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.”)
An American who has lived and worked in Asia for several decades writes:
You might cast a future net in a future note to capture commentary from overseas business people (like me) who despise U.S. tax policy and, like the generals in the NYT story, generally lean conservative but who are horrified at the prospect of even the Trump candidacy.
I've lived overseas 23 years and I've never seen such universal concern over the daily damage he's doing to the national brand, which we all leverage consciously or not. When the diplomats, bankers, manufacturers, sales execs, and tech guys are all on the same side of an argument, something is seriously out of balance.
I’m about to arrive in Cleveland (via the Kent State University airport, which is close to Team Atlantic’s hotel and is one of the Cleveland-area airports that is still operating under the convention-era Temporary Flight Restriction security rules). There I’ll mainly be reporting for an upcoming print-magazine story but also weighing in online as appropriate. I will plan to resume the Time Capsules when the conventions are over, and in the meantime making capsule-like observations passim in convention coverage. We are into new territory.
On the way this era in politics is being registered internationally, we’d be happy to get your accounts. Please write to email@example.com.
I been overseas on a total of four U.S. presidential-election days. By far the most memorable was 2008, in Beijing. The Chinese public and officialdom was anything but pro-Obama. Chinese officials would generally vote GOP for the U.S. if given a chance. (Chairman Mao once said something like: Go for the Republicans; they’re predictable.) They’d liked the two Presidents Bush, despite observing the financial chaos at the end of GW Bush’s term. A continuation of GOP rule would hold fewer surprises. They’d heard of John McCain for years and barely had any idea of who Barack Obama was. And there was barely concealed incredulity that the United States would actually choose a non-white as its leader.
So they would have voted McCain-Palin, if they could. But as news of Obama’s win sunk in, even in China, over the following weeks there was some astonishment and then grudging respect for the idea that a democratic political system could will this kind of change in direction.
Voters in the Republican Party have obviously now willed a change in their direction. We’ll see if the country is doing so too. Let us know how it looks from afar.
Finally for now, a similar view-from-afar from an American living in Europe. This arrived after the attacks in Nice:
ISIS' goal in France is to bring the French Right to power, and precipitate a broad and violent response against the large French Muslim population, which will of course engender further radicalization in Muslim countries.
ISIS is also currently out to get Trump elected in the U.S., encouraged by his threat to put pressure on the U.S. Muslim community, and ban Muslim travel and immigration to the U.S. Tens of thousands of students come to the U.S. to attend university.
Of course, given Clinton's own neo-conservative proclivities, ISIS is probably now in a win-win situation regarding the U.S. Presidential elections.
Although it hardly takes a fortune teller to realize ISIS' goals, and the consequences for us if we indulge them in our response, I'd say there's a better then even chance we take the bait.
What Patrick Healy and Helene Cooper of the NYTreport today is highly unusual and deserves attention. The unusual aspect is active-duty general officers (a) speaking about party politics this directly, if anonymously, during the heat of an election campaign, and (b) doing so to criticize a Republican rather than a Democratic candidate. (In my experience senior flag officers are not as politically conservative as the military as a whole, but overall they are conservatives.)
Yes, of course, senior military officials have been politically aware and involved since the days of Gen. George Washington. But as with so many things touched by Donald Trump, what is happening here is outside the normal range.
The officers who spoke with Healy and Cooper were responding to Donald Trump’s speeches about finally getting serious in the war against terror. His recommended steps include bringing back waterboarding (“I love it! I think it’s great!”) and intentionally killing the family members of suspected terrorists (rather than doing so as “collateral damage” from targeted strikes):
At the Pentagon, interviews with more than a dozen top generals revealed alarm over many of Mr. Trump’s proposals for the use of American power, even among officers who said privately that they lean Republican…. A number of top-ranking admirals and generals said the military is governed by laws and rules of engagement that are far stricter than politicians may realize.
And justifications that troops would be “following orders” are unlikely to sway war-crimes courts, they said.
“We remember the Nuremberg trials,” said Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, now retired, who was in charge of training the Iraqi Army in 2003. “Just following orders is not going to cut it.”
To be clear about this: senior active-duty military officers are warning that a man who could become president might give orders that would expose them to war-crime prosecution later on. For time-capsule purposes, this is part of the public record just days before the Republican party officially makes this man its nominee, and three-and-a-half months before the country decides whether to make him Commander in Chief.
(I’m not using a picture with this installment, because the obvious ones on the “just following orders” theme would be too heavy-handed.)
I am aware that the pace of these entries is picking up unsustainably, but that’s because the news is too. Also, we’re about to launch some new convention-coverage threads, about which I’ll say more soon.
I am again impressed by and grateful to the crew at C-Span, which has promptly put up a full, high-rez version of the Trump-Pence announcement ceremony that ended not long ago. You can see the whole thing via C-Span here.
You would probably need to see the whole thing, from Trump’s entry 10 seconds into the clip to his baton-pass to Pence 28 minutes later, to assess the claim I’m about to make. But here it goes: I think this event rivals and even surpasses his “I hate mosquitos!” speech, described here, in raising concerns about Trump’s basic fitness to govern, at the temperamental and emotional level.
How can I say this? Watch and see what you think. In brief:
The speech is a series of feints, in which Trump will briefly mention Pence’s name, or say “Now back to Mike Pence,” and then within seconds surge off on another riff about how great Trump’s own businesses are, how ahead-of-schedule and under-budget his new hotel in Washington is going to be, how big and beautiful The Wall will be, how crooked Hillary is, how terrible NAFTA and the Iraq War were. These last points are notable because Mike Pence, standing just off-stage, was a strong supporter of both NAFTA (plus the TPP) and the Iraq War.
For better and worse, I am not aware of any other free-flow performance like this at a major general-election event since Ronald Reagan’s painfully rambling “I remember driving down the California coast one day” closing statement during his second debate with Walter Mondale in 1984. (More about this after the jump.)
It’s another series of feints or riffs, involving the Telepromptered script. Trump will dutifully read for a few seconds, in schoolboy-under-duress mode — and then look up, brighten, and give a gloss or improvisation about what he has just said. These departures are clearly more enjoyable for him, but are usually off-message and sometimes even anti-message involving Pence. (For instance, that Crooked Hillary’s bad judgment about Iraq should disqualify her from office. Which means about Pence … ? )
Trump offers a number of “principal” reasons for choosing Pence. One of them is that he “looks good.” Another, explained at greater length, is that Indiana’s economy under Pence has been so great, while the national economy under Obama has been so terrible. In fact, Indiana’s recovery has exactly paced that of the economy as a whole, and the state’s manufacturers have been a particular object of the Obama administration’s support rather than indifference or hostility. (Eg Obama’s recent visit to Elkhart, to check out the progress of the RV industry.)
The morning after an attempted coup in Turkey — a country that is a NATO ally, where U.S. nuclear weapons are based, which is at the center of international tensions over refugees and the struggles within Islam and dealing with ISIS and dealing with Syria — Trump’s comments, as potential commander in chief, were, in toto: “So many friends in Turkey. Great people, amazing people. We wish them well. A lot of anguish last night, but hopefully it will all work out.”
Beyond these and other detailed points is the fact that the First Joint Appearance With the Veep is one of a small number of established message-sending moments in a national campaign. The next big ones will come at the convention, with Pence’s speech and then Trump’s. More will come during the debates, and then with a handful of requisite Big Policy Speeches in the fall.
So one of these handful of formal-event moments has just passed, but turned into another Trump rally-to-the-base performance rather than anything else. The reason this matters more than the mosquitos! speech is that the circumstances of this event were so different, as was the opportunity to be seized or missed. When this campaign is over and we know the results, we can judge which of these interpretations of Trump’s performance is more plausible:
That the rules of general-election campaigning (and not just victory in a multi-candidate scrum within one party’s primaries) have so fundamentally changed that Trump’s riff-and-ramble approach is the effective one for these times; or
That we’re seeing, in these early days of Trump’s general election mode, the reasons why his message and appeal could not extend beyond the base.
For more, please watch the speech. And on the bright side, it took them only a day to get rid of the old logo.
On the Reagan-Mondale debate, you can see the way Reagan drifted off at the end of his second debate, starting at time 1:22:15 below.
Even though Reagan was on his way to a landslide re-election victory, this debate registered at the time as an embarrassment for him and a win for Mondale. Historical assessments have suggested that this was a rare, early public display of the changes that Reagan’s incipient Alzheimer’s disease was beginning to cause. From a sympathetic account, which starts with Reagan’s brilliant use of the “highway” story in a speech in 1976:
This 1976 triumph is the source of the muddled Pacific Coast Highway time-capsule story of eight years later! This is where he was trying to go, in the ’84 debate. It’s horrible.
What happened? It’s impossible, yet tempting, to imagine that in ’84 he went off script, flashing back to the big moment of ’76, that he thought he was really there again, that he re-lived it all in front of us, then start realizing it was all nothing a waking dream and started trying to come back to reality.
When experienced standup comics start bombing, it’s said that they tend to grab the first eight-minute routine that ever worked for them and just do it. They can’t help it; they go back to what worked once. Reagan hadn’t bombed in the debate — he would go on to win the election handily — but maybe he thought he had? (Anyone watching today would think so too.) So he went straight to one of his greatest hits.
But in real life, and even more depressing, Reagan and his ’84 people had clearly come up with this reprise of an old bit, deeming it a safe, tried-and-true thing that he had a chance of pulling off, as spaced as he was. He didn’t pull it off, but I guess they thought it was their best shot.
Grim stuff. Can there be any real doubt anywhere about Reagan’s rapidly diminishing mental competence during his presidency? He fell asleep in public, responded to questions via coaching from his wife, etc.
This is all well known — yet there’s a way in which none of it mattered. Literally. It didn’t matter. Reagan was fulfilling some entirely other national purpose, nothing to do with executive function, and I now realize that, at this point in my life, and no matter how long I live, his presidency will never seem long ago to me. Such is the nature of memory that for me, as for him, it’s all back there in the past, reality and impressions mingled, all still happening.
Until this week, three episodes of choosing a vice presidential nominee stood out in post-World War II history as the clumsy ones:
1972, when Democratic nominee Senator George McGovern chose Sen. Thomas Eagleton as his running mate, but had to swap him out for Sargent Shriver after news of Eagleton’s treatment for mental illness emerged;
1988, when George H.W. Bush, then finishing eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, chose young Sen. Dan Quayle—only to see Quayle immediately engulfed by hostile press questioning about his Vietnam-era record and other problems, followed by a very weak debate performance against his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.
2008, when Sen. John McCain, who was looking to shake things up and pull off a “game change,” chose Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP candidate. That led to a short-term polling boost but many longer-term problems.
In Bush’s case, the Quayle choice ended up as part of a winning ticket. In McGovern’s and McCain’s, the slate would probably have lost no matter who was the VP. And there’s a whole poli-sci argument about whether VP picks make any difference at all in the November outcome, which I won’t get into.
The range of other choices include some that clearly did no good electorally — Al Gore’s selection of Joe Lieberman in 2000, for instance — and others that look worse as the years go by, given the VP-candidate’s subsequent life arc. John Edwards, as John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, leads this list, followed by Palin. Dick Cheney, GW Bush’s choice in 2000 and 2004, probably was one of the many factors that allowed Bush to squeak into the White House, because of Cheney’s then-reputation for foreign-policy experience and his dominance of Joe Lieberman in the VP debate. But from my perspective he was one of the worst-ever VP choices, because of what he actually did in office (and afterwards).
When matched against the run of past nominees, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana seems less impressive than most in electoral terms, and average-to-better on the experience front.
Electorally, a very conservative white man from a very conservative Midwestern state does Trump no obvious good with the Latino, African-American, female, young, college-educated, or environmentalist blocs of voters with whom he trails badly. Beyond that, Pence actively hurts with LGBT groups because of his involvement in Indiana’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. He may hearten some Republican conservatives, but the need to do that is itself a trouble sign for a Republican nominee.
On the other hand, in terms of experience, Pence has incalculably more than Trump himself and as, as a long-time Congressman and now a governor, he has as much or more formal experience as many other recent VP candidates.
As for his instantly highlighted stark differences with three of Trump’s main campaign themes — Trump claims (falsely) that he was against the Iraq war, while Pence was strongly for it; Trump is against NAFTA and the TPP, while Pence is for them; Trump has renewed his calls for limits on Muslim immigration, while Pence has resisted — this kind of Pres/VP tension has happened before. Any experienced politician knows how to present it as a sign of healthy creative tension etc. Famous example: Candidate George H.W. Bush had strongly denounced candidate Ronald Reagan’s tax-cut plans as “voodoo economics,” when Bush was fighting Reagan for the 1980 GOP nomination. But after Reagan won, Bush loyally and effectively signed on as advocate for those tax cuts on the campaign trail as as Vice President.
So the result of this stage of Trump’s general-election campaign seems more positive than most of his other steps in the past two months. What may distinguish it in a bad way is the process — which in turn matters if it reflects on Trump’s ability to cope with complexities of national-level operations. In specific:
Trump was left without the top-tier of possible running-mates to choose from. You can imagine the electoral and/or experience advantages that different people from this list might have brought: Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Nikki Haley, Rob Portman, Jeb Bush, Susana Martinez, Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, Tom Ridge, John Thune, Condoleezza Rice, Scott Walker, and so on.
Each has weaknesses as well as strengths — but the real point is that as soon as you see the list, you're reminded of the reasons none of them would run with Trump. Instead by all appearances he was left with a finalists group of Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Pence, of whom Pence was the least obviously damaged, do-minimal-harm choice.
Trump’s Apprentice reality-show competitions were done in public. Vice-presidential choices are done in semi-secret. That’s mainly to protect the dignity (and retain the enthusiasm) of those who were not chosen—not a big concern on The Apprentice. This process was done practically in public, more Apprentice style. That doesn’t matter on the merits but is one more proxy of the difference between how presidents have to operate and what Trump has done.
Trump was going to announce his selection formally at a press conference, which he then delayed because of the truck massacre in Nice. No one could fault that judgment on the merit. Jill Lawrence of USA Today explained why Trump’s reasons for doing so once again set him apart:
“Donald Trump’s campaign manager may have just lost the presidential race for him, and it only took five words.
“ ‘He emotionally reacted to it,’ Paul Manafort told Chris Cuomo on CNN, explaining why Trump postponed a press conference to announce his vice presidential pick...
“There are many, many ways those five words may come to haunt Trump, starting with this: They crystallize his approach to pretty much everything — including campaign strategy, policy-making, the press, the Constitution, people who criticize him, political rivals and foreign leaders. They are Hillary Clinton’s ‘Daisy’ ad. All she needs to do is run those five words as a continuous loop against video of nuclear weapons and mushroom clouds.”
To spell this out, national leaders need to be able to convey emotion, and to show that they understand the emotional forces affecting their constituents. But they are not supposed to act emotionally. You don’t want a president prone to blowing his or her top.
The campaign-insider reports on the back-and-forth of choosing Pence, and whether Trump was trying at the last minute to back out, to me are significant and unusual in one particular way. Namely: that the only advisors Trump truly seems to heed and confide in are his own children.
Of course every leader pays particular attention to his or her own family. Of course Trump’s children are experienced adults, with good educations and in some cases their own accomplishments. It’s only natural that he would listen to them. The remarkable fact, and the difference from past major-party figures, is the seeming absence of long-term peers who can tell a leader, “Look, you’re about to screw this up.”
The lore of the White House is that by definition a president cannot make new “friends” once he gets there —and from the moment of his or her elevation, it becomes harder and harder for anyone ever again to tell him uncomfortable truths. So every successful president needs to start out with a group of people who are reliably honest in that way. It’s not evident that Trump has any, apart from his kids.
The inside-campaign detail that the Clinton forces had negative ads about Pence up and running before the Trump team had even changed its own website to mention Pence’s new role. Again, this doesn’t matter in itself. But it’s an illustration of the countless ways in which running a general-election campaign is harder and more complex than running in the primaries. And, unfortunately, running a White House is a thousand times harder than that.
And when we’re talking about basic competence in the fundamentals of campaigning ….
Noted for the record, just before action begins in Cleveland for the Republican convention: groups of people lining up for and against presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
For: The NY Times has this list of the planned speaker lineup for the convention.
Night 1: A Benghazi focus, followed by border patrol agents and Jamiel Shaw, whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant. Senator Tom Cotton, Rudy Giuliani, Melania Trump, Senator Jodi Ernst and others.
Night 2: A focus on the economy: Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship; Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas; Michael Mukasey, the former United States attorney general; Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a vice-presidential possibility; Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader; Tiffany Trump; Donald Trump Jr. and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Night 3: Pam Bondi, Florida attorney general; astronaut Eileen Collins; Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; Eric Trump; golfer Natalie Gulbis; and the nominee for vice president. [Indiana Gov. Mike Pence??]
Night 4: former quarterback Tim Tebow; Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman; Gov. Rick Scott of Florida; Peter Thiel of PayPal and other ventures; Thomas Barrack, a real-estate investor; Ivanka Trump; Donald J. Trump.
Against: Some 145 prominent investors, managers, inventors, and entrepreneurs from the tech industry signed an open letter denouncing Trump and his policies, published today in Medium. There are some notable big-public-company absences — no current senior executives of Apple or Facebook or Google or Microsoft — but if you know anything about the origins of the tech business you will take the list seriously.
The co-founder of Apple is there, Steve Wozniak; and the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar; and the co-founder of Slack, Stewart Butterfield; and Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers of the Internet” for his role as co-creator of TCP/IP; and all-purpose entrepreneur and inventor Peter Diamandis; and Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter; and investors Vinod Khosla and Chris Sacca; and many others.
Part of their argument:
We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation.
His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth….
We believe that America’s diversity is our strength. Great ideas come from all parts of society, and we should champion that broad-based creative potential. We also believe that progressive immigration policies help us attract and retain some of the brightest minds on earth — scientists, entrepreneurs, and creators. In fact, 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, traffics in ethnic and racial stereotypes, repeatedly insults women, and is openly hostile to immigration. He has promised a wall, mass deportations, and profiling.
Sharply differing views of America’s past and future are coming into focus in this election. Years from now people will ask about our era, Which sorts of Americans were making which sorts of choices? These two lists provide a useful snapshot and shorthand. They deserve attention now and study later on.
Among the challenges the Trump campaign has raised is one for the press. Reporters are most comfortable sticking to the “I’m just reporting” mode: This candidate says X, that candidate says Y, and it’s up to you, the voter, to decide which you prefer. What’s up to me, the reporter, is just to let each side have its say.
Even in the best of circumstances, this pose of willed neutrality has its limits and distortions (as chronicled here over the years). The 2016 campaign offers nothing like the best of circumstances, in that one of the two remaining major candidates simply invents, fantasizes, re-writes, distorts, omits, and generally lies about great portions of his utterances each day.
(How can I say that? Two quick illustrations from last night’s speech in Ohio. Donald Trump baldly asserted that after the murders of police officers in Dallas, political-correctness-minded people were “calling for a moment of silence” for the killer. That did not happen. To be more precise, there’s no evidence that it occurred. Trump also repeated his claim that he had opposed the Iraq war even before it began. He did not. He keeps saying it, but it is not true. Each day brings its own fresh supply of flat-out falsehoods.)
The natural tendency for the mainstream press — and believe me, this is by far the most comfortable place to be when doing a newspaper story or TV or radio report — is to avoid saying, “One of these people is lying.” Instead you want to lay out both sides and hope the contrast doesn’t need to be spelled out. But in a campaign like this, the result of this structural even-handedness can be to “normalize” the side that is lying. “Mr. Trump says there is no drought in California and that it’s all a fiction by environmentalists. Scientists in California disagree. We’ll leave it there.”
Thus the occasion for today’s time-capsule entry is a series of three items showing the press resisting “normalization.”
1) A long, thoroughly reported piece by Nicholas Confessore in the NYT, on how Trump has deliberately courted white racial resentment against blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and others. The story doesn’t pussy-foot around by saying, “Critics wonder whether ….” It comes right out about what he is doing:
In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.
Mr. Trump has attacked Mexicans as criminals. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants. He has wondered aloud why the United States is not “letting people in from Europe.”...
In a country where the wealthiest and most influential citizens are still mostly white, Mr. Trump is voicing the bewilderment and anger of whites who do not feel at all powerful or privileged.
But in doing so, Mr. Trump has also opened the door to assertions of white identity and resentment in a way not seen so broadly in American culture in over half a century, according to those who track patterns of racial tension and antagonism in American life.
2) An item by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post, under the headline “One of the candidates is actively trying to divide the country.” This is presented as an opinion item rather than a news-analysis piece like Confessore’s, but it urges readers to move past hand-wringing about “extremists on both sides” to concentrate on Trump’s flat-out appeals to racial/tribal divisions, which are unlike anything the other side is doing. Sargent writes that:
… most observers, including neutral, non-ideological, and non-partisan ones, would not even quarrel with the idea that Trump is running a campaign that is explicitly about unleashing white backlash. For months, this has been widely, openly agreed upon by pretty much everyone who is paying even cursory attention.
Yet oddly enough, this widely accepted acknowledgment of Trump’s explicit efforts to foment racial division is not being meaningfully brought to bear on the current debate over the two candidates’ responses to police-community tensions…. Clinton has repeatedly tried to acknowledge that the police and those protesting their use of force both have legitimate grievances; Trump has not done this to anywhere near the same degree.
3) Another item in the NYT, this one by Jim Dwyer, on a group of scholars, writers, and historians who are normally apolitical but have decided to take a stand against Trump. They have worked with the filmmaker Ken Burns to produce videos for a Facebook page called “Historians on Donald Trump.”
One of these writers, Ron Chernow, spoke with Dwyer:
Mr. Chernow, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose “Alexander Hamilton” was a principal source for the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” said he had been struck by Mr. Trump’s lack of reference to the founding documents of American history, or to presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “The only historical movement that Mr. Trump alludes to is a shameful one — ‘America First,’” Mr. Chernow said, recalling an isolationist political organization at the time Nazi Germany was taking power across Europe.
Why do these matter, and deserve note for the long-term record? Because they demonstrate the way in which the press is trying to adjust to the new realities created by a man like Trump.
Here’s something that doesn’t “matter” but still is delightful. Ivanka Trump gives a preview of what the attending delegates and accompanying press horde (complete with an Atlantic team including me) will see in person next week in Cleveland, and what the rest of the world can see on TV. Emphasis added:
“It's not going to be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians,” daughter Ivanka Trump said more than a week ago. “It's going to be a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all the sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”
All the way from athletes to coaches! (H/t Ari Ofsevit.)
Or, this could be a knowing homage to the Dorothy Parker line about a “striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.”
Here is something that does matter. I don’t have the time or fortitude to re-watch the Trump performance this evening in Westfield, Iowa. You can find the whole tape here (the Man himself comes on around time 1:48.00). But on real-time viewing it was notable.
Less than four months before the general election, a near-nominee is riffing as if the only audience that matters is the GOP base. Highlights:
Starting around time 2:10:00, “who’s going to pay for that wall?” “I can’t hear you, who’s going to pay??” You can sense him feeling for something that will rev the audience up. And let the record show: past and present leaders of Mexico have made clear that of course they are not going to pay for any such wall. But for Trump it’s a go-to routine to get a cheer.
Around time 2:13:00, a solution to the knotty and tragic Syria problem. “In Syria, we’ll build safe zones, and we’ll get other people to put up the money.” How? How the hell? Never mind. Literally the next sentence was, “Because soon we are going to owe $20 trillion, with a T …”
Starting at time 2:14:00, Trump repeats his claim that he was against the Iraq war from the start. This is not true, and every time he says it he needs to be called out on its falsity. To Trump’s credit, he turned against the war faster than some others, once it started going bad. Before it started, he was not among those — those like Barack Obama, like Al Gore, like a handful of Republicans in Congress, like Brent Scowcroft and other conservatives and realists — who warned that it would be a grievous mistake.
Just in case there is any doubt here: Donald Trump was not against the Iraq War when the debate was being held and the decision was being made.
At time 2:15:50, Trump makes his claim that America has grown so dysfunctional that people were asking for “a moment of silence” for the man who murdered five police officers in Dallas. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I am not aware of any real-world evidence for that claim. Translation: I believe he is yet again making this up.
Right after that, Trump goes into his “we never win any more” riff, about how the United States is an all-fronts failure.
Lord knows that the United States has more than its share of grave economic, social, racial, public-safety, civic-culture, educational, infrastructure, and other problems, as both the 43rd and the 44th Presidents discussed very soberly this afternoon in Dallas. But if you’re talking in crude “we win” / “we lose” terms, you have to ask: OK, which major nation is “winning” more often, in more ways, than the U.S. now?
It’s preposterous to suggest that the U.S. military is not incomparably the strongest in the world. The U.S. recovery has been unfair, and slow — but it’s been faster and stronger than just about anywhere else. The U.S. range of alliances in most regions of the world is stronger than it has been in decades. (Countries from India to Vietnam to Indonesia to Japan and South Korea are more tightly knit to U.S. strategic interests than in a very long time.)
If “we lose, lose, lose” is Trump’s argument today, what language would be left if, for instance, today’s international-court ruling had been a sweeping rebuke of U.S. policy — rather than of China’s, as it actually was? If he’s talking this way on a day when the U.S. stock markets reached a historic peak, and the U.S. dollar is at recent-record highs against most other currencies, imagine what he’d say during a stock market and currency crash? (Before you point it out: a stock-market rise does not mean a healthy economy. But you know how a stock-market crash would be interpreted.)
Why bother to point this out? Because it does bother me, and should be noted for the record, that we’ve reached a point where we barely notice that a likely nominee is simply making things up, about his own past and about the realities of the world around him.
For the record, in closing out the day’s events: I agree with Matt Ford’s Atlantic item and other assessments that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was wrong to say, in her role as Supreme Court Justice, things about Donald Trump similar to what I’ve been saying here in my role as guy with a blog.
Institutional roles and responsibilities matter (as she obviously recognizes). The rest of us are citizens, participants, reporters, advocates. Only nine U.S. citizens — eight at the moment, thanks to our Senate — have the life-tenure power to direct the might of the state in ways that affect everyone else.
President Obama doesn’t say every single thing that’s on his mind about race right now — he’ll probably come closer, once he leaves office, but the difference in public roles is the crucial point. Serving flag-officers in the military do not publicly utter every thought they think about their civilian masters; teachers don’t say everything they like and dislike about a child; coaches try not to say every thing they think about the refs. We are all supposed to recognize the constraints that come with certain roles.
If Ruth Bader Ginsburg would like to speak just as freely as any of the rest of us, it would be more seemly to give up the life-tenure powers virtually none of the rest of us possess. (I’m against life tenure in any position of public responsibility, because I think it tempts people to forget the difference between what is interesting / convenient / pleasing to them personally and what is in the public’s best interest in that role. But that’s for another time.)
Charles Stevenson, long-time Congressional staffer and author of many books about the politics and policy of national security, writes about Donald Trump’s meeting this morning with Republicans on Capitol Hill:
You may have seen this TPM report about Trump’s meeting with House GOP. I think this part is especially significant:
Another Republican in the meeting who declined to go on the record so he could speak candidly told TPM that Trump was asked pointedly if he would defend Article I of the Constitution.
“Not only will I stand up for Article One,” Trump enthusiastically stated, according to the member in the room. “I'll stand up for Article Two, Article 12, you name it of the Constitution.”
The Republican member said that Trump’s lack of knowledge about how many articles exist, gave him “a little pause.” (The Constitution has seven articles and 27 amendments.)
Besides indicating Trump has little real knowledge of the Constitution, it also shows an insensitivity to the purpose of the question. Article I lists the powers of the Congress, which many Republicans say has been undermined by an overreaching Obama. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that he was being asked about legislative-executive relations and the proper balance between those branches. He didn't know, and probably doesn’t care. Lawmakers should.
For Trump’s “Two Corinthians” reference, suggesting he is as unfamiliar with nuances of the Bible as he is with the Constitution’s, check NPR’s story here. For more on his not-without-its-bumps meeting with Congressional Republicans, see Sean Sullivan’s and Philip Rucker’s Washington Post story here. It includes this gem:
Trump said at the meeting that he has yet to attack [Arizona senator Jeff] Flake hard but threatened to begin doing so. Flake stood up to Trump by urging him to stop attacking Mexicans. Trump predicted that Flake would lose his reelection, at which point Flake informed Trump that he was not on the ballot this year, the sources said.
It’s been nearly 13 months since Donald Trump came down the escalator and announced that he was running for president.
This evening, in Ohio, he gave what was even for him the most off-message, most (literally) deranged-seeming performance of his candidacy, and what would have been in any previous campaign a sign of very serious trouble.
Why this was off-message:
It followed a slightly good, mainly very bad day for Hillary Clinton, in which James Comey, the director of the FBI, scolded her for being “extremely careless” with classified emails. (The slightly good part was Comey’s announcement that Clinton’s carelessness didn’t warrant prosecution.) Rather than focusing relentlessly on what this said about Clinton, Trump broadened the attack to include Comey and his “rigged” investigation — and thus drove the email story from lead position in the news because of all the other things he said and did.
The “Corrupt Hillary and the Star” controversy (see Time Capsule #33) could have been a one-day story, if Trump or his representatives (if they existed) had simply said: “Obviously we meant no offense, to anyone other than the corrupt Democratic candidate — and to make that meaning clear and avoid any misunderstanding, we’re happy to change the image. Because what matters to the American people... [etc etc].” Instead he re-raised the issue, said the only thing he was sorry for was that someone in his campaign had taken down the original six-pointed star image, and thereby made the affair into a multi-day story that cannot gain him any votes or do him any good.
Trump raised a lot of money, and announced that he had done so. But the “process” story from the day’s events became not that but rather the uncontrolled nature of his talk. The NYT headline of the day was, “In a Defiant, Angry Speech, Donald Trump Defends Image Seen as Anti-Semitic.” No matter what your party, you are never, never winning when that’s the main story from your speech.
The half-hour of Trump’s performance was objectively as alarming, in mental-balance terms, as anything we have seen from a major party candidate in modern history. I can’t find an online video of the whole 30 minutes that has acceptable audio quality. But imagine the mosquito clip extended at full length and you have the idea.
I defy anyone to watch these 30 minutes and feel comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump making the countless judgment calls required of a president. This man is not well. But he is the man the GOP is about to nominate for the presidency.
This one has been well-publicized even at the start of a long holiday weekend. Thus I just note its existence, for the long-term record. Here’s the sequence:
On the early morning of July 2, Donald Trump put out the image you see above in his own personal Twitter feed. It showed Hillary Clinton against a background of dollars, with the phrase “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” on a red-colored six-pointed star, or badge.
A basic principle of political life, and life in general, is that more things happen via incompetence or screw-up than happen according to devious plan. So the forgiving initial reaction to this Tweet could have been: can you believe how sloppy these Trump people are? Didn’t they stop to think about the way a six-sided star, on a field of cash, could so easily be read as a Star of David, and thus play into a classic anti-Semitic stereotype? [Not to mention: why the hell is a presumptive major-party nominee spending his time on this kind of idiocy?]
This “didn’t they stop to think??” reaction depends upon the possibility that the star could have been intended to be read as a badge, from a sheriff or marshal, rather than as a Mogen David. For instance, the LA County Sheriff’s office uses just such a badge, as shown below. So does the U.S. Marshal’s service. So conceivably this could have been just another in a series of bone-headed moves rather than anything else.
[Update: Keith Olbermann observes via Twitter that the law-enforcement badges have globes at the six points, while a Star of David, and the image in Trump’s Tweet, do not.]
But then ...
Today, July 3, various reports emerged (starting with News.mic) that Trump’s original “Most Corrupt” Tweet had been lifted from an outright racist site, and that the use of the Star of David was about as accidental as the placement of gorilla imagery or a watermelon in a comparable attack-Tweet about Barack Obama.
So you can take your pick: negligence, or malice. Either a presumptive major-party nominee is spending his time, as he “pivots” toward the general election that happens just four months from now, sending out personally insulting tweets without having anyone check their provenance and implications; or someone in the campaign is doing this on purpose, dog-whistle style. I think the former is more likely, but either one is bad.
For the record, Trump-campaign-manager-turned-CNN “analyst” Corey Lewandoski said he was shocked, just shocked, at the “political correctness run amok” in the reaction to what was a simple sheriff’s star. Other campaign supporters said that of course Trump could not be sending an anti-Semitic signal, since after all his son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish, his daughter Ivanka has converted, and thus three of his grandchildren are Jewish as well.
More plausible than either of those explanations is this, from Hot Air:
Whether intentionally or not, Trump’s built a devoted following within the online hangouts of white supremacists. He’s surely aware of it and he hasn’t gone out of his way to discourage it. His denunciations of their support have been largely perfunctory. It may be that one of his racist fans tweeted that image at his account fully intending the symbolism in the shape of the star, then Trump’s Twitter guy saw it and reproduced it without picking up on the symbolism himself….
It reminds me of this kerfuffle from back in November, when Trump stupidly retweeted something from a fan claiming that 81 percent of homicides involving white victims are perpetrated by blacks. In reality, 82 percent of homicides with white victims are perpetrated by whites. It was propaganda designed to reinforce the stereotype that blacks are predators. But whoever was running Trump’s Twitter account that day was too stupid not to see that the numbers were obviously bogus and too lazy not to take three minutes to check them by googling. He got suckered by racist propaganda. I’ll bet the same thing happened here. And it’ll happen again.
In July, 1948, the 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman, took an overdue step toward equal opportunity, equal dignity, and “more perfect union” with Executive Order 9981, ordering desegregation of the military.
In July, 2016, the aspirant to be the 45th President, Donald Trump, said he would “look into” a step in the opposite direction, by potentially replacing TSA agents who were Muslim and wore “hibby-jobbies.”
The term hibby-jobbies was from a questioner and presumably meant the veil or head cover known as hijab. But Trump did not resist or object to it, as he frequently has with other questions whose framing he dislikes. (He “let it slide,” as CNN put it in a headline.) Instead he said he would “look into” this concept of religion-based scrutiny of public employees.
You don’t have to go back to Harry Truman to see how extraordinary and odious this is — or to the Truman-era War Department film I mentioned yesterday. Eight years ago, John McCain earned boos from a partisan crowd, but increased respect in history’s eyes, for rejecting a questioner’s premise that his then-rival, then-Senator Barack Obama, was really an Arab.
In this cycle, McCain is still a Vichy Republican, officially backing Trump for the presidency.
Yesterday Trump also joked that a small plane overhead might be Mexican, because “they’re getting ready to attack.”
In retrospect it will seem remarkable, and it deserves more notice even now, how even-tempered the Mexican government and most Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Latino-background Americans in general have been about all of this. Think of the likely reaction if a presumptive major-party nominee had been turning against [blacks / Catholics / Jews / Baptists / Asian-Americans / etc ] the repeated off-hand slurs Donald Trump keeps issuing against Muslims and Mexicans.
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.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
At least one human life has already been lost as a direct result of the widespread obsession with turning the sex of one’s unborn child into an explosive (often literally) spectacle. In October, an Iowa woman was killed when her family inadvertently built a pipe bomb as part of their gender-reveal party—a gathering at which expectant parents dramatically and colorfully announce the sex of their baby.
The methods for doing so seem to have started out as benign, if stereotypical—cutting into a cake to reveal either blue or pink frosting, say. But in the past couple of years, some kind of communal madness has taken hold, and many of these feats of gender performance have gotten more elaborate, more public, and more dangerous—putting lives and entire ecosystems at risk. Last year, a father-to-be started a 47,000-acre wildfire in Arizona when he shot a rifle at an explosive target full of blue powder (It’s a boy!), causing $8.2 million of damage, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The latest instance of a gender reveal gone wildly wrong, as The New York Times reported on Friday, involved a plane that stalled and crashed while crop-dusting a Texas field with 350 gallons of pink water in honor of an unborn female child. No one was killed in either incident, but someone easily could have been. Othergender-reveal-relatedexplosions, and one reveal involving an alligator, have also placed people in harm’s way.
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Images above: A protestor holding a sign that reads “Abortion Is Freedom” and protestors holding anti-abortion signs
In 1956, twoAmerican physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
Things were getting bad even before the 2016 election, but somehow, within just a few years, they have gotten worse. In an environment of intense partisan warfare, each side believes it has a claim to lead the nation based on its own set of values. Each side understands that it has more to gain from aggrievement than achievement, and each side beholds the other with contempt. Meanwhile, the republic seems to be unraveling. A culture of anxiety and depression has spread far and wide as people face health crises without access to affordable care. An opioid epidemic ensnares ever larger numbers of the alienated and desperate; among certain groups, life spans are actually shortening. Some of those who aren’t harming themselves are harming others in mass shootings; many of the killers are infected with an ideology of white supremacy. Also, the prisons are full. The economy, at least, seems to be in decent shape for now, but income inequality continues to widen. Jobs are plentiful, which is good, because it often takes more than one to support a family. But the economic energy of a rich country has not eased the strains on our political institutions—money flowing to politicians has only hardened the gridlock. Congress still can’t get anything done. Tax cuts have left the country short of money to address national problems. The gulf between needs and capacities is glaring. Everyday scenes sometimes resemble New Yorker covers designed by Pravda: In Manhattan, the Harvard Club’s elegant dining room backs onto West 45th Street, where men and women sleep beneath damp cardboard in the warm glow of the club’s windows.
The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false promise of civility.
Joe Biden has fond memories of negotiating with James Eastland, the senator from Mississippi who once declared, “I am of the opinion that we should have segregation in all the States of the United States by law. What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”
Recalling in June his debates with segregationists like Eastland, Biden lamented, “At least there was some civility,” compared with today. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition; the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
Our grasp on what it takes to sustain a democracy is slipping.
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. The subject was citizenship and the preservation of America’s political institutions. The backdrop was the threat posed to those institutions by the evil of slavery. Lincoln warned that the greatest danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”
And now, today, we look around. Our politics are paralyzing the country. We practice suspicion or contempt where trust is needed, imposing a sentence of anger and loneliness on others and ourselves. We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise.
The three leading GOP defenses of the president contradict one another.
Give Mac Thornberry this much: Unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he was at least trying.
On Sunday the Texas Republican appeared on ABC’s This Week, where he tentatively offered a message on the impeachment inquiry, which enters its public phase with hearings this Wednesday and Friday. Thornberry sought a middle course.
“I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival,” he said. “I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.”
Debatable, but coherent. But from there, things went off the rails. First, Thornberry inadvertently compared President Donald Trump to a rapist or murderer while critiquing the procedure House Democrats have used (though perhaps he is not far off). He then offered the defense that Trump couldn’t be impeached because the abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal is his standard operating procedure. “There’s not anything that the president said in that phone call that’s different than he says in public all the time,” he said.
Unmet hype created a viral clash between Drake and the audience at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, but it might just work in his favor.
Editorial writers, assemble—there’s been another demonstration that civility in America is dead! Drake, the Canadian rapper, actor, singer, and, as of last week, marijuana entrepreneur, took to the stage last night at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, a music festival in Los Angeles. He played a few songs. The crowd grumbled so much that he left. To summarize, the biggest rapper in the world was booed off stage at a big rap concert—a telling story about toxic buzz storms, the vagaries of coolness, and Drake’s special relationship with the phenomenon of public shaming.
The footage of Drake’s exit feels like a scene in a biopic—a scene you’d watch through your fingers so as to avoid the protagonist’s nightmare from replaying in your own dreams. He’s performing the final lines of his song “Wu-Tang Forever,” but they sound lonely and weak, rapped by inertia. Faint woos and scattered claps reply. Drake walks in a tight circle. He addresses the crowd with the pre-confrontation politenessthat a boss might use to broach the subject of Juuling in the office: “You know, I’mma tell you, like I said …”