WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2022
Some folks disappear: It's much as sacred Chekhov once correctly reported:
"The appearance on the front of a new arrival...became the topic of general conversation."
In Chekhov's account, the new arrival was "a lady with a lapdog." Here and now, in our own place and time, the most recent of many new arrivals has been an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, yielding widespread reaction to same.
(We're quoting the start of Chekhov's story, The Lady with the Lapdog. Several major figures—Nabokov and Cornel West among them—have described it as one of the greatest stories ever penned.)
This more recent arrival appeared on the front at 7 o'clock Monday night. This morning, in the Washington Post, five reporters describe one part of the general conversation:
BARRETT ET AL (8/10/22): Dozens of die-hard Trump supporters came to Palm Beach on Tuesday to express their support. Adriane Shochet, 64, of Lake Worth, Fla., bought a $14 broomstick, which she attached to an American flag and waved as she stood on the causeway that overlooks part of Mar-a-Lago.
“I just needed to come out and show the whole free world that this is frightening, and if they can do this, what’s next?” Shochet said. “This is the polar opposite of whatever effect politically they thought they were going to get because all it’s doing is empowering the right politically.”
Dozens of people—at least twenty-four!—arrived on the scene at Palm Beach. As quoted, Shochet wondered what "they" might do next if "they" are allowed to do this.
Shochet was hardly alone in her state of concern. As they continued, the WaPo Five recorded some other reactions:
BARRETT ET AL (continuing directly): Passing motorists honked in support. One man stood on the bridge, which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway, holding the American flag upside down—widely recognized as a symbol of his belief that the country is in distress.
Pat Stewart, 85, found the “Trump 2020” flag that used to fly at her house in Jupiter, Fla., which she had expected to keep tucked away until the next presidential election. For several hours, she stood in the sun alongside a friend who was visiting from Michigan, who is also 85, waving at passing motorists.
“I was very angry, very angry, and very upset, that our government would do this to an ex-president,” Stewart said. Even though aides said Trump was in New York and at his golf club and residence in Bedminster, N.J., this week, Stewart held out hope that he was at Mar-a-Lago.
“We want him to come out and announce he’s running for president,” she said.
Stewart's comments were part of the general conversation triggered by Monday's arrival. It isn't clear that her comments make perfect sense, though there's certainly nothing especially new about that.
Stewart was very angry, and very upset, with respect to the governmental conduct in question. Shochet wondered what "they" will do next if "they" are permitted to do this, as they basically are.
Within the borders of the Post report, Stewart and Shochet weren't asked to explain what was actually wrong with the government's conduct. Given the lack of information about the background to the search, it wasn't clear that these discussants knew what they were talking about—and it didn't seem that the WaPo Five had actually tried to find out.
"Verdict first, trial later," a Lewis Carroll character once said. So it went along the front as the new conversation broke out.
On various sides of various aisles, people had access to very few facts—but many people were expressing firm views, or engaging in rich speculations. This was especially true, though not exclusively so, within the group Dana Milbank discusses in—what else?—his new book.
Milbank's book has a somewhat clumsy title and a slightly truncated chronology. He focuses on one part of a terrible state of affairs. His title reads like this:
The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party
"Destructionist" is a brand-new term, but it could always catch on. As we noted yesterday, the specific crack-up to which he refers has been going on for more than twenty-five years at this point.
That said, Milbank's claim of a crack-up is entirely fair, though other groups have been failing too. And as we noted yesterday, Donald J. Trump didn't start the specific crack-up under review, as Milbank correctly says.
It isn't just the Republican Party which has been cracking up. That said, it isn't clear that any other major societal group has cracked up to the same extent.
The crack-up involves a range of behaviors our press corps is loath to discuss. The anthropological background here involves such questions as these:
Major public figures: Newt Gingrich was plainly there at the start. Is it possible that he could be diagnosed as a "sociopath?"
According to a major study, more than six percent of adults males can be so diagnosed. Our press corps would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before it would agree to discuss such topics.
We the regular people: To what extent are we the regular people possessed of good sound judgment? In the crack-up which Milbank describes, we the people have often seemed to have remarkably limited powers of discernment.
Especially at times of tribal warfare, there seems to be nothing so crazy that we the regular people won't be available to believe it.
We the regular people today! In the crack-up which Milbank describes, we came to believe that Hillary Clinton was involved in a range of murders. Also, that she was trafficking children for sexual purposes out of a pizza joint.
We believed that Obama was born in Kenya. We now believe that the2020 election was stolen, even though Donald J. Trump has never attempted to produce a white paper, or anything like it, supporting that unfounded claim.
Increasingly, it seems that there's nothing so silly, or so unfounded, that we the regular people aren't capable of believing it. That said, throughout the period under review, our press corps has been wed to a rather silly branding statement:
"The American people are pretty sharp."
The American people are pretty sharp? Increasingly, it becomes clear that this isn't exactly true.
That said, the press corps would exile itself to the Gobi Desert before it would make the discernment of us the regular people a topic of explicit review. Our press corps doesn't discuss the mental health of political figures, and it doesn't discuss the basic discernment of us the regular people.
Sadly, another group was there at the start of the crack-up in question. It's an important societal group—a group which Milbank seems disinclined to mention.
This group is persistently disappeared in discussions of the crack-ups of the past thirty years. We refer to the guild to which Milbank belongs. We refer to the mainstream press corps.
Gingrich was there at the start of the crack-up. Tomorrow, we'll add more names from the cultural right, Falwell and Limbaugh among them.
That said, the upper-end press corps was also there at the start. And how about us, the regular people from the blue tribe? Is there some way in which we the blue people were also there?
"We are not enemies, but friends," Lincoln said. "We must not be enemies."
He said that in his First Inaugural Address. In his more famous Second Inaugural, he pretty much said this:
We in the North did this too.
Our group did this too, Lincoln surprisingly said. Does that sort of thinking still represent a type of good solid judgment?
On Monday night, the latest arrival became the latest topic of conversation.
It hasn't been just Stewart and Shochet, who hurried to Palm Beach. At this point, no one really knows what we're talking about as this conversation goes on and on
Few of us are inclined to say that, surely not in a full-blooded way. Anthropologically speaking, our cognitive powers are rather limited, our tribal instincts quite strong.
Tomorrow: Gingrich wasn't alone