FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2020
What "Anonymous" saw: As Carlotta Valdes has often told us, the so-called "rule of law" is a very recent addition to the human tool box.
Our species' history long predates any such high-minded notions. Our basic wiring clunked into place long before any such notions had ever occurred.
How primitive is the basic wiring of Donald J. Trump's brain? We can't really answer that question.
But next week is quite likely destined to be an historic Week That Was. This morning, Gabriel Debenedetti has published an insightful statement concerning what may be coming in Florida, or in some other key states:
DEBENEDETTI (10/30/20): “The Biden team clearly understands that in the Trump organization they’re not just going up against someone who challenges the rule of law, but who does not believe in the rule of law,” said Fernand Amandi, a veteran Florida pollster and strategist. The state’s election laws have undergone significant reforms and streamlining since 2000’s recount, and even since 2018’s recounts in several races. But, Amandi continued, “This is more than just a bare-knuckle fight. This is jungle politics here, where only one comes out alive. At the very least, they’re going to need the greatest assemblage of lawyers since the [O.J.] Simpson defense team.”
According to that veteran Florida pollster, commander-in-chief Donald J. Trump "doesn't believe in the rule of law.” According to this veteran pollster, the commander will do whatever it takes to win, or if necessary to steal, Florida's electoral votes.
The rule of law won't stand in the way, the veteran pollster says. We can think of this as prehistoric behavior, or perhaps as the behavior of a sociopath.
Is Donald J. Trump a sociopath? That is to say, is he afflicted with antisocial personality disorder, or perhaps with some stew of related disorders?
We aren't qualified to address such questions. Wisely or otherwise, those who are so qualified have been disappeared.
That said, someone who saw the commander in action appeared on CNN's Cuomo Prime this past Wednesday night. The person in question is Miles Taylor, the former Department of Homeland Security official who wrote the famous "Anonymous" op-ed column in the New York Times.
For several years, Taylor was in position to observe the commander-in-chief up close. On Wednesday night, he told Chris Cuomo some of the things he saw.
Our reaction? We thought Taylor's assertions were so striking that attention ought to be paid.
Some of what Taylor said to Cuomo isn't new. But he was describing what he saw and heard with his own eyes and ears—for example, this:
TAYLOR (10/28/20): The one I always go back to is the border. And I was never an immigration guy. I came into the administration as a national security guy. And as I became the Deputy Chief of Staff, I had to take over immigration, and of course as chief of staff.
The president, at one point, wanted us to gas, electrify, and shoot migrants at the border. What we're talking about, Chris, is innocent women and children who are seeking a better life in the United States, fleeing violence and persecution. And the commander-in-chief is telling us he wants to gas them? He wants to electrify the fence?
CUOMO: He literally said it? Was it ever put in writing? Or was it passed on by somebody else?
TAYLOR: Swear on my life— Swear on my life, verbatim, Oval Office of the White House of the president of the United States, that he mused about shooting them—and then, when there was clear shock on the faces of the people in the room, the president said, "Well, maybe you could just shoot them in the legs to slow them down, so they couldn't get to the border. And that would send a message."
CUOMO: You told him that it was mostly women and children, and he said that they should be shot or gassed? Seriously?
TAYLOR: Correct. Correct, Chris. And if that's not gut-wrenching to you, then you are not human.
Let's leave aside the deeper question of what it means to be "human"—the question of the kinds of wiring and ideations we've all inherited or developed to greater or lesser degree.
In that passage, Taylor was describing things the commander said and did right there in the Oval Office. Taylor gave the impression that Trump was surprised when he saw that people in the room were shocked by his weird advice.
As Taylor continued, he described the ways officials would react to these weird directives from the commander:
TAYLOR (continuing directly): And we would talk about these things behind the scenes. Those are moments where you would have to ask the tough question: "Wow! Do we resign now? Or do we stay and say, Mr. President, that's illegal, and we refuse to do it?" And we chose the latter.
And that wasn't always the easiest or right choice. But we got to a point where saying "No" to those things stopped working, Chris, because he would just go around us and do them anyway.
Taylor described the commander telling officials to break the law in various ways, saying he would grant them pardons if they ended up in prison.
Those accounts have appeared before. We were struck by Taylor's assessment of where things will go from here if Trump finds a way to win or steal the election.
Taylor saw Trump up close and personal. His prediction goes like this:
CUOMO: What is your biggest fear about what happens if the president has a second term?
TAYLOR: I think the president will feel completely emboldened to pursue, not just these almost Nazi-like immigration policies.
I don't say that lightly. That's a pretty harsh term to levy against the president. But that's really where they want to go, is turn it, this country, into "fortress America" rather than a "shining city on a hill."
But worse still for me, as a lifelong national security professional, is I believe the president is going to sell out our allies, and befriend our enemies, and put this country in danger.
And he's already shown a proclivity for friendships with despots and dictators around the world, and he's kicked our best friends to the curb. That kind of thing is going to put this country in danger for the long run.
The president will want to do things like pull out of NATO, pull out of our international agreements, put our troops and, pull our troops back from places where they're fighting forward so Americans don't have to fight bad guys here at home, on our city streets. That's what he's going to do.
I think if the guardrails come off, which they have, but even more in a second term, the president will feel unimpeded. And then finally, Chris, I think the damage he's done to our democratic institutions, he will double down on that, damaging the courts, damaging the oversight power of Congress, and expanding the power of the Executive so far that it's unreasonable.
None of that is entirely new. For various reasons, the upper-end press has made only minor efforts to evaluate these possibilities.
None of that assessment is new. But in Taylor's view, that's what it would mean to have a re-elected president who, in the words of that Florida pollster, "doesn't believe in the rule of law."
Is Donald J. Trump a sociopath, whatever exactly that means? Next week, we expect to revisit Mary Trump's assessment of such questions.
For today, we'll offer a layperson's guess. Part of what it means be a sociopath is this:
It means that, for whatever reason, your wiring takes you way back, back beyond the very concept of "the rule of law." Your wiring takes you back to the war of the all against all.
Your wiring doesn't incline you to ponder the golden rule. The parts of our brains which let us do so, even if imperfectly, may not be active in people so afflicted at all.
The rule of law, and other niceties, are extremely recent additions to human cogitation and culture.
None of us are fully wired for perfect adherence to Enlightenment values; sociopaths may not be so wired at all. For a more enlightened discussion of these matters, you'd have to ask a (carefully selected) medical or psychiatric expert, and those people have been banished from the pool.
Is the commander so afflicted? Over the course of the past several years, the mainstream press corps, rightly or wrongly, decided they shouldn't ask the medical experts who might have been able to offer informed views concerning such questions.
On the brighter side, the pandemic is over! The commander-in-chief has said!