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Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Census Director’s Resignation Could Affect Control of Congress After 2020

John H. Thompson, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, just resigned amid a funding fight over the 2020 Census.

Since it comes at the same time that the president fired the director of the FBI, why should anyone care about the resignation of just another Washington “bean counter?"

This bean counter, whose name is likely unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americans, is actually one of the most important people in determining whether Democrats or Republicans control Congress. The census has a significant impact on political representation and how federal money is distributed. Moreover, how hard the director fights for more funding helps determine the accuracy of the census.

As someone who has spent decades deeply involved in surveys, I understand the importance of ensuring an accurate count of the population. Without it, every fact about this nation’s population – from the percent of women giving birth to the percent of elderly people dying – is suspect.

Why we have a census

The primary source of United States demographic data is the population census, which is done in the spring of all years that are evenly divisible by 10.

The U.S. Constitution provides the legal basis for conducting...

Is the Watergate-Comey Comparison Simply a Way to Score Partisan Points?

The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.

To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time.

—Yoni Appelbaum


Julian Zelizer: Ever since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, many historians have been asking whether it’s now safe to say that this scandal is starting to look a lot like Watergate. There are...

'A President Who Doesn't Play by Any Rules'

President Trump’s abrupt firing Tuesday evening of FBI Director James Comey sent American media and lawmakers scrambling to make sense of what had happened. The termination came as the FBI continued to investigate the possibility of collusion between people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, and it hit front pages across the nation

The story had international reverberations as well, in countries ranging from America’s allies to its adversaries, on and off the front pages. In Germany, Der Spiegel, like some U.S. commentators, dubbed the event “The Tuesday Night Massacre,” in reference to former President Richard Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal. (That incident was a “massacre” because it resulted in the resignation of the attorney general and his deputy, both of whom refused to carry out the firing on Nixon’s behalf. Tuesday, Comey alone was fired.) The weekly magazine noted that, while the White House denied allegations the move was related to Comey’s role overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, “few believe it.” German tabloid Bild also likened the incident to what happened under Nixon, calling the event “so...

Analysis: Three Lessons Trump Must Take From His First 100 Days If He Wants to Keep Being President

As the White House Correspondents’ Dinner recedes into a distant memory, overtaken by everything from the French election to Sally Yates, the media’s stock-taking of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office missed one key thing: In almost every story, reporters, pundits, and correspondents paid curious little attention to a key aspect of the story: what has Trump learned during his short time in the Oval?

It’s a simple but critical question now that Trump is past the first man-made phase on the presidential calendar. He has another three and a half years to burnish his credentials, put some points on the scoreboard, and persuade moderate Republicans that he isn’t a liability to the GOP’s brand in the midterm elections next year. None of that, though, may come to fruition if Trump doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Whether you happen to a rabid pro-Trumper or a diehard #NeverTrumper, we should all at least be able to agree that Trump’s success in the job means America’s success at home and around the world. There’s nothing partisan about that, is there?

Here are three lessons that Trump and his staff must revisit as...

Obama Faces the Ex-President's Dilemma

“I see you Barry,” said comedian Hasan Minhaj at the White House Correspondent’s Association dinner. “What you doin’ right now? You jet skiing while the world burns?” After leaving office, Barack Obama spent a few weeks palling around with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, and Oprah Winfrey in French Polynesia. Now the vacation’s over, how can Obama maximize his sway in American politics? The answer lies in understanding the source of his influence.

President Trump’s strength is founded on hard power, or the ability to coerce people through payments and force. As commander-in-chief, millions of men and women stand ready to follow his orders. With a stroke of the pen, Trump can renounce America’s commitment to the Paris climate treaty. Or he can put the pen down and press the nuclear button—and here, there are no checks and balances

By contrast, as an ex-president, Obama has virtually no hard power. He even had to learn how to use the coffee machine at home. Instead, Obama’s strength lies with soft power, or the attraction of his image, beliefs, and values, in getting others to do what they otherwise might not. Soft power is still power, but...