Does Bret Stephens' column make any sense?


The thinking of one Trump voter: Does Bret Stephens' column make any sense in today's New York Times?

Stephens interviews a New York City woman (he calls her "Chris") who's going to vote for Trump. She was "enthusiastic for Bernie Sanders in 2016," Stephens writes—and not only that, she's a lesbian!

Despite all this, she's going to vote for Donald J. Trump! Stephens seems to think that Democrats have something to learn from this particular voter.

Personally, we'd like to see Trump voters interviewed much more often. We'd like to see such interviews on CNN and MSNBC.

That said, we don't see any benefit to a lazy effort like this. Stephens has really phoned it in. Here's the start of his presentation of Chris' point of view:

STEPHENS (9/29/20): It’s worth understanding where she’s coming from.

Start with the economy. “I haven’t seen double digit [gains] in my 401(k) since the internet boom of the late ’90s,” she says. “It went up 19.6 percent” in the year before the pandemic. “Look at the stock market,” she says. (Up about 35 percent from four years ago.) “Look at gas prices.” (About the same as what they were when Trump took office, but well below the $3.31 per gallon at the midpoint of the Obama administration.)

The stock market is up under Trump, as is the natural state of affairs. Such comparisons are parlous, but all in all, it looks like it was up more under Obama.

Now consider gas prices. According to Stephens, they're "about the same as what they were" at the end of Obama's tenure. If so, it's hard to see why we should feel that Trump has worked some sort of miracle here. 

For the record, presidents don't set or control the price of gas.  Nor does it make any obvious sense to compare today's gas prices to where they were midway through Obama's tenure, as Stephens does.

Regarding Chris' 401K, she says it went up by 20% last year, as it may have done. That's one plan's gain in one single year. 

A quick search seems to show analysts saying that 401K gains were as good or better under Obama and others. Stephens made no such search.

In short, it's interesting to see what Chris is saying, but Stephens makes no serious attempt to see if her perceptions and claims make sense. At times, he seems to be putting his thumb on the scale in support of her possibly puzzling views.

Next, Stephens presents Chris' negative views about Obamacare. She's still talking about the website snafu. 

At this point, does this really make sense? Meanwhile, Stephens doesn't seek her view about Trump's lack of a health care proposal.

From there, it's on to the pandemic. Why would a newspaper like the Times but bullshit like this in print?

STEPHENS: Then there’s the pandemic. “Is Trump trying to play it down?” she asks. “Yeah. But when this first started, the news media was saying that millions of people were going to die. And look at it: 200,000, compared to the population.”

When the pandemic started, were "the news media" really "saying that millions of people were going to die?" 

Stephens provides a link to one (1) interview at CNBC in mid-March in which one (1) health analyst is pushed into saying that this outcome wouldn't surprise her if worse comes to worse through successive waves of infection over an unspecified amount of time.

That's what one (1) health analyst said in one (1) interview. At that same point in March, Trump himself was saying that millions of people were going to die this year alone if we didn't intervene. But it's absurd to say that "the news media" were making some such general statement. Nor is it clear how that would help us evaluate Trump's performance. 

Stephens really has it on cruise control as this former Sanders enthusiast speaks. Meanwhile, this is Chris' gloomy view of life in Gotham itself:

STEPHENS (continuing directly): What worries her more are the effects of the response to the pandemic in a liberal city like New York. “Crime is in my neighborhood now. There’s a homeless encampment near me that’s growing and growing. They have a living room and a shower curtain and that’s where they go to the bathroom. I have a guy who walks in front of the store every day. In a diaper! And there’s lawlessness coming into the store every day, with an attitude of ‘Who’s gonna stop me?’” Regarding Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, she adds, “I can’t put into words how inept this guy is.”

It's a horrible day in the neighborhood wherever it is that Chris works. For the record, that's a very "Fox News" account of life in These Liberal Cities Today. 

People may well sour on liberal governance to the extent that such descriptions are accurate. That said, did Stephens go where Chris lives and works  to see if her claims make sense?

There's zero sign that he ever did any such thing. What he actually did is just phone her claims in. His work is amazingly lazy. 

There's little point in interviewing Trump voters if you aren't going to make any attempt to fact-check, analyze or evaluate their perceptions and claims. We'd like to see liberals exposed to Trump voters but not in this silly, faux manner..

Voters within our own self-impressed tribe are full of shaky claims too. Meanwhile, the New York Times crawls with vapid work. With these lazy, bumbling efforts, our tribe tries to take out Trump.



The NYT's sleight of hand: Walter Cronkite wasn't crazy. Neither was David Brinkley.

In 1965, Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News. Huntley co-anchored NBC's evening news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Brinkley's co-anchor was Chet Huntley. He didn't seem to be crazy either. None of these fellows did.

In 1963, these network news programs had been expanded from 15 to 30 minutes per night. Essentially, this was all a person could watch when it came to TV news. 

In short, there wasn't a lot of TV news in 1965. Even better, the people who anchored these nightly news programs didn't seem to be crazy. 

You rarely saw them make crazy statements. We're not sure they ever did!

In truth, it was hard to hear crazy statements in 1965. Our current era, The Era Which Was, hadn't quite started yet.

That said, talk radio was starting in San Francisco, not far from where we were finishing high school.  If memory serves, a bit of the Crazy actually was starting to show up there as Les Crane, and then Ira Blue, screamed and yelled at their callers.

(Crane would even slam the phone down on his callers. It was like talking to NAME WITHHELD at the Washington Post!)

We recall being puzzled by the turn toward the loud, the opinionated and the crazy on those KGO programs. That was largely because there hadn't been a lot of crazy around before that.

In 1965, it was actually hard to hear crazy statements. If you wanted to hear one version of the Crazy, you had to send away to the John Birch Society. After that, you'd have to wait until they mailed you back. 

In the meantime, there were Cronkite, Brinkley and Huntley. They delivered their half-hour news reports. That wasn't just the way it was, that was also all there was.

Today, thanks to new technologies, the Crazy is everywhere. And not only that! The Crazy is everywhere  on a 24-hour basis. 

Some of the crazy, or the selective, or the misleading or flatly inaccurate comes from organized corporate  sources. Talk radio, cable TV and the Internet are sources of the crazy or wrong on a round-the-clock basis.

That said, a large amount of the misleading or bogus now comes to us from regular people. "Social media" makes this possible. On occasion, Putin joins in!

The Crazy is everywhere today, and we humans are lacking in basic discernment. It's also true that our biggest journalistic stars may not always be well informed or fully cogent.

Yesterday morning, at 6 A.M., we were watching Morning Joe. We'd quit the show within the last year, so ridiculous had it become. Yesterday, we wondered how Joe would handle the bombshell report about the commander's taxes.

The program opened with videotape of Donald J. Trump saying that he does pay taxes. Also, that the New York Times' giant front-page report was "fake news." 

As he's done for six years, Trump said he'd release his tax returns once the IRS audit was done. 

"The IRS doesn't treat me well," the commander in chief complained. Then, Joe and Mika said this:

JOE (9/28/20): You know, he's actually right, Mika. He does pay taxes He—I think, what was it, last year, he paid $750 in taxes?

MIKA: Yeah.

JOE: Ten out of 15 years he paid zero percent in taxes? Think actually of the nurses who paid more in federal income taxes than Donald Trump over the last decade. Think of all the construction workers...

As everyone else on the planet knew, the celebrities had it wrong. Below, you see paragraphs 1, 2 and 5 of the bombshell report the stars were now discussing:

BUETTNER ET AL (9/28/20): Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years—largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.


The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. 

The lengthy report doesn't cover Trump's tax payments from "last year." On Sunday evening, we'd watched several hours of pundit discussions which made this basic point clear.

The Times report doesn't cover Trump's taxes from last year. Now it was Monday morning, and Joe and Mika didn't seem to know that. 

Their error doesn't make any difference; at this point, nothing does. But Joe and Mika are seven- or eight-figure TV stars, and they literally didn't know the first thing about the Times report.

This doesn't qualify as the Crazy, although this sort of thing does help nudge the Crazy along. 

Yesterday afternoon and evening, we were puzzled as various TV pundits offered dueling capsule accounts of what the Times had reported.

Some pundits said that Donald K. Trump had paid no income taxes in 10 of the 17 years on which the Times was reporting. Others said he had paid no income taxes in 11 of 18 years.

We're still not entirely sure where the eighteenth year comes from (more to follow). We saw no one stop to explain.

That isn't the Crazy either. It simply represents the culture of round-the-clock TV news.

Might we state the obvious? "Cable news" would be much more competent if it didn't create so much product. 

The same might be said of opinion columns. Consider Bret Stephens's column in this morning's New York Times.

Why do Trump voters vote for Trump? That strikes us as a very important question.

It's also true that there's no easy way to answer any such question. Today, Stephens reports his interview with one Trump voter, a gay woman in New York City who's a registered Democrat.

According to Stephens, "she was enthusiastic for Bernie Sanders in 2016" but will vote for Trump this year. Stephens reports her reasons for favoring Trump, failing to note that some of her statements make little sense on a purely factual basis.

(We'd be less dismissive of some of her views make perfect sense. For example, we share her view that Biden-Harris is a weak ticket.)

Do Democrats have something to learn from this one voter, who Stephens describes as an "outlier?" Almost surely, the answer is yes, but Stephens makes no attempt to say what it is.

We'd like to see our favorite stars speak to more Trump voters. Even so, it seemed to us that Stephens was phoning it in.

That doesn't qualify as the Crazy, just as the not super-sharp. That said, let's return to the basic claim made in the New York Times news report. As we do, let's ponder a possible sleight of hand within the the lengthy report.

Below, you see paragraphs three million and three million and one from the ten million paragraph report. Assuming the highlighted statements are accurate, they seem to undermine what the Times said way up in paragraph 5:

BUETTNER: Mr. Trump was periodically required to pay a parallel income tax called the alternative minimum tax, created as a tripwire to prevent wealthy people from using huge deductions, including business losses, to entirely wipe out their tax liabilities.

Mr. Trump paid alternative minimum tax in seven years between 2000 and 2017—a total of $24.3 million, excluding refunds he received after filing.

For the record, Buettner seems to be speaking about eighteen years in that passage, rather than seventeen. Elsewhere, he seems to say that the Times examined new data for eighteen years, including the year 2000.

("The Times examined and analyzed the data from thousands of individual and business tax returns for 2000 through 2017, along with additional tax information from other years.")

How many new years of data did the Times obtain? You'd almost think that financial journalists could keep such matters straight. 

Much more significantly, consider what Buettner says about the AMT—the alternative minimum tax.

As Buettner notes, the AMT was created as a type of substitute for the federal income tax.  If, under the tax code's welter of rules, an individual ended up owing no income tax, he would have to pay the AMT instead.

Sad! According to the Times, in seven years when Trump "paid no income tax," he did make AMT submissions—and those submissions totaled slightly more than $24 million. 

During those seven years, Trump averaged $3.5 million per year in AMT submissions. Did we mention the fact that the AMT was designed as an alternate form of—as a substitute or replacement for—the federal income tax?

During seven of the years in question, Trump paid no "income tax"—but he paid an average of $3.5 million in the alternative minimum tax! Journalistically, that has to be an all-time example of a "distinction without a difference." 

Sadly, it seems to leave us with only three years when the commander paid no income tax. Let's review the basic concepts:

The T in AMT does in fact stand for "tax." (The A stands for "alternative.") 

In other words, the AMT was designed as an alternative form of the income tax. It takes the place of the income tax when, under the rules of the game, no "income tax" is owed.

Yesterday morning, Joe and Mika (literally) didn't know the first thing the Times had said. Beyond that, it's hard to tell if the new data the Times acquired covers seventeen or eighteen years.

That's fairly minor stuff. The kicker would be this:

At some point, Stephens' outlier Trump supporter is going to hear about the way the New York Times glossed the role of the alternative minimum tax. 

She'll be told that the Times was selling fake news about the commander. Are we sure that claim will be inaccurate?

The Crazy starts to arrive on the scene when various people stop listening to people like Cronkite and Brinkley. When they decide that it makes no sense to credit the New York Times.

It seems to us that the Times report involved some sleight of hand. Did Cronkite and Brinkley ever do that?

Before The Era Which Was took shape, very few people thought that!

Again with what Joe said: Again, here's what Joe said:

JOE (9/28/20): You know, he's actually right, Mika. He does pay taxes He—I think, what was it, last year, he paid $750 in taxes?

MIKA: Yeah.

JOE: Ten out of 15 years he paid zero percent in taxes? Think actually of the nurses who paid more in federal income taxes than Donald Trump over the last decade. 

Oof! In seven of those ten years, Trump "paid zero percent in taxes" unless you count the millions he paid in that alternative tax!

Those nurses did pay more than Trump in "federal income taxes." But he paid millions more than they did in that alternative tax.

Absent further explanation, this strikes us as sleight of hand. Could a sensible person possibly say that this is slightly "fake?"

We have two questions about the report!


They take shape in its opening paragraphs: We have two questions about the New York Times' bombshell report.

The questions take shape in its opening paragraphs. Our first questions goes like this:

Question 1: If Trump was losing tons of money, why would he pay income tax?

This question takes shape in the first four paragraphs. The Times report starts like this:

BUETTNER (9/28/20): Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years—largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.


The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

That's what the Times report says. It says that Trump was "losing much more money than he made," apparently on a regular basis. It seems to say that he was "rack[ing] up chronic losses" year after year after year.

Our question, and yes, it's bone simple: If a businessperson loses more money than he takes in, what would be pay income taxes on? 

If he loses more money than he takes in, in what sense does he have any income at all? Why would he pay income taxes?

That's our first bone-simple question. Our second one goes like this:

Question 2: Did the New York Times really acquire Donald Trump's tax returns?

Did the Times acquire Trump's tax returns? The report doesn't quite seem to say that. This is paragraph 5, continuing from above:

BUETTNER ET AL (continuing directly): The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times’s findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.

In that passage, the reporters clearly say that they didn't obtain the commander-in-chief's "personal returns for 2018 or 2019." 

Our question: Did they obtain his "personal returns" for any other year? It doesn't seem clear that they make this claim in that passage, or anywhere else in their lengthy report, although they always may have.

In that passage, the reporters only say that they have obtained the commander's "tax-return data." In the next paragraph, it almost sounds like they're saying that they obtained the gent's "returns." But we'd have to say that they don't flatly make that statement.

If "the tax data examined by the Times" (paragraph 10) are accurate, this would presumably qualify as a distinction without a difference. But did they actually obtain the commander's "personal returns?" 

This seems like a basic question. Has the question been answered?

For extra credit: If a businessman loses a boatload of money, does he owe income tax?

We'll guess the answer is buried within our convoluted tax system.  We'll guess that, for all practical purposes, the complexity of the system may make questions like that impossible to answer.

We'll guess that, for all practical purposes, our tax system is too complex to explain. This would make it another one of our many failing systems. 

We have a boatload of failing systems. Is our first bone-simple question today perhaps too hard to explain?

THE ERA WHICH WAS: This has been An Era Which Was!


A remarkable learning experience: Last evening, we thought of The Plague (La Peste)—of the way Camus' denizens of Oran struggle to comprehend the change taking place around them.

That part of Camus' novel is a discerning, though affectionate, portrait of human discernment. 

We also been thinking of the old TV show, That Was The Week That Was. 

We recall it as a breakthrough show during our late high school years. Oddly, we can't say that we specifically recall ever having watched it, although we assume we did.

What was That Was The Week That Was? The leading authority on the program begins its account as shown:

That Was the Week That Was, informally TWTWTW or TW3, was a satirical television comedy program on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963. It was devised, produced, and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost.

The program is considered a significant element of the satire boom in the UK in the early 1960s, as it broke ground in comedy by lampooning political figures...An American version under the same title aired on NBC from 1964 to 1965, also featuring Frost.

That Was The Week That Was displayed a new attitude.  

For a certain demographic, the most significant TV event of the era was the Dr. Kildare two-part drama, Tyger, Tyger, which gave the world Yvette Mimieux plus an important new message.

In college, we learned that everyone remembered a particular Superman episode from grade school years. It was the episode which ended with Superman explaining how he knew which of two identical clowns to save from certain death.

("I knew the real Chuckles the Clown would never let a man fall to his death," Superman explains to Lois Lane at the end of the program. We still regard it as one of the most succinct moral lessons ever published or aired.)

Those were transformative TV events. But That Was The Week That Was introduced a new attitude, as a few other major figures were doing at that time. The leading authority fleshes out its portrait of the  show:

An American version was on NBC from 10 November 1963 to May 1965. The pilot featured Henry Fonda and Henry Morgan, with Mike Nichols and Elaine May as guests, and supporting performers including Gene Hackman. The recurring cast included Frost, Morgan, Buck Henry, and Alan Alda...; regular contributors included Gloria Steinem, William F. Brown, Tom Lehrer, and Calvin Trillin...

The American version is largely a lost program, although the pilot survives and was donated to the Library of Congress by a collector. Amateur audio recordings of most episodes also survive.

We graduated from high school in June 1965. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, audio recordings survive. 

"In any man [sic] who dies there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight, " Yevtushenko wrote in his human being-affirming poem, People.

"There are left books and bridges and painted canvas and machinery," he wrote. "Whose fate is to survive."

Thus spake Yevtushenko. "But what has gone is also not nothing: by the rule of the game something has gone," the poet opines as he continues 

"Not people die but worlds die in them. Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures."

Audio recordings of the old TV program survive. So has the sound of that program's title as we contemplate our current era, which very much qualifies as An Era Which Was.

The era of which we speak didn't begin with Trump. It was already underway with the relentless work of Ceci Connolly, and with the forbearance of her editors at the Washington Post. 

It was underway with the transparent lunacy, and the deranged name-calling, of TV's Chris Matthews. That started in 1999, then continued, as mainstream and liberal reporters and pundits agreed to avert their gaze. 

The era had been underway long before that—for example, in the story Joe Klein told about the way  New York Times honchos first spotted the brilliance of Maureen Dowd. (In 1984, Walter Mondale didn't know which woman he should hug first!)

The era was well underway when Jerry Falwell peddled his Clinton Chronicles videotape about the Clintons' many murders, once again with the mainstream and elite almost wholly looking away. 

The era has always been with us! From way back in our college years, we remember this episode as it occurred in real time:

BIEHLER (2017): In the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for $40 million to support rat control in communities engaged with his Model Cities program. Model Cities and the Rat Extermination Act were part of Johnson’s agenda to invest in black neighborhoods long deprived of resources for housing, infrastructure and economic development by segregationist policies.

Black leaders like Whitney Young and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urged a multi-billion dollar program of urban redevelopment, but Congress even refused many of Johnson’s more modest requests. The Rat Extermination Act was one small example of this: When it came up for debate, Congressmen from rural districts laughed it off the floor. Rep. James Broyhill of North Carolina drawled, “the rat smart thing to do is to vote down this civil rats bill, rat now.”

We recall that congressman's witty use of regional humor, though we wouldn't have remembered his name. If memory serves, and we think it does, we saw his witty performance  on the day it occurred, right there on our TV machine. 

That was The Summer of 67. In this country, That Was The Week That Was had stopped airing two years before.

Nichols and May were a superb, intelligent comedy team. William F. Brown went on to write The Wiz (1974), but also the semi-prophetic How To Steal An Election (1968). 

Today, his authorship of The Wiz would be seen for the manifestation of systemic racism and white male privilege it now dogmatically is. Brown also wrote episodes of Love American Style, suggesting the possibility that things were already in headlong decline shortly after The Week That Was disappeared from the air.

Last night, we thought about Camus' portrait of the citizens of Oran as they try to comprehend (to see) what is happening around them. That (affectionate) part of Camus' novel is a study of human discernment, an entity which has always been in limited supply.

Over the weekend, we were struck by the New York Times' decision to publish a catalogue of all the times anyone ever used blackface, or currently seems to have done so, on American TV during the "21st century," which is now twenty years old.  

As we always do at such moments, we thought about this:

We've never seen the New York Times attempt to speak in a serious way about the experiences of black kids in our low-income public schools. Instead, they obsess about who can get into Stuyvesant High, then possibly get into Yale. 

Also, they scold Jimmy Kimmel for what he did when he performed an impression of Karl Malone, a major NBA star. It's human discernment in action!

We also spent some time this weekend reviewing the news reports about the death last month of Cannon Hinnant. He was (deliberately) shot and killed, at the age of 5, as he rode his bike in front of his home accompanied by his sisters, ages 7 and 8.

The event turned into a brief second-order hubbub. One part of this report in Forbes qualifies as "journalistically dumb beyond all belief."  This defensive report in the Washington Post was almost as transparently faux. 

(Our advice: See paragraph 13 in the Post report, but then perform some checking. When Forbes lists the news orgs which did in fact report the shooting, click the various links it provides. Prepare to marvel at the limits to human discernment or honesty, even at high journalistic levels.)

We're living in the dangerous days of This Era Which Was. In the backwash of the rise of 1) talk radio, 2) "cable news," 3) the Internet and 4) social media, the era has given us an unusual chance to observe the remarkable limits of human discernment.

We humans! Our discernment is very limited—although, as Camus gently suggests, that doesn't make us bad people.  It does suggest this possibility:

Nothing even a tiny bit gold can be expected to stay.

We've decided to cast ourselves in the role of Don Corleone in the garden. In a certain well-known film, the gentleman retires there to drink a bit more wine, to offer advice to his son when asked, and to play an affectionate game with a 3-year-old child in the moments before he dies. 

Relieved of the burden of control of the family, he's free to ruminate more widely. As viewers, we're left to ponder the mystery of the film in question:

We're left to wonder how a person who viciously murders other people all through the course of a film can be a sympathetic figure all through and in the end. The answer, of course, is supplied early on, when we see Corleone say this:

"I refused to be a fool."

We humans! We rarely take so clear a stand on that particular issue! Instead, as Cummings notes, we "unflinchingly applaud all songs containing the words country home and mother when sung at the old howard," or whatever words are currently found in the songs our tribe is singing.

The godfather refused to be a fool. We humans may be inclined to respect such defiance, though he almost surely could have found a better way to do it.

This has very strongly been An Era Which Was! Thanks to the rise of those new technologies, it's been an amazing time for people-watching, for seeing the way members of our species—"faulty, the earth's creatures"—are actually inclined to reason, to puzzle things out. 

At this site, we've receive consultation from highly-credentialed, major top figures from the world of anthropology. We'll continue to offer random observations from our spot in the garden we've chosen, though generally while continuing to channel these unnamed top major experts.

As it turns out, our human discernment is very limited. This era is giving us  a chance to see this surprising state of affairs as it's acted out in real time, and no, this trademark lack of discernment isn't all found Over There.

Tomorrow: Whatever comes to mind! 

Explaining how Donald J. Trump reached the White House!


Simply put, not up to the task: Last year, in 2019, we began to ask an award-winning question:

What makes you think that we'll even have a White House election this year?

In truth, we didn't quite understand our own question. We were in receipt of imprecise tips from major  experts who report to us from the future—from the years which follow the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.

These despondent scholars were glumly suggesting that no real election would happen this year. With Barton Gellman's new report in The Atlantic, we may be starting to see what these despondent major experts may have meant by their vague remarks.

Might this yea's election results be nullified by lawsuits and state-level machinations involving the electoral college? Might that turn out to be the story behind the award-winning question we started asking last year?

Will this year's election results be nullified? We can't answer that question! But the fact that the question is being asked shows how far down a dangerous road we've traveled since Trump descended that escalator after four year serving as king of the birthers.

The nation's headlong descent began with Trump's razor-thin election win. So how did he ever get to the White House? How in the world did he get there?

We can answer that question! In large part, the answer involves the feckless behavior of our own self-impressed liberal tribe.

We were having a ton of fun in 2016 at this time! Our tribunes kept filing reports about how Candidate Clinton couldn't possibly lose, even though it was always clear that she actually could.

Astonishingly, the Maddow Show explicitly took James Comey's side when he trashed Candidate Clinton in July 2016. Maddow rolled over and died about Comey that year, just as she'd done all through the autumn of 2012 as Susan Rice was burned at the stake and the Benghazi narratives took form. 

Comey's behavior, and the Benghazi narratives, each played a major part in sending Trump to the White House. Maddow (and others) took major dives as each of these storms took shape.

Those events were bad enough, but the problem was much more extensive. In April 2015, the New York Times published its crazy Uranium One report. The 4400-word front-page report was based on Peter Schweizer's crazy Clinton Cash book, and it was full of logical howlers.

It was a totally crazy report. When the New York Times published it, major tribunes of the tribe failed to say boo about it.

On the brighter side, Michelle Goldberg ended up with a spot as a regular New York Times columnist. She and Chris Hayes rolled over and died on the night in 2015 when the crazy report—4400 words long!—appeared in the glorious Times. 

Goldberg's ascension testifies to the personal gain which can result from a dangerous silence—from a refusal to tell the truth, from a refusal to fight. We recall that silence every time we read one of her columns.

Our lunatic president reached the White House by beating Candidate Clinton. This followed 24 years of war against Candidate Clinton—a war our compliant tribal tribunes endlessly failed to identify or oppose.

How clueless is our tribe, even today, about this long-running war? Consider a piece which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. It ran under this extremely salient headline:

Why Is Hillary Clinton So Hated?

Why is Clinton so hated? To the extent that you can answer that question, you can explain how the grossly disordered Donald J. Trump ever reached the Oval Office, from which venue he now attempts to terminate Roe v. Wade, The Affordable Care Act and the American experiment. 

As such, that question is very important. Needless to say, the answer was missing in action in the book review which ran beneath that headline in Sunday's New York Times.

The review was written by Noreen Malone, who is almost surely a thoroughly good, decent person. Unfortunately, something else is true about Malone, if we assume that her piece for the Times was written in good faith:

If we assume that she wrote her piece in good faith, Malone knows virtually nothing about the reasons why Candidate Clinton was "so hated." In that sense, she knows nothing about the way our disordered and dangerous commander in chief managed to get where he is.

Who the heck is Noreen Malone? According to the Times' identity line, she's "a writer and editor [and] the host of an upcoming season of Slate’s Slow Burn podcast." 

She graduated from Columbia in the class of 2007. According to her LinkedIn page, she still serves as "editorial director" at New York magazine. 

Malone works for New York magazine and for Slate. This suggests that she, like so many others, would never explain why Clinton was so hated, even if she actually knows.

Liberal careerists have avoided such questions for the past 28 years. This largely explains the massive know-nothing political cluelessness which infests our failing tribe.

Why was Hillary Clinton so hated during Campaign 2016? As Malone addresses that question, she points the finger at "right-wing attacks" and at misogyny, and of course at Clinton herself.

She fails to mention the decades of enmity against Hillary Clinton which emerged from the upper-end mainstream press, very much including the famous newspaper for which she penned this review. 

She fails to mention the fact that the Whitewater pseudo-scandals began on the front page of the New York Times. She fails to mention the subsequent, related War Against Gore, which raged in the Times and the Washington Post and all over NBC cable.

She fails to mention the continuing enmity which drove so much New York Times coverage during Campaign 2016. That includes, but is hardly limited to, the crazy Uranium One report the Times cut-and-pasted live and direct from the crackpot anti-Clinton right. 

For the record, Malone was reviewing a new book by Michael D'Antonio, The Hunting of Hillary: The Forty-Year Campaign to Destroy Hillary Clinton.

Malone makes the book sound like major hackwork. That could be a fair assessment.

That said, why was Hillary Clinton so hated—so hated that a nutcase like Trump actually reached the Oval? Staying within major zones of safety, Malone offers this at one point:

MALONE (9/20/20): D’Antonio does a certain amount of feminist-inflected analysis in his text, particularly in the early biographical chapters...It’s impossible to argue with the substance of this—misogyny is hypermagnetized toward Clinton, not to mention virtually every woman in politics or the public eye—but it’s a comment that’s certainly been made before. And in places, D’Antonio seems a little blinkered from noticing sexism that doesn’t target Clinton herself. He isn’t particularly generous or thoughtful in his assessment of the way the media treated women like Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky, or Juanita Broaddrick, who made a credible accusation of rape against Bill Clinton that has, in recent years, become the subject of much feminist reconsideration.

Malone inhabits safe harbors. 

It pleases the tribe to be told that misogyny "is hypermagnetized toward Clinton, not to mention virtually every woman in politics." On the down side, it's hard to show that this is true, or even to say what it means.

(Was misogyny "hypermaginitized toward" Senator Klobuchar during the primary campaign? This is the kind of vast overstatement which vastly pleases the tribe.)

That said, Hillary Clinton certainly was assailed by sexist and misogynistic slimings all through her national tenure. This was routinely done at the New York Times, as public editor Clark Hoyt pointed out in a remarkable essay in June 2016.

Hoyt's essay produced exactly zero discussion from major liberal pundits. This has long been exactly the way our tribe's career players have played. 

For decades, Clinton was slimed all over NBC cable, which isn't a part of the right. On NBC cable, she was Evita Peron and Nurse Ratched, but also Cruella da Ville. 

Career liberals knew they mustn't notice or complain. They knew how to play the game.

Today, it pleases the tribe to hear that Clinton was slimed in misogynistic ways, but no career liberal will ever say that the sliming was done by the upper-end mainstream press. Dearest darlings, it just isn't done! Future jobs hang in the balance!

From her sanitized claims about misogyny, Malone moves on to criticize Bill Clinton, who isn't Hillary Clinton. We then reach Malone's most ridiculous passage.

Why was Hillary Clinton so hated? As she continues, Malone offers this:

MALONE (continuing directly): Hillary Clinton’s notorious remark that she “could have stayed at home and baked cookies” offended plenty of women who weren’t on the right, but it is similarly glossed over. The fact of Bill Clinton’s unfaithfulness is mostly used as a launching point for discussing the right’s exploitation of it. D’Antonio can rarely bring himself to admit the couple have legitimate baggage. [Malone's italics]

Hillary Clinton's "notorious remark" was made in March 1992, during her husband's primary campaign. It was a snarky comment. Along with her earlier  remark about Tammy Wynette, it showed the world that Hillary Clinton has a certain tendency toward making politically unwise remarks, as most people do.

That said, does that remark constitute "legitimate baggage" of the type which explains why she was so hated in 2016, and is so hated today? Only in the childish world in which liberal careerists have always remained, in which they agree to disappear the long, puzzling war of the mainstream press against both Clintons and Gore.

Reading Malone, you're told that Clinton was attacked by the right. You're told that she had "legitimate baggage." 

There's a great deal you aren't told. You're also asked to read this:

MALONE: [T]he book is most successful as a work within the terms of its chosen genre: Clinton defense. Just as the Clinton prosecution—in the manner of Edward Klein and Peter  Schweizer—is a recognizable literary category (one to which D’Antonio rightly draws critical attention), so is Clinton defense. (The defense is less given to magical realism; D’Antonio writes factually and journalistically.) For instance, the book’s dramatic title seems to be a riff on Joe Conason and Gene Lyons’s 2000 book, “The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton,” which sought to catalog the “vast right-wing conspiracy” Hillary Clinton so famously blamed for trying to bring her and her husband down.

Did Conason and Lyons seek "to catalog the 'vast right-wing conspiracy' Hillary Clinton so famously blamed?" Yes, they did, but—Shhhh!—they also discussed the assaults on the Clintons by the upper-end mainstream press.

That book followed Lyons' 1995 book, Fools For Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. In the main, the "media" to which Lyons referred were the New York Times and the Washington Post. 

For that reason, Lyons' book—it started as an essay in Harper's—was never discussed by the career liberal press. Malone seems to lump it in with the hackwork of someone like Schweizer, whose Clinton Cash book was cut and pasted for the Times' Uranium One gong-show.

Donald J. Trump squeezed into the White House on the strength of twenty-four years of this journalistic chaos. His opponent wasn't a great politician. But why was she "so hated?"

Liberal careerists have always agreed to disappear a large part of the answer. As they pursued their sacred careers, they greased the path to Gore's amazingly narrow defeat, and then to Hillary Clinton's.

On the whole, we liberals have never complained about this, largely because our tribal sachems haven kept us from hearing about it.  On our own, we  simply haven't been up to the task of seeing how this worked.

We're pleased when our favorites show up in the Times. It's their silence which put them there, and it also put Trump where he is.