January 9, 2018

Crisis: ´Fire and Fury´, On Trump´s Mind *2, An Obvious Madman, Is Trump Certifiable?


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from January 9, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, January 9, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from January 9, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. From ‘Fire and Fury’ to Political Firestorm
2. Trump’s Obsessing Over the Wrong Guy
3. Charles Blow: The GOP Is Covering for an Obvious Madman
4. How Inequality Is Killing Off Humanity
5. Is Trump Certifiable?
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. From ‘Fire and Fury’ to Political Firestorm

This article is by Jonathan Martin on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
He is a New Yorker in Washington, far more consumed with the news media and personalities than policy issues. He elides facts, fudges the specifics and dispenses with professional norms in the service of success and status. And while affecting a contempt for the mainstream press, he cannot help dropping the mask to reveal the double game he is playing. I am talking, of course, of the writer Michael Wolff, who with “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” has delivered an altogether fitting, if ultimately unsatisfying, book on the chaotic first nine months of President Trump, another media-obsessed Manhattanite.
I wrote some days ago in Nederlog that there will be more news of Wolff´s ¨Fire and Fury¨, and this is a review of it. And I will review this review here, but I should add that I did not read Wolff´s book and do not expect I will, indeed in part because I have been writing over 1800 articles om the crisis in the last eighth years; in part because I am not very much interested in this kind of book (and I have read a lot on politics anyway); and in part also because I am more interested in - real - scientific analysis than in journalism.

But here goes (and I am selecting bits):
Wolff is unsparing in his portrayal of Trump as an aberrant chief executive, not only detached from governance but barely literate. He summons withering on-the-record assessments from ostensible allies of a seemingly infantile president. “If they tell him the whales need to be saved, he’s basically for it,” says Katie Walsh, a former White House deputy chief of staff, recalling how easily the Kushners could sway Trump. Yet much of Wolff’s sourcing is opaque.
I suppose this - ¨[y]et much of Wolff’s sourcing is opaque¨ - is probably correct (but as I said, I have not and will not read Wolff´s book, were it only because I have much to do anyway and little health and little money).

Here is some more on Wolff:
Wolff is a media writer by trade and, like his protagonist, he repeatedly scorns the mainline press for what he suggests is its liberal bias. He singles out this paper for treating the Trump presidency as anomalous.
Wolff is certainly right in ¨treating the Trump presidency as anomalous¨ (but I grant that media writers are not my favorite kind of writers).

Here is some more on Wolff:

Wolff is strongest when he’s writing on what he knows best: the insecurities and ambitions of Trump and other media fixtures. Yet while much of this presidency does revolve around news coverage, it is still a presidency. And Wolff is far weaker when it comes to politics.
I take this for granted. This is from the ending of this article:
The writing is often vivid but Wolff, who tries to hold to a chronological narrative, can be as repetitive as Trump, returning again and again to preferred words or phrases (joie de guerre is a favorite). What ultimately salvages the book are those moments when he all but makes Bannon his co-author, letting Bannon describe West Wing showdowns with his moderate nemesis, Jarvanka, in ways that render this the de facto first insider account of the Trump White House.
And I will suppose (but do not know) this is a more or less adequate review of Wolff´s book. I agree that the book is ¨the de facto first insider account of the Trump White House¨, and I also point out (which this review does not) that Bannon seems to be an anti-semite, while Jarvanka = Jared + Ivanka are both Jewish.

But I do not know how important the last fact is. And this is a recommended article.

2. Trump’s Obsessing Over the Wrong Guy

This article is by Bill Blum on Truthdig. This is from near the beginning, and this is also about Wolff´s ¨Fire and Fury¨, while ¨the Wrong Guy¨ is Wolff:
At the moment, Trump is seething about Wolff. He’s so hopping mad and fixated that he sought to stop the publication of “Fire and Fury,” authorizing one of his personal lawyers to send the author and his publisher, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., a cease-and-desist letter before the book’s Jan. 9 scheduled release date. The letter also threatened a libel action if the publisher didn’t relent.

Undeterred, Henry Holt and Co. responded by accelerating the book’s publication to Jan. 5. Since then, sales have skyrocketed. Currently, “Fire and Fury” ranks No. 1 on the top 100 chart. The book also has been the subject of nonstop breathless discussion on cable news.

In fact, it is January 9 today and I do not know about the present legal status of the cease-and- desist letter or indeed of the libel action. (There probably will be later more news.)

Here is some advice of Blum to Trump:

I would tell the president that the law is decidedly against him in his attack on Wolff and Henry Holt. The Supreme Court has long interpreted the First Amendment to disfavor prior restraints on the press. I would remind the president of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers case that ended so badly for Richard Nixon.

I also would remind the president of the important protections the Constitution affords journalists in defamation actions brought by public figures, among whom Trump is the absolute archetype. Even with top-notch attorneys working for him—and contrary to what you might hear on MSNBC, some of Trump’s lawyers are excellent litigators—it is unlikely he will achieve his long-stated goal of “opening up” the nation’s libel laws. Why waste time and precious legal resources on a losing battle that in any event doesn’t have to be waged?

Perhaps, but I don´t know. Two relevant differences are that (i) the mainstream media (and I mean the press, whether on paper or the internet) is considerably less factual and less true than it was in the early Seventies, while also (ii) in the early Seventies there were considerably more Democrats in the Senate and the House.

Here is some more:

The president is personally in jeopardy for possible obstruction of justice. That, in my view, is what Mueller will eventually subpoena Trump to address under penalty of perjury, either in a deposition or before a grand jury, or by means of written interrogatories, or some combination of the three.

I agree with Blum that this also seems the likeliest outcome of Mueller´s investigation.

Here is the end of this article, after considerably more that I leave to your interests:

The point is, we deserve answers, and we can only get them from the man in charge. We can either wait until Mueller indicts more members of Trump’s inner circle en route to his endgame of going after the president directly, or the president can take the initiative and volunteer to meet with Mueller and answer questions in person, on the record, under oath.

To be sure, the president has other options. He can attempt to fire Mueller, or pardon those Mueller has indicted or will indict (perhaps including himself), or he could take the Fifth Amendment and decline to testify when the hour to do so arrives.

But those would be the acts of a coward—not unlike what we might expect from the weak, thin-skinned, unstable man described by Wolff in his best-selling book—one that the president insists is a work of fiction.

Yes, and this is a recommended article.

3. Charles Blow: The GOP Is Covering for an Obvious Madman

This article is by Ilanka Novick on AlterNet. It starts as follows (and for more on Charles Blow see here):
Donald Trump is mentally and emotionally unfit to hold the presidency of the United States, Charles Blow reminds his readers in his Monday column. This is neither an armchair diagnosis nor an op-ed columnist punching above his weight class, but a truth that even those closest to the president know. But because he's enabled their precious tax cuts for millionaires, Republicans "would rather defend a compromised Republican president than have to live in the wake of a deposed one."

Failing to admit the obvious truth about the president's mental state and how Republicans are covering for him would be "basking in false virtue," Blow argues. Just look at Trump's behavior after the release of Michael Wolff's bombshell book "Fire and Fury." Trump was so outraged America might learn the truth about his instability he took to Twitter to defend his intellectual honor, writing, "throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart” and then upped the ante by writing that his being elected meant he was “not smart, but genius...and a very stable genius at that!"
Yes, this seems mostly a fair review. Also - being a psychologist - I like to add that Trump´s self-diagnosis as ¨a very stable genius¨ is fairly good confirmation that Trump indeed is a megalomaniac aka a grandiose or malignant narcissist (and I agree he is, since the beginning of 2016).

And this also seems quite correct to me (who is not a member of the APA, that thinks it is better to remain silent on a very dangerous men than to inform the public that the man is very dangerous):

Concerns about whether an American president might plunge us into nuclear war are not mere partisan quibbles. It goes straight to the heart of our national survival. As Blow reminds us, "We have a person occupying the presidency who is impetuous, fragile, hostile, irrational, intentionally uninformed, information-averse and semiliterate." Yet the "conservative architecture" of a Republican Congress and its donors don't feel the need to stop him. Which leaves it up to us, the voters.

"The question we have to put to the elected officials protecting this president," Blow writes, "and indeed to all those being paid a taxpayer-funded salary and then concealing, distorting or denying the truth to make this man look competent, is: Don’t you have an obligation, either moral, ethical, patriotic or otherwise, to level with America that you, too, are concerned by Trump’s erratic behavior?"

Yes indeed, and this is a recommended article.

4. How Inequality Is Killing Off Humanity

This article is by Paul Buchheit on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:
There is ample evidence for a growing inability of people around the world to maintain the basic human needs of physical health and mental stability and a living wage and a desire to live in peace. 

Most of us recognize the need for some semblance of equality in our relationships with others. But a smallish group of shockingly wealthy households around the world -- especially in America -- is gaining more and more power along with their wealth. They're making it nearly impossible to reverse the deadly effects of an unnaturally unequal society, in part because they're no longer connected to the world beyond their estates. They police us, they starve our public institutions, they abhor any form of social cooperation, they blame the poor for being poor. The means to restore some balance is steadily slipping away. 
Yes indeed, and this also happens to be one of Paul Buchheit´s fine articles. I will abstract three more pieces from it, but the article is considerably longer and is recommended.

Here is the first bit:
The Richest .01% Are Wealth-Obese 

In the United States, where wealth inequality is extreme and getting worse (see analysis here):
  • The richest 24,000 adults (the .01%) have an average of over $400,000,000 in wealth (mostly financial)
  • The poorest 120,000,000 adults (the bottom 50%) have an average of about $8,500 in wealth (mostly housing) 

Global inequality is similar in the degree of disparity:

  • The richest 500,000 adults (the .01%) have an estimated average of $30,000,000 in wealth
  • The poorest 2.5 billion adults (the bottom 50%) have an average of about $673 in wealth
I think these differences are obscene and should be legalized away, but I also think this will require something like a revolution towards a liberal kind of socialism, that I think is most unlikely to happen without a major economical crisis, that will come, though no one knows when (and this possible revolution also may go the other direction, into more neofascism: I do not think there is a moral direction in human history).

Here is more:
Inequality Made Worse: Tax Havens and Tax Breaks and Tax Deferrals 

"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said.

Neoliberalism disdains government regulation, and one result has been trumpeted to the ends of the earth by the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers: Despite their immeasurable benefits from society -- the financial system, tax law, security forces, computer technology -- the world's richest individuals and corporations are stashing away their gains rather than paying for all their benefits. If researchers Saez and Zucman are correct (and they usually are), an incredible $14 trillion of global wealth is being hidden in offshore tax havens. That's approximately the total wealth of the entire United Kingdom.
And these $14 trillion dollars - all of it illegal - are hidden by some of the 500,000 adults who already have $30 million on average: Insane greed, in my eyes.

Here is the final bit I quote from this article:
Inequality's Final Act 

In his book "The Great Leveler," Walter Scheidel documents the ultimate destinies of desperately unequal societies throughout history, and they're not pretty: wars, revolutions, state collapses, and catastrophic plagues. Says the author about the inevitable equalizing forces, "they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order." 

Even if the super-rich survive for a while in their bunkers, they may walk out into a world that can no longer keep them alive.
Quite so. And this is a strongly recommended article.

5. Is Trump Certifiable?

This article is by Lisa Appignanesi on The New York Review of Books. It starts as follows:

He may not be altogether “crazy,” but he is so:

[…] unstable a personality as to be quite vulnerable to certain kinds of psychological pressure. The outstanding neurotic elements in his personality are his hunger for power and his need for the recognition and adulation of the masses. He is unable to obtain complete emotional gratification from any other source.… Whenever his self-concept is slightly disrupted by criticism, he becomes so emotionally unstable as to lose to some degree his contact with reality.… [His] egoism is his Achilles heel. The extreme narcissistic qualities of his personality are so evident as to suggest predictable patterns of action during both victory and defeat.

This is not a psychiatric assessment of Donald Trump but of Fidel Castro, from a December 1961 report commissioned by the CIA. Given his politics, you’d think Castro would have little in common with Trump. Yet, even though the language of diagnosis has changed, there are many echoes in the warning put forth by twenty-seven psychiatrists and mental health experts, plus an epilogue by Noam Chomsky in the recent book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.

I was not aware of this parallelism between Fidel Castro and Donald Trump, but I think it is quite fair to say that Castro also was a megalomaniac aka narcissist, and indeed have been thinking so for a long time. In fact, my own reasons go back to the later Sixties, when I became aware that Castro regularly indulged in speeches of six hours or so. I did not like that at all, but I also admit that I connected this dislikable feature of Castro to megalomania some 15 years later, when I studied psychology (in the early 1980ies).

And while I agree with Appignanesi on both Castro´s megalomania and Trump´s megalomania, I don´t think both are very similar (but this is indeed ¨a judgement from far away¨).

Here is more on The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump:

The book has its origins in a conference held on April 20, 2017, organized by a forensic psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine named Bandy X. Lee, in defiance of what some psychiatrists have called a “gag order” issued a month earlier by their professional body, the American Psychiatric Association, which ruled against clinical opinion being given on public figures, even in the interests of national security.

Well... if your professional association threatens to disband you if you attempt to diagnose (in any way, moreover, or so it seems) a very powerful person who can destroy many hundreds of millions or several billions of people, as is the case with presidents of the USA, I think this is a real gag order.

Here is more on Bandy Lee and also on Michael Wolff:

The controversy was recently reanimated by a letter sent by Lee on behalf of the books’ contributors to The New York Times, calling for “the public and the lawmakers of this country to push for an urgent evaluation of the president, for which we are in the process of developing a separate but independent expert panel, capable of meeting and carrying out all medical standards of care.” And with the release last week of journalist Michael Wolff’s damning portrait of Trump as a paranoid child-man utterly ill-equipped for office in his book Fire and Fury, Lee and her colleagues have once again found their concerns widely cited.

Then there is this, which is fair in a sense, although I add immediately that while Lisa Appignanesi has been a ¨former Chair of the Trustees of the Freud Museum in London¨, she has neither studied psychiatry nor psychology, but Comparative Literature (while I did study both psychology and philosophy, and the former study did take six years):

But even then, as the checkered history of psychiatry makes clear, mind professionals don’t always agree with one another, whether on diagnoses or on the dangerousness of a subject. Norms and what we designate as normality also change: women used to be institutionalized for behavior that society and the doctors now think utterly ordinary. The irony of Trump now suggesting that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon “has lost his mind” is evident.

In fact, I am quite willing to agree that psychiatry is not a real science, and indeed have argued so at length in 2012: See here and here, for example. Then again, my criticism is fairly technical and presupposes at least a decent grounding in philosophy of science (and see also Paul Lutus, here), while what I agree with in postmodern psychiatry is in fact only the observational status of the criterions they use in their diagnoses.

And being a psychologist I can apply these observational criterions to see whether I do agree with the resulting diagnosis, and in the case of Donald Trump I fully agreed: he satisfied (in the beginning of 2016) all 9 of 9 criterions to arrive at the diagnosis of grandiose narcissism (while 5 out of 9 is sufficient for the diagnosis).

Here is more on Trump´s case:

In Trump’s case, the twenty-seven campaigners see the duty to warn of danger as overriding the Goldwater Rule. Each has a variety of diagnostic categories for Trump, but they don’t tell us much more than what savvy lay commentators have often repeated. We learn that Trump is “mentally unstable,” that he exhibits, according to psychologist Philip Zimbardo and counselor Rosemary Sword, “extreme present hedonism” and “lives in the present moment without much thought of any consequences of [his] actions or of the future.” He is impulsive, dehumanizes others and will do whatever it takes to bolster his ego. He also exhibits “malignant narcissism,” which includes antisocial behavior and aspects of paranoia; and “pathological narcissism,” which begins, according to Craig Malkin, “when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray, and even hurt those closest to them.”

Well... are these judgements (by psychologists and psychiatrists) more or less correct, in the eyes of the specialist on Comparative Literature Appignanesi? She doesn´t really tell us, which I think is not very brave, for a specialist in Comparative Literature. (Among other things because I did study psychology for six years, and she did not.)

Here is more by Appignanesi (who does appear to agree a bit more with Trump´s critics than with Trump´s defenders):

What distinguishes Trump from the rest of the population, though, is the substantial effect of his personality. His “impulsive blame-shifting, claims of unearned superiority, and delusional levels of grandiosity,” his “unhinged response to court decisions, driven as they appear to be by paranoia, delusion, and a sense of entitlement are of grave concern,” writes Jhueck, and have already impacted on the lives of many. As Hillary Clinton remarked, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Sadly, the misuse of power is not a free-standing psychiatric category, though power seems to exacerbate a whole range of existing “craziness,” whether it is that of movie moguls or politicians. 

Yes, and that last fact is one of the very many shortcomings of present-day psychiatry.

And here is Appignanesi´s ending:

Let us hope that the institutions of democracy allow Trump only three more years, rather than the fifty or so Castro had in power.

I agree with that.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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