Our first contestant is Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic:
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Well, the story is-- there’s one overarchingly huge story. A very big league story, as Michele might say. The-- the-- the story is-- the-- the story is the upending of American politics. The story is of the outs coming in and the ins going out. --The story is trying to explain to the American people what’s happened to their two main parties. And-- and the deeper story, also, I don’t want to forget this -- the deeper story is globalization, and technological disruption, and anxiety born of-- of rapid change, rapid, destabilizing change, the fragility of institutions. All of that is-- is there undergirding the larger, more immediate story, which is how did Donald Trump become president of the United States....Bzzz. Goldberg mentioned Donald Trump. He had a great run going — the outs coming in and the ins going out... anxiety born of-- of rapid change, rapid, destabilizing change, the fragility of institutions... Great stuff. There's overarching and undergirding — construction to go along with the destruction. It was mindbending. I was ready to give him the prize, but then he said the name. Wipe out.
Let's get the next contestant up here. Michele Norris, a journalist affiliated with something called the Race Card Project:
MICHELE NORRIS: Well, I think it’s interesting that at the end of the year Merriam Webster-- Webster told us that they chose the word ‘surreal’ as the word of the year for 2016 because it describes so much of what we’re seeing right now. I want to pick up on one of the things that-- that Jeffrey said about the technological disruption. In this country, we’ve always assumed that technology was a good thing. We embraced it. We assumed that it was propelling us forward and that it would perhaps even though it was displacing jobs, that it would make for a better society, a better flow of information. I think we’re going to start to really question that now-- on-- on a lot of levels because of what it’s done to democracy, because certainly what it’s done to the level of American discourse. And as journalists, you know, we have to learn how to operate in a world where there is no longer a common set of facts. People get their news in such a way that it usually affirms or confirms everything that they already believe. We have someone who is about to occupy the Oval Office who is dismissing many of the publications that we work or have worked for and is trying to bypass us and go directly to people. So as we try to explain this surreal universe, we find ourselves in-- in almost a room of funhouse mirrors trying to figure out how to describe what’s going on.Okay, she avoided saying "Donald Trump." She did bluntly point at him with "someone who is about to occupy the Oval Office." And I don't know that she said that much about him or if she said much at all. I felt like I was in a "funhouse." Yeah, it was "surreal." But it's Norris's answer that made me see the game that was being played here.
So let's bring up the next contestant, David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic:
DAVID FRUM: A neo-fascist party may win the presidency of France this year. Democratic institutions in the countries liberated in 1989 are falling apart in Hungary, and Poland, and other places -- Croatia, elsewhere. The European Union is cracking apart. And the United States has a new president-to-be who has made it clear he’s not going to be bound by traditional rules against corruption, traditional rules against foreign influence, traditional rules in just about any way, traditional rules against the president having his own private bodyguard paid for by himself rather than by the state. We are living through a crisis of democracy not-- unlike anything seen since the second World War. So that’s the story. And it’s not an American story. It’s a global story. It’s a story of American non-exceptionalism. And because what is going on in the United States is happening elsewhere, and it’s a story about globalization coming home. Because it’s-- it’s hard -- Americans are used to, as the world’s strongest power, being the country that influences others. The idea that a foreign power has reached into the United States, and tampered with American democracy, and maybe chosen for Americans a president that the larger number of Americans didn’t want for themselves... that’s an experience that other countries, weaker countries, smaller countries have had. Americans, since the great -- since the greatness of this country have arrived, have never had to worry about that. That has happened. So it is going to be a very difficult year, a year that is difficult both because of what’s happening and because it’s-- it’s not in our nature to think about it. One more thing. You know-- I-- I have the experience again and again, and many of you may have it, too, of being in a coffee shop or something. Someone I know a little bit will come up to me, and say hello, and then say, “Tell me that everything is going to be okay.” And what I realize is, I can’t give you the assurance you want. I am not sure that everything is going to be okay. But here’s what I do know. The only way that things will be okay is if we all understand how not okay they are. If we are sufficiently inflamed, we may be able to put the fire out.He said the most, that's for sure. And he didn't say "Trump." He's got the great image of becoming inflamed to put out flames.
And I love the picture of Frum at Starbucks accosted by people who just want him to say everything's going to be okay.
I love the grandiosity of insisting that whatever the hell he's trying to say is about the whole world. I love the quirky irkedness over the President paying for his own personal bodyguard.
I'm ready to give the prize to Frum, and you know he really wants to win, and I'm a little softhearted about giving something meaningless to somebody who obviously wants it embarrassingly badly.
But there's one more contestant. Hold on. It's Michael Gerson, the Washington Post columnist.
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think there’s a pretty much even chance that we’re going to have a constitutional crisis or have a completely incompetent presidency that doesn’t know how to exercise power, which is, I think, another possibility in this circumstance. He has a White House-- Donald Trump has a White House with almost no skill at governing....Bzzz. Wipe out. Gerson tried not to say "Trump." He said "he," and then some force of propriety required him to provide the name. He just couldn't leave that pronoun without an antecedent. I'll bet his mother taught him not to talk about people that way.
You're a good boy, Michael Gerson, but that's not how you win this game.
The winner is Frum.
And here's the song Frum — with his "tell me that everything is going to be okay" — got playing in my mind....
And even though we ain't got money
I'm so in love with ya honey
And everything will bring a chain of love
And in the mornin' when I rise
Bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything is gonna be all right...