As everybody presumably knows, a few days ago our grotesque president launched against Mika Bzezinski and Joe Scarborough some tweets that were condemned by Republicans as well as Democrats, and presumably the majority of the American people.
I would like to ask you: How is this behavior to be understood?
The two main hypotheses seem to be these:
- Donald Trump is making a calculated effort to distract attention from other things he’d rather people not be looking at. Or
- Donald Trump is revealing that he cannot control his impulses, even when his lack of restraint is self-destructive.
These two hypotheses differ in a couple of obvious ways:
According to one of them, Trump is in control and working in a calculated way to achieve a political purpose. According to the other interpretation, Trump’s impulses are in control of him, and he is compelled to indulge them even if it undermines his achieving his purposes.
The choice of between these interpretations then also rests largely on this: One interpretation argues that Trump helps himself with these tweets, while the other argues that he hurts himself.
A word about why I’m asking.
Upon watching this unfold, I went quickly and firmly to the second hypothesis.
Maybe Trump doesn’t want people to be talking about the Rs’ health-care fiasco. Maybe he doesn’t want people to be talking about the Trump/Russia scandal. But I just can’t see that having people talk about his boorish, unpresidential, misogynistic behavior serves him better.
My sense of Americans and people generally is that whereas people often don’t have the knowledge to evaluate policies or elaborate political conduct (like possible collusion with Russia), they immediately understand good vs. ugly, decent vs. vicious, behavior when it is right before their eyes.
Citizens have been involved in politics for a couple of centuries. Human beings have been responding to the good, the bad, and the ugly since before we were human.
So I immediately thought that this conduct hurts Trump.
I know: he showed this ugliness before the election as well, and he got enough votes to win the election. And maybe there are plenty of boorish, angry men out there who celebrate this kind of Trumpian ugliness. But I’m betting that more of his votes came despite Hollywood Access and other such conduct than because of it.
And one more thing: I care about this “poor impulse control” interpretation because I’m writing a piece to challenge the conservatives about whether we can take so big a risk as to have a person in Trump’s evident condition be our commander-in-chief, with his finger on the nuclear trigger as well as his hand at the helm of our relationships with other nations, including other nuclear-armed powers.
The “he can’t restrain himself” assertion is one piece of that argument.
But then I have heard the other interpretation — Trump as deliberately distracting us — from some people I respect.
In particular, Rachel Maddow dedicated the whole long opening of one of her shows to the thesis that he wants us talking about his attacks on Mika and the media rather than on the terrible Trumpcare bill and fared so poorly this past week in the Senate, largely because it is so deeply unpopular. (Ari Melber, who is also a smart guy, seems also to lean in the “distraction interpretation” direction.)
Not wanting to just dismiss that alternative interpretation, I am turning to you, the BV community, to see what you think.