When "Trump before Trump" took us down: The role of The Crazy has been substantial in modern American discourse.
Crazy people advance crazy claims; millions of people believe them. American discourse bows beneath the weight of this widespread crackpot behavior.
In yesterday's report, we tracked this phenomenon back to the pious Reverend Falwell and the endless crazy claims about all the people Bill and Hillary Clinton had murdered. The syndrome extends to more recent claims by radio crackpot Alex Jones, and by the disordered Donald J. Trump himself.
That doesn't mean that this destructive syndrome only exists "on the right." The mainstream press corps has been mired in this type of conduct too.
Future scholars are now calling such conduct "Trump before Trump." They sometimes refer to this mental erosion within the press as "The Rise of Leadership Down."
The Crazy flourished within the mainstream press during the era of Falwell. Consider a crazy statement which appeared in Marc Fisher's weekly column in the Washington Post magazine.
The crazy statement to which we refer concerned a White House candidate's clothes. The candidate in question was also the sitting vice president. He was the odds-on favorite to receive the Democratic nomination in Campaign 2000.
In late November 1999, Fisher wrote a highly peculiar essay about Candidate Gore. His crazy claim was lodged among a raft of other peculiar and unfortunate statements. Here's how his essay ended:
FISHER (11/28/99): So when Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf, a controversialist who campaigns against the tyranny of the beauty culture and then plasters soft-lit glossies of herself and her perfectly teased hair all over the Internet and on her book jackets, we have two choices: We can say Gore's a good man who's been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.Just for the record—back in those days, we pseudo-liberals slept in the woods when people like Wolf were savaged in such identifiable ways. We let that kind of thing go.
A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, "Okay."
To call him unreadable is to be charitable.
That said, did Naomi Wolf "make her living by writing pop philosophy about sex?" It's pretty much as you like it! For the record, two of the three books she'd written by that time had been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year.
One of the books, The Beauty Myth, had been chosen as one of the top hundred books of the century. But now, the disordered men and women of the upper-end mainstream press were spreading a web of noxious claims about Wolf, a campaign adviser to Gore.
These slanders included the noxious claim that Candidate Gore had "hired a woman to teach him how to be a man." Candidate Gore was "today's man-woman," Chris Matthews loudly proclaimed on his crackpot TV show, Hardball.
These disordered figures were also convinced that Wolf had instructed Gore to wear "earth tones" on the campaign trail. This unfounded assertion helped lead to months of disordered claims about this targeted candidate's clothes.
By Sunday, November 28, this ordered discussion had been underway for more than a month. This apparently forced Fisher to bump his roving band's craziness up a notch.
Does Donald J. Trump make crazy claims? Yes he does, quite often. But on this day, Fisher was making crazy claims too. The craziest of his crazy claims may been this crazy statement:
Naomi Wolf had told Candidate Gore that "he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American."
Truly, that was a crazy claim. As such, it was an example of the phenomenon known as Trump before Trump.
Had Naomi Wolf advised Gore about wardrobe? Like Fisher, we have no idea.
Candidates do take wardrobe advice, and Wolf was a campaign adviser. (With a crackpot press corps like the one we're now describing, a targeted candidate must pay substantial attention to both wardrobe and hair.)
Wolf and Gore had both denied the claim that Wolf had offered wardrobe advice, but denizens of the upper-end press enjoyed the tale they were telling. In this case, Fisher seemed to be referring to a brown or perhaps olive suit Gore had worn to his first Democratic debate with Candidate Bradley, his only campaign opponent.
More than a month had passed since that time. But manifest crackpots of the press were still obsessed by the choice.
In fact, there was nothing outrageous about Gore's suit, except in the mind of the crackpots. New Hampshire voters who watched that first Democratic debate had scored the event a draw. No one seemed troubled by Gore's choice of clothes, and conservative icon Kate O'Beirne had praised the two candidates for the erudition each had displayed in discussing health care that night.
But alas! Inside the press room at Dartmouth College, three hundred journalists were hissing, booing and jeering every time Gore spoke. (On the record sources: Slate's Jake Tapper, the Hotline's Howard Mortman, Time's Eric Pooley. We heard about this astounding conduct in a phone call from the site that very night.)
The children had been hissing and jeering every time Gore spoke! At the Washington Post, a Pulitzer winner decided to tell the world this:
MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.Mary McGrory, a veteran columnist and a Pulitzer winner, was writing live and direct from the realm of The Crazy.
Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—"I am not a well-dressed man." It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. Maybe it was the first step in shedding his Prince Albert image.
She never mentioned the health care discussion whose erudition O'Beirne had praised. Instead, she chose to savage one candidate's clothes in a pre-Trump manifestation.
McGrory was typing at the start of the war against Gore's wardrobe. The lunacy went on and on, then on and on some more, with every aspect of Gore's clothing subjected to the crackpot assessments of this Trump-before-Trump roving band.
His suits, his boots, his polo shirts? The height at which he hemmed his pants in order to get us to look at his boots? Every aspect of the candidate's wardrobe was subjected to crackpot claims by a runaway band of upscale defectives who were, according to future scholars, helping define the downward spiral they have despondently come to describe as The Rise of Leadership Down.
How crazy did the crazy claims get? The claims got very crazy. In one part of this crackpot spree, the great apes of this highly coordinated band loudly complained about the fact that Gore's suit jacket had featured three buttons that night, instead of the two buttons their group very much preferred.
All through the month of November, MSNBC's Chris Matthews speculated about the sexual signals Gore was attempting to send by wearing a three-button suit. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Brian Williams also obsessed on this patently crackpot topic, visiting it night after night—and this was years before he got himself fired from Nightly News because he'd invented so many crazy claims about himself!
That said, when Everyone Agrees To Say The Same Thing, the individual chimp can gain attention only by embellishing the group "fiction" on which the whole band has agreed. And so it happened that one member of the guild made the following comically crazy claim on Geraldo Rivera's nightly MSNBC program:
RIVERA (11/9/99): And Naomi Wolf—you want to offer some wisdom before I go to the panel?As Arianna joined the attack, a fourth button was sewn to the candidate's suit! As this comical embellishment occurred, we were also told that Candidate Gore was "now dressing [in a way that] makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him"—that it simply wasn't "the way most American males dress!"
FRANKEN: I think this [flap] might be overblown. I mean, Arianna—I think you can go to Arianna on this.
HUFFINGTON: When you are talking about a consultant that you bring on to give opinions on how to dress and whether you're an alpha male and how do you become a beta male—frankly, you know, what is fascinating is that the way he's now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him. And there was this marvelous story in one of the New Hampshire papers saying, “Nobody here—nobody here in Hanover, New Hampshire, wears tan suits with blue shirts.” You know, it's just—and buttons—all four buttons! You know, it's not just—it's just not the way most American males dress.
Three weeks later, Fisher would hysterically say the suit had been "alien to virtually every American." So it went as disordered beings took their nation down.
Had Gore's alien wardrobe choices made people feel disconnected? Ever so possibly not! The weirdly disconnected candidate went on to defeat Candidate Bradley in the New Hampshire primary, and in every other primary in that campaign cycle—but the lunatic claims never stopped.
Brian Williams was still seeking psychiatric explanations for Gore's "three-button sweaters" [sic] as late as February 2000—and soon, another problem was spotted. At the New York Times, Maureen Dowd built a series of columns around the fact that the candidate was sporting a bald spot.
Donald J. Trump wasn't yet on the scene, but the lunacy never stopped. On the Sunday before Election Day in November 2000, Dowd's column started with Gore standing before a mirror, telling himself how pretty he felt, thus extending the "man-woman" theme.
Disordered headline included, this is the start of the column Dowd's newspaper chose to publish:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel PrettyThat was the seventh column Dowd built around "the Spot." Children are dead all over Iraq because these disordered beings acted this way in this era of Trump before Trump.
I feel stunning
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .
O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.
If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour.
Hemingway said it best. "This is how Paris was in the early years when we were very poor and very happy."
That line closed the original version of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's account of his years in Paris before being swallowed by fame.
Concerning the subject of today's report, we'll rewrite Hemingway thusly:
This is the way the press corps was when devotion to The Crazy began taking hold of their world.
This is the story of Trump before Trump—the story of one major Homo sapiens band in the years before Mister Trump's Disordered War ended life as we've always known it.
Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), a disconsolate group of future scholars, have tried to explain how "human nature"—our species' devotion to gossip and potent group fictions, with a high dose of intolerance thrown in the stew—led inexorably toward that war in the era of corporate "news." We've been bringing you their future analyses over the course of this year.
In closing today, we'll only add this:
You never hear about these events because the upper-end mainstream press corps doesn't want you to hear about them. But these crackpot events, multiplied a thousand times over, have received several monikers in the gloom-ridden world on the far side of Mister Trump's Enabled War:
Future scholars describe the press corps' crackpot behavior as an example of "Trump Before Trump." But they also describe this disordered history as The Rise of Leadership Down.
Tomorrow: Off with their heads!