Also, please hold the analysis: Yesterday, we started reading the Mueller report. We found it underwhelming.
It involves a series of episodes in which its chief character, Donald J. Trump, behaves like someone who's mentally ill.
For better or worse, we already thought that Donald J. Trump was mentally ill, or something like it. Again and again, the Mueller report shows him behaving as such a person would.
In the assessments of Trump's possible criminal complicity, the authors of the Mueller report keep acting like Trump isn't mentally ill—like he's a rational actor. So too with the nation's various corporate cable news stars.
That strikes us as slightly odd too. A bit of background:
The press corps decided at the start of last year that we mustn't discuss the possibility that Donald J. Trump is mentally ill. For that reason, Dr. Bandy Lee was frog-marched into the countryside surrounding New Haven, never to be heard from again.
No analysis need apply! So judged our biggest news orgs.
(Quick rule of thumb: The Goldwater rule is a very good rule under most circumstances. It ceases to be a good rule when a sitting United States president seems to be mentally ill.)
So far, we've found the Mueller report a bit underwhelming. For our money, the most interesting report in this morning's newspapers is the New York Times' front-page report about the Steele dossier.
Because we're a marginally rational tribal species, we tend to believe our own tribe's twaddle at highly fraught times like these. As liberals, we've tended to believe the Steele dossier, especially with our own highly marginal figures—people like Rachel Maddow—propagandizing us, again and again, about how reliable the dossier supposedly was.
This morning's front-page report in the Times lists the various ways the dossier was wrong or seems to have been wrong. This gives us a chance to consider the ways our own tribe may tend to misfire:
Michael Cohen "did not, as the dossier claimed, travel to Prague to conspire in the Russian hacking of Democrats, the Mueller report makes clear." Almost surely, Donald J. Trump didn't cavort with those Moscow prostitutes in the crazy way the dossier described.
Carter Page is still walking around, even after all the times Maddow hung him up by his thumbs, relying on the dossier's thrilling assertions.
Again and again, the dossier seems to have been wrong. In one nugget, the Times reporters say this:
SHANE, GOLDMAN AND ROSENBERG (4/20/19): By January 2017, F.B.I. agents had tracked down and interviewed one of Mr. Steele’s main sources, a Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West, according to a Justice Department document and three people familiar with the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. After questioning him about where he’d gotten his information, they suspected he might have added his own interpretations to reports passed on by his sources, one of the people said. For the F.B.I., that made it harder to decide what to trust.Now they tell us! At any rate, when our own highly marginal figure kept vouching for the dossier, she may have been vouching for "the results of a high-stakes game of telephone!"
Agents did not believe that either the source or Mr. Steele was deliberately inventing things, according to the former official. How the dossier ended up loaded with dubious or exaggerated details remains uncertain, but the document may be the result of a high-stakes game of telephone, in which rumors and hearsay were passed from source to source.
The Times even reports on speculation that Steele was conned by Russkie disinformation in parts of the dossier. We don't know if that actually happened, but according to this report, it's a "possibility—one that Mr. Steele has not ruled out!"
This front-page report makes us feel for the mentally ill Mr. Trump. Here's why we say that:
Suppose you know that you didn't cavort with those Moscow prostitutes in the transparently crazy ways the dossier said you did.
You may also know that Micheal Cohen didn't go to Prague. You may even know that you yourself didn't "collude" with any Russkie disinformation efforts in any particular way.
Also, suppose that you are mentally ill when you hear these claims being bruited! We can almost understand why a person who's mentally ill might react to this sort of thing in the manner of someone who's mentally ill!
For ourselves, we're sympathetic to people who are mentally ill. Stating the obvious, the fact that Trump seems to be mentally ill doesn't mean that he isn't disordered and dangerous. It means that we aren't inclined to regard him as we might regard other people who behave in certain ways.
This brings us to the question of the mental functioning of our own somewhat disordered tribe. As tribal animals, we were strongly inclined to believe the claims of the Steele dossier. Also, consider the ongoing lack of indictments from that famous Trump Tower meeting.
Bret Stephens writes a valuable column in today's New York Times. "Conservatives should thank Mueller," the conservative Stephens says.
He makes a series of excellent points. That said, along the way, he offers this doctored narration:
STEPHENS (4/20/19): If his own staff hadn’t blocked [Trump] from firing Mueller, he would have done so. If Don Jr. had been delivered a crate full of stolen Clinton documents at that Trump Tower meeting with a shady Russian lawyer, he would have taken it. If this newspaper hadn’t exposed Paul Manafort for taking illicit cash from Ukraine’s president, he might well have wound up as a senior U.S. official vulnerable to Russian blackmail.Presumably, most of those statements are accurate. That said, there was never any indication that Trump Junior was offered "stolen" documents or any type of illicitly acquired information.
Nor is it entirely clear why that Russian lawyer had to be tagged as "shady," except for purposes of novelization.
Trump Junior was offered "information" about Hillary Clinton. It's typical of the mental life of our species, almost comically so, that he is being criticized for attempting to receive it.
Regarding Trump Senior's mental state, we've been told that we mustn't discuss it. Regarding the person running against Trump Senior, Trump Junior has been told that he shouldn't have tried to receive "information" about her. No information or analysis need apply!
As Professor Harari suggests, our species tends to run on "gossip" and compelling group "fiction." It tends to be narrative all the way down.
Meanwhile, riddle us this:
When was the last time Stephens' own New York Times refused to publish stolen information? Trump Junior wasn't offered stolen information. But when was the last time our biggest newspapers turned such material down?
Our newspapers publish stolen information all the time! But when someone else attempts to acquire information—information which wasn't stolen—we're told that receiving information should be viewed as a crime!
Anthropologically speaking, this is the way our self-impressed species tends to function. Despite our lofty self-portraits, we're strongly inclined to avoid information and analysis.
We don't need no stinking information! Anthropologically speaking, it tends to be tribal story-line pretty much all the way down.
Parts of this report were adapted from FAHIC NEWS, the official news service of Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), the trademarked though disconsolate group which survived the effects of Mister Trump's War and communicates through nocturnal transmissions which the haters disparage as "dreams."