, including choices they've made during their younger years, it’s opportunity.
I also recently completed my masters in engineering, and I agree it wasn’t an easy thing to do. But more than being fortunate to have brainpower, I think I was fortunate to have had a strong support structure from my family (and the GI Bill) to help me complete that degree. A lot of the troops I had the privilege to lead also lacked opportunities and were fortunate that the military gave them opportunities for a middle-class lifestyle.
To say they “lacked brainpower” is NOT accurate. But since that is the way the elites of this country have been talking about poorer people in this country, it’s less of a surprise you see Bernie and Trump doing well. Trump blends this message with white nationalism, which is what’s so scary. Bernie addresses this problem with an activist government, which parallels the Progressive Era’s answer to the 19th century Gilded Age.
Trump may be a modern Il Duce, Bernie may be a modern day William Jennings Bryan, and hopefully Hilary can be a modern Teddy Roosevelt.
Similarly on the machinist question, from a reader in the west. She writes:
Of all the Trump defenders, the one who disturbed me the most was the person who disparaged the machinist. Machinists are highly skilled workers without whom a sophisticated and diverse economy can’t exist. [JF: Yes, this is part of what we’ve been chronicling around the country.]
We need them just as much if not more than we need people with
graduate degrees in computer and electrical engineering. Maybe he
should explain why a skilled worker shouldn’t expect to earn a wage
that allows for a middle class life?
But it sounds like he has just gotten his graduate degree; maybe in a few years he will learn that he is just as expendable as the machinist he sneers at. He reminds me most of the old NPR short called “Ask Dr. Science.” The end of every segment where Dr. Science mangles some issue has him claiming “I have a master’s degree, pause, in science!”
Readers weigh in about this next stage in American democracy. Previous entries are all collected on the page you’re reading now.
Trump did save me a lot of money! From a male reader who now lives in New Jersey, who ends up arguing that I should “vote for Bozo,” ie Trump:
First, to establish some anti-Trump bona fides:
I moved to the Lower East Side (and then the Upper West Side) from Florida in 1979. I very quickly learned to loath Trump as a blight upon the city.
And why is Trump different from Hitler? Hitler wrote his own book; Trump hasn't read his. (In fairness, the same could be said of Hillary.)
I must add, though, that Trump did save me a lot of money. I figured, if a billionaire like Trump can't afford a decent hairpiece, why should I waste my money? So I'm bald. Or, as my wife puts it, gleefully bald.
Finally, we can take it as a given that Trump will be a terrible, horrible disaster of Biblical proportions [allusion to Ghostbusters] as President…
So, why not worry?
Two reasons. First, the US does not have the systemic weaknesses of Italy, Germany, and Russia after WWI. [JF note: Yes, agree, this is under-appreciated point. The Weimar Germany of the 1920s was a disaster economically and in its first fledgling days as a democracy, soon to perish democratically and in other ways under Hitler.]
Second, Obama -- even with the whole-hearted, full-throated, rapturously unskeptical support of most of the media, nearly all of academia, and two years of legislative majorities -- was unable, in the end, completely to "fundamentally transform" America. And Trump (Trump!?) is supposed to be able to do so with all three of those groups against him (and the courts besides)? Not happening.
That's why, if I'm faced with a choice between, on the one hand, a candidate calling for a "people's revolution" [JF: I’m guessing this is Bernie Sanders] or one who is both a congenital liar and the willing tool of anyone who has a million or so bucks to spare [guessing this is HRC] (either of whom would have nearly the same level of support from my betters as Obama) and, on the other, a reincarnation of Bozo sans the red nose, I'm voting for Bozo.
Deny him the limelight, and he’ll wither. From a reader in Nebraska:
An earlier reader correctly stated that "[c]onservatives leaders need to stop taking these [economically left-behind] groups for granted. Liberals should see them as a group that deserves attention and outreach. This needs to happen after Trump—otherwise we will repeat history in 4 or 8 years."
I believe this to be a correct assessment in many ways; the GOP has never, in my voting lifetime (20+ years) had what I'd call "a domestic policy program" that came close to anything the Dems have had. The Democratic domestic program over the years has been scattershot, perhaps, but at the base of it: "helping people out whatever holes they're in."...
I have talked with a friend who is the one rabid Trump supporter I know. I find his certainty in Trump's eventual nomination and election baffling, but not surprising….
I pointed out to him that the last time 'outsiders' won their party nominations over establishment candidates, the electoral results were disastrous: Goldwater in '64, and McGovern in '72. This didn't matter to him, and I was lectured on the Democratic Party's 150 years of using minorities to simply get votes, etc….
It is this "suspension of logic borne of intuition" that I find so frustrating...and troubling.
As far as Trump, if he becomes the nominee, being an unknown/ untested candidate against a presumptive Hillary Clinton candidacy, I think HRC would do herself a favor by simply speaking generally about the GOP and its candidate, and not even deigning to "debate" him where he could bully and bluff his way into "winning" any such event. Deny Trump the limelight, and he'd wither. Let surrogates call him out by name and sling the mud.
It’s not narcissism. It’s something much worse. From a reader in the Midwest, in response to a previous note offering an arm’s-length diagnosis of Trump as manifesting narcissistic personality disorder:
Interesting take on the Donald - yes he is narcissistic, but it's actually much worse than that. I believe he's also Character Disordered. When people are character disordered their basic belief system is that they are never wrong, or to blame for anything that they might do that goes wrong. It's always everybody else's fault.
The big problem with this psychosis is that it's very difficult to treat. If you are always right, then what is there to change?
I wrote back to this reader, saying that I did not know about “Character Disorder” and wondered if it was a real thing. He said, yes indeed, and pointed to discussions like this (emphasis added):
Most disturbed characters don’t hear that little voice in their heads that urge most of us to do right or admonish most of us when we’re contemplating doing wrong. They don’t “push” themselves to take on responsibilities and don’t “arrest” themselves when they want something they shouldn’t have. Any qualms of conscience they might experience can be eliminated with great ease. In the most severe disturbances of character (i.e. the psychopath or sociopath), conscience is not simply weak, underdeveloped, or flawed, but can be absent altogether.
It’s really hard to fathom and accept that there are people in this world who simply don’t have the same degree capacity most of us have to be inwardly troubled when they contemplate doing things that are potentially very harmful to others or even themselves.
“I will not be voting in the general.” From a reader who works in the defense industry, on the shape of this year’s race. He is responding especially to this post, in which I quoted some obscene and snarling pro-Trump messages:
One of the downsides of the Internet is where one can be fairly anonymous, people often give themselves permission to behave poorly. The comment board of The Atlantic, for example, is quite insalubrious.
Another example is Buzz Mitchell's message to you. [“James, you are a pathetic little dickhead” etc.] One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my short life is just because you're thinking something, or you want to do something, that doesn't mean you should say it or do it.
It's also clear that Buzz and the machinist [also quoted in that post] have immersed themselves in the bubble that Conservatism Inc's. lucrative media complex has created. One can exist in this bubble and be blissfully unaware of what is truly going on in the country or in the world.
The machinist, in particular, uses buzzwords like "Jonathon Gruber", but how much do you want to bet the machinist is not aware that the same "Jonathon Gruber" was instrumental in implementing healthcare reform in the home state of the last GOP presidential candidate for that GOP governor? Or that the ACA was first proposed by the Heritage Foundation back in the late 80's?...
Circling back to my first point -- civility or lack thereof -- one of the things we as a nation appear to be losing is a sense of self- responsibility. Rod Dreher over at The American Conservative had a great blog earlier today that touched on that topic.
Speaking for myself, I completed a masters program in electrical and computer engineering three years ago. Statistically speaking at this point in my life, I have academic and professional credentials that most Americans would kill for.
But it didn't happen by accident, James. Graduate school in the hard sciences is brutal, and it has a way of culling out the weak. But I hung in there, worked hard, and it's paid off. It doesn't matter if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is POTUS one year from now because given my career trajectory, I'm going to earn a good amount of money.
What I'm sure the machinist in particular is in denial about is a President Trump will ameliorate his present situation of only earning $45,000 a year. It won't, for wage stagnation amongst the working class and income inequality has been an issue long before Barack Obama became president….
It's worth saying that it is not Obama's or the hated establishment's fault that the machinist is earning only $45,000 a year. I realize not everyone can be an electrical engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a businessman. I'm incredibly fortunate to have the brainpower I have in order to do what I do. But as I've said, James, I've had to work hard and pay a price to get to where I am.
Without knowing the machinist, I can tell you that a lot of people don't want to pay the necessary price to get to where they want to be because, frankly, it's too hard. At some point, people have to take ownership of their own futures. Government can help towards that end (I took out federal loans for my undergraduate EE degree), and it should. But it is folly to blame any incumbent president for one's own life circumstances.
NB: For the record, I will likely not be voting in the general. Trump is an unelectable authoritarian, and Hillary Clinton (assuming she puts Bernie Sanders down) is untrustworthy for a myriad of reasons aside from her not inconsiderable baggage. You may refer to me as an engineer who works on DoD programs for a large defense contractor.
We may be past the point where it matters to wonder why Donald Trump does the things he does. Instead we can just note that he does them. As I’ve argued before, his virtuosity in being able to switch almost instantly from bombast to talk-show charm is an important part of his success.
A reader makes what may by now be an obvious point but is still worth reckoning with. He was responding to the post in which I noted Trump’s combination of masterful TV performance and near-total ignorance of the actual job and challenges of being president. Emphasis added:
I'm a clinical psychology doctoral candidate about a year away from graduation, and I think that there's actually a psychological explanation for Trump's ignorance.
Normally I wouldn't diagnose someone without spending time with them in a 1-on-1 interview, or without speaking to people who are close to them and who are reliable reporters, or without some kind of objective data collected from empirically supported psychological tests, but I think it's safe to say that Donald Trump is really and truly a narcissist, in the personality disorder sense.
I think that Donald Trump's ignorance is a manifestation of his narcissism. Trump hasn't bothered to educate himself about outside issues because, to him, everything he says is automatically true. Why learn about something that you believe you've already mastered?
Let’s stop to note Trump’s relevant quote today on Morning Joe. Who does Trump rely on for foreign-policy guidance, he was asked? “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.” Back to the reader.
Imagine going through life with the conceptual framework that you simply cannot be wrong. Facts would cease to matter, and education would largely be irrelevant, because you're the one who determines what is and isn't true. In fact, people who claim to have expertise would become the enemy because they would provide information that would exist outside of yourself. If everything you say is the ultimate, universal truth, than anything that exists outside of yourself must be deception.
I think that Trump earnestly believes every single thing that comes out of his mouth, and that the reason his beliefs seem to change is because his reality is fluid.
When Trump claimed that he had refuted David Duke he really believed it, because in his world he is infallible. When, in the reality the rest of us share, he clearly did not refuse David Duke's endorsement and instead said that he doesn't even know who David Duke was, that was also true, because he believed it to be true.
For Donald Trump there's no need to convince him that, as in George Orwell's novel 1984, 2+2=5, because for him 2+2 equals whatever he currently believes it equals. He seems earnest because he really is an earnest guy, and he refuses to work on his ignorance because he deeply, genuinely believes that he's right, about everything, all of the time. I think that he feels attacked because he lacks the capacity to understand that the rest of us don't subscribe to his own version of reality.
Further on the Trump phenomenon, for good and bad.
The left-behinds. A reader argues that Trump has given a voice to people who thought they were unheard and invisible:
I am currently in California looking after my 99 year old mother and consequently watching more television than I’ve seen in a long time. It’s been interesting to see just how blindsided the talking class has been (and to a large degree still is) by the rise of Trump.
Pundits scratch their heads, “Didn’t see that comin’” but I’m sure that you, in your travels across America, are aware that there are many, many people who have been left behind by the “recovery.” A stroll through the WalMart in the city where I live (Santa Fe) tells me that.
Both parties have let our working classes down by sidestepping an inconvenient truth that is self-evident to them: this economy doesn’t need them. They are expendable. I’m not sure I know enough about how other countries feel about work but I know in this country when a man (and I’m concentrating on men here because I am one and because I think this is primarily a male problem) is out of work there is a profound loss of identity. For some time now we’ve had an economy where the role of the breadwinner has been shared by men and women and I think, in the talking classes, men have adapted to this paradigm. I don’t think this is the case for working class men.
This fall I read Joe Bageant’s book, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, which opened my eyes (and heart) to people I would not normally have given much thought to: working class men and women from Winchester, Virginia, Joe’s hometown. To put it bluntly, these are not my people but Joe paints a sympathetic portrait of men and women who have paid the real price of our current economy, the ones who get knocked to the ground when corporate decisions are made far, far from their doorsteps. These are people who are seen as consumers or digits on a spreadsheet. And when they are no longer valued as “assets” they disappear entirely from our radar.
And clearly, until Trump galvanized them, they have been (and to a large degree remain) invisible to the talking classes and, perhaps, more crucially, to themselves. The parade of shiny, happy people my mother sees on her TV in commercials and the shows themselves do not reflect the circumstances of their lives and when they do it is often in reality tv shows where their antics are remarkable only because they are so odd to the talking classes. They are fodder for entertainment.
From this perspective any appeals to reason, ideology, true Christian values or whatever, will fall on deaf ears. Trump has made them visible to the talking classes and to themselves. They will not be denied.
I’d like to say one more thing that seems critical to me. Capitalism takes care of the talking classes in a way most of us take for granted: it confers dignity to their labors. There might have been a time when a man who worked with his hands could also count on that as well but not in my memory.
The phrase that keeps recurring to me is this one: “a place at the table.” This is what working class men and women have not had in some time.
He doesn’t really want to win. From an American reader in Asia:
I've been enjoying Trump's show from abroad after living in Japan the last few years... For what it's worth here's my guess how this plays out:
Trump knows he won't beat Clinton absent divine intervention (a real scandal, a perfect storm of an independent run), so he'll wait until the last moment and then instruct his delegates to support someone else... someone who checks the boxes of (1) palatable to establishment GOP, (2) credible general election candidate, (3) shares Trump's calls-it-likes-he-sees-it-ness (phony as it may be), and most importantly (4) promises Trump the moon in return.
Trump's brand depends on his reputation of not being a loser (phony as it may be). He's shown no interest in actually running a general election campaign -- no interest in the issues, no fundraising, no campaign. If he wants to maximize the return on his investment, this is the safest course.
Note that in this universe, Christie's endorsement actually makes sense.
No, really, winning would be bad for him. From an American reader in New York:
If you want to compare Trump to an athlete, he's not Muhammad Ali so much as the guy at the YMCA who swears he can make a shot from half court. It's a lot more fun to see him talk about it than to watch him try to do it.
I think it's possible that Trump could win a general election. (I switched parties so I could vote for Kasich in the NY primary next month for just that reason.) But it's worth asking if Trump could ever be reelected in 2020. [JF note: thinking about 2016 is enough for me.]
It seems like Trump's appeal lies in the ambiguity of what his policies would be. It's easier to run on vague promises than an actual track record. After Iowa, most of the punditry I read was about how losing would sink Trump. But it seems like winning in 2016 would be the end...
This is less amusing than it seems. From a reader in California, who makes a surprisingly precise comparison between The Donald and Il Duce:
This is in response to the reader from Europe who asserts that Trump is not a fascist and that the US would be better off as a direct democracy.
As a resident of California, I've seen some of the problems (that of course you already know) about direct democracy. On the more immediately impending issue: of course, we can't tell yet whether Trump is a full-fledged fascist. But do we want to put him in power and find out? The Italian historian Roberto Vivarelli's description of Mussolini's rise could have been written today about Trump [JF: emphasis added]:
“From the very beginning, for example, the relation between words and deeds among Mussolini and his followers was very peculiar, and words were used not to state any firm conviction, nor to outline a definite political program but, rather, to arouse emotions that would generate support for a changeable line of action.
“Language, that is, was used by fascists not as an instrument of persuasion but as a means of deception. As a result, the fascist movement from its inception presented itself as a purely political phenomenon-that is to say, as a movement created for action which acquired national relevance through a skillfully executed plan ending with the seizure of power. But when in October 1922 Mussolini became Italy's prime minister, his contemporaries had no idea of what was in store for them. There was no such thing as a fascist blueprint for government, simply because fascism was not an intellectual movement with anything comparable to a doctrine; and, in fact, among the fascist rank and file one finds at that time the most bizarre and varied collection of people.”
This is from Vivarelli's article "Interpretations of the Origins of Fascism," in the Journal of Modern History 63 (March 1991), 30.
As this evening’s results move us closer to (probably) a Clinton-Trump general election campaign, here’s a range of reader reactions on Trump. These follow the other items now collected in this thread, and this earlier post about the tabula rasa that is Trump’s public-policy mind. Here we go:
Trump as Muhammad Ali. A reader explains why Trump’s disconnection from any specific policy views might be a governing liability but has been an electoral asset:
I suspect that Trump’s surprising ignorance and lack of policy positions is a feature not a bug. Untethered to facts or positions and thus not having to defend them, he can claim anything and attack anyone from any direction, as the opportunity arises.
His is the Muhammad Ali approach applied to politics:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.”
Let’s leap ahead: what if Trump loses? Several readers have begun worrying about this consequence.
I fear that if/when Trump is beaten back, people will "relax" and forget that the hardest work is still ahead—reaching people who feel so isolated and disempowered, and bringing them “into the fold” of empowered groups that feel they have a true voice in DC. That starts, partly, by not treating people who live in trailers as trash. Poor whites are a safe target in politics, even though their access to power is as limited as that of many minority groups.
Conservatives leaders need to stop taking these groups for granted. Liberals should see them as a group that deserves attention and outreach. This needs to happen after Trump—otherwise we will repeat history in 4 or 8 years.
Also in the what if he loses? category, from an American reader who has lived for many years in Japan:
I think the key phrase to the recent post, Trump Supporters Make Their Case, is your summation, “and then we’ll have to deal with the aftermath.” No matter how the primary cum election plays out, there will be a group seething at the results. I guess the closest parallel to this coming November are the `64 and `72 elections where depending on party affiliation and political inclination, a large group of the electorate viewed the Republicans & Goldwater and the Democrats & McGovern as nutcases … and the winners, Johnson and Nixon, as viewed by the losing groups, were out to destroy America.
Well, actually, Nixon was out to destroy America, anyhow, we did muddle on.
I looked up the `64 and `72 election results, both had an approximate 60% / 40% split for the vote. Although an election landslide, still, 40% is a sizable block of voters that choose what is now viewed as extremist candidates (my political inclination says that Goldwater was truly on the extreme right and labeling McGovern as his mirror image is a bit of false equivalence, but trying to see things from both sides).
I remember the Nixon years and the bitterness that some Republicans felt at his ouster, some say that Clinton`s impeachment was payback. What I am asking you and your readers is how did the Goldwater defeat go down to those that supported him, I was 6 at the time so I do not remember. Johnson was able to pass the Great Society legislation (and I think he did that with some bipartisan support). If only he did not feel the need to placate the hawks what a different nation we would have had, maybe, or were the Reagan Republicans as angry as the present cohort but minus the internet/talk radio bullhorns.
In other words, how are we not going to tear ourselves apart at the seams (even though the bounty that constitutes the US as seen from afar - Japan - makes this whole B grade opera feel absurd)
And finally in the what if he loses? vein:
Many people wonder what will happen if Trump gets the nomination. Most anti-Trump people seem to be confident that he will lose, though there is a real fear on the part of some people that he might win. My big fear is what will happen if he does lose, which is not something I feel like many people are addressing. I used to have a Tea Party friend who’s now a fervent Trump supporter. I am sure that he’s convinced Trump will win the presidency, and that belief will only get stronger if Trump gets the nomination. I am sure many Trump supporters will feel validated if he gets the nomination, and will be sure he will win. I wonder what their reaction will be if he’s defeated. Will they feel like the election is illegitimate. Even if they’re willing to accept that he legitimately lost, I wonder if they will take that as a sign that they have truly lost this country, and will then start getting desperate.
I don’t think people are quite worried enough about what might happen IF Trump loses. It could get a whole lot uglier in the next few years than people are imagining.
Another next-step question: what about a veep? A reader asks:
One thing I have yet to see discussed anywhere is the question of Donald Trump's VP choice. I ask because the whole idea of naming a VP seems completely contrary to Trump's messaging.
A Vice President is a contingency that the President will be unable to do his or her job: has such a thought ever entered Trump's head? How could he share the spotlight with someone who isn't Trump? A second name just dilutes the brand: there simply isn't room. I can only conclude Trump will name himself as his VP.
Interesting question: who would he want on the ticket, and who would accept?
Now, back to his argument. What about the Switzerland comparison? A reader responds to a previous reader argument that the U.S. needs to organize itself the way the tidy Swiss do:
The one from Switzerland may have disturbed me more than the others, even. The idea that democracy = tyranny of the majority is pretty frightening (some peoples’ rights might be curtailed but so what?)
Also, the idea that the President doesn’t have to know anything.
See: Dubya (but even he had some experience as a real life governor and came from a political family!)
I rest my case.
And more on the Swiss angle:
I just read the opinion of your reader from Europe with interest as a US citizen residing in Switzerland.
The idea that the Swiss system of direct democracy is what the US needs is interesting to be kind.
I suppose that this could suppress any cult of personality that surrounds candidates in the US, but would it really create more trust in government? Switzerland, without the benefit of a charismatic leader, has passed stringent anti-immigrant laws promoted by extreme parties through popular votes and continues to attempt to pass more. If the Swiss minority in these votes "shuts it" and accepts the vote, doing so has not calmed the frightened populists in the country.
Unfortunately, the real Trump problem isn't simply the fact that Donald Trump could win the US presidential election. The full scope of the problem is that similar issues seem to exist in most developed countries - likely as part of the long hangover from the financial crisis. As your colleague reported recently there are "Little Trumps" all over Europe.
On the other hand, a lance the boil argument. From someone who has been a military officer during the recent wars:
I want him as the nominee. It seems like, if he isn't then the Republicans just have this same problem again in four years, and worse.
Picking Trump tells the right, this is where they are and they have to start working to make the party different if that's what they want. Picking Rubio tells them, there was absolutely totally nothing wrong with the Bush years, which is just wrong. And Cruz wants them to believe, despite all available evidence, that there is a sleeping giant of far-right evangelical voters who form a significant American plurality and want no more concession of any kind on their core issues and instincts, which is a disastrous misconception both for his party _and_ for the country.
The Republicans should be doing a "this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" and prepping for the convention.
What it means for the industry. From a former political-science professor who has worked on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon:
I offer these observations on how unusual Trump's campaign is.
As a political scientist who has worked in several campaigns over the years, I have been astounded that Trump has largely failed to utilize the political consultant industry and its tools and has succeeded in winning voters despite his flouting of the candidate's code of conduct.
Political consultants have expertise in buying TV ads, in microtargeting people for ads and turnout efforts, in branding and message discipline—which have made the difference in numerous campaigns over the years. So far as I can tell, Trump isn't using these people, isn't using much paid TV, isn't building a ground game—because he can win without it.
Everybody has been surprised by his ability to manipulate the media and dominate news coverage by tweets and phone calls, but it has worked. He has not followed the traditional media campaign of paid ads, themed speeches, and infrequent press availabilities.
The whole pundit class has been amazed that Trump can get away with behaviors that used to destroy previous candidates: personal insults, lies, changing positions, ignoring what he labels political correctness but the rest of us see as civility. These deviations from the standard code of conduct haven't cost him many votes.
What this means for the presidential race is that Clinton must run against a candidate using new and unexpected behaviors, and it's far from clear that her playbook responses will work against such an untraditional candidate.
America has never had a demagogue as a serious presidential candidate since the television era began in 1952. Huey Long was like that in the 1930s, and might have dethroned FDR if he hadn't been killed in 1935. George Wallace was a demagogue, but on a single issue with only regional appeal. Trump has found issues that resonate across geography and ideology. And voters are so distrustful of what politicians say that they don't hold Trump's outrageous comments against him. They even enjoy them because they're refreshingly different.
Back to positive news tomorrow. Classy departure speech (the personal parts) by Marco Rubio tonight.
In these past few days I’ve argued that Donald Trump is an increasingly impressive political performer, whose lack of substantive knowledge on public issues is increasingly obvious. He keeps saying “we’re going to win again” and “it’s going to be great” because that’s all he knows to say about anything involving what a president does. Three installments to this effect are here, here, and here.
For the other side, a sample of reader mail defending Trump. First, from a reader in Europe, a “shake things up” / “intensify the contradictions” argument:
I think I would vote for Trump.
- what American politics needs is radical change. Hillary won't bring that. Bernie is too weak to deliver.
- he would probably really split the Republican Party. Maybe leading to a multi-party system?
- said that Bush lied the country and the world to war.
- does not unquestioningly take the Israeli side.
- he is not a fascist, racist, white supremacist. Wall or no wall.
I wrote back saying: thanks for laying this out, but I disagree for many reasons, among them that Trump does not know anything about either domestic or international policy, choices, problems, goals. The European replied:
I understand. But I believe it is irrelevant. The position of president was never meant to be as powerful as it is today. The country should be rueld by a functioning Senate and Congress.
What America needs is direct democracy where people can vote on issues directly, like in Switzerland. There is no place for riots and violence in such a system, because it gets settled with a vote. If the majority agrees, then the rest has to shut it. Even if the decision is very controversial and might limit some people's rights. It happens all the time in Switzerland. But decisions also get reversed in subsequent votes. And with some issues, like repealing mandatory military service, they vote on it every 10-15 years. Always with the same outcome.
The point is that people actually have a direct voice and what the majority decides actually happens. I think in today's America most of the "elite" and the politically left-leaning there is a lack of trust in the people and their ability to make sane decisions.
The result is Trump.
Again, Hilary will not change this. Trump is just so disruptive that it might lead to some actual change.
For the record, I find this unpersuasive, the kind of thought-experiment that might seem “interesting” from Europe but not if you’re in the middle of it here. Still, offered for the record.
“When are you hypocrites going to question your own party?” A more common theme in pro-Trump mail is anger at the hypocrisy of the press in general and me in specific. A polite version:
Got it. You hate Trump. That’s very clear. I'm no fan either. But I'm still waiting for one of you media elites to step up and say, “I cannot support a pathological liar corrupted by an insatiable thirst for power who abandoned four American to protect a political campaign.” [JF note: for those in doubt, he is talking about Hillary Clinton.]
How about it James? Can you spot a phoney regardless of party? Or is your indignation only in one direction? I think I know the answer.
The less polite alternative:
James you are a pathetic little dickhead
Crawl back in your wigger rat hole
Continue to write slime propaganda and I suspect it will catch up with you
And in essay-question form:
While I might agree that the disavowal of Donald Trump may be a wise thing for Republicans and especially conservatives to do, as his statements seem not presidential, bellicose, and needlessly insulting to many. I would also ask, will you write a similar article suggesting Democrats or Progressives, disavow Hillary Clinton, for actions that break the law, that enrich herself and family though using her position and former positions in government, for her unjustifiable role in attacks and smears against women her husband had sexually abused, and for her constant and conspicuous and ubiquitous dishonestly?
When I see such an article from The Atlantic, or any of the plethora of similar leftist magazine articles which show up on my Yahoo browser page daily, then I might agree that you have a valid point about candidates declaring they won’t support Donald Trump. Otherwise, Mr Trump’s possible nomination and election does not seem any more disastrous than Ms. Clinton’s.
Here’s a long message that combines views of the press and the political establishment with complaints about the economy. I’m not taking the time to copy-edit the whole thing, because generally I don’t do that with reader mail. Also, the style of presentation is part of the message.
The reader starts by objecting to my claim that Trump, successful as he may have been in business, is shockingly ignorant about public affairs.
So a stupid and ignorant person can build and own towers, casinos, have many businesses, and employ thousands simultaneously. Realy? Use your brain idiot. So anyone can do this according to your logic?
Either your the ignoramous for writing an entire article on something that has zero logic to it or your part of the liberal lieing propaganda machine taking advantage of the stupid american voters that Jonathon Gruber was refering to. Which would mean your just pure evil like Obama, whom only got elcted on lies and broken promises directed towards stupid and ignorant voters.
Example of Lies:
"If you like your healthcare plan you can keep it"- No, that put a bunch of new requirement on mandatory plans so that was a blatant lie. The new cadilac tax that was imposeed on small busninesses by his plan is why I lost mine. Went from paying $116 a month with $500 deductibale through my employer, kicked to the private sector paying $265 a month with a $1800 deductable. Which brings me to the next monstrous lie.
"The cost of healthcare annual increase will slow to the lowest levels in american history" -That the lie from hell. That same silver plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield was gonna increase from $265 to $430 this year if I would have kept it. That's a 62% increase from one year to the next. You tell me any year in the history of our nation healthcare has gone up that much? It hasn't! Now I'm a average income machinist making $45000 a year that ony has a catastrophic plan and paying $216 a month. How is that improved healthcare for middle class amaerca?
"The average american family will save $2500 a year on healthcare under my plan"- The above explains what a lieing crock of shit that is.
"I'm gonna bring hope and change to a disfuntional Washington"- This was his main theme during his first campaign. When you start your time in office overhauling the entire healthcare system in america and ramming down everyones throats with out even enough time for Congress to read it not to mention reach across the isles to discuss it, you set a precidence of divided politics. What did Polosi say" You have to pass it to see what's in it"? Can you get anymore divisive that this move? How many time hasn't he stated to give him what he want or he'll shut the government down? He's one elected official. Congress are hundreds of representative elected by the american people. Government has never been more divided as it is now and it's directly because of him.
"Al-Queda is at it's lowest levels of activity and on the run" Part of his debate statements just prior to the last election. Then Bengazi happens a few weeks later and he has to make up another lie to cover this one. NBot a single human being that was in Libya that day said there was a single deminstartion. I remenber on CNN a Libayan official came out the next day in an interveiw and said there were no demonstration going on. It's been a complete fabrication by this administration from day one and average joe me can see that. Terrorism around the world has gotten at least 10 time as bad since he's taken office under his polices. Another major ass deception to the american public to get re-elected.
Above are 5 examples of massive blatant lies by this administration towards us american voters that I remember thinking how great that would be if it is as he says. Finding out the facts later and him being one big fraud to the american public. Or at least the stupid and ignorant ones.
My opinion on the Trump rise against you whom don't understand. Middle class america is pissed about being misled on a massive scale with no accountability. Democrats have lied and told us everything we want to hear(which Hillary and Bernie are doing now). Republicans have been rolling over and letting them get away with it. Trump don't need to be bought and he isn't telling everyone all the nicey nice things that they want to hear. He won't put up with the lieing crap on either side of the isle.
Example- You see Hillary in the last month or so address the african american community and telling them everything they want to hear so the agree with everything she say. Prior to running she never talked that way. Good indication she's another Obama and just filling the american voters full of crap.
Just a middle class average income hard working american tired of the lieng BS by politicians and the press,thats tired of making less and having it given to those whom worked less and sacrificed less to get by. America became great without free healthcare and college. We've had to pay our way though life, why should others get a free ride. One sides bought mainly by big lobbyist, the other side just is plain bought by american tax dollars thru entitlements. Bernie just don't get that socialism isn't gonna make everyone wealthier. History don't lie so that sorta leaves Trump now doesn't it?
[I’ve removed the name, but it’s from a real person in Wisconsin]
Nearly eight months to go, and then we’ll have to deal with the aftermath.
After the latest GOP debate, I noted that Donald Trump was remarkable for his very high-level performance skills, and for his near-absolute lack of knowledge about policy or public affairs. Then readers weighed in to the same effect. Now, more from readers on Know-Nothingism and the Rise of Trump.
I’ve heard from a reader who for professional reasons has carefully studied a very large number of “newsmaker” interviews in recent years. The reader writes that Trump’s cumulative record is remarkable, especially when compared with Sarah Palin’s:
Most liberal folks in my experience have never really listened closely to either Trump or Palin very much but instead rely on superficial appearance and caricature, so I thought I’d contribute the view of a liberal who has actually listened to them very carefully.
In the year or so after the election, I listened to a lot of Palin interviews, and although her range of knowledge is certainly quite limited, she spoke very confidently and enthusiastically about some Alaska-specific issues, one being the oil industry in the state. Another was less important but still fascinating—the myriad complexities of voting and getting votes counted in Alaska. She took obvious pleasure in her mastery of these subjects and pleasure in explaining them to people who didn’t know much about them.
I have now been through dozens of interviews with Trump with a variety of interviewers, and I have never once—not once—heard him discuss anything, any subject of any kind, with any evidence of knowledge, never mind thought. None. Zero. He’s like a skipping stone over a pond. He doesn’t even come close to the level of dilettante.
You’d think at some point, something, anything would have engaged his interest enough to read up on it and think about it, but as far as I can tell, nothing has. Much more so even than George W., he appears to lack anything resembling intellectual curiosity. Maybe he’s faking it, but while understanding can sometimes be faked, you can’t fake ignorance convincingly.
Quite simply, Trump is the embodiment of the saying, “fake it ‘til you make it.” Confidence can have an impact on outcome. If you don’t have the skills or knowledge to get the job you want and you don’t feel confident, you simply pretend to be confident until you gain the experience required to make it happen. Accordingly, Trump is always the best at everything (in his mind). He’s mastered this skill so thoroughly that I doubt even he recognizes it within himself.
And on practicalities of the job he is seeking:
Why hasn’t anyone considered how Trump would actually handle being president? It seems fairly obvious that after a few months of confronting the frustrations of the job, he would get bored and disinterested. If he thinks the nonstop narcissistic rewards of campaign rallies will continue post inauguration, he has a rude awakening coming.
Finally for today, on the conjunction of Trump’s performance skills and his oft-discussed hands:
Trump obviously had substantial acting coaching, especially with his hand gestures. Other people notice this too, since most of his press photos feature his hand gestures. I suspect he learned to do this as a reaction to Graydon Carter’s infamous epithet [in Spy magazine] “Short-fingered vulgarian.”
Nothing sticks to Trump. He is a master of “frame control.” He never accepts the premise of a question or comment, instead he answers it within his own frame of reference. He has absolute control over any interaction, skillfully deflecting anything that might hit him and stick.
EXCEPT one thing: his hands.
So my new hobby is photoshopping Trump’s hands. I have to find a way to get these pics to Graydon Carter. The only problem is, they’re too good; nobody can tell they’re photoshopped. I tried not to make them totally implausible, I only reduced them by about 25 percent. You could easily overlook the resized hands, which was kind of my point. I sort of hoped they would escape and go viral and nobody would notice the difference until it was too late. But no luck so far.
I think it’s entirely possible that this is the only way anyone will take down Trump. I wish I knew some other way. But I don’t. So here for your amusement are some of my depictions of the short-fingered vulgarian. I wish I knew what to do with them. These are mostly copyrighted AP news photos but I’ll claim Fair Use as satire.
Here’s one from his rally [this weekend] in Cleveland. Maybe I should start a blog and do one of them every day.
This reader concludes:
Maybe I shouldn’t continue to mock Trump’s tiny hands. He will just get stronger. But I can’t help myself.
[Update another reader writes in to suggest one exception to the Trump-as-blank-slate principle. That is the subject of eminent domain, which Trump has indeed discussed as if he knows something about it.]
Yesterday I noted that Donald Trump was by far the supplest and most gifted TV performer of all the presidential candidates left in the field, yet also by far the most ignorant on foreign or domestic affairs, military or government programs, or the other realities of being President. Hardly anything the man says about public affairs is true; what he doesn’t know, or hasn’t heard of, is astonishing.
Readers weigh in on on why a person as able as Trump should have bestirred himself so little to learn anything about the job he now seeks. First, a reader re-stating the question itself:
The oddest part of Trump (to me) is that we're this far into the game and he hasn't made any attempt to educate himself on any policies. It's as though he's uninterested in them or else thinks he need only bullshit his way through the presidency. I don't think he's stupid. Does he honestly believe he can succeed as president without understanding the job? I cannot make any sense of the man.
Beginning of an answer, from a reader in New York:
I worked with Trump in his real estate empire, and the pattern was very similar. Brilliant front man, barely bothered to learn about spreadsheets or financials. Just wanted us to tell him that a deal would be “great.”
On the “greatness” of the decisions he makes:
When I was reading your latest piece, the one thing that immediately came to mind was Trump as a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect: that unskilled individuals rate their competence much higher than it actually is. [JF note: my name for the same phenomenon is the “barroom Einstein effect.”] I doubt this is a particularly novel observation, but [this last debate] really drove it home.
From someone who disagrees — about Trump, and about my saying that a presidential candidate who has never heard of the “nuclear triad” needs to study up on defense policy:
Just read your recent Trump analysis, post debate. Listen to Trump addressing the same subjects outside the debate. Trump keeps it deliberately simple during the debates. It took awhile to figure that out.
Big deal on the nuclear triad. I've yet to meet someone who knew what that was, it's so obscure. I doubt if most people writing or talking about him not knowing what it was knew about it themselves. This is not knowing about the details, it is the willingness to make things right. We all know Common Core is all wrong. He was right on with what I hear from teachers and occupational therapists working with school children. It's conceptually wrong, it's not working. What else do we need to know?
Finally for now, from a reader on the larger question of what Trump knows and doesn’t:
I [think your post is right] to recognize Trump’s performance chops and also his remarkable ignorance. Of course he is the carnival barker that Obama undressed “fittingly,” but what is strange to me is that anyone as successful as he claims to be could be so appallingly uninformed about the world outside his comb-over.
This is, however, the vice that has become the virtue of “Conservatism” since 1976, or, as a Californian, I might say since 1968 when Reagan became governor. [JF note: Reagan actually won in 1966, beating Pat Brown, but the shift in political alignment and tone became much clearer in the election by 1968.] Ignorance of history, ignorance of government, ignorance of everything has always been an identifier for the conservative movement. The sole weakness in your argument, it seems to me, is that it does not account for how this man made his money. And I am supposing that more than half his wealth is fictitious. But, still, somewhere, sometime, he must have had a clue.
Given your analysis, I am thinking it is possible that Trump is playing a role that he has divined will gain the best results. And there are plenty of actors who get so submerged in their roles that they never come back again (I'm thinking Heath Ledger), so he may or may not believe his BS.
But, there are two things that can take him down. One of them is what Bill Clinton did to George Bush when Gore finally allowed him to speak in the late fall of 2000. I'm sure you remember this. Bush had said something about how the government could never create a program as successful as Medicare. Clinton just laughed at the man. He kicked his ass. It was hysterically funny. “Can you believe this guy?” and Bill is laughing.
The other thing that will catch Trump will be something along the lines of Romney’s Benghazi moment in his second debate with Obama. An instant factcheck with his opponent onstage, smiling at the cheater missing an obvious question on the midterm. Fox Noise tried to pull that off, but the three other stooges weren’t any better clued in than Trump so the gambit just looked weird.
And there is also the likelihood of a stack of binders.
I expect Hillary will be able to laugh at Trump. Maybe not as spontaneously as Bill, but she will have endless opportunities. And then she should call for the moderator’s reality check.
What happens when a meme becomes a terrorist movement?
On May 29, two federal security officers guarding a courthouse in Oakland, California, were ambushed by machine-gun fire as elsewhere in the city demonstrators marched peacefully to protest the killing of George Floyd. One of the guards, David Patrick Underwood, died as a result of the attack, and the other was wounded. For days, conservative news broadcasters pinned the blame on “antifa,” the loosely affiliated group of anti-fascist anarchists known to attack property and far-right demonstrators at protests. But the alleged culprit, apprehended a week later, turned out to be a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant named Steven Carrillo, the head of a squadron called the Phoenix Ravens, which guards military installations from terrorist attacks.
The amazing thing about the saga is how much of it happened in the full light of day.
Roger Stone’s best trick was always his upper-class-twit wardrobe. He seemed such a farcical character, such a Klaxon-alarm-from-a-mile-away goofball—who could take him seriously?
Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen: They had tradecraft. They didn’t troll people on Instagram or blab to reporters. They behaved in the way you would expect of people betraying their country: conscious of the magnitude of their acts, determined to avoid the limelight.
Stone could not have been more different. He clowned, he cavorted, he demanded limelight—which made it in some ways impossible to imagine that he could have done anything seriously amiss. Bank robbers don’t go on Twitter to announce, “Hey, I’m going to rob a bank, sorry, not sorry.” Or so you’d expect.
The gap between soaring cases and falling deaths is being weaponized by the right to claim a hollow victory in the face of shameless failure. What’s really going on?
Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET on July 9, 2020.
For the past few weeks, I have been obsessed with a mystery emerging in the national COVID-19 data.
Cases have soared to terrifying levels since June. Yesterday, the U.S. had 62,000 confirmed cases, an all-time high—and about five times more than the entire continent of Europe. Several U.S. states, including Arizona and Florida, currently have more confirmed cases per capita than any other country in the world.
But average daily deaths are down 75 percent from their April peak. Despite higher death counts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekly average has largely plateaued in the past two weeks.
The gap between spiking cases and falling-then-flatlining deaths has become the latest partisan flashpoint. President Donald Trump has brushed off the coronavirus surge by emphasizing the lower death rate, saying that “99 percent of [COVID-19 cases] are totally harmless.” On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans against “[taking] comfort in the lower rate of death” just hours before Trump tweeted triumphantly: “Death Rate from Coronavirus is down tenfold!”
White, conservative Christians who set aside the tenets of their faith to support Donald Trump are now left with little to show for it.
The closest thing social conservatives and evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump had to a conversation stopper, when pressed about their support for a president who is so manifestly corrupt, cruel, mendacious, and psychologically unwell, was a simple phrase: “But Gorsuch.”
Those two words were shorthand for their belief that their reverential devotion to Trump would result in great advances for their priorities and their policy agenda, and no priority was more important than the Supreme Court.
Donald Trump may be a flawed character, they argued, but at least he appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
That is the case decided in mid-June in which the majority opinion, written by Justice Gorsuch, protected gay and transgender individuals from workplace discrimination, handing the LGBTQ movement a historic victory.
The disappearance of local news is a slow-moving disaster.
In the summer of 1945, for 17 days, the newspaper deliverers of New York City went on strike. As hundreds of thousands of city residents found themselves temporarily deprived of their daily papers, the behavioral scientist Bernard Berelson saw an opportunity: He wanted to understand what it felt like for people to suddenly lose their primary sources of news. So he set about interviewing them. Asked what the absent papers had meant to them, the interviewees often responded with bromides about news’s crucial role in a government of the people. With more pressing, though, their responses deepened. What they really missed, Berelson came to realize, wasn’t the news as a noun so much as the news as a verb: the daily rituals of the reading, and the connection that reading made them feel to their communities and to the wider world. News is a product and a service and a foundation of any functioning democracy; what it is also, though, is an anchor—a tether to other people, woven of words and arguments and daily discoveries. Without it, people felt adrift.
A historian imagines the chapter high schoolers might read one day about this momentous time.
History never ends. But history textbooks must. As deadlines for new editions loom, every textbook writer lurches to a sudden stop. The last chapter always ends in uncertainty: unfinished and unresolved. I’ve experienced this many times myself, as a co-author on severalhistorytextbooks.
By now it seems clear that we are all living through a major turning point in history, one that will be studied for years to come. Future textbook authors will write entries on the year 2020, revise them, and revise them some more with each new edition. What follows is an attempt at—literally—a first draft of history: what I might write if I were wrapping up the last chapter of a high-school history textbook right now.
Taste the Nation is breezy in tone, but it exposes the betrayals at the heart of “American” cuisine.
Food, at its essence, is sustenance; that much is simple. Where things get complicated is in all the manifold ways it sustains us. Consider the burrito. In the first episode of Padma Lakshmi’s new Hulu show, Taste the Nation, the food writer and longtime Top Chef host travels to El Paso, Texas, where she attempts to isolate all the different ingredients in one of America’s favorite dishes. At the Jalisco Cafe, a chef griddling oozy eggs with beans on a stovetop tells her that the perfect burrito comes down to an attention to detail. The dish, another interviewee tells Lakshmi, is pure practical convenience: It’s quick to assemble and eat on the way to work. It can also signify a mother’s love, a whole meal swaddled in a pillowy tortilla and tucked into a child’s pocket before the day begins. And, in a city where the hum of helicopters surveying the border adds ambient foreboding to every interaction, burritos also represent the essence of American food: cuisine from one culture cloaked in the imposed ingredients of another (in this case, wheat flour). “A burrito,” Lakshmi observes, “is tradition wrapped in colonization.”
Many American public-health specialists are at risk of burning out as the coronavirus surges back.
Join Ed Yong for a conversation about COVID-19 at Pulse, The Atlantic's virtual summit on health care on July 15. Register here.
Saskia Popescu’s phone buzzes throughout the night, waking her up. It had already buzzed 99 times before I interviewed her at 9:15 a.m. ET last Monday. It buzzed three times during the first 15 minutes of our call. Whenever a COVID-19 case is confirmed at her hospital system, Popescu gets an email, and her phone buzzes. She cannot silence it. An epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, Popescu works to prepare hospitals for outbreaks of emerging diseases. Her phone is now a miserable metronome, ticking out the rhythm of the pandemic ever more rapidly as Arizona’s cases climb. “It has almost become white noise,” she told me.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
As states ease restrictions on businesses, individuals face a psychological morass.
Reopening is a mess. Photographs of crowds jostling outside bars, patrons returning to casinos, and a tightly packed, largely maskless audience listening to President Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore all show the U.S. careening back to pre-coronavirus norms. Meanwhile, those of us watching at home are like the audience of a horror movie, yelling “Get out of there!” at our screens. As despair rises, the temptation to shame people who fail at social distancing becomes difficult to resist.
But Americans’ disgust should be aimed at governments and institutions, not at one another. Individuals are being asked to decide for themselves what chances they should take, but a century of research on human cognition shows that people are bad at assessing risk in complex situations. During a disease outbreak, vague guidance and ambivalent behavioral norms will lead to thoroughly flawed thinking. If a business is open but you would be foolish to visit it, that is a failure of leadership.