Washington, D.C. (September 13, 2016)—The first matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, on September 26, could soon be remembered as the most-watched televised event in U.S. history, with the most extreme contrast of personal, intellectual, and political styles. In his fifth consecutive pre-debate cover story in the pages of The Atlantic, national correspondent James Fallows talked with politicians, operatives, and experts on intellectual and emotional persuasion to find out what to expect when the candidates go head-to-head for the first time. Fallows, in his cover story, considers four striking aspects of Trump’s previous performances— Simplicity, Ignorance, Dominance, and Gender—and what they might mean in a debate against Clinton.
Also leading the Politics Issue: Jeffrey Goldberg on how to get Bill Clinton out of the house, should his wife win the presidency; Molly Ball on the lucrative—and maybe ineffective—industry of political consulting; a personal reflection on O. J. Simpson by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and Peter Beinart on the fear of a female president.
In just a few weeks, the presidential candidate who has yet to experience a one-on-one debate will face the candidate who has done about a zillion. What can we expect in an election year that has so far been anything but predictable? Veteran debate chronicler and former presidential speechwriter James Fallows spent months talking with politicians, operatives, and body-language experts to decode how both Trump and Clinton will fare on September 26. He writes: “If Trump can seem easily rather than angrily in command, or if he can lure Clinton into joining him in an insult-for-insult exchange, or if she is beset by some new controversy for which she gives a hyper-legalistic rationalization, then the debates could be a turning point for Trump.” As for Clinton, the gender stakes in these encounters are obvious, Fallows writes. “Precisely because gender coding is so powerful an element for these debates, Clinton might as well forget about it. She is not going to change who she is; unlike Donald Trump, she has been through a lot of encounters like this already; there’s no question she hasn’t answered many times.” When attacked for her own “crookedness” or the sins of her husband, she should be direct and pivot back to the issues. Or as Fallows puts it: “To use a phrase from Michelle Obama’s convention speech: When they go low, we go high.”
Features & Essay:
If the shape of the 2016 election is raising questions about the viability of political consulting, one need look no further than how much was spent per delegate earned by the victor Donald Trump, versus the loser Jeb Bush, in the primaries. The comparison: $34.6 million per each of four delegates earned by Bush and his highly professional campaign, and less than $50,000 per each of 1,543 delegates earned by Trump and his highly unorthodox one. Molly Ball, who has been on and around campaign trails for months, examines the question hanging over political consultants this year: “What if their tactics and strategies simply don’t work?”
“The support of Simpson struck me as unintelligent, politically immature, and ill-advised.” As a young man, Ta-Nehisi Coates couldn’t comprehend African American support for O. J. Simpson, a man who had turned his back on the black community. Coates was offended by a criminal-defense team that invoked racial injustice on his behalf, once writing in his school newspaper: “Since Simpson’s practices show he clearly has no interest in the affairs of black people, the question becomes why do blacks have any interest in him?” Since then, though, he’s come to change his mind. Framed around Ezra Edelman’s documentary, O.J.: Made in America, Coates explains how growing to understand the racial injustice perpetuated by the LAPD changed his perspective on the trial that enraptured the nation. He concludes: “The virtue of equality does not always feel like a virtue, because equality does not always run on the same axis as morality. Equality for African Americans means the right to be treated like anyone else—whether we’re doing good or we’re doing evil.”
Sometimes life provides second chances. And for Bill Clinton, who came closer than anyone to achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, that chance could come if his wife wins the presidency—and if she sends him to Jerusalem. In a spirited and provocative essay, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Bill Clinton is “the only living person the antagonists would find, to their chagrin, impossible to ignore.” And so, as first gentleman, he should resume his work to solve the unsolvable conflict. Goldberg admits that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lost its urgency in a turmoil-filled region, now ranked, in his mind, as the seventh-most-critical Middle East situation for a future Clinton administration. Even so, “the issue has captured the world’s imagination for decades,” and “it would be a crime [for Bill Clinton] not to give it one more try.”
Over the past few years, political scientists have suggested that, counterintuitively, Barack Obama’s election may have led to greater acceptance by whites of racist rhetoric. According to Peter Beinart, something similar is now happening with gender. As antipathy toward Hillary Clinton among white men reaches unprecedented levels, her candidacy is sparking a kind of sexist backlash that decades of research predicts. Among the evidence: studies suggesting that men see women in positions of power as less legitimate, that ambitious women provoke feelings of “moral outrage,” and that women who “deviated from traditional gender roles—by occupying a ‘man’s’ job or having a ‘masculine’ personality”—were disproportionately targeted for sexual harassment. Furthermore, this spring, 42 percent of Americans said they believed the United States has become “too soft and feminine.” The gender backlash may not defeat Clinton, but if she becomes president, this wave of misogyny could roil American politics for years to come.
The American economy has long modeled a dynamic system, wherein companies are forced to adapt to the unpredictable currents of the free market. But lately, the U.S. economy has become stagnant, which has taken a toll on small businesses, according to Derek Thompson. Dating back to the late 19th century, the federal government has taken great pains to protect competitive markets. But lately, “America has become the land of the free and the home of the consolidated.” Thompson asks, “How big can a company get before it’s inherently bad for the economy?” Tech giants like Apple, Alphabet, and Amazon dominate their respective markets, but they’re also the most admired companies in the country. Thompson concludes, “Bigger is not always bad, but if we’ve learned anything in the past three decades, it’s that a little froth is always good.”
Is Donald Trump the latest in a long line of punk-rock idols? Not exactly, but in his culture column, James Parker makes the case for the punk-rock appeal of the Republican candidate. “To be clear,” Parker writes, “Donald Trump is not Igor Stravinsky … Nonetheless, with his followers—about whom one should not generalize, except to say that most of them would rather be waterboarded than sit through an episode of Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!—he has co-created a space in American politics that is uniquely transgressive, volatile, carnivalesque, and (from a certain angle) punk rock.” Much like previous punk movements, much of Trump’s smash-it-up appeal derives from the circumstances around him. Parker says: “Is it frivolous to portray a genuine and expanding menace to the republic as some kind of arty iconoclast or Lord of Misrule? Obviously it is.”
Dating back to the days of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, the idea of the robotic “other” has captured our cultural imagination. HBO’s new series Westworld adds another distinct chapter to the canon of android cinema. The reboot of a 1973 Michael Crichton film, Westworld inverts the traditional robot narrative by telling the story from the android’s perspective, and in doing so, critic Christopher Orr says, the show presents a “refinement of the genre.” Orr writes that Westworld “grants [androids] the defining victory of the outsider: the right at last to tell ... their stories for themselves.”
This month’s Big Question asks: “What concept most needs a word in the English language?” Authors, writers, and academics weigh in on those moments in life that we lack words to describe, whether it’s a word to distinguish between spicy hot and thermal hot, or the social-media post we so want to share, if it weren’t ruined by grammatical errors.