Atlantic readers from across the political spectrum discuss the results of the U.S. presidential election and what it means for the country. (The Atlantic’s overall stance on Donald Trump remains firm.) To join in, especially if you’re a Trump voter, please send us a note: email@example.com.
Last week, we put out a survey to readers asking about Thanksgiving plans, and over 400 of you responded, telling us how far you’d be traveling to see friends and family and how you’d be getting there. We compiled the results and Andrew made this cool graphic:
As you can see, we also asked how you were feeling. In the aftermath of an ugly presidential season and a shocking upset of an election, Americans may find their family gatherings more fraught than ever this year—and in this era of a deep political divide between the city and the countryside, that may be especially true for the people who are traveling far to see loved ones.
When we asked, generally, what emotions you were feeling, most of you didn’t bring up politics. But about 14 percent of you did. For some, that’s the reason they look forward to having family close. As one reader puts it, “I want to hug the ones I love following this dreadful election.”
Most others, though, anticipate discord. “I dread the spectre of Trump looming over our table,” a reader sighs. Another traveling home to Michigan expects to be alone in grieving Trump’s victory, and one going to rural Alabama looks ahead to “further exhaustion: over-worked and underpaid to go ‘home’ to a different kind of work—tactfully avoiding political discourse.” Another reader is feeling “anxiety because of the election,” but for more complicated reasons than Clinton vs. Trump: “I’m queer and my (Clinton-supporting) family isn’t totally down with that and I’m not ready for the discussions around the dinner table.”
A tiny number of people—2 percent of everyone who responded—said they actually canceled plans because of the election. (That’s not counting the people who said they were newly relieved to be staying home, or those who were dreading Trump talk so much they wished they could skip the family dinner.) One reader: “I want my family to know that their political choices have personal impacts.” Another explains, “We can’t face family that voted for Trump.” And for a reader with a conservative Republican father, a schism over politics was a long time coming:
We’ve had our disagreements but we could always be civil until the last five years. I’m spending Thanksgiving alone because my father (a Trump supporter) sees me as the enemy and “does not like me anymore.”
But among your responses is also, as one reader puts it, “the usual family drama.” There is stress over traffic and cooking and in-laws and meeting a boyfriend’s parents and, for a gay woman, introducing a girlfriend to extended family for the first time. Some look ahead to bittersweet celebrations—the first family gathering since a grandfather’s funeral, the first Thanksgiving without a mother, perhaps the last with a sister in hospice. This reader is nervous: “First time I will not be drinking while surrounded by people that love to drink.” Another says:
Thanksgiving has traditionally been a high-stress time for my family, filled with high expectations and obligations. This year is the first without such feelings, so I’m anticipating a chill and relaxing day.
It’s encouraging, in the dreary-as-usual November of an unusually divided America, to see that just over half of you are purely happy about seeing your loved ones for Thanksgiving. (This includes, of course, the person who simply wrote “Turkey and gravy”—agreed. Enough said.) And in a more poignant way, it’s encouraging to see all these mixed feelings all mixed together. We’re a country of mixtures and contradictions, and we are families of the same. And in the briefest descriptions of your feelings headed into the holiday, there’s a spectrum to match. Excited. Resigned, you wrote. Sadness. Peace, fulfillment. Anxious. Joy. Joy.
“Adele, please release a new album” was all one reader had to say when we asked what you were feeling in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, with so many people bracing themselves for political clashes following a particularly toxic presidential election. The Adele fan might have had in mind this SNL skit from last year:
I am the lone Democrat among six siblings ranging in ages 60-75. We gathered at our sister’s weekend cottage, a New Orleans shotgun salvaged from N. Claiborne Avenue and moved to a tongue of land on Bayou Lacombe. Spouses, children, and grandchildren made the crowd large. I steered clear of the sprawling back-porch addition, where the conversations, using outside voices, were laced with declarations about Hillary and Blue Lives Matter.
Inside was more temperate. In past years, my siblings would take me on and I’d jump in with rebuttals, mine from print, theirs from TV and talk radio. This year, I think my sadness was visible to them—not a time for jousting, as it came naturally to me to lower my head and eyes whenever in the vicinity of their political conversations. We did not engage.
Ellen Pober Rittberg and her family also tacitly decided on non-engagement:
Several members of my immediate family had a somewhat heated discussion/debate/what-have-you several days prior to the day of the holiday, and so they/we agreed without agreeing we wouldn’t talk (presidential) politics at table. It helped that there were 12 different dishes and lots of guests (24) so the majority of time guests alternately chewed and head-nodded (while chewing). That the head-nods were not all that emphatic indicated that our informal non-agreement was not breached.
Is strategic avoidance of politics enough to get us all through the holidays—or through the next four years? And how long will it be before the tension gets to be too much?
I spoke on the phone with another reader, Donna, who had written in to say she’d lost a longtime friend over Thanksgiving weekend when an email exchange about Trump’s election got heated. Donna now feels that “the friendship lasted possibly only because I bit my tongue for 30 years.” The following has been condensed and edited from our conversation:
We were friends for 30 years and he had always been very right-wing. But we had a lot of things in common. He and I share a love of the arts and humanities. Even there, his opinion would slip in at times, in ways that I thought were unfair. I would just listen and maybe once in a while say something very general.
Ironically, the breaking point came over a question of unity: The friend had described a national zeitgeist in favor of Trump, says Donna, and she was so irked by the apparent assumption that most people agreed with him that “I guess I couldn’t fake it anymore.” She wrote back to him saying she was upset and didn’t agree. In his reply, he said he didn’t want to know her anymore.
I asked Donna whether she regretted staying quiet for so long to preserve the friendship, and she wasn’t sure:
He feels so strongly about what he believes, and I don’t think that anybody could change him much. Had I spoken up, I don’t think I would have changed his mind.
After he wrote this long email, I really had a hard time getting to sleep, I was so upset. I had to take a tranquilizer. But last night [after he ended the friendship] I felt a lot calmer, maybe because I finally told him.
Have you ever lost a friend over politics—or found a way to repair a relationship that politics broke? Do you have close friends with whom you disagree on fundamental issues? We’d like to hear your stories: firstname.lastname@example.org. I, for one, could certainly use the advice.
But we’ll end on a more cheerful holiday note with Bill and his wife, two liberal Democrats in Tucson who were apprehensive about an invitation from their conservative neighbors, “who couldn’t be further from us on the political scale of things—or so we thought”:
The third couple they invited, also neighbors, are also Republicans. We are all friends, play a little golf together and share a meal occasionally, but we have not spoken since the summer, as we were away at our summer home and arrived a few days before Turkey Day. We were nervous, but we accepted when the host, over the backyard fence, casually mentioned that they had banned all news from their home and are enjoying getting caught up on repeats on the Home Channel.
The afternoon was lovely. No one brought up the election. At one point, as we were discussing in general terms the difficulty in finding anyplace to put our savings and earn anything, the host said he thought the market was going to crumble soon anyway since the President-elect would probably be indicted and impeached soon. His grace at the dinner table was lovely and asked that the healing in the country start right now. We all said a big Amen.
Later, as we discussed health issues, as we tend to do at our boomer ages, the other Republican mentioned that at least we would soon have a single-payer system, e.g. Medicare for All, since the Republicans are going to screw up the current system that seems to be helping an awful lot of Americans and a single-payer system will be the only solution to fix it … a lot of “about time” chiming in around the table. Another shocker.
Hillary’s name never came up. I was all prepared to use my current approach, “I hope HE is successful and helps all Americans.” Never had to.
So, we were pleasantly surprised to say the least, and we thanked all our neighbors for a graceful dinner and their “act of kindness” toward their distressed/depressed Democratic friends.
In the wake of the shocking results of November’s election, readers in Notes had a robust discussion titled, “Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?” One of the most revealing and contentious entries came from a Trump supporter who “voted for the middle finger, the wrecking ball.” He began by countering some common stereotypes about Trump voters:
I have a Masters degree. My kids go to public school with kids of all races, colors, and creeds. Our neighborhood has immigrant families, mixed-race families, minorities, and same-sex couples. Our sports teams are multi-cultural, diverse, and play beautifully together, on and off the field. I have neither the time, energy, or room in my heart for hatred, bigotry, or racism.
His was a protest vote:
I am tired of the machine rolling over us—all of us. The Clinton machine, the Republican machine, the big media, investment banking, hedge fund carrying interest, corporatist, lobbying, influence peddling, getting elected and immediately begin fundraising for the next election machine—they can all kiss my ass.
Maybe Trump won’t do a thing to change or fix any of it. Hillary definitely would not have changed any of it.
Many readers disagreed here. Another one, Susan, emailed this week asking, “Could we have an update from the guy who ‘voted for the middle finger, the wrecking ball’? I’d be very interested to know what he thinks of the first two months of President Trump.”
I actually wondered the same thing in early February, when I emailed the wrecking ball reader to see if his views on Trump has shifted during the presidential transition and his first few weeks in office. Here’s the reader’s verdict on February 9 (followed by a reply to Susan’s request):
It’s too early to tell, really—kind of like calling the Falcons to win after their first touchdown, right? I think Trump is still too combative and his messaging is awful at times—a lot of the time—but so far he is the guy (ass?) he’s been through the entire run. Trump thinks of himself as an executive in the most stringent application of the word—the buck stops here, the buck begins here, the buck is always here—but he’ll that learn running a company and the country are not the same thing, not matter how much I sometimes like the idea of someone “running the government like a business.”
I wish Trump had what we call down here—the land of obesity, fireworks, and Flannery O’Connor-inspired realities—a “pull-back guy.”
See, we love our college football down in the buckle of the Bible Belt. We love to watch our Clemson Tiger defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, go crazy on the sidelines. To handle him, they have to get a designated staffer be the “pull-back guy”—grabbing Venables around his britches and pulling him back off of the field so he doesn’t draw a penalty.
Trump also needs a pull-back guy—I should be hired, by the way—to help him pause before hitting send on Twitter, to take ten deep breaths in front of any microphone, etc. (Ol’ Slick Willy from Arkansas needed a pull-back guy too, especially for that body part that always got him in trouble, you know?)
Seriously though, I think the all noise over the executive orders and the appointments and the nominees have been shrill. I have tuned out, I’ll admit it. Elizabeth Warren reading Coretta Scott King makes her a warrior princess? The same woman who ridiculously claimed Native American heritage? Really? I’m supposed to pay attention to that? Nah, we’re still celebrating our win over ‘Bama!
Time will tell with Trump, but it hasn’t told yet. I am not ready to start a fire in Berkeley because they invited a guest speaker I don’t like, but I’m not ready to cast a ballot for Trump’s second term yet either. Damn man, I know we are all for instant gratification these days, but holy shit, let’s all get over the election hangover before we start impeaching, re-electing, calling the damn game against Tommy Brady with most of the game still to play. Let things play out, let those elected to govern try to govern—it’s harder than it looks.
The loyal opposition is important and needs to be robust and constructive and play a role, but screaming drowns out conversations—and conversations are still what we need more of in this country.
He continued the conversation yesterday—and it seems like he’s slowly turning against Trump:
My take on the president about 60 days in? Not much: He is the same blowhard, thin-skinned, egomaniacal maniac I voted for in November. Do I regret my vote? Not yet. Might I down the road? Sure.
The foreign Russian influence in our democratic process troubles me, and if it’s determined to be true, I will not stand for it. Can’t have it. Still smells eerily like Whitewater to me right now, though. The vast left-wing conspiracy maybe!
Throwing out Obamacare? I’m all for it if a workable alternative replaces it. I wouldn’t support getting rid of it just to get rid of it. Just like so much of it all, Obamacare has some things I like and some things I do not. Make it better, call it whatever you want, let’s just make the problem less of a problem for less people and move forward.
Less regulation? I’m for less regulation. I’m not John Stossel yet, but in general I do think we have a million stupid regulations we could get rid of and be better off for it.
Sanctuary cities? We already solved the nullification crisis some 150 years ago, didn’t we? No state, not even California or New York, can stand on solid ground defying the federal government on matters of immigration. Weed, maybe, immigration and enforcement, no. I’m ok with strangling the shit out of sanctuary cities.
Expanding military spending? I’ll defer on that one; I have a brother in the Army, so I’ll follow his lead. I want them equipped, capable, and ready— but not fighting other people’s wars. Can we afford it? I don’t know.
His Supreme Court nominee? Seems like a man of the law, serious and studied. I have no problem with his nomination. The Court should always be around 5-4. It keeps us all in the same sane lane.
Overall, Trump has not been the wrecking ball or the middle finger I anticipated. He’s a dumpster fire in a lot of ways, but mostly harmlessly so, in my opinion.
Should he comment on an NFL player not standing during the anthem? No, it is his right and he should protect that even if he hates it. Should he tweet about Ivanka’s fashion brand? No. Should he claim wiretapping without proving it? No.
It’s all ridiculous reality TV that we should expect from Trump—and frankly expect from ourselves. Like it or not, that is who we are. We are not “all Berliners” anymore; we are all Kardashians, and our president proves it—as does our collective “we” every day. We know who is in the Sweet 16 or what happened on The Walking Dead, but we don’t know shit about Mike Pence or the governor of our own state.
I’m guilty, I promise—hell, this email proves it. My opinion on Trump so far is as worthless as anyone’s, maybe more so than most. I wake up every day, take kids to school, work my ass off for 10 hours a day, get to baseball or soccer practice, listen to the news on the radio, help with homework, pay some bills, do my taxes, change out a light bulb, do some laundry, seduce the wife and go to bed. Repeat. Repeat. Oh shit, it’s the weekend? Soccer tournament, cut the grass, wash the car, plant some flowers, go to church, check Monday’s work calendar, get back to it.
Notice that I left out bitching and complaining, committing a crime, tweeting, screwing my neighbor’s wife, expecting something for nothing, asking for a handout, stealing someone else’s pension, polluting the land, harming any animals, swearing to destroy another country, beating up someone who looks different from me, worrying about who is in the stall next to me at Target ...
So I voted for Kanye’s better half. He hasn’t jumped the shark just yet. Give him time.
They are endangering both American citizens and American ideals at large.
I haven’t seen Justice Hans Linde in more than a decade, but I thought of him last Saturday, when I found myself locked in a science museum with frightened parents and children while neofascist thugs marched by. Hans was a child in Weimar Germany; I suspect he would have known how I was feeling.
The museum was the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in Portland. The occasion was a rally organized by the Proud Boys, an all-male group that exalts “Western values” and promotes Islamophobia. Other affiliated groups joined in—a loose conglomeration of racists, chauvinists, and just plain thugs. Some of them were connected to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago, at which a right-wing marcher drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer. The Proud Boys aren’t from Portland, but they have selected the Rose City as the site for their rallies, threats, and clashes with local “antifa,” or antifascist activists. The rally Saturday was nominally to demand that Portland suppress the antifa groups so that the Proud Boys can march unopposed whenever they choose.
Through the 2016 campaign, I posted a series called “Trump Time Capsule” in this space. The idea was to record, in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office—and to do so not when people were looking back on our era but while the Republican Party was deciding whether to line up behind him and voters were preparing to make their choice.
The series reached 152 installments by election day. I argued that even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership. If you’re hazy on the details, the series is (once again) here.
That background has equipped me to view Trump’s performance in office as consistently shocking but rarely surprising. He lied on the campaign trail, and he lies in office. He insulted women, minorities, “the other” as a candidate, and he does it as a president. He led “lock her up!” cheers at the Republican National Convention and he smiles at “send them back!” cheers now. He did not know how the “nuclear triad” worked then, and he does not know how tariffs work now. He flared at perceived personal slights when they came from Senator John McCain, and he does so when they come from the Prime Minister of Denmark. He is who he was.
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
What speech should be protected by the First Amendment is open to debate. Americans can, and should, argue about what the law ought to be. That’s what free people do. But while we’re all entitled to our own opinions, we’re not entitled to our own facts, even in 2019. In fact, the First Amendment is broad, robust, aggressively and consistently protected by the Supreme Court, and not subject to the many exceptions and qualifications that commentators seek to graft upon it. The majority of contemptible, bigoted speech is protected.
The president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland—the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.
Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere. “Let’s buy Greenland!” Yes, very funny. A good distraction from the economy, the failure to deal with white supremacy, White House staff problems, or whatever is the news of the day. It is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal—and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs. What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources? (That last one has already happened.)
Bernie Sanders released a massive plan for a Green New Deal this week. What’s the point of all these climate plans?
It’s a historic week for climate change in the Democratic Party.
In the same 12-hour span, Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his plan to pass a gargantuan $16 trillion Green New Deal as president, while Governor Jay Inslee of Washington—who ran an unprecedented, bluntly climate-focused campaign—dropped out of the 2020 primary.
Then, this afternoon, the Democratic National Committee rejected a proposal to hold a climate-centered debate in the primary—even though nearly every candidate had endorsed the idea.
The three events left me wondering: How important is climate change, really, in the Democratic Party?
The sheer audacity of Sanders’s plan suggests that it is absolutely essential. He proposes eliminating all carbon pollution from the U.S. electricity and transportation sector by 2030. To get there, he calls for the de facto nationalization of the power grid and for massive subsidies for electric cars, among many other new programs.
For the first time in its history, NATO does not have a strong, principled American leader to guide it.
Thirty years ago this week, on August 23, 1989, more than 2 million citizens of the Baltic republics of the U.S.S.R. engineered one of the most dramatic and successful mass protests in Soviet history. Men, women, and children linked hands in a continuous human chain more than 400 miles long that they called the “Baltic Way,” connecting the Estonian capital of Tallinn in the north with the Latvian capital of Riga in the center and the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in the south.
They were protesting what was then the 50th anniversary of one of modern history’s most brutal and cynical backroom deals—the secret agreement made 80 years ago on August 23, 1939— by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to divide Eastern Europe between them on the eve of the Second World War. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (named after Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop) divided Poland, giving Hitler a free path to go to war against it 10 days later and Stalin the green light to invade Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in May and June of 1940.
Police in Oregon manipulated a photo to make a suspect look more like the perpetrator.
Last week, The Oregonian newspaper exposed what ought to be a headline-grabbing scandal in the course of reporting on an otherwise obscure criminal trial.
The dicey behavior began when Portland cops investigating a series of bank robberies felt they knew the perpetrator’s identity: Tyrone Lamont Allen, a 50-year-old whose face is covered by several prominent tattoos.
But there was a problem. None of the bank tellers had noted seeing any face tattoos on the robber. And no tattoos were visible in recovered surveillance footage.
Rather than looking for other suspects, or even proceeding with a photo lineup knowing that the tellers were unlikely to positively identify Allen, the police officers turned to a piece of software to solve their problem.
The isotope iron-60, produced when a star explodes, is hidden in some of Earth’s most isolated places.
The snow arrived at the laboratory in Munich inside Styrofoam boxes. It came from a German research station in Antarctica, where summer made the snow, whisked around in the wind like sand on a beach, easy to lift. A pair of scientists had shoveled in thousands of pounds of the stuff. The boxes, kept under freezing conditions, traveled by plane to the ice shelf and then by ship to South Africa and Germany. In the lab, researchers melted the snow, sifted out any buried solids, and chucked them into an incinerator.
When the scientists analyzed the ash, they found something unusual: a radioactive form of iron. The isotope, known as iron-60, is rare on Earth. But it is produced in abundance in space, when a star, having exhausted the fuel that makes it shine, explodes.