A reader who works in a big-city law firm thinks I missed the point in Trump Time Capsule #30. The theme of that installment was that Mitch McConnell, the relentlessly on-message leader of the Senate Republicans, had declined to call Donald Trump a “credible” presidential candidate—and that his refusal was significant.
The reader writes:
What McConnell said is merely stating the obvious, and his comment was about Trump’s ability to win the election, not about his qualifications to be President.
What I found more interesting is McConnell’s refusal last week to respond to a question about whether Trump was qualified. His silence “spoke volumes,” as they say. Can you imagine any other campaign in our lifetimes where one of a major party’s leader wasn’t willing to affirm the suitability of the party’s Presidential candidate? That’s unprecedented.
The fact is that any intelligent, reasonably well-informed, sensible adult, having watched and read about Trump, knows to a certainty that, political ideology aside, he’s absolutely unfit for the office. I have no doubt that McConnell knows that, Paul Ryan knows that, every Republican Senator (with the possible exception of Jeff Sessions) knows that. But they’re stuck with him.
I was struck by Trump’s statement today that his former opponents in the primaries should either endorse him or be “banned” from running for office. This reinforces something I’ve been thinking about regarding Trump.
Many of his supporters (and Trump himself) admire him for being willing to say what he’s thinking even if “politically incorrect.” I find nothing admirable in this trait, which I suspect is more about lack of impulse control than a principled decision to be blunt. As we become mature adults, we come to understand that there are times when you shouldn’t say what you’re thinking. Speaking out will be contrary to your own interest, or it will hurt others, or both. Remaining silent is often just good judgment.
In this case, Trump’s statement doesn’t do anything to help his campaign. Even if he were to successfully bully or shame Rubio, Cruz, Kasich or Bush into endorsing him, it’s not going to add votes to his column. In fact, his whining about not getting their endorsement makes him look weak or desperate. And, in possibly further alienating sitting Republican Senators and other Republican officials, he’s unnecessarily further damaging a relationship that, were he to be elected President, he will surely need at some point.
So, rather than exhibiting an admirable quality of bluntness, Trump once again shows that he is merely immature and lacking in judgment.
For previous items in the “Trump Nation” thread, you can go here.
Following previous items in this thread, readers weigh in on why Donald Trump may be saying the things he does, and why his supporters are still with him.
1. On Crying Wolf. In yesterday’s item, a reader noted that reflexive, excessive use of terms like “stupid” or “bigoted” had weakened their meaning — and made it hard to signal that someone like Trump really is different from, say, Sarah Palin (who knew much more about policy than Trump does).
A reader who now serves as a mayor in a state Trump is almost certain to carry writes this:
Reading the prior note about how our terms have lost power due to overuse, it occurred to me that when Trump is called racist or sexist or hateful of a religion…that is not hurting him with many of those who are inclined to vote for him.
Those who have supported him since the start of the Republican primary are likely to be only more attracted to any candidate identified as racist. At the very least, they are people who don’t find racism as a disqualifying thing.
He started the campaign calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and the reaction calling him “racist” endeared him to those who actually like being identified as having racist views. It jump-started his campaign, immediately connecting with people who were sitting out there holding hateful views about Hispanics. Maybe some supporters shy away from identifying themselves with the term, but they don’t back off of self-evident racist policy and social views. They are who he says he is.
2. From another reader, a shorter note about the role of “thinking” in politics:
As you recently noted, Trump is apparently always “thinking” very carefully about what will turn his audience on.
Bush and Rove were just the latest in a long list of politicians and operatives who have understood that there are times when a righteous war against a certifiable Bad Guy will make many people feel good or at least better in a way that nothing else will. So far Trump has had no trouble finding plenty of takers for his own, much more theatrical bellicosity - Mission (almost) Accomplished on steroids, as it were.
3. On levels of complexity in political discourse and motivation:
As a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology, I might add a little to the last writer who mentioned the distinction between "stupid" and "evil." While most angles on the Trump constituency are focused around some amalgamation of low information voters and those who don't "think," recent cognitive neuroscience research tells the opposite story.
It's not that people who buy into seemingly absurd premises don't think enough, it's that they simultaneously have elaborately thought out and yet tortuously simplistic justifications for Trump's policy positions. This is how one can take something as complex as fiscal policy or the global economy and reduce it down to base elements of race and gender delineating winners and losers.
It takes a lot of "thinking" to contort something as odious as sexism or racism into a valid justification for limiting immigration or economic opportunity. It's this same carefully crafted in-group/out-group distinction that allows people to similarly dismiss Trump calling women pigs and dogs as "rejecting political correctness" , assuredly something no one would accept if it were uttered about one's mother, sister, or daughter.
As a prime example, I note the case of John McGraw, the 78 year old North Carolina man who punched a Trump rally protester as he exited the building escorted by security. When asked about the incident, McGraw mentioned a possible link to Al-Qaeda and that the next time "we might have to kill him."
This is the mindset of an intricately constructed worldview in which political protesters could be sleeper cell terrorists. It takes a large amount of mental effort to jump through the logical hoops necessary to assume that society can easily be made great again and yet be so precipitously close to falling over the cliff of peril.
This is a feature, not a bug, in the Trump campaign.
4. Finally, on the interlacing roles of expression, and reflection, in making up what we think of as intelligence:
In your recent conversations regarding Trump’s intelligence, I think most of it has to do with how he expresses himself. For example, his limited vocabulary, coining words that he should know better than to use – a famous word is “bigly” – and his very simple ways of expressing relatively complex ideas regarding commerce and conflict, impact our assessment of his intelligence. [JF note: As I understand it, there is a reasonable chance that Trump intended to say “big league” as opposed to “bigly.” Still...]
I know liberals who have thought GW Bush was stupid, largely because of how he expressed himself, as well as his failure to explore his errors. Bush’s failure to reflect concerned me more than any sense of his presumed intelligence.I am much more confident in President “I screwed up,” than I was with President “Mistakes were made.”
Reagan, too, was given to expressing his ideas in uncomplicated ways. Some would suggest that this indicated a talent for communication, not a deficiency in sense or judgement. No one spoke of Romney as unintelligent (nerdy, awkward, maybe, but these are not intellectual flaws). And I know many republicans who seem to believe that democrats are either stupid or naïve.
It does go both ways, and all you have to do is listen to the patronizing tone many republicans take on foreign policy pronouncements, “their” turf. Sarah Palin remarked last week on President Obama’s stupidity, but Obama’s intelligence and patriotism are often impugned.
My assessment of intelligence is related to one’s willingness to learn. The Atlantichas covered the work of Carol Dweck in the past. Her research on growth vs fixed mindset is more related to efficacy, but I believed that it is also useful in understanding an individual’s willingness to learn new skills and information.
The ability to synthesize novel ideas or new skill sets says a great deal about individuals. One problem that many people who are employed in low-skilled occupations that later are outsourced or disappear, is that whether for lack of interest or lack of opportunity, they had not thought to acquire new skills. Does this mean they are unintelligent? No. It means that they were not interested or sufficiently foresighted to understand that tomorrow might require different information than today provided. Somehow, their plan was to win (or survive) and that didn’t work out. Lacking the interest in a Plan B, they were stuck.
The same is reflected in my understanding of Trump. He is not doing much differently now than he ever did. He speaks without much thought or reflection, because that has worked for him in the past. He is mostly skilled at expressing himself in terms of his personal interpretation of wealth and therefore, success. And it may work with some voters.
My concern with Trump is that he doesn’t seem to have information that a President ought to have at his or her disposal, or at least, he doesn’t express his knowledge base in public fora. He has not explained how his policies will work. He does not indicate that his understanding of the global economy is more than transactional, and his foreign policy interests appear to be limited. His vision is that America will win, win, win. He has not explained what he has learned so far, how he will achieve his vision, how he will work with others on a global scale. Maybe has a plan for doing this, but he has not shared any inkling of this plan with the voters, and some of us need that information.
What has he learned, as an American, an adult, a man, a father, a business person, and how does this presumed growth translate into his potential leadership? The answer to that question is much more interesting and useful to me than how “intelligent” Trump may or may not be.
Who knows where things might be headed with the Trump campaign? Here is a note from a reader reflecting on what could happen if Trump wins, and another on what might occur if Trump loses.
If he wins. As mentioned before, I think “Vichy Republicans” is a useful shorthand for the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, John McCain, etc who are accommodating themselves to the power of the moment rather than siding with the Resistance — but who will race one another to say, “Oh, we were against him all along” if and when he goes down. But despite the usefulness of the Vichy/Resistance distinction, of course no one can be likened to Hitler.
In this first reader note, a postgrad political science student from Germany wrestles with how the historically unique evil status of Hitler deflects attention from similarities in vulnerable political systems:
I like your stance on what you call the Vichy Republicans, because you are right: The individuals in question are making an historic mistake by supporting an historically unqualified short-fingered man, and whatever the outcome of the 2016 U.S. DemocraZy Games is, history will judge them… [Cutting various compliments, for which I’m grateful.]
Looking at historic precedents, folks have tried to compare Trump to Hitler. I think there is some truth to this, given his Nazi-esque predilection for scapegoating minorities, his love for white essentialism and his capability to use fear and not vision and the painting of a country in ruins as the basis of a campaign.
It seems to me that it is only a question of time until Trump proposes that Muslim Americans carry an "M" in their passports the way Jews had to have a "J" in their passports in the early years of the Third Reich…
But what I think is a more dire truth to the Hitler-Trump comparison is how he could actually come to power. When Hitler was elected it was not the case that an entire country yelled “Sieg Heil” with fanfares and right arms in the air. Instead, a lot of sane, reasonable and non-fanatic people thought “he cannot be taken serious,” or “he will never win (but I am to frustrated to vote against him anyhow,” or “he is crazy but he does have a point,” or “maybe he will at least bring a change,” to, ultimately, “let’s give him a try, he can’t make matters worse anyhow.” The rest is history.
My fear is that a lot of Americans think the same way about Trump, underestimating the danger he poses and the actual shot at the presidency he has, despite temporarily bad poll numbers. I really hope he will lose in November.
Me too. But another reader writes about what his loss might mean:
What can we expect after Trump loses the November election? Yes, I do believe that he will lose because I believe that there are enough voters with enough intelligence to sufficiently dread the consequences of a Trump win. I suspect that in the privacy of the voting booth not even the Senate Majority Leader or the Speaker of the House will vote for him despite what they are saying publicly.
So when he loses, what does his past behavior lead us to expect from him?
Of course, we should expect him to go to court, all the way to the Supreme Court. He will claim that the election was “rigged” against him, etc., etc. It will be as if one of the hypertrophied personae of professional wrestling were to try to rekindle the Bush-Gore court fight of 2000. The main difference this time will be that there won't be a gentleman Al Gore present to halt the match in order to save the union. One can imagine that Trump will try to summon the resources of the GOP to support his fight.
The story line of this court case will, naturally, feature the ethnicity of all the judges who rule on it. Will any of them be Mexican? Or Muslim? When this case lands in the Supreme Court, will it be paralyzed in a 4-to-4 tie? I like to imagine that the distinguished justices, ladies and gentlemen all, will also have the wisdom and decency to save the union.
On this last point, the Supreme Court was lastingly shamed by the results-oriented politicking of its Bush v. Gore decision. (You don’t have to believe me on this: turn to the dissent from the redoubtable Justice John Paul Stevens, who said: “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”) If the reader’s scenario came to pass, I would like to imagine, with him, that the current Supreme Court, in its full eight-member majesty, would decide it was time to re-assert its role as “impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
I am on the road again, now in southwestern Kansas with my wife Deb. As the Trump campaign runs into more obviously Hindenburg-like territory, I’ll try to catch up with some reflections on what the Trump era has meant, whatever might be the future of his candidacy.
Let’s start with some responses on “does Trump think”?
1. Consider Nick Saban. Someone who will be voting for the first time writes:
I just graduated from high school, and for people my age this is generally the first election anyone has paid attention to. Rather an interesting way to get introduced to politics.
A reader on the latest “Does Trump Think?” installment pointed out that, in his view, the other readers (and you) considered yourself the high-and-mighty, looking down on Trump and his supporters with disdain. This is a legitimate danger, and certainly is the case from time to time.
Yet, that doesn’t suddenly nullify the fact that the presidency requires a certain set of skills that Trump hasn’t been shown to possess. Nick Saban’s an incredible coach; you think he’s great because of his ability to pump up his team with pep talks? Maybe he gives amazing speeches, but that’s entirely unrelated to his ability to study the next opponent, choose his starters, pick plays, decide what to drill, etc.
Above all else, the President of the United States has to be nice. [JF note: What the reader calls “nice” is what I think of as an advanced ability to imagine how an adversary might be thinking and feeling, so as to give offense only when that is exactly what you intend to do.] Why? World leaders are surprisingly fickle people (like all of us), and the slightest offense can hurt the United States abroad and at home. Trump is like the guy at the movies who yells “NO!” when the protagonist’s lover dies. Sure, he’s saying what he thinks, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to hear it.
2. Liberals crying wolf. A reader says that liberals have sneered so much at “uninformed” conservatives that they’re out of terms for a person who really doesn’t know anything:
The dissenting opinion in your “Does Trump Think?” column (part three) was misguided in a lot of ways but brought up an interesting point. There’s something that I think could inform how people who think Trump is truly dangerous (like myself) choose to engage with the situation.
Liberals (in general—not you or your readers in particular) have a hard time reconciling why Trump supporters can’t see how truly vacuous and without substance he is. Obviously the primary responsibility for this lies with those supporters, but we could be playing a much bigger part in bringing them to the light if our credibility weren't somewhat shattered. And we made that bed.
Republicans for about 25 years have thrown knee-jerk insults at Democrats that all relate to elitism and common sense. Liberals’ complement to this tendency is to insult the intelligence of conservatives. Ronald Reagan was stupid, George Bush was stupid, and Sarah Palin was stupid. George Bush made bad decisions and was not ridiculed as ineffective or poorly informed but as an absolute imbecile. (I read a somewhat silly study where someone had attempted to estimate presidential IQs by statements in the public record and Bush was on the low end of presidents with a 135—which is borderline genius level IQ.)
This is obviously a silly undertaking, but it illustrates the point that a person who we reflexively insult and call an absolute idiot is probably an incredibly intelligent and competent man who just didn't do his best work as president.) Sarah Palin is another case of a clearly intelligent and savvy woman who was woefully unprepared but ridiculed as stupid. [JF note: as I wrote many times during his tenure, I thought that George W. Bush was not “stupid” in any normal sense. Rather I thought he had a combination of ignorance, in the sense of not being broadly informed; lack of curiosity, which limited his ability to correct the ignorance problem; and a desire to be, or at least seem, decisive, rather than risk seeming “hesitant” or “vacillating.” The combination was toxic in the rush toward war in Iraq.]
We have now cried wolf. Someone has now come along who is so obviously completely without the mental equipment to do this job and our criticism falls on deaf ears. We have taught his supporters that we can't be trusted to make that assessment objectively.
3. And finally, a reader on different standards for racism and sexism, and on the line between what is considered “stupid” and what is called “evil”:
Trump and his followers say they feel silenced. They’re not wrong. I mean, their First Amendment rights are clearly still intact, but apart from that, it’s certainly true that one of the most likely things you’ll encounter if you try to say something racist is the command to hush.
What happens when the command to hush fails? Well, apparently what happens is that polite society screws up its nose and then says, airily, “You don’t mean that.”
“You don’t mean that” is what you say to your toddler when he says he hates Uncle Bob. It’s what you say to your 15-year-old daughter when she tells you she’s moving out. In short, it’s what you say if you want to silence and patronise.
But the fascinating thing about this new form of attempted silencing is that it actually helps racist people rather than hindering them. Trump doesn’t have to dog-whistle; he can just whistle and then a bunch of well-meaning people will explain that he didn’t actually mean to whistle per se, he only wanted the attention.
So much dodging around the idea of racism! Trump doesn’t mean that; he’s just saying it to make people talk about him. His followers don’t really believe that of their own accord; they’re being led astray. It’s okay, none of these people actually think. I mean, wouldn’t it be dreadful if they could think, and they chose to think that?
It’s instructive to look at the differences between the way we treat racism, in this regard, and the way we treat sexism. It’s much rarer for sexism to be classified as something perpetrated only by stupid people.
That’s because we view racism through the lens of class. Racism is seen as being primarily perpetrated by poor people, whereas sexism implicates rich and poor alike. This happens, I think, because rich white people can avoid black people much more easily. [JF note: through spelling details and other touches, I think this note is not from an American. I think that people raised in the U.S. would know that the more precise phrasing would be, “rich white people can avoid poor black people more easily — and can avoid poor whites as well.”) Rich people can take advantage of a societal structure that pushes black people away for them. [JF: again, I would add “poor.”] They don’t have to put any effort in, and can thus absolve themselves of any responsibility.
If we truly believe ourselves to be thinkers, who judge the world after careful consideration rather than knee-jerk reactions, we should question this classism that drives the way we paper over racism.
Trump’s supporters are not just being blindly led. Like many capitalist Americans, they like the idea of a world in which there are “winners” and “losers.” They like that world even better if they, and people who look like them, are given an automatic leg up towards the “winner” category. That’s not exactly stupid. It’s just evil.
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.
Starting the process will rein in a president who is undermining American ideals—and bring the debate about his fitness for office into Congress, where it belongs.
On January 20, 2017,Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has not kept that promise.
Instead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has purposefully inflamed America’s divisions. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us—of every race, gender, and creed—are created equal.
Insights into the little-studied realm of last words
Mort Felix liked to say that his name, when read as two Latin words, meant “happy death.” When he was sick with the flu, he used to jokingly remind his wife, Susan, that he wanted Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played at his deathbed. But when his life’s end arrived at the age of 77, he lay in his study in his Berkeley, California, home, his body besieged by cancer and his consciousness cradled in morphine, uninterested in music and refusing food as he dwindled away over three weeks in 2012. “Enough,” he told Susan. “Thank you, and I love you, and enough.” When she came downstairs the next morning, she found Felix dead.
During those three weeks, Felix had talked. He was a clinical psychologist who had also spent a lifetime writing poetry, and though his end-of-life speech often didn’t make sense, it seemed to draw from his attention to language. “There’s so much so in sorrow,” he said at one point. “Let me down from here,” he said at another. “I’ve lost my modality.” To the surprise of his family members, the lifelong atheist also began hallucinating angels and complaining about the crowded room—even though no one was there.
Dr. Sherman Hershfield woke up one morning and was surprised to find himself behind the wheel of his car. Somewhere between his Beverly Hills apartment and his practice in the San Fernando Valley, the silver-haired physician had blacked out. Somehow he’d avoided a crash, but this wasn’t the first time. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he admitted.
Apart from his frequent blackouts, Hershfield was in fine health for a man in his 50s. He was tall and lean, ran six miles a day, and was a strict vegetarian. “I believe a physician should provide exemplary motivation to patients,” he once wrote. “I don’t smoke and have cut out all alcohol.” Hershfield specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and for decades had helped patients with brain injuries learn to walk again and rebuild their lives. Even with his experience, Hershfield didn’t know what was wrong inside his own head.
America’s largest internet store is so big, and so bewildering, that buyers often have no idea what they’re going to get.
Updated at 5:28 p.m. ET on January 17, 2019.
There’s a Gatorade button attached to my basement fridge. If I push it, two days later a crate of the sports drink shows up at my door, thanks to Amazon. When these “Dash buttons” were first rumored in 2015, they seemed like a joke. Press a button to one-click detergent or energy bars? What even?, my colleague Adrienne LaFrance reasonably inquired.
They weren’t a joke. Soon enough, Amazon was selling the buttons for a modest fee, the value of which would be applied to your first purchase. There were Dash buttons for Tide and Gatorade, Fiji Water and Lärabars, Trojan condoms and Kraft Mac & Cheese.
The whole affair always felt unsettling. When the buttons launched, I called the Dash experience Lovecraftian, the invisible miasma of commerce slipping its vapor all around your home. But last week, a German court went further, ruling the buttons illegal because they fail to give consumers sufficient information about the products they order when pressing them, or the price they will pay after having done so. (You set up a Dash button on Amazon’s app, selecting a product from a list; like other goods on the e-commerce giant’s website, the price can change over time.) Amazon, which is also under general antitrust investigation in Germany, disputes the ruling.
The speaker threatened to scrap his speech. The president grounded her plane.
She disinvited him from delivering the State of the Union during a government shutdown. He grounded her plane, abruptly canceling her taxpayer-funded trip to a foreign war zone.
Two weeks in, the relationship between the new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and President Donald Trump is off to a smashing start.
Forget a swift resolution to the record-breaking shutdown: As hundreds of thousands of federal employees continue to work without pay, the two most powerful elected leaders in the country are locked in a duel of personal vengeance, making the possibility of good-faith negotiations to end the impasse even more unlikely.
On Thursday, Pelosi suggested that Trump delay his annual speech to Congress, essentially threatening to use her power as speaker to block him from the Capitol. (The State of the Union is delivered by formal invitation from lawmakers.) In response, the president was initially, and uncharacteristically, silent. No name-calling tweets, no blustery sound bites. But on Thursday afternoon, just as Pelosi was about to board a plane bound for Europe, Trump exacted his revenge.
She beat George W. Bush on Social Security privatization, and she’ll beat Trump on the wall.
Democrats sometimes portray themselves as high-minded and naive—unwilling to play as rough as the GOP. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is, once again, proving that self-image wrong. She’s not only refusing Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall. She’s trying to cripple his presidency. And she may well succeed.
Pelosi’s strategy resembles the one she employed to debilitate another Republican president: George W. Bush. Bush returned to Washington after his 2004 reelection victory determined to partially privatize Social Security. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital,” he told the press, “and I intend to spend it.” Bush’s plan contained two main elements. The first was convincing the public that there was a crisis. Social Security, he declared in his 2005 State of the Union address, “is headed toward bankruptcy.” The second was persuading Democrats to offer their own proposals for changing it.
The president and his party have grown accustomed to representing a minority of Americans—and ignoring majority opinion.
A government shutdown that most Americans oppose, on behalf of a border wall that most Americans oppose, might be the logical end point for a president and a political party that appears more and more unconcerned about attracting support from a majority of the public.
Donald Trump’s decision to precipitate a government shutdown over his demands for money to build a border wall, and the virtual absence of congressional GOP resistance to his approach, shows how comfortable the president and the broader Republican Party around him have grown in pursuing goals that face majority opposition in polls—so long as they retain the backing of their core supporters.
Attracting and sustaining majority support has traditionally represented a North Star for American presidents. The showdown over the shutdown, perhaps more than any earlier decision, makes clear that Trump is setting his course by a very different compass. Trump has abandoned any pretense of seeking to represent majority opinion and is defining himself almost entirely as the leader of a minority faction.
It’s not meant to be comforting, but somehow it is.
If you ever find yourself sinking into the plush blue couch of Dr. Jane Prelinger, you should know that she doesn’t want you to call her Dr. Prelinger. In her office, even when you’re on the couch and she’s facing you from her chair, looking at you through heavy eyeliner and the frame of her white-blond bangs, she insists: You’re just two humans. “It’s Faith and Jane,” she told me when I was in that position. “Here, it’s human to human.”
Jane is an existential therapist. She sees a lot of different clients with a lot of different problems, but she thinks all of those problems can be reduced to the same four essential issues: death, meaninglessness, isolation, and freedom.
Existential therapy isn’t new. Its roots go back to the existential philosophers of the 20th century, and specifically to Jean-Paul Sartre, who summed up his philosophy in 1943 when he wrote that humans are “condemned to be free.” Unlike other animals, humans are conscious and aware of their own mortality—but that means they have the possibility, and responsibility, of deciding in each moment what to do and how to be.
Astronomers have produced the best measure yet of the planet’s signature bands.
Saturn has confounded scientists since Galileo, who found that the planet was “not alone,” as he put it. “I do not know what to say in a case so surprising, so unlooked-for, and so novel,” he wrote. He didn’t realize it then, but he had seen the planet’s rings, a cosmic garland of icy material.
From Earth, the rings look solid, but up close, they are translucent bands made of countless particles, mostly ice, some rock. Some are no larger than a grain of sugar, others as enormous as mountains. Around and around they go, held in place by a delicate balance between Saturn’s gravity and their orbiting speed, which pulls them out toward space.
Scientists got their best look at the planet nearly 400 years after Galileo’s discovery, using a NASA spacecraft called Cassini. Cassini spent 13 years looping around Saturn until, in September 2017, it ran out of fuel and engineers deliberately plunged it into the planet, destroying it. More than a year later, scientists are still sorting through the data from its final moments, hoping to extract answers to the many questions that remain about Saturn.
Two new documentaries—Netflix’s Fyre and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud—investigate the origins of a nightmarish event that went viral in 2017.
How could you market something that wasn’t real? That’s the question Brett Kincaid, a commercial director who helped promote the infamous Fyre Festival, is forced to confront in a new Netflix documentary out Friday. Titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, Chris Smith’s film is a fairly straightforward accounting of the failed event that triggered a maelstrom of social-media schadenfreude in 2017, when hundreds of attendees were lured to a Bahamian island for a luxury getaway that promised major musical acts, ritzy accommodations, gourmet food, and Instagram celebrities in the middle of paradise.
What visitors got instead was an empty corner of an island littered with disaster-relief tents that had been drenched in a prior storm. There was no other housing, no staff, barely any food, no way to immediately depart, and, of course, no music or celebrities. In Fyre,Kincaid offers a defense of himself and other contractors hired by the festival co-organizer Billy McFarland, who is now serving a six-year prison term for wire fraud. “Everything was real,” Kincaid insists in the documentary. “Everything looked real. If you get hired to do a BMW commercial and that BMW then has a faulty engine, how the fuck can you possibly know whether or not they’re going to do good on what they said they were gonna do?”