Does Trump believe his crazy claims?

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2020

Stelter says he might: Last Thursday night—actually, it was early Friday morning—we watched the videotape of Donald J. Trump's latest press event.

Thanks to the invaluable Rev, you can watch the full videotape and read the full transcript. The commander in chief gone on and on for some 43 minutes—insisting, during the bulk of that time, that he'd actually won the election on November 3.

We're going to make a small confession here. As we watched him rant and rail, a question kept worming its way into our mind:

Does Trump believe his crazy claims? Frankly, it seemed that he did!

Trump ranted and railed, and howled at the moon, and then he ranted some more. Despite the craziness of his claims, it almost seemed that he believed the crazy things he said. 

On Sunday morning, the commander spent the better part of an hour ranting and railing, in similar ways, on Maria Bartiromo's Fox Business Network show. A few hours later, on CNN, Brian Stelter devoted the bulk of his weekly Reliable Sources program to the strange performance by Trump.

(Also, to the pathetic performance by Bartiromo. Today, we'll focus on Trump.)

Stelter spent his opening, 14-minute segment with two guests, Oliver Darcy and Amanda Carpenter. During the bulk of the segment, the trio assailed Donald J. Trump for his "lies."

Then, a commercial break occurred. When Stelter returned from the break, he started by saying this:

STELTER (11/29/20): Welcome back to Reliable Sources. I'm Brian Stelter.

I remember a day early in the Trump years when there were all these debates about whether to say the president was lying. Remember that? Was he lying? Was he just fibbing?

I remember Jeff Greenfield saying, "Brian, there is something worse than a lie. There is something worse in a lie. There's a delusion.

"When you are lying, you know it. When you are delusional, you don't." He wanted to remind me there is something more dangerous than a liar—someone who is delusional. 

What do you think is going on now? What do you see happening with the White House, with the Trump White House? Is it delusion? Is that what's happening?

Stelter had spent the bulk of his first fourteen minutes assailing Trump for his "lies." Now, he raised a possibility at which he'd only occasionally hinted during that opening segment:

Now, Stelter suggested the possibility that Trump hasn't been lying at all. He suggested a possibility he said was even worse:

He suggested the possibility that Trump believes the crazy things he's saying—that the commander in chief is "delusional."

Full disclosure! After directly raising that possibility, Stelter continued in the manner shown:

STELTER (continuing directly): Well, my next guest says that the president's behavior, the outgoing president's attacks against the election integrity are attacks on reality itself. 

Jonathan Rauch wrote this back in 2018. He was early onto this. He called it "The Constitution of Knowledge." He is now turning it into a book, and he joins me now. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributor for The Atlantic.

Jonathan, "delusion." I've always been afraid—not afraid.

I've always been sensitive about using that word, cautious about using that word in the Trump years, not wanting to know—not wanting to assume I know what's going on in the president's head.

What do you see? What do you see? Is "delusion" a fair word for these election lies?

Was "delusion" a fair word for the commander's "Lies?" Yes, that's what he said.

By now, Stelter was almost completely confused. And when Rauch began talking, it turned out that  he wasn't much better.

In how many ways did Stelter's statements in that passage fail to make sense? Let us count the ways! But in the interest of maintaining our own sanity, let us do so some other day.

For now, we'll summarize our main point:

Stelter raised the possibility that Trump believes his crazy claims. Seeming to agree with Greenfield, he said that such a person isn't lying, or a liar.

He said a person like that is "delusional." 

For today, let's stop right here. But please remember the basic point:

Stelter raised the possibility that Donald J. Trump believes his crazy claims. We've wondered about that possibility too. 

We'll continue this rumination in the days which follow. It's a rumination about Donald J. Trump, but also about the remarkably limited intellectual skills of the upper-end mainstream press.


JOYEUX NOEM: A Trumpist governor was under fire!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2020

She responded as shown: South Dakota is a small-population state. 

(Estimated population last year, 885,000. Only four states were smaller.)

Within that small-population state, Governor Kristi Noem—she's just turned 49—has had a very successful political career.

She doesn't hail from a political family. Inherited connections and other family advantages don't seem to have fueled her career. 

Her father was killed in a farming accident when she was 22. As a result, she was forced to take over the family business, a "medium-sized farm and ranch operation."

(“I had hoped that I would be able to farm with him,” Noem is quoted saying in this fascinating profile.  “But when my dad passed away, it kind of changed everything.”)

Her political career proceeded from there. She was elected to the South Dakota legislature in 2006, at the age of 34. In 2010, she won South Dakota's lone statewide congressional seat. Along with South Carolina freshman  member Tim Scott, she was instantly named to a spot within the House Republican leadership.

After serving four terms in the House, she was elected governor of South Dakota in 2018. According to the leading authority on the topic, "she is the first woman in South Dakota history to hold that office."

Governor Noem is true political talent. That said, she's also been one of the Trumpiest governors in the nation during the current alleged pandemic.

She has refused to impose a mask mandate. More strikingly, she let this summer's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally proceed apace. Eventually, headlines like this pair began to appear in major news orgs, in this case in the October 18 Washington Post:

How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have spread coronavirus across the Upper Midwest 
Within weeks of the gathering that drew nearly half a million bikers, the Dakotas, along with Wyoming, Minnesota and Montana, were leading the nation in new coronavirus infections per capita

The governor had been one of the Trumpiest. Now she was being slammed. 

As of November 18, Governor Noem had finally heard just about enough of this guff. She held a press event in which she pushed back against her critics and their criticisms. 

In our view, her obvious political talent was on full display this day. On the other hand, here's the nugget of what she said in self-defense:

NOEM (11/18/20): Across the country and around the globe, cases [of Covid-19] are increasing. Over the past week, cases are on the rise in 48 states.

Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in the state of South Dakota, and that is not true.

Others have said that my refusal to advance harsh restrictions like lockdowns is another one of the reasons why our cases are rising, and that is also not true.

There are 41 states that have some kind of a mask mandate. Cases are on the rise in 39 of those 41 states.

Now, some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota.

To watch the entire presser, click here. The passage we've posted starts at roughly 11:15.

Our view? If you watch that chunk of that tape, you'll be looking at Governor Noem's pure political talent. But what about the claims she makes in the passage we've posted?

On our scorecard, some of the claims in that passage were misleading, perhaps clownishly so. On our scorecard, the final somewhat fuzzy claim—the one about the other states with "far higher new confirmed cases"— was hard to square with  existing data.

That statement sounded reassuring. We're not sure we know what it meant.

The claim we've posted in bold strikes us as basically false. That really wasn't what "some in the media" had been saying about South Dakota in the previous days and weeks. Knowingly or otherwise, the governor seemed to have erected a straw man, then seemed to have knocked it down.

In a slightly more rational world, obvious questions would arise in the wake of a presser like that. For today, we'll focus on two questions: 

Did Governor Noem believe the things she said that day? Also, in what ways did mainstream news orgs respond to the claims she'd advanced?

One also might wonder about this: 

To what extent did the people of South Dakota believe Noem's claims were accurate? 

We ask that because, even as Noem was making those statements, her state had the nation's second highest weekly death rate from Covid-19. Indeed, South Dakota's weekly death rate was apparently exceeded by only one developed nation around the entire world.

Do politicians like Governor Noem believe the things they say about such life-and-death concerns? Also, how well are their statements fact-checked?

Beyond that, what do citizens end up believing about such vital matters? What do they end up doing, or perhaps failing to do? With a special focus on Noem's press conference, we'll be examining these topics for the rest of the week.

With the Christmas season approaching, should South Dakotans be saying Joyeux Noem? Or should this possibly be a case of Caveat Rancher and Farmer? 

How well had major news orgs performed? And also this:

With tribal true belief widespread and engrained, does that final part of the puzzle even matter any more?

Tomorrow: What "some in the media" had actually said


Did Trump manage to run "a close race?"

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2020

Sadly, he pretty much did: On the whole, we agree with the general thrust of Matthew Yglesias' essay from the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post.

We disagree with one thing Yglesias said—and we think the point is important.  We were surprised when Yglesias said the race between Biden and Trump "wasn't even close:"

YGLESIAS (11/30/20): Incumbents don’t often lose, and for Trump to do so while a majority of voters told Gallup they were better off than they were four years ago is extraordinary. Despite Trump’s post-election antics, the race wasn’t even close. Biden scored a larger share of the popular vote than any challenger since Franklin D. Roosevelt facing down Herbert Hoover, and his moderation was almost certainly key to that success.

The race "wasn't even close?" Sadly, we disagree. Consider:

Liberals and Democrats have all agreed that Trump won a narrow victory over Clinton in 2016. The standard talking-point has been reasonable:

The difference was a mere 78,000 votes in three midwestern states.

That actually was pretty close. That said, the difference as Biden defeated Trump this year was a mere 44,000 votes in three scattered states:

Approximate victory margins for Biden:
Arizona: 10,500 votes
Georgia: 12,700 votes
Wisconsin: 20,600 votes

Those were narrow wins. If Trump had managed to win those states, the Electoral College vote would stand at 269-269—and under the rules of our creaking system, we'd have called that advantage Trump. 

Meanwhile, Biden won Nebraska District 2's one electoral vote by 22,000 votes. That means that Biden managed to win the election by a margin of (roughly) 66,000 votes in three states and one congressional district.

There's one major difference here, of course. On the other hand, you might call it the major difference which isn't:

At present, Biden leads the national popular vote by 6.1 million votes. On the other hand, Biden's current vote total represents just 51.1% of the national vote—and roughly five million of his six million vote margin are "wasted votes" from California.

Under our creaking election system, we don't award the presidency on the basis of the national popular vote. Given the massive number of "wasted votes" for Democrats in California and New York, Republicans may continue to win the White House in future years while losing the popular vote.

In truth, this election was scarily close. The margins were narrow in three decisive states, as was true in 2016.

Our election system creaks badly. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates will continue to pile up tons of "wasted votes" in two of our largest states. 

This helps define the mess we're in. It seems to us that we ought to be clear about the shape of that ongoing problem.

The Other 49: To his credit, Biden managed to win the popular vote in "The Other 49." As matters stand, he won California by 5.1 million votes—but his nationwide lead is 6.1 million votes.

That means that he won the popular vote in the other 49 states. But even there, it was close. He won by well less than one point.


STARTING TOMORROW: Joyeux Noem!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2020

Also, Stelter on lies and delusions: Isabel Sawhill is 83. Morgan Welch is three years out of college (American University, class of 2017).

We're sure they're both good people. On the other hand, they co-authored an opinion column in this morning's New York Times. 

The column appears in the paper's print editions. Unsurprisingly, the column is full of fuzzy claims which go undefended and unexplained. 

The column is full of fuzzy but familiar claims. Perhaps for that very reason, the New York Times chose to run it. 

The analytical skills of our war-inclined species are extremely slight. Most strikingly, our own deeply tribal, war-inclined team just can't seem to stop doing things like this, principal headline included:

SAWHILL AND WELCH (11/30/20): Will White Women in Georgia Put Family or Culture War First?

[...]

In 2004, Thomas Frank published his best-selling book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” which argued that his fellow Kansans were voting against their economic self-interest because of hot-button cultural issues. Perhaps now we should be asking, “What’s the Matter With White Women?” Are they voting on cultural rather than economic issues? Are many simply following their husbands’ lead? For some, it would seem so.

According to the pair of seers, some white women "are simply following their husbands' leads" when they cast their votes in presidential elections!

How many "white women" are behaving this way? The seers don't try to say. But so continues the rank, dim-witted condescension which flows from our failing tribe in much the way that mighty rivers run  downhill toward the sea. 

The authors seem to say that "white women" shouldn't be "voting on cultural rather than economic issues." How much simpler the world would be if we simply let tribal eggheads like these cast everybody's votes for them!

What’s the Matter With White Women? At this point, the eggheads say we should perhaps be asking that question.

In fairness, based upon an (imprecise) exit poll result they've already cited in their column, their question should really be this:

        What’s the Matter With 55 Percent of White Women? 

It may turn out that Candidate Trump got fewer than 55% of "white women's" votes in the recent election. In the end, there's no way to produce a precise measure of such matters.

That said, the dumbness of our liberal tribe suffuses this morning's column. And for us, this weekend was a struggle to come to terms with the variables animating our nation's ongoing decline.

For starters, how should we regard Donald J. Trump and his ongoing wild west claims? Should we primarily regard him as a liar? Or should we possibly regard him as being mentally ill?

Yesterday, CNN's Brian Stelter spent the better part of an hour struggling with these concepts. For the transcript of his weekly Reliable Sources program, you can just click here.

Stelter and several guests were serially defeated by the logic of "lying" versus "delusion." Chalk this up to the analytical and intellectual deficits which suffuse our deeply unimpressive journalistic and academic elites.

Is Trump a liar, or is he nuts? At one point, Stelter acknowledged that he tries to avoid  that question.

Our journalists also avoid such questions when it comes to high-ranking Trump supporters. We think, for example, of South Dakota's governor, Kristi Noem. 

Question! Did Noem believe the things she said in this November 18 press event, or was she possibly lying? Starting tomorrow, we'll be poking at this basic question all through the course of the week.

Such ruminations involve psychological / psychiatric questions. They go to the question of "psychopathologies," and to what we should think about such psychiatric concepts.

A related question involves the psychological forces which may drive us humans to believe the various claims our tribal leaders make. As a general matter, we humans can see such forces at work among others, but not among ourselves.

Tomorrow, a case study! We'll start to look at what Noem said in her recent press event. By the end of the week, we'll be looking at the way the AP reported her presser.

Along the way, we'll look at the difficulties our own tribe's leaders have had as they've tried to report the basic Covid statistics involved in Noem claims. In truth, the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans just aren't super-sharp.

Today, we confess one other way we spent a dispiriting holiday weekend. For the first time, we watched (parts of) several Melissa McCarthy films.

We were triggered by this New York Times listicle, in which Scott and Dargis named McCarthy as the 22nd best actor of the 21st century (to date).  Somewhat surprised by this assessment, we decided to take a look.

Two of McCarthy's films, including one which was cited by Scott, were available through On Demand. For the very first time, we clicked and tried to watch.

Two weeks ago, we told the somewhat comical story of the cognitive/cultural decline of  basic cable. In one instance after another, the nation's basic cable channels announced lofty aims at the start of life, then devolved into various forms of "World's Dumbest."

Over the weekend, we watched parts of Tammy (2014) and Life of the Party (2018). (According to Scott, McCarthy displays "a fast and furiously aggressive verbal wit" in the earlier film.) 

On YouTube, we even watched a scene with a great deal of aural humor from the big smash hit, Bridesmaids (2011).

We also read some god-awful analysis pieces by woke writers at major sites—essays which were substantially dumber and less self-aware than the column by Sawhill and Welch. 

(To their credit, Sawhill and Welch didn't refer to "white women" as "Karens.")

Concerning all that, we'll simply say this. A nation with a "World's Dumbest" culture (and capability) can't sensibly hope to survive.  

In our view, the behavior of Trump, and of many Trump voters, constitutes a type of epistemic secession. That said, is our own vastly self-impressed tribe a whole lot better in any clear respect? Especially given how "educated" we constantly say we are?

As the week proceeds, we'll ponder the recent claims of Governor Noem. But we'll also ponder the work of Stelter and others within our own failing tribe.

Drawing on extensive consultations with top major anthropologists, we'll suggest this overview: 

Our warring tribes are perhaps more alike than different. 

Our warring tribes are more alike? Carlotta Valdes keeps telling us that it's been this way all along!

Tomorrow: Case study begins! Noem's assortment of claims


AMERICAN (COGNITIVE) CARNAGE: Commander in chief decides to share!

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2020

The complexity of our nation's prevailing state of affairs: Commander-in-chief Donald J. Trump had finally decided to share.

On Wednesday, he spent ten minutes on the phone, speaking to a large public meeting chaired by His Cousin Rudy. Yesterday, the commander-in-chief added to the set of claims he made that day.

Yesterday, the commander spoke at length in a press event held within the White House. At one point, he made the sort of claim he very much tends to make:

TRUMP (11/26/20): I read this morning where Stacey Abrams has 850,000 ballots accumulated. Now, that’s called "harvesting." You’re not allowed to harvest, but I understand the Secretary of State who is really, he’s an enemy of the people. The Secretary of State, and whether he’s Republican or not, this man, what he’s done, supposedly he made a deal, and you’ll have to check this, where she’s allowed to harvest, but in other areas they’re not allowed. What kind of a deal is that? They’re not allowed to harvest during the presidential.

But how can she say she has 850,000 ballots? That would mean that she’s got 850,000 ballots for her. That’s not supposed to be happening.

As he continued, the commander shared his thoughts about the ideal form of an election. "You know, an election should be a one-day deal," he thoughtfully said. "You walk in and you vote."

Strikingly, the commander called Georgia's secretary of state—a conservative Republican—"an enemy of the people" during this presentation.

"Supposedly, he made a deal," the commander thoughtfully said. There will even be some within the Fake News who will say that such statements are dangerous! (It only takes one crazy person to act on statements like this.)

That said, the commander's principal claim in that presentation concerned the conduct of Stacey Abrams. Let's take a minute to consider what the commander said.

For starters, the commander sourced his claims about Abrams to something "I read this morning." 

The commander didn't specify what he had allegedly read, or where he'd allegedly read it. Even assuming that some such material actually exists, he didn't say why he, or anyone else, should believe that what he allegedly read is actually true.

At any rate, the commander seemed to be claiming that Abrams is personally holding 850,000 ballots for the upcoming Georgia runoff Senate elections. If true, that would be a very strange state of affairs—but he gave no reason to believe that any such claim is true.

Because the commander didn't name his alleged source, there's no way to examine its contents—even to confirm that some such source exists. 

We'll admit that we were unable, in a quick Google search, to turn up any such pre-existing source. We did turn up about three million published reports in which Abrams was quoted saying this (headline included):

Stacey Abrams says 750K Georgians have requested ballots for runoff

Stacey Abrams, the influential Georgia Democrat, took to Twitter on Monday to report that more than 750,000 Georgians have requested their ballots for the state’s January 5 runoff election that could determine who controls the U.S. Senate.

Abrams linked her tweet to Georgia’s online Absentee Ballot Request form and urged voters to, “Let’s get it done…again,” an apparent reference to Joe Biden’s victory in the Peach State. (President Trump’s legal team has challenged the results in the state and another recount is expected to begin sometime Tuesday.)

Officials from Georgia said that as of Monday morning there have been 762,000 requests for these ballots, which is three times the number requested for the 2018 election.

As you can see if you click this link, we're quoting a report from Fox News. But many other news orgs reported the same set of facts. 

According to the Fox report, Abrams had made an accurate statement about the number of Georgia residents who have requested an absentee ballot for the upcoming elections. According to the Fox report, Abrams wasn't holding any of these ballots herself. 

According to the Fox report, the statement Abrams made was accurate. There was nothing wrong with any part of what she'd done—until the commander spoke.

Yesterday's appearance by the commander illustrates the complex situation into which our failing nation has fallen as a type of cultural secession proceeds. 

Yesterday's White House event lasted 43 minutes in all. In the first 18 minutes of the event, the commander spoke by phone with military personnel who showered him with praise. 

The commander then spent 25 minutes making claims about the recent presidential election. Thanks to the invaluable Rev, you can read the transcript and watch the tape of the full 43 minutes.

Concerning the complexity of our situation, our first few observations are psychological in nature.

First, the commander speaks with total certainty throughout that 25 minutes. One thinks of the much-quoted lines from Yeats, in which:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand...

Simple story! Any time an authority figure is "full of passionate intensity." his presentations will seem convincing to many. This will be true whether his statements are accurate or well-founded, or even if his statements aren't based on any foundation at all.

Psychologically, passionate intensity tends to be convincing. To listen to phone calls from many people who are strongly inclined to believe the things the commander says, we'll suggest that you click this link:

It takes you to the first hour of Thursday morning's Washington Journal. You'll hear many C-Span callers making it clear that they're strongly inclined to believe every word this commander-in-chief may say.

(We humans tend to be like that! As we'll start to explore next week, that's even true Over Here.)

Meanwhile, here's another question from the general realm of psychology:

Does Donald J. Trump believe the wide array of claims he made in those 25 minutes? We kept asking ourselves that question as we watched the videotape of his angry performance.

In truth, the commander seemed to believe every word he said, no matter how compromised his angry claims seemed to be. Is it possible that he really does believe his various claims?

Psychological experts might be consulted on this puzzling point. But as part of our nation's ongoing cognitive shortfall or fail, our major upper-end Hamptons-based news orgs have agreed that such questions must never be asked, that such specialists must never be consulted,

With that, we come to one last major element in this complex state of affairs.  We consider the skills our major news orgs bring to this ongoing chase. 

As we've told you again and again, the upper-end press corps' skill level is remarkably low. 

Our upper-end press corps is not highly skilled. In this morning's Washington Post, Josh Dawsey offers this assessment of other claims the commander made during yesterday's session:

DAWSEY (11/27/20): Trump continued to falsely claim that there had been widespread voter fraud in his election, without offering proof. And he again falsely said Republican poll watchers were not allowed to observe in Pennsylvania, though his lawyers have said in court that some were allowed to observe.

On a somewhat simple-minded basis, that first sentence doesn't parse especially well. How could someone "offer proof" for a claim which is "false?" 

In fairness, that's a nitpicker's formal objection compared to the problems lodged in Dawsey's second statement—a statement which, on its face, simply doesn't make sense.

According to Dawsey, Trump falsely said that Republican poll watchers were not allowed to observe in Pennsylvania. His refutation of that claim went exactly like this:

"[Trump's] lawyers have said in court that some were allowed to observe."

Sad! The fact that some poll watchers were allowed to observe can't and doesn't refute a claim that many other observers were illegally barred. Who wouldn't instantly see such an obvious point?

Dawsey's presentation is the refutation which wasn't! And yet, this was Dawsey's only attempt to challenge the commander-in-chief's 25 minutes of claims. 

To appearances, people like Dawsey, and his editors, have decided that simply adding "false" and "falsely" is refutation enough.  For our tribe, such weak tea may tend to suffice. For the other tribe, it won't.

The commander is full of intensity; he has been for some time. He may even believe his angry claims. The press corps has agreed not to ask medical experts whether this could be the case.

For many observers, the commander's intensity will strongly suggest that "some revelation is at hand." There is no way that a mainstream news org can be expected to eliminate false belief, but the skills of our nation's elite are remarkably few, in the press corps and the academy.

For decades, our elites have seemed to "lack all conviction." They may not know this about themselves, just as the commander-in-chief may even believe his wild claims. 

Tomorrow: Joyeux Noem!

Also thanks to Rev: Also thanks to the invaluable Rev, you can review the transcript and tape of the commander's ten-minute phone call on Wednesday—his own Gettysburg Address.

He effusively thanked His Cousin Rudy. To peruse the whole thing, click here.