Tag Archives: Trump

European Media Saying What American Media Won’t

In April of this year, I stumbled upon a publication called Euronews, and read the following lede from one of its “viewpoint” articles:

There has only been one headline worth printing since Donald Trump was elected president. That headline is “Donald Trump suffers from a dangerous incurable narcissistic disorder which makes him incapable of empathy and reason. He is a grave danger to the US and the world.”

Instead of stating this disturbing fact, the evidence for which is voluminous, the mainstream media have over the last three years led America down the rabbit holes of normalising him and trying to understand him as you would a psychologically healthy human being. But Donald Trump is not a psychologically healthy human being and reporting on him as if he were, empowers him and disempowers people of reason. Acknowledging his pathology is fundamental to reversing this imbalance.

The article made the point that an understanding of Trump’s “dangerously disordered mind” requires “joining the dots” between what the article identified as his narcissism, his paranoia and his incapacity to accept reality. The author went on to detail the symptoms of  each of those disorders and the elements of Trump’s behavior that “fit” the diagnoses.

In all fairness, there has been significant media emphasis in the U.S. on Trump’s malignant narcissism–but I will admit there has been less attention paid to the diagnosis of paranoia. And when we do start to connect–or “join”–the dots, it’s a pretty convincing one, and especially relevant to his horrendous approach to international relations.

Acute paranoia is characterised by a worldview in which other people are not only inherently untrustworthy, but also “out to get” the paranoid individual. Connecting those dots explains some otherwise confounding foreign policy behaviors:

Trump’s major foreign policy stances are consistent with such extreme paranoia. Trump’s attacks on membership organisations, such as NATO and the European Union, reflect a paranoid conviction that such alliances cannot be trusted and will serve only to rip off the United States, a view he has expressed repeatedly. Trump’s affinity for violent authoritarian leaders is also consistent with the interpretation that they are more in tune with Trump’s own narcissistic and paranoid worldview, than the “weak” leaders of America’s major democratic allies.

According to this analysis, Trump’s psychopathology simply doesn’t allow intelligence information incompatible with his worldview to be processed. Lacking the ability to fact-check the intelligence provided to him–or for that matter, to recognize or fact-check the reality within which he resides– he fills that space with “fact-free conspiracies that fit with his emotional needs.”

The author’s conclusion is depressing–and undoubtedly quite accurate:

For those looking to November’s election as the safety stop that will secure all our futures, Irish journalist and author Fintan O’Tooles has issued a prescient warning: “As the cost of [Trump’s] terrible failures of public duty and common decency becomes ever more starkly evident, he will revert in his re-election campaign to an explanation of the [COVID-19] disaster, not as a consequence of his own incompetence and contempt but as a punishment inflicted on the United States for its failure to build his wall, keep out foreigners, and crush the enemy within. Like a medieval quack making a profit in times of plague, he will offer a stricken people an ever-higher dose of a toxic cure.”

It is long past time to acknowledge the truth that has been staring us in the face all along – Donald Trump is clearly mentally disordered and poses a grave danger to us all.

The interval between now and January 21st will be incredibly dangerous. And in the absence of any discernible Republican integrity, I have no idea what we can do about it.

 

The Threat Of Ambiguity

Comments to previous posts to this blog have focused on the role played by religion in the polarization that characterizes today’s America. I’d like to put a slightly different “spin” on that conversation.

As Len Farber noted, it is unfair to lump all religions together–there is, as my youngest son has noted, a great deal of difference between religions that help adherents wrestle with the “big questions” of life and those that dictate an infallible answer. That difference extends beyond the worldviews we label “religion.” Back in the days of the communist USSR, it was often remarked that communism was a religion of sorts, and that observation can be enlarged to include pretty much all rigid belief systems.

Which brings me to one of those “there are two kinds of people” generalizations. (Obviously, a dangerous overstatement, but bear with me…)

We live in a world that can seem incomprehensible; confronting our complicated reality can range from exciting to intimidating to extremely frightening. Most of us (I hope, at least, that it’s most of us) muddle through, recognizing and coming to terms with our human limitations and making what sense we can of a complex world. But for a not-insignificant number of our fellow humans, keeping oneself open to change, to reconsideration–a necessary attribute of living with ambiguity– is intolerable. Shades of gray are terrifying. Such people are desperate for bright lines, clear rules–for certainty.

Enter some–not all–religions and other belief systems, including conspiracy theories that “explain” the inexplicable and bring clarity to messy reality.

If you are an older white male in today’s America, you were probably born into a society that promised you a future in which you would be a part of the dominant caste, a future in which you wouldn’t have to compete with–or share importance with– uppity women and minorities. That future didn’t unfold as promised. It’s understandable that you might want someone to blame for the social changes that cost you the reality you had the right to expect.

It was probably the fault of the “libs” or the “femi-nazis” or Blacks, or maybe the immigrants from “shit-hole” countries.

As I have tried to understand how any mentally-competent American could look at Donald Trump and see someone who belongs in the Oval Office, I have become convinced that an inability to cope with the ambiguities of modern life explains a lot.

There is, of course, a lot of research telling us that “racial resentment” is the most prominent predictor of support for Trump. There is also ample research suggesting that feelings of inadequacy and fearfulness–characteristics of an inability to cope with the ambiguities of life–are predictors of “racial resentment.”

Cristina Bicchieri is a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the lead author of a paper with the intriguing–if somewhat challenging/incomprehensible– title, “It’s Not a Lie If You Believe the Norm Does Not Apply: Conditional Norm-Following with Strategic Beliefs.”

In a discussion with Thomas Edsall, Bicchieri attributed one of Trump’s strengths to the fact that “people hate ambiguity,” and if there is one thing Trump is not, it’s ambiguous. “Trump’s ability to convey conviction, even when saying things that are demonstrably false, is critically important in persuading supporters to believe and vote for him.”

There’s an old saying “It isn’t what you don’t know that hurts you; it’s what you know that ‘just ain’t so.'” Too many Americans prefer to cling to certainties–theological, ideological or conspiratorial– that “just ain’t so.”

I think it was Bertrand Russell who said, “What men want is not knowledge, but certainty.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Play Ball!” A Sad Story

As November 3d gets closer, Trump’s behavior gets more bizarre. (I know, that seemed impossible…)

Just in the past couple of weeks, he has retweeted “medical advice” from a doctor who warns people against having sex with demons and thinks the government is preparing to vaccinate people against religion. Oh–and she also says that pharmaceutical laboratories use alien DNA in formulating their medications. (Maybe the opponents of “Big Pharma” know something??)

Trump also invented an invitation–which he then “declined”– to throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game, evidently because he was jealous that Dr. Fauci had been asked to do so. The invitation reportedly came as a surprise to both the Yankees and the White House.

Trump’s abrupt announcement was reportedly prompted by his irritation that Fauci, who has clashed with the President’s rosy framing of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., had been invited to throw out the opening pitch.

The President walked back his announcement on Sunday, tweeting that plans to throw the first pitch were cancelled due to his “strong focus” on COVID-19.

This would all be pretty funny if we weren’t talking about the President of the United States. 

In an article originally from Salon, Chauncy DeVega interviewed a psychiatrist who had previously written that Trump is a psychopath. Dr. Justin Frank is a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center and has more than 40 years of experience in psychoanalysis. His most recent book is “Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President.”

I am not unmindful–nor dismissive– of professional concerns about “distant analysis,” but Frank has been joined by a significant cohort of other psychiatrists expressing concerns grounded in Trump’s very public behaviors.

DeVega prefaced his interview with a summary of those psychiatrists’ conclusions:

Through his public behavior Trump has repeatedly shown that he is mentally unwell. His apparent pathologies include malignant narcissism, delusions of grandeur, an attraction to violence, sadism, a lack of impulse control, utter disregard for rules and norms, and a pathological tendency to lie. In sum, our president can be reasonably described as a psychopath or a sociopath.

As DeVega notes, mental health professionals have repeatedly warned the public that Donald Trump’s mental health makes him a danger to the United States and the world, and we are seeing that danger play out in very public ways as the election nears. I found the following insights from Dr. Frank’s interview particularly illuminating.

He has always had a split mind. It is split between two sides. This is called “binary thinking.” In this way of thinking a person is either right or wrong. You like me or you hate me. You’re loyal or you’re disloyal. Trump’s world is very clearly demarcated. Now he is likely upset by Fox News because of his interview with Chris Wallace. In his mind, Fox News is now a very difficult organization. How is he going to place them? Good or bad? Friend of foe? A person develops binary thinking as a way of protecting themselves from anxiety. Trump has made his world very simple. If anyone questions or challenges him they are “nasty” and must be retaliated against. That’s how his world is.

I was previously unfamiliar with “binary thinking,” but it explains a lot.

Frank attributes Trump’s seething hatred of Obama primarily to the fact that Obama shamed him at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011.

“It was very upsetting to Trump. I believe those feelings were converted in Trump’s mind from humiliation and shame immediately into aggressive hatred. The problem with binary thinking is that unless you learn to think complex thoughts, you have a very limited range of responses to adversity or trouble.”

The interview with Frank was lengthy, and it is worth clicking through and reading in its entirety. He and DeVega discuss Mary Trump’s book, Republican cowardice, and the public’s various reactions to Trump, but the observation that I thought was the saddest–and most illuminating–was this:

The most painful thing about Trump to me is that he really envies people who are loved. Trump hates people who are loved. Trump hated Obama not just because he made the mistake of being president while black, Trump also hates Obama because he was loved.

On a personal level, this is tragic, because the more Trump “acts out’ in an effort to be loved, the more he displays how defective and unloveable he is.

If he hadn’t done so much damage–and if he didn’t have the nuclear codes–I would be a lot more compassionate….

 

 

Covid And Right-Wing Media

The damage done by America’s loss of truly mass media–and especially the loss of trusted local newspapers–isn’t confined to government and civil society. Health officials are now reporting that people who get their “information” from rightwing media sources like Sinclair and Fox are putting themselves at far greater risk from Covid-19.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is less well-known than Fox, but it operates almost 200 television stations. It has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, and recently published an interview with a conspiracy theorist claiming that Dr. Fauci “created the coronavirus using cells.” 

Meanwhile, Fox News pundits continue to question the seriousness of the virus, and to promote untested “cures” touted by Trump and other non-experts.

It isn’t just Sinclair and Fox. Earlier this week, Trump and Don Junior both retweeted a video they evidently got from Breitbart, in which a group of “doctors” said that masks were unnecessary and that Trump’s favorite drug– hydroxychloroquine–cured the virus. (Real medical experts say hydroxychloroquine is useless against Covid and masks are essential.)

One of the “doctors” quoted by Trump is Stella Immanuel, the spiritual leader of Fire Power Ministries, which the Washington Post calls “a pronouncedly non-orthodox church.”

Endometriosis and other potentially dangerous gynecological conditions are the residue of sexual intercourse with demons, Immanuel teaches. These demons, known as “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives” (you might prefer their pet names: Incubus and Succubus) once walked the Earth in physical form. After they drowned in Noah’s flood, however, they carried on only in non-corporeal form. They visit humans in sexy dreams, which aren’t dreams after all but spirit spouses making a booty call.

According to Immanuel, the demons are responsible for a wide variety of problems, including male impotence, most financial troubles and marital discord.

So who are you going to believe? That downer Fauci, or “Doctor” Immanuel?

There are obviously a number of reasons why the U.S. has fallen so far behind other rich countries in containing the virus. The number one reason, of course, is Donald Trump, and the lack of anything approaching a thoughtful, co-ordinated national response managed by medical professionals who actually know what they are doing. Another is the significant minority of our population who justify selfish (and self-destructive) behavior by braying about “freedom.”

But a not-insignificant cause of our failure to contain the virus is the prevalence of right-wing media sources unconstrained by journalistic ethics or professionalism. Fox and Sinclair are the most pervasive, but millions of Americans also read–and believe–sources like Infowars and Breitbart. 

Crazy people have always been with us, but the Internet and social media have dramatically amplified their reach. Radical news media–left and right–have always been around, but they have rarely exerted the influence of Fox and Sinclair.

As Max Strasser put it in the introduction to a recent New York Times newsletter (no URL), 

Canada, Japan and much of Europe have no equivalent to Sinclair — whose local newscasts reach about 40 percent of Americans — or Fox News. Germany and France have widely read blogs that promote conspiracy theories. “But none of them have the reach and the funding of Fox or Sinclair,” Monika Pronczuk, a Times reporter based in Europe, told me.

Fox is particularly important, because it has also influenced President Trump’s response to the virus, which has been slower and less consistent than that of many other world leaders. “Trump repeatedly failed to act to tame the spread, even though that would have helped him politically,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has written. 

What we are experiencing is a perfect storm: a mentally-ill President receptive to conspiracies peddled by cynical–and profitable– propaganda mills, with few if any local newspapers remaining that could provide non-political, trustworthy information alerting citizens to the dangers of misinformation–or explain that the President is quoting a “doctor” who believes that alien DNA is used in many therapeutic drugs and that government scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent religious faith.

No More Dog Whistles

To my readers: Watch President Obama’s eulogy to John Lewis, and remember what a President looks and sounds like.

Now I return you to my regularly scheduled screed….

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Can you stand one more post on Republican bigotry? I ask because there’s a new story every day.

For example, there was a recent report from The Hill about a display in the office of Representative Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.)–  an 1897 book, “General Robert Edward Lee; Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot.” People waiting for a meeting with the Representative reported that

the book was opened to a page that read: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”

Just another day in GOP-land.

A post devoted to enumerating explicitly anti-Black  behaviors by multiple Republican officeholders would be both long and redundant. There has been less focus on the party’s growing willingness to express its anti-Semitism, despite the fact that prejudice against Jews is another reliable element of White Nationalism.

I was reminded of the prevalence of that anti-Semitism by a recent news article–also from Georgia.

A political Facebook ad for Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue’s campaign has been pulled after sparking controversy and charges of antisemitism. 

At the helm of the controversial ad is a photo of Perdue’s Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff with what appears to be an exaggerated nose. In an investigation lead by The Forward, a media outlet geared toward a Jewish audience, it was determined that Ossoff’s nose was both “lengthened and widened.” 

Perdue’s campaign team says the ad was designed by a third-party vendor and that any distortion of the image was unintentional. The campaign team added that incumbent Perdue has a strong record of standing against antisemitism and all forms of hate.

 On Monday, Ossoff addressed the offensive photo seen in the ad by tweeting, “I’m Jewish. This is the oldest, most obvious, least original antisemitic trope in history. Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”

Perdue said that Ossoff’s nose was “inadvertently” widened when the picture was resized for use in the ad; however, observers pointed out that the nose was the only part of the photo that was affected. They also noted that the ad showed Ossoff together with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (who is also Jewish), and accused them of trying to ‘buy Georgia,’ a not-so-subtle allusion to centuries-old anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish people.

The Intercept recently had an article  about Trump’s ironic attack on Muslim Representative Ilhan Omar, calling her anti-Semitic for two insensitive tweets about Israel (for which she has “unequivocally apologized”) and saying she should resign. The article highlighted six Republican members of Congress it said “should resign first” for having exhibited far worse anti-Jewish behaviors.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, representative for California’s 23rd Congressional District, has promised to “take action this week” against Omar over her tweets.

This is the same McCarthy who took to Twitter in October 2018 to accuse three Jewish billionaires — George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg — of trying to “buy” the midterms. He posted his tweet just a day after Soros received a pipe bomb at his home in New York.

McCarthy never apologized.

The article listed five others: Steven Scalise, who in 2003 spoke at a convention of the white supremacist European American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by David Duke; Louie Gohmert (enough said); Matt Gaetz, who invited the notorious Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson* to be his guest at the State of the Union, and who has appeared on Alex Jones’s “Infowars” show. (Among other canards, Jones has accused George Soros of funding the caravan of migrants from Central America); Steve King (again, enough said); and Paul Gosar,

Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who represents Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, has claimed that the far-right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — at which marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” — was “created by the left” and led by an “Obama sympathizer.” He has also suggested that Soros funded the event and falsely claimed that the Jewish billionaire “turned in his own people to the Nazis.”

In fact, Gosar is so brazen in his conspiratorial, anti-Jewish bigotry that his own family has felt the need to publicly denounce him.

Republican anti-Semitism has become so widespread and obvious that a new website has been developed to track it.

The website — which is part of a broader campaign against white nationalism launched earlier this year by progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc — aims to educate the wider public on the explosion in far-right antisemitic incidents since Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the GOP has abandoned its dog-whistle in favor of an out-and-proud White Nationalist bullhorn.

In November, we’ll see how many Americans endorse that bigotry.