Article Comment 

Partial to Home: Dangerous words


Birney Imes



In May 2014, James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, visited Columbus. Fallows and his wife, Deborah, also a correspondent for The Atlantic, were touring the country in their single-engine airplane. 


The two were visiting towns that seemed to be responding well to economic adversity brought about by plant closings and demographic challenges. Deborah's area of interest is innovation in education. Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science was what first drew them here. 


As a longtime listener to his NPR commentaries on Asia when he lived in Shanghai, it was a bit of a thrill to get a phone call from Jim Fallows prior to their visit. Jim's credentials are impressive: Jimmy Carter's chief speech writer; 10 books including one titled "Just Like Us: Making America Great Again"; a national book award and frequent appearances as a commentator on TV news shows. 


Fallows, readers may remember, orchestrated the appearance of Joe Max Higgins on Marketplace, the business-oriented public radio program. In that interview Higgins was at his outrageous best, and it's widely thought the exposure resulted in the "60 Minutes" segment on the industrial bonanza Joe Max has orchestrated. 


My encounters with Fallows while he was here re-enforced assumptions I had formed over the years listening to him on NPR, that he is a perceptive commentator with no particular political ax to grind and a pleasant, straightforward guy you would enjoy having a beer with -- in fact Fallows is a craft beer aficionado; he and Deb made more than one foray to Stage Door bar at the Princess.  


All this is to say Jim Fallows is -- and has been for 40-plus years -- an eminently reasonable and capable observer of America's body politic. 


All the more reason I found alarming the column he wrote for The Atlantic on Wednesday, the day after President Donald Trump's speech in Phoenix. The piece is titled "The Republican Party is Enabling an Increasingly Dangerous Demagogue." ( 


Trump says things in his speeches no other president has said before. Crazy stuff. 


In Phoenix he said, "I was a good student. I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite. They're elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were. I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment, and I live in the White House, too, which is really great." 


Fallows cites a passage in Trump's Phoenix speech he calls surreal: 


(Trump) "But I enjoy it [the job], because we've made so much--I don't believe that any president--I don't believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months. I really don't believe it." 


(Fallows) Just for the record: "By this stage in his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt had pushed through and signed more than a dozen pieces of major New Deal legislation. By this point, Ronald Reagan had signed his big tax-cut bill. By this point, Barack Obama had signed the post-crash economic-stimulus program. By this point, Donald Trump has enacted no legislation of consequence." 


In Phoenix, Trump takes his demonization of the media to a new level. 


(Trump) "For the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people, and they're bad people. And I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that. And I don't believe they're going to change ..." 


Writes Fallows: "Joe McCarthy said things like this, but he wasn't president. George Wallace did as well, but while he won election as governor of Alabama, of course he didn't reach the White House. The closest a previous president came to taking a similar tone in public was not even that close. (Richard Nixon). ... at one of his angriest moments, as one of the darkest figures in our national life, even Nixon stopped short of publicly calling reporters disloyal and dishonest. 


"Paul Ryan doesn't speak this way. Nor Mitch McConnell. Nor the great majority of Republican senators and representatives. They know this is dangerous. They know this is wrong. Increasing numbers of them wring their hands in concern." 


Fallows holds the Republican Party, the majority party, responsible: "But with every day that passes without their doing something about it, the stain and responsibility for Trump's ungoverned tone stick more lastingly to the Republican establishment that keeps looking the other way as he debases his office and divides his country." 


Doing something, Fallows writes, means authorizing an investigation to determine "whether Donald Trump is fit -- financially, ethically, temperamentally, legally to retain the powers of the presidency." 


This president has shown a knee-jerk willingness to lash out at any person or party with the temerity to criticize or disagree with him. GOP leaders McConnell and Ryan and the Republican Congress are his latest targets. 


In his assaults on the media and the nation's electoral system, Trump is attacking two pillars on which our democracy rests. It is a dangerous and potentially destabilizing thing for a national leader to do. 


I fear our ship of state is sailing in treacherous waters. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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