THINGS HAVING FALLEN APART: Do we even believe in mental illness?


Lithwick quotes Bandy X. Lee: At times like these—at times when things have fallen apart—there is simply nothing so stupid that tribal sachems won't say it.

Today, we'll stay in the streets of Our Town. Last night, shortly after 9 P.M. Eastern, a highly-rated former Rhodes scholar actually told Our Town this:

UNNAMED CABLE STAR (1/13/20): Tonight's vote to impeach President Donald Trump was the largest vote ever for a presidential impeachment. There were 232 votes for his impeachment, 197 votes against.

No article of impeachment against a president has ever had that many votes for it before. And there have never been anywhere near ten members of the president's own party who have voted with the opposition party to impeach a president, like there were ten Republicans who voted yesterday.

So you know, mazel tov! Records falling everywhere!

No, it doesn't exactly matter. But just for the record, could anything possibly be any dumber than those pleasing tribal statements by this top cable star?

What was wrong with the cable star's statements? Let us count most of the ways:

As she started, the unnamed star said this was "the largest vote ever for a presidential impeachment." We'd be inclined to disagree with that statement, but this heralded star forgot to mention the rather small size of her N:

Before yesterday's vote, there have only been three such impeachments in all of American history. In other words, the cable star's N, not unlike her IQ, was perhaps rather small.

The cable star was very excited in spite of her very small N. She went on to say this: 

"No article of impeachment against a president has ever had that many votes for it before." And yes, that's technically accurate—but only because there were so many fewer members of the House in the first of those three impeachments.

According to at least several experts, President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868. At that time, there were 190 members of the House. 

Today, there are 435 members. Hence the grossly misleading technical accuracy of this particular cable star's skillfully nuanced claim.

It's true! Never before have as many as 235 House members voted in favor of a presidential impeachment. That said, this was the initial vote when Johnson was impeached:

Initial vote on Johnson's impeachment:
Yay: 126
Nay: 47
Not voting: 17

In the final voting, several articles of impeachment were approved by margins of 127-42. Those 127 votes were more than 75% of the members who voted, roughly 70% of the total House. That dwarfs the percentage of the House who voted yesterday for the impeachment of Trump.

Stating the obvious, none of this makes the slightest bit of difference. This topic only arose last night because the corporate star is paid her multimillions by her corporate owners to make her viewers feel good.

If we get to feel good in the streets of Our Town, we're more likely to tune in tomorrow! This may explain why the cable star presented such manifest nonsense last night, as she so frequently does.

It's true that such foolishness doesn't matter—that nothing will turn on this bullshit. But this stupid behavior, however insignificant, helps us see how our species is strongly inclined to function after things have fallen apart.

According to experts, our species is inclined to panic at such times and turn to tribal soothing. Sometimes, though, we'll see flickers of emergent sanity. Consider what Lithwick did.

As a general matter, we're not fans of Dahlia Lithwick's work, though we're sure she's a very good person. Yesterday we were surprised by her work. 

In this essay for Slate, she acknowledged a very important fact. At present, there are no obvious "remedies" for the dangerous state we're all in.

That danger comes from violent Trump supporters, but also from Trump himself. Along the way, Lithwick did something very unusual—she quoted Bandy X. Lee:

LITHWICK (1/12/21): Trump has been a danger to himself and others since election day 2016, but enablers all around have worked to obscure and erase the signs of his unfitness for so long that it’s almost hard to track if he’s become more dangerous in recent days or if we underestimated the damage all along.  Republicans peeling away from him at this eleventh hour do so either for fear of personal legal liability, or because they can’t cover up for him anymore. Checks and balances with a sell-by date. Which is precisely how we got into this current, volatile situation in which the president is profoundly impaired and decompensating under the pressure.

Yale’s Bandy Lee, the forensic psychiatrist who has never stopped trying to warn us about Trump, put it this way in an interview in Politico before Christmas:

"The probability of something very bad happening is very high, unacceptably high, and the fact that we don’t have guardrails in place, the fact that we are allowing a mentally incapacitated president to continue in the job, in such an important job, for a single day longer, is a truly unacceptable reality … We’re talking about his access to the most powerful military on the planet and his access to technology that’s capable of destroying human civilization many times over."

Last Wednesday we witnessed what can happen when, despite widespread claims of readiness and detailed knowledge of what was coming, nobody was adequately prepared for something catastrophic to happen.

Remarkably, Politico had spoken to Lee in December. Amazingly, Lithwick now decided to report what Lee had said.

The upper-end press corps, Slate included, has been disappearing Lee for years. Now, Lithwick mentioned the way Lee "has never stopped trying to warn us about Trump."

Lithwick also noted the way "enablers all around have worked to obscure and erase the signs of [Trump's] unfitness." But as she listed the various parties who have refused to address Trump's apparent psychiatric disorder, she failed to mention her own guild—the mainstream, upper-end press corps.

According to major anthropologists, we humans just aren't very sharp. The years-long flight from this discussion constitutes a strong recent example. We'll even ask this award-winning question:

Do we self-impressed burghers here in Our Town actually believe in mental illness / mental health / psychiatry / psychology at all? Given the way we've behaved in the past several years, we'd say the answer to that question isn't real clear at all.

Do we believe what Lee has said bout the dangerous state of the president's psyche? Did we believe Mary L. Trump when she assembled a daunting list of her uncle's "psychopathologies?"

To this day, and on the highest levels, the answer isn't clear. Consider what Kristof has said.

No journalist has better values than Nicholas Kristof; also, he's thoroughly bright. But look what Kristof, a very bright person, is saying this very morning:

KRISTOF (12/14/21): People often believe that it’s poverty and illiteracy that drive terrorism, but that’s too simplistic. The 9/11 plot was orchestrated by university-educated elites. Last week’s Capitol rampage was obviously entirely different and not comparable, but it was galvanized by a trio with Ivy League degrees. And yes, I’m talking about Donald Trump, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. They all know better, and they should be held responsible.

Plainly, Hawley and Cruz can be numbered among our "university-educated elites." Beyond that, it's hard to doubt that they "knew better." 

Hawley and Crus were extremely successful students at Yale and Harvard Law Schools. It seems obvious that they knew that "stopping the steal" was a ridiculous, unfounded gong-show.

Plainly, Hawley and Cruz just had to "know better." That said, did the deeply disordered fellow known as Donald J. Trump?

For ourselves, we don't have the slightest idea whether Trump believed his own crazy claims. We have little experience in the realm of abnormal psychology, but the commander's psychology seems to be about as abnormal as it gets.

His niece says that Donald J. Trump was raised by a sociopath. She says that he's a stew of "psychopathologies." She says  he satisfies diagnostic criteria for (clinical) malignant narcissism, and most likely for sociopathy too.

Lee has been walking that same road for the past four years. In January 2018, the sachems at the New York Times ruled that she must disappear—but the question we're left with is this:

Given his stew of psychopathologies, does anyone know if Donald J. Trump believes his own crazy claims? This morning, Kristof says that Donald J. Trump "knows better." Absent discussion with medical experts, what makes him so sure about that?

For the past however many years, Our Town's unimpressive top media stars have traveled in their usual pack. They're refused to discuss the possibility that the commander-in-chief is some version of mentally ill, in a way which is dangerous.

(For the record, Trump could decide his goose is cooked and start World Wat III today.)

By joint agreement within the guild, people like Lee were disappeared. Mary Trump's astounding description of her uncle's psychopathologies was largely disappeared as well. On cable, Mary Trump has long since agreed to perform like a regular pundit.

Our "journalists" luxuriated in a familiar and easy moral discussion; they have enjoyed discussing Trump as a competent moral agent. But is that agent dangerously disordered? Is he severely mentally ill, and if so, what does that mean?

Such questions were never answered or asked.  Behaving as they always do, the pundits kept it simple.

Final point—Donald J. Trump is in no way way a member of our "university-educated elites." Yes, he has an Ivy League degree—but it's one his father bought him.

When even Kristof can't see these things, the anthropology lesson becomes amazingly clear. By the way, Kristof was a Rhodes scholar too. 

Does that make our problem more clear?

Tomorrow: Rules of the [human] road

Fuller disclosure: No one has better values than Kristof. We thought we should mention that fact.


  1. So, dear Bob, is it that the UNNAMED CABLE STAR's dembottery couldn't possibly be any dumber, or is it "skillfully nuanced"?

    We tend to believe it's both. Skillful goebbelsian dembots behind the scene skillfully concocted this goebbelsian piece of dembottery, and then the goebbelsian STAR, who couldn't possibly be any dumber, uttered the words.

    What do you think, dear Bob? Make sense?

    1. Mao,
      Plus the unnamed cable star was counting the votes of some Representatives who aren't even white, so the unnamed cable star is even wronger.

  2. "It's true! Never before have as many as 235 House members voted in favor of a presidential impeachment. "

    In that case, why imply that Maddow was incorrect? And who gives a damn about Andrew Johnson?

    Somerby says that Maddow neglected to put her claims into historical perspective because she was too busy pleasuring the libs (a sexual reference that is wholly inappropriate). I think Maddow presented her info this way to make it clear that the vote to impeach Trump was NOT EVEN CLOSE and that Trump has lost some of his Republican support, which had been solid up to this event. This is necessary for Maddow to make clear because otherwise the Republicans will claim that it was a squeaker or that Democrats bullied the House into impeaching Trump, neither of which is true.

  3. "According to experts, our species is inclined to panic at such times and turn to tribal soothing."

    There are no actual experts saying this. Somerby makes shit up and then attributes it to fictional experts, such as the people who have been using the word tribalism to talk about politics (e.g., Amy Chua, Jonah Goldberg). Somerby hopped on that bandwagon and has been relentlessly attacking liberals with it.

    While these ideas may have been borrowed from anthropology, they are not part of it and these are not ideas arising from anthropological study (or neuroscience, as Chua claims). Using pseudoscience to bash liberals or defend the status quo is not actually science and no one with any credibility as an "expert" does it.

  4. Somerby is growing increasingly tiresome by the nits he continues to pick. Trump inherited hundreds of millions of dollars and has Ivy league degrees. It's hard to argue that he is not a "university-educated elite" who should know better than to incite a riot and send his followers on a quest to storm the Capitol in an attempt to overturn an election. Trump knows what he is doing. He has just gotten away with it his whole life. Up until now, he has been able to yell, holler, threaten lawsuits and wear down the opposition. This time it hasn't worked. I don't think he's insane. He's just a rotten human being.

    1. I don't know if ad hominem hurts or helps, but it is certainly the order of the day here, and with more sadness than rancor, it is impossible to escape the fact Bob Somerby is an idiot.

  5. Somerby says that Lithwick acknowledged that "At present, there are no obvious "remedies" for the dangerous state we're all in."

    Somerby then quoted a passage from Lithwick that does not say that at all. Lithwick acknowledged that Bandy Lee called Trump mentally ill and warned that he was dangerous. Lithwick doesn't say, in that passage at least, that there are no remedies.

    Obviously, we were prepared for the Wed insurrection, in the sense that it did not succeed. We could clearly have been better prepared, but the legislators were kept safe, as were their staff, and the government was not taken over. Some physical damage was done, and rioters killed a police officer and several of their own accomplices. Given the consequences to those who participated, it can hardly be called a success. Could it have been worse? Of course, but not given Trump's laziness and incompetence, two factors that Bandy Lee has not acknowledged.

    What further remedies are there? Impeachment, of course, followed by removal from office by the senate. The 25th Amendment is also a remedy. But Somerby doesn't want these to be pursued, so he doesn't mention them. And all along, those same people who have covered for Trump and enabled him, have also prevented him from acting in ways that would cause more danger. They've done this right up to the present, when they prevented Trump from storming down onto the House floor to personally argue with the representatives debating his impeachment.

    It is unclear to me why Somerby might want to paint the situation of Trump's mental state as more dire than it is, especially if there is nothing anyone can do (the words he attributes to Lithwick but does not quote).

    The only point of Somerby's exercise is to try to generate some sympathy for Trump, to excuse his behavior, and to perhaps mitigate whatever consequences he will suffer after he leaves office. Given that Somerby addresses these remarks to liberals, is he trying to soften the retribution that is coming? Or is he trying to distract attention from all of those Republican enablers who put Trump into office knowing who he was, just so that they could get their tax cuts and conservative judges? Somerby doesn't say so, but those are the people most at fault in this situation, along with Trump, who has known what he was doing at every step of the last four years of malfeasance, corruption, fraud, and looting.

    Somerby is shameless in the way he uses Lithwick's words for his own purposes, just because she quoted Bandy Lee. He says she failed to mention "her own guild". Lithwick is a lawyer who writes about the Supreme Court. She has also written a book of legal humor. That doesn't make her part of the mainstream media or a journalist (reporter) whose job was to call out the press for not exposing Trump's mental illness (which has been on display for everyone to see since well before he ran for office).

    But any liberal in a storm, when it comes to bashing the left.

  6. "Plainly, Hawley and Cruz just had to "know better." That said, did the deeply disordered fellow known as Donald J. Trump?"

    Somerby writes as if being a college-educated elite were causal of terrorism. Kristof does not. It is the sense of grievance that fuels terrorism, not education or lack of it. Here are some of the causes of terrorism:

    Perceptions of deprivation and inequality, especially amongst culturally defined groups. This can lead to civil violence, of which terrorism may be a part. Terrorism represents social control from below, as attacks are directed upon targets symbolising central government or a superior community.

    A lack of political legitimacy and continuity, as well as a lack of integration for the political fringes, encourages ideological terrorism. The potential is exacerbated by ethnic diversity."

    Terrorism is generally perpetrated by young men. Sexual deprivation exacerbates terrorism. In the case of this recent domestic terrorism, conflicts between white and diverse people in daily life coupled with government support for multiculturalism and secularism are also fueling the sense of grievance.

    None of this has anything to do with college education. That is Somerby's bugaboo and he has seized on Kristof's words because Kristof said that those educated leaders of this insurrection (Hawley, Cruz, Trump) should have known better.

    Somerby omits Trump's name from that list, but Trump's elite education should have prevented his fomenting a coup. And Somerby overlooks that nearly all of the members of Congress similarly have an elite education, and they voted to impeach Trump. Obviously, education has nothing to do with choices made to support or oppose subversion of the election, to encourage or oppose the President in his efforts to stay in office.

    Somerby's own elite education doesn't permit him to see the wrong in what he "reports" here daily, either.

    1. Shall we conclude that he too is mentally ill?

  7. "Yes, he has an Ivy League degree—but it's one his father bought him."

    This is about as cynical a statement as I've ever seen.

    His father's money may have bought him entrance to several top universities, but it didn't bribe his professors to give him passing grades. Trump may have cheated his way through college, but professors don't pass out grades for money (not enough of them to produce a degree, if any are that corrupt). They would jeopardize their jobs and tenure by doing that, if scruples weren't enough to ensure fairness. Further, the other students would complain to the administration, so such corruption would come to light. Students may not turn in a cheater, but they definitely turn in rotten professors.

  8. Trump is what the Republican Party wants. He is who they are. Somerby is spending a whole lot of time and effort evading this truth.

  9. "No one has better values than Kristof."

    I disagree. There are many people with better values. Somerby gets overly impressed when Kristof talks about humanitarian efforts in other countries, but I would be more impressed if Kristof had the courage to discuss the humanitarian problems right here in our country. Courage should be a value, not just compassion.

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