McCaffrey gets it right: Last evening, Lawrence O'Donnell started The Last Word in an unfortunate way.
He started by posing as an authority on federal election law, specifically with regard to "contributions" of "things of value" from "foreign nationals." As he pontificated, he said "it's totally, totally illegal" to hold a meeting "with foreign citizens" who are trying to help an American political campaign.
In this way, Lawrence was feeding us liberal viewers the porridge we've come to love. The problem, of course, is this:
Lawrence isn't an expert or an authority on federal election law. Nor did he bother to interview people who do possess professional experience or expertise.
This same game was played on Anderson Cooper's program last night, including by non-expert Gloria Borger. As for MSNBC, one hour after Lawrence assured the world that the Trump Tower meeting was "totally, totally illegal," Joyce Vance appeared on The 11th Hour and, in fairness, said the matter isn't as clear as all that.
More on that tomorrow. For today, let's leave the realm of the emergent "cable news apes" and turn to Lawrence's second segment, in which a highly intelligent guest very much got it right.
The guest in question was Barry McCaffrey, a highly experienced retired four-star general. McCaffrey made it clear that he isn't professionally qualified to opine on the mental condition of Donald J. Trump. But after stating that disclaimer, McCaffrey voiced important counsel:
O'DONNELL (8/6/18): Tonight, retired four-star army general Barry McCaffrey [tweeted], "President Trump behavior becoming more alarming and illogical. In 55 years of service in the armed service, civil government and business, I have never encountered this level of anger, insulting behavior and outright separation from the truth."To watch the whole segment, click this.
And joining us now, General McCaffrey...
General McCaffrey, I want to get more of your reaction to what you are seeing from the president. I know you have been alarmed for a long time about what you hear from Donald Trump. But is this a new level of alarm for you?
MCCAFFREY: Well, look. I'm not qualified to talk about the president's mental state. I'm just talking about his behavior.
You know, I have been decades-long levels serving at the highest levels of the armed forces, civil government, the business community. I personally have never encountered this kind of behavior, the insulting nature dealing with—his clients are us. I mean, the business community does that, the armed forces, we would sack a commander who dealt that way with his soldiers.
So I think it's a great concern. We have got a couple of more years, at least, with President Trump as the chief executive. And it's looking very worrisome the way he's dealing with his domestic audience, as well as the international community.
MCCAFFREY: What we are now seeing is a complete separation between the facts on the ground in national security and foreign policy and what the president is saying. His team makes a lot of sense dealing with alliances, dealing with the real threat in North Korea and Iran. But the president's utterances—for example, coming home from Singapore and saying the nuclear threat is gone. Where did he come up with that? It is just hard to fathom what is going on.
Quite correctly, McCaffrey acknowledged that he isn't professionally qualified to diagnose President Trump. But he went on to say that Trump's general behavior should be "a great concern."
He said he has never encountered such behavior from any authority figure. He said the president's behavior is "very worrisome"—that "it's hard to fathom what's going on."
Let us translate. McCaffrey was saying that something seems to be "wrong" with President Trump. Last Friday, Mika Brzezinski offered a similar appraisal at the start of the day's Morning Joe.
She said that Trump is "completely unhinged and getting worse." As someone who has known Trump for a number of years, she offered this appraisal of his "mental state:"
BRZEZINKSI (8/2/18): He's not well, that’s the bottom line. There’s no way anyone who knows Donald Trump, but has not bought in in some way, could watch him last night and not come away with the feeling that the president of the United States is completely unhinged and getting worse by the day...To watch the whole segment, click here.
Try to find someone who's not politically invested, or too fearful of Donald Trump or the Republican Party, who knew the man a decade ago who will tell you that his mental state has not deteriorated radically over the past few years, or changed, or come out in some way...You will not find that person from Donald Trump's past if they're telling you the truth.
McCaffrey isn't a psychiatrist; Brzezinski isn't a clinician. That said, each was suggesting that something is seriously wrong with Donald J. Trump.
McCaffrey seemed to be talking about conditions resembling "mental illness;" Brzezinski seemed to be suggesting that Trump has suffered some sort of cognitive impairment. But they each suggested that something is wrong with the commander in chief—something which goes beyond bad politics or bad values.
We maintain our own long-held view. It seems to us that President Trump may be suffering from some version of "mentally illness." It seems to us that he may be suffering from some version of early-onset dementia. And it seems to us that these possibilities should be under discussion—though it's crazy to think that our press/pundit corps would ever be able to conduct such a difficult discussion.
Lawrence isn't an expert on campaign finance law; McCaffrey and Brzezinski aren't experts on the relevant medical conditions. But McCaffrey and Brzezinski were suggesting the need for a conversation. We think they each got it right.
Regarding Lawrence, he was spouting, very loudly, about a matter with respect to which he carries no particular expertise. As he did, he was serving the pleasing porridge his corporate owners want him to serve every night.
We liberal viewers were gulping it down. Are we just credulous apes?