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.”)
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.
USA Today came into existence early in Ronald Reagan’s first term. Since then it has covered eight presidential races: Reagan-Mondale, Bush-Dukakis, Bush-Clinton, Clinton-Dole, Gore-Bush, Bush-Kerry, Obama-McCain, and Obama-Romney.
In none of those contests, with their significant differences in politics and personalities, has its editorial board expressed a specific preference for or against a candidate. Just now, in its ninth race, it has.
In the 34-year history of USA TODAY, the Editorial Board has never taken sides in the presidential race. Instead, we’ve expressed opinions about the major issues and haven’t presumed to tell our readers, who have a variety of priorities and values, which choice is best for them….
This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.
It goes on to make the case in detail.
As a reminder, in the “things that have not happened before” category, this follows: the Arizona Republic, endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time ever; the Dallas Morning News, doing the same thing for the first time in modern history; similarly for the Cincinnati Enquirer; similarly for major business leaders and many others. Noted for the record with just over 39 days to go, and early voting underway.
1) Cuba. Kurt Eichenwald today documented in Newsweek that Trump companies did business in Cuba during Fidel Castro’s regime, which according to Eichenwald’s documents was an intentional violation of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
The embargo was a stupid and self-defeating policy. But it was the law, which Trump’s organization, by all appearances, intentionally broke. Dealing with Cuba, in those days, was a bright-line taboo. You could get in trouble for having Cuban cigars. You were breaking federal law if you spent any U.S. money there. Yet this is what (apparently) the Trump organization went ahead and did—even as Trump gave speeches to Cuban-American groups about the evils of Castro and the need to keep him isolated.
In other years, this would be big news all on its own.
2) Foundation. In the latest installment of David Fahrenthold’s extraordinary saga in the Washington Post, he has revealed that the Trump Foundation, already surrounded by numerous “self-dealing” controversies, never had legal authorization to raise funds as a charity. As the story reports:
Under the laws in New York, where the Donald J. Trump Foundation is based, any charity that solicits more than $25,000 a year from the public must obtain a special kind of registration beforehand. Charities as large as Trump’s must also submit to a rigorous annual audit that asks — among other things — whether the charity spent any money for the personal benefit of its officers.
No further annotation. This is what is on the record about the man the GOP establishment still says should be commander in chief, with 39 days to go.
Critics are letting their disdain for the president blind them to geopolitical realities.
When a new coronavirus emerged in China and began spreading around the world, including in the United States, President Donald Trump’s many critics in the American foreign-policy establishment were quick to identify him as part of the problem. Trump had campaigned on an “America first” foreign policy, which after his victory was enshrined in the official National Security Strategy that his administration published in 2017. At the time, I served in the administration and orchestrated the writing of that document. In the years since, Trump has been criticized for supposedly overturning the post–World War II order and rejecting the role the United States has long played in the world. Amid a global pandemic, he’s being accused—on this site and elsewhere—of alienating allies, undercutting multinational cooperation, and causing America to fight the coronavirus alone.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
Far from making Americans crave stability, the pandemic underscores how everything is up for grabs.
Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.
This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious. The onset of the next Depression, a challenge akin to World War II, a national midlife crisis—these comparisons have been offered and many more. But few are calling our current moment a revolution, and some have suggested that the coronavirus pandemic—coinciding as it has with the surge in Joe Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and the decline of Bernie Sanders’s—marks the end of any such possibility. “The Coronavirus Killed the Revolution,” declared the headline of a recent essay in The Atlantic by Shadi Hamid, who argued that the COVID-19 crisis makes people crave “normalcy” over deep structural change. As a historian of 18th- and 19th-century France, I think claims like these are mistaken.
Local officials and health-care workers are losing faith in the national response, and struggling to improvise their own solutions.
The federal government’s stockpile of medical supplies, gloves, and masks is nearly exhausted, President Donald Trump admitted at a White House briefing on Wednesday. Meanwhile, individual states are scrambling, bidding against one another for the equipment they need.
“The coronavirus pandemic is a damning indictment of this country’s health-care system,” Joseph Kantor, the assistant state health officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, told me. “The richest country in the world is scrounging around for ventilators” and personal protective equipment.
Kantor is one of a dozen health professionals across the country with whom I spoke this week. Taken together, those conversations reveal a federal government that has failed to protect, supply, and prepare the country and its cities. These health-care workers are looking with horror at the chaos in New York City, as evidence of what can happen to a vibrant city in the absence of national strategy and preparedness. As they struggle to avoid a similar crisis, they’re losing faith in the federal government, and resorting to their own improvised solutions.
How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.
Updated at 7:22 p.m. ET on April 4, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are now overthinking things they never used to think about at all. Can you go outside? What if you’re walking downwind of another person? What if you’re stuck waiting at a crosswalk and someone is there? What if you’re going for a run, and another runner is heading toward you, and the sidewalk is narrow? Suddenly, daily mundanities seem to demand strategy.
Much of this confusion stems from the shifting conversation around the pandemic. Thus far, the official line has been that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could be transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. But recently, news reports have suggested that the coronavirus can spread through the air. After 60 choir members in Washington State rehearsed together, 45 fell sick, even though no one seemed symptomatic at the time. Now people who were already feeling cooped up are worrying about going outside. Many state guidelines are ambiguous, and medical advice can muddy matters further. When the writer Deborah Copaken came down with COVID-19 symptoms, her doctor chided her for riding her bike through New York City a week earlier. Going outside in the city wasn’t safe, the physician implied, with “viral load everywhere.”
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
Updated at 4:40 ET on March 30, 2020.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored. (It may also turn out to be the case that people who are immune to the disease can still pass it on under certain circumstances.)*
More young people in the South seem to be dying from COVID-19. Why?
In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has gone from a novel, distant threat to an enemy besieging cities and towns across the world. The burden of COVID-19 and the economic upheaval wrought by the measures to contain it feel epochal. Humanity now has a common foe, and we will grow increasingly familiar with its face.
Yet plenty of this virus’s aspects remain unknown. The developing wisdom—earned the hard way in Wuhan, Washington, and Italy—has been that older people and sicker people are substantially more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19 than their younger, healthier counterparts. Older people are much more likely than young people to have lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease, and those conditions are more likely to transform a coronavirus infection into something nastier. But what happens when these assumptions don’t hold up, and the young people battling the pandemic share the same risks?
The Trump administration has just released the model for the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. We can expect a lot of back-and-forth about whether its mortality estimates are too high or low. And its wide range of possible outcomes is certainly confusing: What’s the right number? The answer is both difficult and simple. Here’s the difficult part: There is no right answer. But here’s the simple part: Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for.
Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Fighting public suspicion of these models is as old as modern epidemiology, which traces its origins back to John Snow’s famous cholera maps in 1854. Those maps proved, for the first time, that London’s terrible affliction was spreading through crystal-clear fresh water that came out of pumps, not the city’s foul-smelling air. Many people didn’t believe Snow, because they lived in a world without a clear understanding of germ theory and only the most rudimentary microscopes.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.