Harvard psychiatrist Lance Dodes: Donald Trump is a “sociopath” and “a very sick individual”

Harvard professor and psychoanalyst on the “antiquated” Goldwater rule and our president’s “serious mental illness”

The president of the United States is a global celebrity whose every action is endlessly commented upon and dissected for meaning by the news media, foreign powers (both friends and foes alike) and the public.

In the age of television and now the internet, there are hundreds of thousands of hours of video and audio footage of every president widely available. There are also rumors and leaks from within the White House and other branches of government that can help paint a picture of a given president’s moods, desires, thoughts and other behavior. What is to be done if this evidence collectively suggests that the president of the United States is mentally ill?

Unfortunately, with Donald Trump this is not the stuff of a political thriller. It is painfully plausible and all too real. The evidence suggesting that Donald Trump may have serious mental health problems is overwhelming.

He is a compulsive liar who creates his own fantasy world. Trump is also extremely moody and impulsive. Trump’s advisers have to satisfy his extreme narcissism and nurture his detachment from reality by presenting him — on a twice-daily basis — with a file folder full of good news.” Fellow Republicans have been recorded on a hot mike suggesting that Trump may be “crazy.” The American news media, as well as commentators from other countries, have voiced serious concerns about Trump’s mental health and the threat it poses to global security.

Why are so many psychiatrists and other clinicians afraid to comment about Donald Trump’s mental health? What is the role of the “Goldwater rule” — which holds that mental health professionals should not attempt to diagnose public figures they have not personally treated — in their relative silence? Is Donald Trump suffering from symptoms of mental illness? If so, what type of disorder does he exhibit, and what are the consequences for America and the world?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Lance Dodes. He is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (retired) and a training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.

Dodes is a signatory to the much-discussed February 2017 open letter to The New York Times that sought to warn the public about the dangers posed by Donald Trump’s mental health. He is also a contributing writer for the new book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.”

A longer version of this conversation can be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

The concerns about Donald Trump’s mental health are obvious. But how does the so-called Goldwater rule complicate public discussions of Trump’s mental health by psychiatrists and other clinicians?      

The Goldwater rule is from the American Psychiatric Association (APA). However, the APA’s version of the Goldwater rule is not subscribed to by any of the other major mental health agencies, including my own, the American Psychoanalytic Association. It is also not subscribed to by the American Psychological Association or the National Association of Social Workers, among others. The APA’s view as expressed in the so-called Goldwater rule is unconstitutional because it prohibits free speech. It is also nonsensical and unethical to have the rule as is. The concerns that the APA is expressing about things like confidentiality and getting the permission of the person before you talk about them simply do not apply unless the person is your patient.

Donald Trump is not anyone’s patient, so there is no confidentiality rule. In fact, no other branch of medicine has this rule. If your favorite linebacker goes down with a tear to his ACL in a football game, the next thing you will see is an orthopedist on television talking about the prognosis and the injury. Every other medical specialty feels free — and they should feel free — to speak out about public figures because it is a public service. In the field of psychiatry, we call this “duty to warn.” When you gag the people who actually know the best about these things, then you leave the public with uninformed lay opinions.

The APA defends the Goldwater rule with claims such as [that] to talk about mental health and politicians “would be insulting to people who have mental problems.” This is ridiculous. Nobody is mixing up somebody who is a sociopath like Donald Trump with somebody who has anxiety or depression or even a known illness like schizophrenia. No one is going to make that mistake.

The APA is doing a great disservice by trying to gag people.

Is the Goldwater rule obsolete in the sense that Trump is a public figure and there are thousands of hours of footage of him as well as a multitude of other evidence about his behavior? 

It is antiquated. The APA itself has a diagnostic manual, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5). If you look in that manual, the way they diagnose conditions is on two bases: one, behavior and two, speech. There is no inference about the causality or about the emotional determents or about the specific inner issues and conflicts in people. To know that it’s true, you have to interview them and you have to get to know them.

To go to your point, anybody, trained or not, can observe speech and behavior. It is good to be a professional in the field because then you can take the next step with confidence and say, “People with this kind of speech and behavior have this kind of problem.” That is completely fair, and that is exactly where the APA diagnoses things. If you consider, for example, the diagnosis “antisocial personality,” that is a diagnosis in the DSM-5 and you can look it up.

So anybody can read that and then look at Donald Trump and, as you say, the thousands of hours of interviews and evidence that we have about him, and see whether he either meets this criteria for speech and behavior or he does not. The fact is, he does.

Clinically, if we were to look at the checklist for sociopathy, what are some of the indicators that Trump is presenting?

It is people who lie and cheat. Everybody lies some of the time, but in this instance we mean people who lie as a way of being in the world, to manage relationships and also to manage your feelings about yourself. People who cheat and steal from others. People who lack empathy . . . the lack of empathy is a critical aspect of it. People who are narcissistic.

Trump’s case of narcissism is particularly severe because he also is out of touch with reality whenever he becomes upset. When he says, “I had the largest crowd at an inauguration in history,” it does not matter that you can tell him that it is not true, he still insists on it. Well, that is very troublesome because what it means is that he needs to believe it. He is able to give up reality in exchange for his wished-for belief. Sometimes we call that a delusion. We have not used that word much with Donald Trump because that does get confused with people who think that they are Napoleon. But Trump has a fluid sense of reality, which is a sign of a very sick individual.

Sociopathy itself is a sign of a very sick individual, someone with a lying, cheating and emotional disorder. The intersection of those two occurs in sociopathy. It is not just bad behavior that people have to lie and cheat the way he does, it is an incapacity to treat other people as full human beings. That is why his focus is on humiliating others to aggrandize himself, as he did in the Republican primaries when he was debating and calling people names. The same thing applies to Hispanic immigrants and separating the children from their parents. That is a very, very serious mental and emotional problem. Normal people have normal empathy. It is part of being a human being. Lying and cheating and humiliating others and grinding them into dust in order to triumph is not just bad behavior. It is a serious mental illness.

I don’t think Trump’s cruelty is coincidental to his appeal. His bigotry, his racism, his meanness — that is why people like him. I think that is the core of his appeal for a certain part of the public.

I agree. Hitler had a lot of followers too. Some people look for strong leaders. Others are suspicious of strong leaders. A lot of people seek out strong leaders because it is part of our shared human experience. As children, we all want to believe that our parents are good and strong and great and will protect us forever. So if you have someone who comes along say, “I am good and strong and great and I will protect you forever,” a certain number of people will follow that person.

If they are skilled at it the way Trump is, or the way that Mussolini or Hitler was, then they speak to the concerns of those people. Not that they really have any care about them. Trump does not. He could care less about these people. What they want from him is somebody who will finally be strong and speak up for them, except that it is a one-sided bargain. They just do not know it is because he is a liar.

There is a condition I have been reading about called “oppositional defiance disorder.” It seems to fit Trump perfectly. But it usually applies to children. If this is an accurate diagnosis, what does it mean for the country and world?

“Oppositional defiance disorder” is not a disorder. It is behavior, so you have to look beneath it. I’m not crazy about the term, but I take your point. The adult version of that behavior is “antisocial personality disorder,” which I think Trump meets.

The reason that people are reluctant to make a single diagnosis, including me, is because the terms in our field are not wonderful. Because they are trying to capture something that is exceptionally complex and individual, so no term is ever exact. That is why clinicians often use multiple terms to describe people. Then the critics say, “Oh, you are just throwing around names.” Well no, it is not that, it is just that we are trying to describe something that is complicated.

The best diagnosis for Trump is that he is a malignant narcissist. It contains the narcissistic part, which is no big deal alone — lots of people are narcissistic — but the malignant part is the sociopathy dimension. These terms suggest that Trump is a very primitive man. He is also a man who has a fundamental, deep psychological defect. It is expressed in his inability to empathize with others and his lack of genuine loyalty to anyone. You will notice that Trump wants everyone to be loyal to him, but he is loyal to nobody.

It is a one-way street. Trump appears to have no sense of social obligation or reciprocity.

Yeah, that is right. He has no sense of that because it is all about him. That is narcissistic, but it is much worse than the ordinary person with narcissistic personality. You know, I have known lots of people like that, and none of them are as evil or dangerous as Donald Trump because they do not have the sociopathy part. They may be oriented towards themselves, they may be self-centered, they may care mostly about themselves. But when it comes right down to it, they have some compassion; they have a conscience. But not Donald Trump. That is the malignant part. So yes, you want to say he is narcissistic personality, yes. Malignant narcissism? Yes. Sociopathy? Yes. Antisocial personality? Yes. Paranoia? Absolutely. He is quite paranoid, but again, if you look at it from underneath, it all fits together.

Why is he paranoid? He’s paranoid because . . . he needs to defend himself, his self-esteem, by saying that other people are bad. “You are the bad guy, not me. You are the one attacking me, I have no wish to attack.” He is extremely paranoid, and it edges into delusion. He does not really know what the truth is, at least at those moments. All these descriptive labels are true. If you put them all together, you have got a picture of Donald Trump.

If you understand the man, you understand what you are dealing with, and I don’t think he is at all different from these tyrants in the past. I don’t know that he is any different from the people he admires.

What do you think will happen with Trump’s presidency?

I think one of two things will happen and maybe both. First of all, the greatest risk to us right now is that there will be another “Reichstag fire”-type event.

Timothy Snyder has been warning the public about that possibility for months.

The more desperate Trump becomes, the more he needs to have a crisis so the country will rally around him. If I had to pinpoint it, I would say he is going to start bombing North Korea. Unfortunately, the North Korean leader is just as sick as Trump. The two of them are like little boys on a playground but much worse, because little boys are not evil, they are just aggressive. The second thing is — and this is the Republican calculation — at what point do I need to abandon Donald Trump in order to preserve my political career? I think that is exactly what is going through the minds of the Republican Party leadership right now. They have to wait for a shift in public opinion and it is coming. Charlottesville was one major event, and there will be others. Then I think they will go to Trump and say, “We are going to impeach you or we are going to apply the 25th Amendment.”

But in the end he will simply cut bait. He will leave other people to clean up the mess. Trump will resign and say, “I am still the best and the only savior, and these evil people and their evil media have forced me out.” He will keep his constituency; he’ll leave with honor in his own mind and by the way, keep his businesses.

How can someone with these types of disorders be so “successful”? In reality, I think his success is his inherited money — Trump has actually failed at almost everything in life. But some would make the counter-argument, “Well, if Trump has all these problems, how could he be such a successful businessman?” Is it just blind luck? Are these bad behaviors rewarded in business?

If rising to the top is a sign of anything positive, then you have to put Adolf Hitler in that group. Trump is successful in business for the last of your reasons. Because if you are willing to trample on other people, you have a great chance of rising to the top. If he is willing to lie, for example, and cheat people and use that to his personal advantage no matter what the consequences are for them, well, one of two things happens to people like that. If they fail enough, they are in jail. These are the sociopaths who end up as chronic criminals. But if they have the gift of gathering people around them like a cult leader and demagogue, then they rise to the top. It is not that unusual at all. It happens throughout history. Trump does not care.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.
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What are journalists for in the age of Trump?

From the Uncharted Festival of Ideas in Berkeley, Jay Rosen in conversation with Kathy Kiely

 What are journalists for in the age of Trump?

(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer)

The shortcomings of traditional political journalism have been visible for some time. But the unprecedented presidency of Donald Trump has graphically exposed journalism’s weaknesses. In 2016, before the November election, Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism at New York University, sat down with journalist Kathy Kiely at the Uncharted Festival of Ideas in Berkeley to talk about the right frame for interpreting press coverage of the presidential campaign. Their conclusions hold just as true for journalists after the election, when the stakes have proven so much higher.

Jay Rosen is the author of PressThink, a blog about journalism’s ordeals in the age of the Web, which he launched in 2003. In 1999, Yale University Press published his book, “What Are Journalists For,” which was about the rise of the civic journalism movement. He was the co-publisher, with Arianna Huffington, of OfftheBus.Net, which allowed readers to participate in the Huffington Post’s election coverage in 2008. Rosen writes and speaks frequently about new media and the predicament of the press in a time of rapid transformation. He is also a frequent critic of the national press and its coverage of politics.

Kathy Kiely is a Washington-based journalist and journalism teacher with extensive experience in covering politics and in working across media platforms. She has served as an editor for Bloomberg Politics, the Sunlight Foundation, and at the National Journal, its website and for CBS News.

Listen to their conversation:

https://embed.radiopublic.com/e?if=berkeleyside-podcast-GMlael&ge=s1!b158ae3c1b7f1ad5769437d526433ac51c962f91

The Uncharted Festival is a production of Berkeleyside, Berkeley’s award-winning, independent news site. The annual two-day festival, launched in 2013, brings people together with some of the world’s great thinkers for two thrilling days of discussion, debate, and workshops designed to engage and inspire. Uncharted evolved out of the belief that the most intriguing ideas — and solutions to today’s big challenges — emerge from the collision of different visions and perspectives.

An all-women “Lord of the Flies” reboot is a contradiction in terms

Two male directors are slated for the all-girl remake and, besides Warner Bros., few are excited

 

An all-women "Lord of the Flies" reboot is a contradiction in terms
“Lord of the Flies”(Credit: Columbia Pictures)

It was announced Wednesday that Warner Bros. will remake “Lord of the Flies” with an all-female cast directed by two men.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel will write and direct the new version, based on the original novel by Noble-prize winning author William Golding, Deadline reported.

“We want to do a very faithful but contemporized adaptation of the book, but our idea was to do it with all girls rather than boys,” Siegel told Deadline. “It is a timeless story that is especially relevant today, with the interpersonal conflicts and bullying, and the idea of children forming a society and replicating the behavior they saw in grownups before they were marooned.”

McGhee added that he hopes the spin will break “away from some of the conventions, the ways we think of boys and aggression. People still talk about the movie and the book from the standpoint of pure storytelling,” he told Deadline. “It is a great adventure story, real entertainment, but it has a lot of meaning embedded in it as well. We’ve gotten to think about this awhile as the rights were worked out, and we’re super eager to put pen to paper.”

People on Twitter were quick to point out why this concept may be inherently flawed:

[flies into frame on a broom]
the thing about lord of the flies is that it’s about systemic male violence + how it replicates
[flies away]

uhm lord of the flies is about the replication of systemic masculine toxicity
every 9th grader knows this
u can read about it on sparknotes https://twitter.com/deadline/status/903002462394527744 

GOOD: A female-centric Lord of the Flies!
BAD: A female-centric Lord of the Flies written by… two men.http://deadline.com/2017/08/lord-of-the-flies-scott-mcgehee-david-siegel-female-cast-warner-bros-william-golding-novel-1202158421/ 

Photo published for Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

deadline.com

Lord of the Flies, but with women, and also written and directed by two men! This couldn’t POSSIBLY miss the mark! http://www.vulture.com/2017/08/looks-like-were-getting-a-female-lord-of-the-flies-remake.html 

We’re literally living an all-male “Lord of the Flies” right now, but sure, let’s see two male writers describe how women would be worse.

As Twitter users explained, McGehee and Siegel — the creators behind the quite brilliant, quite enlightened “What Maisie Knew” — might need a refresh on the nuance of the classic novel and how women actually work together before they actually “put pen to paper.”

Yes, people will talk of “Mean Girls,” “Heathers” and the often self-destructive behaviors of women and girls in cliques both in youth and in adulthood when it comes to this remake. Yet, at its core, Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is an intensely malenarrative rooted in male group dynamics. The vocal turn-taking gambit that requires the passing of the famous “conch” and so many other aspects of the source material constitutes a sharp critique of how men and boys listen to and interact with each other both in personal and political situations. Women, as we have learned, do things very, very differently.

As writer Roxane Gay said, “An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because . . . the plot of that book wouldn’t happen with all women.”

Unfair and unbalanced: Media defined Trump by his key issues — and Hillary Clinton by her phony scandals

Trump got his scary message out to voters, while Clinton’s issues got buried under an avalanche of email stories

Steve Bannon and his fellow travelers in right-wing media played us all for fools. While that’s never directly stated in a recent study of the role of media in the 2016 election, conducted by researchers from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, it’s the unavoidable conclusion after examining the results. The right-wing media ecosystem, epitomized by Bannon’s no-longer-former site Breitbart News, was not only able to colonize Republican voters’ minds but also to direct the focus of the mainstream media. The result was that Donald Trump got his political message out with great success, while Hillary Clinton was largely silenced, and defined for the public largely in terms of hysterical right-wing attacks.

In the mainstream media, “the coverage was negative for both candidates,” Yochai Benkler, one of the study authors, explained to Salon. “What became clear was that the conversation in the broader public sphere reflected the agenda that was set by the right,” he continued, “rather than an agenda that was set by Hillary Clinton.”

Simply by dint of being a loud-mouthed boor, Trump was able to dominate the media coverage so thoroughly that it’s a miracle that Clinton even got through, the researchers found.

Fig03

 

Even though most of the Trump coverage, like most of the Clinton coverage, was negative in tone, Trump was able to leverage the negativity to get his message in front of the voters. Even more important, his candidacy was largely defined by his primary issues, such as his hostility to immigration.

“When you say Trump makes a statement about a Muslim ban, that’s a statement about immigration,” Benkler said. That may get negative coverage, he argued, but it also helped educate voters who follow the mainstream media about his positions and views on the issue.

Coverage of Clinton, on the other hand, was largely substance-free and focused on overblown “scandals,” such as stories about leaked emails or stories highlighting donors to the Clinton Foundation. Her campaign’s efforts at creating a robust, progressive political platform were largely wasted on a mainstream media that was almost entirely uninterested in educating the public on her policy views.

The end result was that Trump’s policy positions on nearly all issues got more media attention than Clinton’s, even though the latter put time and effort into developing substantive views, while her opponent’s “policies” were mostly the result of him riffing off something he heard on Fox News.

 

Fig02

A number of Clinton’s critics argue, as Columbia professor Mark Lilla did in my recent interview with him for “Salon Talks,” that the Democrats in 2016 failed to “articulate a vision.” This arguments frustrates many Clinton supporters, who could point to the reams of policy ideas and political ideals she spent the campaign promoting. But it’s easy to see why some people might believe Clinton didn’t articulate or discuss a vision, when her efforts to do so were studiously ignored by mainstream media sources that were more interested in breathlessly covering the non-story about her private email server.

The extent to which Clinton was defined by these pseudo-scandals, while Trump was defined by his views, is illustrated by perhaps the most disheartening chart that the Harvard researchers created from their data.

Fig01

The gap between coverage of the Clinton Foundation and the Trump Foundation is a crystalline example of how distorted the 2016 campaign coverage was. No one has ever found any evidence of Clinton misusing her powers as secretary of state to do favors for Clinton Foundation donors. In contrast, David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post found extensive evidence, including an admission on a tax form, that Trump used his foundation for dubious and possibly illegal self-dealing. Fahrenthold found that Trump used his foundation to buy personal items or to settle legal disputes, rather than for charitable purposes, which is the only legitimate use of foundation funds.

Fahrenthold won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation of the Trump Foundation, but somehow the rumors and insinuations around the Clinton Foundation got far more coverage. This contrast reveals how well right-wing media was able to control and direct the public conversation about the 2016 campaign.

On one hand, conservative media “provides a shared internal narrative for Trump supporters that keeps them comfortable with the choice and gets them mobilized,” Benkler said. “On the other, it produces a steady flow of stories that end up sometimes — often enough, it seems — setting the agenda for mainstream coverage. It’s this dual effect, on one hand stabilizing and insulating your base from the mainstream, and on the other nudging the mainstream coverage to cover your issues, that was so successful.”

The Clinton Foundation stories largely stemmed from a book called “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” written by then-Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, who also co-founded a right-wing think tank called the Government Accountability Institute, with funding from hedge fund billionaire and Trump enthusiast Robert Mercer. Even though Schweizer had no real proof of corruption, he was able to get his insinuations about the Clinton Foundation covered heavily by The New York Times. After that, the story spread far and wide, from mainstream media to left-leaning sources read by Bernie Sanders supporters.

The Harvard report offers a much more thorough retelling, but the larger lesson here is chilling: Right-wing propaganda forces were able to define Clinton in the public eye, concealing what was without question a substantive policy agenda under a pile of nonsense about her emails and other supposed scandals. Trump, despite his deep and demonstrable corruption, was still able to get his message out — virtually everyone in the country knew what he stood for, whether they found it repulsive or refreshing.

As recent days have shown, many of the mainstream outlets worked as conduits for right wing propaganda, highlighting Trump’s policy message while burying Clinton’s, refuse to take responsibility for what happened. The first step in recovery is recognizing you have a problem. It’s hard to imagine how mainstream media journalists will do better the next time around if they can’t accept that their failures helped put Trump in the White House.

GOP launches counteroffensive against the media — to distract America from its massive failure

Republicans promised real accomplishments in Trump’s first 200 days. Now they must fall back on propaganda

Donald Trump’s base is shrinking, no matter what he tweets to the contrary. Two hundred days into his term, he has few legislative accomplishments to tout — despite Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade — and nobody to blame.

The president is increasingly frustrated that his raucous campaign-like crowds in friendly red states have not drowned out the Russia investigation or poll numbers that have him sinking to below 35 percent approval — and those poll numbers are starting to make congressional Republicans nervous.

Now Republicans have launched a counteroffensive.

It’s still 15 months until the midterm election, but in some ways the campaign is in full swing. House Republicans unveiled a new website on Monday meant to provide counterprogramming that depicts an alternative 200-day timeline highlighting GOP accomplishments and building up a favorite Republican boogeyman: the media.

“House Republicans aren’t distracted by the newest countdown clock on cable news or partisan sniping in Washington, D.C.,” the website, “Did You Know,“ reads. Republicans hope to blame the press for not writing more about their legislative achievements. Trump even took a break from his vacation to send off a barrage of tweets early Monday morning blasting the “Fake News” media.

But unlike the propaganda “real news” videos posted to Trump’s Facebook page in recent months — made to appear as “real” news segments hosted by Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara — House Republicans’ new venture more closely resembles the commercials put out by previous re-election campaigns.

“You don’t care about those things. You care about finding a good job, taking care of your family, and achieving the American Dream, and so do we,” the House GOP’s new ad announces.

Of course, some may recall that House Speaker Paul Ryan promised that “this will be the most productive presidency and Congress in our lifetimes” and initially pledgedto repeal and replace portions of Obamacare by spring and tackle tax reform before the August recess.

Ryan’s gamble on a glossy new campaign meant to distract from his failed policies is likely to pay off. Republican voters have long been primed to distrust the mainstream media. A poll released late last month found that nearly half of all Republicans are in favor of courts shutting down media outlets that publish biased information. A majority of Republicans also said they support fines for media outlets that put out biased or inaccurate news reports.

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s personal Facebook page — not the White House’s Facebook page — has recently taken to producing what it calls “real news” video clips that highlight positive stories ignored by the media as controversy further engulfs the administration. Last week, Lara Trump, the wife of Trump’s youngest adult son, Eric, informed more than 2 million viewers that Trump donated his presidential salary to the Department of Education.

A nearly identical video was posted Sunday by Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, a former CNN contributor who announced her departure from the network only hours before appearing in the pro-Trump propaganda video. On Monday, it was announced that McEnany would become the next spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.

“Thank you for joining us, everybody. I’m Kayleigh McEnany, and that is the real news,” the conservative television commentator said to end her “News of the Week” segment for Trump’s Facebook page.

McEnany’s seamless transition from CNN to “Trump TV” to the RNC is such a transparent circumvention of the fourth estate that even conservative commentator Erick Erickson complained on Twitter: “How very Soviet.”

In fairness, Republicans aren’t trying to hide their propaganda push. The Trump campaign said it plans to use its fledgling Facebook show to “continue to promote real news” and to “talk to Americans directly.”

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon’s Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

Trump is the ultimate fulfillment of consumer capitalism

Trump embodies the triumph of spectacle over reality more than any previous president, but he’s no anomaly

As Donald Trump’s inability to govern has become increasingly evident over the past six months, the White House has essentially transitioned into a full-blown reality TV show, with enough melodrama and petty infighting to fill several seasons worth of primetime network television.

The president, it seems, has given up all pretense of sanity as his administration has spiraled out of control. He now appears to approach his current job of running the United States government in the same way that he approached his career as a reality TV star. Top officials in the Trump administration have become virtual contestants, vying for the affection of their capricious boss and hoping he won’t mention their names in his next unhinged Twitter rant.

This transition into an dysfunctional reality TV show came to a head two weeks ago, when the president hired Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci, the cartoonish and vainglorious Wall Street investor, as his communications director. Like a fame-hungry contestant on “The Apprentice,” the foul-mouthed financier wasted no time in marking his territory and attacking his fellow sycophants, calling then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic,” while threatening to fire his entire staff.

By the end of his first week, Priebus had been forced out, Scaramucci’s wife had filed for divorce, and then, on Monday, “The Mooch” himself was eliminated from the Trumpian Thunderdome also known as the White House.

As all this drama unfolded, Trump’s agenda took yet another blow with the implosion of the Republican health care bill in the Senate, leaving the president with no major policy achievement to speak of in his first six months in office. Though Trump has repeatedly claimed to have accomplished more than any of his predecessors in his first months in office, the truth is that he has overseen the most incompetent and amateurish administration in modern history. As Ryan Cooper recently put it in The Week, “the hapless incompetence of this administration is virtually impossible to exaggerate.”

The president’s first six months have confirmed what many people already knew: Trump’s image as a savvy and smart businessman with an extraordinary deal-making ability is a complete sham: the president didn’t know the first thing about running a government when he ran for office. The New York billionaire (if he is indeed a billionaire) has spent his entire adult life carefully cultivating his image as a masterful deal-maker and builder, plastering his name onto anything and everything (including many properties that he does not own) and greatly exaggerating his net worth. Trump has always been more spectacle than substance, and like a used car salesman rolling back the odometers, he made countless promises during his campaign (he would repeal and replace Obamacare “on day one,” for instance) without any real plan on how to fulfill these promises. Just like his career, Trump’s campaign was all spectacle, no substance.

Not surprisingly, then, as Trump’s true nature has become more apparent and his incompetence on full display, the spectacle surrounding his White House has only grown more outrageous. Like a Ponzi-scheme operator whose promised returns become more ridiculously bullish as investors flee and the coffers drain, the president’s rhetoric has become more grandiose and detached from reality as his presidency has gone off the rails. One can expect the circus to grow more preposterous still as the Trump administration continues to implode.

For many Americans, the spectacle will always be enough; whether or not Trump is ever successful in terms of policy, the image he projects on television screens will continue to convince millions. It is comforting to think of our reality TV president and his political rise as some kind of anomaly, but that’s not true. Donald Trump is a product of late capitalism, and the spectacle will continue to dominate in a world where all aspects of life have been commodified and each person has become just another customer.

In his classic work “The Society of the Spectacle,” published 50 years ago, French theorist Guy Debord expounded on what he called the “spectacular society,” in which the modern capitalist mode of production “presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.” The society of the spectacle, postulated the founder of the political-artistic collective known as the Situationist International, had developed over the 20th century with the rise of mass media and the commodity’s “colonization of social life.”

“Understood on its own terms,” wrote Debord in his aphoristic style, “the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance . . . In all its specific manifestations — news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment — the spectacle epitomizes the prevailing model of social life.”

Half a century after Debord published his influential treatise, the society of the spectacle has given rise to a president who epitomizes the prevailing model of social life, where appearances often predominate over reality.

“In a world that really has been turned on its head,” observed Debord, “truth is a moment of falsehood.” One could be forgiven for assuming that he was describing our world today.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Are Democrats turning to an alliance between neocons and neoliberals?

 If so, it’s a terrible strategy

An alliance with Bush-era neocons on the Russia scandal is pushing Democrats hard right on foreign policy. Sad!

Last week, former Republican congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough made headlines when he announced on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that he was leaving the Republican Party. A week later the conservative pundit wrote a column for the Washington Post elaborating on his decision.

“I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses,” explained Scarborough. “President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.”

“Neither Lincoln, William Buckley nor Ronald Reagan would recognize this movement,” the former congressman continued. “It is a dying party that I can no longer defend.”

Scarborough’s criticism of his former party is more than a little ironic, considering he was a frequent apologist for Trump throughout the campaign season, but the host has nevertheless been praised by many Democrats for his “principled” decision to “put his country first.” Though it has already been a year since the Republican Party officially embraced Trump by nominating him as their candidate, it is, as they say, better late than never.

Scarborough is just one of many conservative pundits who have garnered liberal adulation for rejecting the unhinged Republican president. Since Trump was elected president last year a who’s-who of top conservative figures have been embraced by Democrats and the “liberal media” for their opposition to Trump and his reactionary brand of populism.

Indeed, though he has divided the country, President Trump has been a great unifier of neoliberal Democrats and neoconservative Republicans, who have come to see Russian plots against America at every turn. Neocons like Max Boot, David Frum, Bret Stephens and Bill Kristol are among the top Republican hawks who have become liberal darlings in the Trump era. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter and coiner of the infamous phrase “axis of evil,” has become many liberals’ favorite neocon pundit on social media, while Stephens — a prominent climate-change denier — was hired earlier this year as a full-time columnist for the ostensibly liberal New York Times editorial page (not surprisingly, the Times was forced to issue a correction for his debut column defending climate-change skepticism).

At the center of this alliance is not just a mutual antipathy for President Trump but a hostility towards Russia that recalls the paranoid years of the Cold War. Last week this hawkish alliance was made official when a new “bipartisan” group called Alliance for Securing Democracy was formed. This new advocacy group will be led by Laura Rosenberger, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, and Jamie Fly, a former national security adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio. Top Obama-era officials and Bush-era neocons will sit on the board of directors, including Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan, former ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, Bush-era Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff and none other than Bill Kristol, America’s leading chicken-hawk (who is known best for how wrong he has been in nearly all of his predictions).

Glenn Greenwald summed up this new Trump era alliance in a recent article on The Intercept, noting that “on the key foreign policy controversies, there is now little to no daylight between leading Democratic Party foreign policy gurus and the Bush-era neocons who had wallowed in disgrace following the debacle of Iraq and the broader abuses of the war on terror.”

The Democratic establishment’s apparent shift to the right on foreign policy, along with its newly formed alliance with Republican hawks, is part of an overall trend that reveals how out of touch the party elite have become with the base. Indeed, while leading Democrats have adopted a Cold Warrior mentality, the party’s base has actually shifted further to the left. A majority of Democrats today, for example, have a favorable opinion of “socialism” and support  progressive policies like universal health care. This makes it all the more ironic — and maddening — that senior figures in the Democratic Party have started to sound more like heirs of Joseph McCarthy than Franklin D. Roosevelt, as displayed by a recent tweet from former DNC chair Donna Brazile declaring that “the Communists [i.e. Russians] are now dictating the terms of the debate.”

In a Bloomberg poll released last week, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton is even more unpopular today than the historically unpopular President Trump. According to Bloomberg, many Clinton voters said they “wished Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had won the Democratic nomination, or that they never liked Clinton and only voted for her because she was the lesser of two bad choices.” The survey had another interesting find: of the many issues facing America, 35 percent of people consider health care to be the most important, followed by issues like immigration, terrorism, and climate change. Only 6 percent of respondents said that the United States’ “relationship with Russia” is the most important issue facing the country.

These findings indicate two things: First, that most Americans care much less about the Russia scandal than the political establishment does; and second, that Clinton’s brand of neoliberalism is politically toxic. In that light, the Democratic establishment’s current strategy of embracing the center and aligning with neoconservatives to “secure democracy” against Russia is reckless and extremely shortsighted. ​​​​​​​The Republican Party “left its senses” long before Trump came around, and in uniting with Republican chicken-hawks, leading Democrats seem to be leaving their senses too.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.