Week 100: The Real Disappointment of the Mueller Report

I still don’t know the whys behind his behavior. Why did Donald Trump lie so tirelessly about the status of the Trump Tower Moscow project? Why did he attempt to conceal the true purpose of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a gaggle of Russians? Why did he suggest the hackers behind the stolen Democrats emails could have been China or a “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds“ when it was so obviously Russia? Why did he lie about his request to get White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller in June 2017 and then demand that McGahn lie about issuing the directive?

Why did he ask FBI Director James Comey to abort the bureau’s investigation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had lied to investigators about his talks about sanctions with the Russian ambassador? Why did he switch stories on why he fired Comey? Why did he ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to hold a presser about the firing and tell the lie that the sacking was Rosenstein’s idea? Why did he try to throttle the special counsel’s investigation? Why did he tease Paul Manafort with the promise of a pardon? Why did he shout “fake news“ so many times when he was the faker? Why did so many of the players in the Trump orbit—Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Erik Prince, Sarah Sanders, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Cohen and Roger Stone—appear to have told lies in the president’s service?

Except for pausing to explain that Trump suppressed information that would call into question the legitimacy of his election—and that he feared that incessant probing might uncover criminal activity by him, his campaign or his family—the Mueller report offers no firm theory on what motivated Trump’s constant deceptions. Likewise, Mueller’s assessment that Trump obstructed his investigation on at least 10 occasions lacks a firm explanation for why he would engage in such risky acts. For instance, why did Trump, whose sense of loyalty usually runs one way, put his neck out so far for Flynn by instructing Comey to lay off? Consider a counterfactual in which Trump dumps Flynn at the first opportunity and doesn’t interfere with Comey’s Russia investigation. No Comey sacking, no Mueller, hence no pattern of obstruction. Obviously, Comey probably would have uncovered some damaging Trump information, but those revelations would have been limited compared with what Mueller revealed because so much of the damning information in the report is about Trump’s efforts to undermine Mueller.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump in May 2017 that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate the Russia business, the report tells us, “the president slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.’” One way to read this lamentation is that Trump understood that he was guilty of great crimes and that the special counsel’s dragnet was going to collect them all and send him and his cronies to jail. Another is that the backstage Trump captured in the “I’m fucked” anecdote is a lot like frontstage Trump: He overdramatizes and overreacts to everything. If you were to stick Trump’s finger with a pin, he would scream that he was being fed into a woodchipper.

Maybe this hysterical bearing, fueled by Trump’s imperfect knowledge of the law, prompted him to regard any legal scrutiny as a potential Armageddon. The idea that confronting controversy by telling the truth—like admitting secret payoffs to your mistresses, for example—makes better political sense than uncoiling a batch of lies to conceal the facts seems beyond Trump. One takeaway from the report is that given his druthers, Trump would rather be maimed by the backlash of one of his lies than suffer the sting of telling a simple truth.

The watchword of the Obama administration, formulated by Obama himself, was “Don’t do stupid shit.” The corresponding watchword in Trumpworld, as observed by White House counsel McGahn, was “do crazy shit.” Trump’s sustained appetite for duplicity, his brinkmanship, and his ceaseless chaos-making, thoroughly documented in the report, appear to have prevented Mueller from formulating a greater theory of the case against him. Having made dishonesty his careerlong policy, Trump encourages us to believe that his lies don’t necessarily point to any definable goals. His lies exist primarily to shield the earlier lies he’s told, making his life’s work an endless weave of fraud and falsehood. That makes anybody who punctures these lies—the “fake news media,” for example, or Democrats on the Hill, investigators like Comey or Mueller, or intelligence agencies—the enemy. And the best way to counteract their critiques is with additional lies and new vitriol, Trump surmises.

Today, with Trump dodging an indictment, it looks like he won. But that victory might be temporary. Dispassionate almost to a fault, the Mueller report punctures with legal precision Trump’s ugly methods. The report’s final use might not be as the legal cornerstone to a Trump impeachment but as a political text to guide voters in the 2020 election.

Jordan Peterson’s Gospel of Masculinity

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief,”

.. Peterson, formerly an obscure professor, is now one of the most influential—and polarizing—public intellectuals in the English-speaking world.

.. His central message is a thoroughgoing critique of modern liberal culture, which he views as suicidal in its eagerness to upend age-old verities

.. he has learned to distill his wide-ranging theories into pithy sentences, including one that has become his de facto catchphrase, a possibly spurious quote that nevertheless captures his style and his substance: “Sort yourself out, bucko.”

.. For a few years, in the nineteen-nineties, he taught psychology at Harvard;

.. His fame grew in 2016, during the debate over a Canadian bill known as C-16.

.. Peterson resented the idea that the government might force him to use what he called neologisms of politically correct “authoritarians.”

.. “I am not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest.” Then he folded his arms, adding, “And that’s that!”

.. To many people disturbed by reports of intolerant radicals on campus, Peterson was a rallying figure: a fearsomely self-assured debater, unintimidated by liberal condemnation.

.. Last fall, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ontario, was reprimanded by professors for showing her class a clip of one of Peterson’s debates.

.. Cathy Newman, asked what gave him the right to offend transgender people. He asked, cheerfully, what gave her the right to risk offending him.

.. David Brooks, in the Times, said that Peterson reminded him of “a young William F. Buckley.”

.. Peterson’s goal is less to help his readers change the world than to help them find a stable place within it.

.. “You should do what other people do, unless you have a very good reason not to.”

.. he is famous today precisely because he has determined that, in a range of circumstances, there are good reasons to buck the popular tide.

.. He is, by turns, a defender of conformity and a critic of it, and he thinks that if readers pay close attention, they, too, can learn when to be which.

 ..  “Religion was for the ignorant, weak, and superstitious,”
.. To ward off mental breakdown, he resolved not to say anything unless he was sure he believed it; this practice calmed the inner voice, and in time it shaped his rhetorical style, which is forceful but careful.
.. a client diagnosed with paranoia. He says that such patients are “almost uncanny in their ability to detect mixed motives, judgment, and falsehood,”
.. “You have to listen very carefully and tell the truth if you are going to get a paranoid person to open up to you,”

.. Peterson sometimes assumes the role of a strident anti-feminist, intent on ending the oppression of males by destroying the myth of male oppression.

.. much of the advice he offers unobjectionable, if old-fashioned: he wants young men to be better fathers, better husbands, better community members.

.. Peterson is an heir, too, to the professional pickup artists who proliferated in the aughts

.. “The highly functional infrastructure that surrounds us, particularly in the West,” he writes, “is a gift from our ancestors: the comparatively uncorrupt political and economic systems, the technology, the wealth, the lifespan, the freedom, the luxury, and the opportunity.”

.. Prime Minister is Justin Trudeau, who seems to strike Peterson as the embodiment of wimpy and fraudulent liberalism.

.. Peterson seems to view Trump, by contrast, as a symptom of modern problems, rather than a cause of them.

.. Peterson seems to view Trump, by contrast, as a symptom of modern problems, rather than a cause of them.

.. Peterson sometimes asks audiences to view him as an alternative to political excesses on both sides.

.. “I’ve had thousands of letters from people who were tempted by the blandishments of the radical right, who’ve moved towards the reasonable center as a consequence of watching my videos.”

.. he typically sees liberals, or leftists, or “postmodernists,” as aggressors—which leads him, rather ironically, to frame some of those on the “radical right” as victims.

.. Postmodernists, he says, are obsessed with the idea of oppression, and, by waging war on oppressors real and imagined, they become oppressors themselves. 

.. When he lampoons “made-up pronouns,” he sometimes seems to be lampooning the people who use them, encouraging his fans to view transgender or gender-nonbinary people as confused, or deluded.

Once, after a lecture, he was approached on campus by a critic who wanted to know why he would not use nonbinary pronouns. “I don’t believe that using your pronouns will do you any good, in the long run,” he replied.

..  “If our society comes to some sort of consensus over the next while about how we’ll solve the pronoun problem,” he said, “and that becomes part of popular parlance, and it seems to solve the problem properly, without sacrificing the distinction between singular and plural, and without requiring me to memorize an impossible list of an indefinite number of pronouns, then I would be willing to reconsider my position.”

.. In the case of gender identity, Peterson’s judgment is that “our society” has not yet agreed to adopt nontraditional pronouns, which isn’t quite an argument that we shouldn’t.

.. He reveres the Bible for its stories, reasoning that any stories that we have been telling ourselves for so long must be, in some important sense, true.

.. a conviction that good and evil exist, and that we can discern them without recourse to any particular religious authority