The Daily Trump #1-#3, a Time Capsule Series

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Let’s get going! (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

People will wonder about America in our time. It can be engrossing to look back on dramatic, high-stakes periods in which people were not yet sure where things would lead, to see how they assessed the odds before knowing the outcome. The last few months of the 1968 presidential campaign: would it be Humphrey, Nixon, or conceivably even George Wallace? Or 1964: was there a chance that Goldwater might win? The impeachment countdown for Richard Nixon, in 1974? The Bush-Gore recount watch in 2000?

The Trump campaign this year will probably join that list. The odds are still against his becoming president, but no one can be sure what the next five-plus months will bring. Thus for time-capsule purposes, and not with the idea that this would change a single voter’s mind, I kick off what I intend as a regular feature. Its purpose is to catalogue some of the things Donald Trump says and does that no real president would do.

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Is this implicitly anti-Trump? No, it’s explicitly so. I’ll vote Democratic this fall, because I disagree with the current Republican party’s stance on tax policy, budget policy, health policy, climate and environmental policy, voting-rights policy, labor policy, educational policy, gun policy, infrastructure policy, foreign and military policy, and judicial appointments too. But if Donald Trump were the Democratic nominee, I would not vote for him.

I believe he should not become president mainly because of his temperament. Presidents make an astonishingly large number of hour-by-hour judgment calls. Nothing about Donald Trump’s judgment is reassuring from my point of view. His tweets are highly entertaining! But so is Tosh.0 Again, I’m not trying to persuade anyone. I am just laying out my logic.

And so, the chronicle begins: things Donald Trump has said or done that would be highly undesirable from an actual president. The running tally is meant to document his outlier status as he moves toward the general election.

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Daily Trump #1. May 20, 2016, the EgyptAir disaster. Trump, a few hours after the news of the missing plane: “What just happened? A plane got blown out of the sky. And if anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100% wrong, folks, OK? You’re 100% wrong.”

Why this deserves notice: Indications are that terrorism was probably to blame for this crash. But the gap between probability and certainty is what presidents must remain aware of. A president who leapt to conclusions like this would be an active danger. Good example: the care with which the Kennedy Administration dealt with the complications of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bad example: the George W. Bush administration’s rush toward war with Iraq.

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Daily Trump #2: May 20, 2016, No gun-free zones. Here is Trump’s appearance this year at the NRA convention. At time 1:30 he says that Hillary Clinton “wants to abolish the Second Amendment — we’re not talking about changing it, she wants to abolish it.” That is bullshit. She’s in favor of tighter background checks for purchasers, liability provisions for gun manufacturers and sellers, and other restrictions. You can disagree with her or argue, as the NRA does, that these are the first steps in a dangerous direction, but you can’t sanely say that this means abolishing the Second Amendment.

Through the speech Trump repeats a cleaned-up version of the claim he made earlier this year in Vermont: “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools… My first day, it gets signed, O.K.? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”

Stated that way, the claim is crazy. No president signs legislation on his first day. A president could sign an executive order on his first day, but gun-free zones, including those set up by cities or states, are not subject to simple executive order. Now he’s just saying “we’ll get rid of them” without specifying day one, which is not as provably false but is something that no one who understood government would say.

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Daily Trump #3, May 23, 2016, defensive? Who, me?

Temperament, temperament, temperament. Every politician feels this way, and you can imagine Nixon or LBJ fuming this way to their confidants. Bill Clinton too. But the judgment to vent this way directly to millions of followers? Again, it’s Tosh.0. No larger point for now, just recording some of the tally as it mounts up.