I’ve read Vanity Fair, complements of my eldest daughter, for years. When I pick it up at the apartment PO box, I usually turn the cover against my body, fearful that someone might see I’m reading a girly magazine. But she continues to send it, and I continue to skim it, looking for the three or four brilliant ideas that make it worth the 15 minutes it takes for my quick-eyed research. Besides, Michael Lewis writes five or six fascinating, vibrant commentaries per year, making it well worth my time. Historically, some of the great writers used to pen articles, including Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and E.E. Cummings. Great stuff!
How do you assess political insanity?
The latest issue of Vanity Fair had the most intriguing and hilarious notion of political insanity, quoted by the publisher, Graydon Carter, I’ve ever seen. And I’ve got at least two semesters of abnormal psychology behind me, as well as consulting and pastoral interactions with some psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists and paranoids. But first, a bit about the context…
Yeah, it’s about Trump. What would you expect from a NY based magazine? Last month, the president-elect was invited to the offices of Conde Nast, though not by Carter. Carter didn’t think it worth his time. He’d heard more “Me First” than he could stomach.
As Carter relates the interaction, “Trump’s messy birdcage of a mind careens from one random thought to the next. He likes to strut and talk big-league. . . . In manner and execution, and in his almost touching desire to be liked, Trump comes across not as larger than life but as one of the smaller people on the world stage. He always had a sort of oafish charisma: as we used to say at Spy, a hustler on his best behavior. In small groups, as many can attest, he has mastered the salesman’s trick of creating faux sincerity and intimacy when answering a question by including the first name of the person who asked it. But no amount of grifter charm can conceal his alarming disregard for facts and truth.”
Being a literati, here’s Carter’s definition of insanity, borrowed from the writer Michael O”Donoghue: the definition of insanity is the length of time it takes for a lie to be uncovered. The shorter the period, the crazier you are. Sounds to me like our president will be setting “a new threshold for that definition.”
I checked out the definition with my old friend Dr John Carter in So Cal, who counsels in family and marriage relations. His first response was huge laughter and a great deal of affirmation. “Makes perfect sense,” he responded. He went on to say that it was a different way of getting at insanity, but that the definition would get you there most of the time–and that’s a valid expectation of a theoretical construct.
From moral philosophy, a far more significant perspective than psychology can offer, the president acts and talks in ways that reveal a bankruptcy of moral and ethical deliberation. His talk reveals him to be incapable of weighing intuitions against one another and making thoughtful judgments. Our world demands genuine, complex moral and ethical understanding. At base this implies the ability to assess consequences and have at least a tentative understanding of unintended consequences. Some of the consequences of his moral bankruptcy might include haphazard governing, deception, threats to the survival of liberal democracy, harassing political opponents, suborning of the justice department or enriching himself at the cost of the taxpayer. Thus far, moral reflection and reasoning are off the table. It doesn’t look good for the nation.Without the built-in constraints, we would be in deep trouble. But the constraints have shown themselves in the past, so let’s hope that history continues.
FYI: The title of the essay on Trump is “A PILLAR of IGNORANCE and CERTITUDE.” How does that grab you?