No way out, Sartre said: William Styron ended Sophie's Choice with a sad memorial to "the beaten and butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the earth."
Alan Pakula's 1982 film ends with a similar musing.
One such beaten child was Nathan Landau, a principal character in the book and the film. As we eventually learn, his lying and his gruesome behavior stem from the fact that he's been diagnosed, since he was a child, as "a paranoid schizophrenic."
Another beaten child was Sophie herself, who was confronted with a terrible choice after finding herself in the middle of one of the most savage episodes in all of human history.
In the months before she was faced with that choice, she had failed to behave as a true hero might have. In that sense, she was a regular human being—and she, in the end, joined Nathan in death.
They were just two in a long list of people Styron describes as among the world's beaten children.
Now we're engaged in a great civil war, attempting to find our way through the issues raised by President Trump and by an accusation against Joe Biden. As we watch our reporters and pundits fumble and flail with such assignments, we can't help thinking, again and again, that we have met the world's beaten children and the world's beaten children are us.
"No Exit," Sartre gloomily said, in a 1944 play. Two years earlier, Casablanca had turned that assessment on its head, confronting the gloom of nascent "existentialism" with American humor and the promises of redemption.
That said, history sometimes creates situations from which there really is no exit. As we watch our beaten children try to deal with current divisions, we can't help thinking that we've reached a point where we can't be saved, not even by brilliant comic relief.
We'll offer three examples:
Wallace and Bash: Yesterday afternoon, we watched a discussion between Nicolle Wallace and Jeremy Bash which was astonishingly bad. They badly misrepresented something President Trump had said about the possible or likely source of the coronavirus. They seemed to confuse the chronology, and the contents, of a recent statement about that question by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Wallace selectively quoted a front-page report in the Washington Post. Bash ran right alongside her. All in all, their discussion was terrible horrible classic "fake news." If MSNBC provided transcripts for Wallace's show, we'd show you what we mean.
Slate claims it hears a who: Yesterday, Kayleigh McEnany conducted her first briefing as Trump's most recent press secretary. Perhaps unwisely, she sampled Jimmy Carter, saying this to the assembled reporters:
"I will never lie to you:"
She told the reporters she wouldn't lie. Inevitably, this headline emerged at Slate:
New White House Press Secretary Vows “I Will Never Lie to You” Before Telling a Few LiesIn the article itself, Daniel Politi listed three examples of McEnany's alleged "falsehoods and lies." His analytical skills struck us as quite poor this day.
Below, you see his first example. To his credit, he calls the statement in question a falsehood, not a lie, though we aren't sure that we would even go that far::
POLITI (5/1/20): The first notable falsehood peddled by the press secretary was concerning the news of the day, former Vice President Joe Biden’s staunch denial of sexual assault allegations by Tara Reade. Trump had said Reade’s accusations were “far more compelling” than those made against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and McEnany was asked to comment. “I think it was a grave miscarriage of justice with what happened with Justice Brett Kavanaugh. There’s no need for me to bring up the salacious, awful, and verifiably false allegations that were made against Justice Kavanaugh,” she said. But of course, there’s no way you could actually accurately characterize the accusations against Kavanaugh as “verifiably false.”Sad! By normal rules of interpretation, McEnany hadn't said that all the accusations against Kavanaugh were "verifiably false," though she'd clearly said that some were.
Which accusations did she mean? If reporters had wanted to know, they could of course have asked her. (We'll guess she might have gone to Michael Avenatti's intervention in that discussion. As a general matter, Avenatti is a deeply embarrassing topic for our own floundering team.)
Were some of the accusations "verifiably false?" We don't know, but it's certainly possible.
Having said that, so what? Politi called this statement a falsehood, and some editor turned it into a lie. So it constantly goes as we the beaten keep revealing our tribal nature.
Politi never says which of his three examples constitutes a "lie." By his third example, he merely says that McEnany "wasn’t quite truthful" when asked about Michael Flynn and the FBI.
He closes with a sad and snarky remark: "For now at least, it seems McEnany will continue having the same complicated relationship with the truth as her predecessors." Almost surely, that is true, but then again so will we all.
Inevitably, we all have a "complicated relationship with the truth!" That's the nature of human discourse in a world where it's possible to describe various complicated states of affairs in wide arrays of ways—in a world where there's no perfect way to describe most situations.
We live in a complicated world, but we beaten children tend to flee to a simpler, tribal realm. The other people are constantly "lying." We ourselves are upright and pure.
Donald J. Trump's last stand: As we noted on Wednesday, Olivia Nuzzi thought the cable networks did the right thing in airing Commander Trump's prime-time propaganda/misstatement storms.
Nuzzi seemed to think that we the people could sort through all the misstatements. Along the way, she mentioned the fact that she had asked a certain question at Donald J. Trump's last storm.
Below, you see the question Nuzzi asked, along with Trump's non-answer. This is the sort of monumental nonsense the cables insisted on airing:
QUESTION (4/27/20): If an American president loses more Americans over the course of six weeks than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, does he deserve to be reelected?Stating the obvious, Nuzzi's question was really an opinion column in the form of a question. The commander responded exactly as anyone would have known he would—with greatest-hit excerpts from a stream of memorized monologues.
NON-ANSWER ANSWER: So, yeah, we’ve lost a lot of people. But if you look at what original projections were—2.2 million—we’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000. It’s far too many. One person is too many for this.
And I think we’ve made a lot of really good decisions. The big decision was closing the border or doing the ban—people coming in from China—obviously, other than American citizens, which had to come in. Can’t say, “You can’t come in. You can’t come back to your country.”
I think we’ve made a lot of good decisions. I think that Mike Pence and the task force have done a fantastic job.
I think that everybody working on the ventilators—you see what we’ve done there—have done unbelievable. The press doesn’t talk about ventilators any more. They just don’t want to talk about them and that’s okay. But the reason they don’t want to talk—that was a subject that nobody would get off of. They don’t want to talk about them.
We’re in the same position on testing. We are lapping the world on testing. And the world is coming to us. As I said, they’re coming to us, saying, “What are you doing? How do you do it?” And we’re helping them.
So, no, I think we’ve done a great job. And one person—I will say this: One person is too many.
Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you.
He started with the several million lives he has saved. He mentioned his heroic decision with respect to travel from China.
He mentioned his heroic action with regard to ventilators. He mentioned the way the Fake News refuses to talk about his great success in that area. He mentioned the miraculous work he has done with testing.
At another time, he might have orated at much greater length in response to that non-question question. He might have directed asteram of insults at Nuzzi herself.
Trump had behaved that way night after night. But this was the final question at his final prime-time briefing, the one which occurred last Monday in the Rose Garden.
Given the timing, he merely hit a few of his most familiar highlights, then said "Thank you" and left.
Does anyone know why a news channel would want to broadcast nonsense like that night after night after night after night, week after week after week?
Almost no information was ever provided at these ridiculous sessions. Instead, the public was assailed with repetitive strings of standard groaning misstatements.
News orgs have largely abandoned the task of attempting to identify and correct those endless misstatements. Many questions at these sessions were as pointless and unhelpful as the one Nuzzi tossed.
In our view, cable channels should have issued, and then reissued, detailed statements as to why they were airing these misinformation storms.
If they were going to air these storms, they should have created high-profile, nightly programs dedicated to assessing the misstatements they insisted on airing, full and complete total stop. No other "stories" allowed!
Major newspapers should, by now, have created dedicated daily pages which chronicle and assess the president's endless misstatements. No president in American history has ever come close to behaving in such a deeply disordered way. Our major news orgs, and journos like Nuzzi, have normalized this by now.
Casablanca said this:
After trying everything else, we the people will rise and sing the Marseillaise. After trying everything else, we'll stand and fight, with plenty of comic relief thrown in, derived from our essential good nature.
On the personal level, we'll even find a way to say that we'll always have Paris. We'll then move on with our lives.
Casablanca's optimism laughed in the face of existentialist gloom. At present, are we beaten children of the earth possibly confronting a difficult storm from which our limited abilities will really provide no exit?