Reporter's Notebook

Trump Nation
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An ongoing reader discussion led by James Fallows regarding Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency. (For a related series, see “Trump Time Capsule,” as well as “Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?”) To sound off in a substantive way, especially if you disagree with us, please send a note:

Show 37 Newer Notes

First Thoughts on the Election

Jonathan Drake / Reuters

Most of what I think about last night’s results I discussed in a long talk early this morning with Terry Gross, which will be on the Fresh Air this afternoon. The embed for our discussion just went live and you can listen below.

More in this space when I can manage.


An ongoing theme here in recent years has been the contrast between increasingly paralyzed and bitter national-level politics, and a positive-minded and forward-looking sense of practicality at the community level. In that silver-lining spirit, I am happy to report that all of the local initiatives and candidates I mentioned two days ago came to what I consider the right result:

  • The voters of California rejected Proposition 53, which would have made it much harder for the state to undertake big, long-term investments.
  • The voters of Stockton approved Measure M, a small sales-tax increased devoted to the city’s libraries and recreation centers. The measure needed a two-thirds majority for approval, and it got nearly 75 percent.
  • The voters of San Bernardino approved Measure L, which will reform the flawed city charter that in itself is a source of the city’s problems. The measure required only a majority vote, and was getting more than 60 percent.
  • The voters of San Bernardino, Redlands, and environs comfortably re-elected former Redlands mayor Pete Aguilar to a second term in the U.S. House.
  • The voters of the District of Columbia comfortably elected Robert White (and David Grosso) to at-large seats on the City Council, and approved the statehood referendum by 86 percent to 14 percent.

We’ll take progress where we can find it.

On the larger prospect, after the jump a thought for the day from W.B. Yeats.

Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Today is finally Election Day, mercifully. Our tireless politics team is live-blogging events throughout the day and into the night. Over the past several weeks, scores and scores of your emails have poured in, covering a wide array of campaign topics, so here’s one final roundup of your smart opinions and analyses as the polls open this morning. (They’re already closed in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, the first vote in the nation, and in that tiny hamlet Clinton beat Trump in a landslide, 4-2—a harbinger, we hope.)

Most recently we had a roundup of reader reaction to the Comey aftermath, and a new reader makes an interesting point here:

FBI agents ran to the nearest reporter to leak about potentially damaging material about Clinton. IRS employees, some of whom certainly had access to and knowledge of Trump’s tax returns, never said a word. Maybe they’re all secret Trump supporters, or maybe IRS employees demonstrated more integrity than our nation’s supposed best and brightest law enforcement agents.

Another reader similarly wonders:

Why is there no MSM coverage of Trump having to face Judge Curiel on November 28 over fraud and racketeering charges for Trump University? [Though it’s important to note they’re civil suits.] If this were about Clinton, it would have been a shark fest descending on her.

This next reader quotes Fallows in “2016: The Year Latinos Saved America?,” a note from Saturday on the surge of early voting in Nevada (subsequently boosted by a Hispanic voting surge in other parts of the country, most crucially Miami-Dade County):

“Latino Americans have long had higher-than-average rates of service and sacrifice in the U.S. military. In 2016, they may be defending American freedoms in another way.”

Amen! I hope Nevada early voting is truly a bellwether for a landslide of revulsion toward Trump. Assuming Wednesday brings a reason to celebrate with a burst of adrenaline from a near-death experience, I hope we have the maturity to reflect on the two big questions from this horrible experience:

1. What is wrong with our political system that we nominated two such untrustworthy candidates?

2. How do we protect America from current and future versions of Trumpism?

David Frum’s argument that we can’t afford to tear down the very institutions that protect America from fascism and despotism is worth emphasizing in all the post-election analysis. As Bill Maher rightly pointed out on Friday:

1) Democrats must share the blame for crying wolf by grossly exaggerating their descriptions of Bush, McCain, and Romney, so when a truly horrific candidate emerged, it sounded like typical Democratic bluster, and

2) The Mormons got it right early-on, saw Trump for who he is, and took a stand. They showed courage to speak the truth when GOP politicians showed self-serving cowardice and hypocrisy by putting their self-interest ahead of America’s interest.

Regarding the Mormons’ principled stand, here’s the rest of Bill Maher’s rant against Evangelicals supporting Trump despite his deeply un-Christian character (a topic previously tackled by readers):

For more on Trump’s character, a reader in San Diego writes:

Thank you for fodder for excellent conversations! I have a theory about Donald Trump that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else, and it’s about the fact that, before the election campaign, he’d only seen the highly scripted and edited versions of himself on TV. Maybe he doesn’t recognize himself because he’d never seen himself portrayed as he really is.

For a big dose of scripted Trump, check out the “best firings” compilation from The Apprentice seen below. (One of Trump’s early quotes is ominously ironic: “The problem is that Bradford made an impulsive decision—a stupid, impulsive decision. Frankly, if you were running a company and made that kind of a decision, you destroy that company, instantaneously.”)

Stockton, a recently bankrupt city in California, is one of the venues considering important measures in tomorrow's election. Robert Dawson

A for-the-record personal-preference note on election eve.

  • Yes for Aguilar. If I lived in my original hometown of Redlands, California, tomorrow I would vote to give the city’s former mayor, Pete Aguilar, a second term as Representative from California’s 31st Congressional district. His district includes San Bernardino, site of the horrific massacre nearly a year ago, and he has done a good job both in the immediate aftermath of the killings and in addressing the city’s deeper, longer-term economic challenges. He’s part of the next generation of practical-minded leadership for the state.
  • Yes on Measure L. If I lived a few miles west of Redlands, across the city line in San Bernardino itself, I would vote in favor of Measure L. This is a long-overdue proposal to revamp the city’s unusual and dysfunctional governing charter, which itself has been an important reason the city has been officially bankrupt for four-plus years. I wrote about the bankruptcy, and the charter’s role in it, last year here and here. Ryan Hagen of the San Bernardino Sun, who has chronicled the city’s recent ups and downs, did an explainer on Measure L and how it would change the charter here. The Sun’s editorial board formally endorsed Measure L last month. Some previous charter-reform efforts failed. A lot depends on the city’s ability to pass this one. Yes on L!
  • Yes on Measure M. If I happened to be living instead in California’s other best-known recently-bankrupted city, Stockton, I would vote in favor of Measure M. (Stockton formally entered bankruptcy in 2012 and left it last year.) I’ll plan to say more about Stockton tomorrow, but its story has much in common with San Bernardino’s. Each is physically close to a rich and glittery part of California—San Bernardino and its Inland Empire are an hour’s drive away from Los Angeles, Stockton is due east from the tech riches of the Bay Area—but economically and culturally they are far removed. Stockton’s arc in the past century also resembles, on a smaller scale, Detroit’s: industrial and commercial wealth, and the civic benefits that came from it, and then a long decline. The story of its downtown resembles Fresno’s, which we’ve written about here.
    Measure M, whose official description you can read here, would approve a very small sales tax, one-quarter of one percent, to develop libraries and recreation facilities for a city that badly lacks them. The measure passed the city council with a 7-0 vote but now requires a two-thirds supermajority approval to go into effect. Here’s more from the Yes on M group, and a wonderful profile from the Stockton Record about one of the people behind it, a local dentist name Mas’ood Cajee. The story about him is titled, “Man passionate about using books to rebuild Stockton.” More to come about the larger lessons from this kind of investment.
Gary Cameron / Reuters

Ten days ago I argued that FBI Director James Comey had changed the dynamics of the 2016 election in an irreversible way, with his announcement of a new trove of potentially “relevant” emails on Anthony Weiner’s computers. After Comey’s “oh, never mind” followup yesterday, less than 48 hours before election day, I argued that his series of mis-judgments about the FBI’s proper role in electoral politics, and his apparent lack of control over the agency, meant that someone else should take his place. But it would be better all around, according to me, if Comey resigned sometime soon after the election, instead of forcing either the president who appointed him (Obama) or the next president in line (presumably Clinton) to fire him.

Readers disagree—most of them because they think Comey deserves harsher treatment, but some for the opposite reason. Here we go:

There is a silver lining. A reader in the tech industry says that the whole episode might have one positive result:

It should put to rest the storyline that Clinton obstructed justice by destroying damaging emails. This previously unknown cache of unscreened email yielded no evidence of criminality, thus undermining the argument that Clinton’s emails were sanitized.  


‘Egregious error.’ From a lawyer on the East Coast:

I disagree with your conclusion that Clinton, if she wins, should not fire Comey (or demand his resignation, which amounts to the same thing).  Yes, to some people, particularly the Trump supporters, this might look like revenge. And certainly, GOP elected officials will take the opportunity to make the same claim. But those people are incorrigible, and trying to appease them or seek their approval is a no-win situation.

The fact is that pretty much everyone, including Republicans, agree that Comey made an egregious error in judgment. Can you think of any other post-Hoover FBI Director who has made such a significant public mistake?  But for the twisted political environment we’re in, that alone should be grounds for firing. Assuming that Comey stumbled innocently with his original letter a week and a half ago, he should, within 48 hours, have issued a clarification intended to remove any unintended implications. That he waited in silence until now compounded his error.

Director Comey, before his latest two intrusions into the election. Joshua Roberts / Reuters

With his ill-advised intrusions into this year’s election, FBI Director James Comey has already damaged U.S. interests and the fabric of American democracy more grievously than even Hillary Clinton’s harshest critics could contend that her email-policies have done.

Damaged, how? I made the long-term case a week ago, after Comey’s reckless announcement about the Anthony Weiner emails. The shorter-term case is evident right now: No one can ever know how the 2016 election would have turned out—in ultimate victor, in margin and “mandate,” in the way specific states go, in down-ballot and Congressional effects—had it not been for Comey’s decision to put himself in the middle of charge and counter-charge.

We can’t ever know, because some 40 million people have already voted. We can’t ever know, because his latest last-minute announcement comes too late to be fully digested by the time everyone else votes on election day.

I have no reason to believe that Director Comey was operating out of base motives. He probably thought he was doing the right thing for the right reasons. But he was mistaken, and the results were damaging—to the country, to the political process, to the FBI and the Department of Justice, and to Comey himself.


In the hyper-litigious current political realm, the usual next step would be hearings and investigations—hearings like those on the deaths at Benghazi, investigations like the endless ones on email. American public life at the moment is all too hearings-bound and criminalization-crazy. Hearings or investigations into whatever has happened at the FBI would not be worth it for anyone.

So what, instead?

  • Hillary Clinton, if she wins, should not fire Director Comey. If she cares about the norms of governing, as she should and presumably does, she would realize that this would inescapably look like revenge and a purge.

  • For similar reasons, Barack Obama, who appointed Comey to this job in the first place, should not fire him. FBI directors are given 10-year terms precisely to insulate them from politics. Obama should observe the letter of that apolitical norm, even if Comey himself has not.

  • But as soon as the election is over, Obama should make clear, bully-pulpit style, what Comey has done wrong, and why Comey has tarnished his bureau’s reputation, lost Obama’s trust, and forfeited the public’s deference to his judgment.

  • And then, sometime soon, Comey should resign. He shouldn’t be fired, but if he cares about his institution and its values, he should recognize that his continued presence is an unavoidable source of continued harm.

  • Plus, he is sure to get a lucrative follow-on job.

We’ve had enough hearings and investigations. But this was a big and damaging mistake.

No one should fire Director Comey, because a firing would damage governing norms. But in defense of those norms, Director Comey should resign.

Jon Ralston on Twitter

Two of my long-time, politically well-experienced friends have been in Nevada recently, doing get-out-the-vote work. Independently, each has just sent me a note saying that their experience and observations match what the Jon “the sage of Nevada” Ralston has been reporting: Namely, a huge surge in early voting among Democrats and especially Latinos in Nevada, which bodes very negatively for Donald Trump’s prospects there and by implication elsewhere.

From one of them:

I'm in Las Vegas.  Been walking precincts for the last few days.   The surge in early voting (now completed) is real [as HuffPo reports]: Nevada’s Early Vote Ends With Massive Democratic Surge

I haven’t been in Nevada so can’t compare impressions first-hand. But I can say that based on what Deb and I have seen around the country in the past few months—in Central Valley and inland southern California, in western Kansas, in rust-belt Pennsylvania and Michigan, in both Mississippi and Alabama—I’ve been preparing for the least surprising “surprise” of election day. Namely, “surprisingly” high turnout among Latino voters, which will play a “surprisingly” important part in sparing the country and the world a Donald Trump presidency, if in fact we are to be spared.

The surprise factor depends on Latinos across the country being more deeply offended by everything about Trump’s campaign, from “they’re rapists” onward—and being more determined to show up and vote than their past often-low turnout rates might have indicated or (the surprise part) than this year’s polling may fully capture. I’m not a pollster, but all the anecdotal and reportage evidence we’ve come across supports both halves of this equation. People are really (and rightly) offended. And they are really determined to make their views known.

(I’m prepared for a similar “surprise” in the margin from women voters but don’t know of early-voting results that yet give such indications.)

I’ve argued for years, for instance here and here, that the long-term secret of American greatness is its ability to draw on an outsized share of the world’s talent, entrepreneurial creativity, culture, heart, and general human genius through its openness to people of many races and backgrounds. Latino Americans have long had higher-than-average rates of service and sacrifice in the U.S. military. In 2016, they may be defending American freedoms in another way.

The Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. Jim Young / Reuters

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.

  1. 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.
FBI Director James Comey testifying on Capitol Hill before the House Oversight Committee on July 7 to explain his agency’s recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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?

Another lawyer, on the other hand, blasts Comey:

In northern Wisconsin recently: two deer, same species, different hues. Read on to learn what they have to do with the campaign. (Reader photo, with permission.)

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.

From Demographics Pro

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.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, one year after The Atlantic’s founding, “mattered” in American history because of the ideas they advanced. (Stephen Douglas held onto his seat in the Senate; not long afterward Lincoln began his campaign for the presidency.) Is it possible that the Clinton-Trump debates of 2016, or Year 159 of The Atlantic’s history, will also matter? (Robert Marshall Root painting, via Illinois Periodicals Online)

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.

As a reminder: debate #2 was the town hall, in which Trump loomed up behind Clinton like a lurker, and #3 was the debate of “such a nasty woman” and “keep you in suspense” (about accepting election outcome).

The screenshot below from the NYT’s “Who Will Be President” tracker shows something similar. Again, the black bar marks the first debate.


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.

"Who's that, behind me? Oh, it is you again, Mr. Trump!" The candidate with some employees at his golf course, yesterday in Florida. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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.