WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2020
Large chunks of our discourse are like this: Is it possible that Donald J. Trump really believes the crazy things he says?
We'll have to admit it! When the commander rants at length as he did in his Thanksgiving press event, the deeply disordered commander in chief really makes us wonder.
Personally, we'd like to see carefully selected medical / psychiatric specialists asked about this puzzling state of affairs. Because that sort of thing is forbidden, we end up with ruminations like this:
STELTER (11/29/20): Welcome back to Reliable Sources. I'm Brian Stelter.
I remember a day, early in the Trump years, when there were all these debates about whether to say the president was lying. Remember that? Was he lying? Was he just fibbing?
I remember Jeff Greenfield saying, "Brian, there is something worse than a lie. There is something worse than a lie. There's a delusion. When you are lying, you know it. When you are delusional, you don't."
He wanted to remind me there is something more dangerous than a liar—someone who is delusional.
What do you think is going on now? What do you see happening with the White House, with the Trump White House? Is it delusion? Is that what's happening?
That was CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday's Reliable Sources. For a bit of background on this matter, see yesterday's report.
Stelter is a good, decent person—but his presentation on Sunday made almost no sense. Things went sideways when he introduced his next guest, the Atlantic's Jonathan Rauch:
STELTER (continuing directly): Well, my next guest says that the president's behavior, the outgoing president's attacks against the election integrity, are attacks on reality itself.
Jonathan Rauch wrote this back in 2018. He was early onto this. He called it "The Constitution of Knowledge." He is now turning it into a book, and he joins me now. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributor for The Atlantic.
Jonathan, "delusion." I've always been afraid—not afraid. I've always been sensitive about using that word, cautious about using that word in the Trump years, not wanting to know—not wanting to assume I know what's going on in the president's head.
What do you see? What do you see? Is "delusion" a fair word for these election lies?
How confused was Stelter's presentation? Let us count (some of) the ways:
In the first chunk of his presentation, Stelter seemed to say that the commander may actually believe his crazy statements.
Trump may be "delusional," Stelter seemed to say. He seemed to say that being delusional is different from being a liar.
Quoting Greenfield, he seemed to say that being delusional is even worse!
Is it possible that Trump is so disordered that he believes his craziest claims? We often find ourselves wondering about that—but Stelter soon seemed to be over his head just handling these basic concepts.
By the end of that second chunk, he seemed to be asking if "delusion" was just another word for "lies." By now, he'd completely lost his way. Here's how the confusion developed:
In his opening chunk, Stelter proceeded with perfect clarity. He presented two dueling possibilities:
Trump may be lying when he makes his crazy claims. Or he may be delusional—he may actually believe the crazy things he has said.
At this point, Stelter had drawn a clear distinction between two possibilities. But then, he quickly muddied the waters, offering this:
"Well, my next guest says that the president's behavior, the outgoing president's attacks against the election's integrity, are attacks on reality itself."
Are the commander's crazy claims an "attack on reality itself?" Imaginably, a person could voice that judgment whether he thought Trump was lying or not.
From there, the confusion grew. Stelter said this to Rauch:
"Jonathan, delusion. I've always been afraid—not afraid. I've always been sensitive about using that word, cautious about using that word in the Trump years, not wanting to know—not wanting to assume I know what's going on in the president's head."
According to Stelter, he doesn't like to use the word "delusion." Reason? He doesn't like to give the impression that he knows what's going on in Trump's head.
Sadly, that doesn't make sense! If you say that Trump is lying, you're already saying that you know what's going on in his head. You're saying Trump knows the statement in question is false, but he's saying it anyway.
Media analyst, please! If you say that some politician is lying, you're saying that you know what's going on in his head! This is why, until recently, it was considered bad journalistic form to say that a pol was lying.
As a general matter, it's hard to know if someone is lying. How do you know the person isn't confused or misinformed?
Now we have an additional possibility—the possibility that Trump may be "delusional." That's one step past confused or misinformed—but as soon as you say that someone is lying, you're already saying that you know what's going on in his head.
These basic concepts are bone simple. They've been a basic conceptual construct since roughly forever. One last time, let's review:
Traditionally, journalists have been forbidden from using the L-word because it's hard to know what's going on in someone's head.
Now, Stelter seemed to be saying that he has avoided suggesting that Trump is "delusional" for that very reason. But he refers to Trump's "lies" on a regular basis!
Could it be that Trump is so crazy that he believes his ridiculous statements? We'd like to see a (carefully selected) medical expert asked to evaluate that question.
Last Sunday, Stelter seemed to be over his head handling these basic concepts. His presentation had broken down completely by the time he posed his puzzling question to Rauch. As we'll see tomorrow, Rauch was instantly tangled in this conceptual spider web too.
Is man [sic] really "the rational animal?" Dearest darlings, let's face the truth. Large chunks of our discourse are like this!