How Trump Broke Campaign Norms But Still Won The Election
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, James Fallows, has followed the presidential campaign and is analyzing the results from several different angles. He's been a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine for 35 years. Since May, he's kept a daily blog called - since May, he's kept a blog called "The Daily Trump," which he describes as a time capsule chronicling how Donald Trump has broken the norms that applied to previous major party candidates.
And for the past three years, Fallows and his wife Deborah have worked in what they call the American Futures project. They've made numerous trips flying around the country in their single-engine propeller plane - he's a pilot - stopping in small cities and towns that are suffering from some kind of economic, political, environmental or other hardship so that they could talk with people about the issues that are having an impact on their lives. Fallows is also the author of several books about immigration, the media, China and the rise of East Asian economies.
James Fallows, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's no secret that you opposed Trump. But you've been a national correspondent for 35 years. You've traveled to small towns around the country. I'm going to ask you to stand back and analyze some of the unprecedented changes that we've witnessed. Let's start with what do you think you learned about America - about the American electorate - that you didn't know?
JAMES FALLOWS: I think what was startling to many, many people about last night's results, and I think even to people on Donald Trump's team because their tone through the afternoon on coverage was the tone you associate with people who think things are running against them. So I think that what surprised them and most other people was that number one, all of the normal indicators by which we have some sense of how things are going to go - the exit polls and the tracking polls and the demographic analysis and all those things - none of those seem to give a correct event. When there was such a large swelling of Latino turnout in early votes - especially in Arizona and California and Nevada and Florida - that looked as if that would be a significant indicator for Hillary Clinton, as it was in Nevada but not elsewhere.
So I think everybody learned just an operational sense that we were operating in the dark in terms of knowledge of modern elections. And on the larger cultural sense, the fact that the American electorate chose - through the Electoral College, apparently not through the popular plurality - somebody who was unlike anybody else who had reached - previously reached this point in political consideration that also will give us things to learn about our government, our people, our system and things we'll be talking about for quite awhile.
GROSS: Did your travels around the country - travels to small towns and small cities - did they prepare you for the large Trump turnout?
FALLOWS: Yes and no. And I think I have a different view of the middle of America, where a lot of the Trump majority came from, than I might have if I'd been covering this from D.C. - where I normally live - or from from New York or California or elsewhere. Because the tone of Donald Trump's campaigning was intentionally so angry and intentionally so discontented and intentionally based on the idea that America had been taken away from its rightful possessors and needed to be restored, you might infer that's the way it seems in daily life and many of the places that voted for him.
But very recently, for example, my wife Deb and I were in Dodge City, Kan. It's Western Kansas. It's a conservative part of a conservative state that reliably votes Republican. And if you ask people how they were going to vote nationally, most of them would have said they're going to vote for Trump. But if you looked at the fabric of their daily life in that town, you would see, for example, that it's become an almost majority Latino town now. And that people had no time for the idea of building a wall because they needed the Latino workforce for many of their industries. It's a town that has voted a large tax increase on itself for permanent infrastructure improvements. It's a town that has also passed a school bond issue for a school district that is largely - it's very heavily Latino students there.
And so a - parts of the country that are voting - that voted last night for somebody whose message is we're angry. Things are bad. We're divided. We don't like the other. That's not how they actually seem most of the places you go. So I guess my - I'm trying to maintain a split-brain consciousness of recognizing that our national politics has become as extreme as we've now seen. And the gap between that and the on-scene reality of most of the American heartland, if you want - if you will, that we've been visiting.
GROSS: Give us another example of that contradiction that you witnessed.
FALLOWS: I'll give you - so we were in Erie, Penn. this summer. So - and we happened to be in Erie just the day after a big rally by Donald Trump there. And Trump drew a lot of people - mainly white, mainly from the sort of - the rural areas in Ohio and upstate New York and Pennsylvania surrounding Erie - and he got a big cheer. And his two main messages were number one, things are really going bad in Erie. It's terrible here. I'm going to make things come back for you. And number two, these refugees, they're really making trouble for us. Now as it happened, the refugees - Erie is a place that specializes in settling and absorbing refugees. Around the country there are a number of cities that are known to be very good at this. Sioux Falls, S.D. is one of them, for example, Burlington, Vt. and Erie is another. Perhaps 10 percent of their population is actually - actual refugees, including a number from Syria.
So my wife visited a Syrian family that had come there the day after - she visited them the day after Donald Trump's appearance. And the situation of that family's life in Erie was almost the opposite of what you would have thought from the the rally in Erie the previous night. Where this family had been in Aleppo and they've been in refugee camps and they've - and fleeing warfare. And they were so grateful to be making a new life in Erie and to be absorbed and assimilated by people there. And simultaneously, the other message on the speech in Erie was manufacturing down, down, down and you and Erie know about it. The main decline in manufacturing Erie is a GE plant that's been slowly winding down for a long time and is now sending jobs to Texas - you know, not Mexico or China or someplace else. But in the generation of the people in their 20s and 30s who we met, there was a lot of new startup activity, saying we never expected to work for GE.
So I would say that almost every place we went, a version of a political cliche was true. The political cliche is we hate Congress but like our congressman or congresswoman. The version of that was almost every place you went, people felt, boy, it's really a troubled time for America. But here in - name your specific city - Fresno, Ajo, Ariz., San Bernardino, Bend, Ore., Burlington, Vt., Allentown, Pa., things were moving at least in the right direction.
GROSS: So why do you think so many people in the places that you've mentioned voted for Trump if their view of their reality didn't reflect the reality Trump was showing to them, was telling them?
FALLOWS: This is something we'll all be plumbing for a long time and into the future. And I think there was one - there are other very crisp illustration of the contrast. I was in Cleveland for the Republican convention. I think there was a Wall Street Journal story during that week or just right afterwards. And the headline was "GOP Delegates Think American Economy Is Terrible - Except Where They Live." You know, there was a sense that most of their communities were doing OK, but they believe the entire American economy was troubled.
And I think we are seeing some combination of the way in which a generation's worth of cable news has sort of conditioned people to nonstop and undifferentiated crisis around the world. The great difficulty of presenting positive developments in ways that don't seem silly or sap-like. And also - I guess I've been thinking about this in the last day or two - the elevation of national politics to something like a religion, where...
GROSS: What do you mean by that?
FALLOWS: What I mean is that in living in other parts of the world, you see - if people are Sunni Muslims, they have one view. If they're Shiites, they have, you know, they - in their daily life they may be difficult to distinguish, but they know that they are on opposite sides of X, Y and Z. There are similar divides in East Asia between to distinguish, but they know that they are on opposite sides of X, Y and Z. There are similar divides in East Asia between not religious, but cultural, ethnic - between Japanese and Koreans where they are very similar in many ways, but there is this oil-and-water sensibility of differences between them. And I think national politics has become what you - what I think of as either a religious affiliation or a particularly sort of acrid sporting team loyalty where people who you otherwise can work with and compromise with and build a future with you either really feel connected to or you really feel just are the other based on which team they're on, whether they're on the Republican team, the Trump team, or the anti-Trump team.
And one other theme which no doubt we will explore, which is the ways in which people in non-coastal America feel as - not so much looked down on, but just ignored by media in particular. Now, I'll just elaborate that one second more. When we - when my wife and I began our flying project back in 2013, our premise was to go to places that you would normally go to only if there were a flood or a tornado or a shooting as opposed to treating them as real entities and giving them the sort of three-dimensionality that you'd naturally give to the big coastal cities. So I think all of these account for the disconnect I'm describing.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is James Fallows. He's a longtime national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. And he's kept an election blog for the past few months. He's also written about the media. He's lived in China and has written a lot about trade. We're going to talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Jim Fallows, longtime national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. He's kept an election blog over the past few months. And he also, over the past few years, has done something with his wife called the American Futures Project in which they've traveled around the country, visiting small cities and towns, flying to them in Fallows' single-engine plane - he's a pilot, too - and talking to people about politics and economics and immigration. So he has a lot of insights about how smaller towns and cities have reacted to the campaign.
You mentioned the media and its role in how it covered the election, the picture of America that it presented back to Americans. You wrote a book about the media several years ago. Let me quote you something Jim Rutenberg, who's a media columnist for The New York Times, just wrote.
He said (reading) it was clear that something was fundamentally broken in journalism, which has been unable to keep up with the anti-establishment mood that is turning the world upside down. What's amazing is how many times the news media has missed the populist movements that have been rocking national politics since at least 2008. And that was a reference to the Tea Party. Do you agree with that?
FALLOWS: I agree sort of with it. And, you know, I agree generally with Jim Rutenberg and what he writes. I guess the - a logical extension of that sensibility and one of the media might be to think we need to do another profile of somebody who's living in Nebraska or somebody who's living in a former manufacturing town in Ohio and see what's going on with them. And I can tell you, having spent much of the last three years doing just that, if you don't ask about national politics, you don't get volunteered this sense of boiling rage. There is something particular about national political campaigning that has - that is - has been difficult to capture.
One other very important point that maybe I should have made earlier. I remember very clearly when Donald Trump began his campaign coming down the elevator and talking about the Mexicans and the peril they propose - they posed in all the ways we remember. The reason that struck me is that I'd been - Deb and I had been in a lot of places that were right in the middle of being remade by immigration, and the sense of just pent-up rage was not there - for example, Holland, Mich.
It's - as the name would suggest, it's a town originally of Dutch immigrants. It's a manufacturing town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. And it's - it has become a very not yet majority, but close to majority Latino over the generations. And that is an issue for the people of Holland in how they finance their school districts and everything, but nobody there was suggesting this was some powder keg that was about to blow up.
And indeed, the places that - the opinion polls that came out before Donald Trump's announcement when they asked people to sort of free associate across the country about the greatest threats to the nation, immigration was normally not in the top 10. You know, some people were very concerned about it, but not most people. So I would view this as a phenomenon of something about modern political national-level campaigning and media emphasis thereof has allowed us to get hyperpolarized and hyper, you know, upset about phenomena that in the daily life of the country are not seen as that threatening or disturbing.
GROSS: I think only one daily newspaper - correct me if I'm wrong on this, if you remember the actual statistic. Only one daily newspaper wrote an editorial endorsing Donald Trump, and several places that don't usually editorialize, including The Atlantic magazine, wrote editorials opposing him. The Washington Post had its editorial on the front page. So you have mainstream newspapers and magazines taking a - just a more emphatic stance against a candidate than I have ever seen in my lifetime. And yet that didn't really resonate nationally to the extent that it - you know, that the vote went for Donald Trump.
You know, standing back for a moment, what do you think of how the impact of newspapers, both the reporting and the editorializing, and magazines, their reporting and editorializing, the impact that that had or didn't have on the election?
FALLOWS: So I think of the editorials in the same group with another phenomenon that was unusual and that happened over the last six or eight months, too. And that phenomenon was people who don't usually get involved in electoral politics speaking up to say, this time is different. You had, you know, these dozens of former ambassadors or former assistant secretaries of state from both administrations saying, no, Donald Trump is dangerous. You had the former Swedish prime minister doing the same thing, saying this was an active threat to the Western alliance. You had a former acting director of the CIA, Mike Morell, saying that in his estimation, Donald Trump had become an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.
You had this big slew of people who were experts in their field who were trying to say, listen to us. We've done this our whole lives. We try not to choose party positions. Many of us have worked for the Republican Party, but this man is different from others you have considered. And I think that was the tone of most of the editorials.
There are papers that endorse somebody every time. The New York Times is one of them. They usually go Democratic. And I think that wasn't the striking thing here. It was the proliferation of papers that either never do this or almost never endorse Democrats, like the Dallas Morning News, for example, or the Arizona Republic saying, we are stepping aside from our normal pose of either Republican support or arm's-length from these decisions because we think this is a different situation.
So the question with that is exactly why what we'd normally think of as authority or expertise or judgment or caution had almost no visible effect. That's one of a category of questions. You know, why did comments about, you know, women and Latinos and other groups - why do they have as little apparent effect on the outcome as they did, et cetera.
In terms of news coverage, I think there's been an overnight reaction that I basically agree with, which was that the press has been dealing with Hillary Clinton so long that there is a sort of way of dealing with her, especially that emphasizes any peccadillo in what she did. That - how quickly did she apologize or not for her server, and what other emails do we find here? Whereas Donald Trump was treated almost as a curiosity and without the seriousness of saying, well, what were these actually - these policies actually mean? And so that, I think, gave more attention than otherwise would be the case to flaws with Hillary Clinton that were - and suggested they were on the same scale as these much, much larger differences in Donald Trump's preparation from previous nominees.
GROSS: Because Donald Trump was such a new kind of candidate and said, you know, often very inflammatory things and, you know, did these middle-of-the-night tweet storms and stuff, he got a lot of media coverage and a lot of cable coverage in a - particularly early on in his campaign. His speeches were usually covered in their entirety. I'm wondering what impact you think cable news had on the outcome.
FALLOWS: I think it has to have had a lot of impact. And long, long ago - it was 20 years ago that I wrote this book "Breaking The News" that I think you and I talked about way back then. And one of its premises was that the realms of entertainment and the realms of news were becoming uncomfortably close. And the reason that mattered is that, by definition, entertainment is always going to be more interesting than news. You know, that's why it's entertainment and it will draw peoples' attention.
And so if you started judging your programming simply on what was going to get the most immediate attention from the largest number of people, you would be - end up producing entertainment rather than news or have some distortions in the news coverage. And I think we saw the fruition of that now, where the idea that there would be any difference between entertainment and news is droll in itself. But it meant that the cable programs - the cable channels knew that if they ran Donald Trump, starting a year-plus ago, more people would watch than if they didn't. And he was more interesting than Kasich or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or anybody else or than Hillary Clinton.
And so he was able just to get his message out in what would have cost a lot of money. I think that the - just to roll this over one more time - in the issue of the debates through the Republican primary, I've interviewed most of the fallen Republicans and their campaign managers. And they really felt that the cable-based structure of those debates, where you had 10 or 11 people on the stage all crowding around for airtime, with Donald Trump standing dominant in the middle - that that helped him as well because it sort of preconditioned a "Survivor" or "Apprentice"-type show where you would knock off the weaklings one by one.
And there was always somebody who was weaker than Donald Trump, so he ended up seeming relatively stronger as time went on. And also, none of them - they didn't figure out that they needed to join in together to attack him.
GROSS: My guest is James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. We'll talk about his blog, "The Daily Trump: Filling A Time Capsule," after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with James Fallows, who's been the national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine for about 35 years. For the past few months, he's kept a campaign blog about Donald Trump. For the past three years, Fallows and his wife Deborah have worked on what they call their American Futures project, flying around the country in his single-engine propeller plane - he's a pilot - stopping in small cities and towns, talking to people about politics and the issues that affect their lives.
Fallows is also the author of engine propeller plane - he's a pilot - stopping in small cities and towns, talking to people about politics and the issues that affect their lives. Fallows is also the author of books about immigration, the media, China and the rise of East Asian economies.
For the past few months you've kept a blog called "The Daily Trump." Would you describe what the point of that blog has been?
FALLOWS: Yes. So starting back in May - I think May 23 - when it became clear that Trump was going to be the Republican nominee, I thought there would be - it would be worth for time capsule historical archives purposes, recording day-by-day what it was like to be in America as he was waging his campaign. And what was known about him, what was on the record as the American public was deciding whether or not to make him its president, as the American public has now apparently done. And the standard I was trying to use was things that were unprecedented, things that were different from standard presidential demeanor, things that that departed from norms of how people govern themselves and just to record them day-by-day.
And I had a disclaimer saying, is this record implicitly anti-Trump? And I said, no, it is explicitly anti-Trump. I personally do not think he has the background or temperament to be a successful president. But I said my record here is simply to record. I'm not trying to change a single vote. I don't imagine it will do so. But I would like to keep a running record of what we knew when we knew it. And I got up to entry number 152 when I entered the series two days ago.
GROSS: Why do you think it's important to have documented that?
FALLOWS: Because if we step back, you know, setting aside the factor that I personally wish that the election had come out differently and which the election - Electoral College matched what appears to be the popular vote margin for Hillary Clinton. Objectively, this is an unusual thing the United States has done. It's unusual, number one, in that nobody like Donald Trump in terms of having absolutely no public service experience, nobody like that has ever become president. And now he will become president. It is unusual in the tone of the campaign, where we've had a number of things that just demonstrably would have stopped any previous candidate and have. You know, the early-on mockery of John McCain, the criticism of the parents of Capt. Khan, things like this in past campaigns have sort of made people bow out. Think of poor Rick Perry, whose presidential campaign came to an end because he couldn't remember the third department he was going to get rid of as part of his program.
So it's unusual in the way that Donald Trump has been able to surmount what we thought of as what you had to do to campaign. And third, it's been unusual, I think, in a potentially ominous way in the violation of norms. Donald Trump didn't release his tax information. We thought in modern times that's what a presidential candidate would have to do. During one of the debates Donald Trump said to Hillary Clinton that if he won, she would be in jail. This is something we have not heard from our candidates. We think of our candidates if they lose a bitter campaign, they say we offer our support to the next president. When Donald Trump suggested that he might not accept the results of the election, that also was unusual.
And so we have gotten to a destination that is - it's not simply - the polls, even yesterday at this time, were not suggesting it. The trajectory of American self-government in the last generation or two did not predict that we'd end up in this point. And that's why I thought it was worth laying out the evidence of how we got to where we are now.
GROSS: Among the many things that you've done is that you were a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. And that started in 1976, when he was running for the presidency. And you've written about how you wrote a speech for him in which Carter excised a line that you wrote because he thought you just don't say that in American politics. Would you describe what you wrote and what Carter's reaction was?
FALLOWS: Yes. And...
GROSS: And I just want to say, I'm bringing this up because you compare this...
GROSS: ...You know, indiscretion that Carter would not allow you to say with some of the things that Trump has said.
FALLOWS: So the reason I told the story is in one of his closing days of rallies, Donald Trump said - certainly about Hillary Clinton and I believe about also the incumbent President Obama - that they were both traitors. And treason is, of course, a capital offense. Calling somebody a traitor is about as an extreme a thing you can do in political rhetoric. And I'm not aware of it having been said before. You know, we thought John Kerry thought that George W. Bush was a really bad president. And Lyndon Johnson thought that Barry Goldwater was really dangerous. But I'm not aware of traitor being used at the national level.
And it made me think back to the campaign of 1976, when it was getting to its final days. And I was flying around on, you know, three-hours sleep. Which was OK for me then 'cause I was in my mid-20's and cranking out stuff for Jimmy Carter. And there was a time when he was attacking Gerald Ford, who of course had been Richard Nixon's vice president before Nixon resigned. And to build the Ford-Nixon tainting linkage in the speech draft I had something about how Nixon, you know, didn't have America's best interests in mind or something really boring and anodyne, but suggesting that Richard Nixon was not really thinking about the best interests of the United States. And this is a guy, you know, who'd been impeached and made to resign.
And Jimmy Carter, who had many thoughts to offer about speeches at all times, his thought about this was we don't say that. You know, he's a former president. We don't talk about our opponents that way. We say we disagree with their views. We say they've made mistakes, but we don't say their intentions are bad. And so to leap from there to saying that the incumbent president and his one purported successor are traitors, that is one more of the norms that we had - we'd not seen before this year.
GROSS: Well, along those lines, I keep wondering what it's going to be like for President Obama to describe what the presidency is like to the next president, Donald Trump, who has accused President Obama of not being born in the U.S. I know he's finally retracted that. But, you know, for years he was saying that, you know, we don't really have proof that President Obama is American-born.
FALLOWS: I think the hardest thing for President Obama is going to be the temperamental issue, even - even apart from the birther thing, which is, you know, you can say, well, it was a while ago. And what I mean by that is Obama is - during his campaigns, he was - he prided himself on no-drama Obama. And he has - in office, he has tried to promote the idea of the chess master perspective, the long view, the arc of history, not reacting in haste. The people who don't like him think he is too slow and is too inattentive to what's going on around him. But he is very much a man of trying to take the long view and what will happen tomorrow and next year and the next century.
One of the things that to me is most striking about Donald Trump is the complete opposite. In my time capsules, I recorded a number of times where something happened and Donald Trump would immediately say it's 100-percent clear that X happened. For example, this EgyptAir plane disappeared over the Atlantic some time ago - I'm sorry, over the Mediterranean some time ago. And still nobody knows what happened to that plane. But within, like, 30 minutes of its disappearing, Donald Trump was on the news saying it's 100 percent clear this is terrorism. If you don't know it's terrorism, believe me, you're suckers, folks. This is entirely what it is.
And so I think that for Obama to try to convey number one the - the mental discipline that's required in the presidency and number two - something that I think anybody who has been anywhere close to a White House, as I was sort of on the periphery when I worked for a couple of years for Carter as a speechwriter - the other thing is to recognize the non-stop stream of impossible choices that make up a president's day. And what I mean is anything else that's a sort of 60-40 decision or even a 55-45, some assistant secretary of labor or secretary of state or vice president will make, it's only the things that are just impossible - for example, what do you do about Syria? - that the president actually has to deal with. And then the president immerses himself or herself in all the different facts that are known, the things that are not knowable, when you have to make a decision, even the limits of your knowledge.
And again, those two temperamental and intellectual traits of waiting for judgment and knowing when you know enough to act, I think those are going to be the ones where the gulf between Barack Obama and Donald Trump will seem most significant.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine. He's kept an election blog, and he's also done a three-year project flying across the country, stopping in small towns and cities talking to people about politics and the economy. So we're going to talk more about all of this and about the election after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine. He's kept an election blog. He's done a three-year project flying around the country to small towns and cities in his small single-engine plane, talking to people about politics, the economy, jobs and the campaign.
It was interesting that - in that in this election trade really figured heavily into people's thinking. I mean, NAFTA and trade policies are usually considered to be issues that put people to sleep because they're complicated and nobody really understands them. But they were big in this election.
You've lived in Japan. You lived in China. You've studied trade deals. So if you could just sum up for us what some of Donald Trump's main points are on trade, things he'd like to change.
FALLOWS: So his main point, it's based on something that is in my view largely just wrong and connected to something that is - that is real...
GROSS: I mean, wrong you disagree or factually incorrect?
FALLOWS: Factually incorrect - and that is the idea that essentially the economic problems America has is because China is - in particular but also Mexico and Japan and South Korea - are stealing our factories and stealing our jobs. And this is the main reason why the U.S. has the economic problems, the employment problems that it has. I think if 20 years ago, when China was beginning its ascent, you could say that a lot of the economic problems of the early '90s were much more directly traceable to outsourcing decisions than anything that's going on right now, similarly for NAFTA.
But if you go many places now, the people who have been losing jobs in the last 10 years have been losing them only minorly to Mexico, China, South Korea, Japan. They've been losing them mainly to automation. They've been losing them mainly to the robotization of factories around the world. And that is why I can tell you from going back and forth to China that in every single country of the world, including China and Japan and South Korea and Mexico, the employment problem is the hollowing out of factory-type jobs because of automation.
You know, based on past centuries, we can say in the long run this will create more jobs. But right now, in the short run, it's a big engine against the creation - it's the engine of job destruction in the middle. That is the real thing that Donald Trump is - it's the real anxiety he is working from.
I think to blame it as he does on bad-and-stupid deals with Mexico, China, Japan and South Korea both is out of date about the problem and really off about the solution because I don't think there's anybody who is involved with those countries who thinks that much tougher or canny or dealmakers is going to bring a lot more factories back to Indiana or Illinois.
But it's not just, like, two people in a room and one pounds his fist harder and the other one says, oh, I give in, we're going to take another $100 dollars of your steel. It is a part of this giant complex fabric of things where the negotiators are actually good now and just having somebody say make better deals, it's - it would be like saying, like a principal saying, OK, we're going to have smarter students. And I want all your teachers to give us smarter students starting tomorrow. There's more to it than that.
GROSS: So Donald Trump won the presidency. Hillary Clinton lost. And I'd be interested in hearing your reflections on why you think she lost. What worked against her?
FALLOWS: I think the first is something that was both a blessing and a curse for her, namely that she is Bill Clinton's wife. The blessing is that she knows everything about how politics works. She spent decades and decades from the time in Arkansas onwards seeing high-level politics and just understanding all its nuances, so that was a blessing for a long time. It was seen as if that would be a two-for-the-price-of-one benefit, too. But it was also a curse. In terms of her own management of the campaign, there's something I'm sure she will - she'll probably not want to say, which is that the first major party female candidate had only a millimeter-wide space to walk in. If she's too strong, she is too harsh and shrill and overbearing and nagging. If she's not, she is too passive and too dominated. This was a real problem she had in the debates that just Donald Trump could play - could even model himself as Jane Goodall said on primate-dominance rituals.
And she had this much, much tighter leeway for what a woman is allowed to do on the public stage. And I thought in the debates she pulled it off very well. She did as well she could. I think somehow in the oratorical presentation part of the campaign, for reasons that either fair or unfair, she was not seen as striking that note that allowed her to do what she did in the debates, of being strong without having the female penalty of being too harsh, to do what she did in her commercials, which I thought were very effective of using many of Donald Trump's own words against him.
But for some reason, she was not able to be the appealing presence that - that she might have hoped and dreamed of being. I think - then, of course, we have the intrinsically minor, in my view, issue of her email server, which I think she elevated beyond that by sort of feeding into the look for evasiveness and changing stories and all that. Again, I think it was covered out of all proportion to its importance. But she made that task, that over-coverage easier rather than harder.
GROSS: By being evasive?
FALLOWS: By seeming evasive about it and not saying just in the beginning, look, yes, this is a mistake. Look at whatever you want. I mean, let's use the example of the Goldman Sachs speeches. When those finally came out, they contained exactly what you would think. They contained the kind of nuanced discussion of trade relations that you and I were discussing a little while ago and that showed that she understood these issues.
So there was essentially nothing in those Goldman Sachs speeches that would have been embarrassing on its merits. The only reason they were significant is that she wouldn't release them. And so I think that that is if she had the whole last five years to run over again, that would be one thing to do of just saying, look, you want to see this? Fine. Like anybody else, I say things in various ways in various venues. But everything I say here is consistent my long public record, so let's not waste any more time on the secret speech transcripts.
GROSS: And, of course, there was the hacks of the DNC emails and John Podesta's emails.
FALLOWS: Indeed. And the fact in retrospect that it's worth noting that WikiLeaks, as far as I can tell, every single thing they put out was about the DNC or Hillary Clinton personally or John Podesta. And nothing of what they put about - put out was about the Republican Party or Donald Trump. So they may be some impartial tribune of transparency. But what they were putting out apparently to some degree from Russian sources was essentially anti-Hillary Clinton, anti-Democratic material. So to a degree we hadn't quite seen before, there was this external intervention in the campaign through the medium of WikiLeaks and others.
GROSS: My guest is James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Magazine. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded this morning with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic who also wrote the campaign blog The Daily Trump, chronicling how Donald Trump broke the norms applied to previous major party candidates.
So Donald Trump's slogan making America great again or make America great again, you had a book about immigration. Was it in the late '80s.
FALLOWS: Yes, 1989.
GROSS: And so the book was titled "More Like Us: Making America Great Again." So what did you mean by that, and what was it like for you to see the expression you used becoming, in a slight variation, Donald Trump's campaign slogan?
FALLOWS: You could imagine I thought for one second of, you know, where are my royalties? Where can I file my IP suit? Where's my making America great again hat. What I mean - meant and mean about making America great again is something that my wife's and my travels for the last couple of years makes me think it is in the process of becoming great again right now - that is, to capture the things that are unique about the American national experiment.
So I was talking about ways to have educational systems that would promote mobility. I was talking about ways to have - to sort of regularize the process of immigration and why it was so essential to the American fabric and ways of rebuilding the sense of community and the sense of us-ness (ph) and what it is to become an American and to be an American.
And I can tell you that most of the places we go - you know, in Montana and Wyoming and South Dakota and South Carolina and Florida and Mississippi and Maine, people feel that about the parts of the country where they live and they're under their observation and influence. And the gap between that and the sense of dystopia at the national level is the source of my concern and desire to understand more - and desire to correct.
GROSS: On this day when America is feeling very divided, I want you to leave us with a beautiful image of America. And it's the image you describe in your article about flying over America and stopping at small towns and cities, describing, you know, when you're driving in a car, America looks like roads and you only see what you see from roads. But Jim, what do you see when you fly over America? Leave us with that picture.
FALLOWS: I'll give you the - the reason I have loved being a pilot for quite a long while is the - is part of the reason that in the 1920s, when flying was becoming popular, the assumption was anybody who was a writer would want to fly and vice versa because the perspective is so remarkable and so revealing. And so if you fly over this country, you can see one thing. You can see sort of the pattern of its settlement and civilization.
You fly from the Eastern Seaboard, and if you go - you're going southward along the fault line and the front range of the Appalachians, you can see all the settlements that were put there because the water mills - the water wheels could turn the mills that were first for cotton and then machinery and all the rest. And now there are auto works. You cross the Appalachians, you see all the sort of knuckled ridges there. You see the places where coal mountains were removed. You see all the rest.
Then you go into the prairie, and you can see the reason cities are where they are by bays or rivers or where the terrain shifts. You can see how the landscape and the settlement was laid out by the Northwest Ordinance and how - you can see the pattern of rainfall almost mile by mile as you go from the cornfields and the square plots of Ohio and Indiana towards the sparser prairies. You go further west, you get the Badlands and finally to the West Coast.
And above all, you feel that there is this wonderment of a continental nation with vast - a vast diversity of places where people are building their communities and refashioning their towns and their schools and their libraries and their civic centers and their river walks and their parklands, and doing what they can to have a better part of America for their children and their grandchildren, and to attract people to want to come there, as so many places want to do. So if you could - (laughter) you don't even have to join me in my little plane.
But if you can just ask people how they feel about their community, their state, their region and whether it's going in the right direction, I think most of them will tell you that they think it is and can do even better. And that is the way I hope the fabric of America can continue making the country greater again.
GROSS: James Fallows, thank you so much for talking with us today.
FALLOWS: Thank you so much, Terry. It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.