Mm, I don’t know that it’s getting “dumber” so much as it’s getting more febrile, which has made it more susceptible to confirmation bias. Initially Michael Wolff’s book captured the imagination of anti-Trumpers because it featured juicy quotes from Steve Bannon suggesting that he shared their suspicions about Russia collusion within the campaign. Lately, though, the Bannon stuff has been drowned out by other too-good-to-check claims in the book about POTUS losing his marbles and the possibility of a “25th Amendment solution” to his presidency, which Wolff himself has been only too willing to peddle during his TV appearances. Some NeverTrumpers want him out of office so frantically that they’re willing to accept any legal means of having him removed, however questionable the evidence to support it.
No one does their best thinking when they’re suffering from a fever.
There’s a Potemkin White House that the chattering classes dwell on, notes Brooks, in which Trump is a barking lunatic grabbing haphazardly at the levers of power and yanking them. But there’s also an Invisible White House staffed by his deputies that runs … not smoothly, exactly, but well enough to date as the president attends to tweeting and watching Fox. I made a similar point yesterday. For all Trump’s faults, we’re not remotely experiencing the worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency. He does things all the time that casually diminish the office but there’s a spectrum among NeverTrumpers of how serious that crisis of legitimacy is, or whether it’s reached a “crisis” point yet. People like me and, surprisingly, David Brooks would say that so long as people like Mattis and Kelly have their hands on the wheel, the arrangement is tolerable. Not ideal, but tolerable under the circumstances. People like David Frum and Jennifer Rubin would say that declaring this “tolerable” in any sense is proof enough of how much Trump has degraded Americans’ civic expectations. Brooks:
I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us…
The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him. And if they do have friends and family members who admire Trump, they’ve learned not to talk about this subject. So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure…
In every war, nations come to resemble their enemies, so I suppose it’s normal that the anti-Trump movement would come to resemble the pro-Trump movement. But it’s not good. I’ve noticed a lot of young people look at the monotonous daily hysteria of we anti-Trumpers and they find it silly.
This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?
What’s gotten under his skin here is the Wolff book, which is being passed around in the media with enough credulity to make it fair game for news coverage for more than a week. The Daily Caller is keeping a list of errors found in the book; Wolff himself has taken a weirdly ambivalent attitude towards its accuracy. Strident NeverTrumpers like to say that Trumpism is a pernicious contagion in which people who contract it tend to wind up behaving like patient zero themselves. But that’s Brooks’s point exactly — there’s a NeverTrump version of that in which, to combat Trump, his enemies are willing to stoop to using the same gaslighting techniques he’s so well practiced at. When Wolff said yesterday of his book, “if it rings true, it is true,” he summarized the president’s own approach to all sorts of “facts.” Birtherism “rang true” to Trump. The alleged dangers of vaccines “rings true” to him. So he passed the information along, just like Wolff did with the rumors and third-hand sludge Bannon fed him. If you’re worried about the mainstreaming of gaslighting in public discourse, the solution is to have less of it, not an amount equal and opposite to the president’s own supply. That’s what Tapper was getting at in fact-checking Wolff’s book last night, I think.
Via the Free Beacon, here’s a lowlight reel of the media oohing and ahhing over Wolff’s book while admitting they can’t be sure how much of it is true.