Following the previous items in this series, a clinical psychologist from a big Southern city writes:
In your coverage of Trump’s candidacy, the discussion of how his mind works is fascinating. I’ve been interested in this and thinking about it for a while. I agree with the reader who wrote, “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.”
I suggest that the relationships that his speech is organized around are consistently what I would call “Doer and Done-To” relationships. [JF note: Also famous in Lenin’s distinction, “who / whom.”]
Trump exploits the choreography of Perpetrator-Victim theatre to position himself as the one his listeners should align with and trust to lead them to escape the Done-To position and enjoy the privileged Doer position. Of course, there are many in America who also experience life largely through this lens and find in Trump someone they can relate to on a deeply felt emotional level.
And, there are also many in America who can reasonably assert they have been Done-To in one way or another. Not all of them aspire to simply switch positions with the Doers (“Winners” in Trump’s immature view of what constitutes a functional society) and have their turn “at the top.” But many do.
One morning a while back I found myself lying in bed (having awoken long before the alarm was going to go off) thinking about this and came up with a kind of psychological routine that I imagine Trump follows over and over again. I imagined him guided by a personal mantra: “Inflate, Ingratiate, Intimidate.”
I don’t imagine he reflects on any of this much. I think he has “way of life” that he believes in and that he believes is or ought to be the American Way of Life, but I don’t think he’s ever reflected much on any other way of being in the world or in relation to others than that which is captured in (a) Doer and Done-To and (b) Inflate, Ingratiate, Intimidate as needed.
For more in the topic of how Trump’s mind works, I refer you to this section from the wonderful book The Growth of the Mind And the Endangered Origins of Intelligence, by Stanley Greenspan, M.D. (with Beryl Lieff Benderly, 1997, Perseus Books). This is found on pages 165-167:
I noted earlier the phenomenon of projection, in which one person ascribes his own feelings to another. An even more powerful though less recognized tendency, I believe, is the projection not simply of emotions or attitudes but of one’s own mental structure and level of awareness onto other people.
A person able to reflect in at least some emotional areas may assume that everyone else can do the same. This phenomenon is especially apparent in literary characters whose capacities for self-reflection are more similar to the author’s than to that of a typical person in the situation in question. Hamlet’s soliloquy about the value of existence surely reflects Shakespeare’s own matchless ability to translate feelings into words. In the voice of Huck Finn we hear Mark Twain’s moral reasoning about the fate of Jim. Outside of literature we might expect a boy like Huck to act at the decisive moment for reasons he does not understand and a despondent man to sink wordlessly into a morass of despair.
Many adults probably cannot reflect on their feelings to a significant degree, and many who can do so only in certain areas…. The ideal of the perfectly reflective human is about as illusory as the ideal of the perfectly fit or healthy one -- the person whose weight, blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood count, eyesight, and the rest -- match the medical textbook model of the human body. Each of us has some physical flaws and weaknesses. Ideals of good health, or perfect weight and lipid levels, of good vision and a vigorous heart remain, however, goals that we can all keep in mind as we live our daily lives.
Where exactly do we stand on the ladder of the developmental stage? Clinical experience suggests that most of us operate in a less than optimal way. I would estimate that only a minority of adults, probably no more than 20 to 30 percent, function at the higher levels… The rest range from those who can label feelings but can’t easily see connections among them through those who react to life with polarized affects to those who live mostly in a world of behavioral discharge in which feelings are coterminous with actions or physical states. Finally, there are those who live at a level in which thinking, behavior, or both are quite disorganized….
The measure of a person’s mental functioning is how she responds to a wide range of challenges and how stable her responses remain in stress or crisis. Is she able to maintain reflectiveness when she is hurt, scared, insulted, disappointed, rejected, worried, exhausted, or rushed [or adored, worshipped, or idealized]? Or does she slip back into rigid forms of responding, polarized thinking, or concrete action modes?..
In my clinical practice I often find it useful to reflect in a particular way on what is happening in the conversations I have with my patients. I invite them to reflect on this with me and to also learn to reflect in this particular way on conversations they have with others. The question guiding this way of reflecting is, “Am I doing something To, With, or For you?”…
Collaboration involves doing something With others. Seduction involves doing something To others while fooling them into believing it’s something we’re doing With them and/or For them. Good leadership involves all three, wisely and judiciously deployed, in the service of the leader’s community, organization, or team.
Trump is profoundly impaired in his capacity to Do With others. He cannot collaborate in any meaningful way with others. He can, very effectively, seduce others into thinking he is collaborating and doing something With them but I’m pretty sure he’s actually doing something To them….
I see his psychology as highly organized around the ambition to be in the Doing To Others position in all relationships. I see him as being able to effectively mimic Doing For and Doing With behavior—so effectively that he actually feels he is sincere even when he is plainly not—and use this mimicry in his pursuit of the Doing To position.
What’s most frightening to me in all of this has to do with what Trump’s effectiveness in winning the GOP nomination suggests has happened to the GOP and to our society at large.
For the record, here is a response from a reader offended by the whole idea of wondering whether Trump really thinks:
Do your correspondents not have any self-consciousness? Do they not hear themselves? “I went to college so I’m smart. Trump voters didn’t go to college so they’re stupid. Hillary went to Yale Law School so she’s really smart and should be president. Trump went to Penn but only got in because of his father so he’s dumb.” [JF note: Disagree. The objection to Trump is based on the vacuity of what he actually says.]
But these people really believe this shit, apparently. I won’t bother trying to tell you how smart I am. But the guy who fixes your car is as smart as these people, with the bonus that he deals with physical reality, and doesn’t get paid if your car doesn’t work.
The idea that “blue state” people deal in sophisticated analytical thinking “like a surgeon” is pretty ridiculous. (Aside: This person is not smart enough to understand what surgeons do. It’s mostly just like fixing a car, but since you can die it’s done by high IQ college graduates rather than somewhat above average IQ high school graduates.) They mostly deal with soft abstracts where things are only subjectively right. Hillary probably scores pretty high on an IQ test, but even the top law schools are only teaching what the socially approved answers are, which change regularly.
Trump is not talking to you. There is no point for him to try to communicate with you because you wouldn’t support him under any circumstances so he doesn’t bother. If Jeb was now the nominee, the candidate who worked the hardest to make himself acceptable to the left, you would still be tearing him apart. [JF note: No. If Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich were the nominee, I would hope their side didn’t win, because I disagree with the current GOP stand on domestic policy, foreign policy, environmental and climate policy, budget policy, military policy, judicial appointments, and so on. But I would never suggest that these people were grossly unqualified for office, which is the case with Trump. I was glad that Barack Obama won re-election over Mitt Romney, because I preferred Obama’s policies. But no sane person could suggest that Romney was unqualified by background or unfit by temperament to be president, which again is true of Trump. Sarah Palin is much more knowledgeable (really) and would be a better president than Trump.]
So all the nice, respectable people think Trump is dumb and evil. So what? We don't care. What about this don’t you understand? I would really try to explain it to you if you really wanted to know.
I won’t respond in kind, to this reader who writes in under a pseudonym, because I would regret doing so. I’ll say: consider the evidence and judge for yourself.
A shorter dissent:
Its obvious you think Trump is an idiot. Do you have a billion dollars and a smokin hot wife? I didn’t think so....so who really is the stupid one?
In response to last night’s item on whether Trump’s rally speeches, interview remarks, and Tweets should be understood as conveying ideas of any sort, as opposed to being pure acts of tribal/resentment signaling and emotion, readers offer further analyses.
It is about addiction. From a reader in the tech industry:
Your reader who compared Trump’s need for attention to drug addiction made a very important point, but I think it applies at a much more basic, fundamental level.
Since the Tea Party and movement conservatives began to push the Republican Party past rational boundaries and into the realm of bark-at-the-moon crazy, politicians and pundits have been throwing chunks of bloody red meat to the base voters.
But a problem arose. Once a level of outrageous rhetoric was achieved, it no longer provided the “hit” that the people or the media wanted. Someone had to come along and up the ante to kick-start the next round of howling anger. You got “death panels,” you got “Obama’s a Muslim,” you got “Mexicans are rapists”—it just has to keep escalating.
And Trump saw this clearly, so he came out and one-upped everybody. And now he’s on round two, and he knows instinctively he needs to one-up himself. Stand by: Round three will start about September …
‘Thinking’ as cultural dividing line. From a reader who grew up in the South:
I have a reaction to the first reader you quote in “Does Trump Think?” The reader states, “His listeners are not looking for meaning. Instead, they are thrilled by the emotion of his speeches."
I grew up in the Deep South, surrounded by the white blue-collar culture that we describe now as the Trump base vote. I recognized my inner Yankee and got out after high school. I suspect that people who didn’t grow up as I did don’t realize the extent to which “thinking” is a cultural dividing line—specifically the kind of analytical thinking that us college-educated, blue-state elite prize as the professional approach to problem solving.
To be sure, these guys would laud analytical thinking in their surgeon in the hours before going under the knife, but the culture only rewards that kind of thinking in certain times and situations (generally scientific) and scorns it when applied to the moral questions of daily life that our current politics turns on. Questions of morals or fairness or justice should be resolved, in their minds, by “common sense,” informed by family, local culture, and religion. (And untangling that from race is nearly impossible.)
I'm painting with a broad brush, but in these enclaves, it’s just good common sense that (pick your Other) blacks / Mexicans / Muslims are different and often dangerous. Trump tells them they don’t have to deny that core knowledge and cover it up anymore with “politically correct” language. They don’t want to change their thinking. They don’t want to swap what they know emotionally about right and wrong for some broader but colder perspective.
I believe Hillary will win because enough people, including other factions of Republicans, think that the job of President requires a set of credentials more akin to a surgeon than a crowd-pleaser at Gilley’s. But that Gilley’s crowd—they don’t want Trump to “think,” at least not in the way you and I think of thinking.
P.S. If I could footnote my broad brush statements above, I’d direct you to a fascinating book by Kieran Egan called The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding. He describes how rigorous high school and college education changes a person’s worldview. It’s the “why” behind the values divide we often see in political polling between more educated and less-educated voters.
From a reader who grew up in the U.S. and now lives in Europe:
I agree with some who assert that what Trump says does not matter that much to his supporters. Or maybe by “not saying much” while he’s talking, Trump, deliberately or otherwise, leaves plenty of room for his audience to interpret his words any way they want to. (Isn’t this what clever Gypsy fortune tellers are supposedly good at?)
What Trump says does not make sense, ever, in terms of putting forth ideas. But Trump is not attempting to put forth ideas. Trump is attempting to put forth Trump. At that, Trump has so far been very successful.
We need to keep in mind what Trump might be thinking about, what questions Trump is asking himself. I believe Trump only asks himself one question, or variations on one question: What is good for Trump? This is not a revelation. But some of us seem to forget this when Trump starts talking. It is we who are addicted to making sense of communication, we who insist that people “make sense.” But we err when we assume that people are trying to make sense with their words.
Trump may possibly not be thinking. Or he may be thinking a lot. But if Trump is not thinking, then we have a lot to answer for explaining how he has succeeded thus far. For what does it say about the ability of people around him to think, if he so consistently has thwarted some supposedly capable people?
Trump is not a complicated creature. He is distinctive, but not unique, in his selfishness. But I think it’s best we keep in mind what his motivations are. On that basis, Trump, for me, is indeed doing something we can call thinking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ....
Only one top Biden adviser isn’t joining him in the White House—but she’ll still stay close.
When Julián Castro wasn’t given a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in August, he complained that Joe Biden’s campaign wasn’t showing proper respect to Latino voters. The real explanation for the snub is much simpler: The former housing secretary and presidential candidate had implied that Biden was senile in a primary debate and then didn’t endorse him until June, though the primary race had been over since April, when Bernie Sanders dropped out.
Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign from the start, declined to comment on what happened with Castro. (An aide to Castro insisted he offered to endorse in April, but the Biden campaign sat on that, and an offer for advice on Latino outreach.) But keeping track of who crosses Biden—staff, reporters, politicians—is part of what she does. She watches. She listens. She remembers. She is completely comfortable with giving a firm no.
Just because we know bad things about the 45th president, don’t assume that there’s nothing bad left to find out.
How well do we know Donald Trump? Pretty well, it would seem. Nobody has ever accused the outgoing president of possessing a complex personality. His behavior in office confirmed the common view, barely disputed even by his allies, that he is a shallow narcissist, blind or indifferent to common decencies, with poor impulse control and a vindictive streak. His futile attempt to litigate away electoral defeat may appall you, but it probably doesn’t surprise you.
Still, just because we know bad things about the 45th president, don’t assume that there’s nothing bad left to find out. Journalists like to pretend that we know everything about a president in real time, but our information is never close to complete. There’s always more to learn, and it’s seldom reassuring.
The movie and book don’t show the positive side of the area, because that wouldn’t serve the story’s purposes.
My Aunt Ruth won’t watch Hillbilly Elegy, the movie adaptation of J. D. Vance’s memoir about growing up in and eventually escaping Appalachia and a mother coping with addiction. Practically speaking, my aunt doesn’t have a Netflix account or any of the smart technology she’d need to stream it. But she also has no interest in watching a story of her community that doesn’t reflect what she sees and that she knows will be exploitative, harmful, and not helpful to moving her or her neighbors forward.
Hillbilly Elegy doesn’t show the positive side of Appalachia that my aunt and I know, because that wouldn’t serve the story’s purposes. The film and book need Appalachia to be poor, broken, and dirty, because they depend on us believing that the mountains are somewhere we want Vance to escape. They need to frame poverty as a moral failing of individuals—as opposed to systems—because they have to imply that something about Vance’s character allowed him to get away from his hillbilly roots. Hillbilly Elegy has to simplify the people and problems of Appalachia, because it has decided to tell the same old pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative that so many of us reject.
Pod means something different to everyone, and that’s a problem.
Americans’ social lifelines are beginning to fray. As the temperature drops and the gray twilight arrives earlier each day, comfortably mingling outside during the pandemic is getting more difficult across much of the country. For many people, it’s already impossible.
To combat the loneliness of winter, some of us might be tempted to turn to pods, otherwise known as bubbles. The basic idea is that people who don’t live together can still spend time together indoors, as long as their pod stays small and exclusive. And pods aren’t just for the winter: Since March, parents have formed child-care bubbles. Third graders have been assigned to learning pods. Some NBA teams were in a bubble for months. A July survey of 1,000 Americans found that 47 percent said they were in a bubble.
The U.S. entered the coronavirus recession with a few structural advantages. Its success may not last for long.
Here is a remarkable, underappreciated fact: The U.S. economy has performed far better than that of many of the country’s peers during this horrible year. The International Monetary Fund expects the U.S. economy to contract by 4.4 percent in 2020, versus 5.3 percent in Japan, 6 percent in Germany, 7.1 percent in Canada, and nearly 10 percent in both the United Kingdom and France.
This fact is not a result of the United States managing its public-health response better than those countries, allowing it to reopen from lockdown sooner and for consumption to roar back. Indeed, many of those peer nations have had significantly better outcomes, as measured by COVID-19 caseloads, hospitalizations, and death rates. Nor is it a result of the U.S. preserving more jobs. The unemployment rate is far higher here than it is in Japan, Germany, or the U.K.
What the president and his lawyers have been attempting to do deserves punishment that will likely never come.
Donald Trump will not serve a second term. The litigation launched by his campaign and the Republican Party to overturn the election results has no chance of preventing Joe Biden from swearing the oath of office on January 20—as Trump himself seemed to haltingly recognize last week after his administration finally allowed the presidential transition to begin. But even though the worst has not come to pass, Trump and his team are doing lasting damage to American democracy as the president struggles to come to grips with the reality of his loss. And yet, these lawyers and officials will likely face no real consequences for their actions—and if they do, those repercussions will not be enough to address the scale of the problem.
This is why you can eat in a restaurant but can’t have Thanksgiving.
Two weeks ago, I staged a reluctant intervention via Instagram direct message. The subject was a longtime friend, Josh, who had been sharing photos of himself and his fiancé occasionally dining indoors at restaurants since New York City, where we both live, had reopened them in late September. At first, I hadn’t said anything. Preliminary research suggests that when people congregate indoors, an infected person is almost 20 times more likely to transmit the virus than if they were outside. But restaurants are open legally in New York, and I am not the COVID police. Josh and I had chatted several times in the early months of the pandemic about safety, and I felt sure that he was making an informed decision, even if it wasn’t the one I’d make.
At the dawn of the 1960s, a couple of New York admen named Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass created the Christmas special. Before that, the networks hadn’t been sure exactly how they should entertain children during the holiday season. They had largely come down on the side of edification, as seen in NBC’s 1951 commission of a children’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, broadcast live on Christmas Eve, after which the show lived on in reruns, and—also on NBC—Babes in Toyland, a turn-of-the-last-century operetta based on the Mother Goose tales.
But American children of the 1960s weren’t going to put up with operas and nursery rhymes. We had grown strong on orange juice, casseroles, and chewable vitamins. We weren’t afraid of polio or tuberculosis—we had the Salk vaccine and the tine test. We had had one small step for mankind, 31 flavors, and 101 dalmatians. The previous decade had already established the whims of children as a legitimate market force; in two years, Wham-O had made $45 million on the Hula-Hoop. Rich guys in office buildings were taking us seriously. What did we want next?
The U.S. could have hundreds of thousands of fewer births next year than it would have in the absence of a pandemic.
Updated at 9:10 a.m. ET on November 25, 2020.
By now, the pandemic has disrupted Americans’ daily lives for nearly as long as a baby typically spends in the womb. This means that many children conceived in mid-March are weeks away from joining us in this disorienting new world, but just as notable are the children who won’t be joining us—the babies who would have been born were it not for the ongoing economic and public-health crises. These missing births, which could end up numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S., will make up what’s been called the “COVIDbabybust.”
One would think that a baby bust would take at least nine months to reveal itself, but traces of one seem to have already appeared. As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, has noted, births started to decline in California and Florida during the summer. That’d be too soon, though, to reflect a drop in conceptions during the pandemic, or a rise in abortions or miscarriages (which tend to happenearlier on in pregnancy). Three possible explanations, Cohen told me, are errors or lags in states’ data on births, large numbers of pregnant people moving during the pandemic and giving birth in another state, or a large, unexpected drop-off in births that was already going to happen regardless of the pandemic.
The departing president neither embraced nor fully repudiated America’s mission.
Since the day he entered office, President Donald Trump hasn’t been able to make up his mind about whether the United States should keep fighting in Afghanistan. His most recent decision to arbitrarily reduce U.S. troops’ presence to a nice, round number by January 15 was no different. Far from ending what he calls an “endless war,” Trump has only put the 2,500 troops who will remain in Afghanistan at greater risk. The situation was already bad, but he made it worse—just in time to hand the problem to President-elect Joe Biden.
Trump, a self-proclaimed dealmaker, campaigned in 2016—and again in 2020—on ending the war, which began in 2001. Instead, he grudgingly followed the advice of his military advisers and added 4,000 troops in August 2017. But that policy debate took its toll. Trump began to realize that the officers whom he describes as “my generals” weren’t his after all. Like Barack Obama before him, Trump felt boxed in by the Pentagon.