What has Trump done now?

I use a newsreader that collects feeds from various news sites that I follow so that I see only the ones that are new since I last checked. I check the newsreader periodically to see what has happened, starting in the morning. There used to be a fairly standard number of new posts, that is until Donald Trump became president. Now there are periodic spikes in the number of posts so that whenever I check first thing in the morning and see that there are many more updates than usual, my first thought is “Oh, hell, what has Trump said/done now?”

And sure enough, today it is all about the report in the Washington Post that Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” during his meeting last week with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak. This report has been denied by Trump’s national security advisor H. R. McMaster but as usual, we are dealing with carefully parsed news reports and denials by McMaster that allow for wiggle room. Robert Mackey thinks that there is evidence that the news report got the facts largely right.

But the larger concern is not whether Trump was right in what he did (as president he has the legal right to reveal any classified information and a case could be made that sharing knowledge of potential terrorist threats with Russia is desirable) but whether he knows what he is doing or is just blabbing away in his usual self-aggrandizing fashion. As the Post report says:

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security.

The allegation of Trump having loose lips brings back to the fore the increasingly discussed question of whether Trump is losing control of his cognitive faculties or is ‘merely’ suffering from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) (as commenter kestrel thinks), or is playing the media and the public by giving them distractions to shift attention away from his lack of concrete achievements in terms of fulfilling has campaign promises.

Kali Holloway thinks that there are signs of a real problem of the first kind.

Remember when Trump forgot which country he’d just bombed? When it just slipped his mind to sign a pair of executive orders during an event created for that explicit purpose? When he couldn’t locate Rudy Giuliani, who was sitting directly across from him at a media briefing? Those things don’t seem like innocuous senior moments.

Trump also seems to exhibit other signs of Alzheimer’s listed by health organizations. Moodiness, paranoia, belligerence and erratic behavior are all key indicators of the onset of dementia. Trump’s inappropriate tweets, his belief that his phones are tapped and his quickness to anger, as described by his staff, all fit the bill.

Holloway links to an actual single sentence spoken by Trump as transcribed by Alex Leo.

“Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my, like, credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.”

‘Meandering’ would be the kindest way of describing it. ‘Palinesque’ would be to insult even that chronically incoherent speaker.

David Pakman also marshals the evidence in favor of the first possibility (cognitive decline) and against the second one (NPD).

I was surprised by the suggestion that Trump has trouble with balance and has a morbid fear of staircases and steps, even a couple of them, and that this is one of the symptoms of cognitive decline. I wonder how he will handle the standard symbolism of American presidents waving while climbing down the ramp of Air Force One when it lands on the tarmac of airports? Surely people would have noticed something by now?

Are such speculations on Trump’s cognitive acuity distractions? Are they taking responsibility and culpability away from him by making it seem as if his words and actions are out of his control? Defenders of Trump warn that allegations about Trump’s mental state will be used to try to remove him from office and that they are ready to fight back.

I also wonder what the effect of these speculations will be on those who are being considered for the post of FBI director and other top positions that remain unfilled in the Trump administration. There have been suggestions of people who are federal judges being considered. But who would give up a secure and prestigious job like that in order to accept a position under Trump where you run the daily risk of being embarrassed, contradicted, humiliated, and even fired? The only people who will accept such jobs are those who are grifters like Trump and his family, willing to exploit the position for quick gain, either in terms of raising their personal profile or in material ways.

This is not good.


  1. Chiroptera says

    Defenders of Trump warn that allegations about Trump’s mental state will be used to try to remove him from office and that they are ready to fight back.

    Lol. I was thinking of the the Twenty-second Amendment as I was reading this. (The fourth clause, to be exact.)


    (as president he has the legal right to reveal any classified information and a case could be made that sharing knowledge of potential terrorist threats with Russia is desirable)

    Is this correct? The New York Times this morning claimed that the President has the authority to declassify certain things. Even if this is true, I would expect that would require writing up legal documents and then signing them, something that would force people to take the time to think through the ramifications of what they are about to do. I have trouble believing even the US President can just blurt out whatever the hell he wants to whoever he want.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Oh, and by the way, I guess that Trump supporters can now agree with the rest of us that Clinton’s emails weren’t such an earth shattering disaster?

    Ha ha ha. Of course they can’t.

  3. jrkrideau says

    The Pakman show does make some very good points and I recall a commentator on Orac’s blog saying that if one looked at older recordings of Trump one could see a definite decline verbal (and cognitive?) ability over time.

    I still hold with the NPD idea as something defining Trump over the years but it may well be combined with the onset of dementia. Oh great.

  4. jrkrideau says

    # 1 Chiroptera
    I have trouble believing even the US President can just blurt out whatever the hell he wants to whoever he wants.

    I believe we are in the Trumpian “l’état, c’est moi” stage.

  5. says

    Trump is a fucking idiot. But what he was talking about was counterterror information that is exactly the kind of information that the US Government should be sharing with the Russians. This is a Benghazi!-style manufactroversy and the anti-Trump opposition are lying and exaggerating their asses off. Short form: the whole thing is a complete shit-show all around and the only people (as far as I am concerned) who come out of it looking good are the Russians.

    Longer explanation is here

  6. says

    I have trouble believing even the US President can just blurt out whatever the hell he wants to whoever he wants.

    The way classified information works is that you have a “classification authority” that is an organization that has the ability to create classified information, or to declassify information. So, the CIA (for example) is a classification authority: they can take a piece of data, slap a TS/SCI label on it (NOFORN) and it’s now a crime to access, have, or disclose that information inappropriately. That means things like “putting it on Anthony Weiner’s laptop” or “telling it to the Russians.” The problem is that the White House is a classification authority, too. So technically the President can declassify something whenever he wants to. Not that Trump, you know, “thinks” before he acts. But in principle, Trump can blather any secret he is cleared to learn. What’s going to happen is that “inter agency sharing” is going to dry up: the intelligence community is going to stop telling the White House anything. Way to go, bozos (it’s bozos all around, in this situation)…

    Another funny thing about classification authorities: they get to decide what assets they create are or aren’t classified. When I was working with the Clinton I White House, the Clintons simply handled material that should be secret by not classifying it. Since it was their stuff, and it wasn’t classified, it fell outside the rules. At that time there was considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth from the intelligence community, who classify their own toilet paper consumption and classify the names of their dog’s chew toys. The White House gamed the rules. I’m shocked and disappointed that anyone is shocked and disappointed.

  7. says

    One of the findings of the 9/11 commission was that there was too much “stove pipe” and not enough “information sharing” in the intelligence community. Bush issued several “tear down the walls!” directives, which did a lot to put the growth of the surveillance state into overdrive (especially since he authorized a bunch of blatantly unconstitutional things) But, post 9/11 sharing has been the big thing and that’s why there are fusion centers and interagency “before privacy safeguards” sharing* Trump’s naked hatred of the intelligence community (or maybe I can just say “Trump’s clear unintelligence”) is going to probably result in the White House being cut out of the intelligence community.

    I favor this. Anything that weakens the surveillance state is good.

    (* that’s code for: the data we collected that is unconstitutional, before we put the fig-leaf of warrants and FISA over it. it’s collected unconstitutionally and shared unconstitutionally but once an agency ingests it it’s suddenly magically OK)

  8. says

    I still hold with the NPD idea as something defining Trump over the years but it may well be combined with the onset of dementia.

    I’m still holding for long-term amphetamine abuse (diet pills or Adderall) If you want to see what it looks like, watch some videos of John McAfee in action -- some of the mannerisms his speech and body-language display ought to be familiar to the Trump-watcher.

    Historically presidents (and first ladies) have no problem getting whatever they want. While she was saying “just say no” Nancy Reagan was chunking down benzos and opiates like a rock and roller. Kennedy was into all kinds of pain killers. I recall reading somewhere that most of the NSC was taking benzedrine during the Cuban Missile Crisis (because: being paranoid and jumps is just the right thing for nuclear brinkmanship!) Do as I say, not as I do.

  9. mnb0 says

    The Donald perfectly knows what he’s doing. That’s the problem -- his clownish behaviour results from his priorities; a consistent policy is just very low on the list.
    The only question that interests me is how long people like McMaster are gonna take it. Remember, The Donald would not be the first American president who might suffer from declining cognitive skills. Remember Reagan?

  10. kestrel says

    In the end I doubt it matters *why* Trump acts the way he does. What matters is, is he fit to lead? In my own mind the answer has been a resounding NO since he started his campaign. Every day just strengthens my own belief that he is not fit to lead.

    I’ve heard the excuse that he doesn’t read and therefore could not have betrayed anything important but that is not the point; the point is, he doesn’t read or understand anything. He brags about stuff just to make himself feel important. He is completely incompetent. This new information that he may be experiencing other symptoms is very disturbing. And yet, Alex Jones freaked out about Hillary Clinton opening a pickle jar on the Jimmy Kimmel show (I believe Mano blogged about it) saying she was incompetent. How far does Trump have to go before the Republicans finally admit he is not fit to lead?

  11. felicis says

    “…as president he has the legal right to …”

    No -- he has the legal _authority_ to… There seems to be a conflation of _authority_ and _right_ in US discussions of what officials (elected or not) can or cannot do. There is a difference between authority and rights, and an officeholder has no rights that any other citizen does not have -- though they may have authority that is assigned by law and/or custom.

    I see this a lot and it bugs me that ‘authority’ is often dropped in preference to ‘right’ -- it changes the implications.

  12. KG says

    Marcus Ranum@5,

    If this is a “manufactroversy”, why did McMaster come out with his careful non-denial denial of the original story?

  13. says

    It’s hard to toe the official line when the official line is a bunch of loopy bullshit.

    I’m not saying Trump isn’t a horrible dipshit abd that his people aren’t a bunch of lying assbags. But the media’s hopping up and down about this is also pretty disgusting because they’re either ignorant or exaggerating what happened.

  14. KG says

    Marcus Ranum@13,

    That’s a non-explanation explanation. McMaster obviously thought the matter serious, or he’d just have said -- “Yeah, Trump passed on this info, so what?” -- as Trump himself did later.

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