In “A Chill Wind Blows” Mr. Blow says that Trump’s rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty. Mr. Cohen, in “The Right Asian Deal,” says Congress should ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and that its failure would be a big victory for China. In “Building Children’s Brains” Mr. Kristof says that in order to get more kids to college we should invest in infants. Ms. Collins, in “Tightwad Trump Explodes,” says Donald, just show us the money for veterans. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.
He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.
Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.
But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.
At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”
This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)
But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.
This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.
Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:
One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.
Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?
These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.
In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:
“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”
Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.
James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
And that extends to the country’s politicians.
This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.
Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.
Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Ho Chi Minh City:
An American who has been a resident here for a few years said to me the other day: “You know, they still look at us here the way we want to be looked at. America equals opportunity, entrepreneurship and success. That’s not true in so many places anymore.”
Four decades after the war, in one of the world’s consoling mysteries, the United States enjoys an overwhelming approval rating in Vietnam, reflected in the outpouring of enthusiasm for President Obama during his three-day visit last month. In this fast-growing country of 94 million people, about one-third of them on Facebook, America is at once the counterbalance to the age-old enemy, China, and an emblem of the prosperity young people seek.
The best way to kick Vietnamese aspirations in the teeth, turn the country sour on the United States, and undermine the stabilizing American role in Asia, would be for Congress to fail to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s signature trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim countries including Vietnam but not China.
If T.P.P. falls apart, China wins. It’s as simple as that. Nonratification would signal that Beijing gets to dictate policy in the region, and the attempt to integrate Vietnam comprehensively in a rules-based international economy fails.
Obama’s decision to spend so much time here was an indication of the importance he attaches to this cornerstone of his so-called Asia “pivot.” The agreement — with countries accounting for close to 40 percent of the global economy — anchors the United States as a Pacific power and reinforces its critical offsetting role in Asia as China rises. By visiting Ho Chi Minh City and Hiroshima, Japan, Obama also made a powerful statement that past enmities can be overcome in the name of mutual prosperity — a signal to Cuba and Myanmar, among others.
But such long-term transformations, pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty in Asia, are not the stuff of an American election characterized by anger above all. Among the popular one-liners is this: International trade deals steal American jobs. Not one of the three surviving candidates backs the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hillary Clinton was for it — and right — before she was against it — and wrong. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are simply against it, big time.
The trade agreement — with countries including Peru, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia — has flaws, of course. There are issues it does not address, like currency manipulation. Legitimate concerns have been raised about the impact that patent enforcement will have on affordable medicines.
The Obama administration has acknowledged that some manufacturing and low-skilled jobs will be lost, but argued this will be offset by job growth in higher-wage, export-reliant industries. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, in a report issued this year, found the accord would stimulate job “churn” but was “not likely to affect overall employment in the United States,” while delivering significant gains in real incomes and annual exports.
What the agreement will do, as Clinton noted when she backed the deal, is deliver “better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others.” It obliges countries like Vietnam to allow workers to form independent unions; it requires a minimum wage and higher health standards; it bans child labor and forced labor. It binds Vietnam to countries where the rule of law is arbiter rather than authoritarian diktat.
At a time when a drought in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s rice bowl, and a massive fish kill along the coast have sparked protests and sharpened concerns about global warming, the agreement is also designed to combat overfishing, illegal logging and other environmental scourges. It commits countries to shift to low-emissions economies.
To which, all Donald Trump has to say in a recent article in USA Today is that T.P.P. is “the biggest betrayal in a long line of betrayals” of American workers. But when pressed in a Republican debate on which parts of the deal were badly negotiated, he could only cite currency manipulation and “the way China and India and almost everybody takes advantage of the United States.”
China and India, of course, are not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
As for Clinton, she believed in 2012 that the T.P.P. “sets the gold standard in trade agreements,” before deciding last October that “I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.” The best that can be said about this is that it was probably a tactical cave-in she would reverse if she wins.
Developed economies face huge problems that have produced this season of rage. But the world has enjoyed growing prosperity over decades because of continuously reduced trade barriers. A reversal would be the road to conflict. Like the best trade accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is also a strategic boost to liberty and stability in the fastest-growing part of the globe. Congress should resist populist ranting and ratify it.
Next up we have Mr. Kristof:
First, a quiz: What’s the most common “vegetable” eaten by American toddlers?
Answer: The French fry.
The same study that unearthed that nutritional tragedy also found that on any given day, almost half of American toddlers drink soda or similar drinks, possibly putting the children on a trajectory toward obesity or diabetes.
But for many kids, the problems start even earlier. In West Virginia, one study found, almost one-fifth of children are born with alcohol or drugs in their system. Many thus face an uphill struggle from the day they are born.
Bear all this in mind as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump battle over taxes, minimum wages and whether to make tuition free at public universities. Those are legitimate debates, but the biggest obstacles and greatest inequality often have roots early in life:
If we want to get more kids in universities, we should invest in preschools.
Actually, preschool may be a bit late. Brain research in the last dozen years underscores that the time of life that may shape adult outcomes the most is pregnancy through age 2 or 3.
“The road to college attainment, higher wages and social mobility in the United States starts at birth,” notes James Heckman, a Nobel-winning economist at the University of Chicago. “The greatest barrier to college education is not high tuitions or the risk of student debt; it’s in the skills children have when they first enter kindergarten.”
Heckman is not a touchy-feely bleeding heart. He’s a math wiz renowned for his work on econometrics. But he is focusing his work on early education for disadvantaged children because he sees that as perhaps the highest-return public investment in the world today.
He measures the economic savings from investments in early childhood — because less money is spent later on juvenile courts, prisons, health care and welfare — and calculates that early-education programs for needy kids pay for themselves several times over.
One of the paradoxes of American politics is that this is an issue backed by overwhelming evidence, enjoying bipartisan support, yet Washington is stalled on it. Gallup finds that Americans by more than two to one favor universal pre-K, and Clinton and Sanders are both strong advocates. Trump has made approving comments as well (although online searches of both “Trump” and “preschool” mostly turn up comparisons of him to a preschooler).
To be clear, what’s needed is not just education but also help for families beginning in pregnancy, to reduce the risk that children will be born with addictions and to increase the prospect that they will be raised with lots of play and conversation. (By age 4, a child of professionals has heard 30 million more words than a child on welfare.)
The best metric of child poverty may have to do not with income but with how often a child is spoken and read to.
So it’s in early childhood that the roots of inequality lie. A book from the Russell Sage Foundation, “Too Many Children Left Behind,” notes that 60 to 70 percent of the achievement gap between rich and poor kids is already evident by kindergarten. The book recommends investing in early childhood, for that’s when programs often have the most impact.
It is true that cognitive gains from preschool seem to fade by the third grade, but there are differences in life outcomes that persist. Many years later, these former pre-K students are less likely to be arrested, to drop out of high school, to be on welfare and to be jobless.
A wave of recent research in neuroscience explains why early childhood is so critical: That’s when the brain is developing most quickly. Children growing up in poverty face high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which changes the architecture of the brain, compromising areas like the amygdala and hippocampus.
A new collection of essays from Harvard Education Press, “The Leading Edge of Early Childhood Education,” says that this “toxic stress” from poverty impairs brain circuits responsible for impulse control, working memory, emotional regulation, error processing and healthy metabolic functioning. Early-childhood programs protect those young brains.
So in this presidential campaign, let’s move beyond the debates about free tuition and minimum wages to push something that might matter even more: early-childhood programs for needy kids.
“It is in the first 1,000 days of life that the stage is set for fulfilling individual potential,” writes Roger Thurow in his powerful and important new book on leveraging early childhood, “The First 1,000 Days.” “If we want to shape the future, to truly improve the world, we have 1,000 days to do it, mother by mother, child by child.”
America’s education wars resemble World War I, with each side entrenched and exhausted but no one making much progress. So let’s transcend the stalemate and focus on investing in America’s neediest kids.
We rescued banks because they were too big to fail. Now let’s help children who are too small to fail.
Well, Mr. Kristof, maybe YOU can get the Forced Birthers to start giving a crap about children once they’re in the post-fetal stage. You know, born. Last but not least we have Ms. Collins:
Donald Trump has a simple reason for his long delay in explaining what happened to the money he raised for veterans’ charities: He didn’t want any publicity.
“Because I wanted to make this out of the goodness of my heart,” he told a press conference in which he castigated reporters for forcing him to provide details.
Of all conceivable explanations, “too self-effacing” ranks somewhere below “temporarily kidnapped by space aliens.” Let’s look elsewhere. The best possibilities seem to be:
B) Tendency to make things up.
C) Difficulty in getting a disorganized, minimally qualified, perpetually short-handed staff to keep track of the cash.
Obviously, we’re going for all three.
The story so far: Trump was supposed to do a Republican primary debate in January on Fox News, a network with which he was feuding. So he staged his own counter-event, a much-publicized fund-raiser for veterans’ charities. The highlight was an announcement that the veterans were getting $6 million, including a $1 million donation from the Donald himself.
Time passed. And he wouldn’t say where the money went.
People, I know you’re tired of hearing Donald Trump stories, but did you want the reporters to just drop the subject? Trump certainly did. Particularly when it came to his own personal million-dollar contribution, which did not actually materialize until the news media, particularly The Washington Post, started asking questions. Many questions. Which went unanswered.
“Oh, I’m totally accountable, but I didn’t want to have credit for it,” Trump said.
The money was turned over to a veterans’ charity about, um, a week ago.
We have heard a lot from Trump about his passion for veterans lately. It’s an intense interest that goes back at least … a year. Before that, his major involvement with the military appeared to be getting a deferment for “a foot thing” when he was eligible for the draft during the war in Vietnam.
It is not unusual for presidential candidates to have avoided military service. Bill Clinton did. Bernie Sanders did. Most of Congress did. Dick Cheney got himself five deferments — and, O.K., when it came to Dick Cheney we took offense. But in general, we’ve gotten used to nonveterans as the political norm.
One of the very few major American politicians who did serve, under fire, is John McCain, and one of the first things Trump did in his race for president was to make fun of McCain’s years as a prisoner of war. (“I like people who weren’t captured.”) He also portrayed himself as a guy who had done way, way more to help veterans than John McCain, a claim that was … oh Lord, let’s not even go there.
The donations to Trump’s January fund-raiser were supposed to be distributed through the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which had been around for years without previously making veterans a priority, or even an afterthought.
We will not bother to point out that Donald J. Trump himself did not have a history of being a big donor to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. In fact, Trump never seemed to give much money to anybody. This appears to be one of the most tightfisted billionaires since Scrooge McDuck.
Unless he’s not a billionaire at all. If Trump ever releases his tax records and it turns out that he’s only worth, say, $755,000, he’ll deserve a big apology from those of us who thought he was a self-centered rich guy with zero interest in sharing his wealth with the less fortunate. Honestly, I will be the first to raise my hand.
But about the veterans. Trump brings up his commitment to our fighting men and women all the time now. Really, the only person he talks about more than the American soldier is Bobby Knight, the former basketball coach who is famous for roughing up his players and endorsing Donald Trump for president.
On Memorial Day weekend, Trump spoke to a gathering of veterans and bikers in Washington, and managed to both drop Bobby Knight’s name and complain about the small crowd. “I thought this would be like Dr. Martin Luther King, where the people will be lined up from here all the way to the Washington Monument,” he said.
On Tuesday, Trump said he was just joking. Let’s accept that at face value and agree that he simply made a humorous remark in which he compared himself to a slain civil rights leader.
He also insisted the media was conspiring to undercount the attendance: “So instead of saying Trump made a speech in front of a packed crowd they said Trump was disappointed.” Have we ever had a president who referred to himself in the third person? The answer, as a number of readers have been kind enough to point out is — yes! We had Richard Nixon.
See if that makes you feel any better.