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.”)

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Trump Time Capsule #31: 'Don't Be a Sucker'

1947 War Department propaganda film, Don’t Be a Sucker.

This one really is a time capsule. It’s a nearly 70-year-old U.S. government film called Don’t Be a Sucker, released in 1947 by what was then straightforwardly known as the Department of War. (Thanks to Daniel Buk for the lead.)

Most of the 17-minute film is a history of Germany’s slide into Nazism, which is powerful but familiar. I think these three segments deserve another look in 2016:

  • The part from time 2:05 (where the video below is cued to start) to 4:25, in which our everyman-American hero confronts a rabble-rousing speaker who tells him that his jobs, opportunities, and future are being stolen by outsiders.
  • The two minutes of the video before that, which you can click back on the player to see, presenting one version of America’s view of itself, just after its great victory in war. It’s touching, up-to-date, out-of-date, achingly earnest, and unintentionally ridiculous (in retrospect), all at the same time.
  • The final two minutes, from 15:25 onward, when the immigrant-American narrator explains the importance of America being a nation-of-minorities.


Obviously this video really is a time capsule from a different era. For instance, it talks unselfconsciously about the triumph of an American fighting force “made of people of all religions and skin colors,” at a time when the U.S. military was still formally segregated. But I was surprised by how many aspects of it still seemed relevant.

(The original Time Capsule thread is here, with items #1-#27. For entries starting with #28, go here.)

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the foreground, with other members of the Republican Senate leadership: (from left) John Barrasso, John Thune, and John Cornyn. This isn’t a picture of McConnell with his party’s presumptive nominee, because if such a photo exists, Google doesn’t know about it. (AP photo)

As explained back in item #18 of this series, I’m using “the Resistance” and “Vichy Republicans” as useful shorthands for, respectively, the GOP figures who are fighting the hostile takeover of their territory, versus those who have acquiesced to a conquering force — which no doubt they’ll criticize once someone else has dealt with it. (And to make this clear every time, of course the analogy does not extend to likening this era’s conqueror, Donald Trump, to the historically unique Hitler.)

Mitch McConnell has been a crucial membership of the Vichy coalition, for two reasons. One is ex officio: as Senate Minority Leader during the early Obama years and now as Majority Leader, he has been the most important single figure in opposition to Obama’s programs, nominations, and general prospects. His historically unprecedented overuse of the filibuster, while still in the minority, was an early indication. His current refusal even to consider a Supreme Court nominee, also historically unprecedented, is the latest example.

The other aspect of McConnell’s importance is temperamental. As a political operator and spokesman, he is the exact opposite of Donald Trump. Trump appears to be all Id, reaction, spontaneity. McConnell, by contrast, barely reveals any emotion and says only what exactly fits the thought-out message plan. When he was a Congressional leader, Newt Gingrich would say one entertaining thing today, and a contradictory but also entertaining thing tomorrow. What Mitch McConnell says is never entertaining, but it is always intentional and planned out.

Thus it is highly significant that McConnell said this morning, in a TV interview with cable channel NY, that Trump was “an entertainer” and that he needed to “become” a credible presidential candidate, not being one yet. From the interview:

McConnell: “Trump clearly needs to change, in my opinion, to win the general election. What I’ve said to him both publicly and privately: 'You’re a great entertainer. You turn on audiences. You’re good before a crowd. You have a lot of Twitter followers. That worked fine for you in the primaries.

“But now that you are in the general, people are looking for a level of seriousness that is typically conveyed by having a prepared text and Teleprompter and staying on message.' So my hope is that he is beginning to pivot and become what I would call a more serious and credible candidate for the highest office in the land.”


Waste output of modern America, at a rally in Pennsylvania. Also shown ...  [fill in your own punch line] (Reuters)

Step away from the Time Capsule business for a few days, and look what happens! Any one of the developments below would be considered a challenge by a normal candidate in a normal campaign year. Herewith a listicle update of where we stand with this unprecedented campaign. (The original Time Capsule thread is here, with items #1-#27. For entries starting with #28, go here.)

1. Brexit Diplomacy. Trump arrived in Scotland as the biggest economic and political news in generation was breaking across the UK, and news that of course was roundly opposed in Scotland itself. His short-term response was a widely ridiculed golf course press conference. “Donald Trump’s Brexit press conference was beyond bizarre” was a Washington Post headline;  “At Trump news conference, it’s all about him,” was the headline for CNN.

After the Orlando mass shooting, Trump’s immediate Tweeted reaction began, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” His reaction to the cataclysmic Brexit vote was once again all about him: that his timing was good in being there for the news, that he’d called the vote right and Crooked Hillary was wrong, and that a falling pound would be good for the Scottish golf-resort business:

Good timing!


Good call!

And when he came home:

Under budget!

We’re all self-interested, and people who run for president have a higher narcissism quotient than most of the rest of us. But we’ve never before seen a public figure like Trump, who can’t even pretend to be concerned about anything beyond “What does this mean for me, Donald Trump?”  


2) The missing donations. The Washington Post investigative story out today, by David Farenthold, would mean serious trouble for a normal candidate. Its gist is that Trump has probably been flat-out lying about his  promised charitable contributions in recent years.

From the WaPo today

I encourage you to read the story to absorb the details.

Now, one possibility is that Trump actually made all his promised donations, and the Post simply failed to track down the recipients. The other possibility is that Trump claimed to be a big donor and never followed through.

Ask yourself which possibility seems more likely, considering: a) that Trump touted his intention to give the proceeds from a fund-raiser to veterans groups, but there is no evidence that he did so until asked about it last month by the press; b) that Trump, unlike any other major-party nominee in modern history, has still refused to release his tax records; c) that the Trump campaign’s FEC reports, which he had no choice but to reveal, showed that his campaign had much less money than he had implied, and had paid a surprisingly large share of its outlays to Trump’s own businesses; and d) that Trump is in the middle of a lawsuit over fraudulent business practices (under the “Mexican judge”) at his Trump University.

So, we can’t know yet for sure. The tax returns would tell a lot. But based on the evidence to date, my guess is: he’s been lying about the donations all along too.


Thoughts from the presumptive GOP nominee, as he touched down in the one part of the UK that voted most strongly to remain part of Europe.

#28, June 24, 2106. They took their country back.

The Tweet above shows the reaction by the presumptive Republican nominee, on landing in Scotland to promote his golf resort, after the historic Brexit vote.

  • BBC map, “remain” in yellow
    The Leave/Remain electoral map shows why Scotland was the exact worst spot within the United-for-now  Kingdom in which Trump could have made this point. If the they in “they took their country back” refers to the whole UK electorate, he is talking about people who voted for what the throngs in Scotland are going wild about, because they opposed it. If they means the Scots themselves — well, yesterday’s vote indeed makes it much more likely that they will take “their country” back by removing it from a UK whose views of the future are so clearly are at odds with theirs.
  • In his column overnight for Fusion, Felix Salmon (with whom I don’t always agree, but do on this) shows why the “what the hell, let’s shake things up, it couldn’t be any worse!” approach reveals a failure of tragic imagination. Structures and relationships take time to build. You can carelessly destroy in moments something that was very hard to create. Trump would presumably understand this about physical structures like office buildings, or golf resorts. It also applies to the economic and political structures that have taken Europe decades to restore after the devastation of World War II. Trump’s offhand comments about “what has NATO ever done for us?” or his cavalier observation that it was time for the Japanese and South Koreans to man up with their own nukes, suggest that nothing could be worse than today’s flawed structures. The Brexit vote reminds us that things can always get worse.
  • Anyone who has taken a Public Relations 101 course, or perhaps Intro to Abnormal Psychology, might have suggested to Trump that, immediately on his arrival on the most traumatic and important day in decades for and about the UK itself, the theme of his remarks should not be, “What does this mean for me, Donald Trump?” But that’s what the theme was: how great his Turnberry resort would be, and how a weaker pound (suffering the greatest one-day loss of value in its history) was good from his perspective, because it made vacation travel cheaper for visitors from overseas: “Look, if the pound goes down they're going to do more business… When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”
       Trump’s immediate reaction to the Orlando shootings was: “Appreciate the congrats on being right.” His immediate reaction to news that shook every market in the world was: Travel bookings will be up!
  • Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit campaign, revealed less than 12 hours after the vote that a central “factual” basis of his argument — that money being sent to Europe would go instead to the UK National Health Service — was flat-out wrong. This part of “Making Britain Great Again” should not have been believed, because it was never true. Hmmm, what does this remind me of? We could start with “and Mexico will pay for that wall!”


As a political performer, Trump has no peer in his ability to do the unexpected and thus keep opponents guessing and off-guard. But when the real world presents him with events that are sudden, high-stakes, and unexpected, from the physical violence of the Orlando shooting to the structural violence of the Brexit vote, he instinctively responds with the very worst side of him: This must all be about me! Leaders earn their pay in part through their response to the high-stakes and the unexpected. Three weeks before the GOP formally nominates this man, he is showing us who he is.

No games indeed.

A loud Scot making a distinctively unpleasant keening sound. Also shown: a bagpiper. (Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters)


Oh, the humanity! (Wikipedia)

Two weeks ago I noted that people might look back on that day as the time when fortune seemed to stop smiling on the Donald Trump presidential campaign:

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.

That could still be true, but I suspect that there will be a strong case for emphasizing June 20, 2016. That was the day on which:

  • Trump unloaded his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, four and a half months before the general election. (Hint: winning campaigns don’t do this.)
  • Trump reports revealed that he had a few dozen people working for his campaign nationwide, about the number you’d normally find in any swing-state capital-city headquarters for a real campaign.
  • Trump’s required disclosures to the FEC were a comic treasure trove that will occupy the press for days to come. In short: Trump has raised hardly any money; and much of what he’s spent has gone to his own relatives, companies, or real-estate holdings, notably Mar-a-Lago (which received more in campaign payments than the entire salaried staff). In addition to fostering the reaction Trump probably most dreads—ridicule—the reports naturally heightened curiosity about what his still-unreleased tax returns might include.

Anything could still happen. But on this day, as the Japanese Showa emperor Hirohito once put it, the “situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage.”

Donald Trump saying immediately after the EgyptAir crash that anyone who doubted it was due to terrorism was “100% wrong.” (YouTube)

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.


Four years ago, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were in a tight ad-spending race in the potential swing states. This year, only one side is competing in that race. From NBC News.

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 candidate waves goodbye for the moment, and so does one of his chroniclers. (Rick Wilking / Reuters)

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.

Debra Winger on the mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy. Or, as the presumptive GOP nominee put it, on “the horse.” (Here’s a clip of the scene on YouTube.)

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.