People will look back on this era in our history to see what was known about Donald Trump while Americans were deciding whether to choose him as president. Here’s a running chronicle from James Fallows on the evidence available to voters as they make their choice, and of how Trump has broken the norms that applied to previous major-party candidates. (For a Fallows-led, ongoing reader discussion on Trump’s rise to the presidency, see “Trump Nation.”)
Robert Gates is as experienced a national-security figure as America now has. He joined the Air Force when Lyndon Johnson was president and has served under every president, Republican and Democratic, since then. He was deputy CIA director under Ronald Reagan, CIA director under the first George Bush, and Secretary of Defense under both the second George Bush and the only Barack Obama. He is also very sure-footed in bureaucratic, domestic, and international politics, as his long record of appointments might suggest and as his surprisingly score-settling memoirDuty makes clear. In foreign policy he is more “realist” than neocon.
In an essay for the the Wall Street Journal this week, Gates takes a little time getting to his conclusion, including laying out the reasons he’s lukewarm to (his onetime Cabinet colleague) Hillary Clinton. But conclude he does, in forthright terms:
At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.
If you’re keeping score at home, here are some of the senior figures who have declared Donald Trump “unfit,” “dangerous,” “reckless,” or in other ways unsuitable for service as President:
Apart from Gates, two other former CIA heads, including one who said Trump had become “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” in #70;
A former Prime Minister of Sweden, calling Trump “a serious threat to the security of the West,” #61;
Some 50 former military, intelligence, and foreign-policy appointees from Republican administrations, “most reckless president in American history,” #72;
Another 160-plus foreign policy experts—“Mr. Trump’s foreign policy vision has inspired alarm … in allied capitals throughout the world”—also #61;
A former Republican president, by implication in saying that he would take the unprecedented step of voting for the Democratic rival, #107.
So it stands with 47 days to go, no tax records or non-Dr. Bornstein medical information forthcoming, and the Republican establishment saying: He’s fine.
To say it once more: nothing like this has happened before.
Colin Powell? Condi Rice? George Tenet? Your G.W. Bush-era Cabinet colleagues Robert Gates, and before him Henry Paulson, Michael Hayden, Michael Chertoff, John Negroponte, Tom Ridge, and others have set the precedent of doing the right thing. Dick Cheney will never do so, but you have the opportunity, and not just in leaked emails.
Today’s harvest of things that haven’t happened in presidential campaigns before:
1. Diplomats. As the Washington Postreported yesterday, some 75 former prominent former ambassadors and other diplomats, from Republican and Democratic administrations alike, signed an open letter opposing Donald Trump and, more strikingly, going on outright to endorse Hillary Clinton.
The full text of the letter and list of names is here. Sample of their argument:
We have served Republican and Democratic Presidents with pride and enthusiasm.
None of us will vote for Donald J. Trump.
Each of us endorses Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Because the stakes in this election are so high, this is the first time many of us have publicly endorsed a candidate for President.Very simply, this election is different from any election we can recall. One of the candidates—Donald J. Trump—is entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief. …
We fear the damage that such ineptitude could cause in our closest relationships as well as the succor it might offer our enemies.
By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s handling of foreign affairs has consistently sought to advance fundamental U.S. interests with a deep grounding in the work of the many tens of thousands of career officers on whom our national security depends. Not every one of us has agreed with every decision she made (and the same would be true of every one of her predecessors), but we have profound respect for her skills, dedication, intelligence, and diplomacy.
If you’ve followed international affairs, you’ll recognize a lot of names on this list, including a number who were prominent under Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes.
This statement follows similar anti-Trump and/or pro-Clinton statements by former intelligence officers, foreign-policy officials and scholars, military figures, and others, as summarized in dispatch #109. Some veterans of the foreign-policy world express their preferences during each election. I am aware of nothing comparable to this, from usually above-the-fray career diplomats. It’s a bookend to the also-remarkable statement from 50 Republican former cabinet members and other senior officials, who said Trump would be “the most reckless president in American history.”
2. The Boss. In some different political world, you might imagine Donald Trump being so authentic a vessel for the interests of left-behind America that Bruce Springsteen would want to tour with and support him. (This 2014 Politico article by Marc Dolan about Springsteen’s political evolution, from apolitical rock star to someone conscious of being a voice of the working class, is fascinating.)
Instead, in a new interview with Brian Hitt of Rolling Stone, Springsteen leads off by saying:
The republic is under siege by a moron, basically. The whole thing is tragic. Without overstating it, it's a tragedy for our democracy.
In the context of “under siege by a moron,” the brilliant teaser for Frontline’s The Choice is worth watching very closely. The final minute of this video has become famous in the past 24 hours, for Omarosa Manigault’s soliloquy: “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”
But the five-minute clip as a whole suggests that rage at being disrespected is a very important part of Trump’s drive right now. The clip focuses on Barack Obama’s relentless public mockery of Trump at the White House Correspondents Dinner five years ago. I was there at the time, in easy eyeshot of Trump, and I recall him looking even more steamingly bitter than you can see in this clip. Frontline suggests that those few minutes of public ridicule played more than a small part in the “siege by a moron” predicament the U.S. confronts today.
Whether or not that stands up, it’s obvious that the quest to dominate, to be seen as dominant, to humiliate, to get revenge, plays an even larger part in Trump’s mixture of motivation than for politicians as a whole. The theme of “I’ll show them!” is of course familiar in our politics. Lyndon Johnson was going to show the Ivy-League boys who looked down on him. Richard Nixon was going to show everybody. Jimmy Carter was hyper-conscious of anti-Southern snobbery. And on down a long list.
But what we’re seeing with this man is something new.
3. Enquirer. In installment #97 I noted that the Dallas Morning News, whose editorial page is as reliably conservative as any in the country, came out and endorsed Hillary Clinton. The also-very-conservative Richmond Times Dispatch took the halfway-house step of endorsing Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
Today the Cincinnati Enquirer, a rival to the DMN for most-conservative title, joined it in an editorial titled “It has to be Hillary.” Sample of the argument:
The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for almost a century—a tradition this editorial board doesn’t take lightly. But this is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times. Our country needs calm, thoughtful leadership to deal with the challenges we face at home and abroad. We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst.
That’s why there is only one choice when we elect a president in November: Hillary Clinton.
I am a Democrat by voting history and small-l liberal in most policy preferences. My esteem for small-c conservatives and capital-R Republicans who are willing to recognize the reality of Trump steadily rises. If Trump had remained a Democrat and somehow became that party’s nominee, I would swallow hard and vote for any sane-world Republican who ran against him. Thus I respect the conservatives and Republicans who are taking the counterpart step.
So it stands with 45 days until the election, three days until the first debate, and still no tax data forthcoming from Trump—a point the Enquirer addressed this way:
His refusal to release his tax returns draws into question both Trump’s true income and whether he is paying his fair share of taxes. Even if you consider Trump a successful businessman, running a government is not the same as being the CEO of a company. The United States cannot file bankruptcy to avoid paying its debts.
Most campaign ads, like most billboards or commercials, are unimaginative and formulaic. Our candidate is great! Their candidate is terrible! Choose us!
With the huge majority of political ads, you would look back on them long after the campaign only for time-warp curio purposes—Look at the clothes they wore in the ’80s! Look how corny “I like Ike!” was as a slogan! Look how young [Mitch McConnell / Bill Clinton / Al Gore] once was!—or to find archeological samples of the political mood of a given era.
The few national-campaign ads that are remembered earn their place either because they were so effective in shifting the tone of the campaign, as with George H. W. Bush’s race-baiting “Revolving Door” ad against Michael Dukakis in 1988; or because they so clearly presented the candidate in the desired light, as with Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” ad in 1984. Perhaps the most effective campaign advertisement ever, especially considering that it was aired only one time, was Lyndon Johnson’s devastating “Daisy Girl” ad, from his campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964. The power of the Daisy Girl ad was of course its dramatizing the warning that Goldwater might recklessly bring on a nuclear war.
It’s impossible to judge these things in real time, but I think there’s a good chance that “Mirrors,” an ad released this week by the Hillary Clinton campaign and shown after the jump, is another one that people will look back on.
You can say what you want about Hillary Clinton’s performance skills as a campaigner, and we’ll have another important chance to assess them just two days from now in the first debate. (Preview here.)
But I think it is hard to dispute that her video-ad team is very skillful. Consider also their “Role Models” ad from two months ago:
Noting this for the record, with 44 days and a few hours to go, as one more aspect of the 2016 campaign that people may re-visit years from now.
Probably because she is so very familiar a figure on the U.S. political scene, Hillary Clinton’s pioneering role as potentially America’s first female president has attracted less sizzle than the brand-new Barack Obama did during the 2008 campaign, as potentially the first black president. But an ad like “Mirrors” may make the point more pointedly than another “glass ceiling” speech.
Donald Trump tweeted today that he has invited Gennifer Flowers, subject of controversies involving Bill Clinton’s infidelities when he was governor of Arkansas, to sit in the front row during his first debate next week against Hillary Clinton. This is in apparent retaliation for Hillary Clinton’s reportedly inviting Mark Cuban, anti-Trump billionaire, to sit at the debate.
Obvious time-capsule point #1: Nothing like this has happened in a general-election race before.
Head-scratcher point #2: Trump is running against the first female major-party nominee in U.S. history. And he focuses attention, in this important first debate, on a decades-old controversy? Involving the nominee’s husband? Whom she has stayed with through more than 40 years of marriage? And whom the Republican party of the 1990s destroyed itself trying to impeach?
Noted for the record, since nothing like this has happened before:
1) Business leaders. Rebecca Ballhaus and Brody Mullins of the WSJsurveyed political donation records from the CEOs of the Fortune 100 largest companies in the United States. Historically and by class interest, this is a group that would generally vote Republican and support GOP candidates.
This year none of them (zero) have made donations to Donald Trump’s campaign. Four years ago, nearly one-third of them gave to Mitt Romney. In this year’s cycle, 19 have given to other Republican candidates, and 11 have given to Hillary Clinton.
You could take this as a sign of Trump finally standing up against the elite. Or, you could take it as a sign that people who know something about business want nothing to do with Donald Trump.
2) Opinion leaders. It’s possible that the survey here in Wikipedia is incomplete—because, it’s Wikipedia! But it appears that of the dozen or so major publications that have made general-election endorsements so far, none (zero) have supported Donald Trump.
Both the Los Angeles Times, one of my boyhood hometown papers (along with the Redlands Daily Facts and the San Bernardino Sun), and the New York Times have weighed in this weekend. Each is worth reading in full, but I’ll offer samples.
The LATendorsement begins this way, and then gets harsher:
American voters have a clear choice on Nov. 8. We can elect an experienced, thoughtful and deeply knowledgeable public servant or a thin-skinned demagogue who is unqualified and unsuited to be president.
You can see the headline of the LAT editorial below.
And as for the NYT, which is mainly a positive case for Hillary Clinton and her accomplishments, it makes a point similar to Bernie Sanders’s on the much- huffed-about email controversy:
We believe Mr. Trump to be the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history…
Mrs. Clinton ... has learned hard lessons from the three presidents she has studied up close. She has also made her own share of mistakes. She has evinced a lamentable penchant for secrecy and made a poor decision to rely on a private email server while at the State Department. That decision deserved scrutiny, and it’s had it. Now, considered alongside the real challenges that will occupy the next president, that email server, which has consumed so much of this campaign, looks like a matter for the help desk. And, viewed against those challenges, Mr. Trump shrinks to his true small-screen, reality-show proportions
It might not seem surprising that the NYT would endorse the Democratic candidate. It is, or should be, very surprising that the Dallas Morning News and the Cincinnati Enquirer would do so, given that they have been rock-ribbed Republican editorial-page operations for generations.
3) Conservative national-security leaders. It is similarly surprising that Donald Gregg, who was national security advisor to George H.W. Bush during his time as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, has come out saying that he would vote for Hillary Clinton. Sample:
"We now have a person at the top of the Republican ticket who I believe is dangerous, doesn't understand the complex world we live in, doesn't care to, and is without any moral or international philosophy," Gregg said in a statement.
"I’ve met Hillary Clinton a number of times and followed her career in public service. I'm impressed with her knowledge and experience. She would make an extremely good president."
Really, the likes of this have not happened before.
There are 43 days and a few hours until the election; early voting starting soon; the GOP candidate is still stonewalling on his tax returns, which if he wins will mean (among other things) that no candidate ever again will bother to release tax information; and the GOP establishment is still saying: He’s fine.
In the waning moments before this evening’s first debate, let me note another remarkable story by David Fahrenthold in the WashingtonPost that in any other campaign would by itself qualify as major news.
Fahrenthold reports just now another entanglement between Trump’s business interests and his ostensibly charitable foundation. You should read all the details in his story, but in essence: Trump directed some of his business partners to take at least $2.3 million in money they owed him as normal business expenses, and instead send that money to the Trump Foundation as “donations.”
Why does this matter? Because at face value it’s a tax dodge.
The person or company paying the money gets to classify the payment as a tax-deductible charitable donation rather than a normal business expense, which in many cases would mean more favorable tax treatment.
Trump and his companies, which earned this money as income, never have to report it as income at all, and therefore never pay the resulting taxes on it—federal, state, city, payroll, etc. This is so even though, as Fahrenthold has shown in other stories, Trump then freely used the Foundation’s money to pay personal, political, or business expenses. As he summarized in today’s story:
Previously, The Post reported that the Trump Foundation appears to have violated laws against “self-dealing,” which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to help themselves. In particular, Trump appeared to use $258,000 from the charity to help settle lawsuits involving a golf course and an oceanside club. Trump also spent charity money to buy two portraits of himself, including one that he hung in the bar of one of his golf resorts in Florida.
If Trump had reported the money as personal income, and then donated it to the foundation, he would have received some tax benefits—but because of deduction-limits and for other reasons, he almost certainly would have owed more tax than he does by not reporting the income at all. Exactly how much money he might have saved is impossible for outsiders to say, since he has refused to turn over his tax returns.
In my memory of politics, this is the closest thing we have seen to prima facie evidence of financial misconduct since Spiro Agnew had to resign as vice president for accepting cash bribes.
Is this unusual? It certainly seems that way to me. But don’t listen to me; listen to the actual expert Fahrenthold quotes: “‘This is so bizarre, this laundry list of issues,’ said Marc Owens, the longtime head of the Internal Revenue Service office that oversees nonprofit organizations who is now in private practice. ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever seen this, and I’ve been doing this for 25 years in the IRS, and 40 years total.’”
No nominee in the modern era has had financial arrangements as tangled as Trump’s. Every single major-party nominee since Richard Nixon has disclosed his taxes. Trump, alone, stonewalls. If he gets away with it, this norm in campaign transparency probably will not be restored.
Every time Fahrenthold asked Trump or his representatives about these transactions, they flat-out denied any of them had taken place, until presented one-by-one with evidence to the contrary. Implication: Anything else they say about his finances should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Also: Presumably there is a reason he refuses to release the information all other recent nominees have turned over.
For years, and most recently yesterday on the front page of the New York Times, the affairs of the Clinton Foundation, have been the subject of stories about “lingering questions,” “clouds of doubt,” “images of corruption.” Nothing that has even been alleged about Clinton Foundation finances comes close to what is now on the record about the Trump Foundation. This is not a rationalization of anything the Clintons have done wrong; but it underscores the difference in scale between the two operations.
Forty-two days and a few hours until the election; two hours until the debate.
Details later, because I start very early tomorrow morning, but: in the history of debates I’ve been watching through my conscious lifetime, this was the most one-sided slam since Al Gore took on Dan Quayle and (the very admirable, but ill-placed) Admiral James B. Stockdale (“Who am I? Why am I here?”) in the vice presidential debate of 1992.
Donald Trump rose to every little bit of bait, and fell into every trap, that Hillary Clinton set for him. And she, in stark contrast to him, made (almost) every point she could have hoped to make, and carried herself in full awareness that she was on high-def split-screen every second. He was constantly mugging, grimacing, rolling his eyes—and sniffing. She looked alternately attentive and amused.
If you were applying the famous “How does this look with the sound turned off?” test, you would see a red-faced and angry man, and a generally calm-looking woman. Hillary Clinton’s most impressive performance-under-public-attack so far had been the 11-hour Benghazi Commission hearings. This was another 90 minutes more or less in the same vein.
(Is this strictly a partisan judgment, since obviously I believe Donald Trump should not become president? I don’t think so. I had no problem saying that for foreseeable reasons, Mitt Romney clearly bested Barack Obama in their first debate four years ago. Similarly, George W. Bush showed surprising strength against Al Gore in their 2000 debates.)
I don’t expect that this evening will change the minds of any of Trump’s committed supporters. But they have topped off at around 40 percent of the electorate. The question is the effect it will have on undecideds in a handful of crucial states. Especially undecided women (seeing Trump constantly interrupt Clinton while she was talking, and end up challenging her “stamina”), non-whites (hearing his praise for stop-and-frisk), and environmentally conscious younger and older people (hearing him say, falsely, that he had never said that climate change was a hoax engineered by the Chinese). We’ll see.
For now, a bad evening for the Republican nominee. Details soon.
There’s no way to tell which moments might end up being remembered from last night’s first Clinton-Trump debate.
Perhaps Donald Trump’s implicit confirmation that he had not paid taxes (“That’s called smart!”)? Or his acknowledgement that he’d “sort of hoped” for and profited from the devastating crash of housing values in 2008 (“That’s called business, by the way”)? His Montgomery Burns-like comment that he had not paid subcontractors because “he was not satisfied with their work”? His frequent “manterruptions” of Hillary Clinton (“Wrong!”) or talking over her answers, as a modern counterpart of Rick Lazio’s over-aggressive stage manners toward her during their New York Senate debates in 2000? His resurrection of his false claims that Hillary Clinton had started the birther movement, and that he had opposed the Iraq war?
We won’t know for a while. But there’s a good chance that the already-famous exchange in the debate’s final few minutes, about the beauty-pageant winner he called “Miss Piggy,” will have a lingering effect.
The NBC story about it is here and the NYT’s is here; NBC is the source of the video below. Their subject is of course Alicia Machado, a one-time Miss Venezuela who was chosen as Miss Universe in the period when Donald Trump was in charge of the Miss Universe pageant.
After her victory, she began gaining weight—and as the NYT reported back in May, Trump hectored her so relentlessly about being “fat” that she essentially had a breakdown. As the earlier story said:
Mr. Trump said he had pushed her to lose weight. “To that, I will plead guilty,” he said, expressing no regret for his tactics.
But the humiliation, Ms. Machado said, was unbearable. ... “I was sick, anorexia and bulimia for five years,” she said. “Over the past 20 years, I’ve gone to a lot of psychologists to combat this.”
Why might this be a moment that matters?
Trump is trailing among women voters, while running against the first-ever female major-party nominee; and the episode reminds women of the oppressive power of being judged on looks (as Susan Chira writes about in the NYT).
He is trailing badly with Hispanic voters, and this is a reminder that he called a pageant winner from Latin America “Miss Housekeeping.”
He won’t let it go. This is the incredible part. When asked about the episode this morning onFox and Friends, part of the only network he will deal with any more, Trump dug in deeper, much as he had with Captain Khan’s family. You can see for yourself below if you’d like. Sample: “She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”
Will this matter? Will it be, like “Mexican judge” (installment #7) or the Khan family (#65), something that seems incredible at the time but then is sort of factored into the “normal” reality of Trump? I don’t know. But noting it for the record, with 41 days to go.
In my current debate story I quote a body-language expert named Jack Brown on a surprising aspect of Donald Trump’s performance skills. Brown argues that while Trump’s gestures and expressions seem unusually operatic, they actually cover a smaller range of variation that most people’s do. You can go to the article for the rationale, but the non-obvious upshot, according to Brown, is that it is easier for Trump to lie “convincingly” than for most other people. There are fewer “tells” in his face and expression.
This is a way of setting up, for the record, another extraordinary aspect of Trump’s debate performance last night: his reeling off statements that he must have known would be trivially easy to disprove.
In the NYT today, David Leonhardt has a formidable list of Trump’s misstatements in the debate, with the straightforward headline “The Lies Trump Told.” It follows “A Week of Whoppers,” by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, in the NYT three days ago.
Here’s just a single illustration that jumped out at me from the debate:
This exchange, which in real life involved Trump’s interrupting Clinton, came during one of the rare mentions of climate issues:
CLINTON: Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real.
TRUMP: I did not. I did not. I do not say that.
CLINTON: I think science is real.
TRUMP: I do not say that.
Even as Trump was saying that, his own personal Twitter feed was still showing (and as I type still is) the message above, and the one below. (As a reminder, you can search the whole vast corpus of Trump tweets here.)
Is this the most consequential lie that took place during the debate? No. By my lights, his claim to have opposed the Iraq war is more significant; so too is his risible argument that he can’t release his tax returns because they are “under audit.”
But this one stood out to me because it was so blatant and bald—like his earlier claims that the Koch brothers had sought a meeting with him (which they immediately denied), and that the NFL had sent him a letter complaining that the debates were scheduled head-to-head against football games (which the NFL immediately denied).
Has Trump convinced himself these things are true? Does he imagine no one can check? Has he forgotten? Does he just not care? I don’t know. All public figures shade the truth. But what we’re seeing from Trump is something that in my experience has no precedent.
Republican newspaper. Earlier this month, the Dallas Morning Newsmade a first-in-modern-times recommendation of a Democrat for president over a Republican, in endorsing Hillary Clinton.
The news this evening from Phoenix is if anything more dramatic: the Arizona Republic has also endorsed Hillary Clinton. Why is this newsworthy? The beginning of the editorial, whose title is “Hillary Clinton is the only choice to move America ahead," spells it out:
Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles.
This year is different.
The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.
That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.
The editorial’s tone gets tougher as it goes. The common theme in this series of for-the-record time capsule notations is things that have not happened before. The Republic endorsing a Democrat is one of those.
Republican politician. For 30 years, John Warner was a Republican Senator from Virginia. Before that, he had served as Richard Nixon’s Secretary of the Navy. He is from the pre-Tea Party version of the party, but he has been very much a Republican stalwart.
Today comes news that he will endorse Hillary Clinton and her running mate, current Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.
Think of the stand that publications like the Dallas Morning News and now the Arizona Republic are making, along with politicians like John Warner. And then think by contrast of the current Republican leadership of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, et al.
After Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, he was asked on Fox News about his views on NATO and other American alliances. He gave his familiar “they’re freeloaders” answer:
The fact is we are protecting so many countries that are not paying for the protection. When a country isn’t paying us and these are countries in some cases in most cases that have the ability to pay, and they are not paying because nobody is asking….
We’re protecting all of these countries. They have an agreement to reimburse us and pay us and they are not doing it and if they are not going to do that. We have to seriously rethink at least those countries. It’s very unfair.
This has of course been a repeated theme in his speeches and interviews. Another example: after the Democratic convention, Trump told John Dickerson on Face the Nation, “I want these countries to pay for protection”—“these countries” being the usual range of U.S. allies.
On Monday night, in his debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump essentially acknowledged that he might not be paying any federal tax himself. Here was the remarkable passage:
CLINTON: Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.
TRUMP: That makes me smart.
That makes me smart. Among the several hundred people watching the debate at the site where I saw it, there was an audible gasp at this line.
Everyone tries to minimize taxes. But not many “normal” people manage to avoid them altogether, or even contemplate doing so. Most Americans, regardless of politics, resent the rigged nature of our public systems and look for ways to corner-cut annoying obligations (“Yeah, yeah, juries are really important, but I’d just as soon not get picked”). But most still recognize some basic obligations we all bear—school taxes even if we don’t have children, paying for highways or emergency relief even in places where we don’t live—to keep the system going as a whole.
You might call this mutual burden-sharing part of Making America Great Again. You could call it “the price we pay for civilization,” if you were Oliver Wendell Holmes. Or “paying for protection,” if you were Donald Trump.
I’m not sure Trump would recognize any tension between his own outraged demand that allies start paying their way, and his reflexive response that “it makes me smart” for him to avoid paying his own way. And I realize that his committed supporters might embrace both sentiments at the same time: Those foreigners are screwing us! And, at least one shrewd guy figured out how to keep the IRS from screwing him!
But I can imagine this staying on as a reminder of the gap between Donald Trump’s economic/civic role in society, and that of most of his supporters. It was one of several related moments in the debate—significantly, all of them coming in unprompted responses rather than the usual lines from his speeches:
After Clinton pointed out Trump’s long record of lawsuits from contractors he had not paid, or had underpaid, he said: “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work.” That is, he viewed these transactions from the vantage point of the hard-to-please employer rather than the perhaps living paycheck-to-paycheck employee.
When asked by Clinton about his own start in life, he said, “My father gave me a very small loan in 1975.” No one can feel sorry for Hillary Clinton in her current economic circumstances. But she did put this “small” loan in perspective: “He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father, and he really believes that the more you help wealthy people, the better off we’ll be and that everything will work out from there.”
When asked about his pre-financial crash comment that he “sort of hoped” for a collapse of housing values, so he could buy up distressed properties, he said “That’s called business, by the way.” That’s a kind of business, but not necessarily the way we like to think of businesses. It’s the business ethic of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life or Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. It’s not the way any of the country’s really richest people, from Warren Buffett to Bill and Melinda Gates to Michael Bloomberg, would talk—or, significantly, would want to be remembered.
Will any of this matter? Of course I don’t know. Objectively, any one of these comments seems as potentially powerful as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent.” (As Thomas Friedman put it today in the NYT, “How do we put in the Oval Office a man who boasts that he tries to pay zero federal taxes but then complains that our airports and roads are falling apart and there is not enough money for our veterans?”) This year, all bets are off.
But think of this political calculation: the people who like Trump’s style and approach are already with him. But so far there don’t seem to be enough of them to produce 270 electoral votes. To win the election, Trump needs to attract new support from groups where he currently trails—notably women, Latinos, African Americans, young voters, and highly educated voters. Will these comments and this tone broaden Trump’s appeal among these groups? That’s the question for Trump and the country, with 40 days and a few hours to go.
Related bonus reading:
Michael Gerson, former GW Bush speechwriter, in the WaPo:
Trump’s defenders will charge his critics with elitism. The great public, it is argued, gets Trump in a way that the commenting class does not. But this claim is now fully exposed. The expectation of rationality is not elitism. Coherence is not elitism. Knowledge is not elitism. Honoring character is not elitism. And those who claim this are debasing themselves, their party and their country.
Michiko Kakutani, in a remarkable and pointed NYT review of a new Hitler biography by Volker Ullrich. Illustrative sample:
Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”
Just after Monday night’s debate, Donald Trump said that moderator Lester Holt had done “a great job. Honestly, I thought Lester did a great job.” You don’t have to take it from me. You can watch the CNN video below.
Three days later, right now as I type, Trump told a crowd in New Hampshire how rigged the debates had been and, in particular, how biased and unfair the “great” Lester Holt was: “I had to put up with the anchor and fight the anchor all the time on everything I said. What a rigged deal.”
Is this an example of what is known in writer-land as “keyboard courage”—of Trump’s being genial to people face-to-face and then excoriating them from a safe remove? Has he forgotten what he said less than 70 hours ago? Does he think no one will remember? Does he not notice or mentally process the contradiction himself?
I have no idea. I will contend that no one like this has ever gotten this far in U.S. politics before, and by “no one like this” I mean someone who seems either entirely unaware or entirely unconcerned by the disconnect between what he says and the world of observable truth. This is what Harry Frankfurt famously called not lying but bullshit. (Update David Roberts takes a good stab at explaining the inexplicable, here.)
Bonus note: today the once-respectable former governor, former ambassador to China, and former “moderate” presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has announced that he will vote for Trump.
Governor, really? This is the time you make that call? With Trump still stonewalling on his taxes, on the heels of the “Miss Piggy” debate, and with rock-ribbed Republican publications like the Arizona Republic and the Dallas Morning News declaring for Hillary Clinton and against Trump? The likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have walled themselves in, but no one was asking you to declare. Wow.
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
Jared Kushner, the second-most-powerful man in the White House, is quite a bit smarter than the most powerful man, his father-in-law, the president. Donald Trump possesses a genius for the jugular, but he evinces few other signs of intelligence. He certainly displays no capacity, or predisposition, to learn. His son-in-law, by contrast, appears to have sufficient analytic acumen to comprehend that the country has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic. Kushner might not be the brightest public servant in American history—he is a Harvard graduate who is also a leading symbol of college-admissions corruption, and a businessman with a substantial record of failure—but he has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time at the White House. Because he projects a facsimile of capability and because he shows, at irregular intervals, a seemingly genuine interest in governing, he is also an exasperating mystery.
Short of an outright constitutional crisis, a lot could still go horribly wrong.
A brazen refusal by the president to leave office is surely a nightmare scenario. But even if President Donald Trump were to lose and accept the results on November 3 or soon thereafter, he could nevertheless wreak significant damage during the period between the election and the inauguration of Joe Biden—endangering the incoming administration, at best, and actively sabotaging it, at worst.
Presidential transitions are perilous even in normal times. With each inauguration of a new president every four to eight years, the executive branch undergoes a massive overhaul; more than 4,000 new political appointees flood into federal departments and agencies, including 1,200 senior officials who require Senate confirmation. The minute a new president is sworn in, his administration assumes responsibility for everything from nuclear launch codes to pandemic response, economic policy, and counterterrorism—at the very moment when the government’s capacity is most diminished. At the Defense Department alone, the nation’s largest employer and perhaps the world’s most complex organization, the top 59 senior civilian leaders, from the secretary of defense on down, are political appointees requiring Senate confirmation. A private-sector company would be crazy to emulate this approach, yet the security, the health, and the prosperity of Americans depend on its success.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
The comedian’s employees say that fame has enabled callousness and abuse on her show. The warm testimonies of her superstar friends highlight their point.
Famous people want the world to know that Ellen DeGeneres is nice to famous people. Addressing media reports alleging a culture of harassment and bullying at DeGeneres’s talk show, the singer Katy Perry tweeted Tuesday that she’s “only ever had positive takeaways from my time with Ellen.” Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Hart, Jay Leno, Diane Keaton, and the superstar agent Scooter Braun have all recently made similar declarations about DeGeneres’s kindness, so as to push back against claims painting her as callous toward staffers, fans, and other entertainment-industry figures. “Looking forward to the future where we get back to loving one another,” Hart wrote, blasting those who have criticized DeGeneres and called for her to step down. “This hate shit has to stop.”
A long obsession with Mars makes all the other worlds seem a little neglected.
Paul Byrne loves Mars. He wrote his doctoral thesis and several research papers about the planet. Most of his graduate students study Mars. And yet, earlier this year, he posed this question on Twitter: “If you could end the pandemic by destroying one of the planets, which one would you choose and why would it be Mars?”
What does Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University, have against the red planet? Nothing, he told me. But everyone else loves Mars too, and maybe a little too much.
Aside from Earth and the moon, humankind has studied Mars more than any other world in the universe. In the United States, many planetary scientists are devoted, in one way or another, to the study of Mars. Since 1996, NASA has sent more than a dozen robots to orbit, rove, dig, and hop around the planet. The latest NASA rover, Perseverance, departed for Mars in July, days after China and the United Arab Emirates launched their own missions to the planet.
They’re hoping that the vice-presidential nominee will be as malleable as Joe Biden.
The far left of the Democratic Party spent much of the primary attacking Kamala Harris, decrying her as an untrustworthy “cop” whose overtures to the left were half-hearted and opportunistic. But with Joe Biden naming the senator from California as his running mate, some progressive leaders and activists, including Harris skeptics, sound reluctantly optimistic about what the pair could achieve.
The progressives I interviewed seem to view Harris and Biden as similar figures, occupying an “in-between space” in American politics, as one activist put it to me. Their political identities and agendas are a muddled mix of the old establishment Democratic politics and the progressivism of the surging Millennial left—a combination progressives believe they can work with. They think that, just as Biden has already welcomed progressive input in his campaign, Harris could be malleable, a potential vice president they can push in their ideological direction.
The Disaster Tourist, a grim satire of capitalism, resonates during a pandemic that has revealed the brutal calculus of “essential work.”
When the stay-at-home orders were issued in the first weeks of the pandemic, a new term quickly spread across the United States: Suddenly, some of the most precarious people in the country were called “essential workers.” This didn’t just mean the doctors and nurses who braced for a deluge of patients. It also meant farmworkers, supermarket employees, and the people sorting and packing shipments in Amazon warehouses. It meant home health aides, bodega clerks, and janitors. Confusion ensued: What did essential really mean? Of all the ways Americans were used to talking about jobs—in terms of money, stability, power—we’d not often talked about which workers were most necessary, and which workers were not. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the services that needed to stay open, even as he reiterated that he wanted everyone else to stay home, he said, “Look, society has to function.”
India’s and Turkey’s leaders are turning buildings into battlegrounds for nationalists.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has acted on his yearlong quest to restore the historic Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine-era cathedral and museum, as a functioning mosque. Three thousand miles away, in India’s northeastern city of Ayodhya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled a similar promise, last week laying the foundation for a new Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque where Hindus believe an ancient temple once stood.
Yet the transformation of these sites marks more than a simple manifestation of religious adherence. At its core, it represents a concerted effort by Turkey’s and India’s leaders to galvanize support from their religious and nationalist bases, even if doing so comes at the expense of their countries’ religious minorities. Even more fundamentally, it is changing how these two countries see themselves, demonstrating a simultaneous recasting of once-secular republics into fully fledged ethnonationalist states.
This is a good day, Samantha tells me: 10 on a scale of 10. We’re sitting in a conference room at the San Marcos Treatment Center, just south of Austin, Texas, a space that has witnessed countless difficult conversations between troubled children, their worried parents, and clinical therapists. But today promises unalloyed joy. Samantha’s mother is visiting from Idaho, as she does every six weeks, which means lunch off campus and an excursion to Target. The girl needs supplies: new jeans, yoga pants, nail polish.
At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject (history), and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite (math). She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2,000 miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands. “I wanted the whole world to myself,” she says. “So I made a whole entire book about how to hurt people.”
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.