Update: Return to the Wild

A real live event tommorow! (With livestream info included.)

Hello everyone. First off, thank you all for your support. Ever since I broke the news of my recent stroke, you’ve responded with an outpouring of love, encouragement, and humor, which has done wonders for my outlook and recovery. I apologize for not getting back to everyone just yet. But please know that I’ve read and appreciated every one of you. Community means everything, especially at a time like this.

I have spent much of my convalescing in the company of family and video games, which offer the thrill of solving problems on screens while offering confrontations with ghouls more fun and satisfying to beat than Rudy Giuliani. But while I am not quite ready to leave Hyrule behind just yet, the real world calls, and I’m finally feeling fit enough to answer.

Tomorrow (Thursday), at Duke University, I’ll be appearing with Andrea Pitzer (whose One Long Night is a must-read), and Roxana Bendezú of Migrant Roots Media for a panel on Concentration Camps: Then and Now, moderated by Brian Goldstone. Info on the event’s location for those of you in North Carolina is below.

For those of you elsewhere, there will be a livestream available at 6 p.m. eastern time, using this link:

I’ll be trying to speak with some lingering aphasia and a bit of a stutter. Will do my best. I’m happy most of all to be out, traveling, and getting back on my game, to talk again about this important and worsening issue.

Here’s the info for those of you who might want to come:

Thanks again to everyone. Hopefully I will get back to doing regular newsletters before long.

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and author. My next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, traces the origins and contradictions of American empire. Follow me on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

An earthquake in my brain

Three weeks ago, dear reader, I had a stroke.

Believe me, I was surprised as you are.

On an inauspicious Friday, I went to bed at two in the morning, a healthy, active, fairly young man with a thrice-a-week workout regimen, a nutritious diet, and a loving wife already asleep in bed. Shortly after — I’m not sure if I fell asleep or not — I started tossing and making enough noise that my wife, Claire, woke up cursing at me, and got ready to go sleep on the couch.

Thank God she didn’t before she realized something was seriously wrong. I wasn’t responding to her. Somehow, I ended up on the floor. The entire right side of my body was paralyzed, including the right side of my face. Whatever she said to me, I could only respond with two childlike words: “Stop it.” I’m not sure if I was talking to her or myself.

Before this, the last consciously death-defying event of my life was the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010 (an event that, fittingly enough, also found me in bed). But this time, I wasn’t afraid at all. I can’t fully explain the feeling — I assume it has something to do with the blood shutting off to a fear receptor in my left brain — but if anything I felt like I was having fun. Maybe I felt deep down like I was in good hands.

So much was working in my favor that night. One happy fact was that my parents had just come to town for Rosh Hashanah — including my father, a physician. Another was that our home is literally down the street from the University of Virginia’s main hospital, which has a world-class stroke center. Another is that it happened at a moment when I have pretty good health insurance (through my wife, who is faculty at the university). If I had been poorer, in a rural area, someone afraid of calling the authorities, or left alone, I might have died before anyone found me.

Instead, because I was rushed incredibly fast to a very good hospital, the vascular fellow on call, an M.D./Ph.D., was able to rush an honest-to-God miracle drug and break up the clot in my brain in time to prevent more permanent damage. Just a few years ago, the drug — tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA — was rarely used; rarer still in black and Hispanic patients, women, and those without private insurance. Just two years ago, the lingering controversy over the drug elicited a sympathetic profile in the New York Times. There were risks, including a chance it would provoke a cerebral hemorrhage. But with the counsel of the wise doctor, and my family’s consultation, she went ahead. The drug worked.

I spent two more days in the hospital and was released a day earlier than the doctors predicted. I’ve been resting at home. My physical symptoms, which could have been catastrophic, are nil. I have some aphasia — a hilariously fancy term for struggling to say and write words — but that is rapidly improving. I went to synagogue for some much-needed praying on Yom Kippur. I even went on Twitter a bit after coming home from the hospital, before Claire convinced me to give my mind some rest. (Though I am glad to say that, even with part of my brain out of service, I could still own the anti-anti-Trumpers.) I’m making up for the lack of intellectual combat by battling monsters on my new Nintendo Switch.

I’ll have more to say about my experience in a bit. I’ll be getting more fully back to work on this newsletter and my book soon. In the meantime, I want to thank all of you for your patience and support. Be well, and take care of each other.

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and author. My next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, traces the origins and contradictions of American empire. Follow me (soon, again) on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

Image: Orla/Shutterstock

Impeachment: Why Trump should be afraid

Welcome back to The Long Version, a newsletter by Jonathan M. Katz.

When voters gave the Democrats the House last year, Nancy Pelosi became perhaps the only Speaker of the House to have a plausible impeachment of the president looming over her on Day One. She worked hard to avoid it for months. As recently as this weekend, she was still dodging the central question of her speakership while nevertheless insisting, “Our founders could never suspect that a president would be so abusive of the Constitution of the United States.”

Today, under ratcheting pressure, led by the Class of 2018, the dam broke:

Trump’s attempt to pressure the Ukrainian president into damaging a potential Democratic challenger appears to have been the final straw, and it isn’t hard to see why. Trump apparently made his call the day after Robert Mueller testified about Russian interference in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, and Trump’s successful obstruction of his investigation. It’s the equivalent of narrowly getting away with a string of bank robberies, rushing off to rob another bank, then doing donuts in the courthouse parking lot.

Pelosi’s arguments against impeachment were never about Trump’s innocence or fitness for office. He has been eligible for impeachment since the minute he took office, thanks to the brazen crimes of his campaign. His potential rap sheet—from obstruction of justice, to gross negligence, to human-rights abuses, to encouraging white-supremacist terror against his own people—has only gotten worse.

Instead, she insisted that impeachment in the House would be a waste of time because the bar for removal—two-thirds of the Senate—may be unattainably high. That argument is still considered the wise-guy conventional wisdom, backed up by the least impressive of our pundits. As Pelosi left the podium at the Capitol this afternoon, a reporter shouted after her: “What will it accomplish if the Senate doesn’t convict?”

It will accomplish impeachment. To understand its value, even in the absence of conviction, it’s worth taking a quick tour through the short, frequently misremembered history of American presidential impeachments, as this latest chapter gets underway:

John Tyler (1843)

Contrary to popular belief, Andrew Johnson (see below) was not the first president to face impeachment proceedings. That honor goes to Tyler, an accidental president who, like Trump, relatively few people ever wanted in office in the first place.

He was elected as the running-mate of William Henry Harrison, becoming the first veep to inherit the presidency when the popular war hero immediately died. Tyler was at odds with his own party, the Whigs, in part because he was an enslaver at a time when many of them were becoming abolitionists. Soon he started vetoing their bills in a way that much of Congress, including president-turned-congressman John Quincy Adams, thought defied the spirit of the constitution.

Result: The brief impeachment proceedings cemented Tyler’s unpopularity, helping convince him to drop out of the 1844 presidential race and ending his U.S. political career. Tyler died in 1862, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

James Buchanan (1860)

The last in a series of incompetent, racist presidents who preceded the Civil War, Buchanan is best known as the one-term wonder who stood around doing nothing while the Deep South seceded. He spent his last year under an impeachment cloud, as a committee led by the abolitionist Rep. John Covode of the new Republican Party spent months digging up evidence of his administration’s corruption.

Buchanan spent more effort fighting the committee than he did the secessionists. In one exasperated protest he called its witnesses “a band of interested parasites and informers, ever ready, for their own advantage, to swear … to pretended private conversations … incapable, from their nature, of being disproved.” (If you hear the faint fore-echoes of “witch hunt” and “fake news” in there, you aren’t alone. When U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled that Congress had the authority to investigate Trump this past May, he opened his opinion by quoting Buchanan’s letter.)

Result: The committee didn’t find enough to impeach “Old Buck.” But its highly publicized findings, including Buchanan’s attempts to bribe members of Congress into approving a fraudulent pro-slavery constitution for the new state of Kansas, triggered public outrage—including this awesome proto-Gawker shitpost from the New York Times.

Buchanan’s political career ended in disgrace, giving way to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. It took a quarter of a century for another Democratic candidate to win the White House.

Andrew Johnson (1868)

Three years after Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the Civil War, Johnson became the first of two presidents to actually get impeached by the House. It was—as impeachment always is—a political fight.

Most of the articles concerned Johnson’s firing of his—and Lincoln’s—secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, in violation of a law Congress passed specifically to prevent just that. But what it was really about was Johnson, a former Democrat from Tennessee, conciliating the defeated enslavers by reestablishing white supremacy: undercutting black voting rights, land reform, and promoting anti-black terror in the South. (Stanton was overseeing the military occupation of the former Confederacy, whose tasks included protecting the newly freed black people from white mobs.)

As the historian Annette Gordon-Reed has written, “Johnson’s real crime in the eyes of opponents was that he had used the power of the presidency to prevent Congress from giving aid to the four million African-Americans freed after the Civil War.”

You might think the country had grown tired of spectacles by 1868. But Johnson’s impeachment trial in the Senate riveted the nation. Johnson had known the Republican Congress was trying to impeach him for his white-supremacist actions when he fired Stanton, and he had known that, in doing so, he was breaking the law. Millions wanted to see if he would have to pay a price.

Result: The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of conviction, but not by enough: the 35–19 vote was one short of the required two-thirds majority.

Johnson’s supporters rallied in the streets. But, as Yoni Appelbaum noted in a piece on Johnson’s impeachment, “the euphoria proved short-lived.” The Republicans refused to nominate Johnson again, and the Democrats did too. Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency back for the Republicans, injecting new life into the Reconstruction effort.

“If the goal of impeachment was to frustrate Johnson’s efforts to make America a white man’s country again, it was an unqualified success,” Applebaum wrote. “Impeachment drew the United States closer to living up to its ideals, if only fleetingly, by rallying the public against Johnson’s assault on the Constitution.”

Richard Nixon (1974)

If you remember Richard Nixon fondly, congratulations: You’re part of an exclusive club. Before Donald Trump, Nixon was the gold standard for disgraced presidents. His signature crime remains so iconic that every major presidential scandal since has gotten a “-gate” appended to it. Rubber Nixon masks with giant penile noses were still a best-selling Halloween costume nearly a decade after he died.

When I was a teenager, in the 1990s, if you asked most people, “Who was the only president to get impeached?” the answer you expected to get was “Nixon.” (I know this because I was the quiz-bowl dork who had fun telling people it was Andrew Johnson.) People remembered it that way because, as Michael Schudson wrote in Watergate in American Memory, he “more or less was.”

You might know all about Watergate, or you might not, but there’s too much to summarize here. I’ll suffice with a few fun facts:

  1. The first impeachment resolutions were introduced against Nixon before the break-in and wiretapping of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate even happened. One of them, introduced by Rep. John Conyers in 1972, focused mainly on Nixon’s furtherance of the Vietnam War.

  2. Thanks in part to his campaign committee’s dirty tricks, including the espionage at the DNC, Nixon won an astounding 520-17 victory in the Electoral College, netting 61% of the popular vote.

  3. In January 1973, just before the Senate voted to create a select committee to investigate Watergate, Nixon hit an all-time high Gallup poll rating of 67%. SIXTY-SEVEN PERCENT. Chris Cillizza would have married him.

  4. And yet, by the time the hearings were over, with evidence of Nixon’s spectacular corruption and criminality revealed to the nation, even his Republican allies had turned against him. A quarter of Americans still stood by the president, but it wasn’t enough.

Result: Nixon resigned, requiring a pardon to keep him out of prison. Many of his senior aides weren’t so lucky. The Democrats crushed the Republicans in that fall’s midterm elections. Jimmy Carter beat Nixon’s pardon-granting successor, Gerald Ford, in 1976. The Republicans were forced to rebuild their party from the bottom up. They spent the next 45 years obsessed with finding a Watergate to slap the Democrats with.

Bill Clinton (1998)

Watergate all but destroyed the Republican Party for the rest of the 1970s, but by 1980, the GOP was back. Leaning harder into the combination of race-baiting and anti-labor conservatism that Nixon rode to victory, Ronald Reagan became president. He left office with enough of his reputation intact to get bridges and stuff named for him, thanks in part to the fact that the Democrats never managed to impeach him for Iran-Contra.

But in 1992, a flashy, philandering Democrat from Arkansas beat Reagan’s former vice president, and all hell broke loose. The GOP spent the next six years trying to find a way to do to Bill Clinton, the first Democrat to win two full terms since Franklin Roosevelt, what the Democrats had done to Richard Nixon.

Ultimately, Independent Counsel Ken Starr nailed Clinton with a scathing report proving he had lied under oath about a sexual relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, starting when she was 22 years old.

Despite losing seats in the 1998 midterm elections—widely interpreted as a referrendum on their plans—Republicans went ahead and impeached Clinton during the lame duck (after a brief delay to allow him to bomb Iraq). The president was sent to the Senate for trial on two articles of impeachment: lying to a grand jury (including witness tampering), and obstructing justice in the larger sexual harassment case that had led to the discovery of their affair.

Result: It wasn’t close: No Democrats voted against the president, and several Republicans defected, leaving the Senate seventeen votes short of the 67 needed for removal. Clinton left office with a 65% approval rating.

Yet, by dragging Clinton into a constitutional process of removal, they convinced even most of his supporters that Clinton had committed adultery in the Oval Office and lied about it. George W. Bush ran in 2000 pledging “to restore honor and dignity to the White House.” That was good enough to overcome questions about his competency, and put him close enough to snatch the election from Al Gore with help from the Supreme Court.

It didn’t matter that the Clinton impeachment was easily the dirtiest on the list. Several Republicans who led the effort had, and lied about, similar affairs. Rep. Henry Hyde, who served as chief prosecutor in the trial, had an affair with a beauty stylist, 12 years his junior, at roughly the same age Clinton was when he had his affair with Lewinsky. Ken Starr was later forced to resign as president of Baylor University for covering up sexual abuse. That misogyny may explain why Starr overlooked and essentially buried the most serious allegation against Clinton, the rape of Juanita Broddarick.

The GOP dominated government for the next decade and a half, with only two years in which they didn’t control at least one house of Congress. Even with the Iraq War, the violent, botched response to 9/11, and the Great Recession to its name, the GOP was able to make an even plausible bid for the presidency against Hillary Clinton in 2016, in large part, fairly or not, because the albatross of her husband’s affairs and aura of duplicity hung around her neck.

In short, Republicans had learned the key lesson of Watergate (and the failure to impeach in Iran-Contra): Impeachments damage, and sometimes end, presidencies—even ones that seem invincible. That’s why they’re so afraid now.

Thanks for reading. To become a regular reader of The Long Version, just sign up here. It’s free to join, with paid options for those who want more:

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and author. His next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, traces the origins and contradictions of American empire. Follow on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

Photos: Harpers’ Weekly Political Cartoon (Wikimedia Commons), Johnson Impeachment Ticket (LOC), George Brett in a Nixon mask, 1976 (@si_vault)

Podcast #3: Did Sharpiegate cross a line? Feat. Gabriel Snyder


Update 9/25/19: Transcript added below!

With Trump again threatening war with Iran, last week’s best-known scandal—the president doctoring a hurricane map with a marker—might already seem quaint. But #Sharpiegate was revealing. It showed the depths to which the federal bureaucracy, including Trump’s deeply corrupt Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, were willing cover for the president’s insanity and crimes. And it showed the ways in which the noise from the White House can be used to cover up the damage it causes in the world.

Gabriel Synder, the Columbia Journalism Review’s resident New York Times public editor, joined me for a discussion about Sharpiegate, the Stupid Show, and how not to cover the presidency. We talked hurricanes, mushroom clouds, and Maggie Haberman.

You can keep independent journalism going by signing up for this newsletter/podcast at katz.substack.com or using the box below. Thanks for listening.

Transcript (automatically generated, may contain errors):

Audio clips:                  00:00               [Nicole Wallace, MSNBC: It appears the White House attempted to retroactively correct a tweet that the president issued over the weekend in which he warned ... Alabama would in fact be impacted. The graphic appears to have been altered with a Sharpie ... [CNN Host: ... a forecast map altered by a black marker to prove his point ...] [24horas.cl: ... un marcador por encima de la linea blanca ] [Stephen Colbert: He used a Sharpie to extend the path into Alabama [laughter]] [Clip: This is what's become Sharpiegate] [Liz Wheeler, OANN: ... so obsessed with Sharpiegate …] [Brian Williams, MSNBC: Does anybody remember Sharpiegate?]

Jonathan M Katz:          00:26               ... To the point that you know, I, and you are on this podcast where I have complete editorial control. We could talk about anything I want and we're talking about it!

Intro Music:                  00:41               [Music]

Jonathan M Katz:          00:44               It's getting stupid out there. Hi. Welcome back to The Long Version. This is the audio edition of the newsletter that you can find at katz.substack.com. That’s k-a-t-z dot s-u-b-s-t-a-c-k dot c-o-m. I am the eponymous Jonathan M Katz and it is currently September 16th, 2019. That's a Monday for those of you who've lost track. I know I have. It's very hard to keep track of what's going on in the world right now. Remember Sharpiegate? Feels like it happened about a billion years ago when the president of the United States used a marker to draw on a weather map so that he wouldn't have to admit that he was wrong? Anyway, that was about last week. So today, while the world is consumed with trying to figure out if he is going to declare war on Iran to defend Saudi Arabia's oil fields in a war in Yemen, that Trump refuses to get out of. I wanted to go back a little bit to a conversation that I had a couple of days ago with a special guest, Gabriel Snyder.

Jonathan M Katz:          01:53               Gabriel is a journalist. He was the editor in chief of the New Republic. We worked together way back in the neolithic era when I was covering the Paris climate talks back in 2015. Remember those? He is now at the Columbia journalism review where he occupies the very cool role of the public editor for the New York times. Not employed by the New York times, which I think is possibly the best way to do that. He is, is serving a role that used to be filled in the times newsroom of, of looking at the journalism there, responding to, to critiques and concerns that readers have. He does an excellent job. You should definitely check out his stuff. We had a conversation about a piece that I had written a couple of days before that called turn off the stupid show in which I was talking actually primarily in that piece about what was going on in the United Kingdom with Boris Johnson, the "Tesco Value Trump" prime minister they have over there.

Jonathan M Katz:          02:50               That was my attempt at British humor in the piece. Something spoke to him in the piece and I think we sort of both agreed that there's a bunch of real stuff that is going in the world. A lot of it, the fault of the president of the United States, but it is very hard to pay close attention to what is going on precisely because there's just so much noise coming out of the white house and it can be very hard to figure out what is important and what isn't. And so we sort of had a conversation about that and I think that it I think it was really interesting. I think it was really enlightening and even though it was about the president drawing on a map with a marker like a child we both saw the ways in which that spoke to, to a much bigger, a much more serious issues.

Jonathan M Katz:          03:36               And I think now that once again, as they have so many times in his presidency, war clouds are gathering. It's important to understand the way that the reality show that this reality show president is overseeing serves to confuse people and make it very difficult for us to make a important decisions as a country and to observe the, the, the crimes and the dangers that are coming out of Washington. Anyway, I think it's a really interesting conversation. You're going to totally dig it. Here is my conversation with Gabriel Snyder. Gabriel, welcome to The Long Version.

Gabriel Snyder:            04:09               Thanks for having me.

Jonathan M Katz:          04:12               Thank you for being here. I know you've been talking about how for the last couple of days, all of your feeds and this was true for me as well were filled with a Sharpiegate. You said while you were appalled by Trump's disregard for truth or reality, you have no desire to engage in the infinite loop of debunking and fulminating what's the point? So yeah, tell, tell me a little bit what you were thinking there and and we'll go from there.

Gabriel Snyder:            04:38               In the past, you know, I guess it's going on three years now. I've watched my media consumption change just profoundly, I think after the election where, you know, everything kind of kind of changed over the, the, the next thing that I was noting was just this monoculture. Like there was an incapacity for at least the circle of people that are in my Twitter universe to think about more than one story at a time. And since 2016, that story has pretty much been all Trump all the time. But it's also just kind of made me think about sort of, you know, how the attention economy works with a, when you have a president who is a product of, you know, media culture, what point does continuing to watch actually make him stronger and give him more sway over the culture?

Jonathan M Katz:          05:35               Yeah. But to a certain extent, it's kind of, I don't know, maybe I'm making sort of a, maybe both of us are kind of making kind of a, a facile complaint, right? It's, people always complain about this in journalism. Journalism is always about why are you painting? Why are you paying attention to this instead of that? So I mean, do you think that this is different from that or are we just like sort of being like,

Gabriel Snyder:            05:55               Well, I hope I'm being different than that. I mean, I, I, I have to say, I, I've always been very resistant to the, you know, the complaint of why is the media covering X when, you know, why is so much more important? You know, I've, I've recently been doing this Columbia journalism project. I'm acting as the public editor for the New York times. And so people send me these complaints, a lot of these complaints that come in through Twitter and they're like, Oh my gosh, how dare, you know, the New York times tweet out a joke about something in the style section when X, Y,Z is terrible. That's happening in the world. And,uand it's, it's always kind of, I've always been resistant to that as an editor because, you know,unewspapers are big, staffs are big. They, they do lots of things.

Gabriel Snyder:            06:39               You know, it doesn't mean, you know, the existence of a sports department doesn't mean that the foreign desk is any less important. But I think the, the reason why all of this came up with Sharpiegate, which, which actually, you know, twist, I, I've, I've kinda changed my opinion on a little bit since I sent off that email to you, but is that there, there has been just this glee of, you know, this meme of vacation of Sharpiegate that that happened that really didn't seem rooted in doing anything. It seemed, it seemed rooted in entertaining people and there is sort of a, you know, a very natural, you know, yearning to, you know, have laughed instead of have a cry during the, during the Trump years for people who are terrified of them. The, you know, what the other, the other massive change that I've had in my media consumption is I can't watch any of the political satire shows.

Gabriel Snyder:            07:36               I mean, and I say that as someone who thought Jon Stewart was the smartest best thing on TV was I modeled myself, I modeled, modeled by the publications I edited after John Stewart and I just have had to completely turn it off. You know, cause I, I, there's this, there's nothing funny about the news right now. Is I guess I guess is, is, is my feeling. And, and so, you know, while I, I, I think, you know, John Oliver does great and Sam B is fantastic and Trevor Noah and all the rest, I, I just don't feel like they have, I, there was just a profound shift in what they had to offer, offer me an [inaudible]. And I've been getting that a lot of thought, you know, what is that? I think, I think the big change, and I think it's related to everything, you know, Brexit and the world falling apart is social media.

Jonathan M Katz:          08:27               Yeah, exactly. And there's also nothing to puncture. Like, you know, during the Bush administration part of the joke, or really the joke was that, you know, George W. Bush still sort of carried himself with a certain dignity in office people. People at least, you know, ascribed to him a certain dignity of office. You know, there was the idea, you know, the Iraq war was sold as something that was in the country's best interest. It, you know, it was, it was built on lies. It was all about revenge. But the way that, the way that it was sold to the public was there's a clear and present danger facing the United States. In a situation like that, you can have somebody like John Stewart who can be like, you know, Mesopotamia and, and everyone's like, Oh ha ha ha, like, and of course, you know, and the emperor has no clothes because like George W. Bush is an idiot.

Jonathan M Katz:          09:22               And like, he, he can't talk. And he like, he clearly can't think very well and [inaudible] why does it, nobody noticed this? Whereas with Donald Trump, everybody knows it and it's, you can't, you can't out clown a clown. And I, you know, I, I think the, I mean let's, I, I started to kind of do want to drill into Sharpiegate a little bit because it is a really interesting moment cause of course what it is like fundamentally what it's, what it's a story about is that the president of the United States fabricated in a childish clownish way, a government document broadcast it to the world for no reason other than to avoid admitting that he had made a mistake. And it was, you know, during, it was in the middle of an actual national crisis. And instead of dealing with those things the president of the United States was forging documents in like in, in the stupidest way anybody possibly could. And so it's like at one level that is really dumb. And like almost, it doesn't deserve the time of day. On the other hand, it was a federal crime. And and I actually kind of important, what do you make of it now? You said you had changed your mind about is the problem that the mono culture that we were just, we were all paying attention to this one thing? Or should we have not have been talking about that at all?

Gabriel Snyder:            10:52               Well, what I think changed was the story that was reported out on Friday and I believe it was in New York times, although it was Washington post. I apologize that reported on what the Wilbur Ross did to get the statement out of NOAA. Yes. The secretary of commerce and you know, calling up the acting head, the appointee, it wasn't just a civil servant, but calling up the Trump appointee to say, you know, you've got to put out a statement saying that your, your, your staff is wrong and the president's right. Yeah. It turned a story about, you know, what did, what's the latest dumb thing that Trump did into here is how power works in our country today. And, and I think that that story is so important because in all of the, sort of my thinking about like what has changed, why has everything in the media changed?

Gabriel Snyder:            11:51               Why is w what is, why does that, why does the world seem like it's going to help? The one idea I keep coming back to is that the stories we tell ourselves about how power works, every culture has them, right? And they have stopped making sense in our culture right now. And, and so we are, we're, we're in this point of, of kind of relearning how power works and, and what, what I mean by that is like, you know, think about all of the run up to the Mueller report, right? I mean, all of that was largely kind of defined by Washington insider, conventional wisdom of how power is exercised in D C when it comes to, you know, crimes that the president has committed. You almost kind of think of it as more of like a chain of dominoes that, well, if this thing happens and it's gonna cause all these other dominoes that eventually could lead to impeachment. Right, right. And, and, and, and it's, you know, so clear that that set of dominoes just doesn't, it doesn't look the same anymore. And, and I think, I think this, this, you know, the, the, the, the satire, you know element, which, you know, where w which is where S Gates started was kind of this, it was kind of rooted in this old, this, this outmoded notion of, of, of chain of chain events, right. And, and, and so

Jonathan M Katz:          13:07               And one of the other things that happened was that the president was caught in an obvious lie and then he got people to cover for him. Like, yeah, yeah. I mean, Wilbur Ross, got, you know you know, the, the, the Admiral from the coast guard and you know, you had no of putting out ridiculous statements in, like, if, you know, if you knew, if you understood the science, if you, if you know about hurricanes and you read the specifics of their statements, you realize that they basically were still saying that he was wrong. They were just trying to sort of find a way to rationalize him, not being like too terribly wrong. But it's, but it's, it's really scary, right, because it doesn't take very much imagination to imagine another circumstance, right. Where, you know, Trump launches nukes at an ally, right.

Jonathan M Katz:          13:58               And we, you know, we blow up Vienna and you know, and, and, and instead of being held accountable, all these people in his administration are just running around and saying like, well, there was credible intelligence related to Austria. And, you know, like they, you know, Australia had been a threat you know, during the, the, the 1940s. And so, like, it wasn't horribly unrealistic for the president. It's just like whatever. Instead of just doing what they should do, which is what thing, which is what somebody should have done all along, which is just go to the oval office and put the dude in handcuffs and drag him out of there. Cause he just keeps, he just keeps committing crimes and he just keeps doing insane shit in front of everybody. And the, andS and, and you know, there's, there's been this idea, you know, it's, it's kind of a conspiracy theory, right? It turned into that like the deep state was going to save us. Well this is the deep state. This is the professional bureaucracy and the way the deep state is reacting is the way that I think we could have expected them to react, which is not by trying to preserve some kind of deep secret, you know, long-held set of principles, but a bunch of individuals just trying to keep their jobs.

Gabriel Snyder:            15:15               Jonathan, I can, can I, can I try to bum you out more than you just tried to bump me out? Cause I, I'm, I'm so par. I'm so far past that. I, I, I mean, you know what, there is nothing, there's nothing in the dynamics of our political system right now to prevent that slide. Absolutely none. You know, the, the, the, the, the answer to your question of, you know, what if, what if Trump wants to do this is there's pretty high chance that neutral flop. One of the bigger fears I had during the transition era was that, you know, if everyone was, you know, reading about, you know, the, the Weimer Republic and, and, and, and all of these, you know, kind of fears and because they were scared out of their mind, but there was, it kind of created this really high bar for Trump, right?

Gabriel Snyder:            16:05               That if, you know, and I, I would joke this, if he doesn't show up with, you know, to the inauguration with the, you know, a Hitler mustache and an armband, people are going to say, well, there it goes at American statesman. You know, and, and I think that the stupidity sort of element has been, well, all right, well, he drew, he, he drew, he drew a, you know, a, a line on a map, but at least it didn't, you know, launch nukes at, at an ally. Well, that line isn't actually, you know, there isn't anyone who's saying, okay, well this stupidity is okay, but that stupidity isn't, that's the thing that should be terrifying. Right? Right. And, and, and we're, and we're just taking these, these baby steps. And I think, I think what sort of I'm reacting to with the haha reaction to the Sharpiegate is that that is now the reaction of the people who oppose him. Right? It's, it doesn't, it actually plays into his, you know, media strategy to, to, to, to laugh along because, you know, ultimately if it, and that's why I loved, you know, that I reacted so much to that tier. You're the headline on your piece because I'm not sure how, but I do think turning the stupid show is part of the solution. You know, describing the trick is one way to break the spell of the trick.

Jonathan M Katz:          17:18               Yeah. I think, I think that's absolutely right. And I mean, I should say normally I'm very skeptical of slippery slope arguments and I try not to make them, you find yourself very quickly and Rick Santorum marrying your dog territory. But in this particular case, I should also say, by the way, that a nuclear strike is bad no matter who it's against, regardless of it's an enemy or an ally. But that is the signal example of the power of the American presidency. I mean, you're right, there's, it is built into the system and it's been built in since the cold war that there is ultimately nobody to stop the president from launching a nuclear strike. What do you do when the clear and present danger is coming from the white house?

Gabriel Snyder:            18:04               Yup. Yup. Well then I think that's, I mean, that's the answer, isn't it? I mean it's, it's, it's to, it's to focus on the clear and present danger and, and, and really emphasize those two, those two words. Right. that the, the, the in, you know, and, and I guess, I guess in some ways set the fluff aside, but also maybe set aside some of the slippery slope stuff just in, in the, in the sense that it distracts from the, the president. I mean, you know, I, I was just thinking as we were talking about all of this, like, you know, hypothetically, he can, he is the president. He can do whatever he wants. Well, we just saw him do that. He just did that with the, with Afghanistan and you know I don't know how many people are going to die because he, you know, decided not to, to kill the peace plan.

Gabriel Snyder:            18:49               But I would bet that, you know, that that's a significant loss of life. That's gonna you know, that we can attribute to a spur of the moment decision. That from all the reporting that I've read so far is because he didn't like how he was going to look at the announcement ceremony. I think that also that, that kind of comes back to this need for story that people have, like the world makes a lot more sense if, you know, in a way to both, you know supporters and opponents. If Donald Trump has a secret plan and is executing it perfectly and we don't know it, but it's gonna, it's gonna change everything. You know, the more we know about, certainly Trump, how Trump operates and, and, and the more we learn about, you know, the, the election interference operations that, that Putin, that Russia ran is that there wasn't a plan.

Gabriel Snyder:            19:38               You know, it, this is, you know, they, they, they, they, they look like a tech startup. You, you've just tried what works, you've run some analytics and then you keep doing more of what works. What if, what's the, what's the Molotov cocktail theory that if you throw them all into a cocktail you, you, you, you, you might have a new problem but you'd certainly don't have your old problem. Like you know, it's, it's kind of, I kind of see that with, with Trump's like, OK, well I sometimes I think, Oh, well did he just do the stupid thing to make us stop talking about the last stupid thing? Like, you know, what's, what's, what is there, is there a plan? And it might not be any, any, any, any further developed than, than, you know, than what most people do when they fire off tweets.

Jonathan M Katz:          20:20               And that's, and that's and that's part of the issue where, you know, we've, we've talked about slippery slopes a couple of times. You know, one of the issues with Trump is that what seems like a slippery slope one day just becomes fait accompli the next Ezra Klein tweeted right after the firing of John Bolton that he said, "I've said it before, but the best thing about Donald Trump is that he seems instinctually skeptical of to war is hiring of Bolton was a strike against that. His firing of Bolton is a rare bright spot in his presidency." I have an idea of what he was talking about, which is that, and this kind of I think goes to the stupid show kind of idea that we're so fixated on Trump's antics in the white house. Trump's antics on air force one.

Jonathan M Katz:          21:07               Trump's antics on Twitter. That things like the fact that Trump has escalated the bombing of Somalia you know, Trump is killing more civilians than Obama did in Syria. Trump blocked, you know, the, the, the legislative attempts to end the war in Yemen. And of course, which just happened with Afghanistan, you were just talking about like, Trump is Trump's a Hawk. Which is why he hired John Bolton. That all I, I think that, I think the reason why as your client who's obviously not a stupid person was able to sort of get by with that thought in his head is that it's just, it's not front and center, the Wars, the imperialism. Even though, you know, with the exception of moments of like Trump, you know, trying to buy Greenland, which is I think a very clear moment of imperialism. You know.

Jonathan M Katz:          21:07               Trump's antics on Twitter. That things like the fact that Trump has escalated the bombing of Somalia you know, Trump is killing more civilians than Obama did in Syria. Trump blocked, you know, the, the, the legislative attempts to end the war in Yemen. And of course, which just happened with Afghanistan, you were just talking about like, Trump is Trump's a Hawk. Which is why he hired John Bolton. That all I, I think that, I think the reason why as your client who's obviously not a stupid person was able to sort of get by with that thought in his head is that it's just, it's not front and center, the Wars, the imperialism. Even though, you know, with the exception of moments of like Trump, you know, trying to buy Greenland, which is I think a very clear moment of imperialism. You know.

Gabriel Snyder:            22:02               And perhaps distraction.

Jonathan M Katz:          22:04              And perhaps -- but this is the thing with Trump, everything's distraction and everything's the crime. He commits crimes to distract from other crimes and the crimes that he's committing are also crimes. It's like he throws people at concentration camps to distract from other shit. But then there's also people in concentration camps and then he's doing other stuff to distract people. I mean, it's just, this is why you don't let a guy like that become president, basically.

Gabriel Snyder:            22:26               Right.

Gabriel Snyder:            22:27               All right. Well. Well, I think a lot of the, the notions of political power, the media's role in, in relationship to it is kind of goes back to the corporate age. When, you know, your former employer, the Associated Press, you know, the three net networks you know, handful of papers defined the news agenda. We now live in a multipolar world. So the, the, the, the, the, the, the most, the most concerning, the most concerning stuff that I've, you know, political polling and information that I, that I've been reading is looking at, you know, what, how is racism polling? And you know what, it's polling pretty good. That's the problem. What isn't understood right now fully understood by I think including people like, you know the, the reporters on the White House beat is understanding how they are now in this weaponized, you know, media landscape and, and they, and you have to think about not just what you're saying, but potentially how that will be used by other people to twist into their own agendas. And that is a very unnatural way for journalists to, to think if anything, I mean, you know, Trump, Trump is fundraising with Sharpies right now. He, you know, he is, if you go to his website, you can buy your own Trump Sharpie and it's got some like, you know, tagline about like, "make a liberal cry and, write and start Sharpies today."

Jonathan M Katz:          23:47               Tom Scocca wrote about that in, in Slate recently where he talked about, you know, governing, governing by owning the libs. Yeah. It's like, ultimately they're always just kidding there. It's, you know, and how do you, how do you deal, how do you deal with somebody? How do you, how do you deal with a clown, like, you know, in, in, in, in your role as, as sort of the, the, the contents of the New York times? You know, th th one of the accusations that get thrown at the times a lot and I think rightfully, and I think that, I think that a lot of people at the time still don't understand this word is the idea that they're normalizing the presidency first of all the times just needs somebody to teach them how to respond to criticism. Maybe that's something we could do at some point.

Gabriel Snyder:            24:36               Only by exercise, repeated exposure

Jonathan M Katz:          24:40               But by reporting on it in this kind of old respectful, you know, Mr. Trump sort of way it creates this image that I think still sells to a lot of people that like ultimately we have a precedent and ultimately he is in charge. And I mean like, you know, so what like what should they be doing? Like, like what like is, is should Maggie Haberman be doing her job differently? Should she be doing the job the same way? But it just should always be put on, on page eight 21 instead of, instead of a one.

Gabriel Snyder:            25:22               I kind of feel like the person who has the, the, the one of the world's worst jobs in journalism right now is Peter Baker, who seems to be the one who draws the Trump tweeted news duty the most often it's not just them, but it, it's one of the things that, that tries to be crazy is, you know, is the context free rep repetition of a, of a Trump tweet at one on one hand I get it, you know, president of United States says something is basically your textbook definition of newsworthy. Right. But they don't, and I think that goes back to sort of thinking about their, how does their work exist in the, in the landscape. And I just don't think they, they think about that

Jonathan M Katz:          26:04               Well, and it adds nothing. I mean, we're in an era now where anybody who wants to know what the president is tweeting can find out pretty easily. You don't need, you don't need you don't need stories that are just sort of announcing that he said it. I mean, you know, this was one of the things was that like, I was already sick of hearing from Trump and about Trump, you know, before the 2016 election. And, and, you know, I was furious. I'm still furious at CNN at a lot of places for sort of just giving him this open megaphone to use over and over again. And, and, and once he became president of the United States, it was very hard to turn that megaphone off because like you said, he's the present of the United States. Like, people need it. People need to know what he's saying.

Jonathan M Katz:          26:50               You know what I mean? For a lot of people in this country, the president is a personal and visceral threat. And he can be for me too at times. But it needs to be done in this context. I mean, I guess I, you know, I, I guess part of it is that it's sort of this idea that the show itself needs coverage. The show itself needs to be centered as opposed to putting the show in the larger context of, of what it's really part of. Like what it's actually doing. If you put the places that are getting ravaged by climate change at the center, if you put the people who are in the concentration camps at the center if, if you put the people who are suffering under his, you know, his, his narcissistic trade policy at the center the people who bombing in Somalia, I don't even remember the last time I read a story from Somalia anywhere by anybody.

Jonathan M Katz:          27:44               Then you can, then you can, you know, you can contextualize your story with a quote from the president you know, saying, well he said X, Y, Z, he tweeted this or that. You know what I, I think, I think that's one of the things that, that, that really, you know, gets to me about, about Haberman is reporting. And I've got, I've got a lot of respect for somebody who can put up with the kind of abuse that she does. And you know, although she's well compensated for it, the stories that she does that I think drive it drives me up the wall on a lot of other people are sort of the Trump whisperer stories where it's, you know you know, frustrated Donald is sitting in his room, you know, banging on the table, you know, for fresh, frustrated Donald is lashing out as his aides because he doesn't like the way that his fascism is being covered.

Jonathan M Katz:          28:36               And it's like, who the fuck needs that? It's like we don't need stories. Humanizing the president when I know more about what Donald Trump is thinking at any given moment than I do about almost anybody in my family and certainly anybody on my street, everybody, everybody in the country is living inside that man's head 24, seven. And we would all like to get out and, and I don't really see the point. And I think maybe that's part of the show that needs to get turned off is just this kind of, yeah, this, this soap opera of, of, of, of as the Donald turns. And, and start moving on to, to what the actual effects are of the policy. Because I think if more people knew about that, it would change the way they understand.

Gabriel Snyder:            29:18               I think the, the, there's two ends. I mean w number one, I do think you can turn the show off. I do think you can move out of his head. I think, I think there is, you know, I think that is a personal choice. And I think that if you take, make that personal choice, it just means like it unfollow him, unfollow people who make jokes about him, you know, like, like that, that re don't read, you know, the, those reality recap that, you know, Maggie Haberman does and at the post or rubber Costa was doing, I mean, again, in a different era you would say, Oh my gosh, this ticktock of all the moods and infighting inside the white house is, is, is a one political reporting material. But it, you know, you read them in this era and it is, it's, it's a, it's a, you know, a real Housewives recap. You know, except for it runs on a one. Yeah.

Jonathan M Katz:          30:04               We have been in an era for a while where everything gets boiled down into the election and everything in the election gets boiled down to the horse race and at the earliest possible date, the, the coverage of the next election starts. So without making this a horse race question, which I'm not interested in for the moment, regardless of who becomes president in 2021 or if it's Trump, again, the question is like, can we ever, will there ever be a point where we're talking about something other than the president? Again, regardless of who the president is. Like, could we ever have a situation where the president is only something you think about, you know, a couple of times a month or when there is a war or a natural disaster? Or is this just, is this our, is this our permanent reality now where this dumb reality show is on all the time and when, and when, when, when this, you know, hellish reboot of the apprentice finally gets canceled or the stars killed off. The, there'll just be some other show that's put on after it and politicians will have to be chosen specifically for their suitability, for their role in the show and not for their ability to govern.

Gabriel Snyder:            31:20               I bet. I bet. No, and for one reason I think that, that, that the belief that we have entered some new static era is an, is an artifact of the static era that we witnessed in the mid 20th century. Which I think is most best understood as a great aberration. That era is never coming back. And and, and if you, if anything, if anything that the last 20 years or 30 years has taught us is that the next 10 years will look nothing like the last day. And you know, and I think there are some trends that are, are helpful. I mean the, the, you know, being, being as old as I am, I, I've seen platforms rise and die before and, and I, and I don't think there's any reason to say that, you know, Facebook and Twitter and, you know, signal or whatever the kids are using is, is, is, is, is going to have the lasting power that, you know, that blogs or comments didn't have. And, and

Jonathan M Katz:          32:31               Although, I don't know, I don't know what ticktock politics are gonna look like. Is like every, every politician is going to have to sing the same song? Like they're going to have to, like, act out the same sketch as the other ones? I don't really under—I don't understand TikTok. That's a separate show.

Gabriel Snyder:            32:47               Sorry. I, I tried it. I, I laughed. I put it down. So I don't know if, you know, I'm not quite sure if there is another personality that is going to be able to, I don't know, make the world pay attention or make the country pay attention—well, the world pay attention in the same way that the mix of like, you know, love and hate makes everyone pay attention to Donald Trump. I do hope that he is a singular personality in that sense.

Jonathan M Katz:          33:23               Yeah. All right. Well we have covered quite a bit of ground here. Is there I don't know, is there anything else that you want to throw in?

Gabriel Snyder:            33:32               I, I feel like we, we have lived up to the, the, the name of the show and this feels like the long version of a, of a conversation, right?

Jonathan M Katz:          33:41               This was The Long Version! That was it. All right. Great. Well, I really appreciate your time.

Gabriel Snyder:            33:49               Yeah, glad to do it!

Jonathan M Katz:          33:49               I will look forward to seeing you continue to bring The Times to task.

Gabriel Snyder:            33:55               Alright. This was a lot of fun. Be well.

Jonathan M Katz:          33:58               That's it. Thanks for listening to The Long Version again. You can go and sign up, subscribe at katz.substack.com. I'll be back soon with another one -- written -- voiced -- fingerpainting -- we'll see. Take care.

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and author. Check out my latest piece on Puerto Rico’s disappearing schools in this week’s New York Times Magazine. My next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, traces the origins and contradictions of American empire.

Follow me on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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