Mr. Trump Ain’t Right in the Head

I spent this year’s hurricane evacuation in the mountains with my father-in-law and an older couple who happen to be Trump supporters, which meant occasionally I was exposed to Fox News.  My hosts, who are in fact sophisticated, interesting, and kind,[1]are not consumed with politics, and they seem to dislike Democrats more than they admire Trump.  As I was walking past the television, I overheard one of the Fox anchors say, “The Democrats are already trying to exploit this hurricane.” 

 “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so far and balanced, ” I mused.

It’s as if indeed “the center cannot hold,” that left is left and right is right, and never the twain shall meet.  The exception to this tribalism can be found with the Never Trump Republicans, people like Jennifer Rubin, George Well, David Frum, Bill Kristol, and Joe Walsh, pundits I once mocked but now admire for their devotion to rationality and the rule of law.

I do, however, have some Facebook friends who idolize Trump in an emotional Jim Jones cultish sort of way.  Recently, one addressed me personally in a post in which she asked in reference to the Steele dossier how I would like it if someone had made up a bunch of lies about me. Showing remarkable Dalai Lama like restraint, I didn’t respond with “Well, if I had paid off a porn star because I had sex with her three months after the birth of my son, I might not be that surprised to find myself the source of gossip.”  There’s no talking reason to these folks, who regurgitate Fox’s talking points and refer to Democrats as if they are not their neighbors but enemies to be feared. Several piled on my brother, who wasn’t as restrained as his older sibling, with smugly inane predictions about the fall of the Democratic Party.

How they’re unable to recognize Trump’s dishonesty and vulgarity amazes me.  I get why some Koch-like mega billionaire might be willing to abide Trump’s assault on democratic norms for the sake of gargantuan tax cuts, but I don’t understand why middle class citizens who try to instill honesty in their children support such an inveterate liar whose temperament makes the Amazing Hulk seem as mild-mannered as Fred Rogers in comparison.

In fact, Peter Wehner of the Atlantic makes a compelling argument that Trump suffers from mental illness:

Donald Trump’s disordered personality—his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving—has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogynypredatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for this countrymocking a reporter with a disability, and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

And it’s maddening! Each news cycle brings another outrage, whether it be receiving love notes from Kim Jong-un, diverting money from the military to build a medieval wall on the southern border, or encouraging foreign leaders and his own cronies to stay at his properties in blatant violation of the Emolument Clause of the Constitution.  

It’s overwhelming, and what so many of my friends have done is to just stop tuning in, which I can well understand. 

[1]When I suggested I might drive down Friday early to check on my house, the husband of the couple offered to fly me to Johns Island in his private plane.

FOX Been Out-Foxed by FOX


Note: This post was originally published 30 November 2011

I won’t try to fool you,” he says. “You’s too smart fer me. Aint a man in dis town kin keep up wid you fer smartness. You fools a man whut so smart he cant even keep up wid hisself,” he says [. . .] “Who’s that?” I says. “Dat’s Mr Jason Compson,” he says.

Old Man Job to Jason Compson in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

Certainly, FOX News deserves beaucoups of blame for the transformation of the Republican Party from a formidable network of conservative rationalists into a rabble of reactionaries drunk on rotgut rotbrain ideology, a corrosive concoction that destroys frontal lobes with meth-like dispatch.

Who would have guessed that 160 years after the publication The Origin of the Species the majority of candidates for the Republican nomination wouldn’t believe in evolution? That 66 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Party of Eisenhower would reject science and claim that contrary to the readings of finely calibrated instruments, global warming is a liberal conspiracy.

cp8205_Atomic Bomb explosion

What are the odds of an honest, rational person garnering the Republic nomination? I’d say probably about the same as Pol Pot receiving a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize.

Pol Pot's Cambodian Legacy

Pol Pot’s Cambodian Legacy

Let’s imagine a fiscal conservative with impeccable credentials and an exemplary personal life running for the Republican nomination. Let’s say he’s a learned man, an eclectic but deep reader, and based on reason, he has come to reject the concept that God Almighty ordained the founding of our country and because we are exceptional, we are exempt from the rules governing lesser nation states.

Our candidate’s conception of a divine being presupposes that the deity is rational. Certainly, if an omniscient creator god (one-third-Jesus) wanted to Christianize the New World, he could have orchestrated the transformation in less lethal ways. E.g., why not anoint a Native American prophet with a vision of the Truth instead of having Europeans (those relentless persecutors of Yahweh’s Chosen Ones) commandeer the continent, exterminate the natives, and institute human slavery so the righteous could build that shining city on a hill?

And let’s say our candidate appears on Sean Hannity’s show, and Sean asks our candidate if he believes in American Exceptionalism, and our candidate, being honest, answers with what he considers to be the truth.

“No, I don’t,” he says, “not completely.”

Hannity goes haywire. “Name one country that is better than the USA!”

Our candidate offers what he considers an unassailable example of a non-American culture with a more admirable morality. He might say something like that from 1776 – 1950 Tibet was infinitely more “Christian” than the United States.*

*In defense of our imaginary candidate, I submit Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Median as Exhibit A

Painting by Charles Schreyvogel

Painting by Charles Schreyvogel

Here’s what would happen in the above scenario. Rather than engaging our candidate in a debate, countering his arguments with rational ones of his own, Hannity would scream “You mean to say that you don’t believe America is the greatest country the world has ever known!!!!????” incessantly in his face.

Later, the producers would edit the footage into its most devastatingly succinctly seditious deliciousness, and a babble of blonde anchorwomen, taking nothing for granted re. their viewers’ intelligence, would, like so many harpies, screech over and over and over again that our candidate hates America, that our candidate blames America first. We’re talking ad nauseum for days and days, the footage now appearing in ads, our candidate sharing a split screen with Fidel Castro.

James Braun: Harpy

James Braun: Harpy

Forget it, imagined candidate. The FOX News voters have just scratched you off their lists. Their minds have been narrowed in the relentless vice of reactionary propaganda. Repeating Roger Ailes’s talking points like parrots at barbecues, they’ve never tuned into the NewsHour, witnessed John Yoo and Alan Dershowitz argue diametrically opposed views in measured tones. Never really heard a credible opposing argument.

What does the rest of the unexceptional civilized world think of the Republican Party? Here’s a snippet from Der Spiegel via Harper’s Scott Horton’s translation:

Africa is a country. The Taliban rule in Libya. Muslims are terrorists. Immigrants are mostly criminals, Occupy Wall Street protesters are always dirty. And women who claim to have been sexually molested should kindly keep quiet.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Republican Party. Or rather: to the distorted world of its presidential campaign. For months it has coiled through the country like a traveling circus, from debate to debate, from scandal to scandal, contesting the mightiest office in the world — and nothing is ever too unfathomable for them… These eight presidential wannabes are happy enough not only to demolish their own reputations but also that of their party, the once worthy party of Abraham Lincoln.

They are also ruining the reputation of the United States. They lie, deceive, scuffle and speak every manner of idiocy. And they expose a political, economic, geographic and historical ignorance compared to which George W. Bush sounds like a scholar. Even the party’s boosters are horrified by the spectacle…

So now that FOX has successfully convinced hordes of non-critical thinkers that what’s good for the Murdock and Koch families is good for them (low taxes for the rich, the dismantlement of the EPA), it has become virtually impossible for anyone who disagrees with the FOX party line to gain the nomination.* How else to explain the Vaudevillian ridiculousness of the current crop of clowns vying to lead the most powerful nation on Earth?

Pinballing from work to the grocery store to the sports bar, we’re probably too distracted to appreciate fully how frighteningly farcical these Republican candidates actually are.


Echoing Bunkers

10407125_755988607770258_695987431491394295_nOne phenomenon that future historians/anthropologists will cite as a contributing factor in our civilization’s decline is the polarization of our political parties, who have retreated into the echo-chambered bunkers of MSNBC and Fox News where viewers rarely hear cogent arguments that challenge their preconceptions.

Take last night’s Republican debate for example. This a priori premise was embraced, not only by every single candidate, but also by the live audience and assembled focus groups: Obama’s presidency has been unilaterally an unmitigated disaster.  

That’s right. The glory days of peace and prosperity of the Bush years have darkened into an era when America is no longer great.

We need Donald or Ted or Marco or Carly to restore us to those halcyon days of 2008!

Well, here’s a non-partisan assessment:


Here’s a chart of the budget deficit:


Of course, the Obama Administration has been far less than perfect, as some of the numbers in the first chart attest; on the other hand, who in her right mind would argue that generally things are worse now than they were under George W Bush?

Fox News viewers, that’s who.