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Like Kenya and Burundi, the US has now met our criteria for electoral violence thanks to Trump

The US has met several of the criteria that make election violence most likely to occur, including politics based on patronage; weak electoral management bodies; ongoing conflict and division in the country; repression of opposition; civil unrest and violence against protesters

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The Hungry Mungry Trump
Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention in 2016. | Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images The former president fits into a long line of ravenous, miserable literary characters. Shel Silverstein’s poem “Hungry Mungry” appears in the author’s 1974 collection Where the Sidewalk Ends, a favorite of giggling American kids. It’s the story of a kid named Hungry Mungry (what did his parents expect, giving him a name like that?), who has such a ravenous appetite that he eats everything: all the food, his parents, the United States, the world, and finally himself. It’s an absurd image from a poet who revels in silliness, a tale meant to tickle grade schoolers’ funny bones. But the pathos, however goofy, is undeniable. Hungry Mungry’s parents try to stop him, and he gobbles them up. Police arrive to halt his lawless rampage, and he chomps them down. The president sends the US military to halt his wanton munching, and they, too, go down the hatch. Hungry Mungry eats pyramids and puppies, churches and Chicago. No one can stop him. The final stanza paints a bleak picture: He started with the moon and stars and soon as he was doneHe gulped the clouds, he sipped the wind and gobbled up the sun.Then sitting there in the cold dark air,He started to nibble his feet,Then his legs, then his hipsThen his neck, then his lipsTill he sat there just gnashin’ his teethCause nothin’ was nothin’ wasNothin’ was nothin’ wasNothin’ was left to eat. Hungry Mungry, having fed his insatiable need to absorb the whole world into himself, is left utterly, completely alone. He is — to bastardize a misquote — like Alexander the Great: Weeping, for there are no more worlds to conquer. In the morass of my pandemic-era mind-mush, Hungry Mungry emerges as linked to a larger narrative archetype, a character who crops up consistently in stories that are absurd and surreal. He is the narcissist who must consume, colonize, destroy, or transform everything he touches into some reflection of himself. He is rapacious, grandiose, and utterly miserable, driven by a fear of some unbearable solitude. His solution is to fill the world with himself. He sounds, in so many ways, like a certain former president. He also sounds like Shakespeare’s Richard III, who — haunted by his hunchbacked appearance — has nurtured his soul into deformity, rendering himself incapable by his cruelty and cravenness to earn the love of either a woman or a country. So he must grab those things through fear and force, inspiring loyalty in some and imprisoning or slaughtering anyone who stands in his path. Richard III longs for everyone to bow to him and him alone; for his troubles, he is left abandoned on a battlefield, yelling for someone, anyone, to bring him a horse. Thurston Hopkins/Getty Images Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard III in 1955. He sounds like Norman Bombardini, a secondary character who looms over David Foster Wallace’s bizarre 1987 debut novel The Broom of the System. Bombardini is first glimpsed seated in a restaurant, ordering nine steaks for his dinner. When the waiter objects, Bombardini eviscerates him and orders the waiter to let him be: Tonight I will eat. Hugely, and alone. For now I am hugely alone. I will eat, and juice might very well spurt into the air around me, and if anyone comes too near, I will snarl and jab at them with my fork ... I’m going to grow and grow, and fill the absence that surrounds me with the horror of my own gelatinous presence. It transpires that Bombardini, a wealthy businessman who’s been left by his wife, has vowed to eliminate the possibility of loneliness by unorthodox means. “We each ought to desire our own universe to be as full as possible,” he pompously declares to our heroine, Lenore, who works for the company he owns. Bombardini has decided that “the Great Horror consists in an empty, rattling personal universe, one where one finds oneself with Self, on the one hand, and vast empty lonely spaces before Others begin to enter the picture at all, on the other hand. A non-full universe.” Bombardini’s plan, he tells Lenore, is to “fill the universe with Self” by growing to “infinite size.” By the end of the novel, Lenore discovers via a mutual acquaintance, a psychiatrist named Dr. Jay, that Bombardini has begun “talking with some earnestness about ... consuming people.” Lenore is horrified. “All metaphorical, I’m firmly convinced,” Dr. Jay hastens to add. We’re not so sure. Bombardini’s longing to live in a world where only he may exist, the better to avoid rejection, logically suggests a world that cannot contain anyone else. Like Hungry Mungry, he must consume them all. Variations on this same pathetic figure appear throughout Charlie Kaufman’s oeuvre — certain scenes from Being John Malkovich spring to mind — but his 2015 animated film Anomalisa is probably the best example. The main character, a miserable businessman named Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), is spending the night in a Cincinnati hotel, one of those cookie-cutter corporate places that look the same no matter what city you’re in. He’s the keynote speaker at a convention for customer service professionals. Michael is a married father with a nice job, but hates everything about his perfectly pleasant life. As the movie begins, the main factor in his misery (whether it’s the cause or the effect) quickly comes into focus. For Michael, everyone on earth — cab driver, hotel desk clerk, ex-girlfriend, his own child — has the same bland face and the same bland voice. It’s not that he’s face-blind. Michael has just lost, or more likely ceded, the ability to see the world as populated by different people. To him, they are all one mass, a group of indistinguishable nothings. He has chosen to cope with his personal unhappiness by wiping out the feelings, the distinctiveness, the essential humanity of everyone else. He is utterly bored by anyone who isn’t himself, immune to the differences and dignity of those around him, and he copes by simply checking out. Paramount Pictures Michael in Anomalisa. Michael springs to life when in the hotel bar he suddenly hears the voice and sees the face of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom he finds fascinating because she is different. But the morning after they (awkwardly) have sex in the nondescript hotel bed, Michael comes to a horrifying realization over breakfast: Now that he has, in a sense, absorbed Lisa into himself, he’s incapable of keeping her humanity in view. Her Lisa-ness starts glitching out, her face and voice transforming into the same bland nothingness as everyone else. And Michael falls into deep despair. Unlike Richard, or Bombardini, Michael lacks the power to twist the world around him to his liking; he’s not out murdering people or eating everyone. But all three men share the same goal. Faced with a world they can’t control, and a loneliness they refuse to overcome in ways that would make them vulnerable to others, they set out to reshape the world into some reflection of themselves. To fill it with sameness and eliminate difference. To see themselves, or at least not anyone else, everywhere they look. But in the end, they find themselves ultimately more alone. Which, naturally, brings us to the most real-life exemplar of this character I’ve ever encountered: dubious businessman, tawdry celebrity, reality TV host, and 45th president of the United States Donald J. Trump. Trump’s need to stamp himself all over the world around him is indubitable. Any New Yorker saw it coming. Take a walk around the streets of Manhattan, and you’ll bump into some building with his name on it, probably a large one in a prominent spot — near Central Park, or on Fifth Avenue, or across from the New York Stock Exchange. It’s been that way for as long as most people can remember, and it’s pervasive. To cite just one notable example: After fighting for decades to develop land south of Lincoln Center into a massive apartment complex — first named “Television City,” then “Trump City,” and eventually Riverside South — Trump’s grand ambitions never came to fruition. But driving down the West Side Highway recently, just where “Trump City” would have been, I spotted an ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY sign sporting a familiar name. Trump’s skill at garnering media attention is part of the same impulse. It’s not just his full-throated melding with Fox News, which substantially predated his presidency and ensures that whenever he turns on the TV, he sees himself. Susan Mulcahy, a former Page Six editor and New York magazine columnist, wrote in the summer of 2016 that “if you worked for a newspaper in New York in the 1980s, you had to write about Trump,” partly because back then he still was landing big business deals but more often because he was simply outrageous. Others have reported that in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, Trump would pose as his own spokesperson, planting stories and grabbing headlines whenever possible. He knew how to make sure that no matter what newspaper landed on his desk that day, he’d find himself in it; in his most famous book, 1987’s The Art of the Deal, Trump boasted that “if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.” Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images Donald Trump at a publication party for his book The Art of the Deal in 1987. His penchant for belittling and insulting everyone around him, whether long-time foe or newly disloyal advisor, stems from the same place. If you aren’t of use to him, then you don’t deserve to exist. You are persona non grata. And if you don’t look like him — if he can’t see himself when he looks at you — you’re even worse, something less than human. Women, in general, fall into this category, which accounts for decades of degradation and alleged assaults. And Trump is far from the “least racist person” he claims to be. Trump’s election to the presidency was the culmination of his bulldozing, the natural end, for him, to warping the physical and virtual worlds to his match own image. Now, he could absorb people, too. Close advisors like Rudy Giuliani seemed to internalize both Trump’s personal vanity and his bizarre ways of satisfying it — possibly by using mascara to cover a septuagenarian’s gray hair, rather than hair dye, for instance. Young radical supporters donned a uniform — polo shirt, khakis, MAGA hat — that seemed oddly similar to the president’s golf ensemble. Millions of his followers picked up Trump’s pet phrases, his favorite ways to exaggerate and disparage: fake news, no collusion, believe me, China virus, enemy of the state, losers, witch hunt. They shouted “lock her up!” at rallies long past the point where the chant held meaning, wore identical red hats, and injected Trump-speak into press releases. To some Trump supporters’ family members and friends, it began to feel like their loved ones’ bodies were being taken over by the alien being of Donald Trump. That feeling has long palpable even if you can’t stand the guy — the urge to always talk about him, to read his tweets, to blame everything on his failures, to interpret every bit of pop culture through the lens of his looming silhouette. At times Trump’s tactics for hoarding attention seem borrowed from some of the livestreamers who, if they can’t get their audiences to adore them, court hate instead. Anything to keep from shrinking, or disappearing altogether. It is no shocker that Trump has found himself, at the end of the presidency — after inciting his followers to insurrection, then reportedly watching it with delight — slowly (too slowly) abandoned by former allies and advisors. This often happens when narcissists reach the end of their quest to own the world; if they’re not able to strongarm their way to absolute mastery, they wind up deserted by those who were only loyal as long as loyalty was expedient. They must confront an unflattering truth: They’ve made themselves impossible to truly love. Because thus far the world, outside of children’s poems and absurdist novels, refuses in the end to cow to one man’s will. People simply are not the same, and the world is too big to be contained within a single ego. Fascists succeed for a while, but not forever; there will always be pushback from those on the margins. Authoritarians seek to reduce the citizenry to a docile herd that will bend to their will; as the political theorist Hannah Arendt puts it, they wish to eradicate “spontaneity itself as an expression of human behavior and of transforming the human personality into a mere thing.” In The Origins of Totalitarianism, she describes the target of the would-be totalitarian as “difference” — the characteristics and desires that make us unique from one another, individuals with individual minds and bodies and histories living together. Affirming and celebrating that difference — in friendship and in the public square, Arendt says — is what keeps us from being wholly consumed by the Hungry Mungries, the Richard IIIs, the Bombardinis, the Michaels. Our pluralism is what keeps our democracy alive, however rickety it gets. Humans’ drive toward beautiful difference is the force that subverts, again and again, the narcissists’ need to consume us all. At the end of a long four years, merely the culmination and continuation of many more years, perhaps that lesson has grown more weighty. Maybe it’s more clear. Or maybe we’ll refuse to learn it and keep letting strongmen set the terms of engagement. For now, though, it’s time to pause, and breathe, and be glad that there’s still a world left to rebuild.
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Ask Dr. Hamblin: So When Can We Stop Wearing Masks?
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at Dr. Hamblin,I'm still confused about what our lives will be like after we are vaccinated. As I understand it, it will still be possible to get the virus, but hopefully the course won’t be as severe or life-threatening. And we are going to have people who won’t even get the vaccine. Do you foresee us still wearing masks for the next year or two? I hate to even type this question.Nancy BernardyNew London, New HampshireNancy,I can’t wait to stop wearing masks. I want to go out without a mask so badly that I’ve been dreaming about it. That’s how far the pandemic has lowered the ambitions of my dreams.Last month, President-elect Joe Biden said he will urge Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency. “Just 100 days to mask,” he said, “not forever.” That sounds manageable even for those of us who can’t wait to go out maskless: I’m absolutely sick of this, but I can do 100 more days.Setting this sort of short-term goal can be helpful in making a seemingly endless challenge like this pandemic more manageable. But to be blunt, 100 days is not a realistic end point. On our current trajectory of illness and infection, masks will be part of most Americans’ lives for at least the rest of the year, and possibly longer. My hope is that it will soon be possible to say, as a general rule, that once you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask. But that depends on two key variables.The first is that a vaccinated person could theoretically still transmit the virus. This isn’t typically an issue after vaccination against respiratory viruses, once your body develops antibodies and other means of immune memory. If you inhale the virus again, these defenses should identify and eradicate it before it multiplies in large numbers. But that doesn’t mean viral particles can’t briefly cling to your nasal cavity and replicate before your body’s alarms go off, creating a brief window in which you could transmit the virus to someone else. This coronavirus warrants special caution because we know that it can be transmitted by people who have no symptoms and low levels of virus in their bodies. That means it is especially adept at lingering in the noses of people without quickly triggering an immune response (which is the source of most symptoms, such as cough, muscle aches, fever).The vaccines that have been rolled out in the U.S. do seem to be extremely, surprisingly effective at preventing people from falling sick with COVID-19, but the clinical trials did not monitor the mechanisms through which this protection is conferred. People were not tested to see when and how reliably they developed antibodies, nor screened to see whether they ever carried the virus. Additional research is under way to address these questions in coming months. Although I would be surprised to learn that vaccinated people are spreading the virus to any significant degree, it’s reasonable to have everyone continue wearing masks until we know more.The second variable in the countdown to mask-free life is how quickly entire communities get vaccinated. When the virus is spreading widely and very few people are vaccinated, the chance that a vaccinated person will carry the virus (and possibly even get sick, since no vaccine is 100 percent effective) is simply too high to suggest that anyone forgo masking. But as more and more people get vaccinated, the potency of each vaccine grows. Even if vaccinated people do prove to have the potential to carry and spread the virus in small amounts, for brief periods, that risk can be rendered moot if almost everyone gets vaccinated.All of this is contingent on the assumption that immunity generated by vaccines is reliable and long-lasting (which it seems to be, so far) and that the virus does not evolve to become resistant to this immune protection in the near term. Eventually, it likely will. But by that point, hopefully, the rates of transmission will be low enough that we can quickly identify new variants and modify vaccines accordingly, to stay ahead of any new surges.The bottom line is that the less the virus is circulating in the U.S., the more confident we can be transitioning away from masks. Unfortunately, we haven’t collectively actually started wearing them. More than 3,000 people are dying every day in the U.S. alone, and hundreds of thousands more are being infected. This wouldn’t be happening if we were all wearing masks effectively. Before we truly begin to think about the end of masks, we need to think much more seriously about how to use them better.I’d love to stop wearing masks. They erase the subtleties of communication that tether us to humanity, the cues that give context and nuance to everyday interactions. They make people feel two-dimensional. But we are far from done with them. I hope that if we can accept this reality soon, we can focus more on building public support and distribution channels for quality masks. There’s room for someone to win a Nobel Prize for figuring out how to get Americans to wear their masks over their nose.It’s easy to become numb to the numbers of people who are getting sick and dying every day, and let the annoyance of masks feel somehow more comparably urgent than it is. But even if the mortality rate were cut in half, and then cut in half again, we’d still be losing hundreds of people every day. For the foreseeable future, even among the vaccinated, masks will at the very least be symbols of solidarity and empathy. That symbolism may have real consequences. The clearest, most urgent challenge of the pandemic remains simply getting people to wear masks (and wear them correctly). The message would be made more complicated by creating two classes of people, some who have to wear masks and others who don’t. However long we have until the end of masks, we’ll get there far faster if we act together.“Ask Dr. Hamblin” is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.
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