Donald the Menace

But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

.. But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)

.. There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House said nothing at all about Russia’s actions until Nikki Haley, the United Nations ambassador, issued a condemnation late Thursday night to the Security Council. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?

.. Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?

.. No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

How Sean Spicer Wins by Losing

In a conventional administration, Spicer would have been shredded by now and recycled to the American Beverage Association to serve as its spokesman.

.. It’s the job of every presidential press secretary to finesse the misstatements and gaffes made by the boss. But no podium-pounder in recent memory has been asked to do what Spicer has been asked to do—apply a gloss to baseless conspiracy theories that have already been debunked—and retail it to reporters.

.. Reporters are onto the Spicer gambit already, none more so than NPR’s Mara Liasson. On Monday, she slyly asked him to name the unemployment rate, a frequent subject of Trump’s trutherism. On Tuesday, she again toyed with Spicer when she asked in a slightly exaggerated manner whether Trump’s allegation of massive voter fraud by 3 million to 5 million people doesn’t necessitate an investigation. “Maybe we will,” Spicer said, before drifting off into a free-associationland comment

.. How did the Generals win by losing? For one thing, nobody expected them to win. Their defeat was integral to the greater game plan, part of their service to a higher power, specifically the Globetrotters.

.. Nobody who understands Trump expects Spicer to beat the press in the briefing room as he defends his boss’ latest nutbag idea, only to keep the ball in plausible play until time is called and the cameras dim. Like the Generals, Spicer must put up a fight that’s good enough to deflect attention from the president

Populism, Real and Phony

Authoritarians with an animus against ethnic minorities are on the march across the Western world. They control governments in Hungary and Poland, and will soon take power in America. And they’re organizing across borders: Austria’s Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, has signed an agreement with Russia’s ruling party — and met with Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser.

.. And no, there won’t be a “terrific” replacement: Republican plans would cover only a fraction as many people as the law they would displace, and they’d be different people — younger, healthier and richer.

.. In other words, the movement that’s about to take power here isn’t the same as Europe’s far-right movements. It may share their racism and contempt for democracy; but European populism is at least partly real, while Trumpist populism is turning out to be entirely fake, a scam sold to working-class voters who are in for a rude awakening.

.. This epic bait-and-switch, this betrayal of supporters, certainly offers Democrats a political opportunity. But you know that there will be huge efforts to shift the blame. These will include claims that the collapse of health care is really President Obama’s fault; claims that the failure of alternatives is somehow the fault of recalcitrant Democrats; and an endless series of attempts to distract the public.

.. Expect more Carrier-style stunts that don’t actually help workers but dominate a news cycle.

.. it’s worth remembering what authoritarian regimes traditionally do to shift attention from failing policies, namely, find some foreigners to confront.

Trump Lavishes Praise on General as He Nears National Security Picks

“What a career — we are going to see what happens, but he is the real deal,” the president-elect added.

.. As head of the Central Command, General Mattis was heavily involved in plans to counter Iran’s military and protect the sea lanes in the Persian Gulf.

.. Before attending church with Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump once again condemned the cast of “Hamilton” for its onstage appeal on Friday night to Mr. Pence — who was in the audience — to uphold the rights of a “diverse America.”

“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior,” Mr. Trump wrote.

.. the president-elect’s Twitter complaints about “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live” provided a distraction.

That may have been the intention. Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts diverted attention from other issues, including a $25 million settlement in a lawsuit against Trump University, concerns about conflicts of interest involving the president-elect’s business dealings

.. Mr. Trump reacted by calling the cast members “very rude and insulting” to Mr. Pence and claimed that they “couldn’t even memorize lines.” He later deleted the Twitter post about the cast’s supposed faulty memory.

Phone Makers Could Cut Off Drivers. So Why Don’t They?

In Apple’s case, the evidence shows, the company has a patent for technology designed to prevent texting while driving, but it has not deployed it.

.. Generally, companies have taken the position that text-blocking technology is embryonic and unreliable. They argue that they cannot shut down a driver’s service without the potential of mistakenly shutting off a passenger’s phone or that of someone riding on a train or bus.

.. Even if the technology worked to perfection, would people accept having their service blocked? After all, the idea of mobile phone service is to let people communicate on the go.

.. Apple says it has taken other steps to address distracted driving. Its CarPlay integrates with some cars so drivers can use voice commands to control some functions of the car and the phone, including letting them orally compose text messages and listen to incoming ones. The technology, Apple says, “allows you to stay focused on the road.”

.. Further, she said, it wouldn’t make sense to turn off all phone functions, like maps or navigation, that drivers rely on.

I Used to Be a Human Being

An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.

By Andrew Sullivan

But the rewards were many: an audience of up to 100,000 people a day; a new-media business that was actually profitable; a constant stream of things to annoy, enlighten, or infuriate me; a niche in the nerve center of the exploding global conversation; and a way to measure success — in big and beautiful data — that was a constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego. If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

.. So much of the technology was irreversible

.. At your desk at work, or at home on your laptop, you disappeared down a rabbit hole of links and resurfaced minutes (or hours) later to reencounter the world. But the smartphone then went and made the rabbit hole portable, inviting us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we might be doing. Information soon penetrated every waking moment of our lives.

.. We almost forget that ten years ago, there were no smartphones, and as recently as 2011, only a third of Americans owned one. Now nearly two-thirds do. That figure reaches 85 percent when you’re only counting young adults.

.. 46 percent of Americans told Pew surveyors last year a simple but remarkable thing: They could not live without one.

.. Distractions arrive in your brain connected to people you know (or think you know), which is the genius of social, peer-to-peer media. Since our earliest evolution, humans have been unusually passionate about gossip, which some attribute to the need to stay abreast of news among friends and family as our social networks expanded.

.. A regular teen Snapchat user, as the Atlantic recently noted, can have exchanged anywhere between 10,000 and even as many as 400,000 snaps with friends.

.. This, evolutionary psychologists will attest, is fatal. When provided a constant source of information and news and gossip about each other — routed through our social networks — we are close to helpless.

.. The silence, it became apparent, was an integral part of these people’s lives — and their simple manner of movement, the way they glided rather than walked, the open expressions on their faces, all fascinated me. What were they experiencing, if not insane levels of boredom?

.. Attached to my phone, I had been accompanied for so long by verbal and visual noise, by an endless bombardment of words and images, and yet I felt curiously isolated. Among these meditators, I was alone in silence and darkness, yet I felt almost at one with them.

.. He had escaped, it seemed to me, what we moderns understand by time. There was no race against it; no fear of wasting it; no avoidance of the tedium that most of us would recoil from. And as I watched my fellow meditators walk around, eyes open yet unavailable to me, I felt the slowing of the ticking clock, the unwinding of the pace that has all of us in modernity on a treadmill till death. I felt a trace of a freedom all humans used to know and that our culture seems intent, pell-mell, on forgetting.

.. But of course, as I had discovered in my blogging years, the family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is.

If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it.

Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

.. By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact.

.. A phone call could take longer; it could force you to encounter that person’s idiosyncrasies or digressions or unexpected emotional needs.

.. We hide our vulnerabilities, airbrushing our flaws and quirks; we project our fantasies onto the images before us.

.. GPS, for example, is a godsend for finding our way around places we don’t know. But, as Nicholas Carr has noted, it has led to our not even seeing, let alone remembering, the details of our environment

.. We became who we are as a species by mastering tools, making them a living, evolving extension of our whole bodies and minds. What first seems tedious and repetitive develops into a skill — and a skill is what gives us humans self-esteem and mutual respect.

.. Indeed, the modest mastery of our practical lives is what fulfilled us for tens of thousands of years — until technology and capitalism decided it was entirely dispensable.

.. Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.

.. But I was also escaping a home where my mother had collapsed with bipolar disorder after the birth of my younger brother and had never really recovered.

.. how it had made my own spasms of adolescent depression even more acute, how living with that kind of pain from the most powerful source of love in my life had made me the profoundly broken vessel I am.

.. The two words “extreme suffering” won the naming contest in my head. And when I had my 15-minute counseling session with my assigned counselor a day later, the words just kept tumbling out. After my panicked, anguished confession, he looked at me, one eyebrow raised, with a beatific half-smile. “Oh, that’s perfectly normal,” he deadpanned warmly. “Don’t worry. Be patient. It will resolve itself.” And in time, it did.

.. We didn’t go from faith to secularism in one fell swoop, he argues. Certain ideas and practices made others not so much false as less vibrant or relevant.

.. The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.

.. The mania of our online lives reveals this: We keep swiping and swiping because we are never fully satisfied.

.. The hidden God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures spoke often by not speaking. And Jesus, like the Buddha, revealed as much by his silences as by his words. He was a preacher who yet wandered for 40 days in the desert; a prisoner who refused to defend himself at his trial.

.. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades.

.. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.

.. It’s also hard to explain, it seems to me, the sudden explosion of interest in and tolerance of cannabis in the past 15 years without factoring in the intensifying digital climate. Weed is a form of self-medication for an era of mass distraction, providing a quick and easy path to mellowed contemplation in a world where the ample space and time necessary for it are under siege.

.. If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary.

Trump Is Getting Even Trumpier!

He doesn’t really speak in sentences or paragraphs. His speeches are punctuated by five- or six-word jabs that are sort of strung together by connections that can only be understood through chaos theory: “They want the wall … I dominated with the evangelicals … I won in a landslide … We can’t be the stupid people anymore.”

Occasionally Trump will attempt a sentence longer than eight words, but no matter what subject he starts the sentence with, by the end he has been pulled over to the subject of himself.
.. Here’s an example from the Mike Pence announcement speech: “So one of the primary reasons I chose Mike was I looked at Indiana, and I won Indiana big.” There’s sort of a gravitational narcissistic pull that takes command whenever he attempts to utter a compound thought.
.. McKay Coppins recalls the fusillade of abuse he received from Trump after writing an unflattering profile (he called Mar-a-Lago a “nice, if slightly dated, hotel”).
Trump was so inflamed he tweeted retaliation at Coppins several times a day and at odd hours, calling him a “dishonest slob” and “true garbage with no credibility.” The attacks went on impressively for over two years, which must rank Coppins in the top 100,000 on the list of people Donald Trump resents.
.. But Trump could not keep his attention focused on this through line — since the subject was someone else — so every 30 seconds or so he would shoot off on a resentment-filled bragging loop.
.. you had to do a rough diagram of the Trump remarks it would be something like this: Pence … I was right about Iraq … Pence … Hillary Clinton is a crooked liar … I was right about “Brexit” … Pence … Hillary Clintons ads are filled with lies … We’re going to bring back the coal industry … Christians love me … Pence … I talk to statisticians … Pence is good looking My hotel in Washington is really coming along fantastically … Pence.
.. Donald Trump is in his moment of greatest triumph, but he seems more resentful and embattled than ever.
.. If the string of horrific events continues, Trump could win the presidency. And he could win it even though he has less and less control over himself.