Regarding Claims of Genius

Jerry Lewis finally died in 2017 – the famous comedian who had become a national embarrassment. His broad and crude and very loud slapstick routines from the fifties didn’t age well. Over time they seemed more like assault, in the criminal sense, and his mawkish Labor Day telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association were worse. Those went on for forty-five years. He’d bring out some crippled kid – on display – one of “Jerry’s Kids” – and he’d cry a lot. And then he’d cry some more. That eventually seemed like emotional blackmail, and also rather nasty exploitation of those poor kids. Americans were supposed to feel guilty, and send money. Some of them sent money, probably in spite of Jerry Lewis, not because of him. He did win awards over the years. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him a lifetime achievement award and he has two stars here on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but now everyone would rather forget him. He was a pain in the ass.

His politics, such as they were, were crude too. On the long-forgotten Jerry Lewis Show he said to Muhammad Ali, “You’re a big bag of wind” and added “I think you’re the damnedest showman that ever lived and you ain’t kidding anybody.” To Lewis, Muhammad Ali was no more than a draft-dodger. In a 2004 interview, Lewis was asked what he was least proud of, to which he answered politics – not his, but the world’s politics. In his last years he decided he was opposed to the United States accepting Syrian refugees – those weren’t Jerry’s Kids or something – and he didn’t like Obama. He liked Donald Trump. He said that Trump would make a good president because Trump was a good “showman” – for what that’s worth.

That’s not to say that Jerry Lewis was clueless. He knew that he had become reviled. That’s why he once said this. “People hate me because I am a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius.”

Lesser beings resent genius of course, and at 4:15 in the morning, in those empty and lonely hours before dawn, on Saturday, January 6, 2018, Donald Trump tweeted this:

Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence.

Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top TV Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius… and a very stable genius at that!

Donald Trump was Jerry Lewis. That Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House had hit the bookstores and it was devastating. There had already been two days of talk about it everywhere but on Fox News, and there will be at least two more weeks of talk about it everywhere but on Fox News, and on Friday afternoon Andrew Sullivan summed up the ongoing disaster:

Michael Wolff’s new book confirms what we already knew: that the White House is a smoldering crater of chaos and dysfunction. Wolff claims that every single White House source he talked to believes Trump is “incapable of functioning in his job.” We have heard these claims about presidents before – but usually from the opposition, not from the White House itself, let alone unanimously. But Wolff’s piece in The Hollywood Reporter yesterday also confirmed what is obvious about Trump’s fast-eroding mental health: “Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories – now it was within 10 minutes.” And: “At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.”

This addled, lazy, and belligerent man-child is nonetheless engaged in a war of insults and threats against a nuclear-armed dictatorship, with the capacity to kill millions. No head of any nuclear-armed country has ever said in public what Trump has now repeatedly broadcast to the world.

Everyone was saying that. In those empty and lonely hours before dawn on Saturday morning, Donald Trump just had to tweet out that he was actually a STABLE GENIUS! He could have easily added that people hate him because he is a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius too – just like Jerry Lewis. People just don’t appreciate broad and crude and very loud slapstick anymore.

David Atkins states the obvious:

No stable genius has ever bragged about what a stable genius they were. No smart person would try to convince the world of their high IQ by using poor punctuation and fourth-grade vocabulary while using “like” as a filler word in text.

No one with an ounce of historical awareness would argue that they retained their mental acuity by comparing himself to the Alzheimer’s-afflicted Ronald Reagan. No one who understood his legal peril would call out the FBI’s most high-profile investigation in the country as a “hoax.” No one of sound mind would forget that they had run for President at least once before, back in the year 2000.

The President of the United States has lost his grip on reality. It’s obvious for all the world to see. The only question is whether Republicans will ever do anything about it. If they don’t, the stain of their cowardice will remain on the party for a generation.

Jennifer Rubin has a few things to say about that;

Trump’s emotional and mental limitations should debunk a number of rationalizations from his devoted cultists, who insisted he was the best choice in 2016, cheered his first year in office and continue to pretend he’s fit for office. He’s sounding presidential? No, he’s reading off a teleprompter, likely with very little comprehension. He’s playing four-dimensional chess with Kim Jong Un? No, he’s impulsively lashing out, with the risk of provoking a deadly clash. He’s a master manipulator when he shifts from position to position, sometimes in the same sentence? No, he likely doesn’t realize what contradicts what or remember what he originally said. His use of alternative facts is a brilliant scheme to control the press narrative? No, he’s incapable of processing real information and driven by an insatiable need for praise and reaffirmation.

In short, this is slapstick, and dangerous:

Seen in the context of his intellectual and emotional limitations, some decisions should set off alarm bells. Take the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “Bad. Obama’s deal. Worst ever. Get rid of it. People will love me if I get rid of it.”

That is very likely the sum total of his “thinking” on the subject. He’s not considering the next step, the reaction of allies, the implication for America’s standing in the world, the available evidence of Iranian compliance or any other data point that would go into a rational consideration of United States’ policy. Policy isn’t being made or even understood by the president. What comes from his fears and impulses is whatever aides are able to piece together that might satisfy his emotional spasm of the moment without endangering the country.

And there’s more:

Anyone who listens to him speak off the cuff about health care or tax legislation knows he will not raise any specifics or make a logical argument for this or that provision. It’s all “great,” “fabulous,” “the biggest,” etc. It’s not a sophisticated marketing ploy; it is evidence of a total lack of understanding or concern about what is in any given piece of legislation. There is serious question whether he knows what is in the Affordable Care Act, how Medicaid works or specifically how the GOP health-care bills would have worked.

Unfortunately, interviewers tend to shy away from asking questions that will provoke a dreaded word salad.

So there is that stain of cowardice:

To defend his continued occupancy of the office or to insist he’s “better than Hillary” is to reject the notion of democracy. We cannot accept, let alone applaud, courtiers scurrying around to create the appearance of a functioning government. He, not they, is the chief executive and commander in chief. We have a vice president elected specifically to take over if the president is incapable of serving; the 25th Amendment does not say “but in a pinch, let the secretaries of defense and treasury run the show.” What we have is a type of coup in which the great leader is disabled. He is propped up, sent out to read lines written by others and kept safely away from disastrous situations. This is not how our system works, however.

We’re playing with fire, counting on the ability of others to restrain him from, say, launching a nuclear war and, nearly as bad, jettisoning our representative democracy. Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and Congress have a moral and constitutional obligation to bring this to a stop.

But there is that stain of cowardice, as NPR reports here:

The CIA Director, a top policy aide and a former campaign manager made appearances on Sunday talk shows to defend Donald Trump’s fitness as president and to bash a new tabloid-like book that has caused delirium in the nation’s capital for the better part of a week.

But first there was this:

While the president’s surrogates were busy on the airwaves providing him cover, the man at the center of the frenzy Washington finds itself in, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, issued an apology for his part in the controversy.

In a statement provided to Axios, Bannon said he regrets comments he made in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, where he described a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., other campaign staff and Russian operatives as “treasonous.”

Bannon went on to praise the president’s son calling him “both a patriot and a good man,” adding:

“I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

In his statement to Axios, Bannon said his “support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda,” and that he remains “ready to stand in the breech for this president’s efforts to make America great again.”

Friday evening Trump had tweeted this:

Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book. He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!

Sloppy Steve had been dumped by almost everyone – the Mercer family that funds him and Breitbart News and everyone at Fox News. He had to do something. He folded. Trump just added the appropriate gangster touches, making it sound like Bannon had cried and begged for his job, like a dog, and Trump kicked him in the teeth, as anyone would kick a sniveling dog in the teeth, just for the fun of it. Some might think that putting things that way was not exactly presidential on Trump’s part, but his base seems to be happy to have a gangster president. Al Capone used a baseball bat.

Loyalty matters, as NPR reports:

White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller was a guest on CNN’s “State of the Union” where he railed against Wolff’s book and Bannon, saying that Bannon’s comments were “tragic.” Miller also went on to say it was “unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments, so out of touch with reality.”

Miller, as the president has in recent days, sought to discredit the author and Bannon, saying of the book:

“It reads like an angry vindictive person spouting off to a highly discreditable author,” Miller said, adding, “The book is best understood as a work of very poorly written fiction and I will also say that the author is a garbage author of a garbage book.”

Later in the interview Miller called Bannon’s involvement in the book “a betrayal to the president,” and said the extent of Bannon’s role in the Trump White House has been “greatly exaggerated.”

Miller also said this:

I saw a man who was a political genius… a self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV [who] hasn’t gotten the due he deserves.

So, really, Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, wasn’t really a multimillionaire real estate magnate who gave his son fifteen million dalliers to get started in the family business? Who knew? And Kevin Drum adds this:

The only part I don’t get about this is why Tapper invited Miller in the first place. I’ve seen him before, and I’m sure Tapper knew what he was in for. It’s a pointless exercise, like interviewing Kellyanne Conway. Why even bother?

Perhaps so, but NPR does note that Miller may have gone too far:

The interview turned into a contentious shouting match as Miller sought to highlight Trump’s “political genius,” and host Jake Tapper tried to move into questions addressing Trump’s fitness as commander in chief, a topic central to the book.

At one point Tapper abruptly cut off the interview with Miller, but not before telling him:

“There’s one viewer you care about right now and you are being obsequious, you’re being a factotum in order to please him, okay? And I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time.”

Tapper then went to a commercial break.

For good measure, after the interview was done, the president tweeted:

“Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”

Trump was not attending to the nation’s business. He was watching CNN. He’s like that, but Miller was not the only one being obsequious:

In a much more measured interview on Fox News Sunday, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski called the book “a complete fabrication.”

“Let me be very clear, this is a book of fiction. Not only is it not accurate, there are so many misrepresentations in this book that it shouldn’t be taken seriously,” Lewandowski said.

Earlier on the same program, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who personally delivers most of the daily intelligence briefings to Trump, called the digs at the president’s mental capacity “absurd.”

“We talk about some of the most serious matters facing America and the world, complex issues,” Pompeo said. “He asks really difficult questions of our team at CIA, so that we can provide him the information that he needs to make good, informed policy decisions, and I’ve watched him do that.”

Still, there was this:

White House adviser Stephen Miller was escorted off the set of CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday after a contentious interview with host Jake Tapper.

Two sources close to the situation told Business Insider that after the taping was done, Miller was asked to leave several times.

He ignored those requests and ultimately security was called and he was escorted out, the sources said.

CNN declined to comment.

This may be a Jerry Lewis slapstick movie after all, but Trump’s base will be happy, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

Miller did this for the same reason a baseball manager runs onto the field to get in an umpire’s face in response to a disputable call. The purpose is not to impress the team owner – it’s to fire up the crowd and the ball club. Trust me, this will work.

That’s what obsequious factotums do – they fire up the crowd – but they weren’t the only ones on the Sunday shows:

Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” a book which has since drawn its eponymous response from its equally eponymous subject, on Sunday said that President Donald Trump’s administration is constantly aware of the 25th Amendment.

On NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Wolff said that staff members brought up the 25th Amendment, which allows for the president’s removal from office if he is unable to do his job, “all the time.”

“Actually, they would say, sort of in the mid-period, ‘We’re not at a 25th Amendment level yet,'” Wolff said. “And then this went on: ‘Okay, this is a little 25th Amendment.’ The 25th Amendment is a concept that is alive every day in the White House.”

Asked whether he violated journalistic off-the-record agreements with sources quoted or cited in his book, Wolff said, “I did not. I absolutely did not.”

They all know, at times, that Donald Trump is not fit for office. He’s not a stable genius. He may have lost it, long ago, but Josh Marshall sees this:

We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. Diagnoses are something for trained professionals and even they are challenged to make them without a proper in-person examination…

For public purposes, clinical diagnoses are only relevant as predictors of behavior. If the President has a cognitive deficiency or mental illness that might cause him to act in unpredictable or dangerous ways or simply be unable to do the job, we need to know.

But My God, we do know! We see him acting in these ways every day – and not just in multiple news reports from an abundance of different news organizations. We see it with our own eyes: in his public actions, his public statements, his tweets. All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell.

And this is not a Ronald Reagan thing:

It is now widely believed that President Reagan showed early signs of his later Alzheimer’s diagnosis during the latter part of his presidency. How much or whether it affected his ability to carry out his duties is less clear. But that is a very different case. The kinds of subtle lapses in memory or cognition that might hint at such an affliction would be very difficult for the public to be aware of, especially if his staff is making efforts to conceal them. We don’t have that problem here.

This is more serious:

One of the diagnoses you often hear tossed around, rightly or wrongly, is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a Class B personality disorder. I think most psychologists and psychiatrists would tell you, privately if not publicly, that a number of Trump’s behaviors could (I stress “could”) be explained by NPD. But that doesn’t tell us that much. Lots of symptoms and behaviors can be explained by many different diseases and disorders – or no disorder or problem at all. That’s why you need a proper examination. (This applies of course to both somatic and mental illnesses.) Some shrinks may say they’ve seen enough to know; others would say, no, never without a full examination. Again, for our purposes, it doesn’t matter. If the entire psychiatric profession got together and examined Trump and pronounced him entirely free of any mental illness, his behavior wouldn’t be any less whacked or dangerous in a President.

It’s really only the behavior that matters to us as citizens.

And that’s what matters here:

In common-sense, every-day rather than clinical language Trump is clearly unstable, erratic, impulsive. In a word, he’s nuts and not well. As citizens, we are entirely able and entitled to make these determinations. They are ordinary English language descriptors that the psychiatric profession doesn’t control and shouldn’t want to control. The entire debate over whether Trump is “mentally ill” is simply a diversion, premised on the idea that we need either permission or dictation to say he is not able to safely or competently fulfill the job of President.

We don’t. The observed behavior is really all that is necessary and all that matters. It’s very clear.

It’s very clear that Donald Trump is not a stable genius. Everyone knows that. Like Jerry Lewis, he has become a national embarrassment. And of course he is far more dangerous than Jerry Lewis ever was. Broad and crude and very loud slapstick routines turned out to be tiresome and deeply offensive. In the White House they could get us all killed.

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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 Regarding Claims of Genius

  1. Rick says:

    Genius doesn’t really mean what people think it means.

    They think it refers to someone who is not only, “like, really smart”, but has a very high IQ score, maybe graduated from some good college, and maybe is a billionaire — although you’d think someone that smart should know that’s not even what “genius” really means.

    Check the dictionary:

    gen·ius ˈjēnyəs/
    noun
    • 1. exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. “she was a teacher of genius”
    synonyms: brilliance, intelligence, intellect, ability, cleverness, brains, erudition, wisdom, fine mind; More
    • 2. a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect. “one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century”
    synonyms: brilliant person, gifted person, mastermind, Einstein, intellectual, great intellect, brain, mind; More

    Nothing about IQ scores in any of that. Nothing in there about what college you went to, or starting a company, or progressing from a millionaire to a billionaire.

    But first of all, you don’t have to be a genius to know that Donald Trump has not been gifted, from birth or otherwise, with “exceptional intellect or creativity”. Maybe it just boils down to being naturally talented at something or other.

    So maybe Donald Trump is a genius, of sorts, if genius means having a talent for taking his dead dad’s large inheritance of millions of dollars, and growing it into something even larger.

    That’s not too unlike what was done by Howard Hughes, another famous germaphobic nut-case playboy from an earlier era, who also didn’t drink or smoke, and who spent his twilight years growing his fingernails long, tended by a small staff of mormons as he feasted on TV Dinners in a darkened penthouse above Acapulco, not touching anything except through Kleenex, and dying a lonely shriveled old coot, with no more pretty Hollywood starlets around him, much less family, to bid him adieu.

    If your definition of genius is having some outstanding talent, then maybe you can call Trump a genius, although his talent has mostly been in suckering other not-too-smart people into thinking that, because he’s a billionaire businessman, he must also be really smart.

    Even though he’s not.

    Charles Blow handles that nicely in the New York Times today:

    From everything I have ever read about the man, he is not particularly smart. This is sometimes hard for people to understand. They equate financial gain with intellectual gifts, but the two are hardly synonymous.

    Being gifted at exploitation is not the same as intellectualism. It is a skill, but one separate from scholarship. Being able to see and exploit a need, void or insecurity in people can be an interesting, and even lucrative, endowment, but it is not enlightenment.

    He is also not a reader. That is not to say that he can’t read, but rather that, given his druthers, he won’t.

    In fact, he’s probably never had to be smart. Think about it: there’s no reason to believe he’s ever applied for a job, or gotten a promotion that wasn’t because he was the boss’s son.

    And forget his businesses. Someone once did a study of how rich Trump would be had he never started any business, nor taken any business into bankruptcy, but had he instead sunk his inheritances in stock market index funds, the most risk-averse of funds, and it was discovered he’d have ended up much richer if he’d just invested it all on Wall Street.

    In defense of his “mental stability”, Trump, for some reason, cites having gone to a good college. Yes, Trump went to Wharton, but it should be noted that Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, went to Harvard, an arguably even better school.

    On the other hand, other than being — as Steve Bannon says of Ivanka — “dumb as a brick”, is Trump even mentally fit to be president?

    I don’t know. Who really can say? Like being a “genius”, being a certifiable fruitcake doesn’t mean exactly what folks thinks it means. Even while he was safely ensconced in prison, nobody’s ever been able to nail down a reliable diagnosis of Kaczynski himself:

    Kaczynski’s lawyers, headed by Montana Federal public defenders Michael Donahoe and Judy Clarke, attempted to enter an insanity defense to avoid the death penalty, but he rejected this plea. On January 8, 1998, he requested to dismiss his lawyers and hire Tony Serra as his counsel; Serra had agreed not to use an insanity defense and instead base a defense on Kaczynski’s anti-technology views. This request was unsuccessful and Kaczynski subsequently tried to commit suicide by hanging on January 9.

    Several, though not all, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who examined Kaczynski diagnosed him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz said Kaczynski was not psychotic but had a schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder.

    In his 2010 book Technological Slavery, Kaczynski said that two prison psychologists that visited him frequently for four years told him they saw no indication that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and the diagnosis was “ridiculous” and a “political diagnosis”.

    So what chance do we have of any group of competent psychologists agreeing on what’s going on inside Trump’s noggin, given the fact that not even the Unabomber’s shrinks can agree on his diagnosis?

    For that matter, it’s not entirely out of the question to think that Ted Kaczynski, if reexamined, could be deemed mentally qualified to be president!

    And why not? Are you sure the Unabomber would truly be any weirder a Chief Executive than the one we have now?

    Rick

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