By Jonah Goldberg
Saturday, June 10, 2017
One of the super-trendy talking points these days is to say that conservatives who are critical of Donald Trump suffer from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” It’s original as it is clever.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think you can make the case that some members of the self-styled left-wing “resistance” are indeed out of their gourds.
Longtime readers might remember one of my favorite quotes from Thoreau: “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” Similarly, if you find yourself wearing a rubber hat that looks like female genitalia, or if you star in a video in which you proudly display the bloody, decapitated head of the president and then claim that you’re the victim because people took offense, or even if you look in the mirror and to your horror discover that you’re Keith Olbermann, you may have something that could be called “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
Nor do I think that every critic on the right is a voice of pure reason and restraint. I think Jennifer Rubin and Evan McMullin often get so far over their skis they look like flying T-squares.
And then, of course, there is Louise Mensch. The most reasonable theory for her antics of late is that she is so offended by Russian-backed fake news, she’s decided to fight fire with fire. Another is that she misread an article about micro-dosing of LSD to read “macro.”
But I can report definitively that’s not what’s going on. The other day, I was in the Willard Hotel’s lobby men’s room, under the pretext of making my routine weekly delivery of urinal cakes. I was really there, however, to check in with the bathroom attendant who is actually an operative for USPIS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service — America’s oldest domestic clandestine security agency.
(I don’t want to get bogged down here, but no one appreciates the full extent of their reach. Ben Franklin not only created USPIS while America was still a colony, the famous inventor used the Postal Inspection Service as a cover to develop a host of special surveillance technologies — not to mention numerous lethal weapons to be deployed in the war against the embryonic Republic of Corbynistan. Not for nothing do we talk about “going postal”: These satchel-carrying assassins delivered death long before they clogged your doorframe with Crate & Barrel catalogs. True fact: Congress made stealing the mail punishable by death in 1792.)
Anyway, my men’s-room contact — with whom I made no Larry Craig–style contact, if you know what I mean — tells me that the Juvenile Maritime Courts have issued new articles of impeachment against Trump and sent them to the Greater Municipal Sewage Authority in Gary, Ind., for safekeeping. USPIS would have kept it secret but they’re furious that the JMCs used FedEx to deliver the articles of impeachment. And by a special Act of Congress — not that Congress, the real one that operates out of an abandoned Circuit City in Cleveland — Mensch will be named chief inquisitor at Trump’s trial.
TDS for Thee, But Not for Me
Anyway, where was I? Oh right, Trump Derangement Syndrome. In short the problem isn’t that something like it exists, but rather that once you buy into it, TDS becomes all-explanatory. It’s a bit like the old Communist idea of “false consciousness” or the various theories of “white privilege” or “toxic masculinity.” You see, the Marxists used to say that anyone who couldn’t be persuaded to their cause was suffering from capitalism-induced false consciousness.
Some Trump boosters have the same approach to pretty much any inconvenient fact or development. For instance, this writer insists that I suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome because I had the temerity to suggest not only that Donald Trump’s use of “covfefe” was a typo but that Sean Spicer’s defense of it might be trolling. As you well know, Occam’s Razor dictates that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. And, like a stiletto-wielding assassin of USPIS, David Danford cuts through my deranged musings to conclude that Trump was really using a loose transliteration of the Arabic word for “stand up yourself.”
As this example might suggest, relying on Trump Derangement Syndrome to beat back your opponents can lead to a severe case of PTDS — Pro-Trump Derangement Syndrome. And I think we’ve seen quite a lot of it in the last 24 hours.
Comey, Master of Memos
Look, I am perfectly happy to concede that James Comey is no Boy Scout. I’ve long said he’s much too interested in protecting his reputation as a Boy Scout to actually be one. If Washington were King’s Landing, Comey is closer to Varys, Master of Whisperers, than to Ned Stark. But do recall that Ned Stark wore his honor on his sleeve and it got him killed. Varys has honor and considers himself a patriot, but he’s also a survivor: “The storms come and go, the waves crash overhead, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.”
I’m more sympathetic to Comey than most, but I also think he should have been fired. My objection to Trump’s firing him was always grounded in the clumsy, self-destructive nature of it. If the president had simply done it the right way and afforded Comey some minimal dignity and respect, Trump wouldn’t be in the mess he’s in today. So, if we’re going to extend the Game of Thrones analogies, Trump is most like King Joffrey. No, he’s not a murderous sadist. He is, however, a man who has an insecure adolescent’s craving for respect and loyalty but who is utterly incapable of returning it to others. He also lets his psychological insecurities lead him astray, sometimes hourly.
If Trump hadn’t tweeted about the possibility of there being “tapes” of his conversation — which was almost surely a baseless and self-injuring bluff — Comey claims he wouldn’t have planted the details of his conversation with Trump in the press.
Of course, maybe that’s not true. I am totally open to the idea that this was an act of political revenge as this lawyer argues over at The Weekly Standard. But, two points need to be made about that.
First, if you take your partisan zeal or psychological defensiveness out of it, is it really so crazy to think Comey might want revenge? Comey was assured he was secure in his job — at least in his own telling (under oath) — but then he was summarily fired while he was on the other side of the country giving a speech, where he learned about it on TV and from the audience. He then had his name dragged through the mud. Who could have predicted that Lord Varys of the Beltway would have contingency plans and loyalists out there?
Second, even if you think that Comey’s payback is dishonorable, no good, and very bad, that doesn’t have any bearing on the question of whether or not his story is, you know, true.
The anti-Comey brigades on the right want to have it every which way. “He’s a liar,” Trump, his lawyer, and the PTDSers say. Well, as I note in my Friday column, if Comey is willing to lie, why didn’t he come up with a far more damaging story? He could have said Trump offered him cash to have Ted Cruz’s father arrested for murdering JFK. He could have said Trump told him the Ghostbusters remake was the best film he’d ever seen.
People are making a huge deal of the fact that Comey admitted to doing Loretta Lynch’s bidding by calling the Clinton investigation a “matter.” On that point, they think Comey is telling the truth.
Similarly, Democrats and Republicans alike denounce him for not more forcefully standing up to the president when Trump said he “hoped” Comey could cut Michael Flynn some slack. If he’s such a liar, why not say, “I looked the president in the eye and told him, ‘Sir, I took an oath and I will not bend to your outrageous demands!’”?
Of course, one reason Comey couldn’t say that is that he was locked into his version of events, because he wrote it all down and described it to colleagues immediately after the meeting with Trump. But that, alas, is an argument for believing Comey told the truth.
The PTDSers want to pocket every statement that exonerates the president as utterly dispositive while claiming that every indicting statement is a lie. That’s not how it works.
Starrs in Their Eyes
Here’s the thing. We have this old saying: “The truth hurts.” Call a skinny person who doesn’t have an eating disorder “fat” and there’s not much sting. Call a fat person fat and it hurts. Again, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Comey is a vengeful Deep State operator of cynical cunning. That version of Comey would understand best of all that the route to getting his vengeance would be by telling the truth.
All of this has me reeling from déjà vu. Bill Clinton was a president of remarkably low character with a mutant superpower for dishonesty so profound it would have Cerebro smoking like a AMC Pacer with sugar in its gas tank. By actions of his own making, he invited a special prosecutor (several, actually) to investigate him. The response from the assembled forces of liberalism was to attack Ken Starr in the most reprehensible ways. Clinton, too, benefitted from a cult of personality, and in such cults, the personality is held to a different standard from everyone else. Comey is now getting the Ken Starr treatment from Trumpworld, but the logic is the same: The fault lies in the Starrs, not themselves — or himself.
Maybe I’m so dyspeptic because I have the ooze of too many Twitter trolls all over me. But I am just amazed how remotely objective people can still take offense — offense! not mere disagreement — at the claim that Donald Trump is a liar. Honestly, I think “claim” is too weak of a word. It’s simply a verifiable fact.
And this gets to the corrupting power of both Trump’s personality cult and the obsessive need among some conservatives to justify their support for Trump by attacking skeptical conservatives as somehow deranged or nefariously motivated.
My friend Dennis Prager wrote an essay a while back lamenting about how “Never Trumpers” still refuse to become cheerleaders for Trump. He offered a number of theories as to why — We’re “utopians”! We’re seeking approval of the liberal cocktail-party set! We’re self-righteous! Etc. I responded to that column already, as did many others quite ably.
Dennis responded to his critics this week. I have little stomach to get into a major squabble with Dennis because a) I’ve lost enough friends in all this, b) I still very much like and respect the guy, and c) because there’s not room here to do justice to all of my criticisms, some of which have been covered by others.
But there is one point I do want to address, because it relates to this Comey business. Dennis writes:
“But what about Trump’s character?” nearly all my critics ask. Or, as John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, tweeted, “For Dennis Prager, who spent 40 years advocating for a moral frame for American politics, to argue as he argued today is, may I say, ironic.”
First, I have indeed dedicated much of my life to advocating for morality — for ethical monotheism as the only way to achieve a moral world; for raising moral children (as opposed to concentrating, for example, on raising “brilliant” children); and for the uniquely great Judeo-Christian moral synthesis developed by the Founding Fathers of America.
But I have never advocated for electing moral politicians. Of course, I prefer people of good character in political office . . .
Put aside the fact that I don’t think this is quite right, or at least not the whole story. For instance, in 2011, Dennis argued that Trump’s crude language alone rendered him “unfit to be a presidential candidate, let alone president.” He asked, “If we cannot count on Republicans and conservatives to maintain standards of public decency and civility, to whom shall we look?” I think Trump’s language hasn’t changed nearly as much as Dennis’s criteria for presidents.
But, again, I don’t want to make this about Dennis. For the last 24 hours, I have been besieged by people insisting that Comey is a deceitful man of low honor. I don’t think Comey is that, but if he is, he is only by the rarefied standards of a career public servant who operates within conventional boundaries of morality and decency. But whatever. My point is: If you excuse all the things Donald Trump has done and said — and bragged about! — you have surrendered the ability to use notions of honor, decency, and honesty as weapons against his critics.
Whataboutism is fine if you want to point out double standards. But the trick is to hold onto your standards while you do it. It is otherworldly to celebrate how Donald Trump doesn’t play by the rules while at the same denouncing anyone who doesn’t play by the rules in response. As I’ve written before, when the president of the United States ignores “democratic norms,” it is naïve to expect that everyone else will abide by them. And it is grotesquely hypocritical to defend Trump’s disdain for the rules while demonizing others for far lesser transgressions.