A reader in New York writes about the way he is casting his vote. He also asks a question, for which my answer is below.
From the reader:
As a two-time Obama voter and Obama fan, I am not at all enthusiastic about HRC and plan to vote Gary Johnson to register my unease with her. Your views on Trump are well known, but I would like to know: what do you think of HRC, not as an alternative to Trump per se—who’s obviously so much worse—but as an affirmative choice for president?
Put another way, if you set aside the idea of influencing the outcome / blocking Trump and instead focus on voting as an act of affirmation, do you actively support HRC despite her flaws and why? Do you think we should feel good that she will be president? I have seen no evidence of her having “learned” from past ethical missteps or foreign policy misjudgments. My own views are below, and I see three main negatives in HRC.
Her poor judgment and paranoid streak (see: email fiasco) are not just unappealing, but undermine her effectiveness when they blow up in her face. This pattern will continue into her presidency.
The nexus of public service and personal enrichment known as Clinton Inc., regardless of whether it rises to the level of actual corruption. (That they’ve figured out how to land just shy of criminality almost makes the whole thing worse.)
Her foreign policy will be conventionally hawkish, with all the unnecessary / counterproductive use of resources that entails. Her presidency will be paralyzed domestically by unprecedentedly fierce opposition, so foreign policy will be the only arena where she can demonstrate “effectiveness.” This increases the risk of ill-conceived misadventures abroad for the sake of “doing something”—e.g. I expect the U.S. will be dragged into a morass in Syria that Obama has largely resisted. Her clearly telegraphed Syria policy will cost a lot of money; American servicemen will die; and it will worsen terrorist blowback from the Middle East. And this is to say nothing about new crises she’ll be faced with.
These negatives bother me very much—but they’re livable.
The negatives against Trump are overwhelming and intolerable, and stem only partly from his policies (which I do believe will be worse for America). Cracking down on immigration, banning Muslims or “extreme vetting” of foreign visitors, trade protectionism, massive unfunded tax cuts, haircutting the national debt—all of these will be worse for the country IMO….
But I’m even more swayed by Trump’s farcically, outrageously unfit temperament for the presidency. As prolifically chronicled in his Twitter feed, in the context of the U.S. presidency, Trump is a man of unprecedented pettiness, vulgarity, sensitivity to perceived slights, and emotional immaturity.
Yes, Clinton’s administration will be 50%+ preoccupied with fending off sundry investigations, inquiries, commissions, inquests, and controversies—some her own fault, others concocted by detractors. But President Trump will be 50%+ preoccupied with obsessively reading his own press, answering slights, and settling a continuous flow of spats, feuds, arguments, tizzies, vendettas, quarrels, and brouhahas—whether with b-list celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell and Alicia Machado, members of the press, bureaucrats and elected officials, or foreign leaders.
Why is that significant? Because it’s a near-certainty that he will re-purpose the powers of the presidency in general—most ominously including the U.S. military—as a vehicle for settling disputes, saving face, getting the last word, and asserting dominance. And he’ll be equally pliable by flatterers and favor-curriers, within his administration or without, domestic or foreign—including foreign despots much cleverer, more strategic than he is.
His decisions will be guided by emotion, vanity, and ego first, and a rigorous calculation of the national interest only a distant second. Not because he wants them to be, but becausehe can’t help it. By its very nature, this setup makes it literally impossible to predict what those decisions may be, except that they will bear only an incidental relation to what’s best for the country.
With Clinton, you know what you’re getting: a basically conventional policy offering—left of center domestically, relatively hawkish and interventionist abroad—combined with likely ethical and/or legal lapses; an unhealthy degree of secrecy / paranoia; probably some fresh embarrassments courtesy of Bill’s sex addiction (which I assume is alive and well); and maybe even health problems of some severity.
But the negatives are known and bounded. Either she has a decent, effective, scandal-free presidency; or she engages in various scandals, whether or not she gets away with it. But that’s the range of outcomes. Not all are desirable, but all are survivable. She may well blow up her presidency, sure—but what could she conceivably do that would be catastrophic not just to her legacy, but to the country? HRC’s range of outcomes is between “tolerable” and “pretty shitty,” with a non-zero if remote chance of “good.”
With Trump, we have no idea what we’re getting. The range of outcomes is unbounded and skewed to the negative. He could be great—one of the best. He could be Reagan Redux, as some have hoped. But he could also be catastrophic. Almost nothing is too far-fetched, too fantastical, to put in the realm of possibility. He could be the most negatively consequential president of the post-war era. Why not, given that he gets into 3 a.m. Twitter feuds with 1990s Venezuelan beauty queens while ostensibly running for president?
Forget about his hucksterism, his profound vulgarity and tackiness, his trail of credible sexual assault accusers, his policy ignorance and lack of curiosity… All bad things, but the dispositive issue for me is the signature Trump constellation of vindictiveness, vainglory, impulsiveness, and an ultra-fragile sense of pride. He could offer the best set of policies imaginable, and it wouldn’t matter. Those traits alone still make him a gamble that neither the status quo nor the many flaws of HRC are so bad as to justify.
So, if I’m casting the deciding vote, there is no contest: in this particularly loathsome election, HRC is the only sound choice. Thankfully, I’m not in that position and I do consider a third party vote a perfectly honorable thing to do in this cycle.
Like the reader, I vote in a jurisdiction whose Electoral College result is not in question—for him, New York; for me, D.C. Unlike him, I think it’s important to cast a vote for one of the two candidates with a chance of becoming president, which in my case means voting for Hillary Clinton.
I didn’t write TheAtlantic’s unusual (third time in 159 years) editorial endorsing Clinton, but I agree with its logic. Essentially: Hillary Clinton is a candidate of clear strengths and some very well-known weaknesses. Her foreign policy instincts and record are more hawkish than I would choose, which is the main reason I preferred Barack Obama in the Democratic primary eight years ago. In principle, it would be better if two families, Bush and Clinton, had not supplied four out of five successive presidents, which will be the case if she wins. But also in principle, it is long past time to have a female president, and if it doesn’t happen now it could be quite a while.
Most of all, as the reader points out, her weaknesses are known. Apart from a million such discussions from other people, I wrote about them recently here and here. There’s zero risk they’ll go undetected. There is a non-zero chance she might adjust and learn.
In contrast, her strengths have been taken for granted or under-appreciated. For evidence I’ll rest my case on these past three debates, since I’ve written so much about them. In terms of knowledge, she was never at a loss. In terms of poise and under-stress self-control, she had it while her adversary manifestly did not. (“Such a nasty woman.”) In terms of strategic planning, she had a plan and carried it out, as opposed to Brownian Motion on the other side. And all of this, “backwards and in high heels”-fashion, while dealing with judgments of her as a “shrill” or “harsh” woman that would not have been made of a man.
She was popular with her colleagues of both parties when she was in the Senate. She had a sky-high public popularity rating when she was Secretary of State:
As president she would do some things that I, personally, would be enthusiastic about, and others I would not like. But in all cases, from my perspective, she would be competent, intelligent, and serious about the job.
Since the real-world alternative is a someone who is ignorant, impetuous, and contemptuous of both the rules and traditions on which our democracy is based, with no hesitation I say: vote for her, and work out the problems later on. They’re the kind of problems our political system is supposed to cope with. The alternative is a problem for the system itself (as Conor Friedersdorf has argued here).
And to my taste, the third-party alternative of saying “Oh, there’s something wrong with them both, I’ll vote for this other person” is wrong on the merits (Gary Johnson has his obvious weaknesses) and also in its long-term implications. Hillary Clinton, with her strengths and flaws, is the alternative to Donald Trump six days from now. Voting for her is a recognition of that reality; it adds to her popular vote as well as Electoral College strength, both of which matter for her (sure to be challenged) legitimacy; and it gives the voter better karmic standing to hold her accountable afterwards.
My vote in D.C. doesn’t “matter,” but it matters to me.
Fallows is swamped at the moment, partly to finish a cover story for our upcoming issue, so he passed along a ton of reader email with permission to post. (Thanks to everyone who has written him, as well as the general hello@ account, and we’re trying to post as many of the best emails as we can before Election Day.)
To start us off, a few readers find that the FBI director was put in a very difficult position following his agency’s July announcement that it would not recommend charges to the Justice Department against Clinton for her “extremely careless” use of emails. Comey was then lambasted in public before the House Oversight Committee and increasingly invoked in Trump’s pernicious “rigged” rhetoric on the campaign trail. This Fox News clip is a taste of things as they got started in July:
A reader suggests that Trump won by getting into Comey’s head:
It seems to me that the unfortunate way that Comey handled this situation was definitely a very clear-cut case of “working the refs.” Trump and his campaign have pushed so hard on the idea that everything is rigged—including the FBI—that when these potentially new emails came up, Comey lost his backbone and decided to cover his ass and show The Republicans that he was not rigged. Sort of like a make-up call in a big game.
It is an indictment of our current state of affairs in regards to normalizing Trump that despite the widespread pushback on Trump’s “rigged” talk, it still was not discredited outright enough by EVERYONE. If we had a normal candidate who accepted the system, then Comey would not have been feeling the pressure to prove he was not “rigged,” and he would have followed the 60-day tradition that has been in place for decades even if it meant taking some heat about it down the line.
This next reader has outright sympathy for Comey—pity even, given his apparent weakness in the face of Trumpism:
Fallows makes a number of good points in his thoughtful piece on falling norms. My problem here is that one of the “norms” that has fallen is “equal justice” under the law in this country. The real tragedy here for Comey and the country is the fact that he gave Mrs. Clinton a pass when it is obvious that she violated several laws [or at least federal records rules, which—speaking of the erosion of norms—started to be chipped away by Clinton’s predecessor, Colin Powell]. The idea that she should not have been prosecuted is not credible and polls of the American people make that clear. Opinion writers like Fallows seem to ignore this fact, which is why there is the current situation.
I feel bad for Mr. Comey, but he should have done the right thing in the first place.
Update from a reader who rebuts a sentence above:
“The idea that [Clinton] should not have been prosecuted is not credible and polls of the American people make that clear.” This is, in fact, the problem itself. In a society governed by law, you have to accept the verdict of law. You can criticize it and rail against it, push for legal reforms, but you should not and cannot question its legitimacy itself (one more norm broken).
In this case, if Comey (a Republican) reviewed all evidence and decided that there was not enough to prosecute, our “feelings” and “polls of American people” (unfortunately) don’t matter. A similar parallel is Black Lives Matter, where unless a verdict that is acceptable to the activists is not reached, the jury is racist and the system is corrupt. A more thoughtful viewpoint is that in view of the facts presented, the jury could not / did not reach a “guilty” verdict.
For Comey’s part, according to officials close to him, he felt both a sense of obligation to Congress and “a concern that word of the new email discovery would leak to the media and raise questions of a coverup”—though not as much “raise questions” as throw fuel on the Trump dumpster fire already raging for weeks.
This next reader, a lawyer in L.A., while no apparent fan of Trump, points a finger at the Clintons and their deep establishmentarianism:
As far as Comey, the entire process was politicized, and I suspect a careful review of the government’s prosecution history for these offenses will show that Clinton was the only one who was not prosecuted for her security breach. A FOIA request could show that. One can be a Democrat, and all that, or simply despise Trump for being the unaccomplished heir that he is, but can one really argue that Billary do not enjoy unprecedented treatment from their capture of the Democratic Party, or that the capture did not lead to her nomination and the FBI’s decision not to prosecute?
If there is no warrant to look at the emails, does that not mean that the FBI has not yet been able to articulate, even to the threshold of making a rational connection, that these new emails are connected to an offense? So the FBI is not yet in a position to make an argument to a judge, but the agency’s director is prepared to go straight to the public, 11 days before an election?
I am just a Canadian criminal prosecutor. We Canadians are not always the brightest bulbs, so I’m probably missing something. But I don’t quite understand why people don’t instantly see how outrageous this all is. I fear that you Americans are headed for a very dark place.
Buckle up, buckaroos. Here’s one more reader with some understanding of the difficult position the FBI director found himself in:
I’m far from an insider, but Comey from afar seemed to have a Boy Scout moment. My sense is he’s a complete man of the system, and as Jonathan Haidt showed, being responsible is a core value to conservatives. He felt a load of pressure, self imagined, and probably had a mini moral crisis. He’s probably, if not a hack, a life-long bureaucrat, who serves at others’ disposal and lacks a real sense of judgment or sense of psychology. It’s like the Book of Judges: In modern America, a random Republican in power will elect himself to steal the election—if not the Supreme Court, the head of the FBI.
I feel a sense of jaw-dropping dread, and Trump is going to play up the inevitability as charismatics do, and people are going to forget his idiocy and thuggishness. But logic—like that of Sam Wang at Princeton Election Consortium and the fact that there will be pushback for the monkeys in the middle to consider—leads me to believe that unless something really big comes up, Clinton will squeeze by. The likely worse outcome is that this will spur talk of impeachment and the illegitimacy of a Clinton regime.
This next reader raises an intriguing contrast between Comey and Gonzalo Curiel, the judge presiding over the Trump University case:
I find it interesting that Curiel chose to delay the trial until after the election so as not to influence it, and, I’m assuming, for there to be less potential influence on the integrity of the trial itself. I also find it interesting that it is the very same judge who Trump has lambasted in the media and accused of not being able to judge him fairly due to his race [and Curiel’s parents’ Mexican heritage]. Trump said Curiel should recuse himself or be removed from the case. I would have been delighted to see Trump on trial mid-election, but I felt wholeheartedly it was the correct decision, even though it very clearly benefits Trump.
Then, in stark contrast, we have Comey. His decision to release the statement saying there are new emails is bizarre and lacks logic. It seems to me there are two choices he has once he finds out about the emails, but both hinge on knowing what’s in the emails. The newest reports are saying the FBI had these for weeks prior to Comey’s bombshell. I just don’t understand how you don’t look at the emails or seek approval to look at the emails (via warrant) until 11 days before Election Day. His two choices should have been the following:
If he releases the statement, it is because there is new information that may or will result in prosecution. It’s pertinent information for voters to consider, so it should be released no matter the influence on the election, although precedent and policy seem to say this wouldn’t necessarily be enough justification to release the statement. But I at least could see why he felt an overwhelming need to make the statement.
If there’s no new information in the emails, then wait to release the statement until after the election. Wait to notify Congress because there’s no new info in the emails and any disclosure could sway the election unfairly.
Just as a side note, in an election that saw a number of firsts regarding mentions of sexual acts, parts, abuse, etc, this new email situation arose because of Wiener and his penis pictures. God help us.
“Arose,” ugh. Update from a reader, Kevin:
Let me posit two other possibilities behind Comey’s decision. First is that he is a supremely calculating bureaucrat, adept at self-preservation even if administratively incompetent. Given his failure to recommend action against candidate Clinton last July, Comey must know that his position as FBI director would be toast if Donald Trump, who had criticized him so bitterly, were to be elected. So Comey did Trump a solid based on no information. This explanation assumes that Comey is so naive as to believe that Trump holds any value to mutuality in any relationship—a position unsupported by the man’s history.
Comey must also have calculated that if Clinton were elected and fired him, it would certainly be considered grounds for impeachment by the atavistic GOP. Job insurance, Mafia-style.
The other explanation, which I favor most, is that Comey really is an adult Boy Scout and values his own reputation above all. But when does a fetish for reputation become ruinous? When it devolves into egoism and harms the long-term common good. Comey confused a tactical buttressing of his reputation for his position in history, which I cannot believe is going to be favorable.
You might ask your colleague Fallows about a great decision by an American president who sacrificed his reputation for the long-term good. In 1979, Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Volcker as his Federal Reserve Board chair with an explicit mandate to tame inflation by any means necessary. Volcker’s extreme tight-money policies caused a sharp and prolonged recession and high unemployment—but it did bring inflation down (the collapse of OPEC unity did help as well). Carter’s replacement, the perennially overrated and intrinsically dishonest Ronald Reagan, trashed Carter, blaming him for the unemployment (but taking credit of course for the slashing of inflation).
Carter’s reputation—as a president, if not as a human being—has never really recovered. But it is undeniable that he set the course for several decades’ worth of a sustainable economy. Comey’s egoism and short-termism may just have set the course for a constitutional dark age in this country.
Zooming out a bit from the Comey controversy, several more readers offer insight and supplemental reading on the broader themes of American politics that Fallows explored in “James Comey and the Destruction of Norms.” He called this email from a reader “well argued” when he passed it along to me:
The word “norms” is a squishy word; it sounds like an abbreviation of normal, mixed in with resonances of a first name shouted at someone who walks into the bar in Cheers. It lacks any immediate sense of purpose or consequence, almost as if it merely applied to manners or political correctness. It’s one thing for you to say that norms are important to democracy, but just saying that doesn’t communicate an understanding of why or how important they are.
Norms are structural. They create the framework within which we operate. They define up and down, and left and right. They establish what is good behavior and bad behavior. And they are absolutely necessary for democratic institutions to function. They are understood and honored because people recognize the dire consequences of violating them.
Deadlines are governed by the clock—unless someone cynically stops the clock to keep the deadline from passing. The Senate operates on majority rule—unless one party, routinely employing the filibuster, decides that it doesn’t. The Constitution requires advice and consent on appointments—unless one party, in a naked exercise of raw power, decides that it doesn’t. And if one party can make that decision, what’s the point of having a Constitution?
Norms are enforced by the community, not by law. In government they are enforced by the political parties and, ideally, the press. But the Republican party, as you pointed out, has been breaching norms for some time. A party responsible for the functioning of the Constitution has been undermining the very norms it is charged to uphold. And when half of the community fails to enforce norms, then, by definition, the norms are gone—unless the press clearly and loudly points out that the norms are not being enforced. And, except in some small pockets of the press world, that hasn’t happened.
And this is the most significant press failure. By false equivalence, and the moral relativism of “he said and the other guy said,” without reference to the non-normative behavior of one of the parties, the press has allowed norms to be washed away like a sand castle at high tide. Norms are made out of sand—they are illusory—because they’re only effective if the parties share in, and enforce, the illusion. And our institutions, indeed our democracy, cannot function without them.
Republicans have established new norms for a party out of presidential power. If the Democrats take up those norms should they lose the White House, we well never, ever, be able to function. And we will have Trumpism incarnate: He or she who can wield raw power, without consideration of norms, will prevail. And the American people will be the last consideration on the table.
This next reader looks to the intellectual forefather of American conservatism, Edmund Burke, whose lessons seem completely lost on Republicans these days—not to mention completely shredded by Donald Trump. His disdain for political norms and institutions during this election should give contemporary liberals more appreciation for Burke, a philosopher they might have ignored otherwise:
Your discussion of the importance of norms in government reminded me of a comment on the French revolutionaries (so similar in many ways to Donald Trump) by Edmund Burke, on whom I did my M.A. thesis. About their inclination to transgressive behavior, Burke wrote:
Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
For most of us, most of the time, that “controlling power” involves our internalization of norms that support civil society—exactly the norms whose wholesale violation you have chronicled. What Burke is saying is that when those norms are discarded, society will have to fall back on enforced external controls, turning custom into law and regulation, if it is to survive. By discarding the norms we have voluntarily observed, we will bring ourselves under forceful compulsion. Our passions will have forged our fetters.
Another reader looks to a classic book by a classical liberal:
Over the past week I have been rereading de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In it he emphasizes the importance of custom in regulating a democracy. Trash the norms and you begin the process of destroying our experiment in responsible self-rule. I don’t know if James Comey was acting as a partisan hack, covering his ass, or just being stupid, but he should be made to pay for the damage he has done. This election is simply awful and he has just made it that much more so.
Another reader looks to literature:
Whatever HRC has done, she’s still more trustworthy, intelligent, and competent than Trump, but for the past 20 or so years of teaching The Great Gatsby, I keep seeing the Clintons in Nick Carraway’s summation, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy, they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
And another introduces a new book:
I’m sure you are getting enough junk traffic on stuff like this. So, a link:
Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg’s latest book Toward Democracy lays out a distinctive vision of democracy—one that stresses not institutions or practices, but what he calls “an ethical ideal.” The essence of democracy isn’t one man, one vote. It isn’t majority rule. And it isn’t the principle of political representation. Rather, it lies in the combination of individual autonomy and an “ethic of reciprocity.” In other words, a willingness to think in other people’s shoes and act accordingly, a political version of the golden rule. If such ideals seem practically utopian in today’s climate, for Kloppenberg that is an indication of just how badly democracy has lost its way.
Another reader teaches us a new word:
An alternative explanation of the Trump campaign has kept urging itself forward to me. It requires a little background for some.
Ethnomethodology is a part of sociology that purports to be theory-free, or at least theory-neutral, concerned with identifying rules within a social group rather than figuring out what model the group fits. One of the research methods for ethnomethodologists is a breaching study, in which the researchers identify important norms in a group by participating in the group and systematically violating various observed norms. The responses of the group members to the breaches reveal the importance of the norms.
Is it possible that the entire Republican presidential campaign has been an ethnomethodology research project? How else do we explain the unprecedented series of breached norms (as you have noted in your Time Capsules)?
This reader digs up another time capsule of sorts:
In a letter to Joshua Speed dated August 24, 1855, Abraham Lincoln famously wrote:
I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that “all men are created equal”. We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be take pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.
As president he would display charity in many ways, and sometimes give expression to it in religious themes. He would show magnanimity to rivals and critics, mercy to the accused, patience with insolent generals, eloquent sympathy to the bereaved, generosity to associates and subordinates, nonvindictiveness to enemies. He would explicitly disavow planting thorns, malicious dealing, holding grudges.
Two human beings more different than Lincoln and Trump can scarcely be imagined. Our current “progress in degeneracy” is indeed pretty rapid.
Lastly, a reader in Vermont tries to end on an optimistic note:
Thank you to Fallows for his reports from across the country showing how people are making things work. The professional dog-biter circus that goes for national politics needs to be documented, but it gets to be a bit much after a while. Whether or not it is true, at this point it is not that hard to believe that a major force in this campaign is that Trump was honey-trapped by the Russians. As it is, both Trump and the Russians would enjoy fouling the bed of American politics. They are both intent on profiting from a bitter, divided America.
Yesterday I mentioned a social-media analysis showing that 35 percent of active Trump supporters on Twitter (versus less than one-tenth of one percent of Clinton supporters) followed prominent “white nationalist” Twitter feeds, like @DrDavidDuke.
Now readers respond. First, what I’ll simply call a dissent, from a reader in South Carolina:
Your article on White Nationalists is disgusting and irresponsible and does not even rise to the level of journalism.
I am a Trump supporter and surprisingly NOT a Russian bot, a white nationalist, or an anti-Semite. I vote for Trump not because I think he’s a great politician, but because I cannot allow Hillary Clinton destroy America with her failed and deadly policies.
I vote for Trump to keep Hillary out. Plus, it is obvious to me and many others that Trump cares deeply about America as a country—Hillary cannot say the same.
Quit reducing patriotic Americans who cannot abide the thought of Hillary Clinton in the White House to ridiculous stereotypes. We are people who love America and do not wish to see it destroyed by her harmful policies. Disgraceful piece of work. I will no longer be reading the hate-mongering that goes on at The Atlantic.
Noted. After the jump, a different sort of response from a successful advanced-tech entrepreneur in the industrial Midwest who sent in the photo at the top of this item.
That something like “white supremacy” as conscious action would still exist is incredibly sad ...
But sometimes when I hear of “white nationalist” groups or other peculiar views of human diversity, I think about how strange it would be to have “brunette supremacists” or “green-eyed supremacists” or something equally ridiculous. How about “freckled nationalist”? I feel particularly aggrieved by people born in July, so perhaps an “October supremacist” group would be an appropriate response.
This time when I read your latest post I couldn’t help thinking of a white deer I saw recently near a place in Wisconsin where we have a small log cabin in the woods. I felt really lucky to see her since I had heard of many sightings this summer nearby.
When I saw her, she froze in position as if I wouldn’t notice—like any other (color) deer would. The part I marvel at is that she seems entirely unaware she is white and easily visible!
If only we could all be that way.
What I do love about this photo, as the reader suggests, is the obvious-once-you-point-it out unselfconsciousness of the white deer, who imagines that she is as camouflaged as the practically invisible one in the rear. This has larger implications about self-perception and real-vs-imagined differences, which I will leave to each reader to fill in.
Offered for the record as samples of opinion in this varied land, nine days before the election.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: email@example.com. 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
The handover of power was a solemn affair. There was no mistaking the new administration for the old one.
At dawn this morning, workers loaded couches and tables into a moving truck parked outside the West Wing. Men wearing white coveralls and carrying roller brushes and paint cans walked across the north driveway. Inside the White House, pictures of the 45th president had been removed from the walls. Only the hooks remained, ready for a new set of portraits of the 46th.
A lone Donald Trump press deputy, Judd Deere, sat in his small office, writing a note on a piece of stationery to whomever would be taking over his desk in a few hours. Deere was attempting to describe what it’s like to work in the building. When I looked in at noon, after the Trump presidency had officially ended, he was gone, his desk cleared. Even the magazine racks hanging on the wall had been emptied.
Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.
In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?
The new president has a daunting list of foreign-policy challenges. Among the biggest will be managing a longtime ally.
Joe Biden begins his first full day as the 46th president of the United States today with as daunting a list of foreign-policy challenges as almost any of his predecessors. After four years of Donald Trump, the new administration must overcome skepticism about America’s ability to deal with the great tests facing the world, including the rise of China as a 21st-century superpower, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the onslaught of man-made climate change. To this list can be added a new issue: patching up the transatlantic alliance.
Last month, with Biden’s inauguration just weeks away, the European Union and China pushed a new economic agreement over the line. The actual terms of the China Investment Agreement remain unclear—the text is still to be finalized—but the broad outline is simple enough: a deeper trading relationship based on common and apparently enforceable standards. According to the EU, the deal ties Beijing to a new “values-based investment relationship” that will protect labor and environmental standards, and help root China in the rules-based global order. This is Europe fulfilling the global role it has cast for itself as a “regulatory superpower,” exporting and defending its values through its economic size.
The quiet in the streets of D.C. today was a fitting end to the noisiest political era many Americans can remember.
Donald Trump’s presidency concluded not with mutiny in state capitals or an attempted attack on his successor, but with a calm, conventional ceremony in an otherwise quiet city.
Walking through Washington, D.C., today, the silence in the streets was the sound of a country not quite ready to exhale. It was a fitting end to the noisiest era of American politics that many Americans can remember.
If this had been a normal Inauguration Day, in a normal year, the National Mall would have been covered with hundreds of thousands of shivering people hoping to catch a glimpse of the new president. The streets of the capital would have been packed with out-of-towners ready to pay $25 a head to visit the Spy Museum, and lining up at sidewalk vendors’ tables to buy Kamala Harris–themed merch. But the only civilians I saw downtown during the ceremony were a few committed joggers and a clutch of Joe Biden supporters lingering outside the White House. The showing was so small that journalists seemed to outnumber the revelers; I watched as reporters interviewed the same handful of attendees, over and over again.
What should have been a week-long celebration of the resilience of American democracy has turned into a dark circus. Instead of citizens lining Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer and greet a new president, all of downtown Washington, D.C., is an armed camp. Soldiers patrol the streets while workers clean excrement off the walls of the Capitol, a perfect tableau for the end of the short and ghastly age of Trump.
We are expecting far too much of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if we think they can fix all of the damage Donald Trump did to the republic. Presidents and vice presidents are not wizards. They cannot rewind history. They cannot single-handedly make us better people.
However, I do believe that Biden can inspire the American people to regain one of the most important virtues Trump destroyed: seriousness, our understanding that ideas, actions, and words matter.
Hopefully one day, getting vaccinated will mean you no longer need a mask. But not yet.
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m still confused about what our lives will be like after we are vaccinated. As I understand it, it will still be possible to get the virus, but hopefully the course won’t be as severe or life-threatening. And we are going to have people who won’t even get the vaccine. Do you foresee us still wearing masks for the next year or two? I hate to even type this question.
New London, New Hampshire
I can’t wait to stop wearing masks. I want to go out without a mask so badly that I’ve been dreaming about it. That’s how far the pandemic has lowered the ambitions of my dreams.
I’ve been thinking about Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history, A Distant Mirror, over the past couple of weeks. The book is a masterful work of anti-romance, a cold-eyed look at how generations of aristocrats and royalty waged one of the longest wars in recorded history, all while claiming the mantle of a benevolent God. The disabusing begins early. In the introduction, Tuchman examines the ideal of chivalry and finds, beneath the poetry and codes of honor, little more than myth and delusion.
Knights “were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed,” Tuchman writes. “In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century, the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder.”
The president is returning to a freshly renovated White House—and it includes an unusual display.
Here’s a little quiz. Take a look at the picture of the photo above, which shows the newly redecorated Oval Office that is occupied by Donald Trump. What’s unusual in this scene?
As a helpful hint, here’s a close-up of the area you should be looking at:
Is it the Remington bronze statue known as “The Bronco Buster” on the right, which many presidents have displayed? No. The portrait of Andrew Jackson just above the statue, which has survived the departure of Jackson-fan Steve Bannon? No. The bust of Lincoln, on the left? Beneath the portrait of Jefferson? No, and no—although it would be instructive to know the thoughts of the third and the 16th presidents as they gaze on the 45th.
Trump leaves behind a wounded nation, and it will take time to heal.
So what if he was bad at it?
The five years of the Trump era—which began with his descent down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and are ending with a massive military presence in the nation’s capital to protect the transfer of power to his successor—brought a sustained assault on self-government. This assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish, and, as the conversion of the seat of the federal government into an armed fortress demonstrates, unquestionably real.
Throughout the Trump era, some have argued that Trump’s incompetence rendered his authoritarian aspirations inconsequential.
“Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like ‘plotting’ implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks,” wrote the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in October, describing the president as a “noisy weakling.” Douthat has since re-evaluated his position, but for a long time he was the most articulate proponent of the argument that Trump was not as dangerous as his opponents believed.
The new president must not repeat Obama's mistakes.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1932, the nation was facing concentric crises: the immediate, house-on-fire disaster of rolling bank closures; the broader economic depression; and, beyond that, deeply entrenched problems that the depression had highlighted, including elderly poverty. Roosevelt’s first 100 days addressed the first two crises with historic directness. He reopened the banks and directly employed thousands of Americans through measures such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then, near the end of his first term, he signed the Social Security Act, which has reduced senior poverty and become one of the most popular federal programs in the United States.
President Joe Biden also faces concentric crises, which move outward toward the future as you unpeel them: the biological threat of the pandemic, the economic recession, and, beyond that, the entrenched problem of child poverty. He also has to contend with the problem casting a shadow over the whole century, the existential crisis of climate change.