President Trump’s horrifying, two-hour rant at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday — of a piece with unhinged dictators spewing venom and lies to a crowd no longer moored to reality — reminds us that to be a card-carrying member of the Trumpized Republican Party, you have to accept and repeat his lies without embarrassment. You have to accept that it was Democrats who colluded with Russians; the Trump tax cut was the biggest in history; climate change doesn’t contribute to extreme weather or rising oceans; Russian President Vladimir Putin can be believed on interference with our presidential election, but U.S. intelligence agencies cannot; we owe someone a check when we have a trade deficit; the North American Free Trade Agreement cost us millions of jobs; millions of people voted illegally in 2016; a deep-state conspiracy including Trump’s own appointees is out to get him; an investigation with “199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and 4 prison sentences” is a witch hunt; and Trump hires only the “best people,” yet Michael Cohen is a liar, and a slew of Cabinet secretaries and senior staffers deserved to be fired. If Trump lies, then you have to lie, too. And boy, does Trump lie.
The CPAC speech was a fact checker’s paradise — misrepresenting the percentage of migrants who return for court proceedings (72 percent, not 3 percent as Trump claimed), taking credit for an Obama-era policy change allowing veterans to choose private providers, the reason for James B. Comey’s firing as FBI director, the size of Trump’s electoral victory and more. The crowd soaks up his vulgarity and vitriol, and still accepts the notion that we are a pen stroke away from losing hamburgers, cars and cows. Unfortunately, it’s not just the CPAC crowd that applauds his lies. Members of Congress will insist that Trump never lied about Russia (Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio) and that the investigation into Carter Page was inspired by crooked FBI agents relying on the dossier (Jordan still repeats this). Republicans in both houses routinely insist that there is no evidence of any cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russians. They insist that there is a border emergency and that Democrats want open borders (both are false). It’s one thing for an ordinary person who has marinated in Fox News and Rush Limbaugh propaganda for decades to believe just about anything Trump says, but what’s the excuse of elected officials and those appointed to high offices? What’s the excuse of the supposedly informed conservative pundits? Let’s not overthink this. Republicans repeat and endorse Trump’s lies because they are afraid to incur the wrath of Trump, his state TV (Fox News) and the mob (the GOP base and its echo chamber in right-wing media).
Mr. Trump is a sociopath, in that he meets every diagnostic criterion for the official diagnostic term “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” The fact that this is a personality disorder, rather than simply a single symptom such as anxiety or depression, means that all his actions are signs of this severe, continuous, mental disturbance. To understand his actions, it is essential to keep in mind that sociopaths have only one goal: to enhance themselves, and that in pursuing their self-interest, they lack both normal human empathy for others and a normal human conscience. Cheating, conning, lying, stealing, threatening are all done with no remorse.
When stressed with facts that would require them to admit failure, or even that others know more or are more capable than them, sociopaths lose track of reality, becoming delusional with insistence on the truth of what they psychologically need to maintain their superior view of themselves. Indeed, nobody matters except to the degree they can serve the sociopath’s personal needs. That’s why loyalty is demanded, but as soon as an associate disagrees, the sociopath turns on them with a fury; there was never a real relationship to begin with.
Mr. Trump’s denial of the facts about Mr. Warmbier is consistent with his sociopathy. He ignores reality, is unremorseful about lying and does not hesitate to sacrifice the feelings of others such as Mr. Warmbier’s family. We don’t know exactly why he lied in this case, but one possibility is that Mr. Trump has heavily promoted his relationship with Kim as evidence of his superior ability to manage world tensions and thinks that confronting Kim would interfere with that, hence personally diminishing Mr. Trump. In any case, Mr. Trump’s absence of feelings for Mr. Warmbier or his family is the same as his absence of feelings for the disabled reporter he mocked, for religious and racial minorities, for children separated from their parents at the border and on and on.
Mr. Trump has a long history that proves his diagnosis. If you consider the 7 traits that define Antisocial Personality Disorder in the DSM-5, he meets every one of them:
1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors.
2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying … or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
4. Irritability and aggressiveness
5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.
Sociopathy is the most serious mental disability possible for the President. Other conditions do not lead to continual disregard for the welfare of others, lying, cheating, and repeated loss of reality under stress. The bogus argument made by some that Abraham Lincoln is known to have suffered with depression, so Mr. Trump is not different, fails on this point. Lincoln’s depression did not make him cruel or indifferent to the feelings of others, cheat, lie, lose track of reality when stressed, or have a need to be an absolute ruler over everyone.
There are two major risks from Mr. Trump. First, there is a serious risk that he will start a war to distract the country from his multiple failures and his attempts to become a one-man ruler. This is most likely to occur as he is stressed by challenges to his position as President. Other tyrants have plunged their nations into war, sometimes by creating an international incident as an excuse, to avoid internal disputes and solidify power. Second, there is a serious risk of his destroying democracy in this country. He has already eroded it by attacking the principle of balance of powers, attacking the judicial system and the Congress, attempting to gather all power to himself. He has tried to destroy our free press by claiming that its criticisms of him are “fake news” and that a free press is the enemy of the people. These are well-known tactics of would-be tyrants, and are signs of sociopathy with his single-minded concern for himself and absence of conscience or concern for the feelings or lives of anyone else.
Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”
Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base—it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”
Many people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years, including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012 and is a prominent Never Trumper, said of the network, “It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.” Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says of Fox. “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.” The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, another conservative Never Trumper, used to appear on the network, but wouldn’t do so now. “Fox was begun as a good-faith effort to counter bias, but it’s morphed into something that is not even news,” she says. “It’s simply a mouthpiece for the President, repeating what the President says, no matter how false or contradictory.” The feedback loop is so strong, she notes, that Trump “will even pick up an error made by Fox,” as when he promoted on Twitter a bogus Fox story claiming that South Africa was “seizing land from white farmers.” Rubin told me, “It’s funny that Bill Shine went over to the White House. He could have stayed in his old job. The only difference is payroll.” With Shine, the Fox and White House payrolls actually do overlap. The Hollywood Reporter obtained financial-disclosure forms revealing that Fox has been paying Shine millions of dollars since he joined the Administration.
Shine is only the most recent Fox News alumnus to join the Trump Administration. Among others, Trump appointed the former Fox contributor Ben Carson to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the former Fox commentator John Bolton to be his national-security adviser, and the former Fox commentator K. T. McFarland to be his deputy national-security adviser. (McFarland resigned after four months.) Trump recently picked the former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert to be the Ambassador to the United Nations, but she soon withdrew herself from consideration, reportedly because her nanny, an immigrant, lacked a work permit. The White House door swings both ways: Hope Hicks, Shine’s predecessor in the communications job, is now the top public-relations officer at 21st Century Fox. Several others who have left the Trump White House, including Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser on national security, regularly appear on Fox. Gorka recently insisted, on Fox Business, that one of Trump’s biggest setbacks—retreating from the shutdown without securing border-wall funds—was actually a “masterstroke.”
Other former Fox News celebrities have practically become part of the Trump family. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former co-host of “The Five,” left Fox in July; she is now working on Trump’s reëlection campaign and dating Donald Trump, Jr. (Guilfoyle left the network mid-contract, after a former Fox employee threatened to sue the network for harassment and accused Guilfoyle of sharing lewd images, among other misconduct; Fox and the former employee reached a multimillion-dollar settlement. A lawyer who represents Guilfoyle said that “any suggestion” that she “engaged in misconduct at Fox is patently false.”) Pete Hegseth and Lou Dobbs, hosts on Fox Business, have each been patched into Oval Office meetings, by speakerphone, to offer policy advice. Sean Hannity has told colleagues that he speaks to the President virtually every night, after his show ends, at 10 P.M. According to the Washington Post, White House advisers have taken to calling Hannity the Shadow Chief of Staff. A Republican political expert who has a paid contract with Fox News told me that Hannity has essentially become a “West Wing adviser,” attributing this development, in part, to the “utter breakdown of any normal decision-making in the White House.” The expert added, “The place has gone off the rails. There is no ordinary policy-development system.” As a result, he said, Fox’s on-air personalities “are filling the vacuum.”
Axios recently reported that sixty per cent of Trump’s day is spent in unstructured “executive time,” much of it filled by television. Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Washington, whose former firm, Black, Manafort & Stone, advised Trump in the eighties and nineties, told me, “Trump gets up and watches ‘Fox & Friends’ and thinks these are his friends. He thinks anything on Fox is friendly. But the problem is he gets unvetted ideas.” Trump has told confidants that he has ranked the loyalty of many reporters, on a scale of 1 to 10. Bret Baier, Fox News’ chief political anchor, is a 6; Hannity a solid 10. Steve Doocy, the co-host of “Fox & Friends,” is so adoring that Trump gives him a 12.
Playing off that White House Fox News article from the New Yorker
Reporter Jane Mayer came out Monday with a bombshell article probing the symbiotic relationship between President Donald Trump and Fox News — and she said their shared business model is undermining U.S. democracy. The New Yorker investigative journalist appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss the article, and she said her reporting found the relationship between the president and his favorite channel was even closer than it appeared. “What Fox does is it makes money by enraging Americans, that’s how they keep them glued to the television set,” Mayer said. “It’s very much the same model that Trump has to keep his base engaged. So you’ve got a rage-based model for both of them, and what it’s doing is it’s spinning the country in an increasingly inflamed direction, and so it has a huge effect on our national politics.”
Mayer said the president and Fox News worked together to amplify their messages. “It carries his message and it also gives him a message a lot of the time,” she said. “Trump picks up on what he sees on Fox, and I’ve got quotes from people who are very close in to the White House, people who worked in the White House, in and out of Fox, saying what you’ve got is a dysfunctional White House all of the time with no normal decision-making process, where a lot of the policy-making is the president picking up what’s on Fox.” “Then I describe how Fox puts on what it does on the news, which is shocking in many ways,” Mayer added. “I mean, taking stuff straight off of the most crackpot blogs. Don’t take it me, take it from the people who are quoted from Fox saying so.”
If a new report on how Fox News covered one of President Trump’s biggest alleged scandals is correct, then it sheds more light on why so many conservatives continue to give Trump some of the highest approval ratings in the past 40 years. A new exposé in the New Yorker by one of journalism’s most respected investigative reporters suggests that individuals at the country’s most conservative network may have made multiple decisions to portray the president in the best light possible to its mostly right-leaning viewers. One alarming assertion in the piece is that Fox employees may have alerted Trump before the network’s debate that Megyn Kelly was going to ask the president some tough questions, including one about the history of his alleged mistreatment of women and details about his conversion to Republicanism. If true, this move was at the very least hypocritical, as Trump was vocal in his criticism of former CNN contributor Donna Brazile when news broke that she resigned from Trump’s most disliked network amid revelations that she leaked debate questions to the Clinton campaign.But reporting on how Fox handled one of the biggest scandals of the Trump administration might reveal the degree of the network’s commitment to minimizing the amount of negative news that made its way to viewers. According to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer: “Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed emails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract. “But Falzone’s story didn’t run — it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from [Ken] LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.”
A Pew Research Center study found that consistent conservatives — the group that is most conservative in their worldview and voting patterns — are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other: Fox News. Nearly half of the conservatives surveyed named Fox News as their main source for political news. Even if they do get news from other places, consistent conservatives distrust 24 of the 36 news sources (including The Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR and CNN) cited in the survey. Nearly 90 percent of consistent conservatives trust Fox News. It was no secret that coverage of the Trump administration on Fox opinion shows skewed heavily pro-Trump. But there had been no reporting before now suggesting that the network had killed stories because the most powerful man at the network — chief Rupert Murdoch — wanted Trump to become the most powerful man in the world. If this turns out to be an ongoing pattern at Fox, it could help explain why Trump continues to do so well with conservatives who mainly get their news from the conservative news outlet. It is fair to surmise that much of the general population’s relatively low approval of Trump is shaped by the news they consume about his administration. And recent stories about the demise of conservative outlets such as the Weekly Standard suggest that there is little room for criticism of Trump in conservative media. If news that will cause viewers to view the Trump administration negatively is kept at a minimum, that means that those who get their news about the presidency only from pro-Trump networks will miss out on some of the most important stories. And that editorial decision could have implications on the viewers’ day-to-day lives in ways they may later find inconsistent with making American great.
Donald Trump has perfected the art of telling a fake story about America. The only way to counter that is to tell the real story of America. Trump’s story is by now familiar: he alone will rescue average Americans from powerful alien forces – immigrants, foreign traders, foreign politicians and their international agreements – that have undermined the wellbeing of Americans. These forces have been successful largely because Democrats, liberals, cultural elites, the Washington establishment, the media and “deep state” bureaucrats have helped them, in order to enrich themselves and boost their power. Not surprisingly, according to Trump, these forces seek to remove him from office. What makes Trump’s story powerful to some Americans despite its utter phoniness is that it echoes the four tales Americans have been telling ourselves since before the founding of the Republic.
To combat Trump’s fake story, we need a true story based on facts, logic and history. But in order for that true story to resonate with Americans, it must also echo the same four tales. The first tale is the Triumphant Individual. It’s the little guy or gal who works hard, takes risks, believes in him or herself, and eventually gains wealth, fame and honor. The tale is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that “the value of life is to improve one’s condition.” The moral: with enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in America. Trump wants us to believe he’s the Triumphant Individual. But in fact he’s a conman who inherited his wealth and then spent his career shafting his employees, contractors and creditors. In truth, America has many potential Triumphant Individuals. But in order for them to do well in the new economy they depend on three things that Trump doesn’t want them to have: a good education, good medical care, and the right to join together to demand better pay and better working conditions. The second tale is the Benevolent Community – neighbors and friends who pitch in for the common good. This tale goes back to John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, delivered onboard a ship in Salem Harbor in 1630. Similar ideals of community were found among the abolitionists, suffragettes and civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s. The moral: we all do better by caring for one another. Trump’s fake benevolent community is a nationalism that requires no sacrifice from anyone. But today’s real benevolent community necessitates all of us doing our parts for the common good. The most fortunate among us, for example, must pay their fair share of taxes so that everyone can have what’s needed to triumph. A rising tide of productivity and wealth will lift all Americans.
The third tale is the Mob at the Gates – threatening forces beyond our borders. Daniel Boone fought Indians, described then in racist terms as savages. Davy Crockett battled Mexicans. Much the same tale gave force to cold war tales during the 50s of international communist plots to undermine American democracy. The moral: we must be vigilant against external threats. As with the other tales, this one has an important element of truth. America battled Hitler and other fascists in the second world war. The Soviet danger was real. But Trump wants Americans to believe that today’s Mob at the Gates consists of immigrants, foreign traders and democratically elected governments that have been our allies for decades or more. Wrong. These days the real Mob at our gates are thugs like Vladimir Putin and other tyrants around the world who are antagonistic toward democratic institutions, intolerant of ethnic minorities, hostile toward the free press and eager to use government to benefit themselves and those who support them. The fourth and final tale is The Rot at the Top. It’s about the malevolence of powerful elites – their corruption and irresponsibility, and tendency to conspire against the rest of us. This tale has given force to the populist movements of American history, from William Jennings Bryan’s prairie populism of the 1890s through Bernie Sanders’ progressive populist campaign in 2016, as well as Trump’s authoritarian version.
Trump wants us to believe that today’s Rot at the Top are cultural elites, the media and “deep state” bureaucrats. But the real Rot at the Top consists of concentrated wealth and power to a degree this nation hasn’t witnessed since the late 19th century. Billionaires, powerful corporations, and Wall Street have gained control over much of our economy and political system, padding their nests with special tax breaks and corporate welfare while holding down the wages of average workers. In this, the rich have been helped by Republicans in Congress and the White House whose guiding ideology seems less capitalism than cronyism, as shown time and again through legislative and regulatory gifts to big pharma, Wall Street, big oil and coal, big agriculture and giant military contractors. America’s true story shouldn’t end with Trump’s authoritarianism and nativism. An end that’s far truer to America’s ideals is a reinvigorated democracy. This will require a benevolent community free from the crony capitalists who have corrupted America. The next chapter is up to us.
The single most important fact in American political life is the degree that so many Americans believe, with a deep sentiment of dread and foreboding, that the Trump presidency has become a national nightmare that profoundly impacts American civic life in dangerous and disturbing ways. When President Trump recently spent more than two hours giving a bizarre and sometimes incoherent speech that was a rambling litany of angry insults and a tirade describing himself as a horribly aggrieved victim, he appeared to be a man in the middle of a nightmare. Would an innocent man declare total political war against special counsel Robert Mueller, who his former White House counsel Ty Cobb wisely says is a national hero running an honest investigation?
The president’s nightmare is spending the next two years trapped in a spider’s web of federal, state and congressional investigations with potentially catastrophic consequences, while he cannot spend a penny of appropriated money or enact a dime of tax cuts without permission from a powerful Democratic Speaker and resurgent Democratic House. Huge masses of Democratic and independent voters are enduring the nightmare — which they will act to end with a spectacular turnout in November 2020 — of a president at war against their hopes and dreams for their lives and our country.
Many of America’s finest and most principled conservatives are enduring the nightmare of a conservatism they have long championed with honor being shredded and corrupted by a president who is a conservative in name only, and his allies who demonize national heroes from Mueller to John McCain and attack the FBI for investigating the Russian dictator subverting our democracy and seeking to impose on America the president of his choice. What would Ronald Reagan think of Trump’s extravagant praise of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un? Or of the president’s shameful performance at Helsinki, where he held secret meetings with Russian President Valdimir Putin without one of his senior advisers in attendance. He then told the world that he believes Putin, the former boss of the KGB who attacks America, more than U.S. intelligence services that defend America from his attack.
Senate Republicans endure a nightmare of being pressured to defend a president that many of them privately view with horror. They are afraid that if they speak the truth about what they believe they will be threatened with defeat in a primary, while if they publicly support the president they privately dread they could be defeated in a general election — forcing them to choose between their conscience, their country and their career. Shame on any Senate Republican who accepts the ultimate humiliation and votes to uphold a declaration of emergency they know is a fraud and an attack against the constitutional duties of the legislative branch. A declaration for a wall they will not fund, based on a lie they know is untrue.