At this site, you were warned: How would our world be different if we actually were, as long advertised, really "the rational animal?"
Consider the way Commander Trump, and the media suits, have brought us our own North Korea.
If we were the rational animal, everyone would have realized, long ago, that something seems to be badly wrong with Commander Trump. Everyone would have taken the unfortunate measure of such statements as this:
“You have 15 people, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be close to zero.”The commander said that on February 26. Yesterday, one month later, the actual number was at least 82,000. It was likely much greater than that.
In a rational world, it would have clear, a long time ago, that something was and is wrong with our bold commander.
There may be an issue of mental health. There may be an issue of cognitive impairment. There may be illness and impairment. But this would have been clear long ago.
In a rational world, rational people would have discussed these obvious possibilities. In our world, press corps elites declared that we mustn't conduct such discussions.
We can finally taste the fruits of such conduct. We've ended up, all this week, watching North Korean TV.
What happens in North Korean TV? In our version of the system, useless elites find the craziest person in the society and put him on prime-time TV. They do it day after day after day. Yesterday, he was quickly saying this:
TRUMP (3/26/20): After the meeting with the world leaders, I spoke with the governors of our 50 states and territories. Our team has been in constant communication with the governors, and we had a terrific meeting.Everyone knows that the comment about Tom Brady was not "meant in a positive way." Everyone knows that the comment was meant as a criticism of the commander's perceived or actual failure to act in the face of this global pandemic.
Somebody in the Fake News said that one of the governors said, “Oh, we need Tom Brady.” I said, “Yeah.” He meant that in a positive way. He said, “We need Tom Brady. We’re going to do great.” And he meant it very positively, but they took it differently. “They think Tom Brady should be leading the effort.” That’s only fake news.
And I like Tom Brady. Spoke to him the other day. He’s a great guy. But I wish the news could be—could be real. I wish it could be honest. I wish it weren’t corrupt, but so much of it is. It’s so sad to see. Just so sad to see.
We had a great meeting. I tell you what: I’m sure you have tapes of the meeting. I’m sure that you were able to get tapes very easily. So you had 50 governors-plus. And if you had tapes, you’d see it was really—I mean, there was no contention. I would say virtually none. I would say maybe one person that was a little tiny bit of a raising of a voice, a little wise guy, a little bit. But he’s usually a big wise guy. Not so much anymore. We saw to it that he wouldn’t be so much anymore.
Everyone knows that this presentation by the commander was utterly bogus. Everyone knows that he'll make an array of such ludicrous statements on a daily basis.
Everyone knows that this will happen, and everyone knows that something is wrong. But yesterday, the commander was speaking in the Baltimore market on the following outlets:
CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Fox Business Network.
There may have been one or two more. But make no mistake—this is North Korean TV. The craziest person in the society is broadcast into our homes every night, just as prime time is starting.
When this craziest person gets started, it's propaganda all the way down. Each presentation is propaganda. Surely, everyone knows that.
Yesterday, everything was great, incredible, amazing and beautiful in this state propaganda realm. Once the commander got going, he of course made such remarks as these:
TRUMP: As of today, FEMA has shipped over 9 million N95 masks, 20 million face masks, 3.1 million face shields, nearly 6,000 ventilators, 2.6 million gowns, 14.6 million gloves. And we’re sending more every day, and we’ve got tremendous amounts of equipment coming in.Again, we North Koreans were offered the feel-good "gong show of large numbers." Again, there was no attempt to compare these reported numbers to the apparent size of the nation's actual need.
A lot of great companies are making equipment right now. The ventilators, obviously they take a little longer to make, but we have a lot of companies making them. And we’re going to be in great shape.
We took over an empty shelf. We took over a very depleted place, in a lot of ways. As you know, the testing is going very, very well. And that was obsolete and broken, and we fixed it and it’s been going really good.
And I think, very importantly, the stockpile—we’re really filling it up, and we fill it up rapidly, but we get it out.
Meanwhile, we were told that "the testing is going very, very well." On March 6, the commander said this:
"Anybody that wants a test can get a test."Yesterday, twenty days later, the testing was "going very, very well!" Until you turned on cable news and saw people standing in line, for hours, all day long, in close quarters, trying to get tested at a hospital in Queens.
This being a province of North Korea, no journalist raised these embarrassing points when yesterday's "questioning" started. In this, the most rational of all possible worlds, our journalists—rational animals all—simply don't do such things.
Simply put, such things aren't done. No matter how much attendance is limited in these daily "briefings," the questioning remains scattershot. No follow-ups to the commander's weird statements allowed!
Over the past few days, we've followed a bit of propaganda which emerged at Tuesday's briefing. Yesterday, before taking any questions, the commander of course recited that script again:
TRUMP: As we continue to gather more information and accelerate the testing—where we’re doing record numbers of tests now, far more than any other country has done. I told you yesterday: Eight days here—because you heard so much about South Korea. The media kept talking, “South Korea, South Korea.” We have a great relationship with President Moon in South Korea. But when I hear so much about South Korea—"In eight days, we do more testing than [South Korea] did in eight weeks." That talking-point emerged from a jumbled, confusing presentation by Field Marshal Birx on Tuesday.
So, in eight days—in eight days, we do more testing than they did in eight weeks. And it’s a very highly sophisticated test, too.
In basic ways, this presentation seems to be wrong. In other ways, it's clownishly misleading.
But no matter how many times the commander recites this fuzzy point, no one will challenge him on what he says. And, this being North Korea, the executives put him all over TV at 6 PM Eastern so he can repeat this claim.
This is now a regular part of our nation's daily experience. Make no mistake about what this is:
This is North Korean TV.
The craziest person in the society is given the airwaves to spout every night. The children before him quiver and shake. Their "questions" may take this form:
TRUMP: I can now announce something that I think is incredible, what they’ve done in the Navy, because the incredible naval hospital ship the USNS Comfort—which is incredible, actually, when you see it inside—will be underway to New York City on Saturday.If we might borrow from Wittgenstein, out of context:
So it’s going to be leaving on Saturday, rather than three weeks from now. They did the maintenance quickly, and it was going to be there for quite a while longer—another three or four weeks. And it should be arriving—I told the governor 20 minutes ago, Governor Cuomo, that the ship will be arriving in New York Harbor on Monday.
I think I’m going to go out and I’ll kiss it goodbye. I’ll go—I’ll go to—it’s in Virginia, as you know. And I will go and we’ll be waving together because I suspect the media will be following.
John, are you going to be following? Maybe. You never know.
QUESTION: I always follow the Comfort, sir. It’s a very important vessel.
TRUMP: It’s a great ship. It’s a great vessel, is right. So, if you want to go, I’ll see you there. And if you don’t, that’s okay.
"It is in this and in similar ways that [the North Korean press corps] operates with words."
In closing, let's return to Field Marshal Birx. On Tuesday, she made a peculiar, jumbled presentation which went straight to state propaganda.
We've seen no one ask her to explain or clarify her statement. Yesterday, though, the Washington Post did analyze the field marshal's ongoing performance.
In a rational world, the Washington Post might have critiqued what the field marshal said. In our world, the Post threw to fashion analyst Robin Givhan. Hard-copy headline included, she proceeded as shown:
GIVHAN (3/26/20): The reassuring style of Deborah BirxFinally! A public figure has been praised for wearing earth tones! Meanwhile, "we're still human."
Her tone is gentle but firm. From her background as a diplomat, she is skilled in soft force— the art of getting people to do what you want them to do but having them think it was their brilliant idea all along. She stands out on what was a distressingly crowded stage until it recently thinned out: Women are in the minority during these public expositions. But she’s also distinctive because of her attire.
Birx doesn’t dress like a lady politician in jewel-tone suits and statement jewelry. She doesn’t wear power dresses, those sleek sheaths that are a critical part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s professional wardrobe. She doesn’t turn up in a white coat as if she’s there to take the nation’s collective temperature. Birx’s style can be called classically feminine when she wears her shirtwaist dresses and knots silk scarves around her shoulders. She exudes academic wonkiness with her earth tones and tunics and mufflers double-wrapped around her neck. She never looks bland or nondescript. She doesn’t look like an automaton or someone who has lost herself in the data and computer models. And in doing so, she offers a subtle but important reminder to people that while this crisis is serious and meeting it is hard, we are still human. Do not lose yourself. Be kind to yourself.
From there, the piece went on and on; then it went on and on some more. In hard copy, it appeared on the first page of Style. The Post has been publishing work of this type dating at least to the 2000 Florida recount.
Givhan didn't examine what Birx said this week. She examined the reassuring clothing she wore as she said it.
An important fact can be learned from this. It's an anthropological fact. The rumination goes like this:
For the past several years, we've been urging you to adopt a new paradigm, a new framework of understanding. We've suggested that you stop seeing our self-impressed species as "the rational animal."
We've suggested that you see us as what we've always been—as the highly tribal, reflexively script-reading, wildly distractible animal. Nothing will change if you adopt this paradigm shift, but you'll be seeing the world more clearly.
We live in North Korea now. At this site, you were warned!