But so did big stars before him: The inanity of our own "poor immigrant" never flags or fails.
It's his basic mental state. In the wake of Jeffrey Epstein's death, he flew his "crazy flag" high once again. We quote from today's New York Times:
He also told reporters it was simply “a retweet” when he highlighted on Twitter an unfounded conspiracy theory that suggested that Bill and Hillary Clinton...were linked to the death of Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted pedophile. Mr. Epstein was found dead on Saturday of an apparent suicide in a federal prison in Manhattan as he awaited new charges.So spoke Donald J. Trump, giving voice to the broken-souled inanity which has been his political trademark ever since he started his "birther" campaign in 2011.
“I have no idea,” Mr. Trump said, when asked whether he truly believed that the Clintons had something to do with the death of Mr. Epstein, who was once a friend of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Clinton.
"That man who with his fingers cheats/Who [misstates] with every breath?" So it has gone with President Trump—but in this latest emanation, he piggybacked on a long-standing crackpot story-line, one with many previous sponsors.
The president's latest emanation draws on a decades-old narrative. It's the tale of The Clinton Body Count—the crackpot claim that Bill and Hillary Clinton have been implicated in a long line of murders.
This story-line comes to us live and direct from the realm of the nation's broken souls and misfiring brains. Right through yesterday's lunacy, the narrative has belonged to Trump this week. But it belonged to many others before him, not excluding some of our favorite upper-end liberal press corps stars.
The mental states of many people have been put on display in the course of this long, stupid episode, whose history which stretches back at least to 1994. Because it's the anthropology we seek today, we'll tick through that history quickly:
In 1994, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, one of the nation's most pious figures, began to peddle his crackpot film, The Clinton Chronicles.
There was no real Internet at that time; there were no social media. If you wanted to peddle crackpot claims, you pretty much had to go door-to-door, and that's what Falwell did.
Along other things, the Falwell-affiliated film accused Bill Clinton—he was then the American president—of drug addiction, money-laundering and international drug smuggling, all conducted through Arkansas' Mena Airport.
It also accused him of covering up the real cause of the 1993 death of Vince Foster, a long-time Clinton adviser and friend.
Foster had committed suicide, as roughly three hundred official investigations all found. But given Falwell's mental state, the story wasn't allowed to end there, as the leading authority on the crackpot film explains:
The movie helped perpetuate a conspiracy theory known as the "Clinton Body Count" about a list of associates Clinton was purported to have had killed. The Los Angeles Times reported that Larry Nichols, who appears throughout the film and is the primary source for a number of the murder and mysterious death claims, was fired from his Arkansas state government job and once admitted to an Associated Press reporter to being motivated by spite. The fact checking site TruthOrFiction.com states that "There is no credible evidence that any of the deaths is related or can be attributed to Bill Clinton."As far as we know, this was the start of The Clinton Body Count. Also in 1994, Rush Limbaugh played a leading role in spreading the crackpot belief that Foster had actually been murdered, and that Hillary Clinton had been involved.
To promote the film, Falwell aired an interview with [crackpot director Patrick] Matrisciana, who was silhouetted to conceal his identity as he pretended to be a journalist who was afraid for his life. Matrisciana later acknowledged that he was not in any danger, but that the interview was staged for dramatic effect at Falwell's suggestion.
So it went as some of the nation's leading crackpots spread crackpot claims around. As a general matter, major news orgs glanced away, bowing to commercial and political fears or perhaps to general lassitude and dumbness.
At any rate, from 1994 on, The Clinton Body Count was a basic part of the nation's underground Crazy. Big stars of the \ upper-end press basically kept their pretty traps shut about this growing debacle.
As of 1999, no less a figure than Gennifer Flowers had decided to climb aboard the Clinton Body Count train. She was now running a for-profit web site which was built around the crazy claims about the amazing number of murders committed by Clinton and Clinton.
You can guess what happened next! In August of that year, she was rewarded with a full half-hour segment on the crackpot cable show, Hardball.
When Flowers began discussing the many murders the Clintons had caused, her host, Chris Matthews, voiced surprise at her representations. There's no way to know if Matthews was actually caught by surprise by his guest's crackpot claims, of if he was just pretending. But Flowers' performance had been so absurd that she was rewarded again, in the obvious way:
She appeared for the full hour on the crackpot show, Hannity & Colmes. In that program's standard theater, Colmes feigned occasional concern about her claims while Hannity urged her on.
As you can see if you search through our archives, we've searched and searched for any sign that any media reporter in the country took note of the craziness of these crackpot "cable news" shows in August 1999.
We were never able to find any such presentation. By this time, "craziness culture" had taken deep hold with the pundit corps.
Indeed, even as Flowers tramped around making her crackpot murder claims, the nation's most august liberal voices were hailing her as a great truth-teller with respect to the highly implausible claims she had made about her alleged "love affair" with the man she liked to describe as "my Bill."
Flowers was a visible crackpot—a peddler of body count claims. But for more than a year, she had been hailed, far and wide, as a major truth-teller. No one did this more foolishly than—who else?—Frank Rich, then a columnist for the New York Times:
RICH (3/21/98): We now know that the Clintons also got away with exceedingly disingenuous image-mongering in their famous '92 appearance on [60 Minutes], during which the soon-to-be President responded to a question about a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers by saying "That allegation is false." This year, in a sworn deposition, Mr. Clinton conceded having an affair with her, disputing only its duration.Clinton had "conceded having an affair with Flowers, disputing only its duration?" In her ridiculous book, Passion and Betrayal, Flowers had claimed a torrid, 12-year love affair with her Bill. In his deposition, Clinton had confessed to one brief sexual interaction with Flowers, not involving intercourse.
Flowers said "the duration" had been twelve years; Clinton said it had been ten minutes. To Rich, this established Flowers as "the only female Presidential accuser we now know for certain to be telling the truth"—and as that year of impeachment wound on, Flowers was increasingly treated as a great truth-teller by major mainstream pundits.
One year later, their crackpot heroine was parading about on cable news promoting the Body Count. This is the basic shape of the long-running tale to which Donald J. Trump returned in the immediate aftermath of Jeffrey Epstein's death.
Within the world of crackpot culture, the notion that the Clintons murdered many people has festered and stewed for decades. As a general matter, the finer people and the finer news orgs simply chose to look away as this crackpot story gained purchase.
In various ways, finer people like Matthews and Rich helped establish this crackpot tale and its various offshoots. In the late 1990s, Geraldo Rivera, then a pro-Clinton, liberal cable news host, welcomed Falwell back into the realm of respected observers in spite of his years of crazy claims about those many murders.
Trump drew upon the body count in his latest assault on the nation's mental state. It's entirely possible that this particular long-running slander explains why he was able to edge past the widely reviled Hillary Clinton and find his way into the White House.
In the days before Epstein's death, Trump's behavior after the El Paso shootings had David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan describing hims as a sociopath. It may be that this correctly describes his mental state and explains his endless weird conduct.
That said, Trump is simply the craziest big player yet; many others came before him over the past thirty years. Major upper-end mainstream stars have displayed their own peculiar mental states as the nation has gone into headlong decline.
From March 1999 through 2008, Matthews was a leading example of the phenomenon known as "Trump before Trump." Other stars were unable to notice this fact, or they simply refused to speak up.
Is man [sic] really "the rational animal?" Or is some other basic framework more apt?
We think it's time for a new anthropology built around that basic question. That said, top anthropologists despondently tell us that any such reevaluation will be too little, too late.
Tomorrow: Some things we liberals believe