A reader who is a veteran lawyer on the West Coast writes about Donald Trump’s argument that he can’t/won’t release his tax returns while they’re under audit by the IRS. (A reason that the IRS itself dismisses.)
The reader suggests that in this case, at least, Trump may have thought many moves in advance:
1. I agree with what you are saying about Trump’s tax returns. Of course I also agree with the IRS (i.e., he is free to release them; the audit is irrelevant to that question).
2. But there is ONE way in which the audit is relevant to the release, and vice versa: If Trump releases returns while they are still auditable or being audited—which, of course, every other candidate has done in the past—then the nation’s tax professionals, seeing them and poring over them, are likely if not certain to make public suggestions about things the IRS should look into, or how the IRS should look into them, that might actually lead the IRS to take a look at, or do, something the IRS might not otherwise have done.
3. The nation’s tax professionals might even detect tax fraud that the IRS might miss. That’s a criminal matter—not a back taxes or penalty matter. Which of us would be surprised if they did, in Trump’s case? (Remember the IRS caught Nixon on tax matters while he was still president; it didn’t help his situation.)
4. Not to mention that if the tax professionals make their suggestions to the IRS privately, then there is the possibility of their earning an actual reward if as a result the IRS is alerted to something that leads to the IRS collecting more tax from Trump than the IRS would otherwise have done.
5. My own suspicion is that the ranks of the nation’s tax professionals probably contain individuals, hostile to Trump or to tax cheats, who ARE aware of tricks the IRS has not yet suspected or at least fully caught up with (there are always new tricks) among taxpayers with really complex returns.
6. At a minimum, the IRS would have a greatly expanded army of volunteer auditors in Trump’s case!
Of course, these are all problems that Trump should have thought of before he became a candidate. Perhaps he did, hence the unequivocal nature of his stonewalling. And if Russia really wanted to prove that they are not partial to Trump, and if his returns were filed by his team or are kept by the IRS in electronic form, then the Russians could release his returns for him. Somehow I doubt that will happen.
Update another reader writes:
I think you and all other reporters have missed one essential point regarding Mr. Trump's tax returns. That is, even if there was some justification for withholding returns under audit, that does not explain the refusal to provide returns for older years.
My understanding is that years before 2009 are not under audit, and it might be very helpful if someone would point this out or ask Mr. Trump to produce those returns. He won't, but at least it might help show than his stated reason is bogus. Possibly some journalist has done this but I have not seen it.
I’m a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant, now a naturalized citizen of the United States. I also was a Bernie Sanders voter in the primary, who will be voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
This is probably the weirdest year of my life politically. On the right, the anti-immigrant and antisemitic fervor is really a choice cut of hate. The apparent mutual interest of Russia and the Trump campaign has meant that on both the right and left, there is legitimate critique. However, it has also meant there’s a home for a very familiar panic about Eastern Europe and, honestly, people using the critique as cover for rank bigotry who were interested in that bigotry long before Trump and Russia were even a story. Lastly, the DNC e-mails specifically regarding Sanders’ religious views and raising it as an issue with voters WITHIN the Democratic electorate, was a dispiriting reminder that despite what has been a pretty nice life, given enough opportunity bigotry can have a house anywhere, even among friends.
However, I’m writing today to provide context for Russia’s actions, from my own experience. When Russia invaded Ukraine, they did it while putting their arms up and saying it wasn’t them, even as it was clear to everyone that it was. There were the anecdotes, of course, about the Russian military insignia of the people coming into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine being torn from their uniforms. Regardless of the truth of those anecdotes—of basically Russians barely modifying their own uniforms, doing the least amount of work to seem not like the Russian army—they got at what is a reality: the transparent cynicism of Russia, the tendency to do the terrible thing and tell the whole world they’re not doing it until they’re years deep into a conflict they can’t escape.
I wanted to mention that because in the recent stories, there’s been this emerging picture of Russia as a legitimate threat to the United States, run by a chessmaster. Russia is not a legitimate threat, and Putin is not a chessmaster. Russia is a transparently desperate country. The sanctions and financial freezes have spread Russia thin. They’ve impacted the oligarchs that run the country. They’ve impacted its long-term capacity to use war as an economic plan and perpetually hold sovereign states as territories on a whim. They’ve reduced its capacity to control its client states.
The well is running dry. And what they’re doing is the same thing they did in Ukraine. The world was getting away from them, they had something they could not control or overwhelm, so they went in to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and tried to take it through brute force—all the while putting their hands up in the air and denying they had anything to do with it. Even now, in Putin’s speeches, it is clear he is coming not from a position of strength, but one of great weakness, asking essentially for a mercy that he does not currently deserve, seeing things like the banning on the basis of doping as signs of additional punishment.
So Russia may be behind the DNC hack. We may be seeing this fight because they’re desperate to elect the man they resemble the most, because it’s the only way out of it they see for themselves. It’s not prowess or intelligence though; it’s desperation and lashing out. Putin took the spirit of the Russian people and defaced it for years, replacing it with militarism and the use of the church as a prop for the state. This was sustained by capital, by investment. And it just isn’t there any more. Robbing the people of their spirit, the rulers of the country now have lost the capacity to fund the things that occupied the void. Their enterprises in Ukraine and Syria look more like past recipes in Chechnya, Georgia and elsewhere for forever war. It’s only a matter of time before the client states, the installed rulers, are once again challenged but do not find the support they once had. It is just history cycling.
But to be clear, Russia is not a danger to us so much as it is a danger to itself. A smarter government would have figured out a way other than the invasion of Ukraine, other than perpetually hostile acts such as this hack. A smarter government would not be in a position where it basically has to cut all its own domestic programs to fund wars that will go on forever. A more gifted politician wouldn’t be in a position of accumulating strikes against themselves while demanding mercy. I think this is already the view President Obama holds, as documented in his statements on Russia with Jeffrey Goldberg.
I think this election was and remains a choice between being governed by fear and being governed by perspective, between seeing monsters all over and understanding where we all really are respective to one another. Russia’s latest transparent ploy, even as its consequences are currently being felt deeply, will eventually be seen for the desperate and unsophisticated acts they are. Donald Trump’s series of transparent ploys, his perpetual financial and moral bankruptcy, will be seen the same way, the desperate, angry flicker of a flailing movement unable to navigate a changing world. And we will live this coming January in the same country as this past January—a fractured place working to rebuild itself, to be better than its past, and hopefully a little smarter.
I believe this to be true of the United States. I hope one day it will be true for the Ukraine; that it will escape not just the specter of this war, but its older history of corruption as a necessary fact of life. And I hope in time it will be true for Russia itself, either through the reform of its current leaders or through their eventual displacement by those who want something more for their people than desolation and war. It was possible for Iran. These realities do change with the work of people who do not give up their hope even when it seems no one in power has much time for it.
I will be casting my vote this November for perspective, up and down the ballot, rather than for a Republican Party and a nominee that can only see a wolf at every door who wants to convince you that his own barking is coming from the outside. I will be describing, at the onset of whatever panic, this same world to my friends that occupy it with me, where our understanding is the antidote to our fear, where the strength of our country is in our knowledge of it.
In response to recent items on what Donald Trump is doing, four readers offer views on why.
1) Id laid bare. In response to Time Capsule #54, “They Applauded for Me,” a reader says:
Today’s Trump™ Time Capsule reminded me of another example of unaware self-revelation.
Some 50 years ago I worked with a guy who volunteered at a meeting the statement, “I don’t get New Yorker cartoons.” He said it not without pride, as though it were somehow a badge of honor. There was no visible rolling of eyes and we went smoothly on with the meeting, but the remark explained much in my later encounters with him.
In Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, Daniel Goleman recounts in the preface a story of a woman talking about how much her family loves her, and how funny her mother is. If she was saying something that her mother didn’t like, her mother would just pick up what was at hand and throw it at her. “And once, we were eating dinner, so what she picked up was a knife and threw that at me,” told as a humorous anecdote.
Trump is id laid bare, so far as I can tell, and appeals directly to those controlled by the id.
2) Big versus little lies. This next reader email is very long but builds to a worthwhile point.
Thank you for the Time Capsule series. I think a lot of the commentary from all over on Trump is missing the main question, however. The fundamental question is seldom what people do; the fundamental question is why they do it.
Any “rational” analysis of Trump will fail. (“Rational” in both the “logical utility” and in the “sane” sense.) He is not presenting a logical way for attaining real benefits, nor is he presenting himself as sane.
What he is selling is fear and anger. It is those two emotions, and just the emotions, that his supporters want. They want to be deathly afraid of the world, and they want to use that fear to justify an all-consuming anger. They are not looking for justification for those emotions; they just want the emotions themselves.
If you see his supporters as masses of the frustrated and disenfranchised who are seeking a voice at the table of power, then it makes no sense. Anybody like that would not want to be lied to. They have been lied to too many times by the powerful. Trump is an obvious liar, and he is never going to do what he says is is going to do. Anyone who simply feels betrayed by the political process isn’t about to set themselves up to be betrayed again. Those types will simply stay home on election day like they always do.
There is no point going into who said it, but it was said that “people would rather believe a big lie than a small one.” Once you lie, and once you lie very very big, then you are in constant fear of being found out. The only possible face-saving response is to use the energy of that fear to violently insist that you are right.
Once you stand up in public and say you believe that the Earth is flat, then you simply can’t back down. The fear of ridicule is so great that the only way forward is to be angry at all attackers. That anger then becomes its own validity. It is an addiction, pure and simple. It is an addiction to strong empty feelings. No one believes that the Earth is flat because of any logical argument. They believe that the Earth is flat because the panic that is caused by believing that lie sustains their desired anger. And their anger is all they have and all they want. Believing the lie is a deliberate and calculated act to drum up an overriding state of blind emotion.
Trump’s big lies are the whole point of his appeal.
Hillary’s fault is that she makes small lies (about the e-mails and a lot else). Small lies can be proven to be false, and the small liar shown to be a fool. You can say that you believed her about the e-mails, and then be shown that that small lie was wrong, and then say that she is a scoundrel for fooling you like that.
But if you swallow a big lie, you can’t back down. Any backdown would be such a loss of face, that your identity won’t allow it. You get trapped in a world of fear of discovery and anger at your critics and you can’t get out.
Most importantly, however, most people don’t want to get out. Most importantly, most people get in that position on purpose. That is why they support Trump. They live off the anger that believing a big lie produces in them.
I hate to always be bringing this up, but every year 250,000 Americans die from medical mistakes. That is over 600 a day, every day, all year long. That is more than a fully loaded 747 crashing every day due to preventable errors.
And the Wall Street Journalreports that immigrants have a lower crime and incarceration rate than natural-born Americans.
Where were the teary-eyed speakers at the RNC talking about their loved ones killed by medical mistakes or by native-born American criminals? There are only a couple hundred thousand more of those to be found than the ones they trotted out. But that is only if you believe in the weight of evidence.
There is no either sane or utilitarian reason to put the fear of immigrant criminals or Islamic terrorists anywhere within the top 100 things to worry about in life. But that is not the point. The point isn’t in believing in the truth what that does for you. The whole point is in believing the lie and what that does for you.
Trump is giving his followers what they want and what they insist on: a big lie that will feed their anger. They want to be lied to so that they can be angry at those who call them liars. That is all they want in life, and Trump is delivering the goods. Trump isn’t doing this because he has some carefully calculated path to power on backs of his supporters. He is doing it because he is an idiot and can’t do anything else. He is just a meaningless tool of the times. The more he lies the more his supporters feed off the anger those lies cause and it goes on and on.
The “Vichy Republicans” are just along for the ride, knowing full well that all they want is power and that they will get it and find a way to cover themselves no matter what happens. As you know, in politics, losing is often the best choice, because then you get all of the talk and none of the responsibility.
It is all up to democracy. If most of the people want to be lied to so that they can be angry, then goodbye the good old U.S.A. If Hillary isn’t up to bringing out the vote, then that’s the end.
But Trump isn’t stopped by showing him to be a liar. That just feeds the beast. You don’t convince someone that the Earth isn’t flat by telling them that they are stupid. They want you to say that, so that they can get angry at you for saying that, and that anger is all they really wanted from the beginning. If you are angry enough you don't have to deal with anything else in the world. It is the cheapest and most powerful drug in the world. And once you are addicted, it is hard to stop. Once you are addicted you simply don't know how to do anything else. And you want more and more of it.
You narrow his support by giving his supporters a way out. I think the best way to stop him, as has been pointed out by others, is to simply insult him. That way he will wind it so far out that even his supporters will see the humor in it. Get him to trash talk more about the U.S. and start bringing in UFOs and it will all turn into stand-up comedy even to his supporters. A good laugh puts you in charge, and gets you out.
Either that, or he starts insulting pockets of his own supporters, and then they start wondering who is next. Get some surrogates to insult him in public, and trust he handles it badly. Not call him a liar, but actually insult him. He’s afraid of the very thing he does to others. That’s why he does it. Reagan would have put on that famous smile and say “there you go again.” Trump will probably loose it.
That and when the Trump U case comes up, he’ll be shown to be a small liar.
3) Roots of his appeal. A reader with another tip:
Another magazine [apart from TheAtlantic!] I’ve recently discovered that has a lot of insightful articles is The American Conservative. Below is a link to a great article discussing the appeal of Trump to the white working class.
Yes, this interview with J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, is interesting and important. It intersects with the themes Deb and I have been covering, and we’ll return to it.
4) On Trump, Putin, and a bias toward chaos. Last for today:
I haven’t slept well since Trump’s RNC speech when it dawned me how close the alignment of Trump’s and Putin’s behavior and interests are. I plead that you dig deeper, much deeper. That you encourage your compatriots to uncover this connection.
In general, I am not a conspiracy believer, but Trump certainly is. I believe that most of us see the world through the prism of our own beliefs. Therefore, Trump believes that the world is run and “won” by using fixers, by rigging the game. This has clearly been how he has operated his businesses and been his experience within New York real estate. Trump says as much in his acceptance speech. Putin has the power and inclination to help Trump fix or tilt our election—with cyber warfare (DNC email leaks?), terrorist attacks, and promoting social unrest.
Putin has been in a cold war with us for several years now and has become adept at using asymmetric warfare against democratic nations. I expect there to be more fear-inspiring activity before and during the DNC, during the Rio Olympics and leading up to election day. Russia can facilitate terrorist groups, even fake terrorism through Chechen connections that can be passed off as ISIS. Russia could fake an Iranian or North Korean cyber attack on the US or an ally (Israel?). They can incite, even arm, the crazies in any democracy. The possibilities are many—arm some militant Black Panthers in the U.S., set off a few car bombs close to the election, send some anthrax around, release some Zika mosquitos, leak embarrassing and incendiary information.
There will be an act of terror somewhere in the world practically every day to light up cable news and remind us how scared we should be, to keep our flag at half mast.
How else does the RNC and Trump’s victory speech make any sense? He’s tripled down on chaos. He wins the election only if the electorate is scared and all we want is “law and order.” Trump is not worried that his convention was a mess, that his party is not united or that he has no staff or ground campaign; this is a cable-news assault.
Russia helps make the chaos and get Trump elected. In exchange Russia gets the Ukraine, the Baltics, greatly weaken democracies and a narcissistic U.S. President that is prone to their manipulation.
Crazy? Yes. Is Trump crazy? Yes. I believe he is crazy enough that there could actually be a direct link between Putin and Trump. Either way, whether a real conspiracy or a confluence of toxic nationalistic waste streams the only vaccine is suspecting the truth before the fact.
Western Kansas, where Deb and I have spent time over the past month, is the heart of Trump Nation in one sense: Trump and the GOP will almost certainly carry this area, and the whole state, this fall.
But if you compared the daily texture of economic, educational, civic, and cultural life in cities like this, with the America-in-the-ashcan end-times tone of political discourse in general, and of the past week in Cleveland in particular, you would wonder about the contrast.
The tension between these two basic assessments of 21st century America, and the ways in which each might selectively be true, was the theme of my March issue cover story, and of our on-scene reports from around the country over the past few years collected here. It’s also been part of our previous reports from Kansas here, here, here, and here, with more to come.
Deb Fallows has a new installment up this morning. It’s about Dodge City High School: home of two successive Kansas State teachers-of-the-year; source of civic pride; locus of ethnic diversity exceeding that of many big cities; and home, among other things, to a fishing team. You can read her report here, and I hope you will.
Process note: the balancing act within our own household and inside my own mind, between the increasingly dire aspects of America’s national politics, and the fresh and encouraging developments in most other realms, is our own local reminder of the larger challenge of trying to make sense of the national condition.
Maybe I should just fall back on the principle that was so handy in China: Everything you could possibly say about the country is true — somewhere. Maybe I should call it schizophrenia or cognitive dissonance, rather than a balancing act. But most of all I should probably keep the balance in favor of on-the-road reporting, which usually has the virtue of being surprising in positive rather than negative ways.
In a series of posts, I’ve been arguing that the well-publicized chaos of the Republican National Convention provides cautionary evidence on how the Trump organization might handle the scaled-up challenge of running a national campaign.
A reader on the West Coast says there is another possibility (and extends the kayfabe analysis from a previous reader ):
I’ve been enjoying the past few days of convention meltdown because I love the idea that we may be watching a Donald death spiral. However, a new theory struck me this morning: This might all be a trap (if I’m wrong it’s because I’ve watched too many episodes of Game of Thrones). Here it is:
Theory: Some or all of the chaos at the Republican convention is intentional / staged.
Evidence: According to NPR, Cruz didn’t go off script. That is, Trump knew what he was gong to say and he let him go up there anyway. Therefore this is no surprise slap in the face as it’s being portrayed.
Attention: Trump has consistently shown an ability to profit from attention, and chaos drives more attention. Everyone will be paying attention to his speech tonight.
It makes it all about Trump: For instance, Cruz overshadowing Pence is being portrayed as a problem, but if you’re creating a cult of personality, it’s actually a feature not a bug. Now Trump can ride in as the savior.
Lowers expectations: You remember how W played this to great effect. In other words, a moderately good speech turns into the turnaround of the century.
Sets a trap: Trump can use all the attention on the horserace (which is a media obsession) to paint himself as the outsider candidate: “All the media cares about is the soap opera, meanwhile I’m gonna make America great again! Let’s get rid of these jokers who have been driving this country into the ground.” For a public that hates the political class, the right speech tonight could be a big breakout moment. Bonus is that Hillary will look totally wooden when she pulls off an organized convention. Old narrative: well organized conventions are key to a successful presidential bid. New narrative: conventions are the band camp for political losers
For analytical completeness, it’s worth comparing this possibility with “Trump’s Razor,” as explained most recently by Josh Marshall at TPM. (Premise of the razor: “Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts.”)
My life experience inclines me to razor-style, as opposed to trap-style, interpretations of most events. But no one knows anything for sure right now.
Readers respond to this stage in our national pageant.
Is it all just kayfabe? From a reader in the Northwest:
Maybe it’s time to stop looking to political pundits to analyze Trump, because politics is the wrong lens? Trump isn’t a politician; he’s a performer. Maybe we should be asking directors and producers to explain what we are witnessing: drama, and nothing more.
Why did he let Cruz speak in primetime without a guarantee of an endorsement? Political ineptitude, or dramatic genius? It was a pro wrestling moment. Betrayal, treachery, defiance! What better way to set up a scene of triumphant revenge! Are Cruz, Christie, Pence, and his own family unwitting or semi-witting extras in Trump’s improvisational “kayfabe”?
Is this all just a corollary to PT Barnum’s quote about bad publicity: “There’s no such thing as bad drama?”
It’s getting out of hand. This reader is less amused:
One of the many concerns with watching a man like Trump edge closer to becoming the most powerful man in the world is the growing feeling that there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. And that we’ve seen this before. And that this is something new and unbelievable. And frightening. Mostly frightening.
There are so, so many rational arguments against him and none of them matter despite many of them being of the utmost importance. Years of over-the-top mudslinging have made us all numb to criticism of his very real faults. It’s not that there are Teflon politicians. It’s just that there are people who don’t care about the charges made against them. They care about ratcheting up the attack even more so that they look good by comparison. So here we are, scraping from the bottom of the scum pond for rhetoric to hurl.
It’s a certainty that the people chanting “lock her up” believe simultaneously that she deserves to be locked up, and that they are engaging in the same type of hyperbolic arguments that they think are being made against Trump. Like Mr. Goldberg’s assertion that Trump = Putin, which I can’t even tell whether it is hyperbole or not. Or Donald Trump: Sociopath?
Yet I think that none of this is effective. In fact, all of it contributes to the success of the Republican call for change, which is made more effective because the change is being proposed in the form of a very, very much non-politician. Who wouldn’t want change in such a toxic election?
I just hope someone can come up with an idea on the Democrat side, something that everyone can rally behind. Things are getting desperate.
Not a deal but a relationship. A reader responses to Time Capsule #49, on Trump’s willingness to walk away from a deal: “You always have to be prepared to walk”:
Trump really relishes deal-making and negotiations, and rightly so. The rules he plays by—regardless of whether they’re anyone else’s rules—appear to serve him well. What’s scary is that he seems to treat everything like a negotiation. As you point out, we don’t just have a deal with, say, Japan; we have a relationship. Relationships aren’t always easy, and the strongest ones require hard work to maintain.
It’s hard not to compare this to his marriages. We can’t just get divorced from Japan or South Korea or Estonia every so often and go start over with younger, seemingly more exciting allies.
The Cruz gamble:
I am a Texan and I despise Ted Cruz.
But he is one of the few to stand up to Trump. I have never voted for a Democrat for President, but this year will be the first. I would have hoped that Cruz would have done the right thing and clearly stated that as flawed as Hillary is, Trump is unfit for office. He did the next best thing.
I think it’s brilliant politics. What are the chances that Trump self-destructs before the election, or God help us as President? Very high, I’d say. Cruz can say he was right when it happens. Also, he sets himself up to run against Trump in Republican primaries in 2020 as the “I told you so” candidate. He could also run as as 3rd party candidate and get significant support as the only conservative in the race.
For any normal candidate in any normal year, an interview like the one Donald Trump has just given to David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times would cause the kind of earthquake that could change the entire course of a campaign.
Mitt Romney and his “47%” comments? Pshaw. Barack Obama and “they get bitter and cling to guns and religion” or the fiery Rev. Jeremiah Wright? They’re nothing. Sarah Palin “I read all the papers!”? Forget it. Almost every paragraph of Trump’s interview has material that should at a minimum be more controversial, and on the merits should be far more disqualifying, than any of those flaps, all of which stayed in the news for months and are still remembered years later.
I’ll have more about this interview in the Trump Time Capsule thread; I strongly encourage you to read the full transcript for yourself. (And on the “these people can’t even manage a four-day convention” theme, think of the message discipline that leads to this interview coming out on this day.)
For now, here’s a reader’s hypothesis on why Trump can allow himself to say such stupefyingly ignorant things:
Re Time Capsule #48, may I suggest a context in which to place Trump’s statements about NATO?
I think the key to this starts with Jane Mayer’s article about Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal. Schwartz says that Trump had no attention span and probably has never read a book in his adult life.
I see this as a partial explanation for why Trump knows nothing about public policy matters, either domestic or foreign. He is incapable of studying substantive material, wouldn’t read briefing books if given to him and, therefore, purports to disdain specific academic or book knowledge and expertise. Even Sarah Palin made an effort (albeit not particularly successfully) to study up on major issues in the 2008 campaign. [JF yes indeed, as I tried to demonstrate in “Why Sarah Palin Knows More than Donald Trump.”]
As a result, Trump doesn’t know anything about NATO or our various treaty relationships and responsibilities and speaks out of complete ignorance. A knowledgeable candidate wouldn’t have made those comments. So, these, and so many other comments Trump has made, are due to sheer ignorance.
He has made a big deal over what he claims are our “terrible” deals—trade deals, the Iran nuclear deal, etc. I’m convinced he has no clue what is in those deals. Case in point: You may recall that in one of the early primary debates, he was going on about how terrible the pending TPP deal was and he was asked what in particular was bad about it. His response was that it didn’t curb China’s currency manipulation. Rand Paul had to point out that China isn’t even a party to the deal. [JF note: and in fact, an central ambitions of the deal was to create a Pacific Basin trade bloc in which the United States, rather than China, is the central power.]
There is what appears to be a certain arrogance in Trump’s assertion that he doesn’t need to know policy, that he’ll hire the “best” people for that, that he has common sense and that’s what matters.
But I suspect that the arrogance masks what is really fear on his part—that he can’t read and absorb anything substantive. The evidence suggests that Trump has some real cognitive problems that should, in a rational world, totally disqualify him from elective office, let alone the Presidency.
There is something wrong with Donald Trump. And people like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Chris Christie, and Tom Cotton are still saying that he should become commander-in-chief.
A reader, Robert Henry Eller, reflects on the past 48 hours of cock-ups in Cleveland:
The art of the spiel ain’t what it was, if indeed it was ever anything else, outside the guild of craftsmen. Plagiarizing is, as Fallows asserts, something you don’t do. But before the past year, so was reckless lying, or name calling, or most things Trump has been doing.
I’ve noticed there a meme out now, growing in popularity, which asserts that Trump is deliberately being controversial, because the media will pick up controversy and run with it, giving Trump more free media time. For example, following this meme, Melania’s plagiarism resulted in her speech being watched and listened to by orders of magnitude more people than if there had been no controversy.
After the Jane Mayer article, I don’t buy this, because I don’t think Trump is capable of such deliberation. But that doesn’t mean whatever he’s doing, from whatever motivation or accident, isn’t effective. In fact, corporate news profitability focus means Trump doesn’t have to be intentional at all. Intention might even be counter-productive.
By the way, the legs under the Melania plagiarism story are not what she did, but who she stole from. (I hope the Clinton campaign understands how to cash in on this.) Had Melania stole from someone inside her reservation, the story might have crawled, but then died sooner.
Likewise, I don’t think Junior’s plagiarism will play too long. Frankly, I think a large part of the public believes that this is exactly how speeches get “written,” and in a growing number of cases, I suspect they’re on to something. Likewise, particularly among the converted, no one is looking for new ideas, or originality. New ideas and originality may in fact confuse them. And in fact, what Junior lifted, or had lifted for him, was metaphorical fog to begin with.
Here is the RNC'a chief strategist citing My Little Pony to argue that Melania Trump did not plagiarize her speech pic.twitter.com/eRifu41wHC
There are many reasons not to plagiarize—not only ethical and political consequence, but also the exercise and strengthening of the writers mind and communication skills. But we’re playing by two sets of rules here, and I wish I knew how and why that happened. Hillary has an email “scandal” and it doesn’t go away. Conde Rice and Colin Powell, not to mention Karl Rove and company, transgress email protocols—and zip. We’ll be hearing about Benghazi for the rest of our lives, but W.’s embassy and consulate tragedies? Crickets.
It’s an embarrassing screw up; clearly the passages were lifted, and a half-assed attempt was made to vary them by changing a word or two. Sad thing is, Melania actually did a good job in the delivery. This didn’t have to happen.
It just offers more evidence that Trump can’t/won't hire competent people. He’s ultimately responsible here. With him as President, we’d probably be subject to these kind of embarrassments on a daily basis. Seems he either hires people who are in way over their head, or hires smart people and then refuses to listen to them. What kind of cabinet would he pick as President? It really doesn’t matter; he probably wouldn’t heed their advice anyway …
An interesting but implausible theory from another reader:
Michelle Obama did not write “her” speech. A team of paid political speechwriters did. THAT is Trump’s point with having his wife repeat those words.
It directly plays into his campaign’s narrative that Washington is broken and so too are the stem to stern politicians; matters not the party or even what their highly political wives say, since many political wives and family are just part 'n' parcel of the fragmented, opportunistic and phony process that includes engineered photo ops to sell gullible, voters a damaged bill of goods.
AND Trump, once again, got the insanely stupid media that passes for journalism to give him oodles of free press, while running around with their hair on fire. The man is consistent.
Update: After seeing this epic Rickroll from Melania, I think that reader may be on to something with his “Trump is just trolling the media” theory:
This next reader suggests that Trump has credit-hogging problems of his own:
Trump, facing a crowd that had gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue, laid out his qualifications, saying, “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ” If that was so, Schwartz thought, then he, not Trump, should be running. Schwartz dashed off a tweet: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’”
As an aside, it hurt my brain when Jane Meyer refers to the ghostwriter as “Trump's Boswell,” since the underlying analogy implies that Trump is Dr Johnson. Blasphemy.
Update from another reader, Andy, who has little sympathy for Melania:
Melania Trump went out of her way a few hours before her speech to tell Matt Lauer that she’d had minimal assistance in writing the speech.
She wanted credit for it, and I think she should have it.
Last night the folks on MSNBC very quickly settled on the notion that this fiasco is the fault of everyone concerned except Melania Trump, who was clearly the victim. Bullshit.
If anything, I think it’s more likely that she herself lifted those lines from Michelle Obama’s speech than it being done by a professional speechwriter. She’s been a professional model since 17 and dropped out of college after her first year. I can believe that she didn’t appreciate the problem with what she’d done.
That still wouldn’t excuse the campaign for not catching and correcting this, but it would at least help explain how such a ridiculous thing happened.
A quick skim of the news this morning indicates that the Trump campaign is still in full denial mode—Christie is claiming that that 93 percent of the speech was not plagiarized—so this story is likely to stick around for a while. Fine by me.
Update from reader Daniel C., who sends along new reporting that seems to confirm that theory—that Melania is the one responsible:
I believe Josh Marshall has determined why nobody’s been fired [based on this reporting from The New York Times]. If true, I would hope to see some measured, gentle, and forgiving remarks from a former First Lady, Hillary, about how we are all allowed to make mistakes.
But that the lack of structure within the organization of the Republican party this year means those mistakes go unchecked and snowball into chaos. I suspect the hope with Melania’s convention speech was to bring her into the fold of spokespeople who could make media appearances and raise money, and I’ll be curious to see if this cyclone-in-the-convention-coverage has any effect on that plan.
Yesterday we made a callout for perspectives from readers living outside the U.S. looking into Cleveland this week. First up, a small dispatch from a small nation in the South Pacific:
I’m an American expat who’s lived in the Republic of Palau for the past 20 years. This is a very diverse community, and my friends come from at least 12 different countries. When we start to discuss the Trump candidacy—which most of them can’t believe is happening—I’m embarrassed to admit I’m an American. My country, which I served during the Vietnam War, has gone crazy (as Fallows’ recent cover story relates). I’ve voted in every election since 1964, but this time I have no idea what to do that would really be productive and beneficial, since I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton either. Maybe I’ll vote the Libertarian Party; at least Gary Johnson makes some sense.
From a reader in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Japan:
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr. Fallows’ coverage, but in Trump Time Capsule #42, a reader made a comment regarding ISIS’ goals in France and elsewhere as having specific political ends, and that the attacks were their calculated catalyst. I’m not convinced that ISIS has the ability to coordinate multi-theatre campaign objectives or has the sophistication to influence foreign politics for their own ends—especially as a means to rally support. (Which is not to say world leaders shouldn’t take great care in how they frame the conflict and avoid alienating Muslim communities.)
ISIS’ visceral appeal speaks to a very specific and disturbed audience: one that can only be set loose in a given direction and not tactically employed.
The Atlantic has done an excellent job in its coverage of ISIS, and my preferred theory is that the attacks resemble the flailing of a failing regime. I cannot remember the article, but it concluded the same and suggested these attacks would increase in frequency as ISIS lost more. Fast-forward to today and ISIS is being routed on almost every front, and their attacks are in-turn increasing.
As far as Trump is concerned, I think his support can be explained by the TED talk on “the golden circle,” and this study. [Here’s a clip of the TED talk if you can’t spare the full 18 minutes:
In essence, you can illustrate and factually show Trump’s faults, but he also has his own visceral appeal to a very specific demographic—a demographic that has been raised by certain beliefs and values. They don’t think about his message; they feel his message, or more accurately assign their preferred image to him. When you argue with that audience, you aren’t challenging their political opinions or intellectual arguments; you’re challenging their identity.
Personally, I’m a Democrat and I do not agree with the GOP, at all. I can say that being in the military has surrounded me with Republicans who generally vote with a red crayon. Having said that, many of the Republicans I’ve met within the service are planning to either sit out the election or vote for a third-party candidate, which may be a product of being stationed in Japan. The world tends to challenge one’s views by merely offering an entirely different set and culture. For the others, it has given me a perspective into how a Trump supporters thinks, or more accurately, how they feel.
I sincerely hope this man is never allowed near the title of POTUS, or given any power to wield our military.
For what it’s worth, I have four members of my immediate family who were career military—three of them veterans—and they’re all very repelled by Trump. (My former stepfather, while in the Army, was actually a close mentor to Michael Flynn—the retired general who spoke in Cleveland last night and who was vetted as a running mate—but I have no idea what he thinks of Trump.) If you’re a retired or active-duty servicemember who would prefer Donald Trump as your commander-in-chief to Hillary Clinton, we want to post your views—anonymously if you’re active duty, of course: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is not a systematic or conclusive assessment of conditions in Cleveland. But on the basis of walking around downtown inside and around the venue of the Republican convention, I’m impressed both by the extent of the police presence — I’ve seen (and talked with) detachments from Austin, TX; and Louisville, KY; and the Florida highway patrol; and various California locales; plus the Cleveland cops and the Secret Service — and by their relative calm and good humor. More often I saw groups of police sitting and chatting than looking nervously at groups of passers-by.
For instance, consider the photo above. You might think this was the prelude to some tense standoff. And conceivably tense standoffs might be happening as I type. But in this case, the guy on the right walked around yelling, “If you vote for Trump, you’re a racist! If you vote for Trump, you’re a bitch! If you vote for Trump, you’re a mutha!” A few people — the ones I saw all being young white men — decided to get in shouting matches with him. Most people just walked past, waved, or ignored him. You didn’t get the sense — I didn’t get the sense — of incipient, brewing confrontation.
And in the moment above, the man caught sight of the police walking towards him and immediately raised his hands. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Three of the five cops didn’t say anything as they passed him, and the other two said variants of “and a good evening to you, too, sir!”
So: things could go wrong at this convention. (I’ll confess that I felt a little strange walking around town wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.) But what I saw this evening was surprising for its lack of tenseness rather than the reverse.
Tomorrow is another day.
Bonus: Don King! He’s not speaking from the platform, but he’s still here.
A reader argues that Donald Trump, who has free-wheeled his way through his last few major “speeches” (as examined in Time Capsule installments #34, #40, and #43) has a surprisingly tricky road ahead:
I really wish former speechwriters on television would talk about what it is like to write, draft, and edit speeches with a candidate or with a President in more workplace detail. It is my belief that Trump is in a no-win situation for Thursday.
If he goes improv and not with a crafted teleprompter speech he loses.
Teleprompter with “soaring” language sounding not as his own, he loses.
If he tries to do teleprompter and several off-the-cuffs in rotation, he loses.
If he goes full on law and order, he loses.
If he tries to reach out to women, Latinos, gays, African Americans, and Muslims in one-sentence or one-paragraph only, he loses.
He faces an audience of millions of independents and undecideds who are looking for a future-oriented and not a fear-based reason to vote for him.
But he feeds off of crowds reactions too often.
I believe he is going to speak to the crowd in the hall, and go greater than 50% raw meat on Thursday. Dozens if not hundreds of political science papers comparing Thursday to Pat Buchanan’s 1992 speech will be written this fall semester it seems….
Lastly, I think Trump is really really worried about changing his $50 million in campaign loans to gifts. He has to file this, in official writing this week on the Wednesday the 20th, for FEC requirements. I think that is the document that Sheldon is waiting for.
I have seen, in person, a number of very dramatic convention speeches. Barack Obama’s address to the Democrats in Boston 12 years ago, when John Kerry was the nominee and Obama a mere state senator, was notable in real time (and not just in retrospect) as the debut of someone who would be a national figure to reckon with. Teddy Kennedy’s impassioned and ferocious “the dream shall never die!” speech to the Democrats in New York in 1980, in which he theoretically conceded to Jimmy Carter but in reality underscored his disdain for his own party’s incumbent president, was notable in real time as a sign of a party in the midst of a serious cleavage.
And Donald Trump, to the Republicans in Cleveland in 2016???
After saying a racial slur and being exiled from radio, Morgan Wallen has become only more popular. What’s going on?
It’s no exaggeration to say that one of the biggest artists in American music right now is a disgrace. Three weeks after the 27-year-old country singer Morgan Wallen said a racial slur on camera, his second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. His singles have been bobbing in the country-music top 10 and the cross-genre Hot 100. Billboard’s ranking of the most popular artists in the United States had him in the top spot for five straight weeks. Thousands of people are, at this moment, streaming Wallen’s songs, buying his records, and watching his music videos—putting money in the pockets of someone who has admitted to saying one of the most noxious things imaginable.
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
At some point—maybe even soon—the emergency phase of the pandemic will end. But what, exactly, is that magic threshold?
In the middle of January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, one day after inauguration, the Biden administration put out a comprehensive national strategy for “beating COVID-19.” The 200-page document includes many useful goals, such as “Restore trust with the American people” and “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.” But nowhere does it give a quantitative threshold for when it will be time to say, “Okay, done—we’ve beaten the pandemic.”
A month later, it’s time to get specific. The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?
A guide to America’s awkward, semi-vaccinated months
The past 11 months have been a crash course in a million concepts that you probably wish you knew a whole lot less about. Particle filtration. Ventilation. Epidemiological variables. And, perhaps above all else, interdependence. In forming quarantine bubbles, in donning protective gear just to buy groceries, in boiling our days down to only our most essential interactions, people around the world have been shown exactly how linked their lives and health are. Now, as COVID-19 vaccines rewrite the rules of pandemic life once more, we are due for a new lesson in how each person’s well-being is inextricably tangled with others’.
This odd (and hopefully brief) chapter in which some Americans are fully vaccinated, but not enough of us to shield the wider population against the coronavirus’s spread, brings with it a whole new set of practical and ethical questions. If I’m vaccinated, can I travel freely? Can two vaccinated people from different households eat lunch together? If your parents are vaccinated but you’re not, can you see them inside? What if only one of them got both shots? What if one of them is a nurse on a COVID-19 ward?
The nation’s politics is in dire need of earnestness. Can its culture meet the moment?
On Tuesday evening, at the start of his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson shared the results of an investigation that he and his staff had conducted into a well-known agent of American disinformation. “We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon,” Carlson said, “which, in the end, we learned is not even a website. If it’s out there, we could not find it.” They kept looking, though, checking Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter feed and “the intel community,” before coming to the obvious conclusion: “Cable news” and “politicians talking on TV,” Carlson said, must be responsible for the lies running rampant in America. “Maybe they’re from QAnon,” he added. “You be the judge.”
This anti-investigation, like so much of what happens on Carlson’s show every day, was funny right up until it was frightening. (Just before informing his viewers of his inability to locate QAnon.com, Carlson had attempted a rebranding of disinformation itself: “Freelance thinking,” he called it.) The most basic of good-faith searches would have revealed the reality—and the danger—of a widely believed conspiracy theory positing, in part, that Democrats eat children. But reality is not Carlson’s project. Destabilizing it is. Fox’s most popular personality, his show’s marketing literature will tell you, offers “spirited debates” about the news of the day. In truth, Carlson is simply selling cynicism. Night after night, he informs you that the ways you might have of understanding the world and yourself within it—politics, culture, science, art, the news, other people—are not to be trusted. The only American institution that remains worthy of your confidence, in the bleak cosmology of Tucker Carlson Tonight, is Tucker Carlson.
Financial confessionals reveal that income inequality and geographic inequality have normalized absurd spending patterns.
The hypothetical couple were making $350,000 a year and just getting by, their income “barely” qualifying them as middle-class. Their budget, posted in September, showed how they “survived” in a city like San Francisco, spending more than $50,000 a year on child care and preschool, nearly $50,000 a year on their mortgage, and hefty amounts on vacations, entertainment, and a weekly date night—even as they saved for retirement and college in tax-advantaged accounts.
The internet, being the internet, responded with some combination of howling, baying, pitchfork-jostling, and scoffing. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York quipped that the thing the family was struggling with was math. Gabriel Zucman, a leading scholar of wealth and inequality, described the budget as laughable, while noting that it showed how much money consumption taxes could raise.
The deep roots of America’s political legacy in Alabama
Granddaddy’s voice was raspy; love laced his hello. His throne, a maroon recliner, filled the corner of the den in his ranch-style home. On a typical summer afternoon—during one of our weeklong sojourns back to Montgomery, Alabama, from wherever the Air Force took my dad—my cousins and I would be sprawled across the floor, keeping up a ruckus.
In the evening, Granddaddy would fumble with the remote, his hands worn from years working on the telephone lines for South Central Bell, and turn on the news. He would shush all of us; this was one of his favorite times of the day. Granddaddy always wanted to know what was going on, even if he could already tell you why it was happening. He was full of the wisdom of a man born into the sharecropping South of 1931.
The first way to fight a new virus would once have been opening the windows.
A few years ago, when I still had confidence in our modern ability to fight viruses, I pored over a photo essay of the 1918 flu pandemic. How quaint, I remember thinking, as I looked at people bundled up for outdoor classes and court and church. How primitive their technology, those nurses in gauze masks. How little did I know.
I felt secure, foolishly, in our 100 additional years of innovation. But it would soon become clear that our full-body hazmat suits and negative-pressure rooms and HEPA filters mattered little to Americans who couldn’t find N95 masks. In our quest for perfect solutions, we’d forgotten an extremely obvious and simple one: fresh air. A colleague joked, at one point, that things would have gone better in the pandemic if we still believed in miasma theory.
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
Why does Elon Musk want to send humans to a hellhole planet?
There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems to sum up Musk’s vision—and everything that’s wrong with it.
In the video, Musk is seen reading a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. The book, published in 1994, was Sagan’s response to the famous image of Earth as a tiny speck of light floating in a sunbeam—a shot he’d begged NASA to have the Voyager 1 spacecraft take in 1990 as it sailed into space, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. Sagan believed that if we had a photo of ourselves from this distance, it would forever alter our perspective of our place in the cosmos.