Trump: “I know the sirburbs [sic]. Look. Westchester was ground zero for what they were trying to do. They were trying to destroy the beautiful suburban place, the American dream really. They want a low-income housing [sic] and with that comes a lot of other problems including crime. May not be nice to say it but I’ll say it.”
Laura Ingraham: “Not all poor people are criminals though.”
Trump: “I’m not saying that at all. But there does, there is a level of violence that you don’t see. So you have this beautiful community in the suburbs including—women. Right? Women. They want security. I ended where they built low-income housing project [sic] right in the middle of your neighborhood. I ended it. If Biden gets in, he already said it’s going to go at a much higher rate than ever before and you know who’s going to be in charge of it? Cory Booker. That’s gonna be nice, okay? So I think that women are going to want—well, for a lot of other reasons, the stock markets will crash. As sure as you’re sitting there, your 401Ks will go down to a small percentage of what they were.”
First things first. How do we know there is a level of violence if we don’t see it? The same way we know there is astral sex. That’s how. We know it from our dreams, our fantasies.
Voila, astral sex. Voila, Trump’s rhetoric. The unredacted speech—insofar as that is possible—of the President of the United States. But a brief excursus before we take up Trump’s latest speeches.
There is more focus of late on Trump’s mental state as a factor in how events will play out this fall—this is now my third article that addresses that issue in one way or another. There are on the left basically two schools on Trump and the election, both represented in Counterpunch. On the one hand, there are those who argue that, despite all the negatives, the pandemic, the economic misery, the social turmoil after the police murder of George Floyd, Trump can still win the election. They point to 2016. To the core of followers who would seemingly follow him over a cliff. They point to the great enthusiasm of his supporters which makes their turnout a sure thing etc etc. On the other hand—where I stand—are those who think it is highly unlikely he can win anything like a fair election. There is a somewhat better chance he might steal the election. And a still better chance he will succeed in throwing the result into doubt for many and some crisis will ensue. The near certainty is that—barring his own reelection—he’ll refuse to go. One factor among many sets a second school apart from the first. The first group usually dismisses Trump’s mental state. The other group consider it, as I do, crucial. We think that his mental pathology is as great an obstacle to his winning as the pandemic, the social unrest, and the economy. I had considered shelving this piece, wondering if I wasn’t beating a dead horse, but two recent articles in this journal that come from the second school, “What’s the Matter with Trump?” by Richard Gross and “Trumpism Explained” by William Gudal, showed that Trump’s mental state is still a matter of debate.
My method here is to consider Trump’s speech as irrefutable evidence of his mental pathology.
My first piece of evidence is the minute and a half of speech from Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham that began this article. For it shows again that he has a rhetorical repertoire of about one hundred words and phrases. Psychiatrists have noted this. These words and phrases that he endlessly combines and recombines are one reason why his unredacted speech is sic, sic, sic.
This not to say Trump cannot hold an audience. Clearly he can. Since his rhetorical skill cannot explain this, the explanation must lie in his audience which consists of two groups. The much larger group is his blockhead followers, people who talk like him. The much smaller second group consists of people like me. People who are fascinated by badness. Not evil per se, but just things that are execrable, dreadful and yet popular. Like the wallpaper that hastened Oscar Wilde’s death. So, the fact that Trump can hold the attention of these two groups is not evidence of rhetorical skill or intelligence. Far from it. It is evidence of the existence of a large group of people whose thinking is also to a great degree pathological (and who are also idiots) and a much smaller group of people who like Flaubert are fascinated by stupidity and just general badness. What might be called the dreadful wallpaper of contemporary culture.
Beyond Trump’s clunky diction, there is what I will call—to be fair and balanced—his argument. Ingraham asked why polls showed him losing the vote of suburban women, a vote which he split with Clinton in 2016 (he won suburban men by a large margin). His argument was tortuous and unclear even with Ingraham’s prompting and prodding. Other than passing mention of fake polls and women turning against Biden if he ever came out of his basement, his argument began with the beautiful place, the sirburbs or suburbs, being destroyed, as Westchester was, by implants of low-income housing. Implants are not always good. They do not always enhance. There are bad implants that contain crime and a level of invisible violence. You can’t see what’s in such implants unless they leak. And these do. So you have this beautiful place and it includes women. Which seems surprising, but there it is. And these women want security. But what they are going to get is something else. Something that Cory Booker is going to make go at a much higher rate than ever before right in the middle of their beautiful place. Which Trump concedes is going to be nice. Except, for a lot of other reasons, the stock markets will crash. And then Laura Ingraham’s 401K and probably her beautiful place too—who knows?—will go down to a small percentage of what they were. Okay?
This may seem like a piece of dreary sociology worked over and spiffed up by James Joyce and Rube Goldberg. But Trump’s minions react to this litter of words and phrases as predictably as Pavlov’s famous bow-wow.
Trump’s unredacted speech will hardly be found anywhere else but in this journal. Not only in my essays but also thanks to the contributions of people like Andrew Levine and especially Kenneth Surin who for some months has been keeping a log of Trump’s most interesting statements. Our point is that it is important to read and listen to Trump’s words verbatim. Not in their tidied-up versions found in the mainstream media where the grammar and malaprops are corrected. That sort of syntactical dusting and cleaning of Trump’s speech is so routine it is done almost across the board no matter whether the newspaper or website is friendly or hostile. An article pointing out the racist appeal in his mention of Cory Booker, corrects “…they build low-income project…” to “low-income projects.” As anyone who has really read Freud understands, you must listen to the very words of the subject. To leap past them to what you think he meant means you have lost your way. To understand what his words say you must not correct even the slightest syntactic misstep with “well, he really meant…”
Laura Ingraham makes this very mistake when Trump elsewhere in the interview compares the cop in Kenosha who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back to a pro golfer “choking”:
Trump: “The police are under siege. Because of things. They can do ten thousand great acts which is what they do. And one bad apple—or a choker. You know, a choker. They choke.
[Ingraham begins to “explain” what he means]: “Meaning they, they, they, they can’t?”
Trump [talking over her]: “Shooting the guy—shooting the guy in the back many times. I mean, couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him? You know, I mean, in the meantime he might have been going for a weapon. And then, you know, there’s a whole big thing there. But they choke. Just like in a golf tournament. They miss a three-foot putt—”
[Ingraham interrupts again]: “You’re not comparing it to golf, because that’s what the media would say—”
Trump: “I’m saying people choke. People choke.”
In other words, what Trump intends to explain away—that the shooting is significant or remarkable in some way—the words themselves confirm. Ingraham’s attempt fails because she tries to ‘correct’ Trump. The problem, that Ingraham shares with Trump, is that the words mean more than he intends. This not simply the case with Trump. Our words always carry a surplus of meaning for our listeners. In this case the words to another audience than his followers mean something quite different than what they mean for Trump and his followers. It is, I have to say it, to a degree Hegelian. There is a meaning of the words besides Trump’s intended meaning. It is this surplus of meaning that confounds Ingraham.
Ingraham wants to help Trump avoid a pitfall. Trump’s own words say, Yes, the cop shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back is on the same level of importance as a professional golfer missing a three-foot putt. Because, although it is not usual, sometimes professional golfers miss a three-foot putt. Likewise, while it is not usual when police attempt to arrest a black man that they shoot him seven times in the back, it does sometimes happen. They are similar. So, okay. Either thing might be shown on the Sunday evening news, but then we should move on to next week’s golf tournament. That statement will not bother Trump’s base one bit. But the MSNBC crowd will run amuck with it. What still more important and Ingraham knows this is that the casual brutality which equates shooting a black man in the back seven times with missing a three-foot putt might alienate a small but crucial group, suburban women who voted for Trump in 2016. Ingraham’s impossible task is to separate one side of the Mobius strip from the other. And she must do this while she talks to a man who doesn’t know himself what he is going to say until the words come out of his mouth. As he told his supporters at a recent rally, “I don’t talk about my ass.”
After disasters of the Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan interviews, Trump’s handlers tried to convince him not to do anymore one-on-one interviews, but they failed. Though he had a TV show, Trump does not take direction. It’s not that he’s a prima donna, though he is that. It’s because what he does and says is compulsive. It’s what he must do and must say. One might as well tell a river flowing west that its water is really needed on the east side of the mountain. Faced with this geographical problem, his handlers may have thought they finessed it to the satisfaction of Trump with another interview on Fox News, but this time with Laura Ingraham who would to the best of her ability would serve up big fat softballs that any regular rightwing idiot ought to be able to swat over a Little League fence. But Trump is no regular rightwing idiot, and Ingraham found herself half answering her own questions. She thought she knew his lines, but whatever the scene may be, Trump brings his own script which was written for him long ago by his dad. When he began to attack his enemies with his usual brickbats—they are evil, they are traitors, they only want to make everyone unhappy by laying waste to their perfect suburbs—when he launched this attack, Ingraham pointed out that it was just such talk that turned off many women. This too had no effect. Back to the Mobius strip. Where is the scotch tape?
There is, besides his words, two other things that must be mentioned. Trump’s tone of voice and his body language. His attack on his opponents was delivered with a strange lack of affect. In fact his tone of voice of late is virtually the same when he attacks Biden as it is when he recites all of his achievements that no one else in history has ever etc. His voice falls off the way the voice of a weatherman in Buffalo does when on a Saturday in February he announces the temperature on Sunday will rise to 27, but then Monday it will turn cold and snow again. Then there is his physical manner which is at odds with his lithium monotone. This was seen in the Chris Wallace and Jonathan Swan interviews also. Rather than sitting back in the chair, he leans forward like he is—well, like he is sitting on a toilet. It is not pleasant to look at. Diazepam.
To the Ingraham episode, I will add to the mix an excerpt from the just published book by Trump’s former press secretary Sarah Sanders. The title of her book is Speaking For Myself: Faith, Freedom and the Fight of Our Lives in the Trump White House. That horrible title, which is like the outbreak of a food fight, is strong evidence that the book was not ghost-written. I could come up with ten better titles in a minute that would sell more books. How about Stormy Daniels And Me: The Battle for Trump? Though more evidence is hardly needed that Sanders wrote the book herself—and is a rather sad case herself—there is more. Patience. We’ll get to it.
According to the New York Times, Sanders “writes glowingly about her former boss.” The Guardian calls the book “a paean” to Trump. And NPR calls it “an unabashed homage to Trump.” Be that as it may, Sanders’ book may be the first unabashed account of anyone that nevertheless contains a good deal of what can only be called bashing, though it undoubtedly is unintended. Which is why I mention it here. The surplus of meaning that confounded Laura Ingraham recurs again. But here that problem is further complicated by the personal relation between Sanders and Trump. Which is not pretty.
An incident in the book shows the bizarre relation between Sanders and Trump. Of course, that begs the question of whether it is possible to have any relation with Trump that is not bizarre. I may yet have something to say about that in another essay. That may depend on how bored I get. Nevertheless, I include the incident here because it shows Sanders in her book doing pretty much what Laura Ingraham did. Inflicting damage on Trump by trying to “help” him. Trump hardly needs help with that.
The incident Sanders describes took place at a summit that she and Trump attended in Singapore in June 2018. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was also there. Sanders writes that Kim at some point noticed that she was looking at him and winked at her. In the limo on the way to the airport, Sanders told Trump and his chief of staff John Kelly of the wink and of her immediate thought which was, “Surely Kim Jong-un did not just mark me!?” “Mark” seems a little odd to me. If it means anything other than simply “notice” I am unaware of it.
However, Trump was delighted by this because he took it to mean something much more pointed. He says to Sanders, “Kim Jong-un hit on you! He did! He fucking hit on you!” This quote is taken from the Guardian’s review of the book where the writer Martin Pengelly notes that Sander’s book “does not spell out the presidential expletive.” She then says to Trump, “Sir, please stop.” She should have saved her breath. Trump says to her, “Well, Sarah, that settles it. You’re going to North Korea and taking one for the team! Your husband and kids will miss you, but you’ll be a hero to your country!” Then she says Trump and Kelly “howled with laughter.” Trump jokes with her that she should go to North Korea and fuck Kim Jong-un so he will not make nuclear weapons. Ho ho ho.
There is a brief coda to Sander’s bizarre story that is still more bizarre. In September the South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim and signed a joint declaration that outlined steps that each side would take to reduce tensions, expand inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, and finally achieve denuclearization. Trump was exultant. He made public what had secretly happened which he apparently thought had made such a stunning turnaround possible. He revealed that he and Kim Jong-un, like himself a plump fellow with a weird hairdo, had fallen in love—which confirms Freud’s view that there is an element of narcissism in love. They had exchanged as lovers do “beautiful letters.” John Bolton said in his book that he and other aides were reluctant to leave Trump and Kim alone for fear that Trump would give Kim damaging concessions. I’ll leave those concessions to my readers’ imaginations. At least Trump’s fling took Sarah Sanders off the hook. If we were discussing a reality TV show, Trump’s revelation of their love would be the season finale. Trump divorcing Melania and planning with Kim their wedding at a North Korean missile site. But it was only September and by February Trump and Kim’s love had already cooled and the wedding was off.
Sander’s prudish language goes some of the way to explain her attraction to someone as routinely obscene as Trump. In a way it makes the whole episode even more obscene. But beyond the obscenity, there something more, something simply abject and sad. That a woman who cannot bring herself to write “fucking loves a man who has devoted his whole life to fucking people over. And what is worse, she loves him still after he jokes in front of other men that she should fuck Kim Jung-un. And she doesn’t seem to have an inkling of what she has revealed about herself.
Of all the discourse above, Lacan has something relevant to say:
This discourse… is the discourse of my father for instance, in so far as my father made mistakes which I am absolutely condemned to reproduce—that’s what we call the super-ego. I am condemned to reproduce them because I am obliged to pick up again the discourse he bequeathed to me, not simply because I am his son, but because one can’t stop the chain of discourse, and it is precisely my duty to transmit it in its aberrant form to someone else. I have to put to someone else the problem of a situation of life or death in which the chances are that it is just as likely that he will falter, in such a way that this discourse produces a small circuit in which an entire family, an entire coterie, an entire camp, an entire nation or half the world will be caught. The circular form of speech which is just at the limit between sense and non-sense…
Most people pro or con Trump do not really hear his speech in its singularity. Like Laura Ingraham, they rush to explain what they think he means to say and miss or willfully ignore much of what his words say. The surplus of meaning. Which is to say, the truth is found in the very gap between what the subject intended and what the words said with their small but apparent imperfections and hesitations. Omissions and superfluities. The subject lies. The words always tell the truth.
Now a bonus track. As I write, the story has broken of Trump’s remarks about war veterans. Whether alive and dead, they are suckers and losers. The Atlantic story has been confirmed by the Washington Post and other publications, and by ex-officials in Trump’s own administration.
Can anyone doubt that his own remarks about people in the military and intelligence establishments have created foes in those places skilled at bureaucratic infighting? These careerists see the occupant of the White House as a renter, and the establishments in which they work are so large they are almost governments unto themselves. The deep state isn’t deep. It’s right in front of your nose. The size of both the military and the intelligence “community” mean they are not monolithic in ideological terms. When a false story about China or Russia crops up in the press, it’s just as likely to be circulated to get back at some rival bureaucrat as it is to alter public opinion about China or Russia. Who gives a damn about Putin, when it’s that sonuvabitch at the East Asia desk who’s making my life miserable?
It has been this way in DC since the end of WW II. And DC is not Hollywood. No one should doubt that Trump, in shooting his mouth off, has shot his own foot more often than he has hit a foe. Due to his megalomania he has needlessly created foes in the military and the intelligence establishment who detest him not because of his stance on fracking, but because, when he pulled the switcheroo on the Kurds in single Sunday morning tweet, it crashed some house of cards they’d been carefully building for years. These people are patient careerists who know when to bide their time, and when the moment is right to strike.
The Russian bounty story, almost certainly false—it was immediately dismissed as such by the former head of military intelligence for the Middle East—was probably put out by officials who knew it was false, but who put it into circulation precisely because they knew that it would circulate in the media ad nauseam even after it was shown to be false, sticking to Trump like a damn piece of bubble gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe. The drip, drip, drip seems to have begun and it will probably go on. And this is only the soldiers and spies. Then, as Trump said to Laura Ingraham—there are the women. Revenge and money are powerful motives. And Trump knows that if he knows anything. It may be the warmest fall on record.
People question Biden’s mental agility even though he can—usually—follow directions and color within the lines. Usually. Whereas in Trump we have a man who boasts of having identified a picture of an elephant correctly. This he claims amazed doctors. And you know what? It probably did. People who say that those who think Trump is an idiot are mistaken should listen to what he told an interviewer a few years ago: “I’ve studied medieval times. They chopped off heads. They invented the wheel. Then they invented the wall. The wheel came before the wall.” I defy anyone to say those words were not uttered by an idiot.
At the first debate they should show the two men a picture of an elephant and ask them to write down what it is. The setting will be, as Trump would say, perfect. There will be no audience to blurt out the answer. It’s door number two!
1) The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis. Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller. Translated by Sylvia Tomaselli. New York: W.W. Norton 1991, p. 117. ↑