A reader emails hello@ to defend Don in Whetstone, Kentucky, a Trump voter who called into WBUR’s On Point to defend working-class support of the presumptive Republican nominee during a segment I highlighted in a note yesterday. (Don’s remarks begin at the 16:45 mark in the embed seen above.) Here’s our reader:
I know that people, including me, feel very negatively towards Trump supporters because of the kind of stuff that has happened at his rallies, for which some of them bear responsibility. But I have to say, I thought the way Don from Kentucky was treated was disgraceful, and a perfect example of the worst element in today’s identity politics. [WBUR host Tom Ashbrook and guest Jamelle Bouie of Slate] pivoted immediately from Don’s sincere argument to a response which basically boils down to “let them eat white privilege.”
I can’t honestly blame a black man such as Bouie if he feels antipathy for people from a region who have had great hatred for his people for no reason whatsoever, especially after the guy mentions Pat Buchanan in an admiring light. But not everyone who supports Trump is a racist, and neither is everyone from that region. What is true of people from that region is that they have benefited very little from white privilege, a concept that is based on the historical reality of an exclusive social position which over time is extended to other groups (the Irish, Italians, etc). White trash, as they’re so often called, are some of the poorest people in the country and are relentlessly mocked and dismissed.
I think they’re wrong to support a man as deranged as Donald Trump for the Presidency of the United States, but neither am I willing to consign struggling people to the bin because they’re the wrong identity group. I’d hazard to guess that Tom Ashbrook has benefited far more from white privilege than Don from Kentucky.
Nick from Omaha:
I think Molly’s note should be more aptly named “The Stereotypical Trump Voter.”
I’m a registered Democrat who, in analyzing the Republican field in the fall of 2015, saw Ted Cruz as dangerous and Donald Trump as ridiculous and inexperienced but also as a less dangerous candidate who would likely surround himself with smart people and (critically) listen to them while making (critically) progress-driven deals with Congress that got the legislative wheels turning.
My view has changed. I now see this election as more consequential than most, even while having deep reservations about both Democratic candidates.
But others have not. I have been shocked to learn that some smart, educated, well-compensated, politically-savvy professionals still see Trump as an independent dealmaker and, even if inexperienced, policy-ignorant, and narcissistic, a better alternative than the “untrustworthy” Hillary Clinton. These are my neighbors and family members varying in age from late 20s to late 60s— some of whom I know voted for Barack Obama (at least in 2008). They are steadfastly liberal on social issues, if perhaps somewhat critical of “class warfare” and Obamacare.
I can offer no wisdom as to how this is possible. I can’t make sense of it. It’s my intuition that those in the media can’t either and therefore stick to the stereotypes that do “make sense.”
I’m not suggesting that these Trump supporters exist in large numbers. My intuition is that they don’t. But my intuition also told me that they wouldn’t exist at all and that Trump would never make it this far.
In short, even if it can’t be explained, it’s worth acknowledging that Trump supporters aren’t just from the disaffected working class.
Here’s one more reader, John, who emailed me directly:
Obama didn’t kill coal mining; fracking and economics did. NAFTA likely didn’t kill Don’s father’s job; it was probably automation. Illegal immigration isn’t lowering his wages; again it’s probably automation, lack of education, and the slow death of unions.
I feel for the guy. But he’s so misguided, so … ignorant. He’s probably a Fox News viewer. He’s probably been voting all his life for Republicans, who have systematically been strengthening capital and hurting workers. And he’s hurting. But he is clueless as to why. Now he’s voting for a buffoon, because?
Many more solid emails from readers are coming in over the Notes discussion sparked by Molly this week following her appearance on WBUR’s On Point. Here’s Les Carter:
Excellent notes. The media, party leaders, and the majority (so far) of the electorate have summarily dismissed the Trump candidacy because he is a moron and a buffoon, per Don [the radio caller in Kentucky whom Molly excerpted here] and Nick [the Atlantic reader here, along with anti-Trump reader John]. But John’s condescending dismissive attitude is too generalized and does not address the plight of Trump’s voter base. “Probably a Fox News viewer”? Could well be, but the guy's calling in on On Point! And I agree he really was eloquent. [On Point host Tom Ashbrook and Slate’s Jamelle Bouie], with their own agenda, went straight to Trump’s failings and did not discuss caller Don’s plight except to dismiss it on racial grounds.
Now if you examine the issues in the forefront of the media and of politicians, the plight of these men and women isn’t there. I’m pretty liberal on racial and income equality, and on LGBT issues. But contrast how much attention has been given to North Carolina’s HB2 with the economic downfall of the working class, and then contrast how many are affected.
As in so many presidential elections, I will support the candidate I dislike least: Clinton. But the pundits and political leaders who have continually dismissed the Trump candidacy as nonviable have failed us all.
Another regular reader and Notes contributor, Mike, also empathizes with Don but defends John against charges of smugness:
I’m generally with your reader response about not consigning the typical Trump voter into being a backwards racist. My own sister (fairly socially liberal) is seriously considering Trump. As she put it, “The choices this year are like picking between being hit in the face with a hammer or a baseball bat.”
My sister isn’t ignorant. She simply doesn’t follow politics religiously, hates the dysfunction of Washington, and isn’t a fan of the drama that inevitably follows the Clintons. Because it’s only May and she doesn’t follow the nomination process like a fiend, most of the controversies swirling around Trump are a sort of white noise to her.
And yet, I feel myself sympathetic to reader John; supporting Trump is stupid. Does it make me “smug” to say that, in relation to political support for a xenophobic, misogynist demagogue? I’d like to think not, since America’s political environment isn’t a vacuum for the left; when half the country considers itself “real America” compared to coastal liberals, you tell me who is the smug one.
Which simply leaves us all talking past each other. But we on the left and center do this at our own risk. We have to understand where Trump’s appeal comes from, and doing so means accepting that it isn’t all coming from KKK members. My guess? It’s coming from voters who don’t dream of riches, but of being part of the traditionally secure middle class, and who are hearing different voices (Bernie Sanders being the other one) promising that it can come back.
It won’t, of course. But the desire for it to be made so is real. And apparently people are willing to overlook a lot of ignorance and bluster for that type of message, because the alternative? Another Clinton. More politics as usual, by virtue of the name.
Joseph is on the same page when it comes to the dynastic, establishment tendencies of U.S. politics:
Your reader, John, says about the working-class Trump supporter in Kentucky, Don: “And he’s hurting. But he is clueless as to why. Now he’s voting for a buffoon, because?”
He’s voting for a buffoon because neither political party has been able to give him a compelling vision for how things are going to get better in that part of the country. Trump’s whole pitch is based on the idea that he cares about people like this guy. Even if the promises Trump makes are ludicrous, there is a neglected constituency that is desperate to be paid attention to at all. If you want to convince people like this guy to not vote for Trump, you can’t accuse them of being racist, etc. You have to give them something they can say “yes” to.
If you think you’ve been failed by both parties, why not go vote for someone to shake up the system?
Don sounded just like my aggrieved parents and sisters, and they are doing just fine. Other than Don being factually incorrect about the source of many of his problems, the thing we need to think about is how we encourage the Dons of the future to prepare themselves for the next jobs. I have worked next to people who bragged about not reading books, or the newspaper past the sports page.
I don’t think Don deserves his fate, but he bears some responsibility for how his life has played out.
Has he done anything on his own to improve his skills? Has he voted for visionary leaders, who might want to raise taxes to build better roads and schools, or who will bring new technologies and industries to his community, or has he voted for tax cuts? He’s stuck doing two jobs, but what is he teaching his kids—to hate Obama because the U.S. doesn’t use as much coal because other power sources are cheaper and cleaner (and does Don want to pay more to heat his house, just to heat it with coal?), or is he teaching his kids that they better learn all they can in school, and keep learning after they graduate?
Over the weekend a Washington Post op-ed titled “We Must Weed Out Ignorant Voters from the Electorate” got a lot of negative attention, including from me. And on reflection I still don’t agree with the surface-level argument of the piece, which is that people who don’t know enough about civics should be denied the vote. There’s too long an American history of struggles over the franchise to welcome an argument couched this way.
But here is the part of the argument that does strike a chord with me. It is the reminder that overconfidence about civics, by everyone, is part of what makes this election cycle an unsettling and potentially dangerous one. Let me explain:
Any exposure to American history offers reminders that public affairs in the country have often been in bad shape. The latest in the very long shelf of Lincoln biographies, A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal, takes its protagonist only to age 40 but offers a very vivid look at the close-run struggles over economic policy, tariffs and national banks, nation-building and nullification, and of course the extension of slavery in the 1830s and 1840s. The country would have been much worse off if several of those struggles had gone the other way, and of course it nearly came apart during the Civil War. Even beyond that unparalleled emergency, pick your decade and you can pick your crisis in the performance of the American government, the injustices of the American economy, and the cruelties or blind spots of American society. Things have always been dicey.
(Yes, this is the same Sidney Blumenthal you’re thinking of; read this engrossing book before you assume anything about it or him. For the record, he’s a longtime friend of mine.)
But because the United States is now such an old country, considered as a system of government, and because after all the turmoil it has ended up as the strongest and most resilient of nations, it’s very hard not to assume that whatever is today’s crisis will work itself out. 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.
With the accumulating evidence of disasters-avoided, it’s also tempting to assume that the recovery process is natural, and organic. And to some extent that’s true: the United States is a shambling entity that can absorb a lot. But I’ve come to think that it’s dangerous to let the mechanics of recovery and self-correction drift out of view. Because the United States has withstood so much, it’s natural to think it will automatically keep doing so, and not to pay attention to the rules, norms, and values that have allowed a loose, diverse, small-l liberal democracy to do as well as it has.
Thus three diverse, dissimilar readings on the mechanics of self-government, in the age of Trump and also the age of Hamilton:
The first is an analysis published eight years ago, Paul Graham’s “How to Disagree.” Graham lays out a seven-level “Disagreement Hierarchy,” from the least- to most-enlightening ways to deal with differences of opinion. (Yes, I’m aware that other versions of this analysis have appeared elsewhere.)
At the top, as the most useful sort of disagreement, is Graham’s Level 6, “Refuting the Central Point.” You take on your opponent’s argument in its strongest and most accurate form, and you explain why it’s wrong. At the bottom, on Level 0, is the most destructive and divisive form of disagreement, simple “Name-calling.” Graham explains thus:
This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probably also the most common. We've all seen comments like this: u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!
But it's important to realize that more articulate name-calling has just as little weight. A comment like The author is a self-important dilettante.
is really nothing more than a pretentious version of "u r a fag."
The civics-related point: think how much of this cycle’s discussion has taken place on Level 0.
The second is something published almost 230 years ago. This is Federalist #10, from the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, laying out the logic of the new Constitution. #10 is by Madison.
At some point in schooling most people have had some exposure to the Federalist Papers. This one, about the risks of “faction,” deserves notice because of the new oomph it has in campaign year 2016. Specifically, it is important for showing the long-standing concern about the fragility of the system the Federalists were designing, and the need for conscious attention to its underpinnings. Eg:
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts….
It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.
Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.
The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.
And on through a famous analysis “the means of controlling the effects” of faction. Why do I mention this? Because our politics of the moment proceeds as if there is no difference among the different levels of argument, and our governance is proceeding (or, not proceeding) as if the damage of faction can be waved away. A refusal even to consider nominees for the Supreme Court? It’s normalized as part of today’s partisan battle, rather than regarded as a specimen of the problem the Federalists hoped to avoid.
[Update because of a late night brain-freeze typo, I originally wrote that Federalist #10 was by Hamilton. Of course it’s by Madison, and is one of the most famous and carefully studied of his essays.]
Third is an item posted not eight years ago nor 230 but rather this weekend. It’s by Gary Hart — former Senator, former leading presidential candidate, ongoing defense expert and blogger. He writes about what the fraying of civility has meant, in practical terms, to today’s operational politics. A sample:
Civility is the name we give to mutual respect, decency, and honor among men and women. Like civilization itself, civility evolves over time. It is utilitarian in that societies function best when civility is the norm. But its deeper meaning has to do with the nature of humanity. When civility breaks down, societies fall apart. ...
Political civility began to crack two or three decades ago. Coded language was used to give resentment a voice…
The new media, first non-stop partisan cable, then the startling rise of an array of social media, caused traditional media outlets, print and electronic, to abandon professional standards and join the mad hunt for “the story” at the cost of the privacy of public servants and eventually the very caliber of those willing to seek office….
This perfect storm inevitably brought wide-spread resentment, political candidates proudly proclaiming their ignorance, and desperately voracious media outlets together in 2016.
Donald Trump didn’t invent all of this. He was simply clever enough to stand outside, watch the storm gathering, and then give it voice.
To sum it up: the United States has withstood a lot, and will probably withstand what it is going through now. But its resilience is not automatic, and should not be taken for granted. The fundamentals of its civic structure deserve as much attention as the latest campaign-trail insult.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Sure, it may be true. But that doesn’t mean it’s productive.
“Your refusal has cost all of us,” President Joe Biden said to unvaccinated people last week, as he announced a new COVID-vaccine mandate for all workers at private companies with more than 100 employees. The vaccinated, he said, are angry and frustrated with the nearly 80 million people who still haven’t received a vaccine, and their patience “is wearing thin.”
He’s not wrong about that. For people who understand that widespread vaccination is our best strategy for beating the pandemic, the 25 percent of Americans who still haven’t received a single shot are a barrier to freedom. Their exasperation is warranted.
But bullying the unvaccinated into getting their shots isn’t going to work in the long run.
What I learned about transcendence from a very boring 100-mile trek
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Last month, a survey by the travel industry found that a majority of Americans changed their vacation plans this summer because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. But not everyone canceled their vacations entirely; travel spending has been almost as high this summer as it was in the summer of 2019. Some would-be adventurers simply found ways to do the exotic things they’d planned to do overseas in less exotic places. One of my friends, for instance, went bungee jumping in North Carolina instead of Costa Rica.
For my vacation, I did the opposite: I went with my family to a fairly exotic place to do a distinctly unexotic thing. I went to Spain and took a very quiet 100-mile walk.
The United States has allied with Britain and Australia to form a new anti-China grouping.
A new world is beginning to take shape, even if it remains disguised in the clothes of the old.
The United States, Britain, and Australia have announced what is in effect a new “Anglo” military alliance. The basics are these: In 2016, Australia struck a deal with France to buy a fleet of diesel-powered submarines, rejecting an Anglo-American alternative for nuclear-powered vessels. In March this year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (or, “that fellow down under,” as Joe Biden referred to him), began talking with Washington about reversing its decision. Then, last night, in a live three-way public announcement, Biden, Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that the Australians would scrap their agreement with France to team up with Britain and the U.S. instead, forming a new “AUKUS” military alliance in the process.
Vanishingly few people have legitimate reasons to avoid COVID-19 vaccination. Some say their doctors told them not to get vaccinated anyway.
In the battle against vaccine hesitancy, many officials have suggested that people talk with their doctor if they have concerns about getting vaccinated. This advice makes a certain amount of sense. Primary-care physicians are typically the doctors patients trust most, and doctors deeply understand the benefits of vaccines. The American Medical Association has claimed, based on a survey it conducted, that 96 percent of doctors are fully vaccinated.
In recent weeks, though, I’ve heard from several people with an interesting excuse for waiting to get vaccinated: They say their doctors told them not to. Most of the people I spoke with requested anonymity so they could share sensitive health information. Most would also not give me their doctors’ names in order to shield the providers from negative consequences. The doctors whose names I did get did not return my calls or declined to comment for this story, leaving it unclear what they really think about vaccine exemptions. Some of the people I spoke with may simply be vaccine-hesitant and trying to blame a doctor for their own choice to delay or forgo getting a vaccine. But because doctors are a large and relatively diverse group of people, with varied training, credentials, and personal politics, it makes sense that some doctors would have incorrect views about vaccination.
A new study suggests that almost half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have mild or asymptomatic cases.
At least 12,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19 this month, as the country inches through its latest surge in cases. But another worrying statistic is often cited to depict the dangers of this moment: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States right now is as high as it has been since the beginning of February. It’s even worse in certain places: Some states, including Arkansas and Oregon, recently saw their COVID hospitalizations rise to higher levels than at any prior stage of the pandemic. But how much do those latter figures really tell us?
From the start, COVID hospitalizations have served as a vital metric for tracking the risks posed by the disease. Last winter, this magazine described it as “the most reliable pandemic number,” while Vox quoted the cardiologist Eric Topol as saying that it’s “the best indicator of where we are.” On the one hand, death counts offer finality, but they’re a lagging signal and don’t account for people who suffered from significant illness but survived. Case counts, on the other hand, depend on which and how many people happen to get tested. Presumably, hospitalization numbers provide a more stable and reliable gauge of the pandemic’s true toll, in terms of severe disease. But a new, nationwide study of hospitalization records, released as a preprint today (and not yet formally peer reviewed), suggests that the meaning of this gauge can easily be misinterpreted—and that it has been shifting over time.
The battles over “virginity testing” and “virginity-restoration surgery” reveal the persistence of dangerous pseudoscience.
In the Middle Ages, a royal bride would be inspected before her wedding night to make sure she was a virgo intacta—a virgin with an intact hymen covering the entrance to her vagina. “The Hymen is a membrane not altogether without blood,” wrote the 17th-century court obstetrician Louise Bourgeois. “In the middle it hath a little hole, through which the menses are voided. This at the first time of copulation is broken, which causes some pain, and gushing forth of some quantity of blood; which is an evident sign of virginity.”
In reality, some girls are born without a hymen, while others tear the membrane long before they have sex, most commonly by exercising or, today, by using tampons. Yet the demand for virginity testing—typically, a gynecological exam in which a doctor looks for the presence of a hymen—has proved surprisingly durable. In 1979, the British government performed one on a 35-year-old Indian woman who had traveled to London to get married, in order “to see whether she was, in fact, a bona fide virgin.” (The Guardian later revealed that immigration officials subjected more than 80 women to such tests from 1976 to 1979.) The Egyptian authorities used the pretext of virginity inspections to assault female protesters during the Arab Spring in 2011, and until July of this year the Indonesian military regularly performed such assessments not only on female recruits, but also on the fiancées of its male soldiers.
Will the Black body ever have the opportunity to rest in peace?
The photographs are about the size of a small hand. They’re wrapped in a leatherette case and framed in gold. From the background of one, the image of a Black woman’s body emerges. Her hair is plaited close to her head, and she is naked from the waist up. Her stare seems to penetrate the glass of the frame, peering into the eyes of the viewer. The paper label that accompanies her likeness reads: Delia, country born of African parents, daughter of Renty, Congo. In another frame, her father stands before the camera, his collarbone prominent, and his temples peppered with gray and white hair. The label on his photo says: Renty, Congo, on plantation of B.F. Taylor, Columbia, S.C.
In 1850, when these images were captured, the subjects in the daguerreotypes were considered property. The bodies in the photographs had been shaped by hard labor on the grub plantation, where they’d spent their lives stooped over sandy soil, working approximately 1,200 acres of cotton and 200 of corn. Brought from the fields to a photography studio in Columbia, South Carolina, each person was photographed from different angles, in the hopes of finding photographic evidence of physical differences between the Black enslaved and the white masters who owned them. A daguerreotype took somewhere between three and 15 minutes of exposure time, and the end result was a detailed image imprinted on a small copper-plated sheet, covered with a thin coat of silver.
To celebrities, the red carpet of the Met Gala is like an average person’s front lawn: a place for making bold statements. The event, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, is made for flaunting ostentatious couture. The dress code is determined by a theme—this year’s was “American Independence,” in honor of a forthcoming exhibition—that can be interpreted however an attendee prefers. Tickets are $35,000 a pop. And for four hours, the invitees—normally the most relevant cultural figures of the year—get to mug for the camera before heading inside. As a red-carpet co-host, the actor Keke Palmer, declared at the top of last night’s show, “You can never go wrong with a message.”
Grills are more than adornment. They’re about Black agency.
There’s a poem most Black people know, and even if you don’t know it, at one time or another you’ve lived it or seen someone you love live it.
It’s a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar called “We Wear the Mask,” his seminal ode to how Black folks must show one face to the world and another to ourselves. The verse begins, “We wear the mask that grins and lies” and tells a Black American story, about what it feels like to be treated like a problem.
This, too, is a story about that, but it’s also about gold teeth and grills, two words for mostly the same thing: a beauty we chose together, the grin that wears a mask all its own.
Samiah Rahim, 28, a certified diamontologist in New York, has two golds, commissioned from a jeweler she met at a party in 2019. One is a window around her right canine, the other a gap filler between her two front teeth. Front gaps are common in Rahim’s family. She figured the best way to honor the gap was to pour gold into it. Her gap filler did its job—it sits between Rahim’s front teeth in a rectangle of light. Without knowing it, Rahim was continuing a tradition that has existed for nearly 3,000 years.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.
If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.