How It Ends

West-Wing-Set-2

Paul Waldman writes,

Perhaps the time has come to go full Truman Show on the president: build a replica White House and have him live in it, with a group of actors whose job it is to convince him that he’s still the president, while someone else takes over to prevent a global cataclysm.

Six Fireflies Beeping Randomly

batshit

Even for those of us who hate and despise Trumpism, it is hard to admit to ourselves, or to bring ourselves to say, that our fellow citizens have elected a President who suffers from a serious mental disability.

But there it is.

Because he is delusional, he often cannot distinguish between reality and illusion.

Because he does not think like a normal person, he does not know how normal people think.

Not knowing how normal people think, he cannot reason through how they are likely to react to some action or utterance on his part.

He is a danger to himself and others.

David Brooks writes,

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. …

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself. …

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. …

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.

And when will Republican congressional leaders finally do an intervention?

Probably not until he gives a news conference in his pajamas and screams obscenities at the ghost of Rutherford B. Hayes.

That’s where we’re going folks.

Because it’s getting worse, fast.

And other than that, Aardvark hopes that you are enjoying the play.

News from an Unimpeachable Source

mar

Embassies to and from Israel to be Relocated to Mar-a-Lago

Vasari reports,

My sources tell me that the Israelis are piqued by the intelligence disclosures attributed to President Trump and are waiting for the US to give assurances 1) that such a breach will not happen again and 2) that Trump will proceed with his promise to relocate the American Israeli embassy, currently located in Tel Aviv.

I am also told that Trump will announce that the American embassy will be relocated to Mar-a-Lago, the site of the American embassy to China, and that the US government will facilitate movement of the Israeli embassy to the US to Mar-a-Largo as well.

Unsubstantiated reports suggest that the American Department of State may be moved as well, creating what Trump calls “A really big, big thing that will bring more and more nations closer, much closer, closer to each other. Big. Bigger than the losing Democrats could think. Small”

A vice-president, nameless but close to the president, is said to have told Fox News that a Florida international community would eliminate the need for the United Nations.

Fox News reported and then denied that smoke was seen rising from the embassy of South Korea to the US.

Unspoken

With Trump Name Unspoken, Kushners Seek Investors in Shanghai

Props to Vasari, both for words and music. As he observes, the nepotism is of biblican proportions.

I’ll just add that two things the Chinese know about are political corruption and nepotism. Those are concepts they have well and truly got down.

The stories I could tell.

But I shall not tell them, because Aardvark is a man of discretion.

The Current Madness

Gun-toting tribe (don't worry, they're no longer 'headhunters')

Today at Vox Brian Resnick tells us about 7 psychological concepts that explain the Trump era of politics. I won’t summarize the article, but the seven concepts are

1) Motivated reasoning: rooting for a team changes your perception of the world

2) People who are the most well-informed about politics are often the most stubborn about it.

3) Evolution has left us with an “immune system” for uncomfortable thoughts.

4) The argument that’s most convincing to you is not convincing to your ideological opponents.

5) Many people seem unashamed of their prejudices.

6) Fear has a powerful influence on political opinion.

7) Social norms that protect against prejudice can change in the blink of an eye.

Four Comments by Aardvark

1.All true. Interesting. Helpful. Explains a lot.

2. But most of these things have been true of human nature for a very long time. Why now the mass derangement that led to the election of Trump?

As a matter of logic, pointing to timeless features of human nature does not explain a material change for the worse in human behavior.

Obviously, I can’t claim to know the full answer. And if I did, I would be as crazy as Trump. And you would rightly see me as someone as crazy as Trump. But consider these points.

3. One thing that has changed in recent memory is the widespread use of the internet and social media, which have turned out to facilitate tribalism and shared delusion.

4. Science advances, and people get better at making and doing things all the time. Computers get better. Digital cameras get better. Even dishwasher detergent gets better.

I have a strong sense that applied social science, likewise, has made big strides in the manipulation of public opinion.

I think that malign manipulation of public opinion really took off—and achieved orbit—back in the 1950’s, when Aardvark as knee high to a grasshopper. When the statistical link between smoking and lung cancer became overwhelmingly obvious, tobacco executives with any ounce of common morality left or were forced out–and the vermin who took their place undertook a massive campaign to repudiate science itself.

The campaign was wildly successful. Get large portions of the public to disbelieve science. Keep on selling them a poisonous product. Extract huge profits from your customer base prior to their inevitably painful early death. Continue to enjoy wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. And if the poor idiots choose to believe your bullshit and drink your Kool-Aid, well, then, they get what they richly deserve for being idiots.

The scam continued with the manufactured climate change bogus “controversy.” It marched on to victory with the election of Trump.

Love and Marriage

Joe and Mika

It has come to Aardvark’s attention that ‘Morning Joe’ hosts Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski are engaged. This is said said to be a very recent development. According to Mika,

Scarborough’s marriage proposal came during a trip to the Antibes in honor of her 50th birthday. During a walk by the Mediterranean, he feigned being winded and asked to take a break.  That’s when he busted out the oval-shaped diamond ring set in platinum.

“When I saw him on one knee, I started laughing nervously, almost hysterically,” Brzezinski said. “And then he asked, and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

For his part, Scarborough said he thought long and hard about attempting marriage for a third time.

“It’s the one part of my life that unfortunately, I haven’t gotten right in the past,” Scarborough told Vanity Fair. “I thought after the last time that I would never, ever do this again in a million years,” he said. “Then it occurred to me that with us working together and being live on the air every day for three hours that we were forced, no matter what disagreements we had, what misunderstandings we had, to work through it and get right with each other by 5:59 A.M.”

It has been suggested in certain quarters that Aardvark owes his readership a duty to comment on the forthcoming nuptials. I can only say that I have suspected for some while now that reports of a romance were accurate.

My evidence? That wifely look she gives him that’s affectionate but exasperated and somewhat disgusted at the same time.

Aardvark knows that look.

Severe Snowstorm Reported in Hell: George Will Makes Sense

snow in hell

Will writes,

It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence. …

What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.

Be Afraid, Pyongyang, Be Very Afraid

Will continues.

The United States is rightly worried that a strange and callow leader controls North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea should reciprocate this worry. Yes, a 70-year-old can be callow if he speaks as sophomorically as Trump did when explaining his solution to Middle Eastern terrorism: “I would bomb the s— out of them. . . . I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left.” …

Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

And David Frum asks, Who’s Really in Charge of the United States Government?

Frum tells a shaggy dog story of incompetence and incoherence about Korea policy, concluding,

McMaster’s Sunday statement continues a pattern whereby the president says something outrageous—and is then seemingly over-ruled by the general who heads the National Security Council, the ex-general who heads the Department of Homeland Security, or the ex-general who heads the Department of Defense.

Through the first two months of this administration, we saw this pattern play out with regard to NATO, Russia’s pro-Trump interference in the presidential election, immigration policy, and many other areas.

Under the traditional American system, the president is supposedly supreme over his appointees, especially his uniformed appointees. It’s ominous if this president’s policy ignorance and blurted provocations invite his generals to set themselves up as his keepers. Who’s really in charge of the government of the United States? That question resonates louder and louder every day.

In Aardvark’s own view, Frum has a valid point about the risks of the generals taking over the government, but right now I would be a lot more concerned if the generals don’t take over.

Praise Jesus, They’re Going to Vote on Health Care Tomorrow!

House to vote Thursday on Obamacare repeal bill

Why Democrats secretly want an Obamacare repeal vote: House Democrats think they could seize the majority in 2018 if Republicans are on the record backing the controversial health bill.

House Democrats think they’ve finally found their path back to power: Republicans voting to repeal Obamacare.

Yes, the best thing to happen to House Democrats since they pushed through the sprawling health care law — and lost the majority as a result — could be the Republican drive to dismantle it.

“I think the Republicans are playing Russian roulette with this vote,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “There’s no question in competitive districts where you’ve got a potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent, this could make or break you.”

Democrats don’t actually want the law repealed. Under their dream scenario, House GOP leaders would muscle through their controversial health care bill only to watch it die a long, painful death in the Senate, where it has already received a lukewarm reception from Republicans. Obamacare would stay intact while the House Republicans who voted to gut the law have a big shiny target on their back heading into the 2018 midterms.

And how does this all feel to a Republican?

GOP lawmaker says Republicans are treating the health-care bill like a ‘kidney stone’ they just want to ‘pass’

La Nausée

pepto

From the Huffington Post :

FBI Director James Comey revealed on Wednesday that the idea of the FBI’s actions affecting the outcome of the 2016 election made him “mildly nauseous,” subsequently causing lookups for the word “nauseous” to spike.

Merriam-Webster reports that searches for the word spiked 4,793 percent after Comey used the word during his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

As Pepto Bismol sales explode today, Jonathan Chait enlarges on the consequences of Mr. Comey’s nauseating actions:

It is widely known that Trump — whose political profile over the decades has vacillated from liberal to moderate to populist, and supported and opposed abortion rights, higher taxes on the rich, and universal health care — does not care very much about political ideas. This explanation is true, but incomplete. The president also does not know very much about political ideas. And it is not merely the details of policy that he lacks. Trump has no context for processing ideas. He does not understand which kinds of ideas imply support for which kinds of policies, nor why political figures tend to believe what they do, nor why they agree or disagree with one another. He is capable of forming strongly held beliefs about people in politics, but he does so in entirely personal terms. Trump’s flamboyant, weird ignorance reveals a distinct pattern. He is not so much nonideological as sub-ideological.

It is common to attribute Trump’s protean identity as simple self-interest: He has aligned himself with whichever party seemed to benefit him at any given moment. And surely calculation plays a role. But it cannot explain all his puzzling statements about politics. Sometimes he expresses openness about unpopular policies his administration and party would never go for (like a higher tax on gasoline). Trump constantly relates questions about politics back to himself and his alleged deal-making genius not only because he’s a narcissist, but because the contest of political debate remains largely mysterious to him.

Many Americans share Trump’s lack of ideological sophistication. High-information voters tend to clump at the ends of the political spectrum. They may not have sophisticated beliefs, but their identification with one of the party coalitions is a tool they use to make sense of individual issues. Low-information voters tend to have a weak understanding of what the political parties stand for and how those positions relate to each other. These voters can be roughly categorized as “centrist” because they don’t line up neatly with one party platform or the other. But, rather than a consistently moderate outlook, they share a mishmash of extreme and frequently uninformed beliefs. Because they don’t understand the philosophical basis for disagreements, they assume the two parties ought to naturally cooperate, and tend to see partisan bickering as a failure and an indication of personal fault by politicians.

Trump thinks about politics like a low-information voter, which enabled him to speak their language naturally. His stated belief during the campaign that he could expertly craft a series of popular deals — “it’s going to be so easy” — appealed to low-information voters because it earnestly described the political world as they see it. …

Politics is a strange institution that forces committed professionals who have coherent philosophical beliefs to persuade voters who mostly do not. Barack Obama accomplished this in highbrow fashion. His characteristic political style was to incorporate the values of both left and right and try to technocratically synthesize the perspectives together. (“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”) Trump accomplishes it in lowbrow style, by literally not understanding the source of the disagreement.

la nausee

Crazy Like a Fox, or Just Crazy?

crazy

That is the question posed by the headline over Tom Friedman’s column this morning. The column comes in three parts. All are interesting, especially the third.

Part the First: the Psychiatric Question

Friedman marshals (some of) the evidence:

You read all of Trump’s 100-day interviews and they are just bizarre.

Out of nowhere Trump tells us he would be “honored” to negotiate directly with the leader of North Korea, after weeks of threatening war. Out of nowhere he says he would consider a gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure. Out of nowhere he says he is considering breaking up the nation’s biggest banks. He also insists that his Obamacare replacement legislation contains protections for people with pre-existing conditions that it doesn’t.

There’s barely a dictator in the world for whom he doesn’t have praise. And he repeats a known falsehood — that Barack Obama wiretapped him — and tells reporters they should go find the truth, when, as president, he could get the truth from the F.B.I. with one phone call, and when pressed whether he stands by that allegation, answers, “I don’t stand by anything.”

Having, metaphorically, put the bullet in his mouth and rolled in around on his tongue for a while, Friedman can only bring himself to nibble:

Is this a political strategy unfolding or a psychiatric condition unfolding? I don’t know — but it tells me that absolutely anything is possible in the next 100 days — both good and bad. Trump is clearly capable of shifting gears and striking any deal with any party on any issue.

I have two observations, both of which arise from common sense and life experience.

First, if you are beautiful, you are probably inclined to think that being beautiful is the most important thing in the world. If you are really good at calculus, you may well believe that knowing calculus is the most important skill a person can have. In fact, being beautiful and knowing calculus are both good things, but life presents many circumstances to which neither beauty nor mathematical prowess is relevant.

Trump is not beautiful nor, I suspect, does he excel at calculus. Instead, the qualities which he possesses in unusual abundance—and which he therefore cherishes—are ignorance, low attention span, misdirection, prevarication, delusional clinging to false information that boots his fragile ego, and bluster. No strategy. Only tactics of highly limited utility.

Second, like Friedman, Aardvark is no psychologist. But I know that pretending to be crazy in pursuit of coherent goals is one thing, while behavior without any coherent explanation that looks like a psychological breakdown is something else.

Part the Second: What Has Saved Us Thus Far

Friedman writes,

In his first 100 days, allies and adversaries saved Trump and the country from some of his most extreme, ill-considered campaign promises. His foreign policy team stopped him from tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Friedman expatiates with other examples. Please read for yourself.

Part the Third: What Will Save Us

Friedman continues,

As for the next 100 days, who will protect us? Myself, I am not counting on the Democratic Party. It’s too weak. On the issues I care about most, I’m actually counting on California. I believe California’s market size, aspirational goals and ability to legislate make it the most powerful opposition party to Trump in America today.

It’s an interesting point. I won’t quote further, because you can read it in toto, if so inclined.

I’ll just close by observing that, though a Right Coast person, I have spent a lot of time on the Left Coast. (Dr. Aardvark’s family and all that.) And every time I go there, I see something strange, or I experience an unusual atmosphere, and I am reminded of the Chinese saying, 天高皇帝远, Heaven is High and the Emperor is Far Away.

In Friedman’s telling, this is a really good thing.

 

An Increasingly Confused Mental State

Recently I posted on the topic, I Actually Think His Mental State is Deteriorating. This morning, Morning Joe and his merry band—surely not Aardvark followers—picked up on the very same point. The Andrew Jackson/Civil War madness. The Duterte White House invitation. The anticipated honor of talking to Kim Jong Un. The utter incoherence on his health care message. The catastrophic interview with John Dickerson.

This man is not well.

He was not well to begin with. Now that he’s losing, losing, losing, he’s breaking down.

All Hat, No Cattle

'Lord, we thank thee for the bounty we're about to receive.'

From Talking Points Memo, interspersed with appropriate commentary:

Trump got close to nothing in the funding bill meant to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. He ended up crying uncle or “no mas” on virtually all his demands.

Let’s go down the list.

The EPA was slated for massive cuts – roughly 31%. It will retain 99% of its funding. [All booster, no payload.]

Trump demanded funding for his border wall. He didn’t get any. [All foam, no Dos Equis.]

Trump wanted to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health. It’s getting $2 billion of additional funding. [All lime and salt, no margarita.]

Funding is included for the Obamacare subsidies Trump has threatened not to pay. [All sizzle, no steak.]

There’s no provision for “defunding Planned Parenthood.” [All bark, no bite.]

There’s no language to defund “sanctuary cities.” [All fart, no poo.]

TPM goes on to note that,

Far from the terror to the North he appeared to be, Mexicans are concluding that Trump is low energy. …

None of this is terribly surprising. Trump presented himself as the consummate alpha-male ball buster, someone who speaks and embodies the ethos of domination his most ardent supporters instinctively crave and believe in. In practice, he’s repeatedly adopted what might be termed the preemptive fail, not only talking tough but failing to achieve his aims but actually jumping ahead of the process and unilaterally backing down or saying a metaphorical ‘nevermind’ before the supposed confrontation even arrives. As the Mexicans seem to have concluded Trump is less a threat than a bullshit artist who caves easily and is best either ignored or treated with a stern, disciplined and unafraid response.

No, Aardvark is Not Writing Headlines for Politico, and Other Miscellany

bigly

I didn’t write it, but I should have:

The good, the bad and the bigly

Trump’s early presidency in photos.

‘They Thought the Man Had Gone Bananas’

How Europeans reacted to Trump’s attack on Sweden.

Well, this should finish pissing off everybody:

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising U.S. Gas Tax

Vasari’s reaction to the Lincoln post:

If only Trump had been prez instead of Lincoln.

I guess he’s appealing to his base. But it could backfire. Some of that base have such fun with the war. Gone With The Wind would never have been filmed. Lost jobs. Confederate flag makers–a whole industry wiped out. Jobs lost. Bad.