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.”)
Today in Vanity Fair, its editor Graydon Carter, who in his Spy days with Kurt Andersen originated the idea of Donald Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian,” has a stinging essay about Trump as the modern incarnation of The Ugly American.
A central episode in this story involves the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 1993. Carter says that to its table Vanity Fair had invited, among others, Donald Trump as “novelty guest,” and Vendela Kirsebom, a Swedish woman then generally known as “Supermodel Vendela.” Over to Carter:
I sat Trump beside Vendela, thinking that she would get a kick out of him. This was not the case. After 45 minutes she came over to my table, almost in tears, and pleaded with me to move her. It seems that Trump had spent his entire time with her assaying the “tits” and legs of the other female guests and asking how they measured up to those of other women, including his wife. “He is,” she told me, in words that seemed familiar, “the most vulgar man I have ever met.”
OK, that’s part of the story. Here’s the rest, which explains something I have wondered about lo these past 23 years:
Back in 1993, TheAtlantic had not really gotten into the “inviting celebrities and oddballs” practice that has become standard for the White House Correspondents dinner. Nor have we since then! Come to us for policy discussions with your standard assistant-secretary-for-planning. And at the time I was still just gathering bile for my version of correspondents dinner delenda est about the annual spectacles in my book Breaking the News, which came out three years later.
So there I was in 1993, talking policy with someone at our table, when I turned to my right and saw—Supermodel Vendela! I knew who she was because, among other things, she had been the actual cover model for the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue three months before. And now she had appeared out of nowhere to be sitting at The Atlantic’s table!
At the time, I attributed this to the magazine’s trademark combination of serious “breaking ideas” coverage and pop-culture flair. Those Scandinavians! Even the supermodels were in-depth readers and couldn’t resist.
But now I learn that I have had Donald Trump to thank all along. In fleeing the table of “the most vulgar man I’ve ever met,” Supermodel Vendela had ended up with … me!
I don’t know whether this makes me feel better, or worse. Actually I do: worse. Until today I had thought that I had only one reason to feel grateful to Donald Trump: for his creation of The Apprentice, which allowed me to do an Atlantic piece about its Chinese knock-off version Win in China! Now it turns out I have another. I’ll never forget that evening’s conversation about Scandinavia’s lessons on improving American health care. And it never would have happened without Donald Trump.
1) This morning, as noted in installment #125, a tweet came out from @SeanSpicer, “strategist” for the Republican National Committee, celebrating the fact that the GOP was about to launch a “Willie Horton-Style Attack” on Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine. You can see a screenshot of it in the previous installment.
2) Three hours later, as blowback began, Spicer put out the tweet you see in the screenshot above. It said that he “never” used the term Willie Horton and that the real factual-accuracy problem was of course with the media, not with him or the RNC.
Moral I: In our Modern Internet Age, it’s generally a mistake to strike a huffy “I never said...” “to be clear” “facts are not a strong suit” pose when you’re immediately subject to contrary digital evidence.
4) An alert reader pointed out to me that the contents of Spicer’s original tweet were identical to the headline in the Roll Call article Spicer was sharing with his 32,000+ Twitter followers, and that the Roll Call site can on request auto-populate a tweet with the headline and link from its item.
Thus it’s possible that rather than compose the words “Willie Horton-Style Attack” by himself, Spicer merely wanted to make sure as many people as possible saw them. Great, that’s so much better!
Moral II: If some publication is accusing your campaign of sinking to a nasty race-baiting practice so widely reviled that its originator, Lee Atwater, apologized for it on his deathbed, a shrewd “strategic” response might be: “No, of course we’d never do that.” Or “We’re hoping to heal rather than harm strained race relations in our country.” Or “Once again the press has the wrong.” Or even, “No comment.” Almost anything would make more sense than blast-sharing the story on Twitter to everyone you know.
I know that RNC operations are separate from the Trump personal domain. Still, I can’t help thinking: as you watch strategy, organization, and execution in this campaign, it becomes easier to understand how Donald Trump could have lost a billion dollars in just one year.
In the language of politics, to call a strategy a “Willie Horton-Style Attack” is to say that it’s race-baiting, vicious, and misleading. The reference is to two notorious ads, “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door,” used by George H.W. Bush’s Republicans in 1988 to attack his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis. You can see them and learn more details below. This isn’t something normal people would brag about.
Yet just this morning, via tweet, the “strategist” and communications director for the Republican National Committee, Sean Spicer, announces that the party is about to kick off just such an attack, on Tim Kaine! Good lord.
By definition, this kind of attack strategy has been used before, as have smear campaigns through the history of politics. But the perpetrators used to deny them. The whole point of the “dog whistle” metaphor was that only the intended part of your audience would hear the message you were trying to send. Thus the George H.W. Bush campaign could pretend that the Willie Horton ad was strictly about criminal justice; it’s just coincidence that the criminal whose face they used happened to be a rough-looking black man.
So for Spicer to come right out with a proud-seeming announcement must mean either that he has lost his mind, or that the dynamics of his campaign and party now make this seem a sensible thing to say.
Here’s a screenshot of the original Willie Horton, as seen on TV—and then, why he’s not really “Willie.”
The fact is, my name is not “Willie.” It’s part of the myth of the case. The name irks me. It was created to play on racial stereotypes: big, ugly, dumb, violent, black—“Willie.” I resent that. They created a fictional character—who seemed believable, but who did not exist.
“Weekend Passes” was produced by a GOP PAC. Here’s the full ad:
“Revolving Door” was the handiwork of the Bush campaign itself, including advisors Lee Atwater and—wait for it— Roger Ailes. Here it is:
Now the point: to run a “Willie Horton-style” campaign is bad enough. It’s meant to inflame racial resentments and fears. But saying you’re going to do it, and hailing that fact as an “exclusive,” travels from the realm of the reprehensible to the idiotic. It’s like an infomercial that begins, “We’re pushing a new scam!” Or like Bill Cosby showing up for a date and saying, “One sip of this drink and you’ll be out cold.”
They’re doing something nasty, and they’re doing it in the stupidest possible way.
Imagine what this team would be like in power.
Thirty-five days and a few hours until election day; only partial tax returns (1995!) released; and the likes of Paul Ryan saying, “He’s fine!”—Willie Horton announcement and all.
I'm at a high school reunion in California, and in theory away from the news, but this can't go without brief mention for the record: the NYT story saying that Donald Trump’s near-$1 billion declared tax loss in 1995 might have kept him from paying any income taxes for 18 years since then.
Back in installment #95, I mentioned that whatever was in Trump’s tax returns must by definition be more embarrassing than his refusal to release them. Otherwise, he would have done what all nominees of the post-Nixon era have done, and provided tax information. In a related item a few days later, readers speculated that what he was trying to hide was the fact that he had managed to pay no federal tax at all.
The NYT report, by David Barstow, Susanne Craig, Russ Buettner, and Megan Twohey, is worth reading in full. Also see this analysis in Bronte Capital, by John Hempton, of what the report might mean. Here is an important abundance-of-caution detail in the NYT about the bona fides of its claims:
37 days until the election.
I intend it as a kind of homage to Trump’s own online habits that I am posting this in the middle of the night East Coast time.
Late in her losing primary campaign against Barack Obama eight years ago, Hillary Clinton put out her “3 a.m. phone call” ad. The idea was that real presidents have to deal with crises at short notice and with very high stakes. According to the ad, then-Senator Clinton’s greater experience meant that she’d be better at making those 3 a.m. decisions than the relative-rookie Obama would be. If you supported Hillary Clinton, you found that persuasive. If you preferred Obama, as I did, you were less impressed.
What does Donald Trump do at 3 a.m.? To judge by the social-media record, he sends out tweets—and real, “from the Id” personal tweets himself, rather than higher-road ones from his staff. The usual giveaway is the “Twitter for Android” label you see on Tweetdeck and other platforms, versus “Twitter for iPhone” from his staff.
Mnemonic clue: You can’t take the id out of Android. Thus a sequence of Android tweets about “Miss Piggy,” the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, last night.
Judge for yourself what this says about Trump’s temperament, whose excellence he mentions in most speeches and at this week’s debate. For instance, this is how it came up at the debate:
TRUMP: Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There’s no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?
I have a much better—she spent—let me tell you—she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising—you know, they get Madison Avenue into a room, they put names—oh, temperament, let’s go after—I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament ...
What it means in operational politics is, he can’t let anything go. The controversies that are objectively most damaging to him, with the groups he most needs to reach—women, Latinos, blacks, Muslims, educated voters worrying about knowledge and judgment—are ones he himself keeps reviving from one news cycle to the next:
He couldn’t let the “Mexican judge” issue go, and he kept it in the headlines for a couple of weeks.
He couldn’t let the Captain Khan story story go, with similar effect.
He still can’t let his invented claim of prescient views on Iraq go, guaranteeing that he’ll keep getting questioned about it.
He still can’t really let birtherism go.
And manifestly he cannot let the Alicia Machado story go. This means that with 39 days until the election, and early voting already underway, he has guaranteed that a significant fraction of the remaining time will feature a story likely to irritate: Hispanic voters in general (“Miss Housekeeping”); people sensitive about their weight (“Miss Piggy”); women in general; men and women who don’t like to hear women talked about in this way; and people wondering what kind of decisions a president will be making at 3 a.m. Quite the masterful campaign strategy.
“Chessmaster, or pawn?” was for a long time a question about Obama. “Dumb, or dumber?” is the emerging question about Trump.
And I hate to say it again, but it’s still true: Republican officials from the Speaker of the House on down are still saying, He’s fine! Let’s make him Commander in Chief!
For family reasons, I expect to spend a few days Away From Political News. Thank goodness! So the time capsules will have to take care of themselves for a while. But after this outburst, I almost feel as if additional evidence—about self-control, about views of women, about basic fitness for command—might just be piling on. We know who this man is.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 delaying the transition, the General Services Administration chief is acting like an ideologue.
I don’t know for certain that Emily Murphy gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says to herself, “You are a good person.” But I am willing to bet that she does. Most people in her position—most people who are undermining the rules of their group, destroying their institution, harming their society—are doing so because they have become convinced that they are good people, virtuous people, brave people, dedicated people. Nothing suggests that Murphy is an exception.
Murphy is the head of the General Services Administration, the unglamorous bit of the federal government that actually runs the federal government. Part of her job—a part that no one has ever before considered controversial or even noteworthy—is to “ascertain” who has won the U.S. presidential election, and then to release the congressionally mandated funds that allow the winner to begin his transition. Usually, that process also unlocks cooperation between incoming and outgoing officials. Before leaving office in 2017, aides to Barack Obama had prepared elaborate explanations of the state of the world, including a 69-page playbook for how to manage a pandemic. They handed the documents over to Donald Trump’s transition team, which ignored them.
Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere.
When Fox News called Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden shortly after the polls closed there on Election Night, right-wing social media erupted in fury. Fox is the most conservative of the nation’s major news outlets, and its aggressive Arizona call—which most other national outlets did not follow for days—left true believers on the right feeling betrayed. On the social-media app Parler, which has been gaining popularity among supporters of President Donald Trump, posts alleging electoral irregularities mixed with assorted hashtags decrying Fox itself: #BOYCOTTFOXNEWS, #DUMPFOXNEWS, #FAKEFOXNEWS, #FOXNEWSISDEAD, and #FOXNEWSSUCKS. Throughout Election Day, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had been cracking down on a flurry of allegations about voter fraud in Arizona; the platforms quickly applied warning labels to new posts containing false or disputed information and reduced the distribution of groups spreading them. In response, pro-Trump influencers exhorted their followers to congregate on Parler, which tells users to “speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.”
“We are on an absolutely catastrophic path,” said a COVID-19 doctor at America’s best-prepared hospital.
Perhaps no hospital in the United States was better prepared for a pandemic than the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
After the SARS outbreak of 2003, its staff began specifically preparing for emerging infections. The center has the nation’s only federal quarantine facility and its largest biocontainment unit, which cared for airlifted Ebola patients in 2014. The people on staff had detailed pandemic plans. They ran drills. Ron Klain, who was President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” and will be Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the White House, once told me that UNMC is “arguably the best in the country” at handling dangerous and unusual diseases. There’s a reason many of the Americans who were airlifted from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February were sent to UNMC.
The question shouldn’t be whether the president can pardon himself but whether he can grant himself a pardon—and those are not the same thing.
As Donald Trump’s tenure in office comes in for its landing, a major question is whether the president—facing questions about liability for offenses including bank and tax fraud—can pardon himself.
This might seem like the right operational question, but it is imprecise as a constitutional one. Article II of the Constitution says that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Did you catch that? The president has the power not to pardon people, but “to grant … Pardons” (emphasis added). So the question is not whether Trump can pardon himself. It’s whether he can grant himself a pardon.
If you wonder how Biden’s appointees will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016.
The name “Sleepy Joe” was meant to be pejorative rather than prophetic. But today President-elect Joe Biden’s team leaked the names of three likely appointees, and they are the equivalent of a warm cup of Ovaltine with a melatonin chaser. According to reports, Antony Blinken, Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, will be nominated for secretary of state. Michèle Flournoy, an under secretary of defense under Obama, is widely expected to be nominated for secretary of defense. And Jake Sullivan, Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, will be appointed national security adviser. They will barely need to order new business cards: A felt-tip marker to take out a word or two will suffice. If you wonder how these people will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016, before you developed that nervous tic that causes you to rip out your hair by its roots whenever your phone buzzes with a news alert.
The risk of catching the coronavirus is much higher indoors.
Thinking too hard about saliva can really ruin a nice meal. And to eat inside a restaurant in 2020 requires ignoring the harsh reality of drool: the residue left behind by a chip dipped in a shared bowl of guacamole, the flecks of spit flung loose by a drunken laugh, and the veritable makeout session that is sampling someone else’s cocktail.
The unfortunate ubiquity of mucus is why restaurants, it brings me no pleasure to report, are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus. Indoor public places, including restaurants, played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 this spring, according to scientific analyses of cellphone data. In a September study, people who tested positive for COVID-19 were more than twice as likely as those who tested negative to report eating in a restaurant recently. Talking with someone who has COVID-19 for 30 minutes or longer—about the time between your bloomin’-onion appetizer and molten-chocolate dessert—more than doubles your odds of catching it.
The president convinced many voters that his response to the pandemic was not a disaster. The psychology of medical fraud is simple, timeless, and tragic.
At some basic level, Americans do seem to agree that the coronavirus is a major threat. Despite attempts to politicize and divide us on the pandemic, we are at least united in anxiety. In September, a survey of almost 4,000 Americans found that only 12 percent disagreed with requiring masks in public. Fully 70 percent wanted the government to do more to protect people, and only 8 percent wanted it to do less.
Since then, though, the government under President Donald Trump has done less. The U.S. has suffered the most documented coronavirus deaths in the world, by far. The Trump administration has continued to downplay and ignore the virus as its spread has accelerated in almost every region of the country. On Wednesday, the U.S. shattered the world record for daily coronavirus cases by topping 100,000 for the first time—only to break the record again each subsequent day until a Saturday high of 128,000. Field hospitals and makeshift morgues are appearing around the country. Daily death counts have risen to more than 1,000.
Prenatal testing is changing who gets born and who doesn’t. This is just the beginning.
Photographs by Julia Sellmann
Every few weeks or so, Grete Fält-Hansen gets a call from a stranger asking a question for the first time: What is it like to raise a child with Down syndrome?
Sometimes the caller is a pregnant woman, deciding whether to have an abortion. Sometimes a husband and wife are on the line, the two of them in agonizing disagreement. Once, Fält-Hansen remembers, it was a couple who had waited for their prenatal screening to come back normal before announcing the pregnancy to friends and family. “We wanted to wait,” they’d told their loved ones, “because if it had Down syndrome, we would have had an abortion.” They called Fält-Hansen after their daughter was born—with slanted eyes, a flattened nose, and, most unmistakable, the extra copy of chromosome 21 that defines Down syndrome. They were afraid their friends and family would now think they didn’t love their daughter—so heavy are the moral judgments that accompany wanting or not wanting to bring a child with a disability into the world.
More people than ever are hospitalized with COVID-19. Health-care workers can’t go on like this.
On Saturday morning, Megan Ranney was about to put on her scrubs when she heard that Joe Biden had won the presidential election. That day, she treated people with COVID-19 while street parties erupted around the country. She was still in the ER in the late evening when Biden and Vice President–elect Kamala Harris made their victory speeches. These days, her shifts at Rhode Island Hospital are long, and they “are not going to change in the next 73 days,” before Biden becomes president, she told me on Monday. Every time Ranney returns to the hospital, there are more COVID-19 patients.
We allowed an important idea—American exceptionalism—to be hijacked and misused. Now we need to rescue that idea and let it guide America at home and abroad.
Can America still lead the world? Should it? If so, how? These fundamental questions have lurked in the background for years. Donald Trump brought them front and center.
The knee-jerk response of national-security professionals to such questions is to offer a history lesson on the benefits of the “liberal international order” that America built after 1945. I once used that phrase at a campaign event in Ohio in 2016—I had advised both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, and then worked for Clinton when she ran for president—and someone came up to me afterward and said, “I’m not sure what exactly you’re referring to, but I don’t like any of those three words!”
Right now, everything is up for debate when it comes to the basic purpose of U.S. foreign policy. For me, that’s unsettling. I was raised in Minnesota in the 1980s, a child of the late Cold War—of Rocky IV, the Miracle on Ice, and “Tear down this wall!”