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Vox Sentences: “Nationalism with an indoor voice”

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Deconstructing the moment that made Donald Trump "presidential"; Russia accidentally bombs US-backed Syrian rebels.

Playing president

Trump during his first address to Congress Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • Here is the best thing you can say about President Trump's speech to a joint session of Congress last night: He adequately played the role of a president. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
  • The philosophy did not change! The policy did not change! But it was, as one official told Bloomberg's Joshua Green, "nationalism with an indoor voice." [Joshua Green via Twitter]
  • This was not actually, despite what you might think, the purpose of the speech. The purpose of speeches before joint sessions of Congress is to pressure Congress to pass the president's legislative priorities. Wow, did that not happen. [Jonathan Bernstein via Twitter]
  • What America got, instead, was the first moment of Trump's presidency that the pundit class has deemed sufficiently "presidential" — when he singled out the widow of Ryan Owens, who was killed in the Yemen raid Trump ordered early in his presidency, and she was given an ovation. [Washington Post / Chris Cillizza]
  • Many actual soldiers were a lot less impressed by this moment than pundits. They were disgusted by the politicization of Owens's death — and the fact that there's a solid case the raid that killed Owens should never have been ordered at all. [Vox / Yochi Dreazen]
  • Trump deflected blame for it, and for Owens's death, to "the generals" the same day he gave Owens's widow the ovation. (What makes this especially odd is that the White House is reportedly considering giving those same generals the authority to order raids without presidential approval — which would, one imagines, set them up to take the blame the next time something goes wrong.) [The Daily Beast / Kimberly Dozier]
  • All of this is to say: If reporters are going to insist on treating events like presidential speeches as stagecraft, not as a step in policymaking, there's at least a benefit in figuring out how the stage has been set. [Washington Post / Alyssa Rosenberg]

Wrong place, wrong time

Syrian soldier Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
  • US military officials announced Wednesday that Russian and Syrian government forces had accidentally bombed sites occupied by the US-backed Syrian Arab Coalition. [Reuters / Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali]
  • The Russians deny that any bombs were dropped at all. The Russians have a history of denying things like this even when there is evidence to the contrary. [Washington Post / Dan Lamothe]
  • The incident comes at an awkward time for the US and Russia in Syria. Since Russia's support of Bashar al-Assad has been so crucial to Assad's success in the war over the past year and a half, other countries expect Russia to step in and play a leading role in securing a peace deal and postwar stability. [FT / Roula Khalaf]
  • Russia, meanwhile, is waiting less than patiently for the US (which, under President Trump, has been relatively AWOL on Syria) to come to the table. [Bloomberg / Ilya Arkhipov and Stepan Kravchenko]
  • It's worth noting that despite Russia's love affair with Trump before inauguration, the country and its government have cooled substantially on him since he's taken office — because he seems like a weak and ineffective leader. [Foreign Policy / Amie Ferris-Rotman]
  • Anyway, all these diplomatic hiccups will surely be smoothed over by the State Department. Except, oh, wait, the State Department is totally out of the loop and Trump wants to slash its budget by double digits. Oops. [The Atlantic / Julia Ioffe]

Grow up

Travis Kalanick Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images
  • Uber CEO Travis Kalanick admitted Tuesday night, in an email to all Uber employees, that he needs to "grow up" and get help. Leadership help, that is. [Re/code / Johana Bhuiyan]
  • Kalanick and Uber have had an epically bad couple of weeks. It started when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing the sexual harassment she'd experienced over her year working at the company (which made a strong case that HR and company leadership were deliberately turning a blind eye to repeat offenders). [Susan J. Fowler]
  • Kalanick tried to jump ahead of that story by bringing in an outside task force. But the new allegations, so far, are outpacing the institutional progress. [Think Progress / Lauren C. Williams]
  • Then there was the part where Google's self-driving car division, Waymo, accused Uber of stealing its data. [Vox / Timothy B. Lee]
  • And finally — this is the part for which Kalanick apologized — a video went viral of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver about falling fares (and thus falling pay), in which Kalanick behaves like, well, the sort of superior prick you never want to be caught on camera being. [The Verge / Andrew J. Hawkins]
  • The culture of entitlement, the sexual harassment — it's not clear that any of this is unique to Uber, rather than endemic to the bro culture of Silicon Valley (or even the unquestioned privilege of the white men who make up Silicon Valley royalty, who can run massive companies at the age of 40 without having yet "grown up"). [Vox / Sean Illing]
  • What distinguishes Uber, though, is that it's in a fragile position as a business compared with its Silicon Valley peers. So instead of watching with schadenfreude, tech observers and investors are watching to see if the company will be able to survive. [Vox / Timothy B. Lee]


  • Vox critic-at-large Todd VanDerWerff's new interview podcast, I Think You're Interesting, is finally here. Ryan Murphy, of American Horror Story/American Crime Story/Glee/Feud fame, is the first guest. [Art19 / Todd VanDerWerff]
  • From 2001 to 2010, 24 drugs were approved in Europe or Canada but not in the US. And if you look at their track records, it doesn't look like FDA strictness is keeping Americans from using miracle drugs. [Forbes / Matthew Herper]
  • For Ali Cobby Eckermann, the $165,000, Yale-sponsored literary prize she just won isn't merely an honor; given that she's unemployed and lives in a caravan, it could literally transform her life. [The Guardian / Stephanie Convery]
  • Fifteen actors name the colleagues who beat them most frequently for roles (Margo Martindale apparently used to lose out to Kathy Bates a lot). [NY Mag]
  • "Deep canvassing" is one of the few techniques that's actually effective at changing the minds of everyday voters. Now a new group of Bernie Sanders campaign vets is trying to use it to reach Trump voters. [Mother Jones / Tim Murphy]


  • "The media takeaway was that Trump’s speech sounded optimistic, which was true compared to his dyspeptic inaugural address, and also true in the sense that infomercials promising baldness cures or eight-minute abs are optimistic." [Politico / Michael Grunwald]
  • "I heard about this engineer who said that what he and his friends do at work for fun is rate women job applicants according to who they wanted to marry, or who they wanted to kill, and there was a third thing." [Freada Kapor Klein to NYT / Farhad Manjoo]
  • "Many minors are having sex and should be, even having sex with older adults, and they are doing just fine. One need not be a conservative grifter to figure this out." [Slate / Joseph Fischel and Gabriel N. Rosenberg]
  • "Garfield’s gender swapped 20 times over 2½ days (during which his religion was briefly listed as Shiite Muslim for some reason) before an administrator was forced to step in." [Washington Post / Avi Selk and Michael Cavna]
  • "A man from the US has taken out a giant ad in The Times claiming to be the rightful King of England." [Business Insider / Alison Millington]

Watch this: Why African Americans left the South in droves — and what’s bringing them back

During the Great Migration, around 40 percent of America's black population left the rural South. [YouTube / Carlos Waters]