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.”)
It’s been a month since an EgyptAir flight crashed into the Mediterranean, en route from Paris to Cairo. This past weekend investigators said they had found the plane’s flight recorders (“black boxes”) but that the devices were badly damaged. Therefore it would take a long time to recover information and begin to interpret it.
No one really knows what happened to that plane—attack? mechanical defect? something else?—and, with the cautionary example of still-missing Malaysia Air 370 in mind, it could be months or years before anyone does.
Thus it’s worth remembering that one month ago today, 12 hours after first news of the crash, Donald Trump said this about it in a speech in New Jersey:
What just happened? A plane got blown out of the sky. And if anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100% wrong, folks, OK? You’re 100% wrong.
The hardest part of a president’s job is assessing unclear, murky, and contradictory evidence, which is the kind of evidence in most big decisions a president makes. The clearer, easier choices get made by someone else. Real presidents become aware of and burdened by the gap between “probability” and “certainty.” They try to remain aware of the spectrum between choices they must make quickly, even knowing that available information is inadequate, and others where the wisest option is to buy time. John Kennedy kept asking for more time and more options during the Cuban Missile Crisis. George W. Bush rushed with uninformed haste toward his decision to invade Iraq.
Trump was the opposite of deliberative or presidential in rushing toward his conclusion about the EgyptAir crash last month, as he was this month about the ever-more-tangled situation of the Orlando mass-slaughter. Trump immediately declared the shooting an ISIS operation justifying new controls on Muslim immigrants. “It’s war, it’s absolute war!” he said. This weekend Dina Temple-Raston of NPR reported that intelligence officials and investigators had told her they were “becoming increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little — or maybe nothing — to do with ISIS.” In both of these cases, terrorism might end up having been a significant cause. But that’s not clear right now, and it certainly was not during Trump’s immediate spasm of “you’re 100% wrong!” Remember, too, that the Orlando shooting was the occasion for his saying that President Obama was “prioritizing the enemy” by not cracking down on Muslim immigrants. Trump’s responses to both emergencies — Egyptair, and Orlando — might be considered old news, except for this weekend’s reminder of the real-world complexities of each, which real leaders would need to reckon with.
In one case only has Trump publicly reflected on the difficulty of judging complex evidence and probabilities: the decision by Cincinnati zoo officials to kill the gorilla into whose cage a toddler had fallen. This issue Trump addressed with genuine feeling, depth, and expressed awareness of tradeoffs. Other issues, from whether the U.K. should leave the European Union to whether Japan should build nuclear weapons, require no apparent deliberation at all.
Time Capsule #25: June 19, 2016. Doing a good job.
Last week Donald Trump explained why it didn’t matter to him or his supporters that he has offered no specifics on how he would achieve his impossible-sounding goals, from making Mexico pay for The Wall to winning so much we get tired of winning.
“My voters don’t care and the public doesn’t care,” Trump said. “They know you’re going to do a good job once you’re there.”
That is, faith in Trump’s powers to resolve all knotty problems through great deals surmounts the boring details of how politics, budgets, and diplomacy actually work. A similar faith in Trump’s ability to laugh his way past usual realities underlies his general-election prospects. Sure, you might think he faces obstacles with blacks, Latinos, women, and other groups the RNC thought it needed in order to take the presidency—in addition to his own lack of knowledge and experience, and his temperamental instability. But look how he keeps winning!
For more than a month now Trump has been in the position of presumptive nominee; items #1-#24 in this series illustrate what kind of “good job” he has done in that role. Today comes a fascinating new piece of tangible evidence: how he is handling the strategic economics of a modern national campaign.
Doing a good job as a candidate means, among other things, being aware of the huge financial obligations of today’s politicking: How you raise money, how you carefully husband it, how you spend it when and where it is most useful and save it everywhere else.
The chart above, from Mark Murray of NBC, is one indicator of how things are going. Four years ago, an incumbent president and his well-funded challenger were in a tight advertising race in what both sides had identified as possible swing states.
This year, all the ad-spending in those swing states has been by Hillary Clinton and her allies. Trump’s forces have not put up anything. Either he doesn’t have enough money, or he hasn’t understood how and when and where to spend it, or he has no ads prepared, or something else. He has also apparently ignored the professional-politicians’ lesson of the past few cycles, which is that opposition advertising in May and June, when a nominee has emerged but before he or she has been officially chosen at the convention, can powerfully brand a candidate in a way very hard to shake once the “real” campaigning begins in the fall.
To get all the provisos out of the way: Of course skill in running a campaign is not the same as skill at being president. Of course money is the ruination of modern politics. Of course ads can be an insult to the collective intelligence. Of course [name a hundred other points]. But you can’t be a good president if you don’t get elected. And in this, the first sample of how Trump might handle the complex management challenges that go with political leadership, early results look bad for him. He said: Don’t sweat all the details, I’ll do a great job. In fact he’s doing a terrible job.
The previous entry noted that Time Capsules would shift to a slower schedule, documenting less of the daily chaos and highlighting the more remarkable developments. The difference that Mark Murray has documented is remarkable.
The pace of uninformed, embarrassing, and objectively disqualifying statements from Donald Trump is picking up. The most recent tiny example that would be huge for anyone else: last night in Dallas, Trump spoke to a crowd at Gilley’s, a country-music bar and dance hall so famous that there was a whole movie about it back in the 1980s. That was Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta and Debra Winger, set in the original Gilley’s, near Houston. That site is now closed, but there’s a new Gilley’s in Dallas. The movie was based on an Aaron Latham story in Esquire about Gilley’s and the oil-boom culture of that era.
One of the things that made Gilley’s famous was its “mechanical bull” that daring riders, male and female, would try to stay aboard as it bucked and reared. It was such a central part of the Gilley’s saga that a dramatic climax of the Urban Cowboy was Winger doing an ostentatiously sexy ride aboard the bull while Travolta looked on and steamed. That was a long time ago, but it was during Trump’s conscious lifetime, and if he had ever heard of Gilley’s, he had heard of the bull.
Thus the oddity of Trump telling the crowd at Gilley’s that he was excited to ride “that horse.” As Mac McCann writes today in the Dallas Morning News:
Trump is laugh-out-loud funny. Referring to Gilley’s mechanical bull, Trump suggested he ride “that horse,” but added, “The problem is, even if I make it, they’ll say I fell off the horse and it was terrible.”… He asked the crowd, “Do we have fun at Trump rallies?” And the crowd erupted in the affirmative.
It was fun. It wasn’t politics.
The whole column is worth reading, but just to stick with the “horse”: Of course it doesn’t matter at all. But similar tiny notes of being out of touch with pop culture became big problems for other candidates. One example was incumbent President George H.W. Bush apparently not knowing what a scanner was when he visited a grocery store. Another was presidential candidate John Kerry being ridiculed for something he apparently never even said: “Who among us doesn’t like Nascar?”
Suppose Kerry — or Dan Quayle or Al Gore or either of the Bushes — had made the bull/horse mixup? The mocking op-ed columns practically write themselves, with a different angle appropriate for each politician. (Gore and Kerry: out of touch elitists. The elder Bush: fake Texan? The younger one: “Rarely is the question asked, Is our children learning?” Quayle: potatoe. Etc). But with Trump, it’s just the 19th-oddest event of a normal campaign day.
Because Trump’s outlier status is becoming better established, I’m going to slow the pace of documenting the examples, even as the examples start piling up faster. His special status is beginning to sink in. I recommend two columns today on this point. One is by Daniel Drezner in the Washington Post, looking back on why he so badly underestimated Trump’s chances. (I’ve gone through the same exercise, but Drezner reckons with the man we’re seeing in the general election campaign.)
If Republican voters had nominated a typical candidate, a governor or former governor who had won office in a big state by straddling the center and the right, that man would be ahead of Hillary Clinton right now.
But instead the voters went for Trump, who has never run for nor held office, dodged the draft, and spent the last year insulting Mexicans, P.O.W.s, women, the disabled, Muslims, you name it, while saying George W. Bush lied us into war with Iraq and implying Ted Cruz’s dad had a hand in the Kennedy assassination. Then there was the part where he bragged about his genitals before ranting that he would order soldiers to commit war crimes and “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” This week he cast the troops in Iraq as thieves, threw his support behind an unconstitutional proposal to deny Second Amendment rights to citizens on the no fly list, invited Kim Jong Un to Washington, hinted that President Obama supported ISIS, denied press credentials to the Washington Post after the paper reported this insinuation, and then turned around and tweeted that a Breitbart.com article proved he was right about Obama all along.
This is not a good man. This is not a stable man. It is in the self-interest of no rational person to have him near the situation room.
Again, the point is beginning to register: the GOP is preparing to nominate a historically unprecedented, and totally unfit, candidate for the presidency. As that becomes conventional wisdom, I’ll record more selective highlights and less of the daily scrum.
The bright side of the change is that I’m off to report on more encouraging topics for a while, starting in Kansas and Texas. See you in this space as circumstances warrant, or if Trump somehow starts to become “normalized.”
Update For reasons presumably related to the pace of posting from the road, in this case Powderly, Kentucky, the original version of this post somehow was missing the explanation of why it was strange for Trump to talk about a “horse” — and why if you were a non-Texan who had ever heard of Gilley’s you would have heard of it for the mechanical bull. That explanation is now back in.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 Treason. But 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.
Donald Trump gave a “formal” speech yesterday, scripted rather than ad-libbed, which argued that America’s problems with ISIS internationally and terrorism domestically were like all its other problems, in this crucial way: The solutions are simple and obvious, and mainly involve toughness. So once Donald Trump and his team get their chance, the whole mess would be cleaned up fast.
The fact that it has not been cleaned up yet meant that those in charge, starting with the feckless Obama, are dopes at best — and something far worse, at worst.
That something, as Trump unmistakably implied about Obama in his Fox and Friends interview yesterday, is that “something is going on,” that Obama is playing a double game. “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands.”
When TheWashington Post and many others (including David Graham and me here at TheAtlantic) pointed out that Trump had broken past norms by publicly questioning a sitting president’s loyalty, Trump got furious at the Post. He broke another longstanding norm by pulling its press credentials, something even Richard Nixon did not do when the Post was involved in investigations that led to his downfall.
Today President Obama spoke with half-contained fury about Trump’s response and its combined insults to Muslims as a group, immigrants, law enforcement, and the people in U.S. and allied military and intelligence organizations that had been coping with terrorist and ISIS threats. It was a remarkable brief speech, which you can read about here and watch a part of via C-Span here.
Trump’s response, via email to the Associated Press, included the charge that Obama was “prioritizing our enemy.”
Trump said during the campaign that when he is elected, “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to get tired of winning.”
I am getting tired of noting that we are seeing things that have never happened before in American public life. We just take it in stride, but we’re striding into new, bad territory.
I discussed these and related matters this afternoon with TheAtlantic’s Molly Ball and Yoni Appelbaum, in a Facebook Live session:
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.
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.
"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.”
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:
2) “I called it and asked for the ban.” And as the killer’s identity and background became known:
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’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 inTime, “‘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.”
This brings us to Warren herself, and what she said about the Vichy group in a speech two days ago.
The most noted part of Warren’s very tough (and well-delivered) speech was her description of Trump, including this line, delivered with appropriate word-by-word stress:
Donald Trump is a loud, nasty, thin-skinned fraud who has never risked anything for anyone and serves nobody but himself.
But I thought the most important part was her indictment of Trump’s enablers in the GOP establishment. For instance, with final emphasis added:
When first asked if he would condemn Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said, well, gee, you know, “Donald Trump is certainly a different kind of candidate.”…
Trump isn’t a different kind of candidate. He’s a Mitch McConnell kind of candidate. Exactly the kind of candidate you’d expect from a Republican Party whose “script” for several years has been to execute a full-scale assault on the integrity of our courts. Blockading judicial appointments so Donald Trump can fill them….
Trump is also House Speaker Paul Ryan’s kind of candidate. Paul Ryan condemned Trump’s campaign for its attacks on Judge Curiel’s integrity. Great. Where’s Paul Ryan’s condemnation of the blockade, the intimidation, the smears, and the slime against the integrity of qualified judicial nominees and Judge Garland?
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell want Donald Trump to appoint the next generation of judges. They want those judges to tilt the law to favor big business and billionaires like Trump. They just want Donald to quit being so vulgar and obvious about it.
There things stand, five weeks before the Republicans gather in Cleveland. We’ll get to Trump U, the casinos, the tax returns, and how the press deals with all this in upcoming installments.
#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.
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.
The minute we make any decision—I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative.
Members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed by Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake—ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for a refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn’t show the spaceship following the comet. A short time later, believing that they would be rescued once they had shed their “earthly containers” (their bodies), all 39 members killed themselves.
Heaven’s Gate followers had a tragically misguided conviction, but it is an example, albeit extreme, of cognitive dissonance, the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives. This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.
The gap between soaring cases and falling deaths is being weaponized by the right to claim a hollow victory in the face of shameless failure. What’s really going on?
Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET on July 9, 2020.
For the past few weeks, I have been obsessed with a mystery emerging in the national COVID-19 data.
Cases have soared to terrifying levels since June. Yesterday, the U.S. had 62,000 confirmed cases, an all-time high—and about five times more than the entire continent of Europe. Several U.S. states, including Arizona and Florida, currently have more confirmed cases per capita than any other country in the world.
But average daily deaths are down 75 percent from their April peak. Despite higher death counts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekly average has largely plateaued in the past two weeks.
The gap between spiking cases and falling-then-flatlining deaths has become the latest partisan flashpoint. President Donald Trump has brushed off the coronavirus surge by emphasizing the lower death rate, saying that “99 percent of [COVID-19 cases] are totally harmless.” On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans against “[taking] comfort in the lower rate of death” just hours before Trump tweeted triumphantly: “Death Rate from Coronavirus is down tenfold!”
American presidents customarily leave office when voters reject them. Czars, emperors, and would-be prime ministers for life do whatever they can to hold on to power. To extend his rule until 2036, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently held a referendum to amend his country’s constitution. While some Russians publicly opposed the proposal, few had any doubt about the outcome. Two years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping succeeded in eliminating term limits that had been established after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution—a period of ideological madness that killed tens of millions of people, including family members of the country’s ruling class. In his grand presidential address of 2017, Xi stated specific objectives for his nation to achieve by 2025, 2035, and 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China—suggesting that he intended to lead China until at least 2035 (when he would be 82).
The amazing thing about the saga is how much of it happened in the full light of day.
Roger Stone’s best trick was always his upper-class-twit wardrobe. He seemed such a farcical character, such a Klaxon-alarm-from-a-mile-away goofball—who could take him seriously?
Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen: They had tradecraft. They didn’t troll people on Instagram or blab to reporters. They behaved in the way you would expect of people betraying their country: conscious of the magnitude of their acts, determined to avoid the limelight.
Stone could not have been more different. He clowned, he cavorted, he demanded limelight—which made it in some ways impossible to imagine that he could have done anything seriously amiss. Bank robbers don’t go on Twitter to announce, “Hey, I’m going to rob a bank, sorry, not sorry.” Or so you’d expect.
White, conservative Christians who set aside the tenets of their faith to support Donald Trump are now left with little to show for it.
The closest thing social conservatives and evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump had to a conversation stopper, when pressed about their support for a president who is so manifestly corrupt, cruel, mendacious, and psychologically unwell, was a simple phrase: “But Gorsuch.”
Those two words were shorthand for their belief that their reverential devotion to Trump would result in great advances for their priorities and their policy agenda, and no priority was more important than the Supreme Court.
Donald Trump may be a flawed character, they argued, but at least he appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
That is the case decided in mid-June in which the majority opinion, written by Justice Gorsuch, protected gay and transgender individuals from workplace discrimination, handing the LGBTQ movement a historic victory.
The miniseries Expecting Amy captures the comedian’s complicated pregnancy with extreme honesty.
This is, hopefully, the last thing I’ll write before going on parental leave. At this point late in twin pregnancy, I’m less a functioning professional person than a bad Ron Burgundy impression, chugging smoothies and bellowing “I am COMPLETELY MISERABLE” at anyone caring and unwise enough to check in. First, walking turned into waddling, then waddling turned into hobbling, and now I’m in a place where anything approaching a gentle incline requires the services of someone who’ll push me from behind, like I’m an obstinate grocery-store cart. My feet and ankles look like popovers. Did I mention that there’s a pandemic and it’s high summer and masks are mandatory? The past month has been most notable for a series of sharp pelvic pains called “lightning crotch,” or, if you’re in the U.K., “fanny daggers.” (The names don’t make the pain less objectionable, but they did give me an idea for a fabulous transatlantic superhero series.)
For most of the past three years, the only thing more futile than looking for Donald Trump to pivot was expecting the American people to do so. No matter how successful the president was, or, more often, how chaotic and disorderly his administration was, nothing seemed to be able to shake up people’s views of Trump.
Popular approval of Trump hovered in the same narrow range, roughly from 39 to 45 percent, through Charlottesville and tax reform, supposed border caravans and mass shootings, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report and impeachment.
As the election approaches, the president’s approval rating becomes less important than how he’s polling against his challenger. And in the past few weeks, something has shifted. After months of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, leading by single digits, a series of polls has recently shown him building a sizable lead. Surveys from The New York Times/Siena College and Harvard/Harris have Trump trailing by 14 and 12 points, respectively. A series of swing-state polls shows Biden tied or leading in states that Trump won comfortably in 2016.
Coming home from Tulsa, the intensely image-conscious president no longer looked like a winner.
Five years ago this month, on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump delivered one of the indelible images of 21st-century politics when he slowly descended a gold escalator to a rally announcing his candidacy for the presidency.
On Saturday, he delivered another iconic image, but not the sort he wanted to produce. Returning to the White House after a flop of a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump stepped off Marine One with his collar unbuttoned, his signature red tie undone and hanging loosely around his neck, and his MAGA hat crumpled in his hand. He waved listlessly to the cameras and gave a perfunctory thumbs-up.
The New York Times saw a “defeated expression on his face,” and reported that he was furious about the meager crowd at his rally, as well as about a leak that six of his advance-team members had tested positive for the coronavirus. Who really knows what Trump was thinking in that moment? The president’s own feelings are largely beside the point. As Trump, a consummate marketer, has always known, appearances matter—and right now Trump looks like a loser.
For federal Indian law, this might be the Gorsuch Court.
Mari Hulbutta, my friend and suitemate from college—we were both members of the Native American student group—couldn’t sleep Wednesday, the night before the Supreme Court issued its decision in the landmark Native-treaty-rights case,McGirt v. Oklahoma. Hulbutta is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and a descendant of the Muscogee Creek and Seminole Nations, all in present-day Oklahoma. The McGirt case centered on whether Jimcy McGirt, a Seminole man found guilty of sex crimes, could be tried by the state of Oklahoma. McGirt contended that because his offenses occurred on lands guaranteed to the Muscogee Creek Nation in an 1866 treaty—one never legally extinguished by Congress—only federal authorities could prosecute his case. The state of Oklahoma has no jurisdiction on Indian land. Tribes can prosecute most crimes involving Native Americans in their own courts. Major crimes, such as murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping, rise to the federal government. The Muscogee Creek became involved with McGirt’s litigation because it had broad implications for their treaty rights, sovereignty, and jurisdiction. Tangentially, the case also involved the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw tribes, all relocated on the Trail of Tears from what is now the American South to eastern Oklahoma. “I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go,” Hulbutta told me by phone Thursday. “I was thinking about the decision and wondering what it was going to mean for my family and Muscogee relatives.”
The disappearance of local news is a slow-moving disaster.
In the summer of 1945, for 17 days, the newspaper deliverers of New York City went on strike. As hundreds of thousands of city residents found themselves temporarily deprived of their daily papers, the behavioral scientist Bernard Berelson saw an opportunity: He wanted to understand what it felt like for people to suddenly lose their primary sources of news. So he set about interviewing them. Asked what the absent papers had meant to them, the interviewees often responded with bromides about news’s crucial role in a government of the people. With more pressing, though, their responses deepened. What they really missed, Berelson came to realize, wasn’t the news as a noun so much as the news as a verb: the daily rituals of the reading, and the connection that reading made them feel to their communities and to the wider world. News is a product and a service and a foundation of any functioning democracy; what it is also, though, is an anchor—a tether to other people, woven of words and arguments and daily discoveries. Without it, people felt adrift.