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The Reign of Error

He’s flailing, more desperate. More lost in a welter of words that no longer answer any question but only generate more questions. I have not even mentioned his name and my readers know of whom I speak. Trump has finally achieved the sort of fame he has always longed for. But like many if not most of his accomplishments, it bears out the old saw: Be careful what you wish for… He has done this in the last stages of what events—as I read them—increasingly suggest will be his complete and utter breakdown.

In a previous article I tried to once and for all dispose of the issue of why Trump acts and speaks the way he does even when as recent history shows more and more that what he says and does not only does not bring about the thing he most craves—which was always highly unlikely—but in fact is bringing about its inverse. And what is that thing he has longed for his entire life? To win universal recognition as the wisest, the most brilliant and the most attractive human being alive. And this in fact that is not the thing he craves above all else. It is the only thing. That is why the cretins who explain his latest blunders as triumphs are right when they claim that their man—whose tally of lies according to the Washington Post’s mendacity-meter now stands at more than 20,000 since he took office in 2016—that is why they are right when they claim that he always tells the truth. He does. Once you grasp that Trump is all primary process in the Freudian sense. His speech now and before his entry into national politics has consisted of his unconscious thoughts unrevised by any secondary or conscious filters. The sole motive behind what he says is what he thinks will benefit him most at that very moment. That is why he is mad, and it is why, like any other madman, he cannot be said in a strict sense to be lying. Even though what he says is not true of the external world, it is true for him. Since whatever benefits him is the truth. If he says A on Monday and Not A on Tuesday, for him no contradiction is involved. The truth of the two statements is not measured against each other or in relation to something called ‘reality’ but against the same unchanging principle: What is best for me at this very moment, that is the truth. And it is.

As a result of this logic, at the conclusion of my previous article I argued that, while he was almost certainly doomed to lose anything approaching an honest election this fall, it would probably be very difficult to actually get rid of him. And now I find myself writing an article that suggests I missed the point of my own article. Well, in my own defense I can say that probability has a month later become near certainty. Even an idiot can be devious and he’s already laying the groundwork to cry foul on the morning of November 4th. A month ago I said it would be very difficult to finally be done with Trump once and for all. Now it seems that nothing short of his physical removal from the White House will suffice.

In the past month we’ve learned more about him, and, if possible, it’s even more distressing. His niece’s book was published despite his stupid and futile attempt to block—which only generated even more free advance publicity for it. Mary Trump’s book makes clear that her uncle was, due to his sociopathic father, a broken person from the start. He has spent—wasted really—his entire life trying to satisfy his insatiable and truly evil father who though dead can never die for his son. Imagine having a father who tells you to trust no one. Not even him.

Trump would be a tragic figure if he were not a buffoon. As it is he’s merely pathetic. Writers search for men in history he resembles. Hitler and Mussolini are common due to Trump’s megalomania. But for me the man who comes to mind, if one sets aside Trump’s megalomania—a big set aside to be sure—is Warren G. Harding. Harding is usually reckoned the most corrupt president ever—until Trump—but like Trump he was considered a long shot who really won the election simply because all the other candidates failed. Like Trump he was also mostly indifferent to the duties of the presidency and like Trump too he had girlfriends, and one of them, Nan, wrote book about of her affair with Harding, even as Stormy did about Trump. And like Trump, Harding was mostly a mediocrity whose success was the result of blind luck. But every analogy breaks down at some point. Harding was by all account sane. Trump is a lunatic who commands an arsenal capable of destroying the human race. That something like thirty-five to forty percent of adult Americans still support him says more about the profound illnesses of American society than its four hundred years of slavery and endemic racism, or its headlong rush towards ecological disaster.

I tried to lay the issue of Trump’s mental illness to rest once and for all but he staggers from one weird, remarkable disaster to the next. Here I will only mention four recent examples: his weird photo-op pilgrimage, his endorsement of the ideas of Stella Immanuel, a physician cum preacher cum interstellar sex expert, and his interviews with Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan.

On June 1st Trump went to church. He went St. John’s episcopal church leading his “entourage”—a motley mixture of army generals, cabinet members, White House staffers and the odd bagman for good measure. These worthies marched with him through wisps of dissipating teargas to the church for his photo-op. There he was videotaped holding a Bible upside down. Before the photo-op was shot someone showed him what was the top and what was the bottom of the Bible. It resembled nothing so much as some idiotic frat party stunt where the entire fraternity fueled by half a keg of Bud Light goes to a sorority house to confront en masse the one hot girl they all lust for but whom no one of them individually has the nerve to ask to go to Starbucks for a double mocha nonfat grande.

On July 29th Trump did something more disturbing in its way than the oddball Bible photo-op. It came about because to stop his freefall in “the numbers”—as he calls the polls that measure the number of people who love and esteem him more than they do their dogs—he did something that is surely a sign of his increasing desperation. He took the advice of his advisers. He tried to pretend the Covid pandemic was serious and praised the benefits of masks and “social distancing.” The servile news media immediately pounced on this. Grateful for the opportunity to present him as not a lunatic, they heaped praise on him the way a mom does her eight-year-old son when for once he puts his own dirty underwear and socks in the laundry. But his reset lasted only a few days before it flopped like Tulsa and as Yogi said it was déjà vu all over again.

On Monday July 28th after that switcheroo, Trump reverted to form. He cannot change. He is imprisoned in his pathology. He watched a video made the day before when a group of doctors in their white coats, representing an association called America’s Frontline Doctors—a sort of alt-AMA especially for quacks—had held a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court in which they announced a cure for the coronavirus had been found. Yes, hydroxychlorophine. Trump with hydroxychlorophine is like a dog with his bone. Among their number at the press conference was a one Stella Immanuel who said, “This virus has a cure. It is called hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax. I know you people want to talk about a mask. Hello? You don’t need a mask. There is a cure.”

Dr. Immanuel was finally too much for the rest of the group, mere run of the mill quacks. Even quackery apparently has its limits. They probably feared not without reason that their colleague might be headed next to interstellar space, and they finally got the mic away from her. Her tenacity at holding the mic could have only made her more endearing to Trump. The next day Trump retweeted the video of Doctor Immanuel’s speech in front of the Supreme Court.

He may have only learned of her interesting findings on other topics later. But he could only be more impressed by them. Among them was her surprising discovery that reptilian humanoids now occupy high positions in the US government and international institutions like the UN, the World Bank, WHO among others, and through these institutions they now control the earth. A still more astonishing discovery by Dr. Immanuel cannot have failed to catch Trump’s attention. Here I mean the phenomenon she calls “astral sex.” By astral sex Dr. Immanuel means the empirical fact that space aliens and humans have sex, and have been doing so for quite some time. The proof of this is that radical left doctors have used the DNA of space aliens to create a number of vaccines, one of them a vaccine that prevents people from holding religious beliefs.

Questioned about Immanuel, Trump described her ideas as “very impressive” and even “spectacular.” As Dr. Immanuel might say, “Hello?”

I offer all of these things as evidence of the world that Donald Trump now inhabits. It is a world of people and ideas and events that make “Dr. Strangelove” look like a slow news day. It also gives us some idea of the degree to which the mainstream media—the networks, Fox, CNN and PBS—have been cherry-picking their coverage of Trump the politician since before the 2016 elections. They do this for a variety of reasons. Fear of alienating Republicans and Trump voters, sending them to their competitors and losing advertising revenues. A preoccupation with appearing “balanced” to always show there are “two sides” to every story and hence a Trump defender for every critic—the idiocy of this is seen at once if one asks when was the last time a program about the Holocaust invited a Nazi to present their side of the story. The mainstream news media also ignore these things lest they be accused of not respecting the office if not the man. Lest they be accused of being unpatriotic. Then too they repress them for fear of retaliation in the form of losing access to powerful people and agencies for other unrelated stories, other unrelated issues. I could go on, but my readers can add to the list. This policy, if it can be called that, is not the result of some conspiracy. It has come about simply as the result of the professional instincts of those who work in the news media. This situation is what Freud would call “overdetermined.” There are so many people and motives that create it, it is impossible to single out any one of them and say, this is the cause.

The effect of this situation has been to keep Trump’s most egregious problems deep in the dim background of the daily news coverage, where these disturbing things are hard to discern by what passes for the informed public—that is, people who watch a national news broadcast more than once a week.

But two interviews suggest that this tacit agreement among all the major players in the news media is going by the wayside. In this instance I mean the interviews mentioned earlier, the Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan blow outs.

The Chris Wallace interview on Fox, Trump’s first major one-on-one interview in some time, was his attempt to claw his way back up to respectable “numbers.” The reviews were almost unanimous. It was a complete failure. Chris Wallace stands almost alone on the Fox roster in his respect for hard facts. As an interviewer he is much like his father the famous CBS reporter Mike Wallace. That is to say, Wallace is dogged and blunt in his questioning and he was that afternoon. Trump made a mistake even before the interview began. He chose to have it outside on a hot and muggy July day and was sweating even before Wallace started throwing fastballs past him. When the Wallace interview came a cropper, another salvage operation was mounted. It got worse.

About two weeks later Trump was interviewed by a relatively unknown journalist Jonathan Swan. After the interview Swan would be one of the most famous journalists in the world.

Swan’s interview for Axios showed evidence of Trump’s mental deterioration in just the two weeks since the Wallace interview. Swan’s approach to his subject was wholly different from that of Wallace. Where Chris Wallace was a blunt instrument, Swan was a scalpel. His silent quizzical expression as Trump meandered from one strange and disconnected assertion to another was as effective as his simple questions. Throughout the interview Trump leaned forward, flustered and frustrated, trying to placate the calm, implacable young man across from him who leaned back in his chair, at ease. Swan looked like someone at a work meeting who knows there are important issues on the agenda, and so let’s get it done. Even his relaxed imperturbable posture—one leg crossed over the other, his foot wagging a little—seemed to increase Trump’s discomfort.

When Swan mentioned that South Korea has had 305 coronavirus deaths with a population of slightly more than 51 million people whereas the US with a population of 328 million people has now had almost 170,000 deaths, Trump’s response came not from the sheaf of papers he waved around during the interview. It was instead an imperative issued by his mental illness. “You can’t do that,” he told Swan. Swan looking mildly surprised said, “Why can’t I do that?” Later when Trump said that there were no vaccines for the virus when he took office, Swan pointed out that the virus did not exist yet.

Watching Swan’s interview was like watching a televised vivisection of a hapless squirming victim. The commentary by Jill Filipovich on CNN said it best. She called it “an abject disaster…for the incoherent, appallingly ignorant President of the United States.”

In the wake of the Swan interview, Trump defenders were of course given time to defend the indefensible. They trotted out their usual arguments. My personal favorite is that Trump is unlike other politicians because he always says what he really thinks. Yes. And that is the problem. The truly mad tell you what they truly think.

Now Trump has veered into still more dangerous territory. He has begun to publicly attack his two chief medical experts on the virus, Drs. Birx and Faucci. He called a recent statement by Birx “pathetic” in a tweet. Then he retweeted a tweet that said Faucci was lying. Trump is walking on thin ice. And it’s August.

At present, Trump picks through things in his kitbag to see if there’s something he hasn’t tried. He withdraws for a day or two. Then impatient, he makes a sortie and drops some cluster-bombs in what are called—appropriately—battle-ground states. Then he renews his daily Covid briefings. They’re no longer covered live. He golfs one day, the next day he reverts to unleashing a barrage of tweets. Even his own golf courses provide no sanctuary. He’s videotaped waddling around like Baby Huey, casually picking up an opponent’s ball that landed ten feet from the pin and pitching it into a sand trap.

We are witnessing the most public disintegration of a famous man in history. The constellation of media, the web, cell phones added to TV and radio and books make it impossible for Trump to hide. Unless he’s captured in a net by men in white coats who put a cork in him before November 3rd, on that day will suffer an ignominious defeat by an apotheosis of Elmer Fudd.

After the Tulsa death rally—made a shambles when some pre-teen web wizards tricked Trump’s advance team into thinking there were a million ticket requests—a photo was taken of Trump that said it all. He walks across the White House lawn after returning from that debacle. His MAGA ball-cap is crumpled in his fist, his tie is undone, the ends hang down halfway to his knees.

That his advance team believed a million people wanted to come to Tulsa to see him tells you that the people around him are also at some remove from reality. The image of rows of empty chairs watching the Jumbo-Tron was like peering into the amphitheater of Trump’s mind.

For Trump there’s nothing for it now but to keep lurching ahead, lumbering doggedly on. Worstward Ho. The rubber room or bust.

Daniel Beaumont teaches Arabic language & literature and other courses at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Slave of Desire: Sex, Love & Death in the 1001 Nights and Preachin’ the Blues: The Life & Times of Son House. He can be contacted at: daniel.beaumont@rochester.edu

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