- from early draft of Shock and Awe
"... A clinical psychologist told me... that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”
... Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.
But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies... including that it will soon magically disappear... don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.
So as the crisis deepens... it’s reasonable to assume that the president will reach for the tools he has used throughout his life: duplicity and denial. He will not allow facts that are at odds with his narrative to pierce his magnetic field of deception"
- Peter Wehner, "The President Is Trapped", The Atlantic
"With Trump’s clinical narcissism, there is no rational road map to his decision-making. There is merely the impulsiveness of his feelings, what he sees at any moment on Fox News, or what some billionaire blowhard might tell him on the phone. My best bet is that Trump’s initial China travel ban was due to his love of all travel bans. They’re a way of exerting total power over others, and that’s the kind of action he feels most psychically at peace with. And it was the kind of governance Trump can actually accomplish: It required nothing but an executive order and a tweet. No work. No follow-through. Just power.
T"he rest is explained entirely by Trump’s reliably rock-solid instinct to preserve himself and his own perceived interests over any kind of rational assessment of the public good, or any measure of internal consistency or coherence.
"So he suddenly panicked that an epidemic could hurt the stock market and slow the economy in an election year. It could obliterate his key reelection platform: that he brought the U.S. economy to near full employment. It could be his Katrina. So he reverted to his core psychological mechanism: He simply denied reality. His goal was to do what he always does: frame a narrative that looks good for him but which isn’t, you know, true, but that he could almost persuade a majority of his cult followers to swallow. He pulled all the levers — the Hannity and Limbaugh disinformation machine — but in the end, even they couldn’t hide the mounting numbers of the sick and the dead. He tried to sell the market on his inverted reality — and this time, the attempt to create reality didn’t quite work, as the market cratered. Epidemics are like that. They are reality at its edgiest. This one finally called the con man’s bluff." - Andrew Sullivan, "America Is Trapped in Trump's Blind Spot"
"Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals" - The New York Times, 2017
"After the rally, I loitered near one of the exits, chatting with people as they filed out of the arena. Among liberals, there is a comforting caricature of Trump supporters as gullible personality cultists who have been hypnotized into believing whatever their leader says. The appeal of this theory is the implication that the spell can be broken, that truth can still triumph over lies, that someday everything could go back to normal—if only these voters were exposed to the facts. But the people I spoke with in Tupelo seemed to treat matters of fact as beside the point... Tony Willnow, a 34-year-old maintenance worker who had an American flag wrapped around his head, observed that Trump had won because he said things no other politician would say. When I asked him if it mattered whether those things were true, he thought for a moment before answering. “He tells you what you want to hear,” Willnow said. “And I don’t know if it’s true or not—but it sounds good, so fuck it.”
The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”
Leaving the rally, I thought about Arendt, and the swaths of the country that are already gripped by the ethos she described. Should it prevail in 2020, the election’s legacy will be clear—not a choice between parties or candidates or policy platforms, but a referendum on reality itself."
--- McKay Coppins, "The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President", The Atlantic March 2020
"Trump is an extreme version of what people on Wall Street call a “glamour stock”: an investment that outperforms the market based on an inflated belief in its growth potential or on even more intangible qualities of cool and buzz. Twitter has been described as the ultimate glamour stock, its attractive image vastly out of whack with its ability to make money. A glamour stock will keep on winning right up until it loses – when the gulf between its perceived value and actual wealth-generative potential gets too huge, when reality finally disrupts the reality distortion field surrounding it.
.... With no fixed political principles, Trump’s only consistency is salesmanship and showmanship: the ability to stage his public life as a drama. And it’s the drama that holds the public’s attention – the edgy promise of a less boring politics. The New York Times recently quoted a voter who confessed to flirting with the idea of voting for Trump because “a dark side of me wants to see what happens… There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen.”
-- SR, "Is politics the new glam rock?", The Guardian, October 2016
Nostalgic for the Boring Dystopia yet?
bonus beat 4/17/2020