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writing for godot

The Baby Ain't Well, But What About the Rest of Us?

Written by Carl Peterson   
Wednesday, 22 January 2020 07:05

Alternet has run a series of articles for at least the last several months wherein highly credentialed psychiatrists assess the current state of the president’s mental illness.  A consensus in these articles is that the president’s malignant narcissism is getting worse, is bound to continue to get worse, and is bound to express itself in symptoms that will pose an ever greater threat to the United States, other countries and maybe to the globe itself.  

It is not a happy assessment, but one that in general many Americans find persuasive because, after all, they sensed something seriously wrong with the president before he was ever elected.  Prior to our current president’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Obama said publicly that Trump was “unfit” to be president.  Other public figures said the same.  Even then, prior to Trump’s election, many regular Americans had privately drawn similar and even more dire conclusions about the prospect of Trump’s election to the presidency.  In short, for many Americans a Trump presidency was a scary thought even before he was elected.  

But for about 40% or so of the presidential electorate, the election of this president elicited an almost opposite response.  Joy, release, exultation–the feeling that at last they had a president who was on their side, who understood them, who was one of them, who would be their champion.  They, in antithesis to those on the other side of the political divide, perceived (or claimed to perceive) nothing wrong with him, but on the contrary saw that he was the right man at the right time. [Not counted here are those base opportunists who merely saw an exclusive, personal benefit for themselves in the possibilities presented by this presidency.]

So, there is a bit of a dispute here, a dispute growing out of radically different perceptions regarding who and what this president is, which in turn had grown out of a deeper dispute about the nature of American political reality, which in turn had grown out of a deeper epistemological dispute.  A dispute about how we know reality.  There is apparently no human arbiter that could, at least at this moment of history, settle any of these disputes to the satisfaction of both sides--so great is the perceptual variance here.  

From the perspective of those alarmed and dismayed by this president, every means they might have of determining the truth about him: common sense, past experience with a variety of human beings, intuition, basic knowledge of psychiatric principles, basic knowledge of historical and political science principles, reference to evidence (empirical) generally available to all sentient, reasoning human beings, and therefore a possible basis for developing consensus opinion . . . and etc., affirms that those non-wealthy Americans who genuinely believe that the president has done and will continue to do good things for them are deeply mistaken in those beliefs.  

After nearly three years of this presidency, many of those Americans who since no later than 2016 have had an unfavorable opinion of the person who is now president have daily grown more convinced that the president is a danger to this country, the international community, and to the Earth itself.  For three years the evidence returned by the usual modern human means of determining day-to-day reality has told Trump critics that they should be alarmed by this president and do all they can to limit the damage he will inexorably inflict and help to inflict as long as he is president.

On the other hand, working with different means of producing a picture of reality, the president’s core supporters dismiss criticism of the president with a conclusion drawn from two conjoined assumptions (without ever attempting to publicly establish the validity of these assumptions by serious discussion of the evidence): 1) That, shocked and humiliated by the election results, the opposing party refused to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s victory in 2016; and, 2) For that reason the opposing party has used its domination of the “deep state,” and mass media to undermine the president with a never-ending cycle of “fake news.”

A cycle of circular reasoning is initiated:  Once this approach to constructing a picture of reality is taken, it is but a short step to believing that all reporting critical of the president is fake and therefore does not need to be considered further:  All evidence of the president’s imperfection is fake because all such claimed evidence, tainted at its source, is fake.  If we reduce the formula further by eliminating insufficiently substantiated premises: All evidence against the president is fake because all evidence against the president is fake.  This circular reasoning triggers another round of increasing political polarization which establishes that only those already skeptical of the president accept, prima facie, criticisms of the president as possibly or probably valid therefore in need of consideration, while the unshaken core of Trump supporters will not accept any criticisms of the president as possibly valid, and do not believe that any such criticisms are worth looking into.

Given the jarring dissimilarity between the presidential portraits painted using these differing methods of ascertaining the truth, it is hard not to wonder about the effect this is having on the sanity of the individuals constituting our nation.  Speaking from personal experience, as one who in the endeavor of greater understanding has more than once ventured into that other world where the current president is a better president than Abraham Lincoln, [Recently, 53% of polled respondents self-identifying as Republican claimed to believe that between Trump and Lincoln, Trump is greater.] it is disorienting to move from one reality to the other, to attempt to take up the perspective of the other world, even temporarily, even knowing that you will not have to stay in that world but will return to your own polarity.  For, if Trump is really a better president than Lincoln was, then so much of what we thought to be characterized by solidity and depth cannot ever have been solid and deep, cannot have been real in the sense of being characterized by perdurability.  Then the dreamlike (or nightmarelike?) quality of reality that is always with us, if even in the background, moves to the foreground.

[Note: There is also a basis for hope in this poll result: 47% of polled Republicans don’t think Trump is greater than Lincoln!]    

If we have been paying attention, we have already painfully learned that the United States is not the exceptional nation it has long advertised itself to be.  Was that process of learning similar to what is happening here?  Are we through time--through the acceptance of new evidence or the same evidence considered in a different light--arriving at a new truth?  That the current president is greater than Abraham Lincoln--a man long popularly believed to be one of America’s greatest presidents, a president who revealed his greatness at the time of America’s greatest crisis?  But for us, with a skeptical attitude about the presidential portrait of Trump as Great Man?  If there is new evidence to substantiate the portrait, what is it?--and what are the criteria being used to assess it?  If there is no new evidence, what are the new criteria being used to assess the old evidence?  I won’t linger with these questions because although I would love to hear the attempt at a serious, good faith discussion of the evidence that Trump is greater than Lincoln, I can’t imagine their will ever be one.

On the subject of the impact of our current national politics on the mental health of Americans, let us consider for a moment, the case of Rudy Giuliani, as one who appears to have been disoriented and driven mad by the sudden jolt of Trump’s election to the presidency.  

Speculating . . . Giuliani’s previous sense of his public identity was lodged on his long successful career as a public servant in the law, then as the “strong on law-enforcement” Mayor of New York City.  Rudy seemed to be happier then, comfortable enough with himself and his place in society to (notwithstanding his Republicaness) sometimes appear in public dressed in drag.  After his public career ended he seemed to have become seriously out of touch, at least in his campaigns for president, but not loony, as he obviously now is.  What drove Rudy crazy?  Speculating . . . the disjuncture between the old politics upon which Rudy’s career, success and reputation were based–and the new politics ushered in by the Trump presidency, which entail profound attacks on federal law enforcement and secret police agencies and, in general, the rule of law in America–in short, attacks on the essence of what Rudy used to stand for–presented him with a contradiction that his psyche was in no condition to withstand.  Rudy had previously embodied the old Republican attitude toward law and order, which, when he was Mayor of New York City meant finding the main responsibility for crime to be with nonwhite, non-Republican, non-wealthy others, i.e., those with little political power, and readily categorized as the Other, (therefore suitable victims for the craven institution of the Republican Party,) and focusing law enforcement efforts on them.  

This meant that for most of his public life Rudy had been required to appear to be a law enforcement and rule-of-law protagonist.  His publicly displayed mental illness, was, according to the speculations related here, triggered by the contradictions between what Rudy previously believed he was, and the shocking, yet joyous epiphany he experienced when his (previously more or less latent) fascist, lawless impulses began to direct his actions.  [Although there certainly might be a neurological factor that greased the skids to Rudy’s current mental status, this particular, peculiar manifestation of his illness suggests that it is directly related to political conditions in the US.]

To be fair to Rudy, his previous law enforcement beliefs were probably sincerely held at the time, and were not cynical.  Ironically, if he had been supremely cynical, as Chris Christie has proved to be--and as Mitch McConnell obviously always has been--Rudy would probably not have suffered the shock of having to digest a new self-identity so late in life, and would not now be so publicly expressing mental illness as “bats in the belfry,” and he would not now be the president’s personal attorney, if that’s what he really is.

[Public reporting on how and why Rudy was selected to be the most public face of the president’s legal team, has been scant or nonexistent as far as I can tell.  Still, is it not a troubling sign of spreading lunacy that the president apparently personally selected and insisted on Rudy as the man best suited to presenting Trump’s case on Fox News?  And isn’t it weird that Fox News continued (at least until recently) to showcase Rudy on prime time?  And what previous experience prepared Laura Ingraham to attempt, (unsuccessfully) on national television, to erase all expression from her face while interviewing a nationally famous political figure formerly renowned for his steadiness in time of crisis, but now just this side of raving?]

But with the 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, fascist signals emanating from the person who is now our president set off sympathetic vibrations within millions of Americans, Rudy among them.  Their own latent fascism, dormant during what they had perceived to be less threatening times, was activated.  [Fascism defined for the purpose of this discussion as the longing for a strong non-democratic leader who will trample public institutions if necessary to favor one’s own group’s perceived interests over the interests of the threatening, perceived Others, who are the source of all the trouble.]  Evidently this is an exciting thing, to begin to vibrate at the fascist frequency after a long period of relative dormancy, but the fear that lies at the bottom of the fascist impulse among regular Americans, as opposed to the impulse (also activated by fear) to dominance, and destruction of the enemy that constitutes a more developed stage of the fascist impulse among former establishment Republicans like William Barr,) has not been assuaged by the appearance and ascension to the presidency of their perceived savior.  

Rather, fear of the Other has become entrenched among the president’s supporters as the major corporate media (excepting Fox News) and a plurality of the presidential electorate (“libtards,” in the view of many Trump supporters) have continued to publicly espouse views that, summarized, mean that they believe the president is the reverse of the great man his strongest supporters know him to be.  On the other side too, among the president’s critics, fear is entrenched, fear of the president, fear of what they perceive to be the delusions suffered by his supporters.  Both sides look across the front suspiciously, seeing danger, perhaps evil, perhaps lunacy, but to both sides the view doesn’t look promising, and they wonder how those people over there went so wrong. your social media marketing partner
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