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3 ways China and Russia are forging much closer economic ties

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, will meet face-to-face this week for the first time since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine earlier this year.
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Chat with David Ignatius about the war in Ukraine and foreign affairs
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Inside look at the Knicks’ training camp roster
Here's a breakdow the Knicks’ training camp roster:
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Climate Relief Can’t Wait for Utopia
Since the 1960s, fighting for the environment has frequently meant fighting against corporations. To curb pollution, activists have worked to thwart new oil drilling, coal-fired power plants, fracking for natural gas, and fuel pipelines. But today, Americans face a climate challenge that can’t be solved by just saying no again and again.Decarbonizing the economy will require an unprecedented amount of new energy investment. Fossil-fuel infrastructure built over centuries needs to be replaced within the next few decades by clean-energy alternatives. The United States will need to build hundreds of thousands of square miles of wind and solar farms; deploy enough battery storage to keep power flowing through the grid even on calm, cloudy days; and at least double the country’s transmission-line capacity. And the same laws that environmental groups leveraged in the past to block or delay fossil-fuel projects are now being exploited by NIMBYs in ways that, however well intended, will slow the country’s transition to clean energy. Windmills off Cape Cod, a geothermal facility in Nevada, and what could have been the largest solar farm in America have all been blocked by an endless series of environmental reviews and lawsuits.The good news is that, with reasonable reforms, the energy transition is fully within reach. Private investment in clean-energy technology is skyrocketing, and even Big Oil is starting to realize there is no future in fossil fuels.[Conor Friedersdorf: The environmental laws hindering clean energy]But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance.Environmental activists have historically been skeptical of nuclear energy, but that attitude may be changing. California reversed its decision to shut down the Diablo Canyon plant, and Japan announced plans to start investing in nuclear energy again—an outcome few predicted after Fukushima. This is welcome news, considering that, per unit of electricity produced, nuclear energy causes fewer deaths than wind energy and creates fewer carbon emissions than solar (and concerns about waste are overblown). However, one major barrier to deployment remains: Unlike solar and wind, which have seen dramatic cost decreases, nuclear-power-plant construction costs have actually increased over time. Although that means the current generation of nuclear technology isn’t likely to be a major climate tool, advanced nuclear systems such as small modular reactors show considerable promise. The potential climate benefits from cost-effective nuclear fission or even nuclear fusion are so large that they’re worth some strategic bets—even at long odds.Some forms of geoengineering, such as carbon-dioxide removal, would require massive reductions in cost to be viable as a climate solution. But the same was true of solar and wind decades ago, and the government was able to accelerate the learning curve in those fields by being an early source of demand and reducing the direct costs for consumers. Many progressive environmentalists feel uneasy with technologies that blunt the climate impact of fossil fuels rather than banish them entirely. And yet we need such options. Some major industries, such as aviation andcement and steel production, will be hard to decarbonize, and we’re already likely to overshoot the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius greater than preindustrial levels. The only way to permanently reverse that warming will be to suck carbon directly out of the atmosphere. More traditional carbon capture and sequestration methods, designed to capture greenhouse gases as they’re generated at large pollution sources, are showing less promise than carbon-dioxide removal given that they typically leave some residual emissions, but they’re still certainly better than unmitigated fossil-fuel use.In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.[M. Nolan Gray: How Californians are weaponizing environmental law]Yet permitting reform requires loosening regulations and laws that many environmentalists hold dear. The National Environmental Policy Act requires reviews that give enormous power to anyone who wants to block or delay a proposed energy project, either out of genuine social concern or for self-interested reasons. In practice, it is a major bottleneck to building clean-energy infrastructure. According to an analysis of government data by the R Street Institute, 65 percent of the energy projects categorized as either “in progress” or “planned” are related to renewable energy, and 16 percent have to do with electricity transmission. And nearly 20 times as much offshore wind power is held up in permitting as is currently in operation or under construction. U.S. climate spending could exceed more than half a trillion dollars by the end of this decade—but without permitting reform, those investments won’t translate into much physical infrastructure. A new permitting-reform measure put forth by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has drawn criticism for fast-tracking some specific fossil-fuel projects, such as the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, but in general clean-energy infrastructure has much more to gain relative to fossil fuels by streamlining permitting, because so much of it still needs to be built.None of this means that the United States should let the energy market run wild. On the contrary, the federal government will need to use a heavy hand in ensuring that technologies like carbon-dioxide removal actually deliver on their claims (unlike carbon offsets—a sketchy market rife with fraud and greenwashing). And public investment in clean technologies has already been pivotal in driving down the costs of solar and wind power as well as batteries.Yet we cannot succeed in the fight against global warming without giving many alternatives to the status quo an opportunity to evolve and prove themselves. In reality, the false solution to climate change isn’t geoengineering or nuclear energy—it’s the belief that we can decarbonize the economy only by upending our economic system, categorically rejecting certain technologies, and spurning private investment.
Russian State TV Using Tucker Carlson Clips to Promote War as Unrest Grows
At least 745 people were arrested on Saturday for protesting Russia's mobilization, according to a human rights group.
'After My Divorce, An Unusual Activity Brought Me Back To Life'
Friends prescribed Tinder, as if one-night stands could be hot enough to steam out the stains from custody battles.
Powerful typhoon prompts evacuations in northern Philippines
A powerful typhoon shifted and abruptly gained strength Sunday as it blew closer to the northeastern Philippines, prompting evacuations from high-risk villages and the capital.
Italians vote in election that could take far-right to power
Polls have shown that far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, with its neo-fascist roots, are the most popular.
Rookie Oswaldo Cabrera’s clutch homer propels Yankees
Oswald Cabrera’s surge continued Saturday with a fourth-inning, go-ahead, two-run home run in the Yankees’ 7-5 victory over the Red Sox in The Bronx.
Abcarian: I read 'Gender Queer,' the most banned book in America. And so should you.
Maia Kobabe's graphic novel 'Gender Queer' about identity explains so much about what gender-confused kids feel.
California's wildfire activity is running below average this year. But experts warn it's not over
Wildfire activity in California has been notably low this year, experts tell CNN, particularly compared to 2020 and 2021 when devastating wildfires erupted across the state and burned millions of acres by the time summer ended.
Op-Comic: What are you afraid of? How the GOP stokes fear and loathing in a divided America
Republicans should be worried that their tired strategy of preying on the fears of voters won't work for them in this fall's midterms.
NFL Week 3 predictions: Bet against Bill Belichick’s Patriots
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Op-Ed: How the U.S. came to protect the natural world — and exploit it at the same time
One 1872 U.S. law aimed to preserve the natural world, establishing Yellowstone park. The other, the General Mining Act, sacrificed public lands.
Jupiter is coming its closest to Earth in decades
Jupiter will be some 367 million miles from Earth on Monday, the closest it's been since 1963. It coincides with Jupiter being on the opposite side of Earth from the sun — when it'll be its brightest.
Op-Ed: How climate change is nudging us toward the next pandemic
Our warming world means billowing fires, breaking glaciers — and deadlier diseases.
Colombia's trailblazing vice president: Black, female and champion of the 'nobodies'
Environmental activist Francia Elena Márquez has been at the vanguard of an awakening among Colombia's long-marginalized Afro-Colombian community.
Letters to the Editor: Karen Bass and Rick Caruso had a good debate. Media coverage should show that
Yes, there were some attacks between Rick Caruso and Karen Bass, but the mayoral candidates also had a good policy discussion that got less attention.
Get a peek inside this Saudi Arabian date festival
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'This is my first lockdown. In college.' A day in the life of the school-lockdown generation
One of my students broke the news: "We're on lockdown." I didn't know then that my daughter's school was, too.
Do Not Bring Your ‘Whole Self’ to Work
Beware the latest fad from Human Resources.
Can Nuclear Power Be Green?
The war in Ukraine and climate change are forcing countries to embrace nuclear power, even if they don't want to.
Three Conversations With Donald Trump
“Can you believe these are my customers?” Donald Trump once asked while surveying the crowd in the Taj Mahal casino’s poker room. “Look at those losers,” he said to his consultant Tom O’Neil, of people spending money on the floor of the Trump Plaza casino. Visiting the Iowa State Fair as a presidential candidate in 2015, he was astounded that locals fell in line to support him because of a few free rides in his branded helicopter. In the White House, he was sometimes stunned at his own backers’ fervor, telling aides, “They’re fucking crazy.” Yet they loved him and wanted to own a piece of him, and that was what mattered most.Almost immediately after his defeat in 2020, Trump began fundraising off his claims of fraud, turning to his ardent fans for support. Plenty of people donated small amounts of money to continue a fight he swore was valid and building toward action. It was difficult to discern, though, whether Trump actually believed what he was saying about the election.I learned in the spring that Trump was repeating a claim from one of his most vocal allies, the self-made pillow-company CEO Mike Lindell, that Trump would be reinstated as president by August 2021. Trump liked the idea, telling aides he did not want to have to sit through another three and a half years of a Biden presidency. He quietly encouraged some conservative writers to publicize the idea in their own voices, telling the National Review editor Rich Lowry as well that he anticipated being reinstated by August 2021. Trump encouraged Lowry to write about it, saying it could help the magazine. When Jenna Ellis, his former adviser, protested on Twitter the notion that Trump could be reinstated to office, Trump told Ellis that her reputation would be damaged. She took that as pressure to reverse her statement. Trump conceded to her that the scenario was “almost impossible,” but that he wanted to keep the idea alive. This article is adapted from Haberman’s forthcoming book. Other moneymaking opportunities arrived, ostensibly tied to the reverent memory of the Trump presidency. The most audacious plan was for a social-media company of Trump’s own. In the days immediately following the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Trump was suspended from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube; he spent most of the next year insisting that he did not care about being banned while also suing the companies to get his accounts restored. In October, he announced that he would launch his own social network as part of a merger with a so-called blank-check company, whose stock price shot up when the merger was announced. The funding mechanism, which sparked an SEC investigation prior to the platform’s launch, was completely opaque.None of this came as any surprise to me. For much of the past decade, reporting on Trump has been my full-time job as a correspondent for The New York Times. To fully reckon with Donald Trump, his presidency, and his political future, people need to know where he comes from. The New York from which Trump emerged was its own morass of corruption and dysfunction, stretching from seats of executive power to portions of the media to the real-estate industry in which his family found its wealth. The world of New York developers was filled with shady figures and rife with backbiting and financial knife fighting; engaging with them was often the cost of doing business. But Trump nevertheless stood out to the journalists covering him as particularly brazen.I have found myself on the receiving end of the two types of behavior Donald Trump exhibits toward reporters: his relentless desire to hold the media’s gaze, and his poison-pen notes and angry statements in response to coverage. His impulse to try to sell his preferred version of himself was undeterred by the stain that January 6 left on his legacy and on the democratic foundations of the country—if anything, it grew stronger. He had an almost reflexive desire to meet with nearly every author writing a book about him. Trump’s aides offered me an interview, and I asked for two additional ones.Trump typically welcomed visiting authors for interviews in an indoor area at Mar-a-Lago that gets converted to a dining room at night, where a model of the redesigned Air Force One sits proudly on a low table. But after the headiness of being at the center of the world’s gaze, his time after the White House made him seem shrunken. He often played golf and then went to his newly built office at the club for meetings with whoever traveled down to seek his approval. He would watch television before going to dinner, where club members would sometimes applaud him, and then it would start all over again the next day, so removed from the daily rhythms of the broader world that he was oblivious to holidays on the calendar and staff had to remind him.When I arrived for the first interview, in March 2021, I was ushered away from the usual room to a smaller area where Trump sometimes dined with guests. I learned as we wrapped up that the club was empty because it had been closed off after a COVID-19 scare, but Trump decided to have us sit there regardless, without checking to see if I was vaccinated. “COVID,” Trump said as he described the club’s closure, “turns out, not good.”Trump greeted me cordially before taking a seat across the table from me; he was in sales mode, not combat mode. His history in New York was the focus of our interview. He thought back to the first major political figure he had observed up close, the Democratic Party boss Meade Esposito, who dominated Brooklyn politics when Trump joined his father’s real-estate business. “Meade ruled with an iron fist,” Trump said. “And he was a very strong leader, to put it mildly. And when I came to Washington, I said, ‘Oh, well, this is now the big league. So as tough as they were, this must be even tougher.’ But I said, ‘How could anybody be tougher than Meade?’ Meade had a cane at the end. He used to start swinging the cane at people. I mean, he was wild.”Trump had seemed to try to emulate Esposito’s style in his post-presidency, receiving visitors who came to kiss his ring, and picking favorites in primaries to try to determine the outcomes of those races. Trump’s view of strength never changes, regardless of the context, flattening all situations so they appear the same. He used identical language—“with an iron fist”—when describing how Esposito presided over his boroughwide fiefdom and when he praised China’s President Xi Jinping after his own term ended.I asked him if he had expected the presidency to function the same way. Rather, Trump said, that is how he thought congressional leaders would act on his behalf: “Well, I figured that the Mitch McConnells would be like him, in the sense of strength.” There were plenty of factual problems with the criticism. In fact, McConnell had kept Republican senators in line over and over to advance Trump’s policy and personnel concerns and generally protect his political standing as the leader of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, Trump said to me in another session, using his favorite new nickname for McConnell, “The Old Crow’s a piece of shit.”Trump also complained to me about senators successfully practicing this type of power politics against him, as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz had when they persuaded Trump not to back a challenge to a colleague, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse; Trump gave a surprise endorsement to Sasse, who then, after winning reelection, voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment. “Like a schmuck, I went along with it,” Trump said. Trump was clear that he did not believe he would have faced any of the same legal problems that had dogged him if Manhattan’s longtime district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, had still been in office. “No. He was a friend of mine. He was a great gentleman. He was a great man. He was highly respected. No. And I run a clean organization. This is a continuation of the witch hunt.” He added, “Bob Morgenthau would not have stood for this.” The investigation by Morgenthau’s successor, he insisted, was part of “an attack on the Republic.” He was perhaps even more dire when describing the threat he had faced from the special counsel investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. It forced him, he said, to perform “two jobs when I was president, running the country and survival.”At one point, Trump made a candid admission that was as jarring as it was ultimately unsurprising. “The question I get asked more than any other question: ‘If you had it to do again, would you have done it?’” Trump said of running for president. “The answer is, yeah, I think so. Because here’s the way I look at it. I have so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are.” He then went on to talk about how much easier his life would have been had he not run. Yet there it was: Reflecting on the meaning of having been president of the United States, his first impulse was not to mention public service, or what he felt he’d accomplished, only that it appeared to be a vehicle for fame, and that many experiences were only worth having if someone else envied them. (When I asked him in a later interview about what he’d liked about the job, he replied, “Getting things done,” and listed a few accomplishments.)We met for a follow-up interview five weeks later, again at Mar-a-Lago, again in the late afternoon. He was not in a good mood. By way of greeting, he told me, “I’m watching the Arizona situation very carefully.” A private company called the Cyber Ninjas was conducting a so-called audit of Maricopa County ballots and tabulation equipment that had been handed over by the Republican-led state senate. He had talked about his claims of widespread fraud in our first interview, but not about trying to undo the results. He seemed to be going backward. I learned later that he’d tried getting the Republican National Committee to fund the “audit” in Arizona, to no avail (the “audit” ultimately affirmed the results of the state’s election).He was at his most animated when I asked about why he had trusted Sidney Powell, given the concerns his other advisers had had about her. Since then, Powell had faced libel suits from voting-machine manufacturers she had accused of corruption; her defense had been, essentially, that no one should have taken what she had to say seriously. “I was very disappointed in her statement,” Trump said. “That is so demeaning for her to say about herself.” Then he essentially read stage directions on how to use public claims in lawsuits. “All she had to say,” he said, “was ‘Upon information and belief, I think such and such.’ Now all she says there, was take a thousand stories that were written over the last 10 years long before all of this, that are bad stories,” he said, “and that is information and belief, she read them. And that’s the end of that case. That’s true for everybody: ‘It’s upon information and belief and let’s go to court to find out if it’s true.’”I pressed him on what, at that point, was one of the persistent mysteries of January 6, which would become central to the congressional select committee’s investigation: what he had been doing in the hours when the Capitol was under assault from his supporters. He insisted that he was not watching television, despite volumes of witness testimony and other evidence to the contrary. “I didn’t usually have the television on. I’d have it on if there was something. I then later turned it on and I saw what was happening,” he said. He lied throughout that bit of our interview: “I had heard that afterward and actually on the late side. I was having meetings. I was also with Mark Meadows and others. I was not watching television.”Our third meeting was at the end of the summer, which he had largely spent at the quarters that he kept on the grounds of his New Jersey golf course.When I arrived at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, I waited in a small room off the front entrance. I spotted Lindsey Graham outside, in golf pants; it was the second time I had encountered him in Trump’s vicinity that year. Trump eventually entered the room, having lost a noticeable amount of weight since I had seen him last. Graham followed a minute later and gestured toward Trump. “The greatest comeback in American history!” Graham declared. Trump looked at me. “You know why Lindsey kisses my ass?” he asked. “So I’ll endorse his friends.” Graham laughed uproariously.I was curious when Trump said he had kept in touch with other world leaders since leaving office. I asked whether that included Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, and he said no. But when I mentioned North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, he responded, “Well, I don’t want to say exactly, but …” before trailing off. I learned after the interview that he had been telling people at Mar-a-Lago that he was still in contact with North Korea’s supreme leader, whose picture with Trump hung on the wall of his new office at his club.He demurred when I asked if he had taken any documents of note upon departing the White House—“nothing of great urgency, no,” he said, before mentioning the letters that Kim Jong-un had sent him, which he had showed off to so many Oval Office visitors that advisers were concerned he was being careless with sensitive material. “You were able to take those with you?” I asked. He kept talking, seeming to have registered my surprise, and said, “No, I think that’s in the archives, but … Most of it is in the archives, but the Kim Jong-un letters … We have incredible things.”In fact, Trump did not return the letters—which were included in boxes he had brought to Mar-a-Lago—to the National Archives until months later. The Washington Post reported on it in early 2022; the Justice Department began investigating how the classified material made its way in and out of the White House residence. (In one of our earlier interviews, I had asked him separately about some of the texts between the FBI agent and the FBI official working on the Robert Mueller investigation whose affair prompted the agent’s removal from the case; we had learned the night before Biden’s inauguration that Trump was planning to make the texts public. He ultimately didn’t, but he told me that Meadows had the material in his possession and offered to connect me with him.)Over the course of our conversations, he appeared reluctant to take shots at many of those people on whom I knew him to have been toughest behind closed doors. His campaign manager Brad Parscale spent money “unwisely,” he said, but he did not criticize him beyond that. I asked why he had given Jared Kushner expansive power. “I didn’t,” Trump said, although he had done exactly that. When I pressed, Trump said, “Look, my daughter has a great relationship with him and that’s very important.” (In the fall of 2016, ahead of the election, Trump once tried to call Kushner to complain about why the situation in Florida was bad for him. Kushner, who usually didn’t answer his phone on the Sabbath, was unresponsive. “Fucking Shabbat,” Trump groused, asking no one in particular if his Jewish son-in-law was really religious or just avoiding work. When I later asked him about this, he denied that he had said it.)He was not so sanguine about Mike Pence, who had begun to defend his own actions on January 6 with increasing stridency, prompting Trump to escalate his condemnation of his former vice president’s judgment that day. “I said, ‘Mike, you have a chance to be Thomas Jefferson, or you can be Mike Pence,’” Trump recounted to me, repeating an inaccurate comparison to the election of 1800. “He chose to be Mike Pence.”I brought up another potential future primary rival, by mentioning that he had been compared to New Jersey’s feisty Governor Chris Christie before the two men faced off in the 2016 primary. Trump replied, “I was compared to him? Why? I didn’t know I had that big of a weight problem.” A small smirk followed. Then: “He’s an opportunist.” I heard that Trump was describing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in similar terms, calling him “fat,” “phony,” and “whiny,” while claiming credit for making his candidacy in 2018.Even as he talked about launching another campaign for the presidency, Trump was more comfortable looking backward than forward. When I told Trump I wanted to talk about 2024, he asked, quizzically, “2024?”By the time we spoke at Mar-a-Lago, I had covered Trump as a political figure for many years, and little was surprising. And still the choreography of in-person interviews could reveal moments of unintended candor. He started to explain why he doesn’t like when audiotapes of his interviews are released. Being on camera was “much different,” he said. “Whereas,” he said, in a “written interview, I’ll repeat it 20 times, because I want to drum it into your beautiful brain. Do you understand that?” He repeated himself again. “One of the things I’ll do, if I’m doing, like with you, for the written word, is I got to drum it into your head. So I’ll repeat something six times.”His interest in repetition was not news to me, but his self-awareness of it was notable. At another point, he was going on a stem-winder about New York’s then-outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio canceling a contract with the Trump Organization to manage a public golf course in the Bronx after January 6. De Blasio’s choice to replace Trump was deeply controversial, and a judge later ruled in Trump’s favor.“It’s like communism,” Trump said, asking what the word was for when someone takes your property. (It came to him 20 minutes later. “Confiscate is the word,” he declared in the middle of another thought.) I tried redirecting him, but he cut me off. “Let me just finish it,” he said. “Just let me do this, and then I’m going to tell you.” He seemed to hear himself, and smiled. Then he turned to the two aides he had sitting in on our interview, gestured toward me with his hand, and said, “I love being with her, she’s like my psychiatrist.”It was a meaningless line, almost certainly intended to flatter, the kind of thing he has said about the power of release he got from his Twitter feed or other interviews he has given over the years. The reality is that he treats everyone like they are his psychiatrists—reporters, government aides, and members of Congress, friends and pseudo-friends and rally attendees and White House staff and customers. All present a chance for him to vent or test reactions or gauge how his statements are playing or discover how he is feeling. He works things out in real time in front of all of us. Along the way, he reoriented an entire country to react to his moods and emotions.I spent the four years of his presidency getting asked by people to decipher why he was doing what he was doing, but the truth is, ultimately, almost no one really knows him. Some know him better than others, but he is often simply, purely opaque, permitting people to read meaning and depth into every action, no matter how empty they might be.This article is adapted from Haberman’s forthcoming book Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.
Do we ask too much of parents?
Parents check on their kids after dropping them off at Kimberly Pearson’s class on the first day of school at Sunkist Elementary School in Anaheim, California, on August 11, 2022. | Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images An expert argues that we make parenting so much harder than it needs to be by failing at policy. Are we setting parents up to fail? Setting children up for success in today’s world is incredibly hard. In our culture, it’s especially difficult because the job of giving kids everything they need largely falls to parents. And even if you’re the most attentive and loving parent in the world, it’s not enough. If they’re going to succeed in this society, they need to learn certain kinds of skills. And they need certain kinds of people to teach them those skills. Schools are supposed to do this, but kids spend the vast majority of their time outside school — and the most crucial period of development for kids occurs before they even get to public school. The gaps that emerge during this time are one of the great drivers of inequality in our country. Economist Nate Hilger thinks of children as the largest disenfranchised group in America, and that parents are being failed along with their children. His new book, called The Parent Trap, argues that it doesn’t have to be this way — and that we can change it. I invited Hilger to join me for an episode of Vox Conversations. Below is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so listen and follow Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Sean Illing What exactly is the parent trap? Nate Hilger The parent trap is, at its most basic level, the egregiously unrealistic expectation that we place on parents to build a huge range of important skills in children, early in their life. The consequences of that unrealistic expectation are a lot of social problems that cost us both emotionally and economically. The other aspect of the parent trap beyond these unrealistic expectations is the difficulty we have talking about that basic trap, because once we start saying that some parents are struggling in certain ways, and it’s correlated with race and class, it sounds so threatening and it just shuts down the conversation. And that is also, I think, an important part of what keeps the status quo in place. Sean Illing What are those unrealistic expectations? Nate Hilger Well, to begin life, children have to pick up not just academic skills like literacy and numeracy, but they have to get this wide range of other skills — social, emotional, behavioral skills, things like self-discipline, tenacity, financial skills, how to take care of yourself mentally and physically. There is a wide range of these skills that really are the foundation of children’s independence and success in adulthood. And building those skills turns out to be a lot more complicated and difficult than we have assumed for hundreds of years. And that makes it really hard for individual parents to do it successfully on a level playing field in their spare time. Sean Illing You identify two different kinds of parental responsibilities in the book. One of them is caring, and the other one is skill building. These are different things, but we’ve combined them under this common umbrella of parenting. Pull these things apart for me. What is the difference between the two? Nate Hilger The main difference between these two jobs that all parents have, caring and skill building, is that most of us can do a pretty good job at caring. Caring has this egalitarian feature. Caring I think about as loving kids and feeling personally invested in their success, and being there for them when they’re sick or when they’re unhappy. Helping them laugh and grow and navigate life as best you can. There’s this other job of parents: skill development. Skill development I think of as the set of things that is quite hard for a large share of parents to do successfully on their own. This involves reading and math. But it also involves a lot of these other skills, the emotional, social, and behavioral skills that will set kids up to thrive independently in adulthood. This stuff is complicated and we only get a small part of this from our existing K-12 school system. Sean Illing What kinds of parents are more equipped to build these sorts of skills in their kids? I mean, is it about money? Is it about knowledge or education? Is it about having more time? Is it all of the above? Nate Hilger The first thing I would say is that it’s pretty idiosyncratic, meaning that it’s not like monolithically, this group can do it, and this group can’t do it. In every group, there are some parents who are gonna excel at this, and some parents who are gonna struggle with it. That said, there are a number of things that correlate with capacity for this kind of skill development. Income is one. If you have income, you’re more likely to be able to take care of this on your own. And your own skills, your own professional skills as a parent, often are correlated with educational attainment and professional experience. So if you’re a high-income manager, you’re more likely to have the tools involved that help you do a more successful job at child skill development. If we think of child skill development like a complicated professional activity, something like being a lawyer or practicing medicine, or managing a team at a company, some of those general skills will carry over into the other complicated professional domain of child skill development. Sean Illing You talk in the book about how the trap you’re talking about really does reinforce a lot of the inequalities in our society. And you also point out that a child raised by the top 25 percent richest parents will end up earning about $50,000 more per year than a child raised by the bottom 25 percent poorest parents. That’s pretty startling. Is the idea that we live in anything like a meritocracy bullshit? Nate Hilger Yeah, I do think it’s bullshit. It’s not that there’s no return to effort and self initiative and risk in our society. I really do think there is, so it’s not total bullshit. I think sometimes progressives go way too far out on that ledge. People look around them and they know people who work hard and people who don’t work hard and often the people who work hard get better lives for themselves. And it just falsifies that idea that the structural obstacles to making your life better are so overwhelmingly suffocating that there’s no such thing as effort or initiative. I don’t think that’s bullshit. But when we talk about the average differences by class and race, then I think we do get into this idea that our meritocratic ideals are not really where we would hope they would be. This gap you mentioned is due to the different opportunities that these kids get in childhood. And so that is just directly in contradiction with our American ideals of meritocracy. Sean Illing Yeah, I really do agree with you there, right? There’s an overly deterministic way of talking about it that strips people of their agency, when in reality you actually can do quite a bit to overcome that through hard work and effort and all that — these things do matter. But where you start goes a long way in determining where you end up. And that matters too. These things are both true at the same time, and they interact in very complicated ways. And they have to be addressed in a way that doesn’t blot out these distinctions or minimize any of them. Nate Hilger Yeah, one way I try to talk about this is in terms of the class difference. I talk about the skills that you wind up with through the opportunities that your parents largely make available to you in childhood. I talk about that skill portfolio as a trust fund. Sean Illing I like that. Nate Hilger I think we all recognize that when a really high income kid reaches adulthood with a bank account with $5 million in it that their parents gave them, that’s a really unfair advantage. We don’t necessarily resent it. We think parents might have a right to do that. We have ongoing debates about the fairness of that. But most of us don’t have a $5 million bank account trust fund to help us take risks. The same thing is happening [with skills]. It’s just invisible for regular upper middle class kids. It’s just that bank account is in the form of our skill portfolio, which comes from the same kinds of parental advantages that drive the trust fund. Sean Illing Okay. So if parents can’t reliably handle teaching the necessary skills to their children, who should do that and who’s gonna pay for it? And I ask because when you describe skill building, most people immediately think of school. Schools have teachers and coaches and counselors. School seems like precisely the kind of skill building institution you’re advocating. So what’s wrong about this assumption that this is what schools are for? Nate Hilger That’s a great instinct and you’re right. School does have a lot of the elements that are necessary to help building skills. The problem is that our K-12 education system is kind of a fig leaf on the real scope of the problem here. We talked earlier about how the way kids build skills is, they spend time, they learn, they practice, they imitate. They don’t just buy them. So if skills happen in the medium of time, it really matters who is controlling children’s time. Our K-12 education system only controls about 10 percent of children’s time. Sean Illing Is it really that low? That seems really low. Nate Hilger Let’s go through where that comes from. The K-12 school system only starts at age five. So the first five years of childhood, [there’s] no public support, except in some limited ways. Once school starts, it’s only operating about half of all days each year. There are weekends, spring break, winter break, summer break, all those professional training days. When you’re a parent, you’re often thinking like, geez, another day off. And yeah, it adds up — only 50 percent of calendar days are in school, typically. And then even on those days, when school is operating, it’s only covering about a third of the day. If you’re a parent, you feel this very viscerally when you learn you have to pick up your kid at 2:30 and you’re like, wait, what? I have to figure out the rest of this afternoon myself while I have a full-time job? So when you add up all those numbers, our K-12 education system is providing the right kinds of services, but only for a small fraction of childhood. Sean Illing That is an important point, right? I mean, kids do spend the majority of their time outside school. And that time is structured and governed by parents. And if parents don’t have the time to maximize those windows, or if they don’t have the skills, that’s a problem. Nate Hilger That is a big part of the unrealistic expectation that we place on parents. And that leads to these huge gaps between rich kids and poor kids, when they transition to adulthood. Sean Illing Something you wrote in the book that surprised me and maybe it shouldn’t have: You write that the skill gaps, children’s skill gaps by class and race, don’t really grow that much during the time they spend in K through 12 schools. That the large skill gap really emerges almost entirely before they enter the K through 12 system. Nate Hilger That’s right. I think we’ve had this assumption for a long time, that early childhood doesn’t have a lot going on, and parents can kind of figure it out and the stakes are low. And for decades now, we’ve known that’s just not the case. And the fact that our public education system starts at kindergarten when these massive gaps by class and race have already emerged in both academic and non-academic skills, as far as we can measure them, that just seems like we’re sabotaging ourselves as a country. It seems like we’re wasting a lot of talent by delaying that level of public support for so long. Sean Illing What you’re saying is no matter how you look at it, the real divide, the divides that really matter long-term, happen outside of school within families. And it remains untouched by all this funding and all these efforts to bolster public schools. And that’s something we haven’t reckoned with. Nate Hilger That’s right. Why would we let kids show up to kindergarten with huge gaps and deficits and disadvantages, and then start trying to address that? Why wouldn’t we level the playing field from age zero to five by providing universal access to high quality learning environments, so that these gaps aren’t something that we have to address and remediate with progressive funding formulas, after that age, much less successfully? Why would we focus entirely on within-school problems when kids have long summer breaks, where radical inequality reemerges, where kids have afternoons where radical inequality reemerges? We really need to be filling in those gaps where inequality is enormous rather than fixating on what is currently our quite narrow tool of the K-12 system. Sean Illing Well, one thing you do say is that schools, K through 12 schools, could be much more effective in building skills. You know, teachers and coaches and counselors could do a whole lot more. But they need more access to children’s time. What would that look like, longer school days? Fewer breaks? Smaller class sizes? Nate Hilger There is a long tradition in America of calling for schools to manage a larger share of children’s time. It’s called the community school movement. And it’s arguing that kids should go to school and have a happy, enriching place to be for basically the full work day, nine to five. This doesn’t mean that kids will just be doing extra homework or cramming more, or getting exhausted when they’re at school all day. We have to really take that concern into account. That is a real problem. It might be that kids need to be able to rest quietly and do their own thing in a safe environment for a period of time, and then recharge and do something more structured. It might be that some kids get tutoring in that extra time. It might be that some kids do something that they love, like they learn how to do audio engineering, or they do band, or they practice design or something that just interests them and doesn’t tire them out. The key thing is that parents shouldn’t have to do a lot of research and show a lot of proactive initiative and weed out the bad providers from the good providers with a lot of insight. It should just be, parents kind of automatically sign their kids up for educational institutions, and schools can manage a much larger share of children’s time in productive, healthy, happy ways.
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