Being There, Mueller edition: We're so old that we can remember when a major American tribe was marching off to war under the "R-T" sign.
The "R-T" stood for "racist tweet," a description of the latest astonishing public statements by the apparently deranged American president, Donald J. Trump. On cable, corporate hacks took numbers and stood in line, eager to display their tribal good faith by repeating the crucial term "racist."
These hacks had never shown the slightest sign of taking interest in any topic connected with racial justice. But humans have always behaved in this way. This take us back long before Constantine I's Chi-Rho sign:
According to major experts, the species has always been wired to divide itself into the tribal groups known as Us and Them. Tribal members identified themselves by their public adherence to tribal "fictions" or group beliefs. They often did so by the display of the appropriate tribal sign.
("Have we learned nothing from Professor Harari?" one disconsolate future expert glumly and recently said.)
We're so old that we can remember when our own tribe marched under the R-T sign. This takes us all the way back to last weekend, with emanations on The 11th Hour as recently as Wednesday night.
That said, that was then and this is now, and now we're hoping to march to war beneath the R-S-M sign. The letters stand for Robert S. Mueller, who appeared before Congress this week.
In the face of a truly awful performance by the "halting," routinely befuddled Mueller, cable stars were pretending, last night, that he had spoken in oracular fashion, perhaps a bit like Chance the Gardener in the 1979 film, Being There.
According to future anthropologists, human tribes always behaved in such ways when building toward war with The Others. In that admittedly high-brow sense, the performance on "cable news" last night was an anthropological event.
Corporate stars got busy persuading the legions that important new information and claims had emerged from Mueller's appearance. Nowhere was the tribal nonsense more thick than on The Last Word.
Lawrence played excerpts of Mueller's testimony in alleged response to questions from Rep. Val Demings, a well-regarded former police chief. This occurred in the Wednesday afternoon hearing. This session was widely hailed, within the tribe, as the one where Mueller really cut loose after finally getting warmed up.
Below, you see the first exchange Lawrence aired last night. (To watch the full segment, click here.) As viewers, we were expected to ignore the long, peculiar pause during which Mueller seemed to seek help from the assistant beside him:
DEMINGS (7/24/19): Director Mueller, I too want to focus on the written responses that the president did provide and the continued efforts to lie and cover up what happened during the 2016 election. Were the president's answers submitted under oath?It was one of about three million times that Mueller seemed befuddled that day by the most elementary facts at the heart of his report.
MUELLER: [Long, peculiar pause as Mueller seems to seek assistance]
Despite this awkwardness, so what? Experts say that humans were wired to bluster past all possible doubt when they began to march themselves off to tribal war.
Before bringing Demings on as a guest, Lawrence played a few more excerpts from her five-minute "weekend with Mueller." This was the last exchange shown:
DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful?"Generally!" That was one of Mueller's standard one-word answers this day. It's hard to know what this attempt at an answer meant in this particular context, and Demings made no attempt to identify specific written statements which had been judged untruthful.
MUELLER: There—uh— I would say—uh [pause]
Instead, Demings went on to author a speech built around the tribal word "lie." According to future scholars, we humans always behaved this way during our short term on earth:
DEMINGS (continuing directly): “Generally.”Where had Trump lied in his written answers? In fact, had Mueller actually made that charge? There was no attempt to nail such points down. Warfare unfolds in this manner.
Director Mueller, it’s one thing for the president to lie to the American people about your investigation, falsely claiming that you found no collusion and no obstruction. But it's something else altogether for him to get away with not answering your questions and lying about them. And as a former law enforcement officer of almost 30 years, I find that a disgrace to our criminal justice system.
We know of no reason to assume that Trump's written answers were actually truthful. Trump's persistent, lunatic misstatements are a key part of the dangerous pathology the press corps has agreed not to discuss or explore.
That said, Mueller's reaction to Demings' last question was halting, unsure, imprecise. No one tried to determine what he had meant by his own-word reply, or if he'd really meant anything at all.
Having noticed these problems, so what? Lawrence brought Demings on last night, hailing her as the type of person you want for your chief of police. To be honest, she struck us as perhaps the type of self-convinced true believer you may not always want in such a post.
Whatever the truth about that may be, the legions are now being told to believe that some new, important claim emerged from Demings' session with Mueller. "Humans always behaved this way," top experts advised us last night, speaking to us from the future and also in the past tense.
Our tribe is marching off to war under various signs. We especially love the "racist" sign, but we may love the "liar" sign even more.
As we prepare for a brief stay in Maine, we thought you might like to see the fuller transcript of Mueller's bold "statement" to Demings. Here as elsewhere, the witness actually said very little in the course of the five-minute exchange.
This part of the exchange could almost serve as a parody of meaningful human discourse. For the full transcript, click here:
DEMINGS: Let’s go through some of [Trump's written] answers to take a closer look at his credibility, because it seems to me, Director Mueller, that his answers were not credible at all.Fighting to beat the five-minute rule, delayed by Mueller's general incomprehension, Demings had to keep "movin' on."
Did some of President Trump’s incomplete answers relate to Trump Tower Moscow?
DEMINGS: For example, did you ask the president whether he had had at any time, directed or suggested that, that discussions about Trump Moscow project should cease?
MUELLER: Should what?
MUELLER: Do you have a citation?
DEMINGS: Yes. We’re still in Appendix C, Section 1, 7.
MUELLER: The first page?
DEMINGS: Yes. Because the president did not answer whether he had at any time directed or suggested that discussions about the Trump Moscow project should cease, but he has since made public comments about this topic.
MUELLER: OK. And the question was?
DEMINGS: Did the president— Well, let me go on to the next.
Did the president fully answer that question in his written statement to you about the Trump Moscow project ceasing? Again, in Appendix C.
MUELLER: No. And can you direct me to the particular paragraph you're referring to?
DEMINGS: It would be Appendix C-C1, but let me move forward.
Nine days after he submitted his written answers, didn’t the president say publicly that he, quote, “decided not to do the project,“ unquote. And that is in your report.
MUELLER: I am not— I’d ask you— I’d ask you if you would to point out the particular paragraph that you’re focused on.
DEMINGS: OK, we can move on.
Soon she had to finish up. This is the way that rolled:
DEMINGS: Director Mueller, for example, the president is written as, or stated he did not recall having advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks releases, is that correct?With that, Demings posed her final question, the first question we posted above. She asked if Trump was always being truthful in the written answers he submitted.
MUELLER: I think that’s what he said.
DEMINGS: But didn’t your investigation uncover evidence that the president did in fact have advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks public releases of e-mails damaging to his opponent?
MUELLER: And I can’t get in to that area.
DEMINGS: Did your investigation determine after very careful vetting or Rick Gates and Michael Cohen’s that you found them to be credible?
MUELLER: That we found the president to be credible?
DEMINGS: That you found Gates and Cohen to be credible in their statements about WikiLeaks—
MUELLER: Those are areas I’m not going to discuss.
DEMINGS: OK. Could you say Director Mueller that the president was credible?
MUELLER: I can’t answer that question.
To our eye, Mueller seemed confused and unsure on the way to "Generally." Can anyone really say they feel sure about what Mueller meant?
In our view, it's clear that something is badly wrong with the sitting president. That said, it's also clear that Director Mueller was struggling hard all through Wednesday's sessions.
Still and all, the tribe is currently eager for war, not unlike the Southern boys at the start of Gone With the Wind. On cable news, the endless promise that war is coming has proved to be very good business.
You hear about that and about little else! In the way which has always been standard among Homo sapiens, the stars were cutting corners last night, trying to rally the legions.
It seems to us that Donald Trump is in the grip of some version of "mental illness." Inevitably, our press corps decided, early last year, that this dangerous possibility must never be discussed.
Instead, we're being sold a product. The progression on cable news is easy to define:
After the Mueller probe began, we were told that the bravest, wisest person on earth was going to frog-march everyone out of the White House. This kept us liberals coming back to cable news for more.
When the Mueller report appeared and Mueller had done no such thing, we were told that Mueller would rock the world when he appeared before Congress. This kept hope alive.
When Mueller appeared before Congress this week, he was remarkably other than advertised. Result?
Last night, the cable stars were instructing us that we shouldn't believe our own lyin' eyes concerning what happened this week. They urged us to think that important new claims had emerged from Wednesday's events.
How much are they paid to tell you these things? Despite their vast love for transparency, you aren't allowed to know that! They just keep us keepin' on. No other topic matters.
According to leading future experts, our species repeatedly marched to war under various tribal signs. These wars routinely came at great cost, these scholars despondently tell us.
Night after night, they remind us of the realm from which they deliver the nocturnal transmissions the haters deride as mere dreams. They speak to us from the years which follow the global conflagration they refer to as Mister Trump's War.
The run-up to war was fun while it lasted, these top future experts have said. And with that, it's onward to next week's "debates!" Just think how much fun we'll all have!