Pandemic's impact on kids in Deaf and Hard of Hearing community
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Josh Farro Homophobic Allegations Prompt Hayley Williams to Call Out Ex-Paramore Bandmate
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Powerball Results, Numbers for 10/28/20: Did Anyone Win the $116 Million Jackpot?
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NFL trade deadline: What moves should all 32 teams make?
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The Top 5 Reasons to Believe 2020 Won’t Be a 2016 Sequel
“I want to feel hopeful about Joe Biden’s chances this year, but I just can’t,” my neighbor confessed to me, as we stood in line outside a coffee shop. What had begun as pleasant conversation—dogs, the temperature, clouds—had been pulled, through the vortex known as Late October in an Election Year, into an airing of political anxieties. “I’m still so afraid that 2016 is going to happen again and Trump is going to win,” she said.Based on the sample size of my life, every Democrat feels this way. Yes, they’ll preface, the polls look all right for Biden. But four years ago, they looked good for Hillary Clinton too. And so, they fear, the horror film of 2016 is about to get its sequel.There is a small chance that their fears will come true. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been stockpiling all of the quantitative reasons why the 2020 election is really, truly different from 2016, from new polling methodologies to fewer undecided voters. As always, do not allow any level of optimism (or pessimism) to guide your decision to vote. Just vote.[Stanley Greenberg: Believe the polls this time]1. In 2016, the pollsters totally whiffed on the Great Lakes states. In 2020, they’ve changed their methods.National polls weren’t more off in 2016 than in previous years. The problem happened at the state level. Whereas state polls underestimated Barack Obama’s support by about three points in 2012, they underestimated Trump’s support by more than five points in 2016, the largest error so far this century. The most important reason, according to a postmortem from the American Association for Public Opinion Research, was that state polls undercounted non-college-educated voters, who turned out in droves for Trump.Here’s how that happened. Most polls are weighted surveys. That means a pollster collects a bunch of responses and then weights, or adjusts, the answers by age, gender, and political orientation so that the final count closely resembles the American electorate. For instance, if the sample is 60 percent male, the pollster will want to give the women’s responses more weight, because women actually vote more than men.In 2016, many pollsters failed to adjust for the fact that college-educated Americans are typically more likely to respond to surveys. Another way to say this is that pollsters “under-sampled” non-college-educated voters. At the same time, the electorate split sharply along the “diploma divide” to give Trump an advantage among non-college-educated voters. In short, state pollsters made a huge, obvious mistake: Their surveys failed to account for 2016’s most important demographic phenomenon.The good thing about huge, obvious mistakes is that they’re huge and obvious. Practically every high-quality state pollster acknowledged the non-college-educated-voter problem and committed to weighting their 2020 polls by education. The Pew Research Center now weights by education within racial groups. The Marist College and NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls now also weight by geography, in part because college-educated voters are more likely to live in urban and suburban areas.Does this mean that the state polls in 2020 are guaranteed to be perfect? Absolutely not. In fact, they’ll almost certainly be wrong again. (They’re never exactly right.) But the polls almost certainly won’t undercount the pro-Trump non-college-educated vote by the same margin, given how many pollsters adjusted their methodologies specifically to avoid making the same mistake in consecutive presidential elections.2. In 2016, a ton of undecided voters broke late for Trump. In 2020, most of those voters have already decided.Two weeks before the 2016 election, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted that 15 percent of voters still hadn’t made up their minds, which was roughly three times more than the number of undecideds in 2012. This statistic was the Chekhov’s gun of the last election: the ominous presence foreshadowing a final-act surprise. “One of the reasons why our models still give Trump an outside chance at victory,” Silver wrote four years ago, was that Trump could eke it out “by winning almost all of the undecided and third-party voters.”And so he did. Exit polls and post-election surveys found that undecided voters broke strongly for the president. About one in seven voters in key swing states decided in the final week, and they broke for Trump by about 30 points in Wisconsin and 17 points in Florida and Pennsylvania, spelling disaster for Clinton.But 2020 doesn’t have the same capacity for last-minute Democratic horror, because there aren’t nearly as many undecided voters. Fewer undecided voters means less volatility and a smaller chance of last-minute surprises that actually move votes.The relative lack of undecided voters suggests another positive difference for Biden. In 2016, voters disliked both candidates, which is why so many were persuadable in late October. In 2020, voters dislike Trump, and actually like Biden—certainly more than the last Democratic nominee. Biden’s national polling has consistently been about four to six points higher than Clinton’s. His net favorability rating is 17 percentage points higher than Clinton’s was on Election Day. In short, many of 2016's undecideds have decided in 2020 to vote for Biden.3. In 2016, we had the mother of all October surprises. In 2020, we have the most stable race in decades.Biden’s lead is larger and more stable than Clinton’s lead was in 2016. In fact, by one measure, it’s more stable than any presidential nominee’s lead in more than 30 years.In every election going back to the 1980s, the loser was, at some point, ahead in mainstream polls or in the average of polls. In the summer of 1988, Michael Dukakis led George H. W. Bush by double digits. In the spring of 1992, both Ross Perot and Bush were leading Bill Clinton. In January 1996, Bob Dole held a narrow lead over Clinton in Gallup polls. In September 2000, Al Gore surged ahead of George W. Bush. In August 2004, John Kerry led Bush. In September 2008, John McCain led Obama. In October 2012, Mitt Romney inched ahead of Obama. And in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump pogo-sticked all year—from up 10 in March to tied in May, to up six in June, to tied in July.The 2020 election has been totally different. Biden, who is currently up about 8 points in the FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics averages, has led at least 4 points since October of last year. Through everything—the primaries and the pandemic; 4 percent unemployment and 9 percent unemployment; the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention—Biden has led Trump by a moderate to wide margin, and Trump’s support has never exceeded 46 percent in polling averages.People who can remember only the 2016 election are anchoring their expectations to a historically bonkers election. The Comey letter, released on October 28, likely moved the electorate several points toward Trump. In the final weeks of the election, careful poll analysts could see Clinton’s support melting in white working-class districts. But in 2020, that just isn’t happening.[Anne Applebaum: The election is in danger. Prepare now.]4. In 2016, district-level polls indicated a last-minute Democratic collapse. In 2020, they indicate Democratic strength.In early November 2016, several careful polling analysts started sounding the alarm for Hillary Clinton in the upper Midwest.Six days before the election, The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein noted that “Clinton has not visited Wisconsin since April, and appeared just twice in Michigan from June through October.” By abandoning these key states, she was acting “like a general who has sent out a large expeditionary force and left modest forces to defend their homeland.”Five days before the election, Dave Wasserman at the Cook Political Report tweeted a poll from upstate New York that found Trump ahead by 14 points in a district where Obama and Romney had tied four years earlier. It suggested that Clinton’s support among white working-class districts was collapsing at the worst possible time. “Five days from Election Day, it’s clear who has the momentum,” he wrote. “And it’s not Hillary Clinton. This thing is close.”This year, those congressional polls are telling a different story. Rather than illuminating surprising weaknesses for Biden, they’re reaffirming his strengths. In some cases, the district polls are pointing to an even larger Biden blowout than the national or state surveys. Most important, Trump isn’t getting anywhere near his 2016 margins in Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wasserman observed. Four years ago, there was a quiet “Trump! Trump! Trump!” alarm going off that only congressional polling analysts could hear. This year, they’re listening closely—but no Trump alarm is sounding.5. In 2016, there wasn’t a global pandemic. In 2020, there is a global pandemic.It’s been four years of one “shocking but not surprising” thing after another. But this year’s October surprises have been—unshockingly, unsurprisingly—all about the plague. The president’s COVID-19 diagnosis, which overlapped with a disastrous first-debate performance, buoyed Biden at the moment when Trump needed to stage a comeback. An autumn surge of nationwide cases refocused the national media’s attention on the pandemic, which the public believes Trump has mishandled.[Read: The November surprise]No one can say for sure who will win the election. If undecideds in key states such as Pennsylvania break hard for Trump, and the president benefits from another large polling error—or smallish errors in the right places—he could eke out another victory. Or he could fight Biden to a tie and then win the ensuing legal battles that discount Democratic mail ballots. But that is not the most likely outcome.Biden holds a solid and steady lead over the incumbent president, while the pandemic is becoming more, not less, of a story as the country heads into the final days of voting. When the president complained, once again, on Monday about the news media’s pandemic obsession, his critique usefully crystallized his campaign’s biggest problem: “COVID, COVID, COVID.” The most important difference between 2016 and 2020 isn’t about polling methodology or the opposing candidate. It’s this: Four years ago, Trump ran on the vague promise of success, and this year he’s running on a clear record of failure. Judging by the polls, Americans have noticed.
'The Mandalorian' Season 2 Release Time: When Episodes Come to Disney+
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U.K. Labour Party Broke Law on Anti-Semitism, Watchdog Rules
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They call themselves 'Wives of the Deplorables' because their husbands support Trump
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Biden and Trump head to Florida for dueling rallies in battleground state
The battle for Florida is at the forefront of the presidential race Thursday as President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden hold dueling rallies in the marquee swing state.
Poll: Biden holds small lead over Trump with Latino voters in pivotal Florida; lead grows in other battlegrounds
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Paleologos on the Poll: Trump, Biden supporters agree on little, but there's widespread worry about election violence
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The Black NFL quarterbacks defying racist stereotypes
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Op-Ed: When Trump says immigrants don't show up for court hearings, he couldn't be more wrong
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Amid the pandemic, college football’s powers ceded the stage. Enter Coastal Carolina.
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Letters to the Editor: There's a simple reason Trumpism will fail — women don't like it
President Trump and his minions cannot handle strong women. No wonder, then, he's doing so poorly with the suburban women who once supported him.
Trump radicalized the Republican Party. If it doesn’t change course, many supporters will flee.
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Mother of unarmed man killed by Baltimore County police officer files federal suit
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House GOP Leader McCarthy: I’m voting for President Trump. Here’s why he deserves 4 more years
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The Field: The Specter of Political Violence
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‘There’s no help coming before the election’: Indiana’s RV capital faces its worst coronavirus outbreak alone
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How to Hold China Accountable on Human Rights | Opinion
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Melania and Stephanie and Me
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is one of those patriotic Americans who went to work in the Trump White House, only to come soaring back over the gates, rejected by the host organism. Like many before her, she decided to write a book about her experiences, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady, and she proffers it to us as an act of public service, although possibly also as a comprehensive case for the defense if this whole acid trip ends up at The Hague. She is another member of Plastic Camelot, the ever-changing group of personal friends, celebrities, and weirdos whom the Trumps bring close to them and then, in the manner of bored kings, dispatch to the tombs. Maybe they’re no more disturbing a collection of advisers and jesters than the men and women on whom other presidents have depended. Who’s to say that Omarosa is so much worse than Henry Kissinger? She certainly has a better record on human rights. Collectively, Plastic Camelot represents a pillar of the Trump family’s success: their awareness that a substantial percentage of Americans who can’t handle anything more challenging than Supermarket Sweep can be manipulated into holding the fate of the world in their hands.Wolkoff managed to upsell her 15-year friendship with the first lady into a job helping produce the inauguration and then into a briefly held and unpaid position as her special adviser, and now into a book, which is as sordid as it is fascinating. It’s sordid in part because Melania doesn’t seem to have done anything cruel to Wolkoff; her problems were entirely of her own making. Still, at last we have a glimpse into the feelings and nature of our first lady, who has stalked through these past four years in high heels and a perfect blowout, her gaze pitiless as the sun.[Sonja Drimmer: Melania Trump plays the role of medieval queen]Ever since the dawn of the television age, the woman in the role of first lady has softened our understanding of the president, presenting him as a family man as well as a politician, and creating her own unassailably good and noncontroversial initiatives, things that call her to travel around the country, spreading goodwill and serving as kind of PR woman for the administration. George W. Bush bombed Iraq, but Laura Bush was a reader, and she seemed nice. You get to know the first lady in a hundred ways: wearing couture in Vogue and blue jeans in People; sitting on the couch of a morning show or next to the host of a late-night talk show, who treats her gently and laughs as she gamely makes a few scripted jokes. But here we are, possibly at the end of this administration, and Melania is as mysterious now as she was the day her husband bounded up the White House stairs to shake hands with the Obamas, leaving her to get out of the limo and trail behind him with her unwanted gift, the Tiffany-blue box matching the color of her outfit and nobody very glad to see her.“I was there at the beginning,” Wolkoff tells us, as though she had witnessed the separation of the Earth from the firmament, not bumped into a model in the Vogue offices. The two women—both 32—were there because Melania Knauss had a meeting about a modeling job and Stephanie Winston worked in the events department. The friendship took off like gangbusters. They were Ethel and Lucy, Wolkoff says, Snookie and JWoww. “Philosophically speaking,” she writes, taking the matter more seriously, “Melania seemed to follow Plato, the Greek philosopher who believed in the control and mastery of emotion.” For her part, Wolkoff preferred “the philosophy of Plato’s best student, Aristotle.” Perfectly fine, but which one of them was JWoww? Wolkoff attended the Trumps’ wedding and Melania’s baby shower, and the two embarked upon what Wolkoff describes as a “lunch based” friendship, meeting regularly at one formal restaurant or another, Wolkoff the rushed working mother with too much on her mind, Melania the unhurried woman of leisure, immaculately dressed and groomed to “glam room” perfection—sometimes not even carrying a purse, bringing only her green American Express card.Wolkoff goes to some lengths to suggest that she was a vaguely apolitical person when Trump entered politics, that she’d never even voted for president until 2016. But she also lets slip that she has known Michael Cohen “for years,” that Steve Mnuchin is a “family friend,” and that Mnuchin’s second wife, Heather, is one of her best friends. At Mnuchin’s third wedding, in Palm Beach, Wolkoff and her husband sat at a table with the Trumps. So she emanates from Trump’s world.She describes Melania as sure of herself, unflappable, exceedingly strong, and deeply private. Despite JWoww, Lucy, and Plato, she can’t quite decide what kind of friend Melania was to her. At times she seems a good but somewhat distant friend, always remembering Wolkoff’s birthday with an arrangement of white flowers and always eager to listen to Wolkoff’s stories of work and family, but rarely offering any such stories in return. At other times, she describes a deep and singular friendship: “To the many, Melania is glacial and impenetrable,” she writes, “but to the few she was warm and sweet and I was her girl.”Melania seems to have been content with her self-indulgent life of riches. She mostly stopped modeling once Barron was born, and after a couple of attempts at selling her own products—a skin-care line that was somehow infused with caviar, and a QVC line of fancy-looking costume jewelry for the peasants—she settled into a life of pleasure. She remains devoted to her son and to her parents, who live with her part-time in the White House. Wolkoff doesn’t present Melania as vapid, exactly. She’s too strong and too sure of herself for that. But she seems to have lacked professional or intellectual ambitions of any kind.Her marriage to the grand buffoon has been the topic of endless speculation. In one sense it’s no puzzle: a model and a rich guy, fused together in a “cheaper to keep her” relationship. But ever since the beginning of the last campaign, we’ve been attuned to the atrocious way he treats her: apparently sleeping with other women soon after Melania had delivered their only child; bragging about his ongoing and abusive womanizing; allegedly paying off women to keep quiet about his dealings with them. (Trump denies the affairs and says he had no knowledge of the payments.) But while Wolkoff characterizes the marriage as an arrangement (whose isn’t?), she also presents Melania and Trump as having something I wouldn’t have guessed: affection, and perhaps also respect—two great dealmakers, tipping their hats to each other. When they’re out to dinner, Trump, the great narcissist, wants everyone to listen to him, but in particular he wants his wife to admire him. He will seek her attention if she seems not to be listening: “Hey, baby, did you hear that? Hey, baby, am I right?” He comes home at the end of a long day and is happy to see her. Most telling, perhaps, is the advice Melania gives Wolkoff when she says she’s going to confront her husband about all the golf he plays on the weekends. Melania counsels her not to do it: He will golf anyway, and she will only introduce tension into the marriage. It seems that Melania does whatever she wants, Donald does the same, and on the occasions when the planets align and they’re in the same place, Melania makes sure that he is happy to see her. Although a wife, there is clearly something of the mistress in her: She never nags or weedles, only soothes and welcomes.One thing Melania did not want to do was go out on the campaign trail in 2016. She had other, more relaxing and enjoyable things to do with her time. “In Palm Beach. Wish to stay here. So gorgeous!” she would text Wolkoff, and “In the Caribbean—so gorgeous! Just want to stay here.” She made so few appearances during the campaign that many people assumed she had no plans to go to the White House, or possibly to stay in the marriage, if Trump won. But when she was needed, when there was a crucial job that no one else could do, Melania turned out to be a clutch player. The Access Hollywood tape came out just a few weeks before the election, and as with all sex-related scandals that emerge in the life of a politician, the country wanted to know: What does the wife think? How is she holding up? Is she humiliated? Is she staying? Anderson Cooper scored the big interview, and we imagined the familiar and ratings-goosing event: the downcast, middle-aged wife grimly forgiving her husband, talking about how all marriages have their painful moments and how the work ahead is what matters most to her. But this was nothing like that. Melania was more like the triumphant girlfriend, not the heartsick old bag. She was serene, beautiful, and unflappable. She was unshakable from her talking points: The tape was unacceptable and Trump had apologized for it, but it was no big deal. It was just boys’ talk. “He was 59,” Cooper interjected—and she laughed prettily. “Sometimes I said, ‘I have two boys at home,’” she replied. “‘I have my young son and I have my husband.’” The real problem was the dishonest left-wing press that was organized against her husband. No matter what Cooper asked her, her hands remained calmly folded in her lap, and she had an answer for him: her husband was good and kind; her husband was a gentleman; it was the liberal left-wing media that were dishonest. Melania, it turned out, had the heart of an assassin and sound political instincts.[Read: Donald Trump brags about groping women]Wolkoff affirms what so many others have told us: that many in Trump World had no expectation of victory. On Election Night, they were as shocked and unprepared for the possibility of a President Trump as the rest of the country. They had no concrete plans for the inauguration, and a few days after the election, Melania asked Wolkoff to work on it. Flattered and excited, she agreed. The team she joined was disorganized, largely inexperienced in the ways of Washington, and lacking clear leadership. And it had a great big pile of money sitting there, at its disposal.Stephanie Winston Wolkoff arrives at Trump Tower in New York City (Stephanie Keith / Reuters)Wolkoff describes working the inauguration as the 13th labor of Hercules, but how hard could it have been? Even Meat Loaf was a hard pass, and booking Jackie Evancho to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” can’t have been heavy lifting. Page after page of the book is devoted to a frantic, granular accounting of the event, right down to the fact that she, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, footed the bill for the minibar M&Ms she offered to potential staffers when she interviewed them in her room at the Trump Hotel. She seems desperate to convince the reader of something with all of these carefully documented expenses. But what?Would Melania even attend the inauguration? She did indeed, in an eye-catching Jackie K outfit designed by Ralph Lauren and high heels, seeming at times to be miserable. When she announced that she would remain in New York until Barron finished the school year, many people assumed she was never coming to D.C., but she really was planning to move into the White House—she was merely doing exactly what she wanted to do, and Trump didn’t interfere. She was not especially interested in assembling a staff, or in spending much time designing any initiatives, but Wolkoff was always on her, wanting to plan some grand platform of “social and emotional” learning. She’d determined that Melania could use her position to make profound differences in the world: for refugees, for children, for everyone. With her help (of course), she seemed to imagine that Melania could be like Michelle Obama.Melania? Melania, who loves to luxuriate in her glam room, whose big activity is lunch and climbing into the back seat of an SUV and motoring smoothly away to pick up her child? Melania didn’t even go to any of Wolkoff’s food-allergy benefits! Or even RSVP to the invitations! Which stung, let me tell you, it stung. And it should have been a lesson that Melania had no intention of using the position as a matchless force for good.[Alex Wagner: Melania Trump derangement syndrome]Wolkoff is forever texting Melania about what needs to be done, one time receiving the message that she is in the residence, happily working on her albums, which just fries Wolkoff. The woman was scrapbooking when there were experts in social-emotional learning to be interviewed! She spends time trying to figure out the perfect restaurant for the first couple to have a Valentine’s Day dinner, but Melania tells Wolkoff that they don’t celebrate that particular holiday. Can you imagine anything more hilarious than Donald and Melania Trump gazing at each other over a slice of Valentine’s Day tiramisu? Meanwhile, the rest of the East Wing staff is driven to distraction by Wolkoff’s constant demands and imperious ways. They start treating her coldly and leaving her out of meetings. Wolkoff is furious when Melania doesn’t take special care of her. When Melania doesn’t arrange to have her stand at the very front of the group during a guided tour of the Holocaust Museum, she’s beside herself.But the real villain in the story Wolkoff tells isn’t Melania at all; it’s Maggie Haberman, whom Wolkoff comes to hate with the fire of Vulcan. The book should really have been called Maggie and Me. Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel publish a shocking story in The New York Times, “Trump Inaugural Committee Paid $26 Million to Firm of First Lady’s Adviser.” Wolkoff seethes with outrage and fear. She texts Melania, “URGENT! READ THIS!” She wants to sue the Times for defamation; she can’t leave the house; she composes a letter revealing that her time with Donald Trump was not for naught—she has learned the power of all caps: Melania, ONLY YOU CAN REPAIR THIS TERRIBLE INJUSTICE TO ME, MY REPUTATION AND MY INTEGRITY BY ISSUING A STATEMENT. Why would she imagine that a statement from Melania could repair anyone’s reputation? And what was at hand was an issue not of her reputation, but of proving that she hadn’t pocketed the 26 million. Melania gives her the sound advice to publish her receipts and papers and thus exonerate herself, but Wolkoff won’t do it.After the inauguration financing comes under suspicion, Wolkoff leaves the White House and goes back to New York. She would later insist that she had been scapegoated by the administration and that the media coverage was “completely unfair.” Desperate for solace, she complains to Michael Cohen—breast of human kindness—who visits her apartment offering succor and calls her up several months later: “Hello, Steph,” he says. “The FBI and SDNY have the recording I made of our conversation.” He’d been secretly taping her during his mission of mercy. All of these people deserve one another.Back at the East Wing, Melania soldiers on with her own dingbat set of initiatives (fighting cyberbullying? Was she punking us?), and making regular visits to pediatric hospitals and schools, which she seems genuinely to enjoy. With her fancy clothes and gentle way, she must seem like a fairy princess to the children, and they are drawn to her. They sit around her quietly as she reads them a Dr. Seuss book, haltingly and with a touching sense of triumph each time she gets to the end of a page. For those few minutes of the visit, and maybe for many years afterward, they must love her.Her hatred for the press tops her husband’s, so much so that she wears the famous jacket—“I Really Don’t Care, Do U? ”—to visit children at the border, which causes the press, understandably, to lose its collective mind. But reporters probably wouldn’t have treated her any better if she’d worn a sackcloth and ashes. Unlike the sick children, they hate her.Around this time, Wolkoff leads Melania into at least one long, sympathetic phone call and secretly records it. She seems to think that this recording is as consequential as the Nixon tapes, but the private conversations of Melania Trump and Stephanie Winston are not the Algonquin Roundtable. The longest of the excerpts Wolkoff has made public involves Melania bitching about the press—in exactly the same terms as Hillary Clinton is said to have used in private. The book has engendered the inevitable lawsuit, with the Justice Department suing Wolkoff for violating her nondisclosure agreement and breaching her fiduciary duty as an adviser to the first lady; Wolkoff has issued a statement averring that the suit is an attempt to silence her and is a violation of her “First Amendment rights.”But Wolkoff has done the one thing that Melania would never, ever do. She has dropped her robe and stood naked in the footlights, and so she is rapidly becoming a bore. Unless she releases some shocking new conversation excerpt, she will plummet into oblivion, less than a footnote.Melania, too, may be nearing the end of her term of national interest, as this acid trip must go the way of all acid trips, with a hard landing and a desperate need for a glass of water. She has left the lightest of imprints on the nation, and history will judge her by her willingness to stay by Donald Trump’s side as he rampaged through the country.She really doesn’t care about any of that. She cares, principally, about herself. When Wolkoff explains that she will have to wear the clothes of an American designer to the inauguration, Melania is horrified. Her soul wounded, she cries out to the gods: “But I want to wear Lagerfeld!”
How ‘America First’ Became America Alone
It only took three and a half years for Donald Trump to solidify and formalize the United States’ comprehensive international isolation. In August, the Trump administration demanded the extension of restrictions against Iran for breaking the terms of a nuclear deal that Trump had himself withdrawn from. All but one of the other members of the United Nations Security Council voted against the move or abstained—including every other permanent member of the body. “America First” had, effectively, become America alone.The fallout at the UN was just the latest episode in the long-running soap opera over Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iranian nuclear agreement. Dismissing the deal as among the worst in history, Trump opted instead for a policy of maximum pressure to force Iran’s capitulation. His efforts were part of a wider shift during his presidency toward diplomatic unilateralism, pulling the U.S. out of key international agreements in favor of a return to the raw-power politics that he believed better suited American strength.The move achieved what the Trump administration would consider important victories. Following America’s withdrawal, Britain, France, and Germany—which, together with China and Russia, were signatories to the deal—discovered they were powerless to circumvent the might of American sanctions. Other instances of solo action also appeared to work for the U.S.: The president ordered the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, reasserting American escalatory dominance in the Middle East; bullied Britain into shutting the door to Huawei; pressured NATO allies into paying more toward the West’s collective defense; and forced better trading terms from Canada and Mexico.Of course, even these apparent successes had consequences. Although Europe has been unable to respond to America’s financial power, for instance, it has not accepted Trump’s demand to abandon the deal with Iran, which remains just about alive. Nor has American pressure, no matter how great, succeeded in forcing Tehran to the negotiating table on American terms. Though Soleimani is dead, continued Iranian aggression has pushed Washington to consider pulling out of its giant embassy in Baghdad, and NATO countries may be paying more toward defense, but France and Germany are now arguing for Europe to expand its independent defense capacity.What, then, would be Trump’s foreign policy legacy (on the assumption, of course, that he doesn’t get an additional four years to further reshape the world)? To find answers to this question, we spoke with some of Trump’s senior advisers, many of whom were central to his most important foreign-policy decisions, as well as career diplomats, officials, aides, and intelligence analysts in the U.S. and Europe. Some would speak only on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the topic, their own position in government, or the proximity of the U.S. election. In multiple interviews, these people related a consistently chaotic policy-making apparatus, often contradictory priorities, and a president who was singularly uninterested in the complexities of diplomacy or the history that typically drives decision making.More important, they outlined how the president’s instincts inform his worldview and, crucially, how those instincts often themselves conflict. As we reach the end of his first term in office, these instincts are relatively clear: Trump has a nationalist, mercantilist outlook, coupled with a demand that American power be acknowledged and accounted for. As we wrote recently, these instincts have resulted in him—perhaps inadvertently—making legitimate and accurate assessments about the flaws in the international order.Yet time and again, this demand to showcase American strength, to win and to be seen to win, has had another effect. Trump came to power promising an end to the naïveté in Washington, which he claimed was enriching the rest of the world at America’s expense. He promised to be the great dealmaker. His record, however, is one of arrangements destroyed, not made. Along with unpicking the Iranian nuclear deal, he has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, allowed nuclear-arms-control agreements to lapse, and pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Even over issues on which Trump might enjoy broad international agreement—nuclear disarmament and Chinese aggression, to name but two—he has torpedoed bargains and alienated friends.[Read: Why America resists learning from other countries]Strength, in the Trump view, is unilateralism—breaking the U.S. out of international systems and organizations so that it can use its great power to maximum effect. He has pursued a trade war against China largely alone; he announced the drawdown of American forces from Germany without first informing Berlin; his administration has sought to single-handedly dismantle the Iran nuclear deal. This commitment to unilateralism has pushed American allies to change their behavior and upend their long-held belief in the U.S.-led Western alliance.The end result, then, of this pursuit and display of power—as defined by the president—is that he has achieved little of note diplomatically and dulled the force multiplier that is the U.S.’s system of alliances. In seeking to exhibit strength, Trump has made America weaker.In 1980, when Trump was 34, he made one of his first forays into national politics, giving an interview to the TV personality Rona Barrett. To listen to the conversation today is to hear the early sounds of a revolution that would consume the U.S. decades later.In it, Trump claimed that the U.S. had lost its greatness and needed a firm hand to win back the world’s respect. “Respect can lead to other things,” he said. “When you get the respect of the other countries, then the other countries tend to do a little bit as you do.” The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis was a case in point. “That they hold our hostages is just absolutely, and totally ridiculous,” he said. Jimmy Carter had been weak, and Iran had taken advantage. The U.S. needed to get tough. But Trump went further: He said American troops should have been ordered in to take control of Iran’s oil reserves. Trump was making an explicitly imperial argument.We examined this mindset in a recent story, cataloging Trump’s desire to be recognized for strength, and his wistfulness for an apparently bygone era when the U.S. could simply do as it pleased. In some senses, it helps explain his continued fixation on Iran today.Those close to Trump and those who had interacted with him—officials, aides, diplomats—described another impulse: an apparently genuine desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Trump, many of them told us, does not care about Iranian aspirations for Middle East hegemony, nor the philosophy of its regime (in the same way, we were told, that he does not care about Russia’s or China’s aspirations, only each regime’s willingness to trade). But he does fear Tehran’s getting the bomb. “He was obsessed about nuclear weapons and getting rid of them,” Fiona Hill, Trump’s adviser on European and Russian affairs until July 2019, told us. Four other current and former officials—from the U.S., Britain, and Europe—relayed similar assessments of the president. “He has this obsession that only he can save the world,” Hill said. “He believes he can be the hero.”This concern was evident from Trump’s earliest moments in the job. In his first solo press conference as president, in February 2017, he said he wanted to get along with Russia because he wanted to “do the right thing” for the American people, but also for the world. “Nuclear holocaust would be like no other,” Trump explained. “They’re a very powerful nuclear country, and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia—believe me—that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.” (Trump has repeatedly spoken of Russia in these terms, and his remarks, his supporters contend, help explain his desire for stronger ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. “He was often complaining that he was not able to talk to Putin, when he was the guy who could destroy us 100 times over,” Hill said. This assessment is supported by notes from a lunch between Trump and former British Prime Minister Theresa May, published in The Telegraph, during which he said of Putin, “I have to talk to this guy. He has a thousand nukes. This isn’t the Congo.”)An initial briefing on the power of nuclear weapons, in which he was told they “could melt granite,” according to Hill, appears to have affected him. Such was his alarm, Hill told us, that she believed that Britain, France, and Germany could have saved the Iranian nuclear agreement had they moved more quickly and forcefully to address his concerns about some of its specific details. She wasn’t alone in her broader assessment of Trump. Kim Darroch, the former British ambassador to Washington, told us he thought that Trump “genuinely believed in full nuclear disarmament.” And Julia Friedlander, Trump’s director for European affairs at the National Security Council until last year, told us the president had seemed to her like “a nuclear-zero guy.” According to Friedlander, “He comes off as the opposite because he’s had hard-line advisers around him advocating for armaments and withdrawing from arms-control agreements. But he wants to get down to zero and believes everyone needs to get down to zero.”[James Mattis: The enemy within]One British official close to May told us that while Trump had no obvious foreign-policy strategy, and cared mainly about trade and American dominance, nuclear disarmament was an exception. “When speaking about his opposition to nuclear weapons, it felt very genuine,” this official, a senior member of May’s team during Trump’s 2019 state visit to Britain, said. Hill confirmed the account of the meeting with May.The issue of nuclear weapons even provided a brief moment of understanding with Angela Merkel, we were told. During negotiations over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which Trump withdrew from, the German chancellor and the U.S. president—who have otherwise had a combative relationship—struck a rare note of harmony: Merkel “talked to him about the 1980s and what it was like in East Germany during that period, and how the 1980s war scare informed everybody’s view,” Hill told us. A senior European official confirmed the account. “She brought that home to him,” the official said of Merkel. “My feeling tells me [Trump’s] horror of nuclear weapons could be genuine.”If Trump really is a “nuclear-zero guy,” though, what has he done about it in office? Here is where the president’s overriding characteristic comes into play: his desire to dominate. Trump has said he believes that he holds unique insights into the world of nuclear weapons because his uncle was a physicist—Trump even suggested he could be Ronald Reagan’s nuclear negotiator in the 1980s. But he appears to think that the way to secure arms reductions is to showcase American strength to win concessions from the other side. Friedlander said Trump’s view was that the U.S. didn’t need nuclear weapons, but that if other countries were not going to abide by their agreements, “he would show them that the U.S. would not be outmatched.” The upshot is that every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy has struck an agreement to control nuclear weapons, according to Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, but Trump has not.A similar dynamic plays out over the president’s policies toward Beijing. China’s rise is the most consequential event of the 21st century, and Trump has made it the centerpiece of his campaigns. Though he was not the first or the only political candidate to turn against China, he has undoubtedly shifted the terms of the discussion.For decades the consensus was that engagement with China was necessary and its opening up desirable. The U.S. foreign-policy establishment long believed that working with Beijing would make the country more liberal, more democratic, more American, and would, on balance, be good for the American economy.But since the turn of the century, the U.S. has lost millions of jobs, particularly in manufacturing, at least partly because of China’s growing role in the world economy. Since the 2008 financial crisis, 1.7 million jobs have gone, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., which largely blames China’s admission into the World Trade Organization for the loss. In an essay titled “The Death of Engagement” by Orville Schell, a giant in the world of China studies, the former secretary of state George Shultz reflected that the policy of opening up “gave the Chinese leverage over us.”Hawkishness toward China is a rare position on which Republicans and Democrats in Washington now largely seem to agree, in no small part because of Trump. Daniel Fried, a longtime diplomat in Republican and Democratic administrations, told us that prior administrations’ promises about China were “faulty.” He said, “China was in fact not going to respect the rules of the international system, but was going to game and exploit it.”Yet, just as with nuclear weapons, the contradictions inherent in Trump’s approach have worked to undermine his bid to rebalance the relationship with Beijing.It is not clear whether Trump cares about great-power competition with China, about military dominance in Asia, or about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea—or whether his criticism was just an extension of his fixation on the trade deficit. Even if Trump has bought into the need to develop a strategy to contain Chinese power, his foreign policy seems perfectly designed to do the opposite: Rather than working with allies in Europe and Asia to form a bloc against Beijing, he targeted them with tariffs and other measures; instead of applying pressure from within American-led (and American-built) multilateral institutions, he withdrew from them; between the democracies with which the U.S. shares values and the autocracies that Beijing favors, he has been warmer to the latter.Within days of his swearing-in, for example, Trump abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact with staunch American allies such as Australia, Canada, and Japan, that had been designed as a vehicle to contain Beijing’s economic influence. It was an early instance of “America First” in action. “By not going forward” on TPP, Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who served as Trump’s Director of National Intelligence until last year, told us, “we lost a lot of leverage.”[Read: The pandemic’s geopolitical aftershocks are coming]This gets to the heart of Trumpism as a foreign policy. The president appears to have had genuine bipartisan goals of reducing the risk of nuclear weapons, and identified strategic flaws—whether on Iran, multilateralism, overextension, or bipartisan naïveté about China. But in trying to address these issues, he focused solely on using unilateral strength, and instead exacerbated some problems. As Friedlander put it to us: “The Trump administration has been successful in raising the profile of the China problem and laying it bare, in clarifying the nature of Chinese behavior. Determining a coordinated response has proven much more challenging.”In the case of China, Trump identified a problem none of his predecessors had confronted. This insight has become a settled consensus—a legacy that will outlast his time in office. Yet the practical consequences of Trump’s presidency might be the acceleration of China’s rise, not its containment. When it comes to his hopes of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, propelled by a primary instinct that to compromise is to show weakness, he believes that the way to secure agreements is to use American strength to escalate and dominate. And so, despite his “nuclear zero” desires, he has served to increase the threat of nuclear Armageddon.The late icon of British socialism, Tony Benn, used to tell a story about Margaret Thatcher. Imagine, he said, a single piece of legislation undoing everything she had achieved. Would that be enough to kill her legacy? No, Benn argued: Thatcher’s power lay in the fact that she had taught Britain to think differently. The same is true of Trump and the way his foreign policy has taught the world to think differently about America.In our conversations with officials, diplomats, and experts, two core observations came up again and again. The first was that America’s retreat—taken as a given in almost every interview—had not begun under Trump, but Obama. The second was that even if the retreat is reversed under a future administration, the world now thinks differently. Trump’s instinctive unilateralism, his belief that international institutions cage the U.S. rather than project its power, forced other nations to change their calculations about dealing with Washington. This, more than troops on a map, speeches to the U.N., or recalcitrant tweets, may prove to be Trump’s real legacy.Looking at the architecture of the world order in 2020, one could be forgiven for thinking that not much has tangibly changed. The United States remains the security guarantor of its Western alliance; its troops are stationed in essentially the same places they were in 2016; its bases remain dotted around the world just as before. It is still a member of NATO, and its central bank is more important to the global economy and financial system than it was a decade ago.But has the United States retreated psychologically? And, just as important, does the world believe that it has? Central to the U.S.’s strategic power is its network of alliances, an immense and semi-voluntary global empire of democratic and economically developed nations protected by the might of the American military. U.S. security guarantees stretch across the globe, projecting martial and financial power and ensuring a huge market for American culture, technology, goods, and finance. The maintenance of this order has been the central foreign-policy objective of every U.S. administration since World War II. Trump is the first president to openly question its value.Darroch pointed to a moment of American supremacy in the 1990s, when the do-it-all diplomat Richard Holbrooke brokered a peace agreement in Bosnia—a show of imperial resolve to address regional weakness. That America is gone, Darroch said. As if offering a contrast, a senior European official cited rising tensions between Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, that he believed would previously have been stamped out by the U.S. “Sometimes it’s just a withdrawal of interest,” he said.Perhaps most important, however, have been concerns over continued American involvement in NATO under Trump. Darroch noted that the damage to NATO could not be measured in troops’ numbers, or in dollars and cents, but in the perception of America’s commitment. A psychological question mark had been placed over Article 5 of the treaty, which commits every member to the collective defense of all the rest.James Melville, the former U.S. ambassador to Estonia who served under Trump, told us the president had been “disastrous” in this regard. Melville recalled a bipartisan congressional delegation in April 2017 to Estonia, a NATO member that shares a border with Russia, followed by a visit by Vice President Mike Pence that year. The trips sought to reassure America’s NATO ally of Washington’s commitment. But why was such reassurance necessary?Ultimately, if the result of Trump’s bellicosity is a division of America’s allies, leaving the U.S., Europe, and Asia to deal, for example, with China separately, then Beijing’s relative power is only increased—it is simple divide and rule. Brett McGurk, Trump’s former special presidential envoy coordinating the campaign against ISIS, told us that America’s “unmatched comparative advantage” against both China and Russia had always been its ability to build and maintain alliances—in other words, to view power not simply as what one country can do on its own. Lewis Lukens, the former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London, echoed that sentiment. Trump’s “‘My way or the highway’ … approach makes him feel tough, and it appeals to some of his supporters,” Lukens told us, “but the reality is, it leaves us in a weakened state because our allies don’t see us as [being as] reliable as we used to be, and they don’t necessarily trust us.”Trumpism is not a strategy, but a worldview that pulls in different directions. It yearns for the simplicity of supremacy and an end to the responsibilities and restraints of that supremacy. It is drawn to disengagement, but does not accept the loss of power that comes with it. It seeks empire without the hassle of colonial rule. These contradictions have worked their way to the surface of Trump’s foreign policy, leaving a record of occasional victories, surprise pivots, plenty of destruction, and just as much boring, strategic stasis.Trump has failed to turn legitimate insights into practical policies that achieve much beyond American withdrawal from international treaties. In part, this is because to do so would require him to challenge a core tenet of his worldview, principally his disdain for alliances and compromise. McGurk, who resigned in 2018, listed Trump’s achievements in office: pulling out of the World Health Organization, departing from the Paris climate accord, abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, letting the INF Treaty lapse, sabotaging the Iranian nuclear deal. “If there’s any consistency in Trump’s foreign policy,” he said, “it’s wreckage.”To those less favorably inclined toward the president, this failure is also due to Trump’s own lack of curiosity and rigor. Melville told us the president was “unteachable,” recounting how during a 2018 summit, Trump (falsely) claimed in a private meeting that “World War I started in the Baltics, and it was their aggressive nature that caused World War I and World War II to happen. It’s shocking.” On his apparent desire for nuclear disarmament, “he might have aspirations, but his record is one of a lack of follow-through, inconsistency, and, I would argue, total unfamiliarity with the detail,” Kimball told us. Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, went further: “Donald Trump himself is more uneducated about the threats that this country faces than any president that we’ve seen in a century.”Many of those we spoke with said that, should Biden win the election, much of Trump’s practical legacy could still be reversed. Yet several of the same issues that drive Trumpism would remain: America’s strategic competition with China, the need for Western burden sharing, the centrality of trade, American willingness to continue policing the world.[Read: The Biden doctrine begins with Latin America]Should Trump win, however, almost everyone we spoke with agreed, his primal instincts would be unleashed. If his first term is a guide for what might come in the second, only those who unquestioningly support him would survive. Many told us they believed that NATO and America’s system of alliances would come under much greater strain, and perhaps not survive. In fact, U.S. involvement in any global institution would be in jeopardy.Perhaps Trump will seek a return to the question of nuclear Armageddon that gnaws away at him, and he will look to achieve his superhero fantasy and save the world. His record so far, however, shows that when his fear of nuclear weapons meets his fear of weakness, he will continue his strategy of escalatory dominance, tearing up arms treaties rather than agreeing to new ones. Maybe he will look to corral allies to form a larger bloc against China. His past performance, though, suggests he will instead confront Beijing alone, believing America’s unitary power to be greater than China’s, and thus sufficient. In both cases, and in countless others, Trump’s overwhelming desire—to display what he believes to be strength—will drive the U.S.’s relations with the world.Yet precisely in this narrow definition of power is where Trumpism fails. The president has—indirectly, implicitly, and perhaps inadvertently—raised legitimate concerns about the burden of the country’s global obligations and whether they are sustainable, reasonable, or worthwhile. Should European and East Asian countries not share the cost of the grand alliance? Equally, would the average American really be harmed if the U.S. gave up some advantages of global leadership in exchange for fewer commitments?Raw American strength—measured by the country’s share of the global economy, by relative defense spending, or a litany of other criteria—is ebbing. The U.S. remains the most powerful nation on Earth, yet it is less powerful than a decade ago, and the decade before that. In a way, Trump is correct not to fear a world where the “rules-based order” gives way to straightforward great-power rivalry, but this is beside the point.America has every right to withdraw from its grand strategic commitments, but that comes at the price of reduced global influence. In his unending bid to display American strength, Trump has only accelerated its weakening.
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