Vehement Trump supporters abound on Twitter. That much is obvious to anyone who has used the service. Who exactly they are, and how broad a swath of society they represent, has been harder to pin down.
Are they largely Russian bots, as some reports have suggested? Are the angriest ones really just a handful of activists, racists, and anti-Semites, who through nonstop posting in multiple accounts exaggerate their true numbers? (Though even a very few would be enough.) Are they in any kind of coordinated activity, or mainly working as loners?
A social-media analytics firm called Demographics Pro has released an analysis of 10,000 Trump supporters who are active on Twitter, and 10,000 Hillary Clinton supporters. It then matched those accounts with a list of 10 active, major white-nationalist Twitter accounts. (The company describes the way in which it chose and classified such sites here.)
What were the results? They’re shown on the chart above. Of the 10,000 Clinton followers, a total of 16 followed one or more of the major white-nationalist accounts, the likes of @DrDavidDuke and so on. Of the 10,000 Trump supporters, a total of 3,549—well over one-third—followed the white nationalists.
Following an account doesn’t necessarily make you an adherent. I follow @DrDavidDuke myself, along with several others on the list. But the disproportion here, while it doesn’t answer all questions about Trump Twitter world, suggests something about its nature.
A similar Demographics Pro analysis, of the overlap between conspiracy-theory sites and Trump supporters, is here.
In my my article on this year’s presidential debates, I pointed out that these high-drama election-year rituals seem important to mere citizens and journalists. But political scientists have long claimed there’s no proof that they’ve actually changed presidential election results.
Maybe they’ll say something different when this year’s results are in. At face value, it certainly appears that the first Clinton-Trump debate—a month ago today—marked a clear shift in Hillary Clinton’s favor and against Donald Trump.
Below is a screenshot of the timeline for the “polls-plus” prediction of the election’s outcome, from FiveThirtyEight. I’ve added the big black arrow to mark the first debate. The thinner vertical lines to the right are the other two debates, each one of which went badly for Trump and, from this chart, seemed to reinforce Clinton’s lead.
For one more way to look at this question, which is less immediately obvious in graphic terms but cumulatively more convincing, please check out this recent tweet-storm by the U. Michigan economist Justin Wolfers.
He tested the debates-matter hypothesis in an ingenious way, by tracking the movement of financial and futures markets while the first debate was actually underway. As the debate wore on, Wolfers found, a wide variety of markets quickly adjusted to the levels they would have if Hillary Clinton became president. For instance, during the debate the Mexican peso rose sharply in value, based on the declining likelihood that U.S.-Mexico trade would be disrupted by a Wall or other limits under a President Trump.
The point of the study, again, was that the back-and-forth of the debate, in itself, convinced people placing financial bets that Donald Trump was not going to become president. They adjusted their financial bets accordingly.
Prediction markets are obviously fallible; in the most famous recent case, they missed the Brexit vote. And financial markets as a whole tend to overreact to short-term news. But together with the longer-term polling trends, Wolfers’s study may reinforce the hypothesis I mentioned a week ago: that this time, the debates really have mattered.
Yesterday, in installment #148 of the time capsules, I contrasted circa-2008 videos of a (comparatively) thoughtful-sounding Donald Trump with the splenetic buffoon we see today, and asked, What happened?
Readers offer three hypotheses.
1) You’re fooling yourself. There’s no change. From a reader in California:
I differ with your take on Trump’s comments about the movie. (Caveat: I have a serious problem watching film at all.) I’m not interested in cinematography, never mind Trump’s views of same. However, your statement, “For any rich person to say these things about the movie would be something,” is simply mistaken. Trump isn’t saying anything about “the movie.” He’s riffing on his own self-absorbed impressions of wealth, women, and personal relationships. He makes one bland remark about the camera’s emphasis on the extent of the table ...
In sum, “this other Trump” is not by a stretch another Trump. He’s the same Trump, but at the time one who wasn’t running for POTUS.
FWIW, what struck me about Trump’s “Rosebud” comments was not his assessment of Citizen Kane as a film itself but rather his allusions to the distancing effects of wealth. Through the past year, we’ve heard him say “I’m really rich!” (or used to, back in the “self-funding” days). We still hear him say “I’m so smart” and “I have the greatest temperament.” It’s a different tone in these clips.
2) It’s a change, but on purpose. From another reader:
What happened? This has been my theory from day one: Trump the movie critic, the wheeler-dealer, as well as the X-rated media guru, is the genuine article, while Trump the religious, pro-life, GOP conservative, redneck, Tea Partier ... is fake.
An act. A stunt. A last gasp for something big before its too late ... that somehow won a primary ... then two ... then the nomination.
Nobody was more shocked than he was.
He is a lifelong New Yorker, city slicker, playboy, Democrat ... now playing a character from rural Mississippi(?) ... or West Virginia. Other days he’s Archie Bunker, in a one-man play, on stage. The crowd loves him!
He’s done enough of these stump speeches that he can probably do them in his sleep. But the pro-gun (bwaahaha!) Trump is kinda like me singing in the shower: not my real voice, out of tune, probably haven’t really studied the lyrics.
More proof for my theory: Go back and look at the stuff that leaked out after his meeting with the New York Times editorial board. He basically said, “Can you guys believe this? I’ve got them eating out of my hands!” (And “Oh, and about those illegal immigrants, meh. Whatever. We’ll figure something out later.”)
3) It’s a change, and not on purpose. An assessment that is downbeat in a different way:
The answer, I suspect, to your question in #148 is ... age.
I’ve become increasingly suspicious of opinion that doesn’t take this into account. We would all like lives lived to four score and ten without any diminishment, and that happens regularly now, but those who remain acute and fully engaged for six score or more are rare no matter how much we would all like to join the club.
The increasingly demented things that Trump says are, er, well, demented and do not come from the hormone-ridden enthusiasms of an uncontrolled 30 year old; they come from a 70 year old. He remembers what the 30 year old was like, believes he is the same incarnate, and wants to make his mark on history as the end approaches. It is clear he now has no control of his expression on a stage where his (putative) wealth and its implied authority and a very long time before the public eye can have disastrous consequences.
Take your pick; elements of truth in all of these, I think. Also, on the “Rosebud” question in the conventional sense, of what makes Trump the way he is, please check out this fascinating NYT piece by Michael Barbaro on Trump’s longstanding and powerful dread of public humiliation or loss of status. (And ironically enough, the result of this campaign ... )
Twelve days and some hours to go. Tax returns still not released. Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus still on board, saying Make This Man POTUS!
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
So wrote W.H. Auden in his immortal poem September 1, 1939. Today, two weeks before Election Day, is nowhere near as dark. Liars with buildings that grope are still a scourge, but America’s anti-authoritarian immune system seems to be working: Donald Trump’s poll numbers look dismal and he was humiliated by his elite peers at the Al Smith Dinner. The admittedly lame neologism Trumplosion has been coined.
But we should not be incautious; the votes aren’t in yet. The philosophy of rational pessimism dictates that we assume the worst, so we can only ever be surprised positively. And even if the teetotalitarian at the top of the Republican ticket loses big on November 8, we still have to reckon with the meaning of Trumpism and how it could still threaten social stability and U.S. democracy. The latest Atlantic reader to reckon with this, Hannah, continues our discussion over “Ur-Fascism”:
So much has happened in the last week that by now this must seem like a blast from the past, but I wanted to bring in another attempt at articulating the fascist minimum, and to respond to/rebut/complain about your reader Kevin’s email about fascism in the Trail of Tears note. In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton, one of the foremost scholars in the field, gives a list of essential characteristics of a fascist movement. Paxton’s list overlaps to a certain extent with Umberto Eco’s Ur-Fascism, but it places more emphasis on the coherence of the group identity:
a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;
the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;
dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
the need for authority by natural leaders, always male, culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;
the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;
the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;
the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess within a Darwinian struggle.
Much of this list certainly sounds like the Trumpists, but where they diverge is in the coherence of the group identity. The old fascists described this in ethnonationalist terms, where there were Aryans or Italians or whatnot under attack from foreign infiltrators. There were clear cultural programs and, at least in the case of the Nazis, obsessive attempts at defining who was in and who was out.
We hear a lot from The Donald about foreign infiltrators and those who are not in the group—Muslims, illegals, Mexicans, illegal Mexican Muslims—but the group is never clearly defined, perhaps because he is trying to win a general election and needs some sort of cover of inclusivity, or perhaps because American history is too messy to allow a clear definition. A good example of this group incoherence is his rhetorical approach to Black Americans: he doesn’t treat them as full members of the group, but he presents them to his supporters as people in need of his help who might, in time, become fully a part of the group if only they could realize that he is the man for the job. Furthermore, the fascists attempted to unify all social classes under the broad umbrella of the group, whereas Trump’s rhetoric cynically takes advantage of class conflict between arugula-munching Beltway elites like myself and what some people call flyover country.
Now for reader Kevin. He only chooses to list fascist movement that gained a foothold in government, ignoring various French, British, Nordic, and American fascisms that never managed to rise above the level of a street movement. His (very questionable) choice to exclude Nazis serves his thesis insofar as it allows him to cherrypick fascisms that arose in constitutional monarchies, but he isn’t even consistent about this: The Latin American countries he wants to include in the list of fascist regimes didn’t have monarchs. Likewise he fails to mention the Ustasha and other Eastern European and Balkan fascist movements. The Latin American examples do not stand up very well anyway: Most were simple military dictatorships without themes of national rebirth or collectivist ideologies. Franco is a borderline case, since he displaced both fascist and republican factions in aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.
Obviously I do ultimately agree with Kevin that Trump is not a full-fledged fascist, if he is moving us not a few goose-steps further down the primrose path. The traits he describes as Jacksonian (welfare chauvinism and expansionism driven by a petit-bourgeois base) fit nicely at the overlap in the Venn diagram of Trumpism and fascism, but fascism was openly revolutionary. What opposition Trump has shown to democratic ideals and institutions is opportunistic, incoherent, and sporadic rather than ideologically rooted, and he does not himself call for national rebirth through violent overthrow of a corrupt republican order (although some of his followers do).
The effect of Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the voting process is of course antidemocratic, but so far it has been expressed in terms of concern for the integrity of a supposedly corrupted democratic system rather than as a blanket condemnation of democracy itself. The absence of something like the squadristi or the SA follows from this absence of coherent ideological opposition to liberal democracy. If you're looking for the real fascists, they're to be found in the ranks of the West Coast Straussians and the Silicon Valley neoreactionaries.
Of course, given Trump’s promise to keep us in suspense, it remains to be seen what will happen when he loses.
Everybody in this reader thread has mentioned the absence of a squadristi equivalent, and it’s an apt point. But we know Trump is not above encouraging mob violence, and that he wants a massive, armed federal force at his command. Now, with his prospects dimming, the chit-chattering classes are handwringing over his antidemocratic threat to reject the results of the election. They are probably over-hyping the danger, if not the irresponsibility, of Trump’s comments. One more cool-headed take floating around is that if on November 9th he begins singing the song of revolution, calling for an angry mob in defeat, supporters will simply ignore the cooing (so to speak) and not show up.
The task of placing Trump in the frame of evil historical movements is complicated by the reality of his campaign. Like Jackson, he wants to smash the prevailing American leadership culture and drive huge groups of brown people south. He fits the Fascist paradigm even more closely—specifically because it makes him a bad Jacksonian that despite the Fortress America bluster he does not seem hugely concerned with protecting the U.S. from meddling by foreign powers. As a fascist movement, though, Trumpism is a weak one. He neglected to organize the wannabe blackshirts who coalesce around him, and he outsourced the job of delegitimizing the democratic process (to either Russia or an Australian residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, depending on whom you ask). He has, in other words, all the aspirations and temptations and neuroses of a fascist demagogue, but he hasn't been able to put together a fascist’s methods for achieving power.
Events may have given us the answer to the great definitional question of Trumpism Theory, and it's not that complicated after all: Donald Trump is an incompetent fascist.
The final verse of Auden’s masterpiece:
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the
Just Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Update from Kevin:
I read, with a combination of dismay and amusement, reader Hannah’s exposition as to whether Trump can be classified a fascist. Maybe it’s my competitive nature, but I simply have to answer the charges leveled against me of “cherrypicking” examples of fascist governments, and also her assertion that it is “very questionable” to exclude Nazi Germany from a list of identifiably fascist governments.
First, my examples of European countries that became fascist in the 1920s and 1930s is heavily weighted toward constitutional monarchies because so many European countries started the interwar period as constitutional monarchies. (The notable exceptions were corporatist Portugal and the semi-presidential Third French Republic; the latter did not become fascist.) They also were almost all Catholic, the outlier being Romania, which was predominantly Orthodox, but where the national church still collaborated closely with the fascists. The Croatian Ustaše was also unusual, having a puppet government of distinctly Nazi-like ideology (racial eliminationism) while resembling fascism in maintaining a deep entanglement with officials of the national Catholic church. Both the genuinely fascist Austrian government and the sometimes fascist Hungarian government (depending on the prime minister) were overthrown by actual Nazis, the former having already seen a fascist chancellor assassinated by them. When Admiral Horthy of Hungary tried to withdraw from the Axis in 1944, Germany and its Arrow Cross collaborators overthrew his government and installed a puppet state. One of its first acts was to deport 400,000 Jews to Auschwitz and their deaths.
Hungary and Austria illustrate an essential difference between fascism and National Socialism. Racism, particularly eliminationist racism, was not intrinsic to the fascist political system, and the actual treatment of minorities such as Jews largely reflected the traditional conditions of a particular nation. For the fascists, the state was to be the center of all public and private action, and while the individual was to be subordinated to the state, there wasn’t necessarily an ethnic prerequisite for inclusion. For Hitler, race was everything, and every institution, including the state, was to be subordinated to the interest of the Volk. In addition, actual fascisms, in their drive to regain a legendary lost greatness, attached at least a nostalgic and often practical power to such ancien régime institutions as church, monarchy, and military general staff. Attachment to (usually Catholic) Church thought also led to the acceptance and codification of class distinctions along the model of Catholic corporatism—a tradition reaching back through Aquinas to Paul the Apostle (in First—not One—Corinthians).
Fascism was therefore deeply conservative and reactionary. Hitler, in stark contrast, was a radical, rejecting all traditional hierarchies and all elites. His New Germany was to abolish all social classes: the sole unifying force was to be the Aryan race, with all other races regarded as threatening.
Another important difference between Hitler’s National Socialism and fascism was that the Nazi philosophy was arguably not imperialist (because of very limited geographical ambitions) nor even conventionally nationalistic. After all, the race—the Volk—was the thing, not the unnatural construct of the nation-state.
I’ve thought some more on why there are no Trumpist squadristi. Hannah seems to ascribe this to Trump’s ideological incoherence and incompetence. This will not do; the man is far more politically competent than we give him credit for. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Trump campaign needs no stormtroopers, and that in fact their presence would do the campaign harm.
Leave aside the image of a mass of 65 year olds in black shirts—an image straight out of an absurd and disturbing Monty Python sketch. Whatever Trump’s deficiencies in intellect, learning, or discipline, the man is an undisputed media genius. Cable news has long been used to enforce political conformity. Trump’s masterly use of cable and social media has absorbed the technique into the very fabric of a national political campaign. He’s also media-savvy enough to know that realtime images of stormtroopers roaming the streets, beating up Mexicans, Muslims, and journalists would prove instantly fatal to his campaign.
Finally we come to Professor Robert Paxton, the renowned scholar of fascism cited by Hannah. Putting it bluntly, Paxton’s famous book on the subject gets it mostly wrong. He makes several grave errors. There is the usual mistake of lumping National Socialism with Italian fascism. (He dismisses all governments other than these two as not fully fascist.) Paxton’s list of qualities defining fascist regimes implies a racialism that is at the essence of Nazism, but not of Italian and most other fascisms. The five historical stages he insist truly fascist governments must achieve are artificial and reductive, recalling such discredited historicisms as Spengler’s or Marx’s. His analysis is also ahistoric, sometimes relying anachronisms and even flipping the actual roles of the influencer and the influenced among nations. Most importantly, like most academics working in a Western secular milieu, Paxton badly understates the importance of institutional religion in the development of social organizations.
It is inexcusable, for example, that the index of The Anatomy of Fascism includes no entry for Novarum rerum, the 1891 papal encyclical which defined modern Catholic corporatism, nor of Pope Leo XIII, its author. There is, surprisingly, a very short mention of another Leo: Leo Frank, the Atlanta Jewish industrialist who was notoriously lynched in 1915, and another mention of a related topic, the Ku Klux Klan, which was revived at Atlanta in the immediate wake of the Frank case. (Not, as popular lore would have it, because of the premiere of Birth of a Nation.) Here is a prime example of Paxton writing ahistorically and munging up ideological influences.
Paxton sees the Klan, founded in 1865, as “the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally be related to fascism,” not only in America, but in the world. Is this what Hannah seeks when looking for American examples of fascism? If so, she is wrong, and so is Paxton. Fascism was inconceivable in 1865; even in 1915 it existed only in the minds and writings of European antiliberal political philosophers such as Charles Maurras and Georges Sorel. But Jacksonianism had already enjoyed a long run in America, and it completely explains the racism and nativism of the Klan and the antisemitism, antimodernism, and anti-elitism of Frank’s murderers.
To hyperbolize Trump by force-fitting affinity with the fascists (or the Nazis, for that matter) is to make a dangerous misdiagnosis; it also does a disservice to the memory of the individuals who suffered under those regimes. The more immediate danger is it exoticizes Trump as he were a phenomenon outside normal American history. This may be comforting to Americans, because it allows us to forget the great violence Jacksonian populism has done to the country. But like Jackson, Trump is one of us.
Kellyanne Conway strains her talents to justify her boss’s preemptive refusal to accept Election Day results by comparing it to the 2000 contested recount in Florida and somehow putting the blame on Gore:
A reader, Don, digs in:
Kellyanne Conway deliberately conflates challenges to a voting count, resulting in statutorily sanctioned recount processes, with Trump’s allegations of fraud and “rigging.” The former is a legitimate process to ensure that the votes have been counted accurately. No one disputes that, if the Electoral College result turns on a very close vote in one state (a la Florida in 2000), a recount would be legitimate and appropriate. Conway has set up a straw man here.
Let’s bear in mind that no one would even be having this conversation if it weren’t for two facts: (1) Trump is claiming, without any evidence whatsoever, that the Democrats—apparently in conjunction with the biased media—are somehow “rigging” the election; and (2) Trump has a history of being an immature whiner, a terrible loser, a bad sport, making similar allegations in other situations, including his claim that his television show was “screwed” out of Emmy Awards.
The Emmys are all politics, that's why, despite nominations, The Apprentice never won--even though it should have many times over.
He is truly a pathetic creature, and all of this would be funny if there wasn’t a real danger that he could actually win the election or, if he loses, irresponsibly set off a wave of violence (in the worst case scenario) and a loss of confidence in our electoral processes by a significant portion of the population (in the best case scenario).
Speaking of a “history of being an immature whiner, a terrible loser, a bad sport,” check out Trump’s tweet-storm right after the 2012 election (when Obama decisively beat Romney 332 to 206 in the Electoral College and 51 percent to 47 percent in the popular vote—a margin of nearly five million votes—with zero claims of voting irregularities by the Romney campaign or any other legitimate party):
That’s an array of execrable stuff, but the line, “The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation” reminds me of the $100,000 full-page ad Trump bought all the way back in 1987 criticizing U.S. foreign policy—an open letter to the American people that ended with, “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.” The only people laughing last night in the debate hall were the audience members reacting to Trump saying, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do”:
Conservatives want to channel fraud hysteria into vote suppression, not Trump's pointless delegitimizing rhetoric https://t.co/aP5ujIDNMh
Here’s another reader, Matt, on the Florida recount conflation that Conway is pushing (though if you disagree with Matt or our previous reader and think Conway has a point, please drop us a note and we’ll air it):
I’ve never written in before, but I would like to see the point made that Al Gore did NOT mount an election challenge to the 2000 election. In fact George W. Bush mounted the challenge, which is why he was the plaintiff. There is a reason that the case is titled Bush v. Gore and not the other way around. Simply put, Bush sought to intervene in the counting of ballots, not Gore. It’s offensive to me, as an attorney, to see this basic fact disputed. It’s in the caption of the case! Maybe it’s a minor point, but it again shows the utter dishonesty of the Trump campaign. Gore sought to have votes counted through the Florida courts. He was successful. Bush instituted federal litigation to prevent those votes from being counted. Bush was successful in federal court. Bush was the plaintiff in federal court—Bush brought the action in federal court—which is to say he challenged the results. This is undisputed.
Speaking of Bushes, here’s a letter from the elder one to Bill Clinton after losing the 1992 election. Just marvel at the contrast between these noble words and Trump’s rancid rhetoric:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
I wonder if we can't examine something a little more closely regarding a comment by reader Matt on Trump surrogates conflating the candidates “rigging” claims with the 2000 election. Matt makes the compelling argument that it was George W. Bush, not Al Gore, who challenged the election results, which is why Bush was the plaintiff, as in the entitled case Bush v. Gore.
An attorney I know argues otherwise—that Gore and Lieberman were the original plaintiffs. He explains that the original case as described in the first-level appeal as: Judgment of Circuit Court, in and for Leon County, N. Sanders Sauls, Judge, Case No. CV 00-2808 - Certified by the District Court of Appeal, First District, Case No. 1D00-4745. The original plaintiffs were Gore and Lieberman. It went from the Circuit Court to the District Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, and then to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The position of Bush first there is simply a reflection of the way the U.S. Supreme Court titles cases. The whole situation involved multiple actions and is complex. In the final U.S. Supreme Court docket (531 U.S. 98) Bush and Cheney were the petitioners and that is why they are first in the title. This was the petition for writ of certiorari from the Florida Supreme Court judgment rendered on December 8, 2000.
I realize this starts to get deep into the weeds of legalese but perhaps Matt—or someone—can comment on this. Let me be clear: I don’t raise this question in defense of Donald Trump or the claims of his acolytes. My only interest here is in clarity and accuracy.
Frankly, the bounds of propriety and good taste prohibit me from resorting to an appropriate descriptor of Mr. Trump fitting of my New York City upbringing. His claim of large-scale voter fraud is both irresponsible and preposterous. Anyone familiar with Donald Trump’s past shouldn’t be surprised by his behavior in this campaign. He has a long history of claiming victimization while eschewing self-accountability, which is ironic, given that Republicans/conservatives, etc. constantly prattle on about people being accountable for their own actions. That his supporters cannot accept this, and that they are conflating his rigging arguments with the 2000 election is a sad state of affairs.
Our previous note explored why such a high-percentage of evangelical Christians continue to support an amoral candidate like Trump, especially in the wake of “grab ’em by the pussy” and the cavalcade of accusers coming forward. This next reader, Holly, passes along one of those “Fwd: FW: FW:” emails you’ve probably gotten from an older relative. She writes:
Hello, The Atlantic! Love the magazine. Thanks for all your work. I have pasted below a copy of an email my father-in-law sent out to his family. It is one of those “crazy” chain emails he will often forward to his sons, thinking he is enlightening them, but this one is WAY over the top and pertains to the discussion of evangelicals and Trump.
My in-laws live in Texas and have become increasingly conservative in the last 20 years. There are some, on that side of the family, who believe Christianity IS at war with Islam. This email speaks to those people when it says, “Maybe God understands we need a ‘war leader’ at this moment in time. Maybe God understands if we don't win this election, America is dead. It’s over.”
I found the email shocking as it revealed how these Christians can overlook Trump’s “aggression” and “crudeness” because that is what it “takes to win.” Did you in the media know that you unleashed the “dogs of Hell?” The email totally disses Romney and Ryan AND Ford. LOL!
Actually, my husband and I found this email disturbing and disappointing. I hope you find it an interesting window into the Christian conservative’s ability to vote for Trump.
Hope you don’t mind me sharing this with you. Personally, I think it hits the nail on this head. If you feel the same about this, please pass it on. Knowing that Franklin Graham, James Dobson and so many others are on the same page with us. Please let’s encourage everyone we know to get out and vote. God has blessed this Country and we need to do our part now.
Thanks for listening to me so early this morning, but my heart is so heavy over this election. We have kids, grand-kids that will suffer from our actions if we don’t stand strong now.
This may be the best and most honest political promotion statement you will ever read. It decidedly does not brush objections aside.
You hate Hillary? READ it.
You hate Trump? READ it.
You think there’s no choice? READ it.
And, read it with your grown-up hat on. We’ve all been dealt huge responsibility with this election. The first step toward accepting responsibility is accepting it, and the first step toward accepting it is recognizing it.
READ THIS. Read every single word. It’ll take you about three minutes. Be sure to read to the end by taking a few minutes and read all of it!
Are you sickened and despondent with the current campaign and upcoming presidential election?
I consider myself a conservative and do truly believe our country is at a political/economic/moral/social crossroads. I need to let you know I could/would never vote for Hillary Clinton to lead this country. To me, she represents everything that is wrong with our current political structure.
If you find yourself in a similar state of mind, please read the following article:
A message about Donald Trump.
Here’s a famous joke about God and how he talks to us.
A deeply faithful Christian man is stuck on roof at home with massive flooding up to the 2nd floor.
Rowboat comes. He says, “No, I’m waiting for God. I prayed and I know he’s coming.”
2nd Rowboat. “No, I’m waiting for God.”
3rd Rowboat. “No, I’m waiting for God.”
Water rises. The man drowns.
Now he’s meeting God in heaven. The religious man says, “Where were you God? I prayed. I was faithful. I asked you to save me. Why would you abandon me?”
God says, “Hey, I sent you 3 rowboats.”
Did you ever consider Trump is our rowboat?
Maybe God is trying to tell us something important—that now is not the time for a “nice Christian guy” or a “gentleman” or a typical Republican powder puff. Maybe now is the time for a natural born killer, a ruthless fighter, a warrior. Because right about now we need a miracle, or America is finished. Maybe the rules for a gentlemen don’t apply here. Maybe a gentleman and “all-around nice Christian” would lead us to slaughter.
Or do you want another Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, John McCain, Gerald Ford or Paul Ryan?
Did any of them win?
Did they lead the GOP to “the promised land?”
Did they change the direction of America? No, because if you don’t win, you have no say. Paul Ryan couldn’t even deliver his own state, Wisconsin!
And as leader of the House, Paul Ryan rolls over to Obama like my dog rolls over for a scrap of food, or a steak bone, nice, but obedient. I mean Paul Ryan … not my dog. My dog is actually a pretty good defender and loyal.
Maybe God is knocking on your door loudly, but you’re not listening.
Maybe God understands we need a “war leader” at this moment in time.
Maybe God understands if we don’t win this election, America is dead. It’s over. The greatest nation in world history will be gone. Finished. Kaput. Adios.
And with one last breath, maybe what we need to save us at the last second, is someone different. Someone you haven’t ever experienced before, because you weren’t raised in rough and tumble New York where nothing good gets accomplished unless you’re combative, aggressive, outrageous, on offense at all times, and maybe just a tad arrogant too.
Someone with a personality you’ve never seen on stage at your church.
Maybe, just maybe, being a nice gentlemanly Christian would not beat Hillary and her billion dollars, and her best friends in the media who will unleash the dogs of hell upon the GOP nominee.
I guess you think God is only nice and gentlemanly. Really?
Then you’ve missed the whole point of the Bible. When necessary, God is pretty tough. When necessary, God strikes with pain, death and destruction. When necessary, God inflicts vengeance. Maybe you think God couldn’t possibly be associated with someone like Trump.
Trump is too vicious, rude and crude.
When we won WWII, was God “nice”?
Were we gentlemanly when defeating Hitler?
Were we gentlemanly when firebombing Germany?
Were we gentlemanly when dropping atomic bombs on Japan?
Is God ever “nice” on the battlefield? Or does he send us vicious SOB’s like General George S. Patton so the good guys can defeat evil?
That’s a different role than a pastor or church leader. God understands that. And maybe it's time to re-define “nice.”
Maybe Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan aren’t nice at all, because they led us to defeat. And losing again would mean the end of America. And God can’t allow that. Maybe Romney and Ryan mean well, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or maybe they’re just jealous they had their chance and blew it.
Maybe they’d rather help elect Hillary than allow a Trump victory that would make them look weak, feckless and incompetent.
“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” (Isiah 40:30-31)
God is about miracles. We don’t need a “nice guy” or a “gentleman” right now. It’s the 4th quarter and we’re losing 14-0. We need a miracle.
So let me repeat my message to Christians: “YOU’RE MISSING THE BOAT.”
I believe Trump is our miracle. I believe Trump is our rowboat. Except he’s more like a battleship!
No one is saying Trump is perfect.
No one is saying Trump is a perfect conservative.
But he is a patriot.
He is a warrior.
He is a capitalist.
He is the right man, at the right time.
Yes, he’s a bit rude and crude and offensive. But that may make him the perfect warrior to save America, American exceptionalism, capitalism and Judeo-Christian values. The choice should be easy.
It’s Trump … or it’s the end of the American dream.
If anything in this article strikes a positive chord with you, please pass it on.
If you have any similar chain emails sitting in your inbox, please pass it on: email@example.com. Update from Christopher, a reader in D.C. and Christian conservative Republican who stands in stark contrast to the other reader’s father-in-law:
Hello—Love The Atlantic, especially the work that Messrs. Fallows, Graham, Bodenner and others have done in keeping readers grounded, pushing back against the very real risk of voters becoming acclimated to what is a truly exceptional, unprecedented, and unacceptable parade of horribles from the GOP nominee.
I’m a life-long Christian, conservative, and Republican voter who has been led by faith, philosophy, and morality firmly into the #NeverTrump camp. But there are many friends, family, and co-religionists (as might be expected of a Texan) who recirculate the kind of emails and social media postings that were the subject of your last few notes.
I’ve not much to add to the excellent criticism already posted, except to note this: No pro-Trump posting I’ve seen this cycle from a “Christian” point of view has ever actually quoted Christ. Not. One.
Rather, “Christians” trot out David, or less frequently Moses, or Saul, or other flawed Old Testament characters, or cite to God leveling cities and calling for the slaughter of Israel’s enemies. And that, true, is part of the Christian tradition (no quotes there) and a foundation of the faith. But I’m astonished that “Christians” can write and circulate post after post claiming to reconcile their political behavior with their faith without citing to the One upon whom our faith is founded and named.
And there is a reason for this. The One who said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” would never approve of citing Old Testament vengeance, wrath, and human failures as an excuse for the opposite of what post-Resurrection behavior should look like. The One who preached the Beatitudes praising the Meek, Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, the Merciful, the Pure of Heart, the Peacemakers would never condone the words and actions and appropriateness of Trump to serve as a leader (regardless of what it might mean politically). The One who rebuked the Devil’s offer of “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” would never condone those, who call themselves by His name, explicitly acknowledging that they are selling their faith for political power and trying to rationalize that using Holy Scripture.
That the behavior in which Trump engages—actually, by which he defines himself—is no longer something to be expected, welcomed, or excused, and is in fact anathema to God, was more or less Christ’s entire point and the reason for His sacrifice.
Without Christ, there is no Christianity. Absent Him, there is no authority to claim righteousness in His name (and, for His followers, to claim righteousness at all). That’s why things like this disturb me so greatly. The Devil has made American Christians the same offer as he did to Christ on that desert mountain 2,000 years ago, and so many of them have taken him up on it, rather than responding, as their Master taught: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
I was pleased to see you say “God bless these principled Christians” in response to the Liberty United Against Trump statement [that opposed Liberty University’s president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., for continuing to support Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape and wave of women alleging sexual assault]. I hope you remember that they are still very conservative evangelicals who chose to attend Liberty University and who probably disagree with you about abortion, gay marriage, evolution, and a whole host of other topics. In other words, they’re the people Democrats spent years accusing of being the extremists destroying the GOP and the country.
The religious right is starting to look pretty good next to Donald Trump, eh? Glad to see the Trump campaign can sow harmony and understanding, despite his best efforts to spread discord. But maybe this also should be a time for Democrats to reflect on their many years of crying wolf.
I wish I could agree with the reader—that the evangelical right is finally taking a principled stand against a nominee who is not just a threat to our democratic system but also norms of human decency often aligned with “values voters”—but, unfortunately, this is the sad reality:
Nearly two-thirds of likely evangelical voters, 65 percent, said they support Trump in a nationwide survey released Tuesday by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute [PRRI] — this after the airing of an 11-year-old video in which he was recorded lewdly bragging about having made sexually inappropriate advances to married women. Likewise, a survey released Monday by the religious polling group Barna reported that Trump leads Hillary Clinton by 55 percent to 2 percent among likely evangelical voters in next month's general election. Such support has been remarkably consistent since Trump emerged as the Republican nominee — hitting a high of 78 percent in a July survey by the nonprofit Pew Research Center's Project on Religion & Public Life.
Back in February, PRRI’s CEO, Robert P. Jones, wrote a piece for us on “how ‘values voters’ became ‘nostalgia voters’”:
Trump’s success has demonstrated that the conventional mode of thinking about white evangelical voters as “values voters” is no longer helpful, if it ever was. The Trump revelation is that white evangelicals have become “nostalgia voters:” a culturally and economically disaffected group that is anxious to hold onto a white, conservative Christian culture that is passing from the scene.
But that “economically disaffected” part doesn’t really hold water, at least according to what Nate Silver found in May:
As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.
And circling back to Falwell, I hate to say he makes an excellent point here:
The group of [Liberty] students now speaking out against Trump represents a very small percentage of the Liberty student body of 15,000 resident students and 90,000 online students. The group (led by a never Trump activist, I am told) claims to have between 200 and 1200 signatures on a petition but admits that many of these signatories are not Liberty students.
Are you an evangelical voter who typically votes Republican but refuses to vote for Trump? Or do you support him despite his dramatic deviation from the teachings of Jesus Christ? We’d like to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from reader Jeremiah, a pastor in Minnesota: “Check out my Facebook page; you'll find plenty of opposition to Donald Trump (full disclosure: I’m also #NeverHillary).” A reader in Houston writes:
I'm an elder in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) and I voted for W. in 2000 and 2004, McCain in 2008, and Romney in 2012. This year I will be voting a write-in candidate as neither major party candidate is worthy of the office. This despite polling today showing Clinton within striking distance in my home state of Texas.
I wish I could write in “suspend the 22nd Amendment, just this once.” Here’s Amy, a reader in Honolulu:
You said you wanted to hear from evangelical Christians who will not vote for, or support, Trump. I am one of them. (Though I haven’t decided if I’m voting HRC or third party or HRC.)
Why not Trump, you ask? Because the exclusive fixation on overturning Roe that has dominated the right wing for decades is not enough for me to trade in all of my other values. The idea that Trump will nominate conservative nominees for the Supreme Court is primarily why most of the Christians I know are voting for him. For me this argument rests on three shaky assumptions:
1. That Trump will keep his word
2. That conservatives win Senate seats even though we have sold our souls to support a morally corrupt man
3. That EVEN with conservative justices, we can get them to overturn Roe. With a 5-4 in favor of conservatives when Scalia was alive, we couldn’t get it done.
Why are we putting our trust in SCOTUS instead of in God? Scripture is clear on the consequences of trusting in horsemen and chariots (Isaiah 31).
Yes, it takes the president to nominate a justice, but we have separation of powers in America, so it takes the Senate to confirm or reject the justices. Also, Trump has been pro-choice the majority of his life—is he so honorable that we can trust our integrity to him in exchange for nominees that we want? I don’t believe so, and that’s why I say shaky reasoning.
Plus, there was a Bush White House and a Republican-appointed majority of 5-4 on the Supreme Court and Republicans were still unable to shift the balance to overturn Roe, so why would evangelicals think now would be different? It’s just a rallying point designed to bring the religious right together for the Republican candidate and without any critical thought by the masses.
A new video from the alt-right, pro-Trump InfoWars tries to square the circle of evangelicals supporting Trump, if you care to watch below (note the irony of the computer screen toward the end of the clip that exclaims, “The family unit has been demolished!”—during a defense of a thrice-married man with five children from three women):
Granted, if you’re an evangelical voter who fiercely and sincerely believes that legal abortion has killed millions of human beings, a vote for Trump on those grounds makes sense—that is, if you actually believe that Trump will be true to his word on appointing a pro-life justice (who, if approved by Senate, still couldn’t guarantee a reversal of Roe v. Wade). And of course the cosmopolitan New Yorker was “very pro-choice” and supported even partial-birth abortion until he got more political, and he constantly shifts stances in dramatic, incoherent ways. The man is essentially a pagan, with no discernible history of religious faith, who instead worships money, power, and sexual conquest. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore blessedly gets it right:
Moore has for months blasted what he sees as Trump’s boorish behavior and character flaws, and last month he ramped it up with pointed comments in an op-ed in The New York Times and an appearance on “Face the Nation.” Trump’s campaign was “reality television moral sewage,” he told “Face the Nation,” and in the Times he criticized Trump’s followers — many of whom are Moore’s fellow evangelicals — for using racist “threats and intimidation” tactics. [...]
“My primary prayer for Donald Trump is that he would first of all repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ,” Moore told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in a video posted Friday (June 3). “That’s my prayer for any lost person.”
Update from the reader who sparked this discussion and now clarifies exactly what he meant:
Thank you for publishing my note, but I think you misrepresented my words. I did not claim that all evangelical Christians, or even a majority, are opposing Trump. In fact, similar to you, I’ve expressed shock and disappointment at the number of Christians who support him. Trump stated last year that he’d never asked God for forgiveness for anything. That should say everything we need to know about his belief in Christian values.
What I did say, however, is that anti-Trump evangelicals such as Russell Moore and the Liberty students are very much part of the group Democrats have previously accused of wrecking the country. For years, we’ve been hearing that Republicans need to stop talking about religion, abortion, and gay marriage, and get back to focusing on economic issues. Then, supposedly, Democrats would recognize them as a “reasonable” party once again. Well, as Ross Douthat says: “Ten years ago, liberals pined for a post-religious right, a different culture war. Be careful what you wish for.”
Over the past three days, as the Trump campaign has condensed into a tight ball of fury, recklessness, and recrimination, I’ve again been away from the Time Capsule beat. Partly this has been because of some unexpected last-minute article-writing duties. (Be on the lookout for our December issue! And before that, the new November one, just out now. And with the holiday season ahead, subscriptions make a great gift!) Partly it has been because of a planned and unexpectedly fascinating immersion with members of the Purpose Built Community network, this week at their national conference here in Birmingham, Alabama (where long ago I celebrated my 19th birthday while working as a reporter for The Southern Courier).
Some catch-up notes before tonight’s final debate:
1) Death with Dignity. Tim Miller, who was communications director for Jeb Bush’s doomed presidential campaign and has worked for other Republicans, has a wonderful essay in The Ringer called “Donald Trump is on a Presidential Death March We’ve Never Seen Before.” It addresses a part of politics that is vastly more agonizing for participants than it seems from outside: losing, in public, in a way that has no real counterpart.
When a baseball batter strikes out in a crucial bases-loaded, two-outs situation, or a basketball player misses a free throw or a quarterback throws an interception, it hurts. But there’s always the next game or the next season, and anyway you’re getting paid. When an actor misses out on an Oscar or Emmy—hey, you’re breaking my heart.
But when a politician loses a race, most of all for the presidency, it is all-out public failure on the biggest possible stage, leaving a mark that never really goes away. (The hoary joke on this theme was that after his 1984 landslide loss to Ronald Reagan, the 100 percent admirable Walter Mondale asked George McGovern “when does it stop hurting?”, referring to McGovern’s landslide loss to Richard Nixon 12 years earlier. “I’ll let you know,” the also-admirable McGovern is said to have replied.) And in a race for the White House, it’s an all-or-nothing outcome. On one side, four years with Air Force One and the attention of the world. On the other, four years of working off campaign debts and traversing the country for second-tier forums.
Bearing defeat is all the harder when you can see it coming, as McGovern and Mondale did, and as now seems very likely for Trump. And hardest of all if you have the emotional maturity of a child. Tim Miller’s piece does an excellent job of explaining why political defeat is an ordeal for anyone, and why impending defeat is bringing out even-worse aspects of Trump. (Also, please read Max Boot’s “What the Hell Happened to My Republican Party?” in Foreign Policy as an important complement.)
3) Do debates matter? In my October-issue piece on the debates, I mention the tut-tutting caution about debates from political scientists. When journalists discuss “influential” moments in past debates—the contrast in physical appearance between the sweaty Richard Nixon and the debonair John Kennedy in 1960, Ronald Reagan’s ease on the stage in 1980 and Jimmy Carter’s tenseness—scholars are quick to say there’s no hard testable proof that the debates really affected the outcome. So many other forces were at play; reaction to debates is to hard to quantify; etc. (My own view is that even if debates don’t provably determine who wins and loses the race, they still matter, as a lot of other intangibles do—convention speeches, ad campaigns, the good- or bad-breaks of unexpected news, etc. You can read more about the dispute in the piece.)
When this campaign is over, I’ll be interested to hear what the political scientists have to say. Because at the moment it certainly appears that the first Clinton-Trump debate had some effect. Here’s a screen shot of the “polls-plus” forecast of election odds, from Nate Silver’s 538 site. The blue and red trend lines are from 538. I’ve added the black arrow. See if you can guess which event the arrow indicates.
4) The prescience of Jane Goodall, cont. In my debate piece, I quoted the famous primatologist on the resemblances between Trump’s on-stage mannerisms and the dominance rituals of chimpanzees. Then installment #137 looked at the way Trump had actually put these dominant moves into effect when he was free to roam the stage in the second, town hall-style debate. His lurking and looming behind Clinton led to the famous recent SNL routine, and to the (admiring!) comment by his UK counterpart Nigel Farage that Trump resembled a “silverback gorilla.”
To close the loop, a reader in the UK sent a newspaper cartoon that illustrates what Jane Goodall was talking about. Who would have guessed that her eminence and insight extends into the realm of modern American politics?
One more debate to watch. 20 days to go. And—lest we forget—the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and most members of the Republican party still say: let’s make this man president.
I’m just tuning in to your time capsule of Donald Trump and I’m finding the commentary from Fallows and your readers to be insightful instead of frightful. Thank you.
“The Media” seemed to have been too polite at the onset of Sir Trump’s parade of hate and lies. It seemed like the major networks were all too afraid of rocking the boat; they were afraid to call Trump out too strongly. The Media worried too much about ad revenue if they didn’t give live airtime to empty podiums and feature the latest Trump statement in their crawlers. Besides, it was Real Reality TV! And it was Free! Life imitating artifice.
We, the public, got very little reporting of substance because that doesn't sell well during prime TV viewing periods. There was very little of what I call “true” journalism being done on TV. I saw very little of the Walter Cronkite, Edward Murrow, Orla Guerin, and Christiane Ananpour type of journalism. Does the journalistic code of ethics not matter anymore? Will excellent reporting end up being an oxymoron? I’m glad The Media have finally founds their spine, but I fear it may be too late.
There may not be much “true” journalism on TV this election, certainly not on cable news, but there has been a ton coming from legacy papers. The finance blogger Barry Ritholtz has an excellent post this week making the case that print newspapers—those dinosaurs we thought were going extinct, starting with the Craigslist meteor—could turn out to be the deciding factor in defeating Trump. And of course that defeat would be just deserts for a man who has ignorance and contempt for a free press and routinely threatens journalists and their institutions. Here’s Ritholtz:
Print quietly returned to its roots of investigative journalism and deep dive reporting. The Washington Post assigned two 20-person teams to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with orders to look into every phase of their lives. Other newspapers have similarly put reporters to work beyond the campaign trail.
However, there is a significant difference between the public figures of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
She had been a government figure for decades: starting in Arkansas when Bill Clinton became governor, then in the White House as First Lady, then New York’s Senator, and eventually Secretary of State. The FBI had done repeated background checks on her—that was before the endless Benghazi hearings and email investigation and other witch hunts that so far have found politically damaging soundbites but little in the way of criminality. Decades of that so-called “vast right wing conspiracy,” now known as alt.right media, had dug into every little tidbit of her life, creating a parade of conspiracy theories (HILLARY KILLED VINCE FOSTER!).
Ritholz also lists 10 examples of “blockbuster reporting from (mostly) old school print journalists.” One of them, of course, involves The Tape—the Access Hollywood footage showing Trump bragging about sexual assault in the foulest ways. If you’re interested in the backstory of The Tape, this piece from CNN describes how the footage got into the hands of David Fahrenthold, the future Pulitzer winner at the WaPo who had already been digging deep into Trump’s charity charade. A producer at NBC, which runs Access Hollywood, dug up the footage and brought it to the other producers, who were all set to air their own footage when they suddenly got scooped by Fahrenthold. Badass. And a big win for newspapers over tabloid television.
Back to our reader:
Maybe true journalism was missing because The Media never gave themselves permission to seriously think about the real-life repercussions of a Prez Trump. They never thought to point out the very real dangers of letting hate spew for entertainment’s sake.
The U.K. made the same mistake with their “Leave/Remain” vote that resulted in Brexit. Their media and promoters of the “Remain” camp never clearly stated the true consequences of leaving the EU—like, that their money will be worth less because other nations won't trust them anymore, or that mass deportations won't happen overnight. Their media just continually said Leave would be bad and Remain would be good while fascists spouted hate and fear and made promises of a golden future. Everyone underestimated the power of riling up the masses by appealing to their ignorance. The ultra-positive Remain polls probably lulled some voters into just sitting on their sofas on election day.
This election makes me wonder if we all underestimate the amount of ignorance and hatred in our countries (UK and US). I sometimes fear that there are far more of “them” than we care to even consider. They have been there all along: our neighbors, our workmates, our employers, and so on, but no one else gave them such a large and engaging voice before. They seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and they have been emboldened by their numbers. They believe that theirs is a true and just cause, and they have the fervor of fanatics. Their concerns have been legitimized now, so they must be addressed—no matter how ignorant. I fear it will take decades to undo this mess, no matter who wins.
If you have any thoughts on the battle between Trump and the press, drop us a note. Update from a reader, Kevin:
Credit snobbery? I remember [David] Broder’s staggeringly idiotic comment that after the Clintons left, the grownups were back in charge. That sort of Washington insularity is, I’d posit, much more a characteristic of the press, which likes to imagine itself the true inheritors of the First Amendment and distance itself from the electronic upstarts (from radio on). Trump is, of course, a creature of television (all image, celebrity, and fevered claims) with policies supplied from the sensationalist world of Breitbart. I imagine Broder sputtering at the prospect of covering Trump, worse than at the prospect of the young upstart from Illinois upending the insider pal of the serious, John McCain, in 2008.
But history is a boomerang, as Ralph Ellison argued, and after two-dozen years Hillary Clinton is the grownup. She burnished that image against a Sanders campaign that was often covered—and sometimes saw itself—as an idealistic children’s campaign. Willy Loman might say that she’s liked, but not well liked. In 2016, that’s good enough.
Another reader, Daniel:
I think those who bemoan the lack of serious reporting on Trump’s rise early in the campaign and the awful real-world consequences of electing him once he became the nominee ... miss the larger point: The people who support Trump do not lack information about who he is, what he is done, or what he represents. These folks have heard it and read it all and they DON’T CARE.
WHY they don’t care is a subject for another piece entirely, but suffice it to say, earnest editorials in the mainstream press during the primaries were not going to sway Trump supporters away from their chosen champion.
But such editorials are probably having some effect on the swing voters in the general election. Not a single major newspaper—roughly half of which endorsed Romney in 2012—has endorsed Trump. (Well, unless you considerThe National Enquirer a major paper.) Here at The Atlantic, we did our small humble part on behalf of Not Trump.
All 22 major US white supremacy orgs. endorse Trump but none of the 1382 major US newspapers endorse Trump. pic.twitter.com/CIVpeseGHO
Many more of your smart emails are coming in over Trump and what he means for the election, the GOP, and the country. The first one comes from reader Reid, who describes a familiar outlook that is more relevant than ever, as Trump’s campaign continues to implode while taking the Republicans down with him. (Sarah Palin’s “going rogue” in 2008 seems quaint by comparison.) Here’s Reid:
The fact that the GOP isn’t pushing back on Trump’s attack on the election is appalling and reprehensible to me. McConnell’s silence stands out in particular. The GOP is dead, and the GOP is certainly dead to me (and that is not a good thing for our country).
I once had a theory: People like Christie, Pence, McConnell, and Ryan, by supporting Trump, would place them in position to prevent Trump from doing stupid things if he were elected. The reasoning here is: If they openly opposed and antagonized Trump, there would be zero chance that Trump would cooperate with them. (They probably had a 10 percent chance of controlling him or getting him to cooperate if he viewed them as loyal supporters.) These justifications seem somewhat compelling to me, even though they are also a bit dubious and awfully close to easy rationalizations that mask personal ambition and realpolitik, because they put the country first.
But none of these justifications seem valid now (if they ever were valid). Trump is aggressively attacking the validity of the election and decrying the lack of support from the GOP—which turns his supporters against the GOP. McConnell or Ryan’s pushback will carry little weight with Trump supporters. It also seems clear that Trump views Ryan (at least) as disloyal. That basically means Ryan has almost no chance of working effectively with Trump.
There’s one other possibility that comes to mind to justify their continued support: If they renounce Trump now, I’m thinking that just feeds the Trump’s narrative the the GOP wasn’t supporting him sufficiently all along. Still, even if this is true, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure the GOP is in an effective position to push back against Trump’s refusal to accept the election results.
Earlier this year, a part of me felt the Republicans should have abandoned their party, leaving Trump behind and other Republicans who wanted to support him—while forming a new party. This move could rid themselves of everything bad about the party (e.g., racism) and with Trump as the figurehead, creating a blank slate to build a new party, one that would could appeal to minorities and also working- and middle-class voters. It was an opportunity with the long game in mind. The pain in the short term would be intensely painful (e.g., losing the White House, maybe even losing seats Congress). But it’s not like the route they've chosen will avoid any of those things either!
Instead, the GOP leadership has lost all credibility in the process. I don’t and won’t see them as credible leaders and re-builders of the party. I feel like they’re in a worse position than if they tried to create a new party. And it would be even worse still if Trump wins.
Another reader, Steve, suggests that the GOP should’ve seen this sort of “rigged” rhetoric coming after Trump’s sustained Birtherism—and now their chickens have come home to roost:
Much has been said and written about the possibility of Trump and his followers refusing to accept the legitimacy of a Clinton victory. Is this that different than most of these same people’s reaction to Obama’s election? Trump himself made Obama’s ineligibility a years-long vocation.
This next reader, Robert, takes a longer historical view and finds that Trump—enabled by the cowardly GOP establishment—runs counter to America’s aspirational goal of “a more perfect union”:
When our founders framed up a country based on democracy—“All men created equal,” freedom of speech and the rest of it—they pointed us in the direction of idealism. The personal hypocrisy for some of our wig-wearing, slave-owning forefathers must have been pretty thick, but hypocrisy is always the risk of idealism.
Donald Trump represents the opposite: brutal honesty. Because he is richer and more powerful than women at parties or contractors working on his buildings, he takes what he wants, sex, money, favors from politicians and whatever else he desires. This is, in truth, the way the world works. Trump is a poster child for what you can get away with if you are rich and powerful and a celebrity.
The fragile but enduring premise of our country is that we will perpetually strive against the brutal reality of the world toward something better, fairer, and more just. This has been a spectacularly successful experiment, so far but progress has been slow to retrograde for the past several decades, especially for people in rural America. Trump represents a repudiation of the founding ideals, but his appeal is only possible because the previous leaders have so poorly succeeded at the promise of making things better for everyone.
Update from a reader in Chicago, Victor, who points to more examples of how the Republican Party is reaping what it sowed:
I think one of the problems the GOP has with refuting Trump’s claims of a rigged election is that the GOP has been using the bogeyman of election fraud (of which there is none to really speak of) to disenfranchise voters all over. If they now say that the elections are fair, their base—which has been fed the lie of fraud for about 10 years—is not going to have it.
I think the party has put out so many patently false narratives to their base using non-traditional media (like mailers, surrogates etc) that it would be difficult for them walk all those back without losing the base. I mean things like Obama is a Kenyan, Obama is a Muslim, there is massive voter fraud in the cities, Obamacare can be repealed, etc etc. I am sure the people pushing these did not themselves believe that those things have come home to roost. Now when the “leaders” come out saying that the elections are actually fair, the base does not believe them.
Can we call these guys leaders anymore? People like Ryan and McCain? They are not leaders. They can and do say things regularly that contradict their own statements from 1-2 months ago to keep themselves politically viable. This election has exposed the spinelessness of the GOP elite like nothing else has. We always talked about the hypocrisy of the GOP, especially when it comes to “Christian Morals,” that I never expected them to be spineless too.
Even more spineless, and soulless, is the very public support of Trump by Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University. In the following clip from CNN, Falwell tries to squirm away from Trump’s sexual immorality and criminality by claiming that “we’re not electing a pastor” and “render unto Caesar” and “who am I to judge?”—attempting to appear like he’s just a humble ordinary citizen, not one of the most prominent evangelical voices representing the world’s largest Christian university he inherited from one the most famous evangelical leaders of the 20th century.
[The student group Liberty United Against Trump says] that the Republican presidential nominee “is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.” … “We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history,” according to a tweet from the group’s social media coordinator Tyler McNally.
Here’s the group’s full statement, which was signed by more than 200 students:
I am proud of these few students for speaking their minds. It is a testament to the fact that Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out.
Joel Schmieg says he doesn’t know exactly what he wrote that made Jerry Falwell Jr. cut his article out of the Liberty University school newspaper. He just said that the school’s president told his editors his story criticizing Donald Trump couldn’t run. … [Schmieg’s piece condemned Trump for bragging about sexual assault and condemned premarital sex, which is banned at Liberty.] Still, Schmieg said Falwell, who has endorsed Trump and stumped for him at the Republican National Convention, squashed the piece anyway. He said “everything controversial” gets sent to Falwell first.
Perhaps someone should send Falwell the Lord’s prayer too, says reader Tom:
Falwell makes an amazing theological statement at about 1:20 in the CNN Erin Burnett clip: “It’s not up to me to forgive anybody. I’m not, I’m not Jesus. Only Jesus can forgive and He can forgive anybody.”
This is clearly at odds with the Lord’s prayer, the only prayer that Jesus taught. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Did any Liberty students notice this?
Update from one more reader, Ken in Santa Barbara, who circles back to the central character in this horror show:
Once it was apparent that Trump would get at least 35% of the primary vote with no one strong opponent, it should have been obvious the party was doomed. They would have to choose between supporting Trump’s candidacy and alienating enough traditional GOP voters (who might stay home, and not vote down ballot), and opposing him and enraging his supporters (who would also abandon the down ballot GOP candidates). Principled Republicans could quit the party to form a new one, but that basically gives control of the party to maybe a third of the members, many of whom have no loyalty to the GOP anyway.
If the leaders (especially Ryan) had any courage, they would not negotiate with the extreme right wing of the party and make a deal with Democrats to get enough votes for the speaker. They would end their adherence to the Hastert Rule and stop relying only on GOP votes to pass legislation. This would allow compromise that would be in their best interest, and would drive the Trumpists out of the party. Even though they would have a smaller GOP, it would still be better than starting over.
As a Dem-supporting independent, I don’t really care. They are toast no matter what.
More readers are building on the projection argument that Fallows outlined in Time Capsule #142: “that ‘projection,’ in the psychological sense, is the default explanation for anything Donald Trump says or does”—that he accuses people of sins that are far more his own. Reader Tom contrasts Trump’s approach with recent history:
I may be saying the same thing in a different way, but Mr Trump has been engaging in what I’ve thought of as a new style of political attack.
“Rovian politics,” named after Karl Rove, was taking on your opponent’s strengths and attacking them head on to negate their advantage (e.g. “Swiftboating” John Kerry to attack his war record and turn a strength into a weakness).
In “Trumpian politics” you take your weaknesses, exaggerate them, and accuse your opponent of possessing that weakness. Is womanizing a potential weakness of yours? Accuse your opponent of being much worse than you were, making yourself look good (at least in your own mind) by comparison. Temperament? Accuse your opponent of being completely unstable to divert attention. Old enough to be the oldest person ever elected to a first term? Accuse your opponent of being weak and sickly.
By exaggerating your weaknesses and targeting your opponent with the same, you not only attack them with something they consider important but you potentially make yourself look good by comparison.
Sandra notes another example of projection:
A minor thing, but Trump may well have lied about his weight. After the Dr Oz show, the number 267 pounds was floating around. Apparently a few studio audience members said that was the weight that was mentioned from the medical report. It could easily have been doctored before the screening. Plus he added an inch to his height to get himself into the merely overweight category.
So the fat-shamer in chief lies about his weight and probably falls well into the obese category. Weigh-in before the next debate perhaps?
This next reader, Joe, poses a compelling and disturbing question:
Reading the latest entries about Trump’s habit of projection and his latest assertions that the election is “rigged,” I can’t help but draw a horrifying extrapolation: What if Trump’s allegations about Democrats and the media rigging the election are themselves projection?
Is it so hard to imagine that Trump himself might want to rig the election? Or, more likely, that he could believe that Roger Stone or WikiLeaks or Putin’s Kremlin have a plan to do it for him? I’m not sure I believe this, or even that Trump believes it, but it does present a cautionary illustration.
If Trump’s “rigged” allegations are projection, then the recent response to them would play into his hands. Gore et al stepped aside despite reasonable arguments he should have won, and I (a Gore supporter) agree with that. But what if there were an actual, serious effort to steal this election—more than just, as in 2000, a close election with a few irregularities? Then Trump would certainly point to pre-election comments like Fallows’s as affirmation that the loser should step aside, that even Clinton supporters were on record saying so.
In fact, this kind of pre-emptive defense is part of the Trump playbook. Recall the Trump University scam, where instructors routinely harassed students into giving glowing evaluations, which were later used in court to try to undermine those who accused him of fraud.
I’m not sure what the answer is, though perhaps it’s something like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s nuanced statement (reported in the NYT) that it’s irresponsible to question the integrity of elections without evidence. In any case, this example illustrates the challenge of dealing with demagogic candidate like Trump (or a dirty trickster like Roger Stone) who seems to have no respect for our political system. Demanding that they play by “the rules” only works if those rules can be rigorously enforced. But rigorous enforcement also gives them a stick to exploit against their opponents, if decency doesn’t hold them back.
Speaking of a possible Russia connection, another reader, Peter, notes a historical irony:
A large bloc of Trump’s supporters believe that the election will be fraudulent if Clinton wins, and a large bloc of Trump’s supporters see Russia in a favourable light. That means that it is the Republican base who doesn’t believe in democracy and is impressed with the strength of Moscow. Who would have thought that the most credible attempt of a Communist takeover of the U.S. would come from Republicans.
Of course this is a complete 180 from four years ago:
Back to Peter:
Perhaps more seriously (hopefully), there are two larger questions. One is if the Republican party can / will / should split in two, and if so, into what parts? The argument against them splitting in two is that the American political system is so geared to a “two party” system that any and all permanent non-majority parties are banned to the political wasteland. The argument in favor of them splitting in two is that the the current party has absolutely no working definition of what a “conservative” is.
Post 2016, “conservative” will have lost all meaning. Currently it means “family values” and supporting sexual abuse and a complete lack of religious faith. Currently it means “American ideals” and a disrespect for democracy and a praise of authoritarians and former Communists. Currently it means “small government” and massive spending. It had already taken to mean both isolationism and empire building.
The word itself means a resistance to change, but in practice it means complete radical change. There seems to be little point to having a “conservative” party when the word no longer means anything. Right now it’s just the “I hate Hillary” party. Except for when the Republicans unite in their daily “two minutes of hate,” they have nothing to do with each other.
The other question is: Why can’t the Democrat left ever figure out how to talk to the white working class? They are some of the very people who they are claiming to help, but since before Reagan, they were written off. This whole Trump thing could have been prevented in the first place if the Democrats knew how to talk to a third of his base. But with the white working class largely anti-union, it may be a bigger trick than it should be.
If you disagree with any of these readers or just want to add to the discussion in general, drop us a note anytime. Update from a reader who poses a question: “Doesn’t asking his supporters to patrol polling centers and challenge ‘suspicious looking people’ or whatever already count as attempting to rig the election?” Another reader:
Consider the stated Trump desire to jail Clinton as an effort to put his opponents on record as opposing jailing the loser (now almost certainly him). Is it possible he has done any jail-worthy deeds with taxes, charities, or Russian money-laundering for which he would like preemptive immunity? I swear I am not projecting ...
Earlier this year I read Edward B. Foley’s excellent history of disputed elections in America, Ballot Battles. The book is fascinating on many levels and alarming in its descriptions of the weaknesses in America’s electoral institutions. But I want to focus on one particular election featured in the book: the 1960 presidential contest between Nixon and Kennedy.
It’s now generally accepted that Chicago Democrats manipulated the vote totals in the 1960 election in an attempt to help Kennedy carry Illinois. There is also substantial evidence that Lyndon B. Johnson’s political machine in Texas manipulated the vote total in Kennedy’s favor. If Nixon was, in fact, cheated out of those two states and their electoral votes, then he was cheated out of the presidency in 1960.
Political partisans had their suspicions even at the time. After Nixon’s initial concession to Kennedy, his supporters urged him to seek recounts in both Illinois and Texas. But Nixon was convinced that there was no way for him to get a truly fair recount from Texas state officials. And at the time, the Supreme Court's policy was to avoid federal intervention in this type of dispute.
So let’s take a step back and consider this situation. Here we have a politician who is just out of reach of the White House. He has a reasonable belief that the vote totals in two key states were rigged against him, and that the recount process in one of those states would also be rigged against him. On top of everything else, this politician is Richard Nixon, a man whose name has become a shorthand for political dirty tricks. So what does he do?
He did not seek a recount in Texas. He did not denounce the vote counting process and recount process in Texas as “rigged.” He didn’t even seek a recount in Illinois, since Illinois by itself could not provide him the additional electoral votes needed to win.
Nixon later explained his reasoning for this inaction in his 1962 book, Six Crises. He worried that, “The bitterness that would be engendered by such a [recount] maneuver . . . would, in my opinion, have done incalculable and lasting damage throughout the country.” He also wrote that, “It is difficult enough to get defeated candidates in some of the newly independent countries to abide by the verdict of the electorate. If we could not continue to set a good example in this respect in the United States, I could see that there would be open-season for shooting at the validity of free elections throughout the world.”
The problems with the 1960 election and recount process are so manifest that Edward Foley concludes that “the 1960 presidential election must be viewed as a failure of American government to operate a well-functioning democracy.” The fact that this view is not widely shared should be attributed to the selfless act of a man who is otherwise (and not without cause!) pilloried for his subversion of American democratic ideals.
And that brings us back to Trump. Whereas Nixon had actual grounds to suspect vote-rigging, Trump has none. Whereas Nixon declined to challenge the election results after his supporters raised legitimate concerns, Trump is now spreading disinformation before the votes have even been counted. And whereas Nixon would not press his legitimate grievances for fear of dividing the country, Trump is using his lies to lay the groundwork for possible violence.
Nixon did more damage to the presidency and the popular image of American government than any other politician in the 20th Century. Trump hasn’t even been elected president, and yet he may have already done more damage than Nixon.
It’s worth noting one of the strongest ties between Nixon and Trump: Roger Stone. Stone is a Nixon acolyte—complete with a large tattoo of the president on his back—known for his “dirty tricks” on behalf of Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972. In his 2014 book Nixon’s Secrets, Stone forcefully argues that Kennedy stole the 1960 election:
During this primary season, Stone was one of Trump’s close advisors and henchmen (you probably remember him as the guy who threatened to send Trump supporters to the hotel rooms of RNC delegates) and he reportedly remains in close contact with Trump’s team. It would be no surprise if Stone’s deep resentment over the 1960 election is fueling the “rigged” rhetoric coming out of the Trump campaign right now.
Plenty of moms feel something less than unmitigated joy around their grown-up kids. Make sure yours feels that she’s getting as much out of her relationship with you as she gives.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Arthur C. Brooks will discuss the science of happiness live at 11 a.m. ET on May 20. Register for In Pursuit of Happiness here.
“You are … irritating and unbearable, and I consider it most difficult to live with you.” So wrote Johanna Schopenhauer in a 1807 letter to her 19-year-old son Arthur. “No one can tolerate being reproved by you, who also still show so many weaknesses yourself, least of all in your adverse manner, which in oracular tones, proclaims this is so and so, without ever supposing an objection. If you were less like you, you would only be ridiculous, but thus as you are, you are highly annoying.”
How did a tiny, poor nation manage to suffer only one death from the coronavirus?
On January 7, a 34-year-old man who had been admitted to a hospital in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, with preexisting liver and kidney problems died of COVID-19. His was the country’s first death from the coronavirus. Not the first death that day, that week, or that month: the very first coronavirus death since the pandemic began.
How is this possible? Since the novel coronavirus was first identified more than a year ago, health systems in rich and poor countries have approached collapse, economies worldwide have been devastated, millions of lives have been lost. How has Bhutan—a tiny, poor nation best known for its guiding policy of Gross National Happiness, which balances economic development with environmental conservation and cultural values—managed such a feat? And what can we in the United States, which has so tragically mismanaged the crisis, learn from its success?
Our son needs structure, but he also needs to unwind. What should we prioritize?
Editor’s Note: Every Tuesday, Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer take questions from readers about their kids’ education. Have one? Email them at email@example.com.
Dear Abby and Brian,
Everything feels untenable. I am so frustrated for my son, whom I’ll refer to as “Caleb,” who is in first grade. I’m frustrated for his teachers too, and for me and my wife. Caleb is on the verge of tears by the time online school ends at 2:30, and, to be honest, so am I. His schedule is different every day, and he can’t read well enough to follow all the directions, so even though I am working and ignoring him most of the time, he interrupts me just often enough to make me seem unprofessional. After his day is done, we let him watch TV until my wife or I can stop working, which is around 5 o’clock most days. This means that one of us has about an hour with Caleb before bath, dinner, and bedtime.
The question isn’t whether it can end well, but how exactly it will end badly.
Of all the flaws in the perplexing “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, the hypocrisy shines through most clearly.
As Donald Trump and his allies grasped at straws to cast doubt on the results of last year’s presidential race, they settled on a few common complaints. They said that the election process was tainted by procedures that had been hastily changed in the lead-up to voting, that it was run by partisan hacks, that outside observers were provided insufficient access to oversee the process, and that the election was corrupted by private money given by philanthropists to boards of elections to help them adapt to the pandemic.
Now, more than six months after the election, the circus in Arizona, ordered by the state Senate, has become the last stand of the denialists. The review has attracted the close attention of Trump himself, who has fired off repeated, blustery statements about the count from his Mar-a-Lago exile. But Arizona is committing all the same sins that Trump’s supporters have been denouncing, using a brazenly partisan process run by apparently unqualified parties, with procedures kept secret and subject to change. Observers are being asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, reporters have been kicked out of the site, and the exercise is being largely funded by interested outside parties—even though the Arizona legislature recently passed a law that prevents local boards from accepting outside funding.
Progressive communities have been home to some of the fiercest battles over COVID-19 policies, and some liberal policy makers have left scientific evidence behind.
Lurking among the jubilant Americans venturing back out to bars and planning their summer-wedding travel is a different group: liberals who aren’t quite ready to let go of pandemic restrictions. For this subset, diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity—even when that means overestimating the disease’s risks or setting limits far more strict than what public-health guidelines permit. In surveys, Democrats express more worry about the pandemic than Republicans do. People who describe themselves as “very liberal” are distinctly anxious. This spring, after the vaccine rollout had started, a third of very liberal people were “very concerned” about becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, compared with a quarter of both liberals and moderates, according to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington. And 43 percent of very liberal respondents believed that getting the coronavirus would have a “very bad” effect on their life, compared with a third of liberals and moderates.
I surprised myself by enjoying this sad movie about old people working seasonal jobs.
Nomadland dares you to watch it. Even pressing the Play button on Hulu is a test of strength; do you have the stones to watch this plotless, dreary semi-documentary about elderly people forced to live in vans—and, yes, perform unspeakable bodily functions within them—and search for seasonal work? Or are you going to be a little baby and watch The Bourne Identity for the kabillionth time?
The much-reviled four-quadrant theory of moviemaking holds that a blockbuster appeals to all four sectors of the audience: young men, young women, somewhat older men, and somewhat older women. Nomadland is a movie that appeals to the four quadrants of the show-business apocalypse: menopausal women, people with life-threatening illnesses, people interested in poverty, and anyone with time on her hands who can’t find the remote.
How 1980s MTV helped my students understand the Cold War
For decades, I have taught courses on nuclear weapons and the Cold War. Conveying what life was like with the everyday fear of immediate destruction, especially to younger students, has become more and more difficult over the years. Students understand, in some general way, that nuclear war was a terrifying possibility. But the “duck and cover” images—black-and-white stock footage of boys with slicked-down hair and girls in saddle shoes all dropping to the floor as if in a clumsy game—are now clichés. The nightmares of my childhood are, to them, just pop-culture kitsch.
In class, I’ve shown students movies from the nuclear age, hoping that Gregory Peck’s stoicism about the death of the world in On the Beach or Charlton Heston’s damnation of all mankind in the final moments of The Planet of the Apes might make them understand some of the smothering fear of living in a world on the edge of instant oblivion. I make them watch The Day After and read Fail-Safe and Warday. To younger people, these films and books now seem like relics from some lost civilization, full of mysterious, apocalyptic texts and angry cinematic gods.
The Tesla CEO’s SNL performance was neither redemptive nor entertaining. But it served a classic purpose: glossing over his real power.
However your 2021 is going, what’s undeniable is that after Donald Trump left office earlier this year, a strange cultural quietude settled upon America. No one would dare call it peace. But the audiences for TV news and online media immediately shrunk. Rather than fretting quite as much about an imminent civil war, commentators have been arguing about sexy hip-hop videos. Saturday Night Live, the rare 21st-century entertainment that most Americans seem to maintain some awareness of, has been adrift: Millions of viewers have been sitting out the 2021 season. The show’s most notable segment this year was about sassy icebergs.
Recently, though, America has appeared to be auditioning a new candidate for prime agitator of profitable controversy: Elon Musk. When SNL announced that the 49-year-old Tesla CEO would host last night’s show, it kicked off a national argument with all-too-familiar overtones. Musk is a billionaire commanding a personality cult with trollish tweets. He’s a self-styled savior of mankind who also downplayed the threat of COVID-19. He’s a white man who thinks he’s funny but who really, really isn’t. Some pundits chided SNL for elevating a figure who has used public platforms to bully and spread misinformation. Others cheered open discourse and capitalism. Musk’s fans dreamed of him plugging their favorite cryptocurrency, Dogecoin. SNL appeared all but sure to bust its ratings slump.
Feelings about the vaccine are intertwined with feelings about the pandemic.
Updated at 10:07 a.m. ET on May 4, 2021.
Several days ago, the mega-popular podcast host Joe Rogan advised his young listeners to skip the COVID-19 vaccine. “I think you should get vaccinated if you’re vulnerable,” Rogan said. “But if you’re 21 years old, and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’ll go, ‘No.’”
Rogan’s comments drew widespread condemnation. But his view is surprisingly common. One in four Americans says they don’t plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and about half of Republicans under 50 say they won’t get a vaccine. This partisan vaccine gap is already playing out in the real world. The average number of daily shots has declined 20 percent in the past two weeks, largely because states with larger Trump vote shares are falling off the pace.
A raging outbreak in Brazil threatens gains against the virus.
As populism has experienced a resurgence in recent years, many have focused on the hazards the ideology poses to democratic systems. But today’s complex and highly technical global threats—pandemics, climate change, cyberattacks, financial crises—that demand technocratic solutions have driven home a grim reality: Populism can place us all at risk.
In 2018, a burst of anger over government corruption propelled a populist politician named Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency. Brazil, which is currently suffering from one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, is a prime example of how populist governance in one country can threaten the whole world. If the way out of the pandemic is through science, in the form of mass vaccination and other containment measures, the corollary is also true: The way we remain mired in it is, in large part, through the kind of anti-science worldview that populists frequently champion.