To our ear, this doesn't make sense: As with Conor Friedersdorf, so too with Andrew Sullivan.
He doesn't work from either tribe's scripts. That makes him a valuable journalist.
Sullivan's weekly ruminations for New York magazine have struck us as very valuable. That said, we though today's profile of Donald J. Trump is very strange, highly illogical, on the border of almost deranged.
All though his profile, Sullivan uses the language of psychiatric or cognitive impairment as he describes Trump behavior. He starts by describing the "plain evidence of Trump's derangement" and, by paragraph 3, he's explicitly saying this:
SULLIVAN (5/22/20): Count the objective COVID-19 failures in 2020 alone. The president was briefed on the looming viral threat, both internally and externally, multiple times in January. But he does not read his briefings—he doesn’t actually read anything—and is uniquely un-briefable in person, according to a story in the New York Times: “‘How do you know?’ is Mr. Trump’s common refrain during his 30- to 50-minute briefings two or three times a week. He counters with his own statistics on issues where he has strong views, like trade or NATO. Directly challenging him, even when his numbers are wrong, appears to erode Mr. Trump’s trust, according to former officials, and ultimately he stops listening.” In other words, the officials who tell him things he doesn’t want to believe are soon sidelined or fired. This is the behavior of a 2-year-old. In a man in his 70s, it’s a form of pathology.Trump's behavior is "a form of pathology," Sully explicitly says. To our ear, that sound a great deal like a psychiatric assessment.
Sullivan uses this kind of language all through his profile of Trump. We'll highlight the relevant examples in the following chunk of text:
SULLIVAN: He even predicted at the end of February that “you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” (Asked two months later about this prediction, he said—of course!— that he was right: “Well, it will go down to zero, ultimately.”) He said it wasn’t a threat, and would go away, like a miracle. Put simply, these are delusional attempts to describe his own fantasies as an objective reality—like how the Russians did not try to interfere in the 2016 election, his inauguration crowd was way bigger than Obama’s, tariffs are paid by the Chinese government, and that anyone in America could have gotten a COVID-19 test. This is a form of psychological disorder.All in all, that's about as clear as it gets. According to Sullivan, Trump exhibits "a delusional pathology"—"a form of psychological disorder."
I know we’re used to it, but there is no rational or coherent explanation for any of this. There is no strategy, or political genius. There is just a delusional pathology in which he says whatever comes into his head at any moment, determined entirely by his mood, which is usually bad. His attention span is so tiny and his memory so occluded that he can say two contradictory things with equal conviction repeatedly, and have no idea there might be any inconsistency at all.
His COVID-19 press conferences were proof of his mental limits. He couldn’t understand basic questions. He had no grip on epidemiology. He believes that tests are bad, because they make America look bad, and then boasts of his record in testing (which is, of course, not good). When a White House staffer, Vice-President Pence’s spokesperson, Katie Miller, tested positive for COVID-19, this is what Trump said: “She tested very good for a long period of time. And then all of a sudden today she tested positive. So, she tested positive out of the blue. This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily, right, the tests are perfect but something can happen between a test where it’s good and then something happens and then all of a sudden, she was tested very recently and tested negative.” With anyone else, we would assume he was drunk when he said that. His sobriety is indistinguishable from alcoholic stupor.
Sullivan also suggests that Trump may suffer from a cognitive impairment. (Many older people do.) Trump's recent press conferences, Sullivan says, "were proof of his mental limits."
With anyone else, we'd assume he was drunk. Trump behaves like a two-year-old, Sullivan tells us, twice.
As the reader may know, we don't necessarily disagree with any of this. That said, Sullivan isn't a medical or psychological specialist. We'd rather hear these possibilities discussed by some responsible person who is.
We think Sullivan may well be right, but we're puzzled by his overall tone. We modern Americans don't normally scold people who are psychiatrically or cognitively impaired, but Sullivan aggressively scolds Trump all through his profile, even as he seems to tell us that Trump is in the grip of a psychological disorder, indeed a pathology, and presumably can't do any better.
Sullivan is very smart; it seems to us that this long tirade pretty much isn't. We'd even say that it tends toward the type of writing which has come to be called a form of "derangement syndrome." Such syndromes, from the right or the left, have made it impossible for our discourse and our politics to function.
We don't normally scold people who are cognitively limited or cognitively impaired. Sully thoroughly scolds Trump on this basis.
(When Sully scolds Trump for not reading anything, it doesn't seem to occur to him that it's possible that Trump suffers from some form of dyslexia—that he literally can't read, or can't read well, and has never been able to.)
We also don't normally scold people with severe psychiatric disorders. Sullivan desribes Trump that way all through his profile, but scolds him all the way through.
Trump has extreme "mental limits," Sully says. He says there is "no rational or coherent explanation" for the crazy things he says and does.
Trump's pressers were proof of these mental limits. Later, though, Sully says this:
SULLIVAN: When it was pointed out that what mattered was not the number of tests as a whole but tests per capita, Trump responded: “You know, when you say ‘per capita,’ there’s many per capitas. It’s, like, per capita relative to what? But you can look at just about any category, and we’re really at the top, meaning positive on a per capita basis, too.” I have no idea what he is trying to say and neither does he. But it’s a lie. Per capita, the U.S. is not “way ahead of everybody”: We’re behind Russia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Austria, and New Zealand. And this is only true because, as Alexis Madrigal has reported, the CDC has been counting antibody testing as well as COVID-19 swab testing, o the numbers are inflated. How the CDC has been reduced to this squalid error is beyond me.First Sullivan seems to say that Trump is too limited to know what he's talking about. His crazy claims aren't a strategy, Sully explicitly says.
Then, when Trump makes a stupid remark, Sullivan says it's a lie. That doesn't quite seem to make sense.
A lie is a knowing misstatement. Does this mean we're supposed to believe that Trump does know what he's talking about? Earlier, did Sullivan seem to say different?
Increasingly, our politics has been driven by lurid "derangement syndromes." For ourselves, we were trained, early in life, to "pity the poor [metaphorical] immigrant." We believe Bob Dylan said that!
It seems to us that Trump is nuts, that he's basically out on his feet. Does it help to scream and yell at a person who's so impaired?
Sullivan is a valuable journalist. Andrew Sullivan, call Bandy X. Lee!
Ask Lee how she would assess these disordered syndromes and these impairments. She's waiting at Yale for your call!