Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Trump Nation
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An ongoing reader discussion led by James Fallows regarding Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency. (For a related series, see “Trump Time Capsule,” as well as “Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?”) To sound off in a substantive way, especially if you disagree with us, please send a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

Show 100 Newer Notes

Suddenly I Am in Favor of the Trump Campaign

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.

We know now how the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 turned out, and that they were the beginning of the end for the Red-baiting career of Senator Joe McCarthy. Neither McCarthy (right) nor his nemesis Joseph Welch (left) could have known it at the time. (Wikipedia)

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.]

Puffing a pipe rather than fighting the world’s fight. (“Raleigh’s First Pipe,” Wikipedia.)

A reader objects to the concept of the Trump Time Capsule series:

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.

I understand the point. Response below. 

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:

The Trump security guard (Robert Wright)

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. 

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.

This next reader, Christopher, turns to the question that Fallows raised on Monday and readers reflected on yesterday: Could Trump be preparing an exit strategy? Christopher thinks not:

Our cover story by Dan McAdams is here to read

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?

Waiting for the man last week, on the tarmac at Redding’s airport in California. (Stephen Lam / Reuters)

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

Similarly from a reader in Philadelphia:

Yes, you are right of course [about the un-American aspects of Trump’s outlook], but he will not be the nominee, do not worry.  

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. 

Protestors outside the Donald Trump rally, San Jose, June 2, 2016 (Stephen Lam / Reuters).

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.

Franklin D. Roosevelt at his inauguration in 1933, with the famous line “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” A reader, 23 years old, wonders how today’s fears compare with those of other eras. (Wikimedia)

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.

Bill Clinton as “Pander Bear”

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.]

Sooner or later this was bound to come out.

Maybe I can parlay this into a Vice Presidential slot? Or at least, package-deal sales to go along with the MAGA red hats and t-shirts?

Or maybe I can sue?

Incumbent Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at left, from the Liberal party (the conservatives, in U.S. terms), and his opponent Bill Shorten, Labour party leader, at a debate this month before the federal election in July. Australian citizens are required by law to vote. Thus the contending parties spend no time at all worrying about either “voter suppression” or “the turnout game.” (AAP / Mick Tsikas/via Reuters)

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.

"The Signing of the Constitution of the United States," by Howard Chandler Christy (Wikimedia)

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.)