A reader, Robert Henry Eller, reflects on the past 48 hours of cock-ups in Cleveland:
The art of the spiel ain’t what it was, if indeed it was ever anything else, outside the guild of craftsmen. Plagiarizing is, as Fallows asserts, something you don’t do. But before the past year, so was reckless lying, or name calling, or most things Trump has been doing.
I’ve noticed there a meme out now, growing in popularity, which asserts that Trump is deliberately being controversial, because the media will pick up controversy and run with it, giving Trump more free media time. For example, following this meme, Melania’s plagiarism resulted in her speech being watched and listened to by orders of magnitude more people than if there had been no controversy.
After the Jane Mayer article, I don’t buy this, because I don’t think Trump is capable of such deliberation. But that doesn’t mean whatever he’s doing, from whatever motivation or accident, isn’t effective. In fact, corporate news profitability focus means Trump doesn’t have to be intentional at all. Intention might even be counter-productive.
By the way, the legs under the Melania plagiarism story are not what she did, but who she stole from. (I hope the Clinton campaign understands how to cash in on this.) Had Melania stole from someone inside her reservation, the story might have crawled, but then died sooner.
Likewise, I don’t think Junior’s plagiarism will play too long. Frankly, I think a large part of the public believes that this is exactly how speeches get “written,” and in a growing number of cases, I suspect they’re on to something. Likewise, particularly among the converted, no one is looking for new ideas, or originality. New ideas and originality may in fact confuse them. And in fact, what Junior lifted, or had lifted for him, was metaphorical fog to begin with.
Here is the RNC'a chief strategist citing My Little Pony to argue that Melania Trump did not plagiarize her speech pic.twitter.com/eRifu41wHC
There are many reasons not to plagiarize—not only ethical and political consequence, but also the exercise and strengthening of the writers mind and communication skills. But we’re playing by two sets of rules here, and I wish I knew how and why that happened. Hillary has an email “scandal” and it doesn’t go away. Conde Rice and Colin Powell, not to mention Karl Rove and company, transgress email protocols—and zip. We’ll be hearing about Benghazi for the rest of our lives, but W.’s embassy and consulate tragedies? Crickets.
It’s an embarrassing screw up; clearly the passages were lifted, and a half-assed attempt was made to vary them by changing a word or two. Sad thing is, Melania actually did a good job in the delivery. This didn’t have to happen.
It just offers more evidence that Trump can’t/won't hire competent people. He’s ultimately responsible here. With him as President, we’d probably be subject to these kind of embarrassments on a daily basis. Seems he either hires people who are in way over their head, or hires smart people and then refuses to listen to them. What kind of cabinet would he pick as President? It really doesn’t matter; he probably wouldn’t heed their advice anyway …
An interesting but implausible theory from another reader:
Michelle Obama did not write “her” speech. A team of paid political speechwriters did. THAT is Trump’s point with having his wife repeat those words.
It directly plays into his campaign’s narrative that Washington is broken and so too are the stem to stern politicians; matters not the party or even what their highly political wives say, since many political wives and family are just part 'n' parcel of the fragmented, opportunistic and phony process that includes engineered photo ops to sell gullible, voters a damaged bill of goods.
AND Trump, once again, got the insanely stupid media that passes for journalism to give him oodles of free press, while running around with their hair on fire. The man is consistent.
Update: After seeing this epic Rickroll from Melania, I think that reader may be on to something with his “Trump is just trolling the media” theory:
This next reader suggests that Trump has credit-hogging problems of his own:
Trump, facing a crowd that had gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue, laid out his qualifications, saying, “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ” If that was so, Schwartz thought, then he, not Trump, should be running. Schwartz dashed off a tweet: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’”
As an aside, it hurt my brain when Jane Meyer refers to the ghostwriter as “Trump's Boswell,” since the underlying analogy implies that Trump is Dr Johnson. Blasphemy.
Update from another reader, Andy, who has little sympathy for Melania:
Melania Trump went out of her way a few hours before her speech to tell Matt Lauer that she’d had minimal assistance in writing the speech.
She wanted credit for it, and I think she should have it.
Last night the folks on MSNBC very quickly settled on the notion that this fiasco is the fault of everyone concerned except Melania Trump, who was clearly the victim. Bullshit.
If anything, I think it’s more likely that she herself lifted those lines from Michelle Obama’s speech than it being done by a professional speechwriter. She’s been a professional model since 17 and dropped out of college after her first year. I can believe that she didn’t appreciate the problem with what she’d done.
That still wouldn’t excuse the campaign for not catching and correcting this, but it would at least help explain how such a ridiculous thing happened.
A quick skim of the news this morning indicates that the Trump campaign is still in full denial mode—Christie is claiming that that 93 percent of the speech was not plagiarized—so this story is likely to stick around for a while. Fine by me.
Update from reader Daniel C., who sends along new reporting that seems to confirm that theory—that Melania is the one responsible:
I believe Josh Marshall has determined why nobody’s been fired [based on this reporting from The New York Times]. If true, I would hope to see some measured, gentle, and forgiving remarks from a former First Lady, Hillary, about how we are all allowed to make mistakes.
But that the lack of structure within the organization of the Republican party this year means those mistakes go unchecked and snowball into chaos. I suspect the hope with Melania’s convention speech was to bring her into the fold of spokespeople who could make media appearances and raise money, and I’ll be curious to see if this cyclone-in-the-convention-coverage has any effect on that plan.
Yesterday we made a callout for perspectives from readers living outside the U.S. looking into Cleveland this week. First up, a small dispatch from a small nation in the South Pacific:
I’m an American expat who’s lived in the Republic of Palau for the past 20 years. This is a very diverse community, and my friends come from at least 12 different countries. When we start to discuss the Trump candidacy—which most of them can’t believe is happening—I’m embarrassed to admit I’m an American. My country, which I served during the Vietnam War, has gone crazy (as Fallows’ recent cover story relates). I’ve voted in every election since 1964, but this time I have no idea what to do that would really be productive and beneficial, since I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton either. Maybe I’ll vote the Libertarian Party; at least Gary Johnson makes some sense.
From a reader in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Japan:
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr. Fallows’ coverage, but in Trump Time Capsule #42, a reader made a comment regarding ISIS’ goals in France and elsewhere as having specific political ends, and that the attacks were their calculated catalyst. I’m not convinced that ISIS has the ability to coordinate multi-theatre campaign objectives or has the sophistication to influence foreign politics for their own ends—especially as a means to rally support. (Which is not to say world leaders shouldn’t take great care in how they frame the conflict and avoid alienating Muslim communities.)
ISIS’ visceral appeal speaks to a very specific and disturbed audience: one that can only be set loose in a given direction and not tactically employed.
The Atlantic has done an excellent job in its coverage of ISIS, and my preferred theory is that the attacks resemble the flailing of a failing regime. I cannot remember the article, but it concluded the same and suggested these attacks would increase in frequency as ISIS lost more. Fast-forward to today and ISIS is being routed on almost every front, and their attacks are in-turn increasing.
As far as Trump is concerned, I think his support can be explained by the TED talk on “the golden circle,” and this study. [Here’s a clip of the TED talk if you can’t spare the full 18 minutes:
In essence, you can illustrate and factually show Trump’s faults, but he also has his own visceral appeal to a very specific demographic—a demographic that has been raised by certain beliefs and values. They don’t think about his message; they feel his message, or more accurately assign their preferred image to him. When you argue with that audience, you aren’t challenging their political opinions or intellectual arguments; you’re challenging their identity.
Personally, I’m a Democrat and I do not agree with the GOP, at all. I can say that being in the military has surrounded me with Republicans who generally vote with a red crayon. Having said that, many of the Republicans I’ve met within the service are planning to either sit out the election or vote for a third-party candidate, which may be a product of being stationed in Japan. The world tends to challenge one’s views by merely offering an entirely different set and culture. For the others, it has given me a perspective into how a Trump supporters thinks, or more accurately, how they feel.
I sincerely hope this man is never allowed near the title of POTUS, or given any power to wield our military.
For what it’s worth, I have four members of my immediate family who were career military—three of them veterans—and they’re all very repelled by Trump. (My former stepfather, while in the Army, was actually a close mentor to Michael Flynn—the retired general who spoke in Cleveland last night and who was vetted as a running mate—but I have no idea what he thinks of Trump.) If you’re a retired or active-duty servicemember who would prefer Donald Trump as your commander-in-chief to Hillary Clinton, we want to post your views—anonymously if you’re active duty, of course: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is not a systematic or conclusive assessment of conditions in Cleveland. But on the basis of walking around downtown inside and around the venue of the Republican convention, I’m impressed both by the extent of the police presence — I’ve seen (and talked with) detachments from Austin, TX; and Louisville, KY; and the Florida highway patrol; and various California locales; plus the Cleveland cops and the Secret Service — and by their relative calm and good humor. More often I saw groups of police sitting and chatting than looking nervously at groups of passers-by.
For instance, consider the photo above. You might think this was the prelude to some tense standoff. And conceivably tense standoffs might be happening as I type. But in this case, the guy on the right walked around yelling, “If you vote for Trump, you’re a racist! If you vote for Trump, you’re a bitch! If you vote for Trump, you’re a mutha!” A few people — the ones I saw all being young white men — decided to get in shouting matches with him. Most people just walked past, waved, or ignored him. You didn’t get the sense — I didn’t get the sense — of incipient, brewing confrontation.
And in the moment above, the man caught sight of the police walking towards him and immediately raised his hands. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Three of the five cops didn’t say anything as they passed him, and the other two said variants of “and a good evening to you, too, sir!”
So: things could go wrong at this convention. (I’ll confess that I felt a little strange walking around town wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.) But what I saw this evening was surprising for its lack of tenseness rather than the reverse.
Tomorrow is another day.
Bonus: Don King! He’s not speaking from the platform, but he’s still here.
A reader argues that Donald Trump, who has free-wheeled his way through his last few major “speeches” (as examined in Time Capsule installments #34, #40, and #43) has a surprisingly tricky road ahead:
I really wish former speechwriters on television would talk about what it is like to write, draft, and edit speeches with a candidate or with a President in more workplace detail. It is my belief that Trump is in a no-win situation for Thursday.
If he goes improv and not with a crafted teleprompter speech he loses.
Teleprompter with “soaring” language sounding not as his own, he loses.
If he tries to do teleprompter and several off-the-cuffs in rotation, he loses.
If he goes full on law and order, he loses.
If he tries to reach out to women, Latinos, gays, African Americans, and Muslims in one-sentence or one-paragraph only, he loses.
He faces an audience of millions of independents and undecideds who are looking for a future-oriented and not a fear-based reason to vote for him.
But he feeds off of crowds reactions too often.
I believe he is going to speak to the crowd in the hall, and go greater than 50% raw meat on Thursday. Dozens if not hundreds of political science papers comparing Thursday to Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech will be written this fall semester it seems….
Lastly, I think Trump is really really worried about changing his $50 million in campaign loans to gifts. He has to file this, in official writing this week on the Wednesday the 20th, for FEC requirements. I think that is the document that Sheldon is waiting for.
I have seen, in person, a number of very dramatic convention speeches. Barack Obama’s address to the Democrats in Boston 12 years ago, when John Kerry was the nominee and Obama a mere state senator, was notable in real time (and not just in retrospect) as the debut of someone who would be a national figure to reckon with. Teddy Kennedy’s impassioned and ferocious “the dream shall never die!” speech to the Democrats in New York in 1980, in which he theoretically conceded to Jimmy Carter but in reality underscored his disdain for his own party’s incumbent president, was notable in real time as a sign of a party in the midst of a serious cleavage.
And Donald Trump, to the Republicans in Cleveland in 2016???
A reader from the United States who now lives in Europe observes with alarm the recent trend in the polls. He is responding specifically to this item by Ron Fournier, arguing that on fundamentals Hillary Clinton should be enjoying a very wide lead over Donald Trump rather than the very narrow edge that the latest polls show:
We’re going to find out in less than four months if The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has won. (I deliberately put TVRWC in capitals, and not in quotes, because I’ve always believed it’s real. I’m not paranoid. I do believe in the self-organizing properties of complex systems.)
And if TVRWC has won, it will not have won on the battlefield of public opinion. It will have won inside Hillary Clinton’s head. Because it has been there that TVRWC planted the seeds of effective self-destruction, to be fertilized by Clinton’s worst instincts and tendencies. [Referring to the self-protective fear of investigations that may have led to HRC’s email policy, which of course ironically has opened her up to investigation.]
I’m waiting to see where the polls settle out after the two conventions. I’m not discounting that Clinton may be trailing Trump at the end of the month, even given any margin of error.
Trump’s ground game had better be as weak, and continue to be as weak, as some would now have us believe. And Clinton’s ground game had better be better than Obama’s.
Meanwhile, a view of what might be ahead in Cleveland. A reader suggests:
For the record: I want to note Trump’s penchant for grinding his heel in the faces of his defeated opponents, q.v. his treatment of Chris Christie.
Will he feel compelled to mention the absence of the Bushes? Romney? McCain? How can he not? How will he treat the NeverTrump delegates? (There won’t be a motion to make the nomination unanimous, at least before the call of the states is complete and perhaps not even then?)
You haven’t won until your opponent acknowledges you are better (more: amazing? fantastic?) than he. Even your supporters can’t get off without acknowledging you are better than they, can they? Else, your victory depended on them, no?
BTW: Have you heard the audio of Howard Stern asking Donald and Ivanka and one of the sons to multiply 17 by 6? The nation is in a LOT of trouble!
In response to this item last week, about Donald Trump’s occasional shift from arresting, can’t-not-watch spontaneity to unsettling, am-I-really-watching-this?? apparent loss of control, readers weigh in on the explanations.
It’s harder than it looks. A reader says that the strain is showing:
It takes an extraordinary talent to run for president (let alone be president!). It is a level of stress and demand that could break most people, even most high-performing people. In Trump, we actually have little evidence that he is extraordinary. Yes, he has an extraordinary level of narcissism and an extraordinary knack for entertainment and self-promotion. But in terms of the qualities, talents, and temperaments that get tested in a national presidential election, he is far from exceptional.
Combine this with the fact that his limitations (and struggling poll numbers) are being exposed on a national stage—which must at some level, even for Trump, be causing cognitive dissonance and a challenge to his delusional self-regard—and the campaign is simply starting to break him.
We may not witness a full “breakdown,” but I think we’re seeing early warning signs. People fight off breakdowns every day and there is no reason to think it couldn’t happen to a presidential candidate, especially one so ill-equipped to the task.
‘Craves attention — and acceptance — like normal people crave oxygen.’ Another hypothesis:
Let me be roughly the 10,000th reader to attempt to explain Trump (which is a fun parlor game, but less fun when talking about one of two people who will be the next leader of the free world, but I digress).
Trump craves attention like normal people crave oxygen, but he also craves acceptance. He’s started several controversies by promising to “look into” or “look at” patently crazy or racist ideas (like the lady who wanted Trump to force TSA agents to take off their “hibby jobbies”). I bet Trump would never actually force the TSA agents to take off their hijabs. But he is incapable of politely telling the woman that her idea has no merit, a task that any skillful politician learns to do….
He’ll engage in that kind of disagreement with a hostile interviewer, like a network correspondent, because for whatever reason, he isn’t trying to curry favor with them and realizes that his real audience is not the correspondent, but the viewing audience. But in all other situations, he will never object to a “friendly” statement or question; his need for immediate acceptance is too great.
A raucous political rally is addictive enough for any “normal” politician; it gives them energy and it comes through in their performance. Like musicians, theater actors or athletes, a good politician will feed off the energy of a great crowd. For a narcissist like Trump, this is the emotional equivalent of mainlining heroin. He is savvy enough that he realizes, on an intellectual level, that the TV audience for his rallies dwarfs the in-person audience. But in that moment, on an emotional high, he can’t help himself but to pander to that in person audience and give them what they want and build that feedback loop. He’s making it up as he goes to fit the in-person audience of a particular rally
The irony is that he is falling into a trap that snared many a politician when the TV era started. In person, a lot of those fiery Southern politicians of yesteryear were amazingly effective political speakers (think Huey Long). They could play on emotions and make their constituents laugh and cry and leave the rally fired up, like they just left a great tent revival. But on TV, that same speech came across as grotesque, exaggerated and cartoonish. TV favors the subtle and the soundbite. Trump, despite all of his media savvy, is allowing himself to fall into this same trap.
The problem is capacity—and advisors. Another reader:
I’ve come to the conclusion that Trump just isn’t very smart—shrewd about some things—but not particularly smart. And he is absolutely convinced he’s the smartest guy in the room at all times. He has these rallies, his fans love the performance, and he believes that everyone giving him advice about shifting his style and tactics is wrong because he’s smarter than them, he’s been successful thus far and the fans love him….
After all, who are the folks he acknowledges as advisors? His kids? Among the three adult ones, there isn’t an iota of political experience or knowledge. Ben Carson—seriously? Is there a single, respected and experienced political operative in the inner circle?
Brexit is not an omen. One of many readers emphasizing that the Brexit vote in the UK was not (contrary to Trump’s assertions) an omen of his success four months from now:
Re Brexit, but its worth pointing out that the electorates of the US and the UK are very different. While the categories don't align, whites make up 92% of the population in the UK (and probably more like 94% of the voting population) but only 64% of the population in the US (and maybe 70% of the electorate)….
Somewhere like England, Trump could gin up a lot of white support without having to worry about also moving a lot of minorities to vote against him because there just aren't that many minorities to vote. In the US, the non-white electorate is nearly an order of magnitude larger, and as you point out, the comparison may not be terribly apt.
Another way to put it: In the US, the electorate is pretty evenly split between white women, white men and minorities (36-33-31, based on 2012 and given current trends). In the UK, it's 47-47-6. In Britain, a Trumpian UKIP candidate could write off minorities and only have to win 54% of the white vote to prevail. In the US he'd have to win 73%.
Now, let's assume a candidate in the UK looks to win by writing off minorities and only winning 50% of white women (there is no way that Trump comes close to winning 50% of women, by the way). In the UK, he'd only have to win 56% of the remaining white male vote. In the US, to build the same coalition, he'd have to win 98% of white males: basically every single one. This is simplified, but it's pretty close to the coalition Trump is setting himself up for. It's not a winning hand.
And more on the UK/US difference. Another reader:
If the UK had had some version of our electoral college, the Brexit would likely have failed. (Or at least Scotland and Northern Ireland would perhaps still be part of the EU.)
Trump's success should scare the living hell out of anyone with an understanding of world history, not to mention American history. (And the Constitution.) And one never truly knows how any election is going to go until it's over. But while Trump's support is unsettling—especially if one considers there might be some kind of Bradley effect in...uh, effect—our electoral college makes his changes extremely unlikely. It's awfully hard to look at the maps of Obama's wins and figure out which states Trump could flip, while it's not that hard to look at those maps and figure out which Clinton might be able to flip.
That Trump wasn't bounced in the first round is amazing and frightening. But our stupid, outdated, anti-democratic electoral college is, for once, acting like a bulwark against disaster.
In response to the previous item about last night’s genuinely deranged-seeming half-hour discourse by Donald Trump, readers offer two opposing interpretations.
First, from a reader who works in the tech industry, and is originally from Europe:
I think you’re missing something, and the thing you’re missing is that his strategy is not to try to convince “independents” or even folks like us, but instead to mobilize the non-voters of his own tribe. His belief is that this will be good enough, so no need to compromise with the enemy.
Once you see it in that context, his speech makes complete sense. Specifically, to your points:
Everybody knows Hillary is crooked, so no need to waste time on that. Instead, hammer in on the two-speed justice system, something which resonates, because it is sadly true.
The star controversy activates the “anti-PC” receptors of his crowd. Also, backing down on anything is a sign of weakness and a victory for PC, so he has to be seen as resisting it. He doesn't care if it offends you. In fact, it’s great if it does. That’s all part of the game.
None of his crowd cares what the NYT prints. Just not a factor.
It’s gibberish except for his crowd, which just needs the right triggers lined up. The precedents for this kind of rambling speech are truly scary...
We can only hope that this “energize everyone in his base to go vote” strategy will fail, but sadly Brexit shows how it can succeed, and we misjudge this at our own peril.
I really have no idea how to bridge this gap. Maybe it’s just not possible, and we are stuck doing the same thing on our side, which may well end up in a civil war. Or maybe, your “local” take will save us—people will simply disregard the federal nonsense while working locally—but sadly, even though it produces tasty micro-brews, it won’t help solve larger problems.
My response, plus another reader’s interpretation, after the jump.
A different hypothesis, from a reader in the aerospace industry:
Thanks for keeping such a “logbook” of Trump’s behavior! After watching him for months I’m coming to the same uneasy conclusion as a lot of people and I’m curious if you think it is nuts:
He doesn’t want to be President. This has all been personal brand-building and performance art. Indeed, he never even expected to win the nomination and now he’s actively finding ways to “throw” the election. Say it ain’t so, Shoeless Donald!
If you view his behavior in that context it starts to look deviously rational instead of unhinged. But I can’t decide if devious makes more sense than unhinged. What does Occam’s Razor say?
To take the second possibility first: it is elegant to think that this is one big The Producers-style farce that got out of hand, but to me that seems too elegantly rococo an interpretation. I think he’s just being himself, instant by instant and through the whole arc of his campaign.
That’s my main reaction to the first possibility too. The effect might be to shore up and rev up the already-convinced. But I don’t know whether that’s a conscious long-term strategy so much as an instinctive response by Trump in front of his crowds. And as a purely practical matter, it’s hard to see how it could be as effective in a general election as in a GOP primary. That’s because these performances by Trump seem likely to rev up as much of his opposition — among Latinos, blacks, women, young people, etc — as they do of his base. But we’ll see.
For early items in the “Trump Nation” thread, you can go here. For recent ones, go here.
1) On aldermen. Kenneth Adelman and his family have been long-time good friends of our family. He is an even longer-term Republican. Ken worked in the Nixon and Ford administrations and had two senior positions under Ronald Reagan: as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and as deputy to Jeanne Kirkpatrick as ambassador to the U.N.
Ken Adelman broke with the George W. Bush administration, and with his friends of many decades Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, over the Iraq war. But still he is no one’s idea of a Democratic party loyalist.
Thus I found it significant that he was quoted as you see below in a Daily Beast story yesterday about Republican national-security veterans who had drawn the line at Trump:
“Not only am I not voting for Donald Trump, but also I am not voting for any Republican who endorsed or supported Trump—be it for Senate, House, alderman, or county clerk. And yes, I will vote for Clinton, simply because to not vote, or to vote Libertarian, would be a half-vote for Trump,” said Ken Adelman, U.S. arms control director during the Reagan administration.
2) Pilate Republicans. A reader from Texas suggests an addition to my taxonomy of Republican members of The Resistance — those who like Ken Adelman are publicly standing up against Trump — versus the Vichy team, those like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell (and Marco Rubio and Reince Priebus and Jon Huntsman etc) who still officially support him. The reader writes:
In light of Mitt Romney's announcement that he will vote for neither Trump nor Clinton, I'm wondering if you need to make an addition to your "Resistance" or "Vichy" Republican categories. This is a man who aspired to the presidency, but now when the phone rings at 3 a.m., demanding a decision to deal with a crisis, he rolls over and goes back to sleep.
May I suggest "Pilate Republicans?" (Of course with the same type of disclaimer regarding Jesus as your disclaimer about Hitler.) By washing his hands and withholding his vote for Candidate A, Mitt is casting half a vote for Candidate B.
Sure, I will give him partial credit but it's hard not to imagine that he clearly (if privately) would prefer a Trump loss to a Clinton loss. And yes, he, as an individual voter, does have the luxury of opting out since Hillary pretty much has a lock on Massachuesetts. But if he didn't want to be influential, he wouldn't be holding a press conference. And many of those he wants to influence are voters in swing states.
Actually, "Pilate" Republicans would really be a subset of "Resistance" Republicans. But a real resistance hero would take the political risk, and may even ameliorate it by announcing he was maximizing his vote to insure a Trump loss, without even mentioning Her.
I’m glad to have an archive of all of this. I look forward to a future where people would not believe this could have occurred except for such efforts.
For early items in the “Trump Nation” thread, you can go here. For recent ones, go here.
A reader who works in a big-city law firm thinks I missed the point in Trump Time Capsule #30. The theme of that installment was that Mitch McConnell, the relentlessly on-message leader of the Senate Republicans, had declined to call Donald Trump a “credible” presidential candidate—and that his refusal was significant.
The reader writes:
What McConnell said is merely stating the obvious, and his comment was about Trump’s ability to win the election, not about his qualifications to be President.
What I found more interesting is McConnell’s refusal last week to respond to a question about whether Trump was qualified. His silence “spoke volumes,” as they say. Can you imagine any other campaign in our lifetimes where one of a major party’s leader wasn’t willing to affirm the suitability of the party’s Presidential candidate? That’s unprecedented.
The fact is that any intelligent, reasonably well-informed, sensible adult, having watched and read about Trump, knows to a certainty that, political ideology aside, he’s absolutely unfit for the office. I have no doubt that McConnell knows that, Paul Ryan knows that, every Republican Senator (with the possible exception of Jeff Sessions) knows that. But they’re stuck with him.
I was struck by Trump’s statement today that his former opponents in the primaries should either endorse him or be “banned” from running for office. This reinforces something I’ve been thinking about regarding Trump.
Many of his supporters (and Trump himself) admire him for being willing to say what he’s thinking even if “politically incorrect.” I find nothing admirable in this trait, which I suspect is more about lack of impulse control than a principled decision to be blunt. As we become mature adults, we come to understand that there are times when you shouldn’t say what you’re thinking. Speaking out will be contrary to your own interest, or it will hurt others, or both. Remaining silent is often just good judgment.
In this case, Trump’s statement doesn’t do anything to help his campaign. Even if he were to successfully bully or shame Rubio, Cruz, Kasich or Bush into endorsing him, it’s not going to add votes to his column. In fact, his whining about not getting their endorsement makes him look weak or desperate. And, in possibly further alienating sitting Republican Senators and other Republican officials, he’s unnecessarily further damaging a relationship that, were he to be elected President, he will surely need at some point.
So, rather than exhibiting an admirable quality of bluntness, Trump once again shows that he is merely immature and lacking in judgment.
For previous items in the “Trump Nation” thread, you can go here.
Following previous items in this thread, readers weigh in on why Donald Trump may be saying the things he does, and why his supporters are still with him.
1. On Crying Wolf. In yesterday’s item, a reader noted that reflexive, excessive use of terms like “stupid” or “bigoted” had weakened their meaning — and made it hard to signal that someone like Trump really is different from, say, Sarah Palin (who knew much more about policy than Trump does).
A reader who now serves as a mayor in a state Trump is almost certain to carry writes this:
Reading the prior note about how our terms have lost power due to overuse, it occurred to me that when Trump is called racist or sexist or hateful of a religion…that is not hurting him with many of those who are inclined to vote for him.
Those who have supported him since the start of the Republican primary are likely to be only more attracted to any candidate identified as racist. At the very least, they are people who don’t find racism as a disqualifying thing.
He started the campaign calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and the reaction calling him “racist” endeared him to those who actually like being identified as having racist views. It jump-started his campaign, immediately connecting with people who were sitting out there holding hateful views about Hispanics. Maybe some supporters shy away from identifying themselves with the term, but they don’t back off of self-evident racist policy and social views. They are who he says he is.
2. From another reader, a shorter note about the role of “thinking” in politics:
As you recently noted, Trump is apparently always “thinking” very carefully about what will turn his audience on.
Bush and Rove were just the latest in a long list of politicians and operatives who have understood that there are times when a righteous war against a certifiable Bad Guy will make many people feel good or at least better in a way that nothing else will. So far Trump has had no trouble finding plenty of takers for his own, much more theatrical bellicosity - Mission (almost) Accomplished on steroids, as it were.
3. On levels of complexity in political discourse and motivation:
As a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology, I might add a little to the last writer who mentioned the distinction between "stupid" and "evil." While most angles on the Trump constituency are focused around some amalgamation of low information voters and those who don't "think," recent cognitive neuroscience research tells the opposite story.
It's not that people who buy into seemingly absurd premises don't think enough, it's that they simultaneously have elaborately thought out and yet tortuously simplistic justifications for Trump's policy positions. This is how one can take something as complex as fiscal policy or the global economy and reduce it down to base elements of race and gender delineating winners and losers.
It takes a lot of "thinking" to contort something as odious as sexism or racism into a valid justification for limiting immigration or economic opportunity. It's this same carefully crafted in-group/out-group distinction that allows people to similarly dismiss Trump calling women pigs and dogs as "rejecting political correctness" , assuredly something no one would accept if it were uttered about one's mother, sister, or daughter.
As a prime example, I note the case of John McGraw, the 78 year old North Carolina man who punched a Trump rally protester as he exited the building escorted by security. When asked about the incident, McGraw mentioned a possible link to Al-Qaeda and that the next time "we might have to kill him."
This is the mindset of an intricately constructed worldview in which political protesters could be sleeper cell terrorists. It takes a large amount of mental effort to jump through the logical hoops necessary to assume that society can easily be made great again and yet be so precipitously close to falling over the cliff of peril.
This is a feature, not a bug, in the Trump campaign.
4. Finally, on the interlacing roles of expression, and reflection, in making up what we think of as intelligence:
In your recent conversations regarding Trump’s intelligence, I think most of it has to do with how he expresses himself. For example, his limited vocabulary, coining words that he should know better than to use – a famous word is “bigly” – and his very simple ways of expressing relatively complex ideas regarding commerce and conflict, impact our assessment of his intelligence. [JF note: As I understand it, there is a reasonable chance that Trump intended to say “big league” as opposed to “bigly.” Still...]
I know liberals who have thought GW Bush was stupid, largely because of how he expressed himself, as well as his failure to explore his errors. Bush’s failure to reflect concerned me more than any sense of his presumed intelligence.I am much more confident in President “I screwed up,” than I was with President “Mistakes were made.”
Reagan, too, was given to expressing his ideas in uncomplicated ways. Some would suggest that this indicated a talent for communication, not a deficiency in sense or judgement. No one spoke of Romney as unintelligent (nerdy, awkward, maybe, but these are not intellectual flaws). And I know many republicans who seem to believe that democrats are either stupid or naïve.
It does go both ways, and all you have to do is listen to the patronizing tone many republicans take on foreign policy pronouncements, “their” turf. Sarah Palin remarked last week on President Obama’s stupidity, but Obama’s intelligence and patriotism are often impugned.
My assessment of intelligence is related to one’s willingness to learn. The Atlantichas covered the work of Carol Dweck in the past. Her research on growth vs fixed mindset is more related to efficacy, but I believed that it is also useful in understanding an individual’s willingness to learn new skills and information.
The ability to synthesize novel ideas or new skill sets says a great deal about individuals. One problem that many people who are employed in low-skilled occupations that later are outsourced or disappear, is that whether for lack of interest or lack of opportunity, they had not thought to acquire new skills. Does this mean they are unintelligent? No. It means that they were not interested or sufficiently foresighted to understand that tomorrow might require different information than today provided. Somehow, their plan was to win (or survive) and that didn’t work out. Lacking the interest in a Plan B, they were stuck.
The same is reflected in my understanding of Trump. He is not doing much differently now than he ever did. He speaks without much thought or reflection, because that has worked for him in the past. He is mostly skilled at expressing himself in terms of his personal interpretation of wealth and therefore, success. And it may work with some voters.
My concern with Trump is that he doesn’t seem to have information that a President ought to have at his or her disposal, or at least, he doesn’t express his knowledge base in public fora. He has not explained how his policies will work. He does not indicate that his understanding of the global economy is more than transactional, and his foreign policy interests appear to be limited. His vision is that America will win, win, win. He has not explained what he has learned so far, how he will achieve his vision, how he will work with others on a global scale. Maybe has a plan for doing this, but he has not shared any inkling of this plan with the voters, and some of us need that information.
What has he learned, as an American, an adult, a man, a father, a business person, and how does this presumed growth translate into his potential leadership? The answer to that question is much more interesting and useful to me than how “intelligent” Trump may or may not be.
Who knows where things might be headed with the Trump campaign? Here is a note from a reader reflecting on what could happen if Trump wins, and another on what might occur if Trump loses.
If he wins. As mentioned before, I think “Vichy Republicans” is a useful shorthand for the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, John McCain, etc who are accommodating themselves to the power of the moment rather than siding with the Resistance — but who will race one another to say, “Oh, we were against him all along” if and when he goes down. But despite the usefulness of the Vichy/Resistance distinction, of course no one can be likened to Hitler.
In this first reader note, a postgrad political science student from Germany wrestles with how the historically unique evil status of Hitler deflects attention from similarities in vulnerable political systems:
I like your stance on what you call the Vichy Republicans, because you are right: The individuals in question are making an historic mistake by supporting an historically unqualified short-fingered man, and whatever the outcome of the 2016 U.S. DemocraZy Games is, history will judge them… [Cutting various compliments, for which I’m grateful.]
Looking at historic precedents, folks have tried to compare Trump to Hitler. I think there is some truth to this, given his Nazi-esque predilection for scapegoating minorities, his love for white essentialism and his capability to use fear and not vision and the painting of a country in ruins as the basis of a campaign.
It seems to me that it is only a question of time until Trump proposes that Muslim Americans carry an "M" in their passports the way Jews had to have a "J" in their passports in the early years of the Third Reich…
But what I think is a more dire truth to the Hitler-Trump comparison is how he could actually come to power. When Hitler was elected it was not the case that an entire country yelled “Sieg Heil” with fanfares and right arms in the air. Instead, a lot of sane, reasonable and non-fanatic people thought “he cannot be taken serious,” or “he will never win (but I am to frustrated to vote against him anyhow,” or “he is crazy but he does have a point,” or “maybe he will at least bring a change,” to, ultimately, “let’s give him a try, he can’t make matters worse anyhow.” The rest is history.
My fear is that a lot of Americans think the same way about Trump, underestimating the danger he poses and the actual shot at the presidency he has, despite temporarily bad poll numbers. I really hope he will lose in November.
Me too. But another reader writes about what his loss might mean:
What can we expect after Trump loses the November election? Yes, I do believe that he will lose because I believe that there are enough voters with enough intelligence to sufficiently dread the consequences of a Trump win. I suspect that in the privacy of the voting booth not even the Senate Majority Leader or the Speaker of the House will vote for him despite what they are saying publicly.
So when he loses, what does his past behavior lead us to expect from him?
Of course, we should expect him to go to court, all the way to the Supreme Court. He will claim that the election was “rigged” against him, etc., etc. It will be as if one of the hypertrophied personae of professional wrestling were to try to rekindle the Bush-Gore court fight of 2000. The main difference this time will be that there won't be a gentleman Al Gore present to halt the match in order to save the union. One can imagine that Trump will try to summon the resources of the GOP to support his fight.
The story line of this court case will, naturally, feature the ethnicity of all the judges who rule on it. Will any of them be Mexican? Or Muslim? When this case lands in the Supreme Court, will it be paralyzed in a 4-to-4 tie? I like to imagine that the distinguished justices, ladies and gentlemen all, will also have the wisdom and decency to save the union.
On this last point, the Supreme Court was lastingly shamed by the results-oriented politicking of its Bush v. Gore decision. (You don’t have to believe me on this: turn to the dissent from the redoubtable Justice John Paul Stevens, who said: “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”) If the reader’s scenario came to pass, I would like to imagine, with him, that the current Supreme Court, in its full eight-member majesty, would decide it was time to re-assert its role as “impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
Among the more practical advice that can be offered to international travelers is wisdom of the bathroom. So let me say, as someone who recently returned from China, that you should be prepared to (1) carry your own toilet paper and (2) practice your squat.
I do not mean those goofy chair-less sits you see at the gym. No, toned glutes will not save you here. I mean the deep squat, where you plop your butt down as far as it can go while staying aloft and balanced on the heels. This position—in contrast to deep squatting on your toes as most Americans naturally attempt instead—is so stable that people in China can hold it for minutes and perhaps even hours …
“I’m still very much puzzled about how this is possible."
To survive in the frigid ocean waters around the Arctic and Antarctica, marine life evolved many defenses against the lethal cold. One common adaptation is the ability to make antifreezing proteins (AFPs) that prevent ice crystals from growing in blood, tissues, and cells. It’s a solution that has evolved repeatedly and independently, not just in fish but in plants, fungi, and bacteria.
It isn’t surprising, then, that herrings and smelts, two groups of fish that commonly roam the northernmost reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, both make AFPs. But it is very surprising, even weird, that both fish do so with the same AFP gene—particularly because their ancestors diverged more than 250 million years ago and the gene is absent from all the other fish species related to them.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused.”
Carl Schoonover and Andrew Fink are confused. As neuroscientists, they know that the brain must be flexible but not too flexible. It must rewire itself in the face of new experiences, but must also consistently represent the features of the external world. How? The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent.
Schoonover, Fink, and their colleagues from Columbia University allowed mice to sniff the same odors over several days and weeks, and recorded the activity of neurons in the rodents’ piriform cortex—a brain region involved in identifying smells. At a given moment, each odor caused a distinctive group of neurons in this region to fire. But as time went on, the makeup of these groups slowly changed. Some neurons stopped responding to the smells; others started. After a month, each group was almost completely different. Put it this way: The neurons that represented the smell of an apple in May and those that represented the same smell in June were as different from each other as those that represent the smells of apples and grass at any one time.
Aduhelm, the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 18 years, may not work. But states and Medicare might pay billions of dollars for it anyway.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration overruled—to much criticism—its own scientific advisory committee and approved the Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. The agency made this decision despite thin evidence of the drug’s clinical efficacy and despite its serious side effects, including brain swelling and bleeding. As a result, a serious risk now exists that millions of people will be prescribed a drug that does more harm than good.
Less appreciated is how the drug’s approval could trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of new government spending, all without a vote in Congress or indeed any public debate over the drug’s value. Aduhelm’s manufacturer, Biogen, announced on Monday that it would price the drug at an average of $56,000 a year per patient, a figure that doesn’t include the additional imaging and scans needed to diagnose patients or to monitor them for serious side effects.
And that might be the right way to save classics from oblivion.
My Atlantic colleague John McWhorter and I must have received the same high-frequency language-nerd alert, audible only to the types of people whose idea of fun is Esperanto grammar. We both recently learned that Princeton’s classics department had ceased requiring its students to study Latin and Greek, and we reacted in predictable horror. A classics department without Latin and Greek is like a math department without multiplication and division, or an art department without paint. More than a thousand years ago, the monk Ælfric prefaced his Latin Grammar by saying it was “the key that unlocks the understanding of books.” I had a vision of a new generation of Princeton classicists, sniffing and thwacking at padlocked volumes of Thucydides or Cicero with looks of total incomprehension, like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson trying to get the files “in the computer” in Zoolander.
We understand how this will end. But who bears the risk that remains?
During a pandemic, no one’s health is fully in their own hands. No field should understand that more deeply than public health, a discipline distinct from medicine. Whereas doctors and nurses treat sick individuals in front of them, public-health practitioners work to prevent sickness in entire populations. They are expected to think big. They know that infectious diseases are always collective problems becausethey are infectious. An individual’s choices can ripple outward to affect cities, countries, and continents; one sick person can seed a hemisphere’s worth of cases. In turn, each person’s odds of falling ill depend on the choices of everyone around them—and on societal factors, such as poverty and discrimination, that lie beyond their control.
Many people who have been working from home are experiencing a void they can’t quite name.
This article was published online on June 9, 2021.
Back when commuting was a requirement for going to work, I once passed through a subway tunnel so filthy and crowded that the poem inscribed on its ceiling seemed like a cruel joke. “Overslept, / so tired. / If late, / get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / do it again.” “The Commuter’s Lament,” which adorns a subterranean passage in New York City’s 42nd Street station, made the already grim ritual of getting to and from work positively Dante-esque. But no one questioned the gist of it. The commute, according to the Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s research, ranked as the single most miserable part of our day. A Swiss study held long commutes responsible for “systematically lower subjective well-being.”
The Human Genome Project left 8 percent of our DNA unexplored. Now, for the first time, those enigmatic regions have been revealed.
When the human genome was first deemed “complete” in 2000, the news was met with great international fanfare. The two rival groups vying to finish the genome first—one a large government-led consortium, the other an underdog private company—agreed to declare joint success. They shook hands at the White House. Bill Clinton presided. Tony Blair beamed in from London. “We are standing at an extraordinary moment in scientific history,” one prominent scientist declared when those genomes were published. “It’s as though we have climbed to the top of the Himalayas.”
But actually, the human genome was not complete. Neither group had reached the real summit. As even the contemporary coverage acknowledged, that version was more of a rough draft, riddled with long stretches where the DNA sequence was still fuzzy or missing. The private company soon pivoted and ended its human-genome project, though scientists with the public consortium soldiered on. In 2003, with less glitz but still plentyof headlines, the human genome was declared complete once again.
Simone Biles is the greatest athlete in the world today.
For me, this isn’t a debate. It’s a statement of fact. On Sunday, she won a record seventh United States gymnastics championship, continuing her jaw-dropping winning streak in every all-around competition she’s entered since 2013. The 24-year-old hasn’t lost in eight years. Typical gymnasts her age aren’t beating all their rivals by the big margins that, for Biles, have become routine.
Although Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl at age 43, he is no longer in his prime, and other Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, are arguably more physically talented. Unlike the current greats in other sports, Biles has no peer. Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time and among the greatest athletes of all time, but her career is winding down, and Naomi Osaka is in position to unseat her as the face of women’s tennis. LeBron James won’t get a chance to defend the NBA title he won with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, because the Phoenix Suns eliminated his team in the first round of this year’s playoffs.