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First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

The Daily Trump: Filling a Time Capsule
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People will look back on this era in our history to see what was known about Donald Trump while Americans were deciding whether to choose him as president. Here’s a running chronicle from James Fallows on the evidence available to voters as they make their choice, and of how Trump has broken the norms that applied to previous major-party candidates. (For a Fallows-led, ongoing reader discussion on Trump’s rise to the presidency, see “Trump Nation.”)

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Trump Time Capsule #6: There Is No California Drought

The intensifying California drought, via Wunderground.

Daily Trump #6: May 27, 2016. Drought? What drought?

The rains of the past El Nino season have slightly offset the disastrous multi-year drought in California, which is the worst in the state’s recorded history. Just in case you skipped through that previous sentence too quickly: for as far back as weather records have been kept, there has never before been as long or severe a shortage of rainfall as what California has endured since 2012. (Tree-ring records show prolonged droughts in much earlier eras, some lasting for centuries.) Some reservoirs in northern California have been partly refilled by the recent rains; most in the south are still very dry. The water supply is nowhere close to back to normal, and what the new “normal” might be no one can say.

Everything about life in California has been affected by the drought. Governor Jerry Brown has turned to it in all of his recent State of the State messages, both as an emergency to confront and as a parable for the state’s future. For instance, here is the way he spoke about it in this year’s address (emphasis added):

One of the bright spots in our contentious politics is the joining together of both parties and the people themselves to secure passage of Proposition 1, the Water Bond. That, together with our California Water Action Plan, establishes a solid program to deal with the drought and the longer-term challenge of using our water wisely.

Our goal must be to preserve California’s natural beauty and ensure a vibrant economy – on our farms, in our cities and for all the people who live here. There is no magic bullet but a series of actions must be taken. We have to recharge our aquifers, manage the groundwater, recycle, capture stormwater, build storage and reliable conveyance, improve efficiency everywhere, invest in new technologies – including desalination – and all the while recognize that there are some limits.

Achieving balance between all the conflicting interests is not easy but I pledge to you that I will listen and work patiently to achieve results that will stand the test of time. Water goes to the heart of what California is and what it has been over centuries. Pitting fish against farmer misses the point and grossly distorts reality. Every one of us and every creature that dwells here form a complex system which must be understood and respected.

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This is the way a leader sounds if he has invested the time to understand an issue; if he recognizes the stakes in dealing with it seriously; if he is willing to take on the complex work of finding areas of agreement, including among groups with deeply conflicting interests; and if he is willing to begin a process that cannot possibly be completed on his watch but which his state cannot afford to delay. You can agree or disagree with Jerry Brown’s water policies or other aspects of his leadership. (I’m generally an admirer.) Either way, no one can doubt that he is giving this his all.

Here, by contrast, is the way a shallow narcissist sounds if he knows nothing about the issue, doesn’t care to learn, and is just shooting off his mouth with the latest thing he heard:

AP story, in Time

As a reminder, these dispatches are meant as a chronicle for time-capsule purposes, recorded at a time when no one can be sure that Donald Trump won’t become the 45th President of the United States. They are meant to note the traits that distinguish Trump from the first 44 presidents and from all previous major-party nominees. As more members of his party’s establishment accommodate themselves to Trump, this record is also meant as a reminder of the kind of person they are now deciding to find acceptable.

Daily Trump #5, May 26, 2016. What’s this ‘Gang of Eight’ I keep hearing about?

The most jarring part of Donald Trump’s announcement speech nearly one year ago was what he said about immigrants. You can see the whole thing, which even now is startlingly coarse, in the C-SPAN archives here. The part about Mexicans begins around time 9:00, and is cued in the clip above.

What’s the news? It’s in a great story out today in Bloomberg Businessweek by Joshua Green — longtime friend of mine, Atlantic and Washington Monthly alumnus — that is about Reince Priebus but includes an interview with Trump. In it Trump discloses that he had not actually thought about the immigration issue, or other issues, before diving in head first. From Green’s story, with added emphasis:

“I’m not sure I got there through deep analysis,” he said [speaking of another policy]. “My views are what everybody else’s views are. When I give speeches, sometimes I’ll sign autographs and I’ll get to talk to people and learn a lot about the party.”

He says he learned that voters were disgusted with Republican leaders and channeled their outrage. I asked, given how immigration drove his initial surge of popularity, whether he, like Sessions [Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama], had considered the RNC’s call for immigration reform to be a kick in the teeth. To my surprise, he candidly admitted that he hadn’t known about it or even followed the issue until recently. “When I made my [announcement] speech at Trump Tower, the June 16 speech,” he said, “I didn’t know about the Gang of Eight. … I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess.”

Vince Foster (Reuters)

As a reminder, for time-capsule purposes this is an ongoing chronicle of the things Donald Trump says and does that no real president could, should, or would say or do.

Daily Trump #4: May 23, 2016, the Vince Foster case. Six months into Bill Clinton’s first term, his lifelong friend and deputy White House counsel, Vince Foster, died of a gunshot wound along the George Washington Parkway outside Washington. All available real-world evidence is that Foster, who was suffering from clinical depression, had killed himself. That was what a special counsel officially determined, in a report issued a year later.

Then and thereafter, conspiracy-theorist madmen have maintained that there must be more to the case. Maybe Foster, who had been working with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, was having an affair with her?  Maybe in some general way he Knew Too Much? Let me emphasize that in nearly 23 years no official or investigative body has found any evidence to this effect, at all. Very much like the controversy over Barack Obama’s place of birth, it’s a “controversy” in which all the facts are on one side.

But not for Donald Trump. According to the WaPo:

When asked in an interview last week about the Foster case, Trump dealt with it as he has with many edgy topics — raising doubts about the official version of events even as he says he does not plan to talk about it on the campaign trail.

Let’s get going! (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

People will wonder about America in our time. It can be engrossing to look back on dramatic, high-stakes periods in which people were not yet sure where things would lead, to see how they assessed the odds before knowing the outcome. The last few months of the 1968 presidential campaign: would it be Humphrey, Nixon, or conceivably even George Wallace? Or 1964: was there a chance that Goldwater might win? The impeachment countdown for Richard Nixon, in 1974? The Bush-Gore recount watch in 2000?

The Trump campaign this year will probably join that list. The odds are still against his becoming president, but no one can be sure what the next five-plus months will bring. Thus for time-capsule purposes, and not with the idea that this would change a single voter’s mind, I kick off what I intend as a regular feature. Its purpose is to catalogue some of the things Donald Trump says and does that no real president would do.

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Is this implicitly anti-Trump? No, it’s explicitly so. I’ll vote Democratic this fall, because I disagree with the current Republican party’s stance on tax policy, budget policy, health policy, climate and environmental policy, voting-rights policy, labor policy, educational policy, gun policy, infrastructure policy, foreign and military policy, and judicial appointments too. But if Donald Trump were the Democratic nominee, I would not vote for him.

I believe he should not become president mainly because of his temperament. Presidents make an astonishingly large number of hour-by-hour judgment calls. Nothing about Donald Trump’s judgment is reassuring from my point of view. His tweets are highly entertaining! But so is Tosh.0 Again, I’m not trying to persuade anyone. I am just laying out my logic.

And so, the chronicle begins: things Donald Trump has said or done that would be highly undesirable from an actual president. The running tally is meant to document his outlier status as he moves toward the general election.

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Daily Trump #1. May 20, 2016, the EgyptAir disaster. Trump, a few hours after the news of the missing plane: “What just happened? A plane got blown out of the sky. And if anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100% wrong, folks, OK? You’re 100% wrong.”

Why this deserves notice: Indications are that terrorism was probably to blame for this crash. But the gap between probability and certainty is what presidents must remain aware of. A president who leapt to conclusions like this would be an active danger. Good example: the care with which the Kennedy Administration dealt with the complications of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bad example: the George W. Bush administration’s rush toward war with Iraq.