Last week, in response to a WaPo op-ed titled “We Must Weed Out Ignorant Voters,” I said that I disagreed with that plan — but that failing knowledge of the mechanics of self-government known as “civics” was indeed something to worry about.
An American reader who used to live and work in Australia, and has an Australian spouse and “two little Aussie-Americans” in the household, writes with this point:
I was writing in response to your blog post on May 22 regarding the idea of disenfranchising low information voters.
I see from your recent posts that you have been traveling to Australia frequently [yes, most recently on a program for the Lowy Institution] , so you are probably aware that voting is compulsory Down Under. [Also yes. There’s a minor fine for non-compliance, but most people comply, and seem proud of it.]
Few complain about this law, and I believe that compulsory voting has a tremendous moderating effect on politics there. Until Tony Abbott's PM-ship, social issues were not really mainstream issues there. His quick and harsh demise can be seen as an indication of the danger there of being so polarizing.
Similarly, the issue of guns is much more rational when you expand the vote and don't rely on getting out your base and suppressing the other side's core faithful.
On economic issues, I attribute the continued strong role of unions and collective bargaining [in Australia] to compulsory voting. There is only political disadvantage in seeking to curb economic equality that gives workers a "fair go."
It is such a small change, but I really believe it makes a huge difference in making Australia a more economically fair and politically moderate country than the U.S.
Australia usually appears in the U.S. press in a lifestyle / culture / “Lucky Country” context. Like any nation it has its problems, most obviously now a nasty situation involving quarantine of boat-people refugees. But many aspects of its social contract deserve study and admiration, even if the different history and “path dependencies” of the United States make it difficult to imagine applying them here.
(The most famous of these admirable-but-unmatchable Aussie responses is of course to the “Port Arthur Massacre,” as described here. But beyond that, despite polarizing economic pressures like those affecting every country, Australia has a markedly more egalitarian middle-class sensibility than today’s U.S. does. Tiny but significant illustration: at least for male passengers, you’re expected to ride in the front rather than the back seat of a taxi. It’s more comfortable — and anyway, who do you think you are, riding around in the back like some toff? The high-minimum-wage/no-tipping social bargain also helps.)
Think how different campaigning would be, if you never had to think about “the turnout game” or “revving up the base.” Not to mention “voter suppression.” Ah well.
In an item this weekend in the “Daily Trump” thread, I noted Donald Trump’s claim that illegal immigrants are treated better than military veterans. The line got a big cheer from the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally listening to Trump, but it doesn’t pass the common-sense test.
(My friend Mickey Kaus, who sees the immigration issue pretty much the way Trump does—and thus not at all the way I do—argues that I am wrong and Trump actually is right. See if you’re convinced.)
Reader Stephen Gilbert makes what I think is an underappreciated point about the common theme in many of Trump’s over-the-top claims. He starts quoting something I said about immigrants-vs-vets:
“It was a pure statement of grievance, fitting Trump’s skillful-but-dangerous pattern of expertly reading, and then pandering to, the audience in his immediate range and in position to cheer in response.”
As was his claim that there is no drought in California. No doubt egged on by people such as Trump, many Central Valley farmers believe that the solution to their unmet water needs is not rain, but stopping those rascally liberals from dumping water into the Pacific to save some little fish. Too bad the media feels a (financial) need to treat Trump’s fact-free proclamations as worth equal credit as opposing truths.
What’s interesting and underappreciated here? It is that Donald Trump, rewriter of rules and transcender of limits, is actually practicing one of the crudest forms of politics from the pre-mass-communications age. That is, he is telling the audience immediately in front of him whatever it wants to hear, and worrying later about how this will look or sound to people elsewhere. [Cont.]
This sensitivity to the audience in immediate view helps explain one of many seeming contradictions of Trump: that he can go so easily from yelling and ranting on the platform to being charming and pussycat-like in other settings, as with the recent smarmy interview with Megyn Kelly. In each case he read the audience shrewdly and then smoothly re-calibrated. And sometimes, of course, he can use part of the crowd as a foil for attacks, when protestors are present (“get ‘em out of here!”) or reporters are questioning him (“you’re a sleaze!”)
Don’t all politicians do this? The good ones all have this ability; it’s what we call EQ. But part of running a modern, internet-age national campaign is recognizing that the audience is never just the people in front of you. Everything is always on the record; the whole world is watching, and then Tweeting and scrutinizing.
The contrast between Trump and Bill (not Hillary) Clinton illustrates the point. The reason Bill Clinton has been considered the Secretariat or Usain Bolt of politics is his unmatchable ability to talk with people from any walk of life — clean-up staff at a restaurant, physicists at a research center, black parishioners at a southern gospel church, white millworkers in the northeast — and find a natural rapport. So Clinton’s tone and wording change venue by venue, but his message doesn’t really. He is using a range of skills to advance a more-or-less consistent theme.
Trump is (sort of) similar in instinctively changing his tone and affect. But he’s (obviously) much less controlled about the message. The only continuity is the anger. Whatever he thinks the local crowd is angry about, he’ll say — even if that meant, earlier this year, frightening talk about roughing up or punching protestors, even if it means he picks fights he obviously doesn’t need. Some farmers in central California will cheer a line saying “There is no drought!” Most people in the state will say, WTF?? It’s a fight that made no strategic sense for him to get in the middle of, but it must have sounded good at the time.
Back during the 1992 campaign, Paul Tsongas, former Senator from Massachusetts, labelled Bill Clinton the “Pander Bear” for what Tsongas thought was Clinton’s willingness to “say anything, do anything to get votes.” The term has been applied, in turn, to Hillary Clinton. But I bet if you mapped variability of message, but audience, the pander-bear pattern would be strongest this cycle for Trump. That is odd given his oft-declared independence from special interests and willingness to speak the blunt truth. But it may help explain his looseness in making outsized claims crowd-by-crowd.
Speaking of that 1992 campaign, this SNL cold open from 24 years ago is an amazing time capsule of what is different, and what is surprisingly continuous, in American politics. It has three main figures: Dana Carvey as Jerry Brown, Al Franken as Paul Tsongas, and Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton.
Of course Tsongas and Hartman are both prematurely gone (and Carvey is still in business). But Jerry Brown, then a candidate and ex-governor, is a governor again and is right in the middle of California and national politics, having endorsed Hillary Clinton today; Al Franken, then a sublime comedian, is right in the middle of Democratic politics as a Senator; and as for that guy Bill Clinton ....
The day held a number of important-seeming shifts in the dynamics of the presidential race, one of them favorable for Donald Trump and the rest not.
Working in his favor: of course the endorsement by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who six months ago had condemned Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants and in recent weeks had been coy about committing to Trump. Working the other way:
the WSJ interview in which Trump condemned a judge based on his Mexican heritage;
Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy speech in San Diego, which was the most effective presentation I can recall from her and which minced no words in declaring Trump unprepared, temperamentally unstable, and dangerous if placed in command;
Trump’s own angry, rambling presentation before a half-full audience in San Jose, California (where many people were presumably watching the Warriors), which seemed different from his usual skill in reading and rallying a crowd, and may have indicated that Clinton’s attack had gotten to him. I’ll add a link when I see one online. Update here is the link. If you watch even a little you’ll get the idea.
We’ll see where this all leads. Will Trump regain his bearing and EQ? Will Clinton get in her own way again? Still five months to go.
For now, let’s start with some of the mail that has poured in. This first is from a reader who is now in medical school, in the northeast, and who is responding to this previous item on Trump.
This line stood out to me: “Through my conscious lifetime American society has seemed on the verge of blowing up at least half a dozen times. The episodes have passed; the caravan moves on.”
Despite being a longtime Atlantic reader (and as of a few months ago, a subscriber!) [thank you!], I suspect that at 23 I am on the younger end of your readers. To me, the present political situation is remarkably alarming, as it is the first real moment where I have genuinely feared for the state of America.
I was eight when 9/11 happened, and I remember my struggle to understand how two entire skyscrapers could be laid low. But of the subsequent fear I remember nothing.
I remember nothing of the debates leading to the war in Iraq, though I clearly remember the darkest days. But even then I knew that while the situation was grave, the nation itself was not at risk. I remember a blog of The New York Times declaring “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” as the song of the day as a Wall Street investment bank collapsed (Lehman Brothers, I think—though I haven’t been able to find the post).
But even then, while things looked dire, I trusted that the lessons of the Great Depression had been heeded, and outright crisis would be averted.
Yet now, with what I have wryly taken to calling “the current political situation,” I have genuinely lost faith.
I am a first-generation American, the son of Chinese (now Americans) who left China in the years just before Tiananmen. My girlfriend is Hispanic and Mexican-American. In a rhetorical climate where “Mexican” has become an epithet and China is the evil empire cheating America out of her greatness, I cannot help but begin to feel “othered.”
Your Time Capsule series reads to me like the logbook entries of a doomed sailor stranded at sea, futile missives to a distant, unknown future to catalog a final struggle. I am aware of past historical events that should be on par with Trump’s rise and the febrile GOP partisanship (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis, Goldwater’s nomination, the fight for desegregation, the Kent State shootings, the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention), but they lack to me the visceral immediacy of the present situation.
Of course, the polls, economic indicators, conventional wisdom, and betting market predictions all strongly suggest that Hillary Clinton is the strong favorite in the general election. But “strong favorite” still leaves far too much of a chance that Donald Trump would become President.
For those for which this is their first rodeo, what are your thoughts on the other “half a dozen” crises that America has weathered in your lifetime, and what advice might you offer?
For now I’ll say about this last: Good question, very well set up. I will think about the answer. You can send your own to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I genuinely have no idea what is going to happen to the Trump campaign at this point. It’s hard to see how he, it, or the country can stand five more months of the permanent-emergencies of the past few days. But it’s also hard to imagine how the candidate can change.
Also, I would rather not spend much more time thinking or talking about his campaign. But it is happening. So for the record, because of the violence around the protest Thursday night outside a Trump rally in San Jose, California, here is an account from a reader who made his way into the event, and was escorted out.
The reader is a retired school teacher, white, in his mid-60s, and a resident of the area since childhood.
I went inside the Trump rally last night in San Jose and found it odd how he rambled on and on. He got boring after awhile and a lot of people left early.
I also found it surprising that the crowd was relatively diverse.
And the people I met all seemed rather nice. Of course, they assumed I was one of them, but still, they were nice.
Five or six protestors were ejected. A few who put up a little bit of resistance were pushed by security. I stood by the side exit and was able to videotape them with my iPhone as they were pushed out the door. A couple times, it seemed somewhat excessive.
They didn’t like my taping and thought I was with the press, so I got escorted to the press section, which was nice for a little bit because I got a clearer shot of Trump. But more protestors where getting ejected, so I returned to the side exit to catch on video any manhandling.
They didn’t like that, and so they ordered me to leave the building. I refused and showed them I had a ticket and my only recording device was the iPhone, which was allowed. They called over more security to show they meant business and then they started to put their hands on me.
I don’t think anybody has gotten physical with me since I was junior high—which was quite a long time ago. Maybe it was so long ago that I had forgotten it might not be wise to push back against someone a lot larger than me. But I pushed back and told them I would gladly submit to arrest if they brought over a police officer to arrest me, but until then, I wasn’t moving and they weren’t to touch me.
More security showed up along with the head of security who seemed like he could have been the president of his fraternity. It didn’t help that another protestor who was on his way out decided to lock arms with me and then started to hurl obscenities at the fraternity president guy, who seemed to pride himself with being firm but fair. And now he had reason to be firm.
I was able to unlock my arm with the other guy just as three police officers arrived. They booted the other guy, and because I must have seemed like an angel by comparison, I got to stay. But they wanted my press credentials. I told them I didn’t have press credentials, which confused them. So then they said something like, “Stay out of trouble,” and they all left.
Outside after the rally there were a lot of police but not very many protestors. A few groups of latinos held Mexican flags and a couple times I heard some Trump supporters shout, “Go back to Mexico.”
As I walked home, I passed some guys hawking Trump hats, shirts, and buttons. I asked one of them, “Are you really for Trump?” He answered by saying he was really for making a living.
After the event, I lingered inside the convention hall for about 20 minutes and when I left, there were virtually no protesters I could find—and I spent over an hour looking for them. There were lots of people both pro and anti Trump still around, but there was almost no interaction that I could see. I found four girls chanting “Dump Trump,” but it sounded like they were tired and nobody was paying them any attention.
An announcement from a police helicopter declared that the corner of San Carlos an Almaden was an illegal assembly, but all I saw was about 10 people just standing around and 100 policemen in riot gear.
Up until midnight on the scanner, I heard the police were trying to push about 30 protesters east on San Carlos toward Woz Way. There was a report of somebody picking up and trying to toss a metal barricade and a report of a trash can fire at Chavez Plaza, but that’s about it.
All of the ugly video you see of the violence must have occurred within 20 minutes of the rally as people were exiting. Perhaps they should have been better separated by the police at that time.
The Trump supporters were very nice to me, even those who knew I wasn’t for Trump. And the protesters who saw me carrying my Trump sign didn’t hassle me at all, and a couple tried to engage me in a discussion, not a debate.
Even the beefy security guys in the rally who put their hands on me and started shoving me were only doing what they were told. The assistant to the chief of security, who gave the order to have me booted seemed to be compensating for his short stature with his officious nature. But in his shoes, I might have been stressed out too.
Trump security shouldn’t manhandle protesters and the press should be allowed to be in a position to record that when it happens.
A press pass used to give a journalist access. In the Trump universe, a press pass means you have less access than the general public—which has kind of an Orwellian twist to it, if you want my opinion.
As mentioned in the latest installments of the Time Capsule series, these past few days have been unsettlingly odd on the GOP side. Many of Trump’s GOP endorsers have criticized his “Mexican” remarks and been dead silent about his fitness-for-office in the face of Hillary Clinton’s attacks. But still, with the honorable exception of Lindsey Graham, they’ve said they still support him.
What does this mean? Who knows, but here are some reader suggestions. First, from a reader on the West Coast:
Whatever he is, The Donald is not stupid. Suppose he knows that he
is unwilling to do what it takes to win a general election and/or that
he’s going to lose. If so, how does he construct a story which allows him to preserve his all-important brand of WINNER?
How 'bout this? If he keeps acting out and refusing to build a campaign organization, he can let the Republican Establishment and donors become dazed, confused, and eventually hostile. At that point, he claims he has been “treated unfairly” or “screwed” or “sabotaged” and declines the nomination because he can’t abide all the “losers.”
Sure it would be chaotic, but the Republicans would immediately leap at the chance to put someone else up against what they see as a weak Democrat and would certainly go all out to not mention Trump again. The media then gets all caught up in the turmoil and is happy to forget The Donald, who then goes back to his gilt world, guilt free
An exit ramp (“my business needs me”) will be built prior to Cleveland, the GOP will have an open convention, and Trump be an asterisk to history. He will come to the realization he can’t win prior to Cleveland, and drop out. Remember, Donald Trump doesn’t lose contests; he quits them before they are over.
Trump’s attack on the judge and his demand that his surrogates pile on, and also attack as “racist” any journalists who question what they are doing—this is Trump doing what he seems always to do. He focuses all his energy and rhetoric and bullying on the crisis right at hand (the lawsuit about the Trump U fraud) with no consideration at all for the long-term effects or more important priorities.
I can practically hear him saying, “The convention? We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. It’ll be a cakewalk. People love me.”
Think of only what is happening now, and take care of the future when it arrives. The idea seems to be that if you can solve any crisis (“Easy!”), then you might as well tackle the one closest to hand, and deal with the others as you get to them: since you can solve them as they come, no biggie.
He’s way out of his depth, and I don’t think he’s quite realized it yet.
From another reader on the East Coast who is a lawyer, on my comment that Trump’s harping on the civil-suit against Trump U is a weird self-inflicted distraction from the real business of the campaign:
Your statement that the Trump University lawsuit has nothing to do with the presidential campaign isn’t really correct; it’s more complicated than that.
Clearly, Trump and the “University”’s actions in conducting business, and the revelations coming from Trump’s deposition, reflect pretty badly on the candidate. It’s more or less true that the lawsuit itself, separate and apart from the underlying facts, isn’t all that relevant to the campaign, particularly since as a result of Judge Curiel’s order, the trial won’t take place until after the election (a decision for which Trump ought to be down on his knees thanking the judge).
It’s impossible to tell if Trump’s ranting about Curiel is a strategic move to attempt to blunt the impact of the revelations coming out or whether it’s just Trump obsessively interjecting into the middle of the campaign his petulant complaints about the way he feels he’s been treated in a purely private lawsuit. I tend to go with the latter, since I think Trump’s impulsiveness and narcissism makes it very difficult for him to operate strategically in this campaign. He’s taken what is essentially his sense of aggrievement in a personal matter and brought it into his campaign, simply because he can’t help it.
Plus, I think this tendency on his part to speak and act impulsively may have been exacerbated in the last week or so by the pressure building up on his campaign. A withering attack by Hillary, the increasing push-back he’s now experiencing from the media, the fact that he is increasingly being confronted with his own lies and contradictory statements, what appears to be terrible tensions and infighting in the campaign, the lack of funds—all of this may be pushing him to act less rationally, more impulsively, to lash out, to feel that he’s being treated “unfairly” by everyone.
Interesting that his children haven’t been visible in the campaign in the last week or so.
A reader, Scott, points to a quote from Fallows in his note about Trump denying that he’d been asked about his opposition to the Iraq War before it went sour. Fallows:
Did Trump not remember? Does he assume no one else would? Does he not even recognize the contradiction between what he’s just told Tapper and what the tapes with Cooper reveal? Does he think that if he believes what he’s saying, everyone else will too?
Scott distills that state of mind down to a Seinfeld scene:
But another reader, Chuck, a professor of psychology and computer science, suggests that Trump has even less respect for the truth than Costanza does:
I have my students read On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt, and every time I read of Trump’s loose relationship with the truth, I think of the important distinction that Frankfurt makes: Bullshit is different than lying, and more dangerous. It is not that he lies (which suggests an interest in the truth, and a public recognition that truth matters), but that he simply does not care about the truth. Trump’s claims, even the ones that by chance are true, or truthy, are still bullshit—because he claims them not because they are true, but because they are useful.
To think Trump is consciously looking for a way to get out of the nomination is, I think, a lot of wishful thinking. While it is true that he has said many outrageous, impolitic, and plainly false things, most have accrued to his benefit in winning the nomination, and it is only now that some are hurting his chances for the general. I don’t believe that Trump thinks there is anything that he can say that is so out of bounds that it would derail his chances. And, given how wrong all of the pundits and all of his critics have been over the last year, we shouldn’t too easily believe that this time it’s different.
If there is anything that we can know about Trump with some degree of certainty, it is that he has a huge ego; there is no lack of confidence. In his mind, demeanor, and language, he is a winner. Winners win. That’s just the way it is.
But reader Mikey believes that Trump’s huge ego and his need to be seen a winner will actually be the reasons he drops out:
Sure, on the one hand, his delusional arrogance and outsized personal pride might be sufficient to keep him in the fight through November, and just as he has a ceiling among the electorate (45%?) he certainly also has a floor. But in the same sense you could say that everything he does is based on being a winner, and holding the position of neighborhood bully. When he’s losing in the polls by 20% and it’s him that’s always fighting from a defensive crouch, will he really choose to suffer that kind of humiliation for nearly half a year?
If it was six weeks, well, that would be one thing, but even in early September, after he’s been pounded and exposed and said more damaging, desperate, ugly things, he’ll still be faced with two months of campaigning, scrutiny, media questions and debates.
I don’t really expect it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he suddenly came up with a “health problem” or some other fairly transparent excuse to declare victory and go home with some of his remaining fortune intact. I have no idea what the structural impacts would be—his name would still be on the ballot, and a replacement candidate would not—but chaos and madness surrounding such an outcome would be a civics lesson in extremis …
But by that point, would Trump’s “remaining fortune” and its sustainability be worth much? Reader Chris doesn’t think so, so he contends that Trump has nothing to lose at this point in the race, since his controversial campaign has wrecked his business brand:
I have been thinking about Trump’s exit strategy—Trexit—for quite a while now. At first, I thought his best strategy was to have a contested convention that he loses because of insiders. He wins the popular vote, but insider chicanery ignores the people’s voice. He looks like a hero but doesn’t actually have to govern (and presumably fail at his two primary campaign promises).
Then, I thought that, after hearing that he was losing a lot of support with his high-end business clients, this made less sense. It’d be one thing to speak to his base—we have to solve immigration problems by any means possible, we need to keep America safe by any means possible, etc.—and leverage his name recognition to take the lead and lose at an insider’s game. To damage his brand so significantly as he has, it only made sense to me that he MUST win the presidency because if he doesn’t, what business does he return to?
Now, it’s even worse. First, there are the racist comments. These by themselves would have many business partners walking sideways. But then there is also the investigations into his income as well as his fraud problems. Trump would now be toxic. While it’s a nice story for Trump to back out, what does he back out to? His businesses, at least those that provide a large amount of his income, must be suffering incredibly.
I suppose he can establish businesses where his political base is strong, but I do not see a way for him to maintain any businesses that will support his current lifestyle.
Trump’s donors will probably drop out before he does, according to this lawyer in NYC:
Interesting that, following the MSNBC story on the dysfunctional campaign, Trump’s response is to send out tweets attacking NBC, the reporters etc. This proves the point of the article. The general public doesn’t really care about these “inside baseball” stories.
But major donors do care. They will be hesitant to contribute to a campaign that (a) doesn’t know how to spend the money and (b) is likely to lose. Trump’s immediate priority should have been (and undoubtedly wasn’t) to go to all of the potential Republican big money donors and assure them that he will right the ship, that there’s plenty of time to get the campaign structure fixed and that he needs contributions now in order to do so.
If those folks think he’s going to lose, the money won’t be forthcoming in nearly the volume he will need. Even Sheldon Adelson might back off of his commitment to contribute $100 million if he thinks it will all go to waste. It’s increasingly obvious that Trump, despite his ability to attract a certain element, entered into this race without any understanding of what was involved and without bothering to hire some experts who do have an understanding.
Update from a reader in Oakton, Virginia:
With all the buzz about “Trexit,” I don't understand why anyone thinks it would make a difference (other than in a kind of political cosmetology). Of course Donald Trump is incapable of governing; but so is the Republican Party of which he is now the de facto leader. But Trump never has really pretended to care about governance, and he’s not in power; whereas they have, and they are. That Republicans cannot govern is shown every day in state governments from Maine to Alabama to Kansas, and in both houses of Congress. Getting rid of Trump might allow Republican leaders to conceal this fact for one more electoral cycle, at least from hackish pundits and politically unaware voters, but it will not address the real issue. And it is that issue—the need for a new and different Republican Party—on which we should be concentrating.
Three updates on the morning after Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination and Donald Trump delivered a subdued-sounding from-the-prompter speech.
1) Journalists vs. Trump security. Over the weekend I published the observations of a retired school teacher who was inside the Donald Trump rally in San Jose, California, at which scuffling broke out.
Today the San Jose Mercury News published an op-ed by that reader, whose name is Robert Wright, about what he saw and experienced there. His article is called “Faced with Donald Trump, journalists need to stand their ground,” and it explains why Wright was the only person left taking videos inside the Trump rally:
Trump security assumed I was a journalist, and because I was out of the press pen, they demanded I leave the rally. I refused. They put their hands on me and tried to shove me in the direction of the exit but I stood my ground and told them I would only submit to arrest by a police officer, and until that happened, I wasn't moving and they were not to touch me….
During the course of his speech, there were about 10 protesters who were ejected, some with excessive force. The excessive force was usually applied in the last 20 feet before they exited the side door. That area was out of view for the media, who were restricted to the press pen.
Because I’m not a journalist, I was able to wander around the convention hall and record video of these ejections with my iPhone, and I was the only one doing so.
A press pass used to give a journalist greater access to news events. In the Trump universe, a press pass does the Orwellian opposite. It imposes a severe restriction.
Worth reading in full, and acting on. If and as Trump becomes a major-party nominee, the press cannot accept being muscled out from his appearances. I offer congrats, respect, and thanks to Robert Wright.
2) Choices for progressives, now that it’s Clinton-v-Trump. A reader in Canada writes:
For progressives, some precedents to ponder include:
- 1964 when they united behind unlikable LBJ, despite Vietnam, to defeat Goldwater;
- 1968 when they failed to back centrist Hubert Humphrey and helped elect Nixon;
- 2000 when enough of them voted for Nader or stayed home to help elect Bush.
Some Sanders supporters may be tempted to stay home or park their vote with Gary Johnson's Libertarians. That would really be tragic if it helps elect Trump. One thing to watch is whether Johnson can gain the 15 per cent poll support needed to participate in the main TV debates. Third parties can play spoiler roles in U.S. elections: Teddy Roosevelt helped elect Taft; Ross Perot helped elect Bill Clinton; Nader, Bush; etc.
Of course, it’s just as likely that the Libertarians will hurt the Trump GOP ticket. Johnson’s social liberalism (e.g. legalizing pot) comes along with a bunch of extreme economic laissez-faire and isolationism.
Sanders seems to be hoping that something like an email indictment will derail Clinton before the convention, but it's more likely the delegates would draft Biden in that event. That would increase the likelihood of progressive desertion or third-party votes with potentially disastrous consequences.
Five months of roller-coaster drama ahead, I think.
3) What “he’s a Mexican!” really meant. A reader originally from the UK, now part of the tech industry in the US, writes about Trump’s much-discussed comments on Judge Curiel:
My reaction to Trump’s ‘Mexican’ interview on CNN (thanks to time capsule #12) was that he was being intentionally doubled-tongued. He was pandering to a racist audience with the appearance of racism, while careful choosing his words so as to be able to later make a defence a la “look closely at what I said—it wasn’t racist.” Specifically, his logic would be:
The judge has strong ties to Mexico
The judge is proud of those ties
I am building a wall to keep out Mexicans
Such a wall is an affront to Mexican pride
Any person proud of Mexico would be affronted by my action
The judge is a proud Mexican, so would be affronted by my action
A judge who is affronted by my actions could not give me a fair trial
He wouldn't use those words, I’m sure. But that’s the “defence back-up plan” I heard in that interview. Of course point #7 is logically flawed, but not in way that is directly racist.
Specifically the non-sequitur at 00:17 where he says, “Look, he’s proud of his heritage. I’m building a wall,” is otherwise suspicious.
What he pathologically and knowingly ignored is that the very appearance of being racist causes the same harm to society as actually being racist. I.e. when one appears to be racist in front of an audience that may include people who are marginally racist, one re-enforces their racism. Among an audience of 300 million that harm is huge. No amount of later back-pedaling the logic can undo that.
What he clearly mis-judged was that for a presidential candidate the very appearance of being racist, no matter it's potential back-pedalability, would also be harmful to his campaign.
Thank you for your thorough documentation of Trumpisms and Trumpeting with your “Time Capsule” journal. However, I think you and The Atlantic make a grave error in its title.
Calling it a “Time Capsule” puts the readers—and you—in a helpless position. To psychologically frame the greatest American political disaster unfolding in decades as if it has already happened makes Trump into something inevitable, something historical, something unstoppable.
This is more than a quibble. I think it points to the essence of our societal failure in the YouTube age of watching instead of acting. The media is complicit in this mass mindset more than anything, covering news and politics in ways that do not seek to inform proactive citizens, but create content for the entertainment of passive consumers. To cover Trump as a proverbial trainwreck and not a current political and cultural crisis which will affect Americans and policy for years to come represents the failure of the soundbite Tweet-bloid media that gave Trump his unprecedented clout.
Your valuable reporting is not a time capsule. The neon Trump sign is not yet affixed to the White House facade. Trump is a demagogue of now. The Atlantic should inform, not observe, and especially not in the past tense. If the media stops giving Trump millions of free advertising for his controversial one liners and starts covering who he is and what he stands for—as the Times did today on his failed casinos—only then will the celebrity windbag deflate. No time capsule needed.
As the campaign has ground on, Donald Trump has changed from entertaining oddity to genuine menace. Lest there be any doubt: I believe him to be less qualified by background and knowledge than any other major-party nominee in U.S. history, and more dangerous by temperament than anyone who has previously been this close to power. I have disagreed deeply with some American presidents — George W. Bush, to choose an obvious example, with his Iraq war policy, the torture regime and Guantanamo, and economic management. But I never doubted for a minute that Bush took the job seriously and was doing his best.
Nothing about Trump is serious. It would be a grave failure of American democracy, which would be laughed at and worried about in every corner of world, and a serious (though likely not fatal) threat to its ongoing viability for Trump to gain power.
So I’m not just puffing a pipe and sipping a sherry as I contemplate the slide toward the abyss.
The question is how journalism can be most useful, in these circumstances. I don’t think anything the Atlantic publishes is going to shake Trump’s support among his enthusiastic base. There are a certain number of states he is going to carry. The points of potential leverage are, first, the Vichy Republicans (Ryan, McConnell, Priebus, Rubio, et al), to try to demonstrate the danger and the historical stain they’ll bear for accommodating Trump; and everyone else, to demonstrate the stakes. Those are the audiences I have in mind.
This is the most useful way I, personally, know to lay out the case. And meanwhile, I’m trying to make a record, for later on, of what it was like while there was a chance he could succeed. This started on a whim last month. We’ll see how and whether it should continue or evolve.
Another reader has a different objection—and agreement:
#18—I would give Trump a pass on the accusation of racism in his reference to Warren as “Pocahantas.”
He’s not characterizing her ethnicity. He’s making a sarcastic comment about her alleged effort to use her fractional ethnic heritage (whether real or fictional) to get favored treatment in admissions to college or law school (I forget which). His point is that she’s not really Native American. It’s immature and silly, but not really racist. Of course, I have no doubt that Trump is a racist. Who knows what he really thinks, but words and actions are all we ever have to go on.
#19—How many things are wrong with Trump’s tweets following the tragedy in Orlando? There’s the narcissism: the self-congratulatory pat on the back while at the same time claiming he doesn’t want the pat.
There’s the immediate assumption, before any meaningful investigation or facts, that this is “radical Islamic terrorism” (ignoring the possibility that this was just one fucked-up, angry mentally unstable guy).
There’s the nonsense about the ban, which would have been irrelevant here since the perpetrator was US born and a citizen.
There’s the attack on Obama as being weak and ineffectual, which, even if true, would have been completely irrelevant to this situation.
There’s the beyond absurd complaint about Obama refusing to refer to “radical Islam”. Obama and others have explained the tactical reasoning behind the language they use and don’t use so many times that there can be no doubt that most Republican elected officials know why he doesn’t use those terms. When they criticize him for this they’re just being dishonest and playing politics. Is Trump aware of the thinking behind the Administration’s choice of language? He should be.
There’s the “it’s just the beginning”, which is designed to create fear.
Finally, there’s his reference to “toughness and vigilance”, as though our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies aren’t there already. (Meaningless words, anyway.)
More generally, two aspects of this are highly offensive: First, that Trump is spouting off even before all of the facts are in. Second, that he’s exploiting this tragedy for his own personal political gain. I note that that’s different than exploiting the event to make a political point, such as to advocate for gun control. Some may consider that inappropriate, but it’s certainly less offensive than what Trump has done here.
For several weeks I’ve been running a Trump Time Capsule series, chronicling things Donald Trump has done and said that in normal circumstances would be considered disqualifying for a presidential candidate. I’ve thought it valuable to compile this record at a time when we don’t know whether Trump actually might become president. Last night I posted a complaint from a reader who found this approach too passive and detached.
Now, some reader response. First, two brief messages supporting the approach. One reader says:
I think the reader who finds the time capsule fatalistic fundamentally misunderstands its purpose. It exists not to serve as a record of the development of a certain event (Trump's election) but to prevent that event by portraying his behavior in an objective context to demonstrate how much of a mistake electing him would be. Therefore, it actually plays a very active role in the attempt to slow or halt his rise to power.
And the other says he’s glad for time capsules, because:
I for one want to be able to show my children that we all didn’t lose our minds in 2016.
I think a lot of people feel helpless with the rise of Trump. I certainly do. I have college-educated friends who sincerely believe everything Trump says, and nothing anyone does or says seems to change that. The attack has only reinforced the polarization of America, and anyone who has any conservative principals risks getting labeled a Trump supporter.
Trump scares the hell out of me and I feel powerless to stop him. Ignoring him didn’t work, laughing at him isn’t working, arguing against him never seems to work. How do we move past this nonsense?
Now a longer historical perspective, from reader Mark Bernstein, who is head of a small tech company and was a one-time guest blogger here. He writes:
One of the hardest challenges to understanding history is remembering—and believing—that people in another time did not always know how things would turn out. They knew something about what was possible and what was likely; in some cases, they knew more than us. But often, they didn’t know what would happen, and it can be hard for us to really believe that because we know what did happen.
We know, for example, that Joe McCarthy was a knave and that by 1954 his force was nearly spent. But people in 1954 didn’t know that “McCarthyism” was about to become a proverbial story with which to scare the children. [Cont.]
We know, watching Amistad and Glory and Gettysburg, that slavery would soon end. They didn’t. (I recently revisited The Souls of Black Folk (1903) and was astonished at how DuBois—a maximalist disinclined to accommodate the status quo—assumed that the struggle for integration and civil rights was unlikely to begin, even haltingly, for another century.)
We know that the Know-Nothings and the America Firsters would come to nothing; they didn’t. We know that the Bund and the Anarchists would be squibs, that Eugene Debs and George Wallace would not get traction. They didn’t.
The time capsule reminds us that—sooner than we can imagine—this struggle will be a history lesson. It will soon take an act of will to remember that the nature of that lesson was not always self-evident. The Founding Fathers thought long and hard about a candidate like Trump, and the danger that could be posed by a short-fingered vulgarian was seldom far from their minds. Ancient democracies had failed when faced with such men: Alcibiades, Sulla, Cataline, Clodius, Octavian. Designing a democracy that would not succumb was their explicit intent. (John Adams, I think, was never comfortable that they had done enough.)
But, even if (as I fully expect) the center holds and Trump will soon take his deserved place in the pantheon of political parables—joining George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Charles Lindbergh, John Calhoun, Neville Chamberlain, Pierre Laval—we’ll need to recapture that terrible moment when, it seemed, Trump could conceivably win.
Thanks to our friends in Japan. This makes it all worthwhile:
Most of the Japanese writing merely says “Trump” (トランプ, Toranpu), or “President.” Though the TV screen at time 0:17 nicely says “Trump is God”(トランプ・イズ・ゴッド), and the closing credits say トランプ 万歳 . This is “Trump Banzai!” or “May Trump Live Ten Thousand Years!” (It also appears at time 0:56.) You would normally say Banzai! to the emperor.
If Trump made this the official campaign video I would consider voting for him.
Thanks to my friends at the U.S. Studies Centre in Sydney for the tip.Thanks to Mike Diva for the video.
In response to recent Time Capsule entries, readers suggest that I am missing the obvious point: that neither Trump nor his audience expects his statements actually to mean anything. I think the three comments below point toward an emerging, important insight about the spectacle of Trump-era politics.
One reader writes (emphasis added):
I enjoyed your piece on Trump’s Gilley’s goof-up. But you overlooked the most recent and well-publicized example of a politician being pilloried over such a faux pas: Ted Cruz’s infamous comments about the “basketball ring” he made during his final campaign push in Indiana. These tin-eared attempts to pander to hoops-loving Hoosiers were a widely covered part of Cruz’s failed efforts to unseat Trump as GOP leader in the primaries.
Now why Ted is expected to know all about basketball (which is, after all, the 2nd most popular spectator sport in the U.S.) and Donald is given a pass for not knowing the bull (when we all know that he is more familiar with “bull” than any other person alive) is an interesting question. I am sure Trump was quite aware of Debra Winger at the time of Urban Cowboy. And he was clearly aware of the device, which is why he commented on it in the first place.
I am afraid that Trump’s speech is no longer looked at as carrying actual content.Instead, it has become pure gesture, merely indicating moods and relationships rather than explicit ideas.
A Trump rally in some ways resembles a rock concert, where the crowd cheers at one point in the program for the angry song, later for the big ballad, and goes crazy at the end when the singer does his biggest hit (in Trump’s case, the Mexican Wall bit). His rhetoric is so transparently pure rhetoric, so layered with dog whistles and emotional words that modify no actual nouns or verbs, that his listeners are not looking for meaning. Instead, they are thrilled by the emotion of his speeches, which are only possible because has liberated himself from the usual quotidian purposes of language.
By speaking all the time in the style of a commercial’s tag-line, he has escaped even the expectation that his words will have a meaning when written down or recorded. This is why so many supporters can say they disagree with what he says, but love him for saying it “like it is.” He captures a feeling that goes beyond rational thought. It is the political equivalent of the incoherent swearing a man does when he hits his thumb while trying to hammer a nail: It’s an outburst of urgent emotion with no logical structure.
I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, about four years sober. It just occurred to me that the entire Trump campaign to date makes more sense if you look at Trump as if he were a drug addict—only instead of being addicted to drugs, he’s addicted to attention.
Like a drug addict whose tolerance increases and requires a larger and larger dose to get the same effect, Trump’s need for attention keeps growing larger and larger. He's pretty much at the pinnacle now, with just about the entire world fixated on him, and in order to keep getting his fix, he needs to keep saying crazy stuff to stay in the headlines.
Like most addicts he’ll eventually overdo it, come crashing down, and hit bottom. If this is actually the case, it’s not so much the presidency he’s interested in for its own sake; it would merely be a vehicle for him to pursue his addiction to its logical extreme.
Finally, a reader disagrees with an item in which I said: “A real president, or real presidential candidate, would be informed enough to know that Muslim immigrants to the U.S. have been notable for their assimilation, not the reverse.”
The reader writes:
I believe you are misconstruing the meaning here. You are taking Trump far too much at his word.
Trump is not thinking, these American Muslims don’t assimilate therefore they are an attractive target. He is not thinking at all. He is very informed about Muslim immigrants. His hair specialist is one, Mohammad Ali Ivari, and surely he knows many others. He simply is not thinking at all.
Journalists, yourself included, need to stop taking him at his word. His points are not thought-out commentary; they are simply the free-form stylings of an ignoramus who is seeking self-aggrandizement. You are giving his words too much weight to consider that reflect a sincere and informed judgement. They are simply the ramblings of a man who only knows what he read in today’s paper and what his gut says his audience wants to hear.
A silver lining of this dark political moment: a lot of people around the world are thinking seriously about the dynamics of American politics and the info-ecology that underlies it.
Unfortunately, the Republican party is about to nominate a man who is not one of these people. And the “respectable” leaders of the Vichy Republican camp — Ryan, McConnell, Priebus, McCain, Rubio, Christie, Huntsman, Gingrich, now Roger Ailes — are still lining up behind him.
Every time the president ramps up his violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way.
When I put my hand on the Bible at my inauguration, it did not occur to me that less than two years later, I would have to tell my daughters about a plot against me. But earlier this month, I learned that a multistate terrorist group was planning to kidnap and possibly kill me. Law-enforcement announced charges against 14 people as part of the plot. As jarring as that was, just over a week later, President Donald Trump traveled to Michigan, and when a crowd chanted “Lock her up” after he mentioned me, he said, “Lock them all up.”
I am not surprised. I have watched the president wedge a deeper divide in our country; refuse to denounce white supremacists on a national debate stage; and launch cruel, adolescent attacks on women like Senator Kamala Harris and public-health leaders like Anthony Fauci. And while I won’t let anything distract me from doing my job as governor, I will not stand back and let the president, or anyone else, put my colleagues and fellow Americans in danger without holding him accountable.
States and cities struggling through the pandemic recession are wondering if higher taxes will raise revenue, or cause a mass exodus.
Cities and states across the country are facing a conundrum: They are desperate for cash because of the ravages of the COVID-19 recession. Rich people are pretty much the only ones who have any, because of both the recession and the yawning inequality that long predated it. But if cities and states raise taxes on the 1 percent, they worry that rich families might simply leave, no longer bound to their offices or their children’s schools. The conundrum is real, and the solution is easy enough: Let the federal government help states and cities circumvent the whole issue.
The pandemic recession has battered local coffers, causing revenue losses of an estimated $155 billion in 2020 and $167 billion in 2021, about 6 percent of local revenue. New York alone is projecting a $59 billion shortfall through 2022. The federal government could easily finance those kinds of deficits by issuing bonds. But doing so is harder for local governments, which generally have to keep their budgets balanced and often have limits on their borrowing. When big recessions hit, and the COVID-19 recession is a huge one, many of them have no choice but to raise revenue or cut services.
America won the internet, and now makes us all speak its language.
LONDON—Sharing the internet with America is like sharing your living room with a rhinoceros. It’s huge, it’s right there, and whatever it’s doing now, you sure as hell know about it.
This month, Twitter announced that it would restrict retweets for a few weeks, and prompt its users to reconsider sharing content which has been flagged as misinformation. The reason for this change, of course, is the U.S. presidential election. The restricted features will be restored when its result is clear.
Anything that makes Twitter fractionally less hellish is welcome, as is the recent crackdown by Facebook and YouTube on QAnon conspiracy groups and Holocaust denial. But from anywhere outside the borders of the U.S., it is hard not to feel faintly aggrieved when reading this news. Hey guys! We have elections too!
The Constitution should be the sturdy vessel of our ideals and aspirations, not a derelict sailing ship locked in the ice of a world far from our own.
During her confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett argued that the judicial philosophy known as “originalism” should guide judges in their interpretation and application of constitutional principles. Most famously associated with the late Justice Antonin Scalia (for whom Judge Barrett clerked), this idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”
In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.
Republicans understand that Barrett’s confirmation is coming just a week before a potential electoral “bloodbath.” They don’t care.
Senate Republicans were always going to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Conservative voters wanted it, and the party united around the concept. Republicans “believe voting on this justice is a constitutional duty. The nomination happened. There was time to get it done. So they got it done,” Steven Duffield, a Republican former senior Senate aide, told me. Even the highest-ranking Republican leaders aren’t shy about admitting that this may be the party’s last gasp before losing political power for a while. “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a speech yesterday. The Democrats “won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
Our persuasion rate is much higher than that of traditional electioneering efforts.
Last year, before the pandemic, I stood on the front porch of a house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while the homeowner, a former military man, heaved pro-Trump talking points at me. His anger was palpable. He was upset about the state of health care. He blamed immigrants. With a clipboard in my hand, I listened carefully to everything he had to say.
I am the director of People’s Action, an organization of working-class and low-income people. I was in Pennsylvania as part of deep-canvass efforts targeting rural and small-town voters, testing whether patient, nonjudgmental conversations about race, immigration, health care, and the economy can help people reexamine their views, and perhaps even lead them to vote for Joe Biden instead of Donald Trump.
The pandemic has broken Americans’ understanding of what to fear.
On a normal day, the White House is one of the safest buildings in the world. Secret Service snipers stand guard on the roof, their aim tested monthly to ensure their accuracy up to 1,000 feet. Their heavily armed colleagues patrol the ground below and staff security checkpoints. Belgian Malinois guard dogs lie in wait for anyone who manages to jump the property’s massive iron fence.
But safety means something different in a pandemic. Over the past few days, several aides to Vice President Mike Pence, including his chief of staff, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The outbreak is the second in the White House in a month, after dozens of people, including President Donald Trump himself, tested positive following the apparent super-spreader event hosted by the administration to celebrate the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
An overlooked corner of the Constitution hints at a right to be protected from infection.
Ever since state governors began implementing stay-at-home orders to contain the coronavirus pandemic, protesters have resisted such safety measures under the belief that they violate constitutionally guaranteed liberties. Proposals to mandate mask wearing have collided with allegations of First Amendment violations. Orders to close gun stores have clashed with concerns about Second Amendment freedoms. But a profound historical counter-vision to these ideas about “individual liberty” can be found in one of the most neglected and underappreciated corners of the Bill of Rights: the Third Amendment.
“No soldier,” the amendment reads, “shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” Federal courts have rarely invoked it, and in 2015 even rejected a Third Amendment claim against police officers’ occupation of a house. Now the subject of memes, the amendment, in the words of the legal historian Morton Horwitz, is an “interesting study in constitutional obsolescence.”
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
Like other stories about terrible rich people, HBO’s glitzy murder mystery The Undoing is entranced by a world it finds immoral.
Is any capitalist endeavor more menacing than the control of nature itself? The conquest of occupied lands, the rerouting of rivers, the hoarding of purified air—the American elite has always maintained itself in part by manipulating the environment. The wealthy characters on The Undoing, a new HBO miniseries set in New York City that premiered Sunday, can’t harness the East River. They don’t set about planting flags in Central Park or claiming Fifth Avenue. But with a selective private school, Reardon, as their home base, they still exert a nearly godlike rule over their surroundings and those who dwell there.
The show begins with a premise that’s most easily summed up as Big Little Lies: Manhattan—a murder mystery that takes place in the land of the uberrich, where daunting architecture is set against the backdrop of a concrete island rather than an ominous sea. Nicole Kidman plays Grace Fraser, a successful family therapist; her husband, Jonathan, is a children’s oncologist, played by a characteristically charming Hugh Grant. Their family, which includes their 12-year-old son, Henry (played by Noah Jupe), seems happy—picturesque, tidy. In addition to sharing a star (Kidman) and a lead writer (David E. Kelley), Big Little Lies and The Undoing are also both adapted from novels.