THURSDAY, JANUARY 14, 2021
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:
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.