Trump and Life in the Reality-Based Community

I’ve been thinking about a moment I think presaged the rise of Trump — whose latest non-reality-based utterance is here:

Ford says Trump’s right. That’s because the company had no plans to move the plant to Mexico.

I don’t think Trump’s thinking big enough here. There’s a lot more he could be taking credit for.

“Just got a call from the man in the moon. Since I won, he no longer plans to smash into Earth. Will join cabinet. Huge! #MAGA”

We here in the reality-based community mean that as an attempt at humor and comment — not a report of something that actually happened out there in the perceivable world. You know, suggesting something absurd as a way of casting light on someone else’s grandiosity and distortions.

That phrase “reality-based community” came to mind recently when thinking about our soon-to-be commander-in-chief’s frequent non-fact-based pronouncements. He’s got a talent, and many of us who thought we grasped what was going on underestimated its power and appeal.

Here’s the origin of that saying, “reality-based community,” which comes from a 2004 feature by journalist Ron Suskind in The New York Times Magazine. Suskind’s piece was examining how George W. Bush arrived at his instinctive certainty that the disastrous course along which he had launched the nation — the war in Iraq — was true and correct.

Along the way, Suskind reported, he met with a Bush aide who gave a glimpse into the president’s and the administration’s approach to governing:

“… Then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Of course, there’s an unspeakable arrogance to that dismissal of those imprisoned in the world of “discernible reality” — not least because of the implicit contempt for the hundreds of thousands of men and women deployed again and again to confront the deadly violence of that reality.

So now, we’re confronted with a similar but much more directly expressed arrogance and dismissal of discernible facts. I think the challenge is to keep your eyes open, to believe what you’re seeing, and to call out the illusions we’re encouraged to see as reality and the reality we’re urged to think is just talk.


Somewhere over there, beyond the horizon, beyond the four-buck-a-gallon gasoline and the foreclosure crisis and the campaign sniping over what it means to be rich and who owns how many houses, there’s a war on. To date this month:

18 U.S. troops killed in Iraq. Ten of those deaths are listed as “non-hostile.”

191 Iraqis killed, including 158 civilians.

18 U.S. and 24 other coalition troops killed in Afghanistan. Scores of civilians, too, judging from the latest reports.

My Rights, Ably Defended

It’s sort of like Mao said: Free speech grows out of the barrel of a gun. The latest reminder comes from General David Petraeus (a.k.a., the Lafayette of Iraq), who responded to a negative ad from this way:

“I’m not so sure the infamous MoveOn ad was smartly done, but I found Petraeus’s reaction today interesting: “Needless to say, to state the obvious, I disagree with the message of those who are exercising the First Amendment right that generations of soldiers have sought to preserve for Americans.”

A friend puts it better than me: “I grow so weary of that refrain, heard from the military any time any civilian even hints at criticizing these sainted men and women. If this stunningly stupid war had ANYTHING to do with preserving my right to free speech, I’d be a little more forgiving of the rhetorical ploy. But please, General, don’t insult me and don’t embarrass yourself.”

And the same also sends this, from Slate — “Lost Voices“:

“On Monday, while Gen. David Petraeus prepared to testify before two House committees about the successes of the surge, seven of his soldiers died when their transport vehicle overturned in a highway accident west of Baghdad.

“Two of those soldiers, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, and Sgt. Omar Mora, 28, were part of another group of seven—the seven noncommissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division who wrote a brave, well-reasoned op-ed in the Aug. 19 New York Times, calling the prospect of victory ‘far-fetched’ and appraisals of progress ‘surreal.’ ”

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Sales Call

By way of MK: Mark Fiore’s “My Pet Legacy.”

Stop holding your breath: Make sure you talk to your kids and grandkids about Iraq, because someday, they’ll have to talk to their kids and grandkids about it; it would be great if they could understand how we allowed this whole thing to get started. So now we’re waiting for The Report on how things are going Over There. It’s another exercise in our national game of “who are you going to believe — me or your own eyes?” We’re not having a national debate or even a discussion about this anymore. We’re the captive audience for a national sales pitch. The war’s proponents are marketing the war to the rest of us, the reluctant buyers, with the underlying argument that they’re selling the only product we can possibly buy and that, even if it looks, smells, and tastes awful and the price is outrageous, we’d better sign up for a lifetime supply if we know what’s good for us. And besides, interest-only financing is available. So sure, let’s go ahead and do it; it’s an investment in the future, we hope, and maybe we can refinance next year.

Low, low easy payments: Like most buy-now, pay-later schemes, this one’s the gift that keeps on giving. Somehow, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get ahead of the payments and the upkeep. How long can this go on? Well, you might ask Israel. Mighty on the battlefield. Stalwart for democracy. Prosperous and inventive economically. And utterly unable to free itself from the deserts of its victory in the Six-Day War (if it took six days, why is it still going on?). That has all worked out beautifully for everyone, including we, the people who have dumped more than $100 billion into the Israeli project in the last 40 years. The Palestinians have rubble aplenty to go with a feeble, corrupt and blinkered leadership, and the Israelis have a militarized “democracy” that can only limit the unrest on its fringes by isolating the Palestinians with walls and separate highways. It’s a beautiful picture. Consider us sold.

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U.S. Americans, Helping the Iraq

So by now everyone has seen or at least heard about our national dunce of the week: Lauren Caitlin Upton, the South Carolina beauty queen whose brain shut down when she was asked to weigh in on why so many Americans can’t find the United States on a map.

The transcript: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because … ah some … people out there in our nation don’t have maps and … ah … I believe that e-education such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should … our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or, or should help south Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future. … ” (YouTube video here.)

Sure, it’s kind of a funny moment, though less so when you realize that Upton nearly won anyway (she still looked great in her bathing suit) and that when she was brought on NBC’s “Today” show — NBC’s parent company also owns the Miss Teen USA pageant — to talk about the faux pas, she was smothered with treacly understanding for her moment of difficulty. With three or four days to think about it, Upton came up with this answer: “”Well personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map. I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. And if the statistics are correct, I believe there should be more emphasis on geography.”

Yeah, finding your native country on a map — that’s a real geographical triumph. And on top of that, she’s heard of Iraq and South Africa and wants to help them. She’s practically ready for a cabinet position. Or a network news anchor’s job.

That thought occurs after witnessing Katie Couric’s performance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” this morning. Couric, who has piloted the “The CBS Evening News” into a death spiral, is in Iraq to a) cover the big story — the upcoming report on the effectiveness of the troop buildup and b) to prove she and her show are heavyweights.

Tragically, serious news consumers no longer expect the the major TV networks or their cable counterparts to be sources for more than the quickest, sloppiest (and in the case of Fox News, grotesquely spun) sketches of a story. On Sunday, Couric demonstrated the state of the art: With the obligatory Baghdad skyline shot in the background, she began with an overly general background statement about the state of affairs in Iraq, including a badly flawed summary of the history of the conflict in Fallujuah (she skipped over entirely the battle for the city in November 2004, probably the bloodiest single engagement of the war so far).

Then, she got to the meat of her report: She essentially parroted everything our commanding general and his briefers told her and showed her during her “reporting.” The lack of skepticism — not the political kind, but the natural journalistic kind that would demand to know what one isn’t being shown, what facts the general and his staff don’t want us to see — was breathtaking. To her minor credit, Couric allowed that she was seeing “what the U.S. military wants her to see.” But that didn’t stop her from concluding that “there are definitely areas where the situation is improving.” ( has a post on Couric’s performance, complete with video clip).

Me, I’ll take the South Carolina Fumbler over the make-believe newswoman. The Fumbler will do no damage in the end, unlike the faux journalist who drops in to tell us that things are looking up in Iraq without even the pretense of some independent fact-finding.

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Sunday Notes

What Iraq Needs: “In the history of Iraq, more than 7,000 years, there have always been strong leaders,” said [Sheik Muhammad Bakr Khamis al-Suhail, a respected Shiite neighborhood leader in Baghdad. “We need strong rulers or dictators like Franco, Hitler, even Mubarak. We need a strong dictator, and a fair one at the same time, to kill all extremists, Sunni and Shiite.”

–“A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory,” Edward Wong, The New York Times

Hogwash (R.I.P. Fred): “Hogzilla,” the behemoth feral porker recently killed by an 11-year-old wielding a .50-caliber pistol — this is still a great country — turns out not to have been wild. And not to have been named Hogzilla. His former owner, who bought him as a present for his wife a few years back and sold him to the hunting plantation where he met his end, called him Fred.

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Guest Observation

“… The U.S. military announced that a total of 10 American soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and a helicopter crash on Memorial Day, making May [with 116 troops dead] the third deadliest month of the war [for the United States].” An Associated Press Iraq war roundup

“… Patroclus fought like dreaming:

His head thrown back, his mouth–wide as a shrieking mask–

Sucked at the air to nourish his infuriated mind

And seemed to draw the Trojans onto him,

To lock them round his waist, red water, washed against his chest,

To lay their tired necks against his sword like birds.

–Is it a god? Divine? Needing no tenderness?–

Yet instantly they touch, he butts them,

Cuts them back:

–Kill them!

My sweet Patroclus,

–Kill them!

As many as you can,


Coming behind you through the dust you felt

–What was it?–felt creation part, and then


Who had been patient with you


His hand came from the east,

And in his wrist lay all eternity;

And every atom of his mythic weight

Was poised between his fist and bent left leg.

Your eyes lurched out. Achilles’ helmet rang

Far and away beneath the cannon-bones of Trojan horses,

And you were footless … staggering … amazed …

Between the clumps of dying, dying yourself,

Dazed by the brilliance in your eyes,

The noise–like weirs heard far away–

Dabbling your astounded fingers

In the vomit on your chest.

And all the Trojans lay and stared at you;

Propped themselves up and stared at you;

Feeling themselves as blest as you felt cursed. …”

–From “War Music: An Account of Books 16 to 19 of Homer’s Iliad

By Christopher Logue, Copyright 1981

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Your Tax Dollars at Work

The PBS NewsHour aired a nicely done report yesterday on the much publicized estimate by two noted economists that the Iraq war may ultimately cost the United States up to $2 trillion. The segment did a good job breaking down and explaining the estimate, published by Columbia’s Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard’s Linda Bilmes in 2005 and 2006. Where the report was lacking, perhaps, is discussing what the cost might mean down the road, though it did point out that the money we’ve spent already on Iraq, nearly $430 billion as of this moment, would have paid several times over for rebuilding every school in the United States or would have made a nice down payment on the “unsolvable” problems with the Social Security system.

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Surrender Date

Opponents of the congressional effort to attach an operational timetable to new funding for our Iraq War and World Improvement Project (IWWIP — trademark pending) have long since adopted a catchy label for the proposed troop withdrawal schedule. Led by the likes of John McCain, the critics condemn timetables as setting a “surrender date” in the war.

McCain and the critics have one thing right: It’s messy for Congress to step into managing the war this way. But there’s nothing unconstitutional or unprecedented about it — in fact, the Constitution gives Congress the power and responsibility, by way of its control of funding, to participate in warmaking decisions on the people’s behalf. The “no surrender” types apparently would continue to cede their power and responsibility to an executive who has proven careless and arrogant in its exercise. The timetable critics’ alternative — to continue writing blank checks and waiting for the executive’s current plan, or the next, or the one after that, to work — is an extension of the same plan that’s killed thousands of U.S. troops, tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and laid waste to a place that was supposed to turn into the Eden of Mideast democracy.

The “no surrender” types speak of the awful consequences of leaving Iraq “before our work is done.” What I’d like to hear someone in Congress talk about is the awful consequences of surrendering again and again to a president who ignores both the lessons of experience and the clear voice of his people.

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What Kind of Democracy?

On NPR this morning, a brief feature on the family of Andrew Bacevich, a young Boston University graduate and U.S. Army lieutenant killed last week in Iraq. His death drew special attention because his father, also Andrew Bacevich, a former Army officer and military and diplomatic historian at Boston University, is both conservative and a penetrating critic of the Iraq war.

The elder Bacevich published a book a couple years ago called “The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.” Among other things, it’s a critique of the rise of an “imperial” military culture in the wake of Vietnam, the military’s elevation to a superior moral status, especially in the wake of 9/11, and the current Bush’s attempt to adopt the military as a special constituency. (Here’s an excerpt.)

In the NPR story, Bacevich reflected briefly on his son and his own role as a citizen:

” ‘One of the things that I’ve been really struggling with over the last several days is to understand my own responsibility for my son’s death,” Bacevich said.

“Bacevich says he thought his responsibility as a citizen was to give voice to his concerns about the war. His loss, he says, has made him question the lasting value of his criticism.

” ‘What kind of democracy is this when the people do speak, and the people’s voice is unambiguous, but nothing happens?’ ”

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