Mass Hysteria

It seems that someone told Donald Trump that if Richard Nixon had only had the guts to fire Archibald Cox, Nixon would have served out his full second term, in glory. But Nixon did fire Cox, and no good came of that, unless what happened on October 20, 1973, was “fake news” all along and never really happened. Who knows these days? Those who actually watched that unfold are old now. Perhaps our memories are going. Perhaps it never happened. It’s a drag getting old.

But it did happen, and that might explain this:

American Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent and CNN political analyst April Ryan said on CNN tonight she’s heard from a source there is “mass hysteria” in the White House over the possibility of President Trump firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a close Trump confidante, said tonight – after being at the White House today – that Trump is considering “terminating” Mueller.

Ryan tonight told Erin Burnett, “One of my sources reached out to me just before we went on air and they said there’s mass hysteria in the West Wing about this.”

If he fires Mueller, she added, “it shows that he’s impeding the process yet again.”

That does seem self-defeating but consider the word hysteria – from Latin hystericus “of the womb” – from Greek hysterikos “of the womb, suffering in the womb” – so it’s a “woman” thing. Women get hysterical. Real men do what must be done, with no muss and no fuss – and they certainly don’t run around in a panic. The mass hysteria in the West Wing must have been just the women, and a few girly-men.

Some things have to be done. Trump had already fired Preet Bharara – the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York who was famous for prosecuting Wall Street executives, but who had also opened an investigation into the Trump campaign and the Russians. Trump Tower was in that man’s jurisdiction. He had to go, and Trump had fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, three days after she warned the White House about Michael Flynn. Flynn had lied to the FBI. Flynn had been compromised by the Russians. Flynn could be blackmailed – so Sally Yates had to go. Trump said he fired her because she wouldn’t support his odd travel ban – the first version that the courts shot down, not the second version that the courts keep shooting down. Trump said he fired Yates because she wouldn’t support his first try at that. No one believes that now, not after he fired James Comey, the head of the FBI who was also investigating the Russian stuff, not after he told Lester Holt, on national television, that he fired Comey because of the Russian stuff, not after he bragged to the Russian foreign minister and their ambassador to the United States that he fired that “nut job” and “the pressure was off” – not now. Comey was the third person that Trump fired for looking into things. Robert Mueller would be the fourth.

That’s now a possibility:

A friend of Donald Trump on Monday raised the politically explosive possibility that the president could take action to fire Robert S. Mueller III, the recently appointed special counsel tasked with looking into Russian meddling in last year’s election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

“I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel,” Christopher Ruddy said during an appearance on PBS’s “NewsHour.” “I think he’s weighing that option.”

Ruddy, who is chief executive of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., confirmed his view in a text message to The Washington Post but did not elaborate. Ruddy told PBS that he thinks it would be “a very significant mistake” for Trump to seek Mueller’s termination.

Even the super-right Ruddy knows better, so it was time to cover for the boss:

Ruddy was at the White House on Monday but did not meet with the president, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

“Chris Ruddy speaks for himself,” Spicer said.

That won’t do:

Ruddy appears to have based his assessment on public comments made over the weekend by a member of Trump’s personal legal team.

During a Sunday television appearance on ABC News’ “This Week,” Jay Sekulow said he was “not going to speculate” on whether the president might order the firing of Mueller. But Sekulow added that he “can’t imagine the issue is going to arise.”

On PBS on Monday, Ruddy said that Trump’s consideration of moving to fire Mueller was “pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently.”

Trump does have the authority to remove the special counsel. Muller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller or he could order that regulations that govern the appointment be repealed and then fire Mueller himself.

Trump could go Full Nixon – Saturday, October 20, 1973, all over again. Attorney General Elliot Richardson refused to fire Archibald Cox. He resigned instead. Would Jeff Sessions? Would Rod Rosenstein? Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did the same. The guy third in line, Solicitor General Robert Bork, as acting head of the Justice Department, suddenly, did the deed – and his career ended. This could be fun, or not:

The prospect floated by Ruddy puts Rosenstein in an awkward position. He is scheduled to testify before two congressional hearings Tuesday and is likely to face even more pointed questions about the Russia probe and the independence of the Justice Department in light of Ruddy’s comments.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also scheduled Tuesday to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, a venue where the possibility of firing Mueller could arise. Sessions has recused himself from the Russian probe, a move that gave Rosenstein the authority to appoint a special counsel.

This could be awkward, when considering this:

Republican lawmakers have a warning for President Donald Trump: Don’t mess with Robert Mueller…

“It would be a disaster,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) “There’s no reason to fire Mueller. What’s he done to be fired?”

These folks know their history:

On Capitol Hill, Mueller’s appointment seemed to calm nerves after the firing of Comey. A former FBI director who served for 12 years under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Mueller won bipartisan praise last month, when he was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the Russia probe.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the notion firing Mueller, would “certainly be an extraordinarily unwise move.”

Collins and other Republicans said they had no indication Trump was considering firing Mueller. But lawmakers were taken by surprise last month when Trump fired Comey, who was then overseeing the Russia investigation.

They could be surprised again, and Trump has those egging him on:

“Bob Mueller’s obviously intent on hiring people who are antagonistic toward this administration,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) “He’s one of Mr. Comey’s closest friends, and it looks like there’s a deliberate orchestration to damage or undermine the president regardless of the basic facts.”

So far, Franks appears to have a minority view among his colleagues. He said Mueller and Comey’s longstanding friendship “constitute an incontrovertible conflict of interest,” and he said it was time to end the “mindless charade.” But Franks stopped short of urging Trump to fire Mueller.

“I’m not sure I’ve developed an appropriate conviction on that yet,” he said.

Franks’ comments echoed similar criticisms lodged by Trump associates in recent days.

“Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Twitter on Monday. “Time to rethink.”

Still, that’s a minority view:

“I think there’s a lot of confidence in Mueller around here,” added Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) “We’ve all dealt with him.”

And a number of GOP lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, reiterated that they remain confident in him to lead an impartial investigation.

“He’s a very much trusted individual and had an outstanding record as head of the FBI,” McCain said.

Even some of Trump’s closest allies in Congress are warning against any rush to nix the Mueller probe.

“I think Bob Mueller’s as good as you’re going to find. I don’t see any reason to remove him now,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has largely defended Trump throughout the investigation into potential Russia ties.

Asked whether Comey’s efforts to nudge DOJ to create a special counsel had tainted the probe, King said, “I think it would taint it more to remove him now.”

Trump may not think that. Donald Trump is a bit idiosyncratic – or idiotic – the words are related. The man never held political office before. His grasp of how our government (or any government) works is a few steps below rudimentary. He has no experience in foreign policy, other than with the intricacies of resort and hotel development in far-off lands, and with the issues involved in staging a beauty pageant in Moscow – and he has no military experience, other than high school at that military academy for troubled rich kids prone to bullying. But he is, he says, a billionaire, a master dealmaker who always got his way, humiliating anyone who got in his way. He won. He always won – and now America would always win. No nation would ever humiliate America ever again, even if none really had. He said they had, and starting with Mexico, we’d humiliate them all – and starting with Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted, and moving on to Crooked Hillary, he humiliated anyone who disagreed with him about anything at all. His tweets destroyed them. He was a winner. We’d all be winners, again, finally. He’d make America great again.

That was the general idea. That’s not working out – but as Paul Ryan says, Trump is new to all this government stuff, so everyone should cut him some slack.

That’s getting harder. Who is this guy? Ask Marc Fisher, a senior editor at the Washington Post and the author, with Michael Kranish, of Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President and a recent article in Moment magazine – Growing Up Trump – so he’s a man who knows Trump. Isaac Chotiner interviews Marc Fisher, who shares some of that knowledge:

For a guy who takes great pride in being a provocateur and being unpredictable, he’s remarkably consistent. The great satisfaction of covering him as president is that his behavior tracks the main themes of his life prior to the presidency quite beautifully. This is a guy who really does not change much. In fact, in one of our early interviews, he said, “I’m pretty much the same guy I was when I was seven years old.”

That a bit frightening and Fisher offers this array of arrested-development traits:

It’s everything from his unitary focus on himself and what’s good for his bottom line to his very solitary, lonely nature as a man, to his willingness to run over and destroy anyone he sees as being in his way. He is quite consistently someone who likes to make mischief and thinks of himself as a jokester, and yet he’s also someone who deeply believes that he can manage and fix just about anything.

Probably one of the most important aspects of his personality is that for Donald Trump there’s really no tense other than the present tense. He doesn’t think terribly much about the future, and he also doesn’t at all acknowledge that the past exists. I think he almost uniquely, in my experience, doesn’t really experience the past in his day-to-day life. When you ask him about things that took place earlier in his life, it’s almost as if they come fresh to him every time you mention them.

That sounds more like amnesia than a short attention span, but the result is the same:

He has a remarkable capacity for denial, and I think there have been very few occasions over the course of his life where he has been slapped in the face with his failure, whether it was his bankruptcies, the failures of any number of his businesses, the failures of two marriages. In each case, he has an almost admirable ability to move through life as if those losses and failures hadn’t happened, and to portray them not in a crass political spin sort of way but in a really gut-level, deeply felt way as things that didn’t bother him and things that he didn’t even acknowledge.

And that works for him:

By living in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or even acknowledging the past, he has the ability to keep going. People who were with him when his casinos were going down, when he was suffering through these bankruptcies, and being in this humiliating position of groveling before bankers, thought, “He’s going to come in the next day utterly crushed and not willing to face people, and humiliated,” and it never happened. He came in just as bright and bullish as he’d been the day before. That capacity serves him well I think in some ways, but it also divorces him from reality in some ways. That, I think, is what people around him have come to find a bit frightening.

That might explain the mass hysteria in the White House, because they know what’s coming next, what he always does next:

When things get rough, double down and keep going. If you say something that’s wrong or stupid or misunderstood, you don’t apologize, you don’t retract – you just double down and hit that harder and harder. That’s part of his DNA, and so all of these stories about his anger and his lashing out fit in with that. That’s him saying, “I’m going to stick with this. Everyone tells me it’s not a travel ban. It’s still a travel ban to me.” That’s classic Trump.

So he WILL fire Robert Mueller! He will! He will!

That’s the seven-year-old talking and Fisher finds that kind of sad:

Trump doesn’t really have the capacity to enjoy things in the way that most people think of that word. You never see him laughing. He’s not a terribly optimistic person, as we saw in the campaign. I think he relishes the authority, the power, and above all the stature of the position. He loves the trappings of his office, but there’s really no evidence that he loves the day to day of most of the things he does, with the exception of dealing with the media. He has this reputation that he’s cultivated of being tough on the media. He’s certainly staking a lot of the rhetoric of the administration on bashing the media, but there’s nothing he loves more than talking to the reporters and working the press and working his image. That really is more of a source of satisfaction to him than anything that might have to do with policy, which bores him to tears.

And he is also Richard Nixon:

He also has a certain need to be criticized or rejected. Much like Richard Nixon, he’s someone who thrives on his resentments, who sees himself as always under siege, never fully respected. He carries these resentments often about the very same institutions that he craves recognition from, the classic case being the New York Times, which ever since he was just out of college, he has been craving their recognition and respect even as he has done and said things to alienate them and to outright bash them. There’s that push-pull throughout his life.

And it’s always a long time ago:

I think in most cases, he doesn’t know what he’s saying or exactly how it will be perceived. I think in many ways, Donald Trump’s language and thinking are arrested in the 1950s of his youth. One reason he appealed to some of his voters who talk a lot about how he talks like we do and that sort of thing, that’s very much like the attraction that many of those same voters probably had for Archie Bunker when he was on All in the Family, the same kind of attraction they have to a Don Rickles. For a lot of white Americans, there is a kind of freshness to people whose rhetoric sounds like that of normal speech of the 1950s. Most people, their language has changed with the times. Donald Trump’s really has not. In that way, he’s a throwback, which is appalling to some people and refreshing to others. I think he is really quite unaware of the ways in which his language comes off as dated or worse to many people.

And then there the Russia thing:

Donald Trump really doesn’t like things that are beyond his control. He really doesn’t like it when he’s held responsible for things that he can’t massage or manipulate. This Russia thing is exactly that, and so I think to the degree that we are seeing some of his frustration, it’s because he has been stripped of the guardrails and the foundations that have served him decently well for the previous four decades. He had worked with this tiny group of people who he trusted, who had worked with him for three or four decades, and now he’s with a whole bunch of new people. He doesn’t know who he can trust, and he’s really having a lot of trouble with that.

I think overall, he is frustrated that he’s not able to set the agenda or manipulate the message in the way that he’s accustomed to doing.

That makes him dangerous, or idiosyncratic, or an idiot. Eric Anthamatten, who teaches philosophy, art and design at Fordham and the Pratt Institute, prefers the third word:

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place, “president.” Superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable descriptives came further down on the list. But let us focus on the first.

Contemporary uses of the word “idiot” usually highlight a subject’s lack of intelligence, ignorance, foolishness or buffoonery. The word’s etymological roots, however, going back to ancient Greece, suggest that, in the case of the president, it may be even more apropos than it might first seem.

Yes, the Greeks had a word for this:

In ancient Greek society, an idiotes was a layperson who lacked professional skills. The idiot contributed nothing to public life or the common good. His existence depended on the skill and labor of others; he was a leech sucking the lifeblood from the social body. Related to this, idiocy (from the root idios, “one’s own”) was the state of a private or self-centered person. This contrasted with the status of the public citizen, or polites, such that to be an idiot was to be withdrawn, isolated and selfish, to not participate in the public, political life of the city-state. In Greek society, the condition of idiocy was seen as peculiar and strange (a meaning that is retained in the English word “idiosyncratic”); thus “idiot” was a term of reproach and disdain.

That was as it should be:

The education scholar Walter C. Parker sought to invoke this original meaning in his 2005 essay “Teaching Against Idiocy.” In it, he writes that “when a person’s behavior became idiotic – concerned myopically with private things and unmindful of common things – then the person was believed to be like a rudderless ship, without consequence save for the danger it posed to others.” The idiot, then, was a threat to the city-state, to public life, and to the bonds that make communication and community possible. Parker continues: “An idiot is suicidal in a certain way, definitely self-defeating, for the idiot does not know that privacy and individual autonomy are entirely dependent on the community.” Parker also notes that the idiot has not yet reached “puberty,” or the transition to public life.

Fisher was onto something. The idiot is always seven years old and dangerous:

The idiot, understood in this sense, undermines not only community but also communication. An “idiom” is a phrase peculiar to a specific language or place. The idiot speaks only in idioms, though these function for him not as colorful additions to a language or culture, but are understood by him alone. To members of the community, his utterances are the babblings of a baby or a madman…

Given all this, the idiot can be defined as such: a prepubescent, parasitic solipsist who talks only to himself.

He also talks to the other few idiots, the Archie Bunker fans who “get” his idioms, but miss the adult stuff:

Humans evolved for the most part by putting community first and the individual second. Despite many of the political narratives that posit a mythological “state of nature,” in which selfish, violent, atomistic individuals must forgo their natural liberties and make compromises and contracts to secure their own existence, scientific evidence simply does not support this. For creatures like us, self-preservation was always also social preservation.

The idiot does not understand this, and thus does not understand how he came to be, how he is sustained and how he is part of a larger ecology. The idiot cares nothing about public life, much less public service. The idiot cares only about his own name. The idiot, by way of his actions, can destroy the social body. Eventually, the idiot destroys himself, but in so doing, potentially annihilates everyone along with him. He is a ticking time bomb in the middle of the public square.

And the first thing he does is fire Robert Mueller – except for Donald Trump, that’s not the first thing. He fired three others already. Each week, year after year, each episode of The Apprentice and the Celebrity Apprentice, ended with the same words – “You’re fired.”

There’s nothing new here – except that this is now a threat to public life, and to the bonds that make communication and community possible. That explains the mass hysteria. The masses have spoken, or will speak.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Mass Hysteria

  1. DWhite says:

    “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”

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