Back in 2009, when I was living in China, I was digging into the birther issue. This was before Donald Trump made it his own. But it reflects part of the genius of Trump’s multi-year birther crusade. Let’s think about the fundamental idiocy of the line that the Republican nominee was pushing for many years. Here’s the 2009 post:
I don’t know whether the birthers are petering out on their own. If they’re still around, here’s an additional challenge for them that springs from the glory days of Mad magazine.
A friend has recalled a classic Mad riff from its “Strangely Believe It!” series, produced by comedian Ernie Kovacs in the late Fifties as a knock-off of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It concerned—well, see for yourself, in this detail of a scan of the original page, courtesy of Scott Gosar at TheMadStore.
The punch line—hardee har!—is that news of the baby girl’s birth had to be telegrammed to her mother, who had missed the plane on which the surprise birth occurred.
What’s the connection to the birthers? If Barack Obama had actually been born in Kenya, then his mother would have to have been in Kenya too! I don’t think anyone has dreamed of suggesting that his mother was other than the one he has always claimed, Stanley Ann Dunham. Presumably somewhere in the passport records of the United States or Kenya is information about whether his mother (a) left the United States, or (b) entered Kenya in 1961 when her son was born. If she didn’t leave the United States, including the fully-fledged state of Hawaii, in the summer of 1961, then by definition her child has to have been a natural-born U.S. citizen.
I recognize that if this were a matter of—how do we say?—“reality” or “facts,” it would have been settled long ago, as it has been for everyone except the birther stalwarts. But this is an interesting additional angle worth considering; plus, it’s great to see these detailed old Mad drawings.
So the point is, for Obama to have been born in Kenya, his mother would have had to get there. And there has never been any evidence of any sort that she left Hawaii in the summer of 1961. Good to have a major-party nominee admit it after many years of suggesting the reverse.
Talk about a time capsule! This is quite an amazing piece of work. Courtesy of a Georgetown grad and former Peace Corps volunteer who now works as a programmer, we now have a searchable archive of 16,000+ tweets from @realDonaldTrump since 2009.
The main page, with selected highlights, is here. The search utility is here. For instance, if you’d like to see all 63 tweets in which Trump calls someone (usually Little Marco) “lightweight,” you can just click here.
You can donate to support the site here. (I have no involvement with it or its creator in any way, except as a citizen grateful for further documentation of our times.)
48 days and a few hours to go. The Republican leadership, minus one former president, is still saying: He’s fine!
A reader in Southern California whom I’ve corresponded with over the years sent several photos with accompanying description. I’m not using the pictures, for the contradictory reasons that they are blurry looking but also clear enough that they might be identifiable. But I’ve seen them and can say that they support the case the reader makes.
Why is Trump popular? The reader says that he is the living human version of that familiar car safety device, The Club™ from Winner International.
I work on a studio lot in Los Angeles. Hollywood is lousy with liberals, so you can imagine my surprise when I pulled in next to a car with a Trump 2016 sticker. [The reader sent a photo.]
I immediately liked the owner of the Trump car, in the same way that I would like the owner of a Clinton car in the Bible belt. Going against the grain like that takes independent thinking, guts.
But what really got my attention was The Club. [A photo of this, too, across the steering wheel.]
I don't know if you remember The Club, but it was popular in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a long steel bar that you stick in the steering wheel. Truly the only way to prevent car theft.
I haven’t seen a car with The Club in a long time, but I saw one today. It was protecting the Trump car. And this, for me, perfectly sums up the Donald Trump supporter.
To begin with, consider the driver’s morning. To get onto the lot, they had to pass through a security checkpoint. Once on the lot, they were in an officer-patrolled environment. In fact, every inch of this place is monitored with security cameras.
Even if a car thief did decide to break onto the lot and steal a car, there’d be better cars to steal than this one. Suffice it to say, it was middle-of-the-road SUV. A great car, but then again, this is a major Hollywood studio. The car thief would have their pick of Teslas, Porsches, Range Rovers and Bentleys.
In short, all signs point to one conclusion: no one is stealing the Trump supporter’s car.
And yet the Trump supporter was afraid.
That’s because they know better. The world has never been more dangerous, we have never been more vulnerable. We need a wall. We need a stronger military. We need The Club.
And The Club is Donald Trump.
Look, I might be in the wrong. Maybe the car really is in danger. But I’ve spent four years on this lot without a single incident (besides my bumper getting side-swiped by a tour guide’s golf cart). So I’m going to say the car is safe.
Therefore the driver’s fear is not justified. In other words, they're paranoid.
A paranoid electorate is nothing new. I’m sure you’re familiar with Richard Hofstadter’s, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. [Yes.] I’m no political theorist, but he more or less says that we, as citizens, can fall prey to “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial thinking.”
Hofstadter is careful to point out that the paranoid style is not reserved for the right. But this year it is.
Donald Trump is stoking paranoia, perhaps even creating paranoia. And it’s a smart move. Because he is the protector, the strong arm, The Club.
One last point: I’m not saying that ALL Donald Trump supporters are paranoid. I very much dislike that kind of blanket statement (including Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment). In fact, I wouldn’t even venture to guess what percentage of Trump supporters are paranoid. But I do think some are, and I think The Club has merit as a metaphor.
And so going forward I will think of Donald Trump supporters as those who see their country just like they see their car: in imminent danger, in need of The Club.
I DO realize there are limits to the metaphor. The United States is not Paramount Studios. Crime does happen in our country. So do terrorists attacks and tons of other bad stuff. There are legitimate reasons to be afraid.
But paranoia is different, and I think this is a nice example of it.
I agree. A snapshot of part of the American electorate, 2016.
A video posted by Chill Wildlife™ 🖖🏼 (@chillwildlife) on
I’m helping my colleague Jim Fallows with some housecleaning regarding the massive amount of reader email piling up over Donald Trump. One notes for the record:
I appreciate your Trump Time Capsule serial, but I think you all have missed one. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I am unaware of a presidential candidate ever releasing his (or her)testosterone level before? Since Trump has released so little other health information, the message it sends is … I can’t find the words for it.
Speaking of the Time Capsule, this reader has an apt literary reference:
It seems this passage from Lewis Carroll “fits” your Time Capsule: Alice laughed/said, “One can’t believe impossible things.” The Queen replied, “I daresay you haven’t much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 5)
This scene from Tim Burton’s version of the Carroll classic has a certain resonance with last night’s debate:
In 1992, my most favorite car ever was stolen from the streets of New York City while protected by The Club. When I reported the theft to police and insurance, I learned that The Club is not a deterrent; it is actually an aid to car thieves. I didn’t grasp the details at the time, but as I was reading your post about the Trump-Pence car, I remembered how my confidence in The Club was disappointed and found this paragraph on Freakonomics:
A pro thief would carry a short piece of a hacksaw blade to cut through the plastic steering wheel in a couple seconds. They were then able to release The Club and use it to apply a huge amount of torque to the steering wheel and break the lock on the steering column (which most cars were already equipped with). The pro thieves actually sought out cars with The Club on them because they didn’t want to carry a long pry bar that was too hard to conceal.
So there’s a pretty rich irony in this whole metaphor: a voter who is frightened by threats that aren’t real, or aren’t statistically significant, trusts a protector who will not provide any meaningful protection, who will, in addition, make the voter more vulnerable. Trump has cheated employees, lenders, stockholders, charities, customers, and now he’s setting himself up to cheat his voters and supporters too.
Thanks for sharing the link! This is awesome! In just two minutes, I was able to answer a question that long bedeviled me: on Planet Trump, what are all the failing media operations? The answer:
The New York Times (the champion by far), CNN, New York Daily News, Glenn Beck/The Blaze, National Review, Manchester Union Leader, Politico, Daily Beast, Des Moines Register, Weekly Standard, The View, Vanity Fair, Bill Maher, Huffington Post, DC Examiner, New York Magazine
Meanwhile the Washington Post only gets a one-time appellation of “phony.” Clearly, the Fahrenthold stories aren’t stinging too much.
Fallows covered the latest from Fahrenthold yesterday. Another reader takes a big step back to try to understand this moment in political history:
Maybe some part of the electorate has always been paranoid. But like your reader [who saw the Trump-Pence bumper sticker] points out, this year seems a watershed. I can see some reasons:
1. LGBT marriage equality: Came SO fast, I don’t think people have processed it yet. As they are struggling to cope with this decidedly liberal agenda, the wedding cake mafia is not helping either. No one likes being held hostage to ideas in their own home/city/country.
2. Globalization: Everyone else is doing SO much better (esp China?!). Our jobs have gone abroad, our towns devastated by meth epidemic, and all the Dems want to talk about is refugees and queers. (Totally ignores the real issue: looming automation that is going to suck up more jobs—self-driving cars?)
3. Black Lives Matter: The mostly white support base for Trump does not like being faced with facts such as police brutality. As long as it’s mostly black kids who get mowed down, it confirms their worldview that black kids are mostly thugs. BLM movement does not help its own cause when it moves from protest to looting and arson, feeding the thug narrative.
4. PC police: “microaggression,” “triggers,” “safe space,” “cultural appropriation.” I am an avowed liberal and I find this hard to stomach. Are we sending kids to college to prepare them for the world as it is, or not? While there is no cause to engage in deliberately insulting and provocative speech (n****r, f****t, and whatnot), chilling campus speech with Dolores Umbridge-like rules and committees is beyond the pale.
5. Spike in death rates of middle-aged whites: Was in the news recently and it was a head scratcher that no one (even NPR) wanted to talk about it other than as an “interesting aside.”
6. Immigration: Again, even as a liberal, I don’t agree with mindless immigration. America used to have enough resources and opportunities to welcome everyone’s tired, poor, huddled masses, but we are not that economy anymore. Perhaps UK’s Theresa May’s approach sounds brutal, but it is commonsense: get the immigrants who will help grow your economy. Here, that conversation is long due—not the Clinton-esque I love all immigrants or Trump’s “I hate all Muslims,” but a nuanced conversation debating the pros and cons and coming up with a comprehensive approach (not going to happen in our lifetimes).
It’s been a long rant already, so I will stop by saying that all this is probably exacerbated by not having trustworthy, reliable, well-informed and principled media or news sources anymore. The New York Times (for me) lost all credibility post W’s wars. Newspapers have been atrophying and dying off. We are left with a babble of self-important idiots, tweeting their opinions. The loudest and crassest always wins, evidenced by Trump. You guys are good but mostly whistling in the wind.
Another reader also mentions the New York Times—specifically its long-time columnist Maureen Dowd:
FWIW, I listened to a Dowd interview on the Diane Rehm Show. It was transcendently awful. Among several howlers:
Dowd made many definitive pronouncements on the characters of both Clintons, Trump, and Obama. Yet when a caller objected that her snarky, mean-girl tone, relativizing of the candidates, and general levity were inappropriate to a situation in which the norms of human decency were at stake, MoDo condescendingly suggested the caller didn’t know the difference between a journalist and a columnist, and refused to engage further on the matter.
Another caller mentioned parallels with It Can’t Happen Here. Sinclair Lewis was one of the better-known American novelists of the past century, and the book is widely known. And in the last year, it would be virtually impossible to be closely engaged with the presidential campaign without running across references to the book (Google “Trump Sinclair Lewis” and you get 485,000 hits). MoDo had never heard of it.
Here’s one more reader trying to make sense of the Trump phenomenon:
I’ve considered yearning for power, the appeal of self-dealing at the highest level, and all sorts of motivations. And I’ve especially been stumped by Trump’s appeal to the masses. Really worked on that one and couldn’t come up with much. He pings the right tones for racists, homophobes, the afraid, and so on, but those things don’t really explain the broader appeal. The Trump Revealed book helped fill in some gaps but didn’t explain today’s situation. I’m a fairly smart guy with a 2+ hour daily commute, so I have a lot of time to think about this. But I think I’ve figured it out ...
It is simply the striving to be the most famous person on earth. Nothing more or less. The common theme across everything I’ve read or observed about him says that Donald Trump wants to be the most famous person in the world, and that person of course is the president of the United States. How many Americans can name the Prime Minister of New Zealand? How many New Zealanders do you think know who Barack Obama is?
As a pathological liar, nothing he says can logically made sensible. I don’t think he will even give a sideways glance to the “wall” or mass deportations or any of his promised acts if he’s elected. He’ll continue to lie and take credit for doing them anyway, or take credit for not doing them. Doesn't matter. He’ll move towards the next outrageous thing that will add to his fame. Or infamy. That’s his arc—it always has been.
If he were to get elected, I predict impeachment or resignation within a year—as long as the circumstances bring even more publicity.
And it explains his appeal. He’s Kim Kardashian, Kanye, Branjolina, Justin Bieber, and Madonna to the nth power. I’ve always felt a sense of of fandom in his flock. The same sense that makes the Red Sox the best team to Bostonians or causes people in DC to root for the Redskins in spite of Dan Snyder and RG III. They’re our team. We picked them and by God, we’re sticking with them no matter what they do.
And when our team loses, it’s the bad calls, the other team cheating, the lightweights who didn’t pull their weight. Sound familiar? The elections are rigged unless he wins. The courts are skewed. It will always be the other guy’s fault.
I’m gonna take a break from trying to think about this for a while.
James Fallows is a hero for plowing through and creating some sense out of what is happening in our politics. I tried watching some of the comments [Monday] night and by the experts on received wisdom at Morning Joe for a few minutes. And I have long been trying to make sense out of what talking heads say about this being a change election. I think what they mean is “novelty.” That is the only way I can grasp the apparent appeal of the con artist whose name I will not use. (He has enough attention.) The reader who wrote that he wants to be the most famous person in the world is on to something.
What about the many of us who want continued reasonable stability and who can’t believe the Obama years are about to end? Why doesn’t the talking head culture talk about us?
Here’s another reader, Renie:
Here’s what I still wonder after all this time (and after watching the terrible Frontline episode “The Choice” and reading the latest article on Ivanka Trump as Donald’s surrogate.) Why are women still enabling and excusing bad male behavior when the male in question is their husband or their father? If I were Ivanka Trump, I would think I would want to hide out in Outer Mongolia and never appear in public with her creep of a father or her equally creepy full brothers. He is so obviously ignorant and crooked and a liar. Why would she defend and ally herself with him?
With Hillary, I just can’t imagine the level of humiliation she went through and why she accepted it. And I am close to her age so I’ve never bought the excuse that women of my generation were brought up to accept any level of bad male behavior from their husbands. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe that she is by far the better candidate and is an intelligent and strong woman and that there is no question of who should be president. I also don’t believe that she and Bill made a political deal. That would be rational and I don’t think this kind of behavior is entirely rational.
And on a lighter but still serious note, imagine if “The Choice” episode had spent as much time on the Donald’s appearance and hair as it spent on hers. Just imagine the descriptions and the questions. When did he start dyeing his hair? Did he have hair implants? Was he wearing a rug at the time that Obama humiliated him? What about those ever ballooning suits? He even admits to a weight that puts him awfully close to obese. If he’s subtracting a typical amount, he’s actually well into the obese range. Why does a man of his appearance castigate women? So many questions that no one ever asks him.
Update from one more reader, promise:
Regarding Trump Time Capsule #119, his contractor quote (“Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work.”) seems to me like another example of the fundamental tension between the many claims that Trump has made about his business acumen and its applicability to the office of the President: his business record just doesn’t support a lot of these claims.
From the $14 million starter loan to the number of times he’s filed for bankruptcy (“us[ing] certain laws that were there”), these things show someone whose skill is having a private safety net that allows him to get back on top after each miserable failure rather than someone whose decisions lead to success. His contractor defense has a similar problem: if people are supposed to believe that he won’t be a train-wreck president because of his ability to hire “the best people,” why are there so many examples of his hiring people whose work he found lacking?
If he had stiffed a contractor or two, fine. Sometimes people do a bad job, and if you have the ability to express your dissatisfaction through not paying them, that’s within your rights. But by all appearances, he’s either (a) really bad at selecting contractors (i.e. has a horrible eye for the best people) or (b) using the threat of lawsuits to get out of paying money that he legitimately owes to the contractors that he hired, since “the best people” wouldn’t do work that he would find wanting.
Following installment #119 in the Trump Time Capsule series, which contrasted Donald Trump’s “they’re freeloaders!” complaint about NATO allies with his own “that makes me smart!” comment about not paying taxes himself, readers weigh in.
1) If this makes Trump “smart,” most people are forced to be dumb. Friend-of-the-site and Congressional veteran Mike Lofgren highlights an aspect I neglected to mention:
An important point that wasn’t emphasized is that among the vast majority of Trump’s supporters, not paying taxes isn’t even an option, regardless of how much they might want to chisel the IRS.
FICA taxes are automatically deducted, and the employer automatically files a W2. The option of setting up tax-exempt foundations, shell companies, and engaging in transfer pricing simply does not exist for these folks.
An ordinary person would resent someone who can get away with various tax dodges; maybe Trump’s supporters have such a masochistic identification with him that it doesn’t matter.
2. Only the little people pay. From a reader in California:
With his recent “That Makes Me Smart” comment at the debate, I am reminded of Leona Helmsley, famous for saying, as I’m sure you remember, “Only the little people pay taxes.” I haven’t seen anyone make the connection recently, perhaps I have missed it, but they have much in common.
I know she went to jail for a while and while refreshing my memory with Wikipedia and Google, I see that she had the same attitude towards not paying contractors and taxes as Trump does. Seems they were both friends and rivals as well. Billionaires with no empathy for the “little people” they mock and ruin. Too bad Trump is unlikely to meet the same fate Helmsley did, but it certainly would be fitting.
3. Come back, Mitt; all is forgiven. A reader points out differences between the two most recent GOP nominees:
People have pointed out similarities between how Romney explained his low tax rate at his debate (“I pay all the taxes owed. And not a penny more. I don’t think we want someone running for president who pays more taxes than he owes.”) and Trump (“That [paying zero tax] makes me smart!”).
But there’s a difference: A possible explanation for Trump's refusal to release his returns is that Trump annually cheats on his taxes and puts the burden on the IRS to investigate and sue him to get paid. It’s just one facet of his selfish personality where he derives a minor benefit from majorly inconveniencing others. Romney revealed he’d been audited at least once and was found to be in compliance... has anyone asked Trump what the results were from his past audits?
4. If he’s not paying taxes, why does he care about “takers”? A reader in Florida examines another logical paradox:
In context of the last 8 years (at least) of Republican claims about “makers and takers” and their whole Ayn Rand sensibility, doesn’t the expressed sentiment by their party leader—“I’m smart not to pay taxes”—reveal the glaring inconsistency—fraud, even—at the heart of the Republican ethos? If he’s already not paying taxes in this country—something that was also suspected of Mitt Romney (Mr. 47%)—how exactly are the so-called “takers” holding him back?
Does Trump’s statement not conflict with Trump’s tax plan, which would aim tax breaks toward the wealthy, but not so much for the “left behind middle class” he purports to represent? Isn’t he exactly like Leona Helmsley (“taxes are for the little people”)?
And yet he’s not perceived as a completely selfish elitist.
5) And while we’re talking about taxes. A reader suggests another angle:
After the debate Monday, I was thinking about Trump’s comments about forcing companies to pay a huge tax when importing from their international factories. Forget how he can actually implement that as president.
Would it apply to his own foreign investments? How is a Trump hotel in Rio or golf course in Scotland different from a Ford plant in Mexico or a TI plant in the Philippines?
I don't recall seeing this idea being explored anywhere, but after googling today, I did found this article that covers my thoughts pretty well. It’s over a year old ...
39 days and a few hours until the election; early voting starting in some places now; tax returns (of course!) not forthcoming; GOP “leadership” still standing firm behind their guy.
The people who are for Donald Trump, are for him. And almost nothing he can say or do, or that can be said or revealed about him, will undercut that support. The things that ordinarily would be considered “shocking” or “disqualifying” haven’t eroded belief among his base, and probably won’t.
But there are not enough of these people to get 270 electoral votes for Trump. There were enough to give him an initial plurality in a huge GOP field, and to keep him coming out ahead as his GOP rivals foolishly attacked one another rather than concentrating on him. But in the general election his core support has remained below winning levels in virtually all honest polls. He has so far seemed to hit a ceiling at around 40% support—sobering in itself, but not enough.
Therefore he needs new supporters—more women, more blacks and Latinos and Asians, more Muslims, more educated people, more of the young.
Therefore2, the test of everything Trump does now—the debates, the “Miss Piggy” controversy, the taxes, everything—is whether it brings him anyone new. The question is not the one we mainly hear after debates or Trump flaps: how this affects his supporters. They already support him. The question is whether what he does and says brings in anyone undecided, or new.
My guess is that is has not.
The main point is: since Trump starts with not enough votes to win, the logical test to apply, in the 36 days that remain, is whether what he does with each speech, each answer in a debate, each tweet, each flux of the news cycle, expands his base. If it doesn’t, he has lost.
Donald Trump has soaked up an astronomical amount of free media over the past year—$2 billion worth as long ago as March and more than $31 million worth from Sean Hannity alone—but an Atlantic reader, Eric, turns our attention local. He wonders if there’s a significant contrast between national and local news when it comes to crime coverage and whether that difference is driving support for Trump:
Something came to mind a few nights ago while I was watching the presidential debates: Is Trump a product of local TV news? I was struck and saw, for the first time, how disconnected the world that Donald Trump was describing seemed from reality in America—not just on the coasts, but everywhere. It got me thinking about his comments in the past regarding minority communities, crime, and social breakdown as a whole. Those don’t reflect the America you’d read in the mainstream media, hear on public radio, or see on network news broadcasts, but they do sound vaguely like one non-partisan news source that I’m familiar with: the local TV news.
I don’t watch much local news, and neither do most people in know, so I decided to look into it a little further. What I discovered was that 57 percent of American adults often get their news through television, with 46 percent saying that’s through local TV news. Considering that local news has become, for the most part, weather, traffic, and sports (40 percent of broadcasts, according to Pew) with crime reports (17 percent) and accidents/disasters (13 percent) in between, it strikes me as understandable that Trump’s “law and order” message has some resonance. After all, if the main source of news is local TV, then nearly a third of the time not dedicated to traffic, weather, and sports is about crime in the local community. Even if crime weren’t rising, the ubiquity of its coverage would give the impression that it’s getting worse.
Then there is the long running issue with racial bias in local news coverage. The go-to study on the topic is by J.H. Lipschultz and it’s called “Race and Local Television News Crime Coverage.” In it, Lipschultz mentions how much local news can shape and reinforce our attitudes about race, but one passage really stuck out to me:
[T]he reinforcement of stereotypical assumptions about race may be driven by local TV news coverage: “... crime coverage may be reinforcing hegemony by reinforcing inscribed ideas about who commits crime (people of color), where most crimes occur (communities of color), and where crimes should not occur (White, affluent neighborhoods)”
If coverage like this is still the norm (the study is from 2003), then is it any wonder that Trump’s claims about African-Americans “shot walking down the street” sounds right to some voters?
For many, local TV crime stories are their only insight into communities of color. It’s rare that the news covers the positive things going on there—with the exception of the occasional school or park opening—because they’re crunched for airtime and it’s not what viewers want. And since minority communities are generally viewed as unsafe by whites (another product of local TV crime coverage, according to Lipschultz), most haven’t spent any time there. For the near-majority of Americans whose primary news source is local TV news, crime, murder, and black go together so often that anything negative that’s said about the state of African-American communities seems plausible.
Now perhaps I’m way off base here (and I hope I am!) and I’m making a connection that doesn’t really exist, but I was hoping to posit a theory and get your readers’ thoughts.
I am finding myself nodding along with your reader who talks through Trumpism as a product of local news coverage. In The Culture of Fear, Dr. Barry Glassner talks about how, as violent crime dropped, local news coverage of violent crime increased, creating a perception among views that crime was getting worse, not better. As local news competed for ratings in dimensions beyond the joviality of their sportsman, the accuracy of their weather, and the attractiveness or tenure of their anchorpersons, they could not advertise about their propensity to lead with what bleeds, but they could certainly make the stories with blood and fire lead ahead of the coverage of the local government or consumer complaints.
Because of the nature of televised news, being a visual medium, it excels at spot news, things that happen at a time, at a place, on the spot. It is considerably less good, especially on a nightly turnaround schedule, at covering stories that have less compelling visuals and that require deeper analysis. As such, those who get their news from their local 5 or 6 o’clock news are pumped full of fear, whether it be fear of crime or fear of weather. Those who read newspapers—a declining group—get a more detailed story, and those who read news magazines might get more perspective on more complicated stories than nightly local news can provide.
As such, I don’t really watch televised news at all. I have enough anxiety in my life without a daily half hour or hour of straight fear being pumped into my house.
I’m reminded of the 2014 film Nightcrawler, a disturbingly dark portrait of a bootstrapped cameraman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal in his best performance yet) who burrows his way into the center of the local news world of L.A. by increasingly sensationalizing and ultimately orchestrating the violent episodes he records. His sociopathic stunts are bad enough, but the desperation of the deeply cynical news director (played by Rene Russo) turns into one of the most vivid critiques of the news business I’ve seen yet. It comes down to the ratings, of course, even after she fully discovers how twisted he is. My colleague Chris Orr wrote a reliably sharp review of the film, and here’s the trailer, and here’s a representative scene:
Another reader, Steve, finds that local news—at least the station he watches—engages in false equivalence and he said/she said coverage when it comes to the presidential election:
When I saw the headline of Trump being a product of local TV news, what I thought was going to follow was be something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It wasn’t. Instead it ended up hitting on a different topic ... that I've also been thinking a lot about lately. I’ll try to be brief, but I wanted to comment on both:
The first is the topic of local TV news, which is something I think gets overlooked in all the political media commentary. People watching the Sunday morning shows, or reading The Atlantic, usually have some formed opinion about the people/issues. No one watches the Sunday morning talking heads because they don’t know how they’re going to vote. They do so to reaffirm what they already believe by panel experts. (Or to get really mad at ridiculous “political opinions” getting airtime.) There was something that someone said—I don’t remember who/where—about the Matt Lauer debacle and why it mattered: most people get their political news from watered-down sources. In the big picture, the things said on Sunday mornings are much less important than than the things said on weekday mornings, tucked in-between the sports and weather.
I love my WGN Morning News in Chicago. But it’s everything from eye-rolling to stomach-churning in how much false equivalence there is every morning: there’s always a Trump controversy, and then there’s equal airtime for a Clinton controversy. Every day. And the Trump controversies are just about always something he actually said or something he actually did—lots of things that would normally disqualify someone from being president (see Trump Time Capsule).
But the Clinton controversies are usually along the lines of: someone from the Trump camp said she was corrupt; someone from the Trump camp said there’s questions about the emails; someone from the Trump camp says she’s unfit to president. Every morning, equal airtime, unequal controversies.
While much has been said about “the media” trying too hard appear fair—being too soft on Trump and too hard on Clinton in the process—I feel like that critique has been aimed at the big media/news institutions. I know it has not trickled down to the local players, where most people get their news, and I fear that it won’t in this election.
The second thing that reader Eric hits on here is trying to claim why Trump describes African-American communities as he does, and why this perception of these communities has become such a talking point in his campaign. It’s because he’s racist and he’s speaking to racists. Black communities are dangerous and not like ours. Black people are dangerous and not like us. If only some law and order went in there to clean them up, it would make them more like us. He’s not projecting what society tells us; he’s giving his audience “the problem” they want to hear is a problem. This goes hand-in-hand with his “minority outreach” really being aimed at suburban white voters, which much has already been said about.
As David Sims wrote in his piece “Alec Baldwin’s Scarier, Nastier Donald Trump,” Alec Baldwin gave us a very funny Trump, and a somewhat darker characterization than we normally see from Saturday Night Live. However, it is not the darkest or best Trump impression to emerge in this election season, and it clearly borrowed from the one that is.
Earlier this year, comic Anthony Atamanuik appeared as Trump in a number of appearances on comedy shows, often debating Bernie Sanders (as portrayed very humorously by James Adomian). While Baldwin’s had elements of Darrell Hammond’s goofy Trump, it is indeed closer to Drunk Uncle or Archie Bunker. Atamanuik, by contrast, is nonchalantly ghoulish—an uncensored peek into the dark heart of the Trump id as we fear it to be, if that were then blown up to full size and presented without any other element of Trump’s personality. Baldwin’s use of “Gina” was pioneered by Atamanuik’s Trump, who repeatedly asserted that Gina was the enemy. With Atamanuik, this is just getting started, as he will casually promise to kill everyone, repeatedly tell young women that he can buy them and even tell one she has soft skin which he could remove if he wanted.
I was blindsided by this routine when I happened to see a version of this mock debate on Comedy Central’s show At Midnight. It feels like genuinely dangerous comedy and was clearly the inspiration for SNL to go a bit beyond their glitz and goofiness in the characterization of a man who may truly be a hollowed out shell animated only by primitive drives.
Watch for yourself below. I caught the first seven minutes and it’s truly packed with talent and blunt dark humor that doesn’t feel petty. (For example, Baldwin’s Trump referring to Lester Holt as “jazz man” and “Coltrane” felt cheap and lazy, compared to Atamanuik’s inspired riff on “white power”—watch here as a standalone clip.)
A reader in the tech business offers an uncomfortably plausible scenario on what might happen beginning November 9:
What comes after the campaign of 2016? It now appears likely that Hillary will win, that Trumpism will be soundly discredited, and that people will soon forget that the contest ever seemed close. Losing campaigns are always harmless in the rear view mirror: no one has family stories about working for Joe McCarthy or Charles Lindbergh. That’s why we need the Time Capsule.
But, after the campaign is over and the election lost, Trump faces trouble unprecedented in American history*. It’s conceivable that Trump could face civil or criminal prosecution on several fronts: federal income tax evasion, mail fraud connected with Trump University, fraud connected to his charitable foundation, espionage associated with Wikileaks, illegal lobbying associated with Russia.
(* Well, there’s Aaron Burr. Warren Harding died in office. Eugene Debs wound up in prison, but he wasn’t quite a major party candidate, his offense—if offense it was—occurred years after the campaign, and his red-scare prosecution is not something of which the country has been proud. I can’t recall another example.)
We can easily imagine that some of these matters might arrive in federal or state court in the coming years. Whatever the outcome of those cases, Trump supporters will believe that the charges are Hillary Clinton’s personal retribution. And, next time the Democrats lose the White House, they will call for matching prosecutions of the losing candidate. “Lock Her Up” may have awful echoes.
As you know, this mirrors one of the defects that led to the collapse of the Roman Republic. Romans didn’t want every private complaint to stop public business, so you couldn’t bring suit against officials until their terms expired. Toward the end of the Republic, this meant that anyone could expect to be sued as soon as they left office, which meant that people had to find ways to stay in office indefinitely. Losing a big election meant endless litigation, possibly ending in death or exile.
As things stand, I fear creating the expectation that every losing presidential candidate will face prosecution.
One escape hatch could be a pre-emptive pardon. I was not a fan of Ford’s pardoning Nixon, but the national interest might be stronger here than it was after Watergate. History has been kinder about another precedent, the decision not to prosecute officials of the purported Confederacy. The question then becomes, is it preferable for Clinton to pardon Trump, or for Obama?
George Orwell said that “as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless.” He’s not wrong. Since Mussolini’s original Partito Nazionale Fascista rule began in Italy in 1922, “fascist” has become an epithet that’s as easy to dismiss as it is to use.
Yet the term remains important as well as loaded, especially in an American election season when an argument has broken out over whether the Republican nominee for president meets its definition. Writing in The Atlantic in January, Gianni Riotta addressed this question, answering that Donald Trump is not a fascist. And he would know; he grew up in the rubble of the original Italian fascism, lived its recent history, and labored under personal threats from groups of lingering fascists during their moments of revival.
Here is how Riotta defines “fascist” and why he thinks it’s overwrought to use it to describe Trump:
Trump will never master the techniques laid out in 1931 by the then-fascist journalist Curzio Malaparte in his Coup D’etat: The Technique of Revolution, which detailed the clear requirements of the fascist manifesto: Seize and hold state power with a sudden attack, coordinated with cunning and force. There is no fascism without this rational, violent plan to obliterate democracy. From Hitler’s Mein Kampf to Mussolini’s speeches on the Palazzo Venezia balcony, fascists told the crowd openly what their goals were and kept a nefarious, disciplined pace to realize them. Mussolini boasted about reducing Italy’s Parliament “to a fascist barrack,” “stopping any antifascist brain from thinking,” and “creating a new Roman Empire.”
Notwithstanding some obvious shades of “make America great again” and “the experts are terrible” in Mussolini’s sloganeering, by Riotta’s definition Trump is indeed not a fascist—that is, assuming that on November 9, Trump is having one of the days when he says he’s inclined to respect the results of the democratic election, and not one of the days when he’s not.
But the debate over the definition of fascism is much richer than Riotta covered. Some readers of his piece quibbled that there are shades of fascism and that Trump sits somewhere worryingly far along:
Perhaps it’s more accurate that Trump is “fascistic” or “with fascist tendencies” (or, more ominously, “proto-fascist”).
Another reader suggested:
Though all the comparisons to Hitler and Mussolini are off base. Trump is more like Goering in attitude and temperament: pompous, full of himself, and attracted to power.
Fascist-y? Fascist-esque? Generalissimodious?
Clearly the strict binary Riotta lays out doesn’t leave room for people to invoke some of the expressive power of the F-word that Trump seems to compel some to.
How about “Ur-Fascist”?
“Ur-Fascism” is a 1995 essay by the great Italian author Umberto Eco, who was born under Mussolini’s regime in 1932. The essay takes up the challenge that Orwell laid down in 1944 when he called “fascist” nearly meaningless. Even Orwell didn’t propose to abandon the term entirely, merely to “use [it] with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.” Eco takes this seriously, and in doing so he provides the loudest response to Riotta’s definition of fascism as explicitly evoking Mussolini’s worldview:
It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.
Just because the term is mutable does not mean it’s meaningless. The starting point of Eco’s understanding is, quite unlike Riotta’s, that the modern word has a history in Italian fascism but it need not share precise features with Mussolini’s system. It’s a synecdoche—a part that stands as a symbol for the whole phenomenon of 20th century strongman authoritarianism—in which Italy’s system figures deeply but not definitively.
See if you think Eco was onto something with predictive power in the following passages from his essay. The first:
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
And here are Trump’s tweets from Election Day 2012, when President Obama won reelection with 332 Electoral College votes over Mitt Romney’s 206 and with a four-point margin of victory in the popular vote:
We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!
Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
The Trump campaign’s messaging seems to have internalized this warning as advice:
The next entry from Eco is … well:
Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
There are many instances of Trump living up to this prediction, the most unsettling being when he spoke about his health on air with fellow TV charlatan Dr. Oz, who mentioned Trump’s slightly higher than average testosterone levels to studio applause. But the moment that most seared itself into public consciousness came in a primary debate with Marco Rubio:
Next up from Eco:
Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
Trump recently said that there’s a reason for keeping Middle Eastern refugees out of the country beyond national security; it’s a “quality of life” issue, you see! This on top of proposing to create a national force big enough to deport more than 10 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States (meaning he would like to have an armed federal force at his command). That on top of suggesting that the solution for black and Hispanic Americans “living in hell” in inner-city neighborhoods is to institute a national Stop and Frisk policy, which was struck down in New York because the way it was carried out constituted a breach of black and Hispanic New Yorkers’ constitutional rights. After it ended, crime did not go up. Nobody was raped in Central Park because of it—though if someone had been, you can bet Trump would have been behind newspaper ads seeking the death penalty for five juveniles—four black and one Hispanic—who were innocent.
Here’s the last of Eco’s truly Trump-resonant elements of Ur-Fascism:
To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside.
In July, Trump tweeted this since-deleted image:
Oh, and Trump had spent years accusing the first black president of engaging in a massive coverup of the fact that he had been born in Kenya and could not legitimately hold his office—in between accusing him of being a secret Muslim.
The genius of Eco’s answer to Orwell’s question—a question sadly also at hand in 2016 America—is that he grasps that it was the very contradiction and slapdashery in Italy’s authoritarianism that made its name stick to the larger idea. What the eyes of history have recognized at the core of Mussolini’s system is “… a rigid discombobulation, a structured confusion. Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations.”
Nobody would argue the tenor of the campaign has improved since January, when Riotta’s essay came out. Since then, Trump has even gone as far as to question the democratic system—“the election is rigged!”—most ominously by signaling supporters to stake out polling stations in districts where he’s not likely to find much support. Trump has taken on so many of the characteristics of an Ur-Fascist, the strong case is that rather than being a hurled epithet, the label simply fits. (Disagree? Or want to make further connections between Trump and Ur-Fascism? Drop us a note.)
Umberto Eco died in February of this year. But like all the greatest authors, his writing will always feel immediate. Early on in “Ur-Fascism,” he writes:
I spent two of my early years among the SS, Fascists, Republicans, and partisans shooting at one another, and I learned how to dodge bullets. It was good exercise.
In installment #137, I mentioned Jane Goodall’s prescience in foreseeing primal-dominance moves from Donald Trump if he had a chance to move around in the same debate space with Hillary Clinton. Now a sample of reader reaction. From a woman named Sarah:
You are wondering how Trump’s behavior last night played with women. I can tell you that I and every other woman I know are having a collective freakout right now. Granted, not one of us was going to vote for Trump, anyway—but that’s not the point.
Last night’s debate was a triggering event for pretty much every woman I know. That also seems to be the general reaction online amongst women I don’t know. Whether we were raped, assaulted, harassed, or in an abusive relationship, Trump last night embodied everything we have had to deal with throughout our lives. Some women wanted to jump on stage and throw themselves between the candidates to protect Hillary. Others were afraid he was going to attack her. Many wondered how she could even maintain a train of thought.
Women with young daughters are struggling with how to discuss what they saw last night with their girls. For those of us with sons, it’s a bit easier: 1) Don't be That Guy; 2) If you see That Guy in action, call out his bad behavior.
But—we, collectively, are having a difficult time shaking off what we saw last night. It was terrifying, frustrating, enraging, and depressing. Other women, perhaps, will shake it off as “all men are like that.” The fact that some women think that this is normal behavior is, in itself, deeply depressing.
I read your Trump Time Capsule #137 with interest. For what it’s worth, way back in the day I was an Anthropology major, albeit not in primates. So I know a tiny fraction more than the stereotypical man in the street.
We have a rather long history, in the United States, of electing the taller of our two candidates for President, at least when the difference is immediately visible. My thought that this is, at least somewhat, a matter of security. People who want to feel secure tend to feel so around a father figure—not all fathers, obviously, but the sort of father that Jesus had in mind when he used that analogy to describe a loving God.
But while Trump is taller than Clinton, is that dynamic in play here? Obviously it slips partly because someone looking for security is going to think Mother Figure vs Father Figure. How that part plays out depends a lot on what specific kinds of fears they are working from.
But the other factor is, would you want Trump, or anyone like him, as your father? How many women voters would feel more secure with a father who spoke of them in the terms Trump used about his daughter on that tape? I’m guessing not many.
Those dominance rituals only work if you have correctly tapped into the reasons why they work. Trump hasn't.
In last night’s debate, the Republican nominee said, apropos military policy: “General George Patton, General Douglas MacArthur are spinning in their grave at the stupidity of what we’re doing in the Middle East.”
In most of his speeches Trump mentions those same two generals. Reader Marcus Hall assesses what the reliance on Patton and MacArthur might tell us about Trump:
It is easy to see why these two military legends are attractive to Trump:
1) Both were known as showmen and motivators. This is clearly Trump’s modus operandi as well; he is most comfortable being the showman and motivator. When he isn’t in the granted position of head of the dais, he looks, seems, and acts out of place. (For example, think back to the instance in Flint where the pastor takes the initiative to challenge him as a person.)
2) Both were known to take personal animus against rivals on their own side to extremes. Think of Patton’s constant infighting with Montgomery, and his less than amicable relationship to Bradley after Sicily.
3) Both were known for strident aggressive stances against an enemy without consideration for larger picture effects. MacArthur’s blunders with antagonizing the Chinese after Inchon, and Patton’s immediate post-war desire to go to war with the Soviets before the armed forces and the country (or its non-Russian allies) could even recover from WWII.
4) Both faced disgrace at the hands of the media and at the hands of those who were better able to handle the larger context of events (Eisenhower for Patton, and Truman for MacArthur).
5) Both had authoritarian tendencies supposedly in defense of freedom.
6) Both are seen as the epitome of the “masculine” general—the ones who take action and get the job done, rather than the kind of general who sees complexity and takes a more complicated approach (Patton v. Eisenhower and Bradley, or MacArthur v. Ridgeway).
7) Both had great strengths but fatal flaws that ended (or almost ended) their careers. Patton’s consideration of PTSD as cowardly is particularly insightful, as some of Trump’s comments seem to indicate a similar attitude.
Trump’s use of these particular generals fits in line with both his own, and his base supporters’, attitudes towards conflict, war, and masculinity. These men chose to see events in binary paradigms and reacted accordingly—hero/coward, friend/enemy, good/bad—with deliberate elimination of room for something in-between or more complex. With Trump, if something’s good, it is The Greatest. If something is bad, it is totally The Worst. His choice of dichotomy helps make issues simpler and condenses them for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time (or can’t spend a lot of time) determining complexity, or who don’t want to be bothered with complexity. It makes for great bumper stickers, but usually terrible policies, especially when it comes to larger picture actions.
I keep wishing a moderator would ask Trump “What then?” when he states his preferential policies on numerous fronts. Ally with Russia against ISIS! (What then? What if Russia does what is has so far, and really refuses to take on ISIS because they are a useful bogeyman?) Not get involved in ousting dictators about to commit atrocities! (What then? Sit back and allow the atrocities to continue?) etc. There are debates to be had and points to be made in favor of Trump’s preferred choices, but no one seems capable of following up a question to get to his next steps and plan B, C, and D in case his preferred plan doesn’t work.
MacArthur’s plan if the Chinese entered the Korean War was to go nuclear, period. It wasn’t much of a plan, although it fit MacArthur’s small picture needs of tactically dealing with an in-theater enemy. When the issue became clear that MacArthur’s plan B was so poor of an alternative, Truman removed him.
However, no one has bothered to figure out Trump’s plan B to even judge how good or bad it is (and Trump himself probably doesn’t even have a Plan B because he believes all his Plan A’s are The Greatest). This is one of the tells that shows more than just about anything else that he isn’t qualified to be President. Plan A’s fail all the time. Having a workable plan B, C, D, and E is the difference between an Eisenhower and a Patton, a Ridgway and a MacArthur.
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.
Last year, John Eastman, whom CNN describes as an attorney working with Donald Trump’s legal team, wrote a preposterous memo outlining how then–Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the 2020 election by fiat or, failing that, throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans could install Trump in office despite his loss to Joe Biden. The document, which was first reported by the Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their new book, is a step-by-step plan to overthrow the government of the United States through a preposterous interpretation of legal procedure.
Pence apparently took the idea seriously—so seriously, in fact, that, according to Woodward and Costa, former Vice President Dan Quayle had to talk him out of it. Prior to November, the possibility of Trump attempting a coup was seen as the deranged fever dream of crazed liberals. But as it turns out, Trump and his advisers had devised explicit plans for reversing Trump’s loss. Republican leaders deliberately stoked election conspiracy theories they knew to be false, in order to lay a political pretext for invalidating the results. Now, more than 10 months after the election, the country knows of at least five ways in which Trump attempted to retain power despite his defeat.
After last year’s eerie lull, flu viruses could be poised to return packing a bigger punch.
On Saturday morning, I finally rolled up my sleeve for the vaccine I’d been waiting for all summer: my annual flu shot, a technological marvel that I opt to receive every fall.
During non-pandemic times, the flu vaccine is a hot autumn commodity that holds a coveted place in the public-health spotlight. As of late, though, the shot’s been eclipsed by the prominence of its COVID-blocking cousins, fueled by debates over boosters and mandates. It’s also been a while since we’ve had to tussle with the flu directly. Thanks to the infection-prevention measures the world took to fight SARS-CoV-2 when the pandemic began, many other respiratory viruses vanished. Last winter, we essentially had “no flu season at all,” Florian Krammer, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, told me. The human attention span is short; the flu’s brief sabbatical might have purged it from our minds at an inopportune time.
The Illinois representative thought the GOP was filled with democracy-loving internationalists. Now he sees the party as a corrupt shell of itself.
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Political courage is a fascinating phenomenon, particularly at moments when it is largely absent. Which is why I’m so interested in the imperiled career of Representative Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has described Donald Trump’s demagogy for what it is—a danger to the republic—and who possesses spine enough to excoriate members of his own party for succumbing to Trump’s imbecilic authoritarianism.
As Anne Applebaum described so well in her Atlantic cover story last year, “We all feel the urge to conform; it is the most normal of human desires.” Her essay, “History Will Judge the Complicit,” made the argument that collaboration, and not dissent, is the default posture of frightened humans, including and especially careerist politicians. Dissent can often lead to social and political death (and sometimes, physical death), and, as we’ve learned in the months following the insurrection of January 6, most Republicans would sooner cast people like Kinzinger into the wilderness than risk ostracism.
These words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The plane was dark and quiet. A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response, something to the effect of “I wish I was dead.”
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams—perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started.
The jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of America’s local hierarchies.
American wealth and power usually have a certain look: glass-walled penthouse apartments in glittering urban skyscrapers, sprawling country mansions, ivy-covered prep schools, vacation homes in the Hamptons. These are the outward symbols of an entrenched oligarchy, the political-economic ruling class portrayed by the media that entertains us and the conspiracy theories that animate the darker corners of the American imagination.
The reality of American wealth and power is more banal. The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of the local hierarchies that govern daily life for tens of millions of people. Donald Trump grasped this group’s existence and its importance, acting, as he often does, on unthinking but effective instinct. When he crowed about his “beautiful boaters,” lauding the flotillas of supporters trailing MAGA flags from their watercraft in his honor, or addressed his devoted followers among a rioting January 6 crowd that included people who had flown to the event on private jets, he knew what he was doing. Trump was courting the support of the American gentry, the salt-of-the-earth millionaires who see themselves as local leaders in business and politics, the unappreciated backbone of a once-great nation.
Why targets of deliberate deception often hesitate to admit they’ve been deceived
Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’” Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.
Missouri is suffering one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the country. Some hospitals are rapidly running out of ICU beds. To Americans who rushed to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, some Missourians’ desire for secrecy is difficult to understand. It’s also difficult to square with the common narrative that vaccine refusal, at least in conservative areas of the country, is driven by a lack of respect or empathy from liberals along the coasts. “Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics—or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all,” lamented a recent article in the conservative National Review. Writers across the political spectrum have urged deference and sympathy toward holdouts’ concerns about vaccine side effects and the botched CDC messaging about masking and airborne transmission early in the pandemic. But these takes can’t explain why holdouts who receive respect, empathy, and information directly from reliable sources remain unmoved—or why some people are afraid to tell their loved ones about being vaccinated.
Eventually we might all have to deal with COVID-19—but a shorter, gentler version, thanks to vaccines.
Boghuma Kabisen Titanji was just 8 years old when the hyper-contagious virus swept through her classroom. Days later, she started to feel feverish, and developed a sparse, rosy rash. Three years after being fully dosed with the measles vaccine, one of the most durably effective immunizations in our roster, Titanji fell ill with the very pathogen her shots were designed to prevent.
Her parents rushed her to a pediatrician, worried that her first inoculations had failed to take. But the doctor allayed their fears: “It happens. She’ll be fine.” And she was. Her fever and rash cleared up in just a couple of days; she never sickened anyone else in her family. It was, says Titanji, now an infectious-disease physician and a researcher at Emory University, a textbook case of “modified” measles, a rare post-vaccination illness so mild and unthreatening that it doesn’t even deserve the full measles name.
On the day that SpaceX’s first space tourists launched, Elon Musk was there at Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, to see them off, cheering as the private astronauts walked to the Teslas that would take them to suit up. And after they landed safely, having orbited Earth about 45 times, Musk was there again to congratulate them in person.
The Inspiration4 mission marked SpaceX’s fourth successful human spaceflight, and a SpaceX official says the company wants to fly paying customers “three, four, five, six times a year at least.” In this era’s space race among private companies, Musk’s SpaceX pulled ahead on essentially every measure but one—giving the CEO a lift above the atmosphere. Branson did it, Bezos did it—so why hasn’t Musk himself flown yet?
The pandemic was a big social experiment that sent asthma attacks plummeting.
Nicole Lawson spent the beginning of the pandemic incredibly worried about her daughter, who has asthma. Five-year-old Scarlett’s asthma attacks were already landing her in the ER or urgent care every few months. Now a scary new virus was spreading. Respiratory viruses are known triggers of asthma attacks, and doctors also feared at the time that asthma itself could lead to more severe coronavirus infections. So Lawson’s family in Ohio hunkered down quickly and masked up often to keep Scarlett healthy.
The ensuing months, to everyone’s surprise, turned into “this beautiful year,” Lawson told me. Scarlett hasn’t had a single asthma attack. Not a single visit to the ER. Nothing. She’s breathing so much better, and all it took was a global pandemic that completely upended normal life.