Just Bonkers

crazy like a fox

Jennifer Rubin, William Barr and his horrible hearing:

So far, Attorney General William P. Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee has done himself and the administration no favors. To the contrary, former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal observes, “Barr has been evasive and misleading from the first paragraph. It’s conduct totally unbecoming of an attorney general. He’s not even very good at misleading.”

Fordham law professor Jed Shugerman were more blunt. “This is nuts . . . just bonkers, ” he told me mid-morning. …

The attorney general seems determined to incinerate his professional reputation. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti says, “Barr is deliberately misleading the U.S. Senate by making statements that are highly deceptive but technically accurate.

Putting Barr’s Testimony in Context

As Freud may or may not have said, sometimes a pencil is just a pencil. Sometimes bonkers behavior is just bonkers behavior.

But Barr comes out of a “BigLaw” and big business environment where people often deceive others about their true motivations. A fair share are crazy—or become crazy with time. Some are crazy like a fox. Some THINK they can act crazy like a fox, and achieve some hidden objective.

So, I’m tellin’ you, whether you believe me or not, something other than simple bonkers behavior is going on here. If Barr “seems determined to incinerate his professional reputation”—and that’s a very fair summary of the situation—then it’s a conscious decision, and there’s a reason behind it. Maybe not a good reason. Maybe not a reason that you or I would approve. But there is a reason.

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.