Trump in World Perspective

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Making Italia Great Again (Wikimedia)

Readers weigh in about this next stage in American democracy. Previous entries are all collected on the page you’re reading now.

Trump did save me a lot of money! From a male reader who now lives in New Jersey, who ends up arguing that I should “vote for Bozo,” ie Trump:

First, to establish some anti-Trump bona fides:

I moved to the Lower East Side (and then the Upper West Side) from Florida in 1979. I very quickly learned to loath Trump as a blight upon the city.

And why is Trump different from Hitler? Hitler wrote his own book; Trump hasn't read his. (In fairness, the same could be said of Hillary.)

I must add, though, that Trump did save me a lot of money. I figured, if a billionaire like Trump can't afford a decent hairpiece, why should I waste my money? So I'm bald. Or, as my wife puts it, gleefully bald.

Finally, we can take it as a given that Trump will be a terrible, horrible disaster of Biblical proportions [allusion to Ghostbusters] as President…

So, why not worry?

Two reasons. First, the US does not have the systemic weaknesses of Italy, Germany, and Russia after WWI. [JF note: Yes, agree, this is under-appreciated point. The Weimar Germany of the 1920s was a disaster economically and in its first fledgling days as a democracy, soon to perish democratically and in other ways under Hitler.]

Second, Obama -- even with the whole-hearted, full-throated, rapturously unskeptical support of most of the media, nearly all of academia, and two years of legislative majorities -- was unable, in the end, completely to "fundamentally transform" America. And Trump (Trump!?) is supposed to be able to do so with all three of those groups against him (and the courts besides)? Not happening.

That's why, if I'm faced with a choice between, on the one hand, a candidate calling for a "people's revolution" [JF: I’m guessing this is Bernie Sanders] or one who is both a congenital liar and the willing tool of anyone who has  a million or so bucks to spare [guessing this is HRC] (either of whom would have nearly the same level of support from my betters as Obama) and, on the other, a reincarnation of Bozo sans the red nose, I'm voting for Bozo.

And you should, too.

Thanks for the advice but: Nope, not sold.


Deny him the limelight, and he’ll wither. From a reader in Nebraska:

An earlier reader correctly stated that "[c]onservatives leaders need to stop taking these [economically left-behind] groups for granted. Liberals should see them as a group that deserves attention and outreach. This needs to happen after Trump—otherwise we will repeat history in 4 or 8 years."

I believe this to be a correct assessment in many ways; the GOP has never, in my voting lifetime (20+ years) had what I'd call "a domestic policy program" that came close to anything the Dems have had. The Democratic domestic program over the years has been scattershot, perhaps, but at the base of it: "helping people out whatever holes they're in."...

I have talked with a friend who is the one rabid Trump supporter I know. I find his certainty in Trump's eventual nomination and election baffling, but not surprising….

I pointed out to him that the last time 'outsiders' won their party nominations over establishment candidates, the electoral results were disastrous: Goldwater in '64, and McGovern in '72.  This didn't matter to him, and I was lectured on the Democratic Party's 150 years of using minorities to simply get votes, etc….

It is this "suspension of logic borne of intuition" that I find so frustrating...and troubling.

As far as Trump, if he becomes the nominee, being an unknown/ untested candidate against a presumptive Hillary Clinton candidacy, I think HRC would do herself a favor by simply speaking generally about the GOP and its candidate, and not even deigning to "debate" him where he could bully and bluff his way into "winning" any such event.  Deny Trump the limelight, and he'd wither.  Let surrogates call him out by name and sling the mud.  


It’s not narcissism. It’s something much worse. From a reader in the Midwest, in response to a previous note offering an arm’s-length diagnosis of Trump as manifesting narcissistic personality disorder:

Interesting take on the Donald - yes he is narcissistic, but it's actually much worse than that.  I believe he's also Character Disordered.  When people are character disordered their basic belief system is that they are never wrong, or to blame for anything that they might do that goes wrong.  It's always everybody else's fault.

The big  problem with this psychosis is that it's very difficult to treat.  If you are always right, then what is there to change?

I wrote back to this reader, saying that I did not know about “Character Disorder” and wondered if it was a real thing. He said, yes indeed, and pointed to discussions like this (emphasis added):

Most disturbed characters don’t hear that little voice in their heads that urge most of us to do right or admonish most of us when we’re contemplating doing wrong.  They don’t “push” themselves to take on responsibilities and don’t “arrest” themselves when they want something they shouldn’t have. Any qualms of conscience they might experience can be eliminated with great ease.  In the most severe disturbances of character (i.e. the psychopath or sociopath), conscience is not simply weak, underdeveloped, or flawed, but can be absent altogether.

It’s really hard to fathom and accept that there are people in this world who simply don’t have the same degree capacity most of us have to be inwardly troubled when they contemplate doing things that are potentially very harmful to others or even themselves.


“I will not be voting in the general.” From a reader who works in the defense industry, on the shape of this year’s race. He is responding especially to this post, in which I quoted some obscene and snarling pro-Trump messages:

One of the downsides of the Internet is where one can be fairly anonymous, people often give themselves permission to behave poorly.  The comment board of The Atlantic, for example, is quite insalubrious.

Another example is Buzz Mitchell's message to you. [“James, you are a pathetic little dickhead” etc.]  One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my short life is just because you're thinking something, or you want to do something, that doesn't mean you should say it or do it.

It's also clear that Buzz and the machinist [also quoted in that post] have immersed themselves in the bubble that Conservatism Inc's. lucrative media complex has created.  One can exist in this bubble and be blissfully unaware of what is truly going on in the country or in the world.

The machinist, in particular, uses buzzwords like "Jonathon Gruber", but how much do you want to bet the machinist is not aware that the same "Jonathon Gruber" was instrumental in implementing healthcare reform in the home state of the last GOP presidential candidate for that GOP governor?  Or that the ACA was first proposed by the Heritage Foundation back in the late 80's?...

Circling back to my first point -- civility or lack thereof -- one of the things we as a nation appear to be losing is a sense of self- responsibility.  Rod Dreher over at The American Conservative had a great blog earlier today that touched on that topic.

Speaking for myself, I completed a masters program in electrical and computer engineering three years ago.  Statistically speaking at this point in my life, I have academic and professional credentials that most Americans would kill for.

But it didn't happen by accident, James.  Graduate school in the hard sciences is brutal, and it has a way of culling out the weak.  But I hung in there, worked hard, and it's paid off.  It doesn't matter if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is POTUS one year from now because given my career trajectory, I'm going to earn a good amount of money.

What I'm sure the machinist in particular is in denial about is a President Trump will ameliorate his present situation of only earning $45,000 a year.  It won't, for wage stagnation amongst the working class and income inequality has been an issue long before Barack Obama became president….

It's worth saying that it is not Obama's or the hated establishment's fault that the machinist is earning only $45,000 a year.  I realize not everyone can be an electrical engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a businessman.  I'm incredibly fortunate to have the brainpower I have in order to do what I do.  But as I've said, James, I've had to work hard and pay a price to get to where I am.

Without knowing the machinist, I can tell you that a lot of people don't want to pay the necessary price to get to where they want to be because, frankly, it's too hard.  At some point, people have to take ownership of their own futures.  Government can help towards that end (I took out federal loans for my undergraduate EE degree), and it should.  But it is folly to blame any incumbent president for one's own life circumstances.

NB: For the record, I will likely not be voting in the general.  Trump is an unelectable authoritarian, and Hillary Clinton (assuming she puts Bernie Sanders down) is untrustworthy for a myriad of reasons aside from her not inconsiderable baggage.  You may refer to me as an engineer who works on DoD programs for a large defense contractor.