Reporter's Notebook

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

Show None Newer Notes

Trump Time Capsule #13: Crickets

Donald Trump’s response the morning after Hillary Clinton’s speech lambasting him.

There is too much going on to catch up with fully, so let me mention a case that is not about something Donald Trump said or did but rather about something that didn’t happen.

Trump Time Capsule #13: June 4, 2016. Crickets.

- On June 2, Hillary Clinton gave a speech attacking Donald Trump’s qualifications to be president, in unusually blunt and dismissive terms. Right off the bat she said, “Donald Trump’s ideas are not just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They are not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies. He is not just unprepared, he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability, and immense responsibility.” It went on from there.

- In all previous happenings of the known political world, the party subject to such attacks would have been ready to respond. While Clinton was still speaking, the “Let’s set the record straight!” emails from GOP HQ would have been pouring in. As soon as the speech was over, worthy-seeming surrogates would have crowded the cable news shows to say how unfair the criticism was, how sound and thought-through Trump’s policies were, how he had the experience and judgment for the challenges ahead.

- In the actual Trump-era political world, the candidate himself put out one of his trademarked Tweets, shown above. (Which the Clinton campaign was obviously prepared for. They instantly pounced on Trump’s “no basis in fact” and conclusively rebutted it.) And people tell me that Fox commentators have been talking about crooked Hillary — I haven’t watched. But … that’s it.

From the party as a whole? Nothing. Crickets.

  • To the best of my knowledge, not one Republican Senator has stepped up to say: “Secretary Clinton’s criticisms are unfair. Donald Trump is the man for the job.” Not Mitch McConnell or Marco Rubio or John McCain.
  • Not any prominent Representatives. Not Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy or any of their committee chairmen.
  • Not any governors (though we should check on Chris Christie).
  • Not any former Republican Secretaries of State or Defense or Treasury, or former Republican nominees or presidents, or national security advisors or trade negotiators.
  • Not Reince Priebus or anyone from the party establishment. No one.
  • Nor has any party leader chimed in to support his attack on Gonzalo Curiel, the “Mexican” judge from Indiana. (Update The never-disappointing Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and Attorney General for GW Bush, has now weighed in to support Trump on the “Mexican” issue. Read that, then please see Garrett Epps’s Trumpo delenda est absolute demolition of the “Mexican” dispute.)

Many Republicans have continued attacking Hillary Clinton. But as far as I’m aware, no prominent party official has stepped up to say: She’s wrong when she says that Donald Trump is completely unfit for the job he seeks. (The Sunday shows tomorrow are still ahead, but they will be three days late — an eternity in modern news-cycle time.)

And yet: almost all of these people are preparing to accept Trump as their nominee and have said they “support” him.

You could say it’s “clever” for the Republican establishment to go through the motions of supporting Trump, while making it 100% clear that they know he’s toxically unqualified. I don’t really understand why they think that’s wiser than saying: No, here I draw the line. Maybe later on they’ll explain. For now this note is just to record the state of affairs and of public knowledge, six-plus weeks before the convention.

Jake Tapper’s full interview with Donald Trump, aired today, is an important part of the time-capsule process, of recording what was known about the presumptive GOP nominee as the party lined up behind him. But let me point out one very brief segment.

Trump has claimed that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, was against the Iraq war. Tapper, to his great credit says, What’s the evidence for that? It goes from there:

“I haven’t been asked that question before,” Trump says, of Tapper’s request for proof that he was against the war before it started going bad. “Nobody’s said that to me before.”

That is flatly, completely, and 100% untrue.

It’s a big, fat, easily disprovable lie. It’s hardly the most consequential thing he has gotten wrong, but in its baldness it is amazing.


Back in February, at a Town Hall on this same CNN network, Anderson Cooper asked Trump about a 2002 interview with Howard Stern (!) in which he appeared to support the war. You can see it here.

Set aside Trump’s explanation of his 2002 comment: he wasn’t a politician, he hadn’t given it great thought, once the war started he turned against it earlier than his Republican opponents did. Fine. That doesn’t change the reality that what he just told Tapper is a plain and easily demonstrable lie. He had been asked the question, and more than once. This wasn’t even the first time he’d been asked the question on CNN itself.

If you’re interested, there has been a slew of other coverage on this theme. For instance this item by me, plus Politifact, the NYT,  BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post. Maybe, since Trump has no detectable campaign organization, no one made him aware of this. But we know for a fact that Anderson Cooper asked him this very question, to his face, on national TV less than four months ago.

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?

None of these explanations, or others, is reassuring. The point for now is that the man the GOP is lining up to support calmly told a flat-out lie he should have known would be trivially easy to disprove, and didn’t seemed fazed a bit.

Update this parallels another flat-out, clearly disprovable Trump lie today about his position on Libya, as explained here.

Tweet on the morning of June 6, 2016, apparently in response to articles saying that Donald Trump has no campaign organization.

Time Capsule #15, June 6, 2016, Donald Trump Has No Campaign

As with item #13 in this series, “Crickets,” this one is about something that didn’t happen rather than something that did.

It’s now been nearly five weeks since Donald Trump appeared to clinch the Republican nomination, with his win in the supposed Ted Cruz stronghold of Indiana. While the Democrats have continued to scrap since then, Trump has enjoyed a long period in which his attention, organization, message, and drive could shift toward the general election in November, and what it will take to overcome (presumably) Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s thematic message and personal demeanor through this time have not fully matured into inclusive “Presidential” mode, to put it mildly. The latest remarkable example, breaking via Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune as I type this entry, is the letter from Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela, from a heavily Latino district in southern Texas, to Trump saying “you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

But two stories today illustrate a different important development, or rather the lack of one. That is Trump’s apparent indifference about putting together the sort of organization that is always necessary to run a nation-wide general election campaign.


Why do you need more than one visible and voluble candidate, with his millions of social-media followers, to become president? Because managing a general-election campaign is more like coordinating a vast military operation than like running a viral-marketing campaign.

  • Issues come up faster, and in more complexity, and with higher stakes and more pitfalls, than any one person can possibly handle. You need people other than the candidate to talk about foreign policy (and within that, Asia and Europe and the Americas and terrorism and Israel-Palestine and ...), and about budget policy, and about economic trends, and about the latest gaffe or rumor or comment from friend or foe.
  • Of the 50 states plus DC that will cast electoral votes, some are in range for the GOP and some are not, and knowing exactly where and how to spend time and money, and what the local political networks are, and what issues are trending and hurting, is a big, complicated process that requires a lot of region-by-region sophistication and info. The relevance and power of “data analytics” for targeting voters and raising money was a huge part of Barack Obama’s success in 2008 (as Joshua Green described for us) and has only grown more important.
  • Speaking of money: Money, money, money. Trump’s not going to self-fund, and he can’t do all the events or court all the donors himself.
  • Turnout. You need actual people working city by city.
  • Logistics. When I was traveling on a general-election campaign back in 1976, my greatest respect was for the “advance” teams that had to line up back-to-back events each day around the country. It’s really hard; it’s a hundred times more complex and visible these days than it was back then; it can’t be run ad-hoc.
  • Candidate-wrangling. Campaigning is really, really tiring. Someone needs to protect the candidate, and when necessary play the “candidate-whisperer” role of saving him/her from his own worst instincts and impulses. It is not 100% obvious that anyone is in a position to save Trump from himself in this way.
  • Endorsements, surrogates, joint appearances, alliances. These are important and also a PITA to arrange. Every official is important in his own eyes, they all need to be flattered and respected and brought on board.


Donald Trump did better than almost anyone (including me) thought possible in the primaries, but they were a different game. The main axes of operation were the mass rally, at which Trump excelled; and the multi-participant, scrum-like chaos of the “debates,” at which he also excelled. His skills still matter, but it’s a different sort of challenge now.

Thus the significance of this amazing story by Benjy Sarlin, Katy Tur, and Ali Vitali for MSNBC, and a complementary piece by Jim Rutenberg in the NYT.   

Sample of the first, which has the headline “Donald Trump does not have a campaign”:

Donald Trump is a candidate without a campaign – and it’s becoming a serious problem….

Veteran operatives are shocked by the campaign’s failure to fill key roles. There is no communications team to deal with the hundreds of media outlets covering the race, no rapid response director to quickly rebut attacks and launch new ones, and a limited cast of surrogates who lack a cohesive message.

Aides appeared unprepared for the Trump University story last week, despite knowing in advance that unsealed court documents would reveal explosive allegations of fraud….

The absence of a response to the Trump U story left the candidate to fill the vacuum with a torrent of demagoguery against the federal judge overseeing the case, Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump said was biased by his “Mexican heritage” despite his Indiana birthplace.

Those were the days! At the debate at the Reagan library last September, with Donald Trump in his accustomed leader’s position in the middle and Lindsey Graham at the far left in this view. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

No one can be sure of anything in this campaign, and as of now Donald Trump has enough pledged delegates to be declared the GOP nominee in Cleveland six weeks from now.

But if something else somehow happens, people might look back to this date, June 6, 2016, as a moment when things began to look different. By which I mean:

  • The stories this morning, on MSNBC and in the NYT, as noted in #15, about the absence of anything resembling a Trump campaign organization.
  • The report early this afternoon in Bloomberg, about a chaotic call between Trump and some surrogates, in which Trump urged them to go even harder in defending him on the “Mexican judge” front. Important note: the lawsuit the judge is presiding over, on Trump University, has nothing to do with his presidential campaign. In normal circumstances candidates would try to contain or ignore it.
       Instead Trump told the likes of former Senator Scott Brown and former governor Jan Brewer, “to attack journalists who ask questions about the lawsuit and his comments about the judge,” according to the story. “The people asking the questions—those are the racists. I would go at 'em.” Completely apart from the details in the story, a bellwether fact is that some participants felt they could instantly go to the press about it. 
  • A hundred hours, more than four days, have passed since Hillary Clinton’s evisceration of Trump as unfit for the job. Not even one prominent Republican officer holder has come forward to defend the judgment, temperament, or readiness for the job of their party’s presumptive nominee.
    Nothing like this has ever happened before. 
  • A prominent Republican spoke up against Trump. Senator Lindsey Graham, who of course had run unsuccessfully against Trump and then had ambiguously suggested he’d finally support the party’s nominee, flat-out called for other Republicans to un-endorse Trump, because of the “Mexican judge” controversy. According to the NYT:

Senator Lindsey Graham… urged Republicans who have backed Mr. Trump to rescind their endorsements, citing the remarks about Judge Curiel and Mr. Trump’s expression of doubt on Sunday that a Muslim judge could remain neutral in the same lawsuit… 

“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Mr. Graham said. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” he added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”


What does this all mean? It’s impossible to know until it’s over. But if this proves to have been a turning point, I can say that it felt like such a thing in real time. 

Republican Senator Mark Kirk, in a difficult race for re-election to the seat Barack Obama once held in Illinois, announcing today that he was withdrawing his support for Trump.

#17, June 7, 2016. ‘30 Ways Trump is Committing Political Suicide’

As I was about to push “publish” on this item, news arrived of a significant official defection from Team Trump. Republican Senator Mark Kirk, in a very difficult race for re-election in Illinois, withdrew his endorsement of Trump and said he “cannot and will not” support him. His rationale could have been taken straight from Hillary Clinton’s speech last week. Ie, that Trump was temperamentally unsuited to control the nuclear arsenal and unfit for the job. Hmmm.

Meanwhile: the title of this item is taken from a column in The Hill today by John LeBoutillier, a former Republican congressman. LeBoutillier was famous in the early Reagan era as the youngest person elected to Congress in the Reagan wave of 1980 — he was 27 then. He lost after one term, via re-districting, but he stayed active as a commentator, broadcaster, and writer. He was an early version of the “thoughtful young reform Republican” — a type that reached its most genuine and admirable form with Jack Kemp, and that Paul Ryan obviously has been aiming for. 

Today LeBoutillier offers a kind of time capsule of his own, with a list of the things Donald Trump is doing that no viable candidate could or would do. It’s worth reading in full, but it builds to this:

20. Trump does not talk to anyone; nor does he listen.

21. Instead, he watches TV and then criticizes anyone who dares to critique him.

22. The case of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge handling the Trump University case, has thrown all these other GOP candidates into a sense of panic. […]

25. You will start to read leaks of Republicans musing that “we are committing political suicide if we keep going down this road.” … [And “pledged” delegates might look for ways to bail out.]

29. It is also possible that he will figure out that things are not working, and will self-correct; if so, he will indeed be officially nominated on July 21.

30. With six weeks to go until the GOP convention in Cleveland, it is up to Donald Trump: He must either pull himself together and lead the Republican Party in a responsible manner, or else be prepared to have a major mutiny on his hands.  

Again this is offered as real-time evidence of how, when, and why the GOP is processing emerging knowledge of the man it has been preparing to support. At the moment, this looks bad for Trump. So if he does manage to come, items like this will be markers of how big a hole he managed to get out of.


After the jump, a pop-culture version of the “ways he is committing suicide” analysis, from Seth Meyers.

Pocahontas (D-Ma.)                                                           Wikimedia

I’ve been off-duty on other fronts for a couple of days — largely on the far-more-encouraging Maker Movement / startup-revival front — and barely know where to re-start the time-capsule chronicle.

Probably the most important marker to lay down involves the respective positions of the “Resistance” and the “Vichy Republican” camps. Of course of course of course I am not likening Donald Trump to the historically unique Hitler. I am, though, saying that Resistance and Vichy are useful shorthands for the camps that are fighting the takeover of their territory, versus those who have acquiesced, so as to keep the peace, in the face of a conquering force they claim to find objectionable —and which no doubt they’ll criticize once someone else has dealt with it.

Time Capsule #18, June 11, 2016, “a Mitch McConnell kind of candidate”

Items like the following are part of the public record of Donald Trump as of mid-June, 2016:

  • Trump claimed today that he is “the least racist person there is,” and used fight-promoter Don King’s endorsement of him as evidence for that. In fact, King denied endorsing Trump (and continued analyses suggested that racial resentment, rather than economic dislocation, was the most prominent shared theme among Trump’s supporters).
  • A Republican National Committee official said that Trump’s criticism of federal judge Gonzalo Curiel did not involve racial or ethnic bias because “it wasn't addressing the judge's heritage.” In fact, what Trump said was that the judge couldn’t be fair to him, explicitly because “he's of Mexican heritage and he's very proud of it. As I am of where I come from."
  • Trump hasn’t given details on how he’s going to accomplish any of his goals, from building the wall to ending the deficit to shaping up the Europeans and Chinese, and he says no details are necessary. As quoted by Zeke Miller in an absorbing piece in Time, “‘My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care,’ Trump says. ‘They know you’re going to do a good job once you’re there…. His theory of the race echoes advice given to salesman for Trump University... ‘You don’t sell products, benefits or solutions,” the school’s training manual read. ‘You sell feelings.’ ”

    Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has built his image on being a policy guy, and who said that Trump’s comments about the judge were racist, is still standing by him.
  • Trump has taken to calling Senator Elizabeth Warren, in public, “Pocahontas,” for back-story reasons that Garance Franke-Ruta explained in 2012.  Eons ago, when Spiro Agnew was campaigning for the vice-presidency as Richard Nixon’s running mate, he got in trouble for calling Gene Oishi, a young reporter for the Baltimore Sun who had grown up in a World War II internment camp, the fat Jap.” It was in front of a handful of reporters aboard a campaign plane rather than in a speech or at a press conference, but it was seen as a very big deal, even mentioned in Agnew’s obituaries nearly 30 years later. (One-time Nixon speechwriter William Safire later tried to explain it away as jocularity, but Oishi’s family was having none of it.)

    Since that time, I’m not aware of any other national-political figure who has routinely used an ethnically based nickname for an opponent, as Trump is now doing with “Pocahontas.”


Afghan refugees from the Soviet invasion in the early 1980s, when President Reagan was welcoming them to the United States. (AP)

Without comment, the online responses of the presumptive Republican nominee, to the horrific mass gun-slaughter of at least 50 people in Orlando late last night. 

1) “Appreciate the congrats.” This was very soon after the news came in:

@realDonaldTrump on Twitter

2) “I called it and asked for the ban.” And as the killer’s identity and background became known:

From Trump’s Twitter feed


OK, I do have comments: First, on the immediate “it’s about me” reactions of “I called it” and “appreciate the congrats,” in response to a disaster, consider some of the personality traits discussed here. Obviously I am not proposing a medical diagnosis. I am suggesting that the personality and temperament of a president matters, and we have evidence about this man’s.

Second, on “I called for a ban”: based on current information, the man who shot down 50 others was born in New York, of immigrant Afghan parents. So Trump’s reference to “the ban” [on Muslim immigrants] presumably means either that he is imagining a religion-based expulsion of natural-born U.S. citizens like the killer  — or that he is saying, many decades later, that the killer’s parents should never have been let in.

I don’t know exact details of the killer’s family. But the overwhelming majority of Afghan arrivals of their era would have been fleeing the Soviet invasion of their country, and they were warmly welcomed by none other than Ronald Reagan. Here is what he said in a White House proclamation in 1982:

Today, we recognize a nation of unsung heroes whose courageous struggle is one of the epics of our time. The Afghan people have matched their heroism against the most terrifying weapons of modern warfare in the Soviet arsenal…. 

Their heroic struggle has carried a terrible cost. Many thousands of Afghans, often innocent civilians, women and children, have been killed and maimed. Entire villages and regions have been destroyed and depopulated. Some 3 million people have been driven into exile—that's one out of every five Afghans. The same proportion of Americans would produce a staggering 50 million refugees.

We cannot and will not turn our backs on this struggle. 

As president, Ronald Reagan welcomed Muslim refugees from Afghanistan. (Of course he also sowed the seeds of later problems by supporting the anti-Soviet efforts of groups that became the Taliban. But that is a different story. ) As presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to take him at his word, would have kept those refugees out, because of their religion  — or would later have looked for their children to expel them.

Again the point is to record what is known and on-the-record about Trump, as the Republican party prepares to nominate him.


And by contrast, here is the way our current president spoke just days ago about his thwarted efforts to keep people already on the terrorist watch list from buying guns.

I made the mistake of watching, live, Donald Trump’s phone-in interview with a highly deferential Fox and Friends crew early this morning. If you have the stomach, you can watch it below. 

This was the source of the quote “It’s war, it’s absolute war!” with which Trump opens the discussion, and his repeated suggestions (as David Graham has closely analyzed) that President Obama may in fact be a double agent who is fostering the terrorists.   

Time Capsule #20, June 13, 2016, Something’s going on.

Sample quotes:

"We're led by a man who is very -- look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind. And the something else in mind, you know, people can't believe it."...

"People cannot believe, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and he can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on."...

"He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other, and either one is unacceptable."

I am not aware of any modern precedent of a major-party nominee publicly accusing an opponent, let alone a sitting president, of treason. Sure, each side has harbored dark fantasies about the other — and, sure, the rhetoric of the early 1800s and the Civil War era was very dire. But in the conscious lifetimes of today’s adult Americans, no major-party nominee has, before today, publicly suggested that his opponent might actively be a traitor.

You could see this as a linear extension of Trump’s “other-ing” of Obama, through his earlier insane birth-certificate crusade. But the step he has now taken should be noted. He is suggesting that a serving president is not just possibly foreign-born but also perhaps a foreign agent. This is the man Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John McCain, Bob Dole, and the rest of the Republican “establishment” say deserves their support.


In fairness, Obama is not the only sitting president against whom Trump has made charges verging on treason. Four months ago, in a Republican debate in South Carolina, Trump said that George W. Bush had deliberately lied the country into its disastrous war in Iraq:

“They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”  

Also please read Molly Ball’s report on the so-far doomed task of creating a “nice” and “presidential” Trump; Glenn Thrush on Trump’s overall response to the slaughter in Orlando; and Katy Tur on Trump’s now-established pattern of responding to any bad news with “I was right!” comments and Tweets.

No one like this has ever before gotten this far in our democratic system.

President John F. Kennedy at a press conference, around the time he was getting annoyed by coverage from the NY Herald Tribune.  (WIkipedia)

Nothing like this has happened before in modern times.

Trump Time Capsule #21, June 13, 2016. Pull Their Credentials.

- When John F. Kennedy grew unhappy with coverage by the conservative New York Herald Tribune, he cancelled the White House subscription to the paper.  

- When Richard Nixon grew unhappy with coverage by the Woodward-and-Bernstein era Washington Post, which was in the process of helping drive him from office, he talked privately about how to hurt the Post economically in the long run. But he did not propose removing their press credentials.

- When Donald Trump grew unhappy today about an objectively accurate story in the Washington Post — the story made the same point as David Graham’s story today on our site, and mine: namely, that Trump was calling President Obama a traitor — he pulled the Post’s press credentials and banned it from further campaign coverage. As he has done for many other publications.

Nothing like this has happened before. 


All politicians go through stages of greater and lesser annoyance with the press, and nearly all are more- and less-cooperative with outlets they think will treat them well or poorly. All try to conceal certain things and manage their public image. All play favorites. But modern candidates and presidents have assumed that they had to put up with the press as part of the basic bargain of public life, much as people producing plays or movies, or publishing books, put up with the annoyance of sometimes-hostile reviews, as part of the basic bargain of performing in public. Trump’s idea of the basic bargain of seeking great power is different.

We’re pretty sure President #1 was not working for the enemy. But what about #44? (Wikipedia)

Time Capsule #22, June 14, 2016 (Flag Day). Prioritizing our enemy.

I lay out the details and sequence after the jump, but here’s the simple summary of Donald Trump’s latest excursion beyond historical and political norms:

  • Yesterday morning, Trump suggested on Fox news that the incumbent U.S. president might be a traitor or a double agent. That was because, in Trump’s view, Barack Obama was either too dumb to recognize the threat from terrorists — or in fact was all too aware, and had wittingly allowed attacks to go on.
  • Today Trump made, if anything, a more direct attack, telling the Associated Press that President Obama “continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people."

Saying that the Commander in Chief has prioritized the enemy’s interests is an accusation of treason (as David Graham explains). I am not aware of any previous case, whatsoever, of a national-ticket candidate publicly accusing a president or presidential nominee of a capital offense. 

In the heat of campaigns, partisans and polemicists and ordinary citizens have accused national leaders of disloyalty and treason, among other failings. A popular anti-liberal book that helped propel Barry Goldwater’s rise in the early ‘60s was even called None Dare Call It TreasonBut Goldwater left that to the polemicists. He did not himself publicly call John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson traitors. 

This is apart from the spectacle of a man who has called for disbanding NATO, and for removing U.S. military guarantees to South Korea and Japan, worrying about the interests of “allies.”

People who support Trump are implicitly endorsing such views.

Details below.

Donald Trump Tweeting that “he’s right” in accusations that the Obama administration is aiding and abetting the enemy.

I’ve got to make these shorter and more telegraphic, to have any hope of keeping up.

  • Twice in the past three days, Donald Trump has “wondered” and said “lots of people are asking” whether the current U.S. president is actually “prioritizing our enemy” rather than defending the United States.
  • This morning Trump more clearly said that the Obama’s administration had been deliberately assisting the enemy ISIS force. This was via his preferred communications of the Tweet he offered a Breitbart article, which he said showed “he’s right.”

The Breitbart article is based on a memo that was widely discredited by people with knowledge of ISIS and Syria when it appeared last year. See this and this and this.

Trump’s assertions were of a piece with his “birther” crusade during Obama’s first term, and his recent lunatic suggestion that Ted Cruz’s father might have been in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald. In all these cases, his approach is to say “there are a lot of questions” and “people are thinking” and “a lot of people want to know,” and use that as support for his wholly unsubstantiated claims.

A presumptive major-party nominee is accusing an incumbent president of aiding and abetting the nation’s enemies. That is, of treason. And when challenged, he says he’s right. A lot of the job of being president involves assessing evidence and deciding what to believe. Donald Trump continues to show us how he approaches that task.

And the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader are still standing behind this man.

George W. Bush with American Muslim leaders in Washington, less than one week after the 9/11 attacks. He celebrated Muslim inclusion in the national family, rather than warning that it was impossible. (Doug Mills / AP)

Executive summary: what’s most wrong with Donald Trump’s latest statement about Muslim immigrants is not its bias. What most wrong is its stupidity.

  • 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.
  • A real president would be wise enough to recognize that the major threat to that ongoing process would be making Muslim Americans feel that they are on thin ice, unwelcome, and under suspicion. This is why George W. Bush began his very honorable (and strategically important) outreach to Muslim Americans soon after the 9/11 attacks.

But this year’s presumptive Republican nominee is not informed enough to recognize the first point, nor wise enough to grasp the second.

Now the details.


Time Capsule #24, June 14, 2016. There’s no real assimilation.

Yesterday, in a Fox News discussion with Sean Hannity, who straddled the roles of campaign spokesman and interviewer, Donald Trump said that a ban on Muslim immigrants was justified, because Muslims didn’t assimilate:

Hannity: If you grow up under Sharia law, and as a man, you think you have the right to tell a woman how to dress, whether she can drive a car, whether she can go to school, or whether she can go to work … if you grow up there, you want to come to America, how do we vet somebody’s heart and ascertain if they're coming here for freedom or if they want to proselytize, indoctrinate, and bring the theocracy with them?

Trump: Assimilation has been very hard. It’s almost, I won’t say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close. And I’m talking about second and third generation — for some reason there’s no real assimilation.

Hannity: Right.

Set aside the “essentialism” of Trump’s suggestion that the most important thing about some second- and third- generation immigrants is their ethnic or religious background. Just as a matter of being in touch with reality, to make the claim is to reveal that you have spent no time asking or learning about this issue, as opposed to dreaming up agitprop.

From a world perspective, the striking trait about Muslim immigrants to the United States has for a long time been how much better they have assimilated than their counterparts in most other nations, notably including all of Europe. In the years after the 9/11 attacks, one terrorism expert after another pointed out the big American advantage over France, Germany, Holland, the U.K., and other countries in this regard. Second- and third-generation Muslim Americans mainly thought of themselves as American, in common with other U.S. immigrant groups and in contrast to many new immigrants in Western Europe.

Extensive surveys taken more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks showed that Muslim Americans had more in common with other U.S. immigrant groups than with any extremists overseas. (For instance, this 2011 Pew study: “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism.”) I know first-hand from interviews with counter-terrorism officials in the years after 9/11 that they viewed the continuing integration of Muslims as a huge U.S. advantage. The corresponding danger would be a shift in U.S. attitudes that made Muslim immigrants feel they could not be accepted.

Another illustration of Muslim-American assimilation, from a Gallup poll in 2010:

Gallup poll


Where might a shift to an estranged and “other” status for Muslim Americans arise from? And why might Trump be taking the tone? The data displayed in the chart below are a few years old but may suggest a clue. The Republican base that Trump has been appealing to differs from the rest of the country in having a strong anti-Muslim outlook:


A real president or presidential candidate would know enough about reality to understand that assimilation was progressing.

A real president would realize that the greatest danger was saying or doing things that would make this group of Americans feel suspect or unwelcome.