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.”)
A reader gives the background for the hymn you hear performed above by the London Philharmonic Choir. (The singing starts about 35 seconds in.) It has an Atlantic angle, in that the lyrics are by one of the magazine’s founders and editors, James Russell Lowell. There’s a modern-day angle too:
I’ve had an ear-worm on and off for the last few weeks and finally identified it as the hymn “Once to every man and nation”. (The lyrics are by James Russell Lowell, as you probably know.)
I think I can thank Donald Trump for putting this in my head.
Once to ev'ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off'ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
'Twixt that darkness and that light.
Ryan, McConnell, Pence, Giuliani, Christie, Rubio, and others on the sidelines or on the wrong side: once to ev’ry man and nation. You are making a choice that matters and that you will regret.
For the record and in case you missed it, it is worth seeing the Lawrence O’Donnell interview last night with the extraordinary parents of Capt. Khan, a Muslim immigrant who was killed in Iraq. They also speak to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. For me, the Khans have offered as close as we have come to a Joseph Welch moment in this campaign. The link to the show is here; an embed is below.
Mark Salter, former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain, has written an essay for Real Clear Politics on why he cannot vote for Donald Trump. It deserves note for the long-term record because this is not how associates of a party’s former nominee usually talk about the current one, and because of its insistence on the importance of tax returns.
Salter concludes (emphasis added):
Could it be that a major party nominee for president is beholden to Russia’s leader and might compromise the security interests of the U.S. and our allies to maintain that relationship? We don’t know the answer….
We can’t begin to answer the question until Trump releases his tax returns for the last several years. The media should make this the focus of every interview with Trump and senior Trump staff. The Republican Party chairman should urge him to release his returns. The Republican leadership in Congress should insist on it. Every American voter should demand it.
There are legitimate suspicions about whether Trump’s business relationships could compromise his loyalty to our country. Unless and until he puts them to rest, not by dismissing them but by disproving them, he should be considered unfit to hold the office of president.
To bear in mind, with 101 days to go until the election:
The Trump campaign’s standard response is that it won’t release the returns because they’re “under audit.” The IRS says, No problem! It’s just fine with us for you to release them. Trump’s excuse is a total crock, and one that has not been accepted from any previous nominee — although, as a lawyer has pointed out, Trump’s clinging to it may be a clue as to problems in the returns.
There’s already an established record of Trump putting his business interests above other concerns, from his flying to Scotland to tout his golf resort during the Brexit vote to turning a campaign appearance into an infomercial for his steaks.
Since the time of Richard Nixon, most serious candidates from both parties, and all nominees, have released tax and medical reports as part of their fundamental bargain with the public.
This is yet another norm that Trump is breaking — as Republican figures like Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, and the rest cement-in their position on the wrong side of the Character Divide.
Last night, in her overall very successful acceptance speech, Hillary Clinton said with ruthless precision about her opponent:
Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief?
Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.
He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.
Emphasis added, as it was in her delivery:
Imagine—if you dare, imagine—imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.
I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started—not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men—the ones moved by fear and pride.
And here is Donald Trump’s response this morning, after some apparently-staff-generated tweets last night whose grammar and syntax were more stately than his norm (and whose message ID said “iPhone” rather than the Android Trump seems to use personally):
Think of the strategic outlook you are seeing demonstrated on Trump’s side. On national TV, a woman has said that it is easy to get under his skin — after a much richer real billionaire has made fun of him with, “I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.” And Trump’s response is … to take the bait and show that it has gotten under this skin.
Something is wrong with this man, if in no other way than in simple impulse-control.
After the jump, a reader on the implications of episodes like these:
I found myself reflecting this morning on what ought to rank as Hillary’s most crucial argument of the evening [the one I have quoted above, about his temperament]. It beggars belief that charges like these have to be levied against a major party nominee. I genuine worry that the gravity of the situation isn’t registering with large swathes of the voting public. ...
Imagine Trump in the Situation Room. Imagine him in the press briefing room responding to any fast-moving major geopolitical or economic crisis. Now bring all the available evidence of his conduct to bear—for instance, using the transcripts of unprepared remarks in interviews or his rallies. They read even worse than they sound. This man—in his native environment of unshackled stream-of-consciousness, staggering ignorance, and immunity to facts—cannot maintain a coherent thought longer than 8 or 10 words. He interrupts himself constantly. He can contradict himself in the space of 30 seconds.
The signaling done by the President to our allies and foes alike is incredibly important, and the President needs to have an understanding of how we came to be on whatever footing we’re on with regard to another country. Trump won’t know any of this, won’t care to learn it, and will he even pay sufficient attention if he's briefed by all the “best people” he says he would hire? We can’t have a President freestyling in front of microphones and then trying to pass it off as something he didn’t mean or was intended as sarcasm when things go sideways.
I am beyond convinced that the case has been made that he is manifestly, historically unfit for the office. But does the press have the ability (or staying power) to keep this central issue on the front burner? Almost every day brings another barrage of Trump inanity, many of which in isolation in any other election would be widely agreed to be disqualifying—and the news cycle homes in on it, fact-checking away and getting reaction from the pundits.
Depressingly, we are being inured to Trumpism. We’re at risk of the forest being missed for the trees.
Just a quick place-holder note on where things stand, near the end of the DNC and in the middle of the Trump-Putin flap. Today’s theme: foreign policy and the military.
America’s influence in the world is so great that non-Americans pay attention to the political process and have their favorites. European and Latin American publics generally prefer U.S. Democrats. The Chinese often lean Republican. We know how Putin is going this year.
But it’s unusual to get statements as direct as the one shown above, posted yesterday by a former Prime Minister of Sweden.
It’s less unusual, but still striking, to see the 160-or-so academics and foreign-policy veterans who have signed an open letter drafted by Ali Wyne, for The American Interest, which accepts Donald Trump’s premise that it is time to re-think in a deep way America’s habitual military commitments and strategic assumptions. But then it goes on to detail what is reckless about him and his proposals. The conclusion:
Many critics of his candidacy appear to have believed that they could blunt his momentum by lampooning his disposition and mocking his proposals. With less than four months before the United States elects its next president, however, it is evident that neither of those tactics has succeeded; it behooves Americans—policymakers, analysts, and citizens alike—to take Mr. Trump seriously and interrogate his vision of foreign policy.
If you have any background in this field, you will find the list of names interesting. (Also see Michael Hirsh’s new piece on the Republican-vs-Democratic national-security teams. Here is a previous note from 120+ conservative foreign policy experts warning against Trump.)
This is noted as part of the ongoing record of Trump, at a time when Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and other “responsible” Republicans still stand behind him, and when former leaders like the two Presidents Bush, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, and others may be giving him the cold shoulder but have not spoken up directly to warn against him.
And, 102 days out from the election, still no tax returns or plausible physical-exam report, which through the post-Nixon era have been basic prices-of-entry for presidential candidates.
With the (justified) flap over Donald Trump’s invitation to Vladimir Putin to intervene in U.S. politics, and with his continued stonewalling on tax returns, another aspect of Trump’s performance at the press conference just now has been under-appreciated. It involves a point of apparent ignorance that deserves note for the long-term record.
After nearly a week awash in news about Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine — current Senator from Virginia, former governor of that state, Democrat — Trump apparently confuses him with Tom Kean, former governor of New Jersey and a Republican. (Both names are both pronounced “kane.”) When someone corrects him on the state name, Trump switches that but goes on talking about events drawn from New Jersey politics (with which he’d naturally be more familiar) rather than Virginia’s.
Here’s the relevant passage:
The oddity is an apparent double confusion: first Kaine with Kean; and then Kean with his successor Jim Florio, a Democrat who actually proposed tax increases more like what Trump is talking about. Overall everything Trump said made better sense if applied to New Jersey than to Virginia, including about the governor’s falling popularity, since Kaine remained popular.
More from NJ Patch here, Politico here, and RedState here. (Update I’ve received mail from some readers saying that Trump has referred to Kaine and his record in Virginia, not New Jersey, in the past week. So conceivably this could have been a smaller-scale glitch.)
Recall how much trouble Rick Perry got in simply for forgetting, in the pressure of a debate, the name of one of the three federal departments he wanted to close.
In this same press conference, Trump referred more than once to the man who shot Ronald Reagan as “David” Hinckley, rather than John. Everyone makes transient mistakes of this sort — I do them all the time, everyone does. But I can think of no precedent, whatsoever, for a national nominee who clearly does not know who the vice-presidential nominee on the other side is. [Sorry, not “George” Hinckley as I thought I originally heard.]
This was the same press conference in which Trump said that Barack Obama was “the most ignorant president in history” and added that Vladimir Putin had called him (Trump) “a genius.”
Without elaboration, I will note for the record something, yet another thing, that to the best of my knowledge has never happened before:
The Republican presidential nominee repeatedly said just now, at a live press conference, that he “hopes” Vladimir Putin and his Russian government have control of emails from Hillary Clinton’s server — emails that, as Clinton’s critics have taken the lead in pointing out, include her time as Secretary of State and contain classified information.
You can see a clip of one of the times he actually said it here:
Trump to Russia: I hope you find the missing Hillary emails (some of which could contain classified intelligence) pic.twitter.com/fy919ChGuE
To say it clearly: Nothing remotely like this has happened before. A “hope” that a foreign government, with which the United States is at serious and increasing odds, can penetrate American electronic networks so as to affect the outcome of a U.S. election? How exactly would we distinguish this from treason? (Update: In Twitter comments beginning here, an attorney named Christopher J. Regan explains where you would draw the line between comments like Trump’s and outright treason.)
This is the man the Speaker of the House, the Majority of the Leader of the Senate, and other Constitutional officers and “responsible” Republicans are standing behind.
In a press conference right now, Donald Trump says that he’d be happy to release his tax returns but can’t “while the audit is continuing.” So he can’t put them out before the election.
The IRS has maintained all along that the audit status has nothing to do with whether the returns can be released. As The Hill and many other outlets noted early this year:
“Nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information,” the IRS said in a statement.
As a reminder:
It’s 103 days until the election;
Major party nominees in modern (post-Nixon) times have understood release of tax returns and believable medical reports to be part of the basic price-of-entry for the general election campaign. Trump has done neither. (If you’ve forgotten about his ludicrous “medical” report, check it out here.)
Four years ago, Trump was even scolding Mitt Romney for taking so long to release his returns:
This is entirely apart from any question of where Trump gets his money, what Russian operators are or are not doing, or anything else of the sort. Entirely apart from those issues, this is part of the basic bargain with the public of national-level campaigning. Candidates are asking the public to grant them control of the enormous powers of national government. In return the public properly asks to know as much as possible about the candidates.
So: the reason Trump is giving for not releasing his taxes is flat-out false, according to the authority most likely to know: the IRS. Neither the press nor the public should accede to his attempt to normalize this stance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
None of this is proof. But it is a vivid manifestation of a long-building reality: the chaos that can be unleashed in the new era in which everything is known and anything can be leaked. Concern about these effects goes beyond party. The very conservative defense figure Edward Timperlake wrote about it recently. In Slate, Franklin Foer says the DNC episode is “Watergate, but much worse.” Paul Waldman of the WaPo writes to similar effect. Thomas Rid, a security expert at King’s College, London, says that because “all signs” indicate Russian involvement the U.S. should respond:
American inaction now risks establishing a de facto norm that all election campaigns in the future, everywhere, are fair game for sabotage—sabotage that could potentially affect the outcome and tarnish the winner’s legitimacy.
These new developments underscore the importance of an old, familiar point: now, more than ever, Donald Trump must release his tax returns. To put it differently, the press should no longer “normalize” his stonewalling on this issue.
As another veteran figure in the defense world and political affairs wrote to me this morning:
In normal times, this [the Russian hacking] would be the lead on all network news. But these are not normal times.
I am having trouble getting through to some people that this is a real thing. The very people who always say “follow the money” with regard to the Pentagon [or other boondoggle bureaucracies] don’t see that (a) Trump has been kept afloat for about 15 years by Russian oligarchs; and (b) Russia has a powerful incentive to see a US president who will end economic sanctions.
So Donald Trump should release his tax returns because in modern times that is the basic price-of-entry in national politics. (Along with a plausible — rather than Pyongyang Daily News-style — medical report.) He should do it whether or not Vladimir Putin ever existed or there was any Russian hack. That would be true in any candidate’s case, but especially this one. George Will has come out and said that Trump should release his returns because of questions about his ties to “Russian oligarchs.”
With 100-plus days until the election, a nominee about whom there are graver-than-usual financial questions is saying that, unlike previous candidates, he won’t make his finances public.
Suspicions about foreign interference in U.S. politics have arisen before. In 1980, the Ayatollah’s Iranian government may have delayed the release of American hostages as a way of punishing Jimmy Carter in his race against Ronald Reagan. If you’d like a whole new field of inquiry, you can start digging into evidence on whether Richard Nixon’s campaign intentionally sabotaged the U.S.-Vietnam peace talks in 1968, thus prolonging the war and hurting (among others) Hubert Humphrey.
And of course the U.S. has both openly and covertly played a role in other countries’ politics for a very long time.
But (as is true so often this year) I don’t recall anything comparable to the current, open discussion about whether Vladimir Putin’s Russian government might be actively intervening to hurt Democrats and help elect Donald Trump. Josh Marshall of TPM makes this case today:
Trump seems really, really focused on a series of issues of great concern to Putin: the level of US involvement in Ukraine, the robustness of our security commitment to the Baltic NATO member states, the continued existence of the EU, the continued existence of NATO.
For me, the notorious New York Times interview was a key thing. It showed a presidential candidate not only threatening to blow up a highly successful security framework which has served the United States, Europe and actually the world extremely well over almost 70 years. He showed the kind of swaggering, confusion and uncertainty generating talk which is probably the most likely path to a true super power confrontation in Eastern Europe which probably wouldn't lead to a nuclear exchange ... but, well, might.
Whenever we are looking for undue influence or malign alliances, we are always trying to unearth the quid quo pro. Quids are a dime a dozen. You seldom find the quos. With Trump and Russia we're overflowing with quos and as Trump might say the best quos. We definitely do not know if they're connected. But what Trump is giving is exactly what Putin would want for his help. This is really indisputable.
We don’t know what this really means or what it adds up to. For looking-back-on-2016 purposes, I’m adding it to the record of what was known, believed, and said about Donald Trump as he continued his rise.
Update This item in Yahoo News by Michael Isikoff broadens the story, with (apparent) details of a Russian hack of a Democratic researcher’s personal email account. The researcher was looking into the Ukrainian-politics background of Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, while using an account separate from the DNC servers.
The editorial page of the Washington Post, though chronically hawkish in foreign policy, usually ends up endorsing the Democratic candidate for president. But it doesn’t usually end up doing something like what it did today. To the best of my knowledge, it has not previously run an editorial like this:
It didn’t say this about Richard Nixon in 1972, when the Post was beginning the Watergate investigations that would help lead to his resignation. As far as I can tell, it didn’t issue similar Red Alert warnings about Barry Goldwater in 1964.
But this year it has. Sample:
Donald J. Trump, until now a Republican problem, this week became a challenge the nation must confront and overcome. The real estate tycoon is uniquely unqualified to serve as president, in experience and temperament. He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions.
Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew.
Any one of these characteristics would be disqualifying; together, they make Mr. Trump a peril.
And this conclusion:
We have criticized the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the past and will do so again when warranted. But we do not believe that she (or the Libertarian and Green party candidates, for that matter) represents a threat to the Constitution. Mr. Trump is a unique and present danger.
Good for the Post — and continued shame on the “responsible” Republicans who are acting as if this were a normal candidate in a normal year.
On the DNC hack front, I don’t know enough about the merits to say much right now. But precisely because this story by Patrick Tucker is in Defense One — a non-political publication (and part of the Atlantic family) that concentrates on defense and defense technology — it is worth particular attention. This is how it begins. The blue part is my highlighting; the yellow is in the original:
Update: David Sanger of the NYT, the rare writer whom Donald Trump has gone out of his way to praise (and also a friend of mine, a Venn-diagram overlap that might never happen again), provides more evidence of possible Russian involvement in a story here. Eg: “Researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyberoperations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year.”
No one knows how the hacking story will play out, nor whether press endorsements like the Post’s make any difference in a cycle like this year’s. The point for the historical record, once again, is that these things are exceptional. Newspapers usually say they “prefer” one candidate to another — not that one of them is a “unique threat to democracy.” Foreign governments are sometimes assumed to have favorites in an election, but not to be intervening in them directly. (With the exception of the 1968 and 1980 elections, but those are separate stories for another day.)
And this is all on the record as Trump continues to edge closer in the polls.
If Donald Trump's stated aim had been increase doubts about his mental state and temperamental balance, he could hardly have done better than by putting this out. Especially by doing so a few hours after Tim Kaine’s debut as a normal-seeming person who was comfortable with himself.
Just to say it for the thousandth time: all this evidence about Donald Trump’s neediness and abnormality is in plain sight for everyone to see. And “responsible” Republican “leaders” are still trying to put him in command.
If you’d like to see a marvelous intentional-rather-than-inadvertent parody, please scroll down for “World President.”
There’s a special “debut” category for vice-presidential selections who very suddenly find themselves in the world’s media glare.
VP picks who had mounted serious runs for president don’t quite fit this category. They already knew what it was like to handle big audiences and the press. For example: the elder George Bush became Ronald Reagan’s VP candidate in 1980, but only after running against Reagan in the primary campaign. The same was true of Joe Biden, who had run against Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) for the nomination in 2008 before becoming Obama’s running mate, and had run 20 years earlier too. In electoral politics, Dick Cheney had gotten only as far as Wyoming’s seat in Congress when George W. Bush picked him in 2000. But Cheney was already internationally known as Gerald Ford’s White House chief of staff and George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War.
Then there is the gray zone. Lloyd Bentsen, who ran with Michael Dukakis in 1988, was not well known outside Texas before his famous “You’re no Jack Kennedy!” encounter with Dan Quayle in the VP debate. But he had actually run for president in 1976. (I did my very first Atlantic article about that run.) Al Gore was a relatively fresh face when Bill Clinton chose him in 1992, but Gore had staged a precocious presidential effort four years earlier. Jack Kemp, who ran with Bob Dole against Clinton-Gore in 1996, had run briefly on his own in 1988, and had a national Republican-party and sports-star reputation to draw on. John Edwards had run against John Kerry in 2004 before becoming his (very unfortunate in retrospect) VP pick.
The list of modern-era true-surprise debuts includes:
As you look up and down this list, you can think of better and worse first appearances in the spotlight. Poor Senator Eagleton’s was the most unfortunate, as you can read about here. Agnew’s worked fine at the time; eventually he became on the only VP ever to resign because of criminal charges. Sarah Palin — well, you remember. Both Dan Quayle and Geraldine Ferraro had rough starts, for reasons I’ll let you go look up. Joe Lieberman let Dick Cheney roll right over him in their VP debate.
Tim Kaine’s debut was the best of these I’m aware of, or can remember. (Barack Obama’s 2004 convention speech obviously put him on the map, but that was a one-time standalone performance rather than the extended attention that comes with running day after day on a national ticket.) You’ll get the idea about Kaine if you watch the first few minutes below. Points about why I thought it worked, after the jump
The two running mates obviously like and are at ease with each other. Compare this with any scene from the Trump-Pence rollout.
The nominee gave an introductory speech that was actually about her running mate, and then she let him talk. Compare this with the narcissistic spectacle of the “Back to Mike Pence” Trump event just one week ago.
Tim Kaine came across as comfortable with himself, comfortable with Hillary Clinton, comfortable his party’s position and agenda, and happy. Watch even two or three minutes to see how Kaine carries himself as “Happy Warrior.”
Like Pence (and HRC), Kaine was raised in the Midwest. Unlike Pence (or the public HRC), Kaine conveyed a sense of having fun—and with a little twinkle.
He deftly touched every policy and signaling theme the Democratic National Convention might have wanted after the Wagnerian tone of the Republican National Convention. His Marine Corps son is heading off to defend NATO allies—the same allies Donald Trump has said need to pony up if they want protection. He told the members of his hometown Catholic church that he would see them tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., and he talked about the duty of service he had learned from his Jesuit teachers.
And of course the Espanol. When Jon Huntsman was throwing Mandarin into his speeches four years ago, it always seemed like showing off. Neither John Kerry nor Mitt Romney, Francophones both, felt comfortable using that language in front of mainstream U.S. audiences. George W. Bush and (my one-time employer) Jimmy Carter both sort-of spoke Spanish. But Kaine is obviously comfortable with it.
I asked my friend Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China, how Kaine would sound to native-speakers’ ears. He answered (via Twitter):
See Michael Tomasky, who also thought that Kaine did well. Or as his headline put it, “Holy Crap, Tim Kaine Just Killed It in His First Speech With Clinton.”
The election is a long way away. But this was the best day the Democrats have had in a very long while and the first based on actual good news for their side, as opposed to potential bad news on the other—of the variety chronicled in the rest of this thread.
Sometime this week, you might walk outside in broad daylight, look up at the sky, and see a luminous orb as bright as a full moon. Only it wouldn’t be the moon. It would be something far more explosive: the dazzling aftermath of a cataclysm hundreds of light-years away.
You’d be seeing the light from a supernova—the final, powerful flash of a dying star.
Or … you might see the regular old sky. Supernovas are nearly impossible to predict. But astronomers have recently started discussing the rare possibility with a bit more enthusiasm than usual, thanks to some odd behavior elsewhere in the Milky Way. If the supernova did show up tomorrow, it would be the celestial event of the year, perhaps even the century, leaving a cosmic imprint in the sky for all to see.
A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.
Christopher Hitchens and I weren’t close friends—I was a lesser planet in his orbit. Every so often I felt the rhetorical lash of his published words on my back, and then I tried to make him feel mine, and you can guess who got the better of those exchanges. They usually had to do with Iraq. We both supported the war, but I supported it in an ambivalent, liberal way, while Christopher supported it in a heroic, revolutionary way. The more I saw of the war, the deeper my despair became. Christopher made it a point of honor never to call retreat.
I know of many friendships that ended in those years, including a few of mine. But something strange happened between Christopher and me. For every time he called me a split-the-difference bien-pensant, and for every time I called him a pseudo–Lord Byron, we seemed to become better friends. We would say rude things about each other in print, and then we’d exchange tentatively regretful emails without yielding an inch, and then we’d meet for a drink and the whole thing would go unmentioned, and somehow there was more warmth between us than before. Exchanging barbs was a way of bonding with Christopher.
The “crazy worms” remaking forests aren’t your friendly neighborhood garden worms. Then again, those aren’t so great either.
On a sweltering July day, I follow Annise Dobson down an overgrown path into the heart of Seton Falls Park. It’s a splotch of unruly forest, surrounded by the clamoring streets and cramped rowhouses of the Bronx. Broken glass, food wrappers, and condoms litter the ground. But Dobson, bounding ahead in khaki hiking pants with her blond ponytail swinging, appears unfazed. As I quickly learn, neither trash nor oppressive humidity nor ecological catastrophe can dampen her ample enthusiasm.
At the bottom of the hill, Dobson veers off the trail and stops in a shady clearing. This seems like a promising spot. She kicks away the dead oak leaves and tosses a square frame made of PVC pipe onto the damp earth. Then she unscrews a milk jug. It holds a pale yellow slurry of mustard powder and water that’s completely benign—unless you’re a worm.
False statements and West Wing disorder are not only inseparably linked; they’re mutually reinforcing.
Donald Trump faces the diciest moment of his presidency, a Senate impeachment trial, with a pair of distinct handicaps: shattered credibility and a West Wing that is broken into fiefdoms and often clueless about his intentions. Both were years in the making; neither seems easily fixed.
From the outside, these can seem like two different problems. But in many ways, they’re one and the same. False statements and West Wing disorder are not only inseparably linked; they’re mutually reinforcing.
Start with a president who is a solitary decision maker and who has swept aside early staff efforts to vet the material he sees. Trump now absorbs information, innuendo, gossip, and calumny wherever he finds it. He’s getting it from random Twitter feeds and old friends, from overseas autocrats and pro-Trump talking heads. He’ll repeat rumor as fact without naming the source.
While public attention is focused on the Senate, the president is making controversial policy moves.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, said days after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Emanuel’s point was that a moment of cataclysm meant a chance for big structural reforms that wouldn’t be possible in moments of calm.
But there are other ways to take advantage of a crisis, as the Trump administration is demonstrating right now. Even as the president’s impeachment trial moves forward, the White House is acting aggressively on a range of policy proposals that are politically, legally, or morally suspect, wagering—probably correctly—that the press and the people will mostly overlook them amid the drama in the Senate.
It isn’t, as has sometimes been claimed, that Trump wanted to be impeached, or that the impeachment is somehow a brilliant Machiavellian distraction he has orchestrated. The president has made clear that he wants the trial over as quickly as possible. But as long as it’s going on, the White House is using the crisis as best as it can.
And a resulting acquittal verdict would present Americans with something far worse than a constitutional crisis.
On the opening day of the impeachment trial, the Senate, in a party-line vote of 53–47, approved an organizing resolution establishing the ground rules for the trial and rejecting efforts by Democrats to compel the testimony of witnesses and the production of documents not included by the House in its impeachment inquiry. However, the resolution allows Democrats to renew their motions to subpoena witnesses and documents after House managers and the president’s defense lawyers have completed their opening statements. The fateful battle over witnesses will thus begin in earnest next week.
In December, Donald Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell succeeds in his intention to prevent any witnesses from testifying, Trump will become the first president to be acquitted by an unconstitutional impeachment process.
The New York Times’ 1619 Project launched with the best of intentions, but has been undermined by some of its claims.
With much fanfare, The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue in August to what it called the 1619 Project. The project’s aim, the magazine announced, was to reinterpret the entirety of American history. “Our democracy’s founding ideals,” its lead essay proclaimed, “were false when they were written.” Our history as a nation rests on slavery and white supremacy, whose existence made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident” truth that all men are created equal. Accordingly, the nation’s birth came not in 1776 but in 1619, the year, the project stated, when slavery arrived in Britain’s North American colonies. From then on, America’s politics, economics, and culture have stemmed from efforts to subjugate African Americans—first under slavery, then under Jim Crow, and then under the abiding racial injustices that mark our own time—as well as from the struggles, undertaken for the most part by black people alone, to end that subjugation and redeem American democracy.
In the past half century, the number of bathrooms per American has doubled.
American exceptionalism takes on many forms, both flattering (our immigrant-founded start-ups) and unfortunate (our health-care prices). But perhaps no part of life in the United States is more unambiguously exceptional than this: We have so many damn bathrooms.
With the recent victory, the association has shown signs that it cannot defend its amateurism model for much longer.
College-sports fans have generally become desensitized to the cognitive dissonances of the NCAA’s amateurism policies. The rules, which prevent the payment of cash or other “extra benefits” to student athletes or their families, are necessary to retain the purity of amateur competition, according to the association. Without such restrictions, supporters argue, NCAA sports would devolve into just another minor league of professional sports, with capitalism becoming the athletes’ sole driving source of loyalty to their university. These guidelines usually operate in the public consciousness as a low hum—background noise that doesn’t distract from the compelling sporting events that audiences allow themselves to enjoy. But every now and then, the humming erupts into a roar. And in those moments, viewers are forced to confront the system they have embraced. Odell Beckham Jr. delivered one of those moments last week.
Political hobbyism is to public affairs what watching SportsCenter is to playing football.
Many college-educated people think they are deeply engaged in politics. They follow the news—reading articles like this one—and debate the latest developments on social media. They might sign an online petition or throw a $5 online donation at a presidential candidate. Mostly, they consume political information as a way of satisfying their own emotional and intellectual needs. These people are political hobbyists. What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football.
For Querys Matias, politics isn’t just a hobby. Matias is a 63-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic. She lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a small city on the New Hampshire border. In her day job, Matias is a bus monitor for a special-needs school. In her evenings, she amasses power.