Not what you’d call “a reader.”

Ahead of the election, the editors of this magazine wrote that the Republican candidate “appears not to read.” Before the inauguration, Trump told Axios, “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.” In February, The New York Times reported that National Security Council members had been instructed to keep policy papers to a single page and include lots of graphics and maps. Mother Jones reviewed classified information indicating Trump’s briefings were a quarter as long as Barack Obama’s.

In March, Reuters reported that briefers had strategically placed the president’s name in as many paragraphs of briefing documents as possible so as to attract his fickle attention. In September, the Associated Press reported that top aides had decided the president needed a crash course on America’s role in the world and arranged a 90-minute, map-and-chart heavy lecture at the Pentagon. And amid the hype over Wolff’s book, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough wrote a column Friday saying that in September 2015, he confronted Trump over poor debate performances, saying, “Can you read?” Met with silence, Scarborough pressed again: “I’m serious, Donald. Do you read? If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?” Trump replied by brandishing a Bible from his mother and saying he read it all the time—probably a self-aware joke, given Trump’s proud impiety and displayed ignorance of the Bible.

The Scarborough anecdote is the strangest of these. This is not only because Scarborough held on to the story for nearly a year and a half, and continued to hype Trump’s candidacy on air and advise him privately. (As James Fallows notes, the real scandal of the Wolff book is that so many people have such grave misgivings about Trump but have kept their heads down.) It is also unfortunate because Trump is clearly, in strictly literal terms, literate. He displays his basic grasp of the language—if in sloppy, often typo-ridden ways—on Twitter on a roughly daily basis. Such stories, by dint of their hyperbole, offer a bit of a distraction from how serious the problem is.

–David A. Graham, The President Who Doesn’t Read

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“It could make some people angry,” she said.

One student in my class this semester, a teenager, an African American, happened not to have this typical demeanor. He didn’t make an effort to hide his lack of knowledge or to downplay that it mattered. Astonishment, disturbance–you could see him working things out. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions, though often, by the time he got around to asking one, so much time had passed that I had to backtrack a ways to supply an answer. As I talked about Hemings and Jefferson, I saw these operations going on across his face. We were almost finished and moving on to the next bit, when he frowned and raised his hand. “Did he rape her?” he asked.

I repeated the fact of their age difference. I reminded that Jefferson owned Hemings. Then I said, “That’s a complicated question that I can’t answer satisfactorily. But the question you ask is the right one.”

From the other side of the room came another question, again from an African American, this time a young woman. She was more sophisticated than her classmate. She entered into the class with clearer concerns and seemed to be in some early stage of politicization. “Why don’t they teach us this?” she said. She was speaking low, almost muttering, but I heard her and had the impression that the rest of the class did, too.

“I am teaching it to you!” I said with a chuckle, answering maybe too quickly and defensively, having felt a tick of tension rise in the room.

“No, I mean,” she said, still speaking low, “before now.”

This time I let the comment have its full weight. “Why do you think that’s important?” I asked.

“It could make some people angry,” she said.

–Anthony Chaney, The Realest Moment of the Semester


This hip, new slavery.

Wu argues that we need a balance between two kinds of attention in order to be healthy: the transitory kind that happens in natural shifts of focus during daily life, and the sustained kind, such as when we are reading a book. But such sustained attention is increasingly ceded to the deliberate and chronic summoning of transitory attention by digital technologists. Instead of a long, uninterrupted read, we are being trained to consume information piecemeal from a medley of screens. This fragmented attention results in fragmented minds, producing people who are unable to focus or think effectively. The outcome is exhaustion through overstimulation of our mind’s neuronal responses, thus weakening our executive faculties and our ability to make coherent and independent decisions.

When our attention is lured, herded, and commandeered in such a way, our full human potential is profoundly subverted. “Our life experience,” William James once said, “will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.” We become what we attend to — nothing more, nothing less. A steady and exclusive stream of reality TV, entertainment gossip, social media chatter, and “breaking news” about the latest celebrity scandal or Trump’s most recent tweets — all endlessly cycling into each other — turns us into the bland clickbait of the attention harvesters. Yet, though we justifiably consider the enslavement of bodies a terrible wrong, we willingly surrender our minds for the profit of others. This new, almost hip, kind of slavery is sought, not fought.

–John Bell, John Zada, The Great Attention Heist


In a way that’s proven.

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.

“Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”

Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

–Laurie Goodstein, “Has Support for Moore Stained Evangelicals? Some Are Worried”

In written communication, there are certain words or phrases that often do most of the work in a sentence–sort of like load-bearing structures in architecture. That phrase, “in a way that’s proven,” really does most of the work for Strang in this quote. We’re talking about a president who has lied — by the NYT’s account — a little under the half the days he’s been in office. We’re also talking about a president who was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, and whom nineteen women have accused of harrassing or assaulting them.

I wonder just how much Strang expects the burden of evidence to weigh with regard to Trump’s lies and lechery. I’m sure that, whatever the measurement is, he can always bump the decimal point on that criterion over to the right whenever he gets nervous about facing up to the truth about himself and his earthly master.

Forgiveness belongs to Donald Trump at any point he feels like not rejecting it. (First he’d probably have to admit that, as a human being, he fundamentally needs forgiveness, though.) That doesn’t mean he should be entitled to the presidency. And it certainly doesn’t mean that he’s entitled to evade the consequences of his actions. Giving someone a second chance doesn’t mean letting them get away with whatever they want.

But then, what do I know? According to Strang, I’m not really a believer.


Lies and damned lies.

Because I mentioned it in a reply to an earlier post, I need to mention that Beverly Young Nelson apparently added the date and place to the inscription Roy Moore put in her yearbook. The way Vox tells it, that doesn’t constitute forgery. In her article, Emily Stewart links to Breitbart, which currently defends identifying the inscription as forgery.

The Breitbart writer, Joel B. Pollak, cites Black’s Law Dictionary in support of the forgery claim. He also cites several instances where Nelson and her lawyer, Gloria Allred, lumped the timestamp in with the rest of the inscription as belonging to Moore — instances Stewart never bothers to mention in her article. The definition Pollak cites appears thus:

forgery, n. 1. The act of fraudulently making a false document or altering a real one to be used as if genuine … 2. A false or altered document made to look genuine by someone with the intent to deceive … 3. Under the Model Penal Code, the act of fraudulently altering, authenticating, issuing, or transferring a writing without appropriate authorization.

Pollak goes on:

Note that forgery includes altering a real document. It does not matter if part of the document — say, the signature — is real. If any part of the document is altered and presented as original and authentic, it is a forgery and the entire document is legally useless — or worse than useless, since it impeaches the credibility of the person presenting it.

Not being a legal scholar, and thus not having read the hundreds of cases which establish precedent for how to interpret forgery in a juridical sense, I can’t really say whether Nelson’s yearbook legally constitutes forgery. And I do think that Stewart reports on this story in bad faith by not even acknowledging that Nelson made a false claim — that is, she lied — about the nature of the inscription as a whole in the past.

Unfair or not, the fact that Nelson has been caught having made at least one false claim about her evidence against Moore makes it easier for people like Pollak to “impeach” her credibility.

At the same time, Nelson maintains that the actual signature belongs to Moore. Anyone who has seen the photo of the inscription can clearly see the handwriting difference between Nelson’s ad hoc timestamp and the inscription/signature. Nelson is claiming that even though she added the date/place, the rest is genuine.

None of this is to say that Nelson couldn’t have forged the whole thing, or had someone else do it. I lack the expertise to make an empirical evaluation of that sort of thing.

What I do know is that Moore has lied about knowing the women he dated. He believes that the last time America was great was when slavery was legal. He willfully spreads misinformation about Muslims in America. He refuses to obey the law of the land when it suits him. This man is a flagrant liar and a bigot, and often both at the same time.

I don’t want the Joel Pollaks of the world lecturing me about the impeachability of a woman who added a timestamp to a yearbook inscription and lied about it. Not when the person they’re defending has, for what I can only surmise is political expediency, impugned the honor of women who had, at one time, been proud to have known him. And not when that person profanes my faith by using it as an excuse to tell damned lies about good people.

The sad truth of the Roy Moore campaign is that this whole fracas is a sideshow. It’s a sideshow that continues to reveal the pathetic state of American culture. In a healthy society, Roy Moore wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming a U.S. Senator. But this is America. Donald Trump is our president. Here we are.


“He really said this.”

In response to a question from one of the only African Americans in the audience — who asked when Moore thought America was last “great” — Moore acknowledged the nation’s history of racial divisions, but said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”

–Lisa Mascaro, “In Alabama, the heart of Trump country, many think he’s backing the wrong candidate in the Senate race.”

H/t to German Lopez, via Eric Columbus.

When I first saw the Vox headline, which quotes Moore directly from the above story, I actually muttered aloud, “Did he really say this?” As soon as I clicked on the story, I saw the subhead: “He really said this.” So, yeah. Apparently I’m still not nearly jaded enough for the political reality of 2017 America.

 


Imaginative exercise and practice.

There’s a tendency in American culture to leave the imagination to kids — they’ll grow out of it and grow up to be good businessmen or politicians. […]

But much of it is derivative; you can a mash lot of orcs and unicorns and intergalactic wars together without actually imagining anything. One of the troubles with our culture is we do not respect and train the imagination. It needs exercise. It needs practice. You can’t tell a story unless you’ve listened to a lot of stories and then learned how to do it.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, interviewed by David Streitfeld