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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

 

Fireflies in a jar

by Tom Sullivan

By now you know Donald Trump blurted out sensitive information to the Russian foreign minister, the Russian ambassador (a known spy), and also to (no one seems to have paid much attention) the Russian press photographer they brought with them into the Oval Office, something that came as a surprise to the Trump White House. (Who was he and to whom does he report?)

Since the Washington Post broke the story, here is their lede:

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
Here is a sampling of this morning's other headlines on the story:

Trump's trust problem
Politico

Trump Shared Classified Data With Russians, Officials Say
New York Times

The leakiest White House in history
The Week

Politico reports this problem as a crisis of trust:
“Their credibility is completely shattered. They’ve engaged in serial lying to the American people on issues big and small — beginning with the crowd size photos. It’s unprecedented for an administration, from the top on down, to embrace a strategy of deception and lying,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican consultant and former campaign manager for John McCain.

“Even people who have built up reputations for integrity over a lifetime of public service, they risk squandering it in this administration,” Schmidt said.
The problem with these and most Trump stories is, because Donald J. Trump is president of the United States, reporters — all of us — reflexively try to understand him as we would another mature adult. We want to divine his motives, see the deeper meaning in them, ask ourselves just where he is going with this. We want learned analysts to examine the implications of Trump's lack of preparation. It makes for better reading and better understanding. It makes for ... normal. Even we who have no respect for the man have a vestigial respect for the office and the officeholder. Therein lies our error.

David Brooks concedes the point this morning in a column titled "When the World Is Led by a Child":
At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

[...]

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.
David Roberts wrote at Vox before this story broke:
We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him. It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next.

But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there’s no there there? What if our attempts to explain Trump have failed not because we haven’t hit on the right one, but because we are, theory-of-mind-wise, overinterpreting the text?

In short, what if Trump is exactly as he appears: a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego.

We’re not really prepared to deal with that.
Trump came to political prominence by stoking the paranoid fringe with the kooky notion that Barack Obama could not legitimately be president because he was born in Kenya. Now a superpower is being led by a man Roberts describes as having "the emotional maturity and attention span of a 6-year-old." Trump himself cannot legitimately be president because developmentally he never reached 35 years of age.

The root question to which there seems no answer is: Is Trump a six-year-old? Or seven? Or ten? It is a question we as a country lack the nerve to confront directly. We are in danger.