Readers around the world share their uncertainties and fears about a Trump presidency. If you’re a non-American in a country outside the U.S. and would like to add your perspective, please send us a note (especially if your country isn’t mentioned yet): firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first reader note from the subcontinent is from Jaiganesh:
Last Wednesday morning was a shock not only to the U.S., but to the whole world. While leaders of world nations voiced passive aggressive congratulatory messages, the global community watched in horror as President-elect Trump gave his victory speech. Then the world stock markets dipped, gold prices surged, the Mexican peso took a nose dive, and we witnessed the first fallout of a potentially free trade restrictive America in making.
India was already recovering from Prime Minister Modi’s retaliation against corruption while the U.S. was still up for grabs. To put it delicately, India was in denial. The immensely young Indian population was astonished to find a reality TV show joke on his way to the White House.
Why was there such a reaction from us, and the rest of the world? Why did the majority of the Indian population found it implausible to believe that Trump was now the President–elect of the United States? Here’s why.
Like most people, we did not pause to reflect on the human factor involved in elections. We did not consider Trump’s aggressive message against the Washington establishment from a white working-class U.S. citizen point of view. And like all the polls, we underestimated the silent Trump supporters who carried him to the Oval Office.
To put it simply, the U.S. works perfectly in the eyes of young Indians, with its lucrative job and business opportunities for the well-educated, liberal, and “Western” culture that most young Indians try to embrace, and the global leadership role the U.S. plays. We never understood the difficulties of middle-class American families faced in getting their kids to college—a privilege that middle-class Indians took for granted. We failed to comprehend that such a significant portion of our high-paying jobs were originally created for U.S. citizens. The cheap technical expertise of Indian college graduates brought millions of jobs to the country at the cost of U.S. jobs. This is all very much true; Donald Trump is not wrong.
A global community based on U.S. post-WWII military alliances was stunned by the very probable withdrawal of U.S. interventionist foreign policy. A nation that nurtured a bipartisan foreign policy to act as the world’s police for several decades was now crawling behind walls and closing its economic borders. A nation to which Indians looked up, a nation which Indian progressives and liberals wanted India to follow, is now taking a step back from global leadership, from standing as a pillar of nuclear non-proliferation, from leading by example in constitutional rights.
It is a gloomy day for our women to watch the great glass ceiling to go unbroken. My mother—who never followed global news enough to properly name the presidential candidates—was disappointed to watch Hillary give her concession speech. Seeing a women finally clinch the U.S. presidency would have been a moment of great satisfaction and motivation that the world’s female community lost to an isolationist America. When the world expected the U.S. to take a step forward, it took ten steps back.
India shares a lot of the populist lack of trust in the incumbent establishment with the U.S. electorate. We want change badly; our scope of progress hinges on it. And yet, this is somehow not the change that we want to see in our country. We want to see India move forward as a global superpower, and this election is going feed the fear of stepping out in Indian citizens, if they even have such a notion. We also share the diverse culture of the U.S., with a large Muslim population that makes us relate to the need for inclusiveness and religious equality that India is struggling to establish.
I am an electrical engineer, to nobody’s surprise, and I believe in the preservation of our environment. Hillary Clinton’s view of the U.S. being the Clean Energy Superpower would have been a defining moment for India, which still fails to implement even the most basic of carbon footprint control measures. It is horrifying to realize that the president-elect of the United States believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.
To sum it all up, the U.S. just disappointed half the world, including more than half of its voting population.
Another reader in India, Tarun, goes more into the Modi comparisons:
As an Indian national with generally liberal values, this feels like a play by play of the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi in 2014, complete with the decent-with-caveats economic performance of the prior government and the seemingly inexplicable anti-establishment sentiment. I attended grad school in Boston, and even in that liberal bastion it was very hard, until six months ago, to explain how demagogic and un-qualified Modi is for the position. I remember the dean referring in his welcome to the opportunities created by Modi’s election, and I remember feeling like he was describing a country I did not recognise.
Please, please, please emphasise to your leaders our lessons after the fact. Despite three years of policy fumbling (especially in foreign policy which has been flat out chaotic) the major opposition—our Congress—has failed to make a coherent case for why they should come back to power. This is not for a lack of hitting the right “liberal” notes. The Congress’ spokespersons speak of globalism, women’s rights and minority rights fluently.
Their liberal bona fides, however, simply do not allow them to escape the fact that their party is built around the Gandhi family, which is their sole fund-raising apparatus and default provider of Prime Ministerial candidates. Inevitably, it is a relationship seeped in corruption and nepotism. When the Democratic Party effectively stepped aside for Mrs. Clinton’s coronation in the primaries, it showed itself to be a similar party.
There is of course plenty of sexism and racism to go around, but there are also enough voters who instinctively abhor such a mentality. Neither Modi nor Trump have won the popular vote nationally. But when liberal parties fall prey to this dynasty mentality, their core democratic populist appeal suffers in a way that conservative “blood-and-steel” appeal does not.
So, as bleak as this sweep looks, I hope American liberals do what Indian liberals have not: use the next four years to build a bench at the lowest levels of government and have them compete without the interference of the Democratic party machinery. The calls for a Michelle Obama candidacy are short-sighted and hypocritical. They are also a disservice to a very intelligent and qualified woman who will conceivably break herself trying to rescue a party unwilling to rebuild at the grassroots.
Thank you for doing a much more responsible job of reporting this election than the Posts Washington and Huffington. Stay safe and free.
For a primer on how precarious relations are between Germany and the U.S. following Trump’s win, don’t miss Frum’s piece from yesterday, “America’s Friendship With Europe Has Been Horribly Damaged”—and “nowhere,” he writes, “does the reaction look more dangerous than inside the most powerful state on the European continent, Germany.”
[Trump’s victory] up-ends German political assumptions about the United States, at a time when Germans are already ready to have those assumptions up-ended. The mighty German middle is becoming less mighty, discredited by Angela Merkel’s flung-open door to Middle Eastern refugees. Anti-refugee, pro-Putin forces are gaining strength at the expense of the parties of the center. Two-thirds of Germans oppose a fourth term for Merkel.
Merkel has backed herself into a crazy political dead-end. She is identifying an open-door immigration policy as the foundation of her kind of liberalism—even as, in reality, large-scale immigration is helping destroy liberalism across the countries of Europe, and even within Germany itself. Warning that a Trump-led United States might not espouse values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and equal human dignity amounts to a passport for Germany out of the U.S. alliance.
Three German readers sent us dispatches from Deutschland last week reacting to Trump’s win and what it might mean for their country. My favorite one is from this first reader, Dariusch, given his heterodox views:
I’m an (atheist) German-Iranian, born and raised in Germany, living in Berlin with a background in political science, currently owning a cafe and maintaining a one-person video production company. I’m a green left winger, critical of some aspects of globalisation and welcoming of others. Unlike many left wingers in Europe and Germany, I don’t have a black-white view of the world or the United States. Things are too complicated for that.
On the morning of November 9th, my girlfriend checked out a News alert on her phone and yelled out „Oh my god! Trump has won!“ I just broke out in hysterical laughter, because it seemed so unreal that a clown would be the next president of a country that shaped European and German culture and politics so tremendously over the past 70 years.
If Trump goes along with his foreign policy plans of not honoring NATO commitments in Europe, that might actually have positive effects over here, as this could be a driver for more inner-EU cooperation regarding the security architecture in our neighbourhood.
A common European army would make so much more sense politically and be more cost-effective as well. We need to emancipate from the U.S. and shape our own, independent foreign and security policy. A Trump presidency could drive this emancipation. Likewise, the protectionist economic agenda bears the potential for companies moving from the U.S. to Europe. But probably, these beneficial ripple effects will fail to materialize.
In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, right-wing anti-globalisation groups already start gaining momentum. After the elections in France, the Netherlands, and Germany in 2017, the reactionary ideology of returning to a pre-globalisation state and implement closed societies could be up for growing political gains. A President Le Pen would be bitterly opposed to any integration of the armies and is also a proponent of economic and cultural isolation. Same goes for Wilders in the Netherlands and that Hampelmann (Jumping Jack) in Austria, whose name I didn’t bother to remember. Those groups will gain ground and drive the old parties to more quickly embrace parts of these reactionary, dangerous and obsolete ideas to hold on to their dwindling power, as they already have before November 8th.
With Trump’s victory, right-wing demagogues in Europe will gain an upswing. Nothing good can come from a Trump presidency for Europe and Germany at this point. I’m really afraid that future historians will look at back to the year 2016 and say “That’s when the whole mess started”—like they said looking back on 1914 or even 1933 (but let’s not exaggerate until we have a good reason for it).
The U.S. is a deeply divided country, just like most parts of the Western world in this day. The overall positive developments of integrating societies, cultures and economies did not reach a large chunk of people who have been forgotten. This is the case everywhere, from Los Angeles to Kaliningrad. There are many deep dividing lines, along cities and the countryside, among race, wealth, religion and education.
From here, the United States don’t look like a coherent nation state. I think it’s time to rethink the political system. Two parties cannot adequately represent the diversity of opinions and people. They just form a wide compromise that nobody is really happy with. To me it seems completely strange, how the loser of the popular vote regularly moves into the White House. At the time of its foundation, the United States had the most advanced political system of the world, but 300 years later, it requires a major overhaul.
Here’s another reader, Angela (not Merkel):
As a German citizen living in Berlin and a political scientist by trade, I am deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s victory. In the evening hours of November 8 (CET), I watched a short segment on CNN International describing the voter turnout at a polling station in Florida. And when I saw the long line of young women and what I believed to be Cuban- or Mexican-Americans waiting patiently to cast their ballot, I went to bed quietly confident that Hillary Clinton would win. Would any of those young women vote for “Grab-them-by-the-…”-Trump?, I wondered to myself. Most certainly not. Would any of those Cuban- or Mexican-Americans vote for a candidate who promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it? Most certainly not. And with so many people turning out to vote, I was sure Hillary Clinton would win. So I thought.
When I got up early in the morning on November 9, I realized I was mistaken. Throughout the day, I felt so frustrated and shocked that I couldn’t even bring myself to turn on the TV or the radio; I was still in denial.
Given what the now president-elect has said and done during his campaign, I am afraid that a Trump administration might adversely affect both Europe and Germany. I am afraid that Trump might undo the system of international organizations and alliances as we know it. He has declared NATO, which is a cornerstone of both German and European security, essentially dispensable, while heaping praise on authoritarian leaders. He doesn’t seem to care a lot about the rules which govern international relations and trade and which have served both the U.S. and Germany quite well for 70 years. And I am also afraid that German-American relations might take a turn for the worse as the president-elect has made no secret of his dislike for Angela Merkel and her immigration policy. And the German chancellor doesn’t seem to like Trump very much, either.
With the British Brexit vote in mind, I am amazed by the fact that the predictions of pollsters have been proven wrong once again. I am also quite amazed by the fact that a populist candidate got elected, after a divisive campaign full of brazen lies and insults—though I believe a similar thing might happen in Germany in 2017, when the federal parliament, the Bundestag, is due to be elected. Until then, the right-wing populists of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), who have been busy scaremongering ever since the refugee crisis began in autumn 2015, will do their best to spread even more fear of Muslims and Syrian refugees among the German population. I am pretty sure that they will eventually manage to lie their way into parliament.
It is very saddening to see that many Germans are unable or unwilling to recognize the not-so-hidden authoritarianism, antisemitism, and nationalism lurking beneath the AfD’s surface. And it is equally saddening to see that the United States, our friend and partner, whose troops once freed Western Germany from Nazi tyranny, with a democratic tradition so much longer than ours, now has a president-elect who is applauded by white supremacists and former Klansmen and who essentially declared “I alone can fix it” during his convention speech.
This doesn’t bode well for Europe, where right-wing populism has been on the rise in recent years, and it certainly doesn’t bode well for Germany. Right now, I am deeply worried about the future of Germany, the European Union, and the United States of America.
Here’s one more reader, Jörg, in the Frankfurt area. He’s mostly concerned about the environmental impact of a Trump presidency:
The European right-wing populist movements and “parties” and their ignorant and furious followers will see Mr Trump’s rise as a confirmation of their crude and equally ill-informed and mislead opinions—probably not in Germany (there is a hope left that enough people in this country retain a memory of the 1930s), but in France, Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, and others are a different matter. If they fall into the hands of these right-wing populists, Europe is going to lose all of its achievements in freedom, wealth, and true scientific and social enlightenment—in combination with Climate Change that could mean the end of civilisation as we have only just gotten to know it.
And so I come to something—Climate Change—that has great significance to us and should have much more importance to citizens everywhere, including the U.S. of America. The fact that it didn’t come up in any of the three “presidential debates” just proves how far removed you people in America are from the realities in this world. Trump has clearly no idea what is happening on this planet. No other single issue is going to affect all of us on this scale. All other decisions need to be based on this fast approaching super-crisis.
For reasons too complicated to mention here, European people (at least on the continent; the U.K. is for other complicated reasons a different matter, similar to U.S.) are more aware and better educated about scientific facts. If Trump disrupts the process of international accord on Climate Change—a fragile thing at best anyway—there is no telling what kind of rise of the average temperature will be possible. Time and speed is of the utmost crucial importance here; even a slowing down of the necessary basic structural changes could have terrible consequences. If Trump wants to stay ignorant of some basic facts of the world in which he lives in, on a personal level that is fine with all of us. But as the deciding force and power he represents now, he must grow up and stop his childish (or maybe senile) behaviour.
Now it is time for Europe (and other parts of the world) to fast become assertive, independent, and perhaps even strong. It seems that some of our politicians have seen this coming. Plans for a European army are emerging—a good start. Economy and finance must follow immediately, and a discussion about better and possibly more democratic structure is on the way.
Yes, we all have learned something about democracy from America (as America once learned from Europe). This election has taught us even (and once) more how a democratic system can be corrupted by groups and individuals egocentric enough and opposed to democracy. Thank you, America, for this. We will reflect deeply and thoroughly on this lesson.
Update from another reader, Eva:
Being a German-American (currently visiting my parents in Germany, and hearing/reading the news of both sides every day), David Frum’s article first interested me a great deal. His analysis of language in Merkel’s brief congratulatory statement the morning after the election hooked me. I am a linguist, well aware with practices used in formal statement. My linguistic background, especially the field of pragmatics, makes me a nerd sometime, plucking apart what people said, what they really said while, say, standing in line at the post office.
I was surprised by Frum’s remarks on perhaps Germany turning the tables, and not clinging to traditional positions of power. That it might be perceived as arrogance, or as patronizing. Just something that the U.S. isn’t used to very much.
While I read Frum’s article I thought huh, this is interesting—someone perceiving Merkel this way, from a tiny speech given under circumstances that were terribly uncomfortable. I do think there is some oversensitivity in Frum’s writing. Merkel is not “downgrading” the American-German relationship just because “its ties are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union.” I perceive this to be neutral, or even positively stressing how deep U.S.-German relations are. Perhaps it’s a German thing to always state the obvious the truth, when for many a “fluffing up” of reality as it really is, would be preferable. It really isn’t insulting. It’s the equivalent to you perhaps saying to a very good friend: “you know, after my mom and dad and grandmother and brother, you really are the closest and most important friend I have outside of immediate family.” It’s honest—not downgrading.
The other issue of concern is Merkel offering collaboration based on certain Western values that America and Germany share. They concern democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the equality of people of all sexes regardless of origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.
Frum is correct to perceive a “conditional” quality here—the two countries operating together as long as their work is based on those values. What crime is there here in Merkel being the one to point out the conditionality? Is it so terrible that a smaller country does not approve of everything and anything in the big and mighty country? Is it hurt pride?
Merkel doesn’t actually say anything here that should cause an outcry. The values she has just mentioned are at the core of U.S. identity. One would expect them to not be removed or broken, or that would mean the States breaking those commitments, or changing them significantly. Which indeed should cause the U.S. to cry out with shock and confusion.
Frankly, the many fabulous things that the U.S. have done for Germany over the course of history don’t really enter here, but Frum brings them up. A good cooperation, a genuine friendship, help that can never be overemphasized, especially in the years after WW2 and during the Cold War. But you can’t argue: we did all this for you for so long, so now you have to play along with whatever because you owe us and owe us forever. The Germans still have a spine and an inherent moral compass. Trump’s many incredibly offensive remarks about different races, and women, do not belong among those “shared values” between the U.S. and Germany.
I think Merkel is not arrogant or cocky. She simply knows—much as many a person enters a marriage—that certain things are desired but not necessary, some necessary at all costs, and some simply a deal breaker. Which of us entering a serious relationship does not have their deal breakers? Someone’s a smoker? Not religious? Not from same ethnic background? Away on his job too much? There are thousands of things that people view as “deal breakers.” It is good to know them in advance, and to stick by them. That is not cocky behavior. That is simply knowing yourself well, and knowing what you can live with in advance. Merkel is simply aware of the deal breakers. Those would be qualities that go against the shared familiar qualities of the West. Racism? Offensive, nonthinking language all the time? Sexist remarks (or even deeds?) I admire when someone knows their deal breakers and sticks by them.
I wanted so much to read more moderate articles, to believe that Trump is not at all bad. Every day I think about it, but it just doesn’t sit right. I can see certain talents and fortes and experience in him, but then moral issues—those of your inbuilt moral compass—just keep popping back up, and they simply are stronger. This president, may you like it or not, will always be the president who wants to grab women by the pussy. That, among other things, will never disappear. It showed his true colors. There are simply are no valid apologies for some of the things he has said.
I wish I could be nicely divided, in a gray area, but this time it doesn’t work that way. I don’t want my spine to bend. I want to listen to my moral compass. I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror without guilt.
The morning after the U.S. presidential election, my colleague Krishnadev touched on the “striking parallels” between Trump’s victory and Brexit:
The polls tightened in the last few days before the vote. The establishment dismissed that as an aberration. While some citizens complained about being forgotten, about increased immigration, and a lack of meaningful jobs, elected officials spoke of the benefits of globalization and trade. [...] Although the political establishment and the chattering classes may have dismissed Trump’s chances, [he] had consistently predicted that he was “going to do something so special.” It will, he said, be “Brexit plus, plus, plus.” He was right.
We made a callout for non-American Atlantic readers who live outside the U.S. to share their reactions to the gobsmacking results of Election Day. (Use email@example.com to share your own from abroad.) Here’s Martin with “a view from the U.K.”:
The reasons for Trump’s victory and for Brexit are rather similar: the revolt of the white provincial working class marooned in regions that were once the heavy industrial heartlands and where, for a century, communities shared a common culture and felt proud of their lives. Technology and globalisation destroyed these communities and the establishment parties who didn’t speak their language, didn’t hear them, and left them to rot.
The phenomenon of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is the revolt of a different group—leftish graduates and intellectuals. But there is one similarity with the Trump/Brexit movement: Both the Rust Belt and the Ivory Tower felt that the national conversation was not touching on what they, their friends, and their colleagues at work felt were the big issues.
In the case of British graduates, it’s the lack of affordable housing, the privatisation and monetisation of public services coupled with no consideration of the ethics, values, and purpose of these services. The establishment parties reduced the language to generic “political speak,” degraded the autonomy and judgement of professionals, and replaced them with management consultants’ reports, guidelines, and box ticking, leading to failure despite financial investment. This graduate revolt is also rooted in the everyday experience of those working in the frontline of public service.
Once Bernie and Corby voiced these concerns, the graduates turned up to town-hall meetings and turned up to vote. However, what Bernie-style politicians have failed to do is to find a language that connects with the Rust Belt communities. Unless they can find a way of doing this, Trump will last a long time and many more Trumps will spring up—even in Europe.
Are you British and want to share your personalized U.K.-centric view of Trump/Brexit, or of the U.S. election more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll include. (Other countries to come.)
Another reader flags a viral video from British comedian Tom Walker, seen below. Walker plays a news reporter named Jonathan Pie, who unleashes an impressive NSFW rant about his lack of surprise that Trump won: It’s a result of overreach by the far left in America, he insists. The annoying camerawork in the video and Pie’s overheated affect is a bit much, but those aspects might just be a satirical skewing of the Glenn Becks and YouTube ranters of the world. Check it out for yourself. He touches on Brexit and covers a lot of the points raised by the Trump voters and anti-Trump voters we’ve been hearing from in Notes:
Update from James, “a Canadian living in my adopted city London, where EU arrogant elites got slaughtered by the same heartland vote that propelled Trump to victory last week”:
Thanks to the EU, I barely recognise the London I originally came to live in, marry, etc. Elites have flushed out much if not most of the happy, mentally healthy British people who used to live/work/play here—replaced by a soul destroying METROPOLIS type society that’s too expensive to live; too depressing to play; but boy oh boy if work is all you live for, this is a form of heaven.
Similarly the EU has banned so many consumer products, replaced by EU standardised second-rate ones, that you get the distinct feeling you’re being set up to become a globalist servant. There’s literally nothing in it for everyday Brits but the destruction of their excellent culture, while getting denigrated constantly by the media.
Then to top it off, the Westminster government has been reduced to servant status itself, since the EU courts decide everything these days. No one even wants to be the prime minister here since Brexit. It’s one big shambles.
That said, I love the Brits, and if history shows us anything, they will come out of this as hilariously awesome as ever.
Donald Trump sees everything—even his own children—as a reflection of himself.
The moments after your first child is born are humbling and overwhelming, the emotional equivalent of staring directly into the sun. You realize that you are suddenly responsible for a human life that you helped create, a sliver of two souls smuggled into another body, a person you will love and protect desperately for the rest of your life.
Shortly after Donald and Ivana Trump’s son was born, however, the future president had an unusual concern for a parent: What if this kid grows up and embarasses me?
“What should we name him?” Donald asked, according to Ivana’s memoir, Raising Trump. When Ivana suggested Donald Jr., the real-estate heir responded, “What if he is a loser?”
That anecdote helps explain one of the more memorable exchanges in Tuesday night’s presidential debate, as well as Trump’s approach to governance. The president’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, sought to criticize Trump’s remarks about U.S. service members being “losers,” as first reported by The Atlantic. In doing so, Biden brought up his late son, Beau, who died of a brain tumor after earning a Bronze Star in the Army National Guard.
There’s something strange about this coronavirus pandemic. Even after months of extensive research by the global scientific community, many questions remain open.
Why, for instance, was there such an enormous death toll in northern Italy, but not the rest of the country? Just three contiguous regions in northern Italy have 25,000 of the country’s nearly 36,000 total deaths; just one region, Lombardy, has about 17,000 deaths. Almost all of these were concentrated in the first few months of the outbreak. What happened in Quito, Ecuador, in April, when so many thousands died so quickly that bodies were abandoned in the sidewalks and streets? Why, in the spring of 2020, did so few cities account for a substantial portion of global deaths, while many others with similar density, weather, age distribution, and travel patterns were spared? What can we really learn from Sweden, hailed as a great success by some because of its low case counts and deaths as the rest of Europe experiences a second wave, and as a big failure by others because it did not lock down and suffered excessive death rates earlier in the pandemic? Why did widespread predictions of catastrophe in Japan not bear out? The baffling examples go on.
An Atlantic investigation reveals who they are and what they might do on Election Day.
Photographs by Philip Montgomery
Image above:Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers
Stewart Rhodes wasliving his vision of the future. On television, American cities were burning, while on the internet, rumors warned that antifa bands were coming to terrorize the suburbs. Rhodes was driving around South Texas, getting ready for them. He answered his phone. “Let’s not fuck around,” he said. “We’ve descended into civil war.”
It was a Friday evening in June. Rhodes, 55, is a stocky man with a gray buzz cut, a wardrobe of tactical-casual attire, and a black eye patch. With him in his pickup were a pistol and a dusty black hat with the gold logo of the Oath Keepers, a militant group that has drawn in thousands of people from the military and law-enforcement communities.
I left with a dark feeling that our country was entering a dangerous chapter.
The digital clock next to my bed showed 4:06 a.m. As usual, my body clock had stirred me awake before my bedside radio alarm was set to go off, nine minutes later. I stared motionless at the pitch-black ceiling for a few minutes. With some effort and greater discomfort, I bent and stretched for a minute or two more before swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I shut off the alarm before it went off and then tiptoed awkwardly through the darkness to the bathroom, hoping not to stumble and wake my wife, Kathy, in the process. I had taken the same steps so many times over the preceding decades, I could have done it in my sleep. I probably did many times.
My eyes adjusted to the glare of the bathroom lights and I squinted at my reflection in the mirror. The Brennan genes had long coursed through my face, but I noticed something very different that morning. I could see my father’s deep-set eyes, tired yet piercing, looking straight into mine. “You can do it, John,” they seemed to be saying. “You can do it.” The tears welled up in my eyes, as the memory of my father’s life and the example he set filled me with deep pride and overwhelming sadness at the same time. The mere thought of briefing President-elect Donald Trump that afternoon and then gathering with my family a few short hours later at the wake of my father—the moral, ethical, and intellectual antithesis of Trump—jarred my very soul.
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
His eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.
“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”
We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?
If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?
Illustrations by Guillem Casasús / Renderings by Borja Alegre
There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.
The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.
Former aides say that in private, the president has spoken with cynicism and contempt about believers.
One day in 2015, Donald Trump beckoned Michael Cohen, his longtime confidant and personal attorney, into his office. Trump was brandishing a printout of an article about an Atlanta-based megachurch pastor trying to raise $60 million from his flock to buy a private jet. Trump knew the preacher personally—Creflo Dollar had been among a group of evangelical figures who visited him in 2011 while he was first exploring a presidential bid. During the meeting, Trump had reverently bowed his head in prayer while the pastors laid hands on him. Now he was gleefully reciting the impious details of Dollar’s quest for a Gulfstream G650.
Trump seemed delighted by the “scam,” Cohen recalled to me, and eager to highlight that the pastor was “full of shit.”
It “gives space to these groups that foment hatred and intolerance,” H. R. McMaster says.
As the election nears, a parade of ex-administration officials and political advisers has come forward to denounce President Donald Trump and offer firsthand accounts of incompetence and venality running through his government.
One notable exception has been H. R. McMaster. The retired Army general served as Trump’s second national security adviser, leaving in early 2018 after about a year in the job. McMaster was part of a coterie of high-level advisers who met often with Trump, explaining global threats and laying out options for him to consider. He presumably knows plenty about the character of the 45th president and whether he’s fit to lead the free world. On that score, McMaster has typically kept mum. Writing a review in The Washington Post about McMaster’s recent book, Battlegrounds, Ben Rhodes, a former deputy NSA in the Obama administration, concluded: “In it, we learn almost nothing about his interactions with Trump or his personal opinion of the man.”
In a new book, former CIA Director John Brennan traces how he came to believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. There’s still more about Russia that worries him.
The part thatI wasn’t expecting, sitting at a picnic table with the former CIA director near the center of a working farm with goats and chickens and a cider barn, was when a man interrupted us—just as we were starting to talk about Barack Obama’s initial reaction to intelligence reports of Russian election hacking—and asked if we could help him jump his car battery. He had no idea that this was John Brennan climbing over the fence in his oxfords, showing him how to hook up the cables, making sure he wasn’t going far to get home, and revving the engine until the pale-blue Subaru started again.
Or maybe he did, and this was all some op out of The Americans. The whole afternoon felt more like pseudo-spycraft than a usual interview. Meet in a parking lot in suburban Virginia. Trust that the place really is called Frying Pan Farm Park. Assume that all the kids and their parents running around have no clue that a person who had access to America’s top-secret information was sitting there explaining the difference between compromise and kompromat.
Many opponents of Donald Trump look upon their country in shame. What does it say about the United States that someone like Trump could not only win a presidential election, but also retain the support of so many Americans despite his evident failings—including his bungled response to the pandemic and his unwillingness to promise that he will accept the outcome of the election?
I feel like that too when I come across yet another callous or racist statement by the president. But as a political scientist who studies the rise of authoritarian populists around the world, I know that Trump’s enduring appeal is closer to the rule than the exception.