The director of the magazine ‘The New Yorker’ talks to EL PAÍS about the challenges his country faces in these elections
The night Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, the editor of the prestigious magazine The New Yorker wrote an impulsive column that went viral in seconds. “The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is a tragedy for the American republic”, wrote. “It is a triumph for the forces, internal and external, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism…. Fascism is not our future – it cannot be, we cannot let it be – but this is the way we fascism can begin. ” Four years later, David Remnick would not change a comma.
Born in New Jersey 61 years ago and editor of the magazine since 1998, Remnick is a chronicler of international power. Your book Lenin’s Tomb, about the fall of the Soviet Union, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Since then he has written multiple books and profiles on the most powerful men in world politics, such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, or Benjamin Netanyahu. During the last four years, Remnick wrote dozens of columns on the authoritarian personality of the current president of the United States. “If Trump had a soul, a shred of conscience or character, he would resign the presidency. He will not resign the presidency, ” wrote in one of the last.
Remnick speaks with El PAÍS from his apartment in Manhattan, days before the magazine openly decided support the candidacy by Joe Biden. The United States has “institutions threatened, but not yet defeated,” the editorial says.
Question. Four years ago, journalists did not know how to see that Trump was going to win the presidency. What lessons did that moment bring to journalism?
Answer. I was never under the illusion that The New Yorker I worked as a pollster, but, of course, I admit we were very surprised by the result, despite knowing that surprises happen repeatedly in US elections. On election night, our web team had little to nothing prepared in the event of a Trump victory. We had, yes, many things prepared about the first female president. Items that were ready and you just had to press a button. I went to a party to see the results, and I imagined that they would be ready around 10 at night. Hillary would take the lead, we would push the button, and so far our work. But no. We began to see, with great disbelief, some patterns. The most telling was that Trump was winning in Republican areas by a much larger margin than we expected, places like rural Pennsylvania or non-urban Florida.
Around 10 o’clock at night I had made the mistake of having just one drink, too healthy. I don’t normally carry my computer with me, but in this case I did, and I headed to the apartment’s kitchen to write a short article called An American Tragedy. He basically wanted to be a good team player, so we would have an item for the next day. It was a rage-filled article, predicting a terrible period in American history.
So yes, the polls were wrong, surprises happen, but the deep question remains: why did that happen? I think we are still trying to find out. I don’t think there is a single answer. Clearly, the previous one was a black president, Barack Obama, and there was a reaction to that. It’s very true when it is said that ignoring Donald Trump’s racism was a huge factor. Was it the only factor? I don `t believe. I don’t think there was a single explanation. But it was important.
P. How to avoid an equal omission?
R. I think we have been more cautious about the polls. Right now, they have Joe Biden ahead with six, or seven, or eight points, nationally, which is a lot. He also has a significant lead in places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, where Trump previously won. But do I think Donald Trump can still be re-elected? Absolutely. I’d be an idiot if not. The definition of an idiot is a person who does not learn from experience.
I think part of this tragedy is the deep division in our society. From my point of view, it is the inability of thousands of people to recognize that we have a president with an undemocratic, authoritarian instinct, and who plays with racism so openly, and whose greatest trait of personality is contempt. Contempt for Hispanics, blacks, democratic institutions or science. He did not invent these trends in American life, but he has only highlighted them.
P. Right after Trump won the election, you interviewed Barack Obama and he told you: “Trump understands the new ecosystem, where truth and facts don’t matter. He attracts attention, moves emotions, and moves on. ” Obama was very charismatic, and Trump is also charismatic to his followers. Is Trump still winning in this ecosystem?
R. Trump has, as a demagogue, many talents. It may be funny, in a demonic way, but it has an element that comes from an obvious source: its past in the television industry. He has a past in the entertainment world. He is tuned in. Just look at how cable TV dominated in 2016. Why? Because it raised the ratings. Now we see CNN as a critical channel, but CNN gave him hours and hours of free air time because the ratings went up when he spoke.