In Freudian psychoanalysis, there’s a defense mechanism, called reaction formation, “in which emotions and impulses which are anxiety-producing or perceived to be unacceptable are mastered by exaggeration (hypertrophy) of the directly opposing tendency.” (Wikipedia) One example of reaction formation is Stockholm Syndrome: when a hostage develops intense, positive feelings for his or her captor/s. Another is when closeted homosexuals bash gays; Roy Cohn was a classic example, but so have been any number of outed Republican politicians, such as Larry “Wide Stance” Craig, the disgraced, homophobic former Republican Senator from Idaho, who was caught soliciting in a men’s room.
Reaction formation is something politicians sometimes do when they’re afraid they’re on the losing side of an election and they want/need to distract attention from their losing positions and perhaps convince themselves they’re doing okay. Such was the case in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, where the op-ed page could be used in a Psych 101 class, so filled was it with different kinds of reaction formations. But first, a little background.
Nate Silver’s highly respected fivethirtyeight.com website has had Hillary Clinton on a real roll lately. Since the first Presidential debate, her chances of getting elected have soared, from 54.8% to 78.8% as I write (Thursday afternoon). This is clearly scary for Republicans. It is information that is “anxiety-producing or perceived to be unacceptable” for them, and therefore must be hidden by “the directly opposing tendency,” which is to rachet up their attacks on Democrats. The psychological hope, I suppose, is that WSJ readers (who tend to be conservatives) will be reassured that the Republican Party is sticking it to Democrats—even as that Republican Party is headed towards near-certain doom in the election.
So what do we find on the op-ed page? A deplorable basket of stuff that’s really phony, even for the Wall Street Journal. Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a bumpy ride!
Aleppo is Obama’s Sarajevo, by Daniel Henninger. A desperate smear of the President by a dreadfully partisan columnist. Henninger is actually trying to pin the Syrian war on Obama, which nobody believes except for red state ignoramuses and neocons. This is in line with Trump’s love-fest for Putin. Henninger will never admit that George W. Bush caused the Syrian war to happen when he criminally invaded Iraq and caused chaos across the Middle East.
The FBI Treated Clinton With Kid Gloves, by Noel Francisco and James Burnham. To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, “Enough with the frigging emails already!” Nobody cares. That manufactured scandal’s shelf life ended weeks ago, but here’s the Wall Street Journal, desperately reaction-formationing this smear. Sad, really sad. The atmosphere in the Journal’s editorial room must be near suicidal.
ObamaCare’s Meltdown Has Arrived, by Andrew Ogles and Luke Hilgemann. The paper could have published this two years ago, one year ago, six months ago, three months ago—wait a minute, they did! Republicans have consistently lied about ObamaCare’s success in insuring tens of millions of Americans. This “meltdown” myth is so transparently fake, you have to wonder why the Journal felt yet another attack on the Affordable Care Act is needed at this time. But then, that’s the essence of reaction formation: the actual choice of behavior doesn’t matter. What counts is coming up with something, anything to deflect the pain of something as “anxiety-producing and unacceptable” as Trump’s crash in the polls.
And here, in a way, is my favorite, from the ever-dependable Karl Rove:
Trump Sorely Needs a Debate Win. Ole Karl must have had a really bad day if this is the best he could come up with. My little dog, Gus, could have told me that!
See the pattern? The Wall Street Journal is panicking. The center is not holding. Republicans see the handwriting on the wall—the disaster they have foisted upon themselves—and the only thing they can do about it is bury their heads in the sand and come up with ludicrous avoidance behaviors to mask the pain. Unfortunately, as Freud himself warned, reaction formation solves nothing. It merely pushes the anxiety down deeper, where it can manifest itself in truly harmful ways.
This is what Pence said in the early 1990s: “Homosexuals are not as a group able bodied. They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.”
And this is what he said as recently as last year, when as Indiana’s governor he tried to ram through the nation’s most discriminatory anti-gay law, which he lied about with Orwellian doublespeak when he pretended it was designed to guarantee “religious freedom” rather than its true purpose, pure-and-simple Christian gay bashing in that red Bible belt state.
Look, the real “high rates of disease” in America are found in the Republican Party—where the disease of homophobia has assumed epidemic-like proportions and represents a clear danger to our health and freedom.
And not just homophobia: its handmaiden, misogyny, also has swept through the GOP. The reason the two sicknesses are so often intertwined is because the men (mainly white, uneducated and angry) who hate gays also believe in a Biblical place for women: barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. They are threatened by strong, progressive women (like Hillary Clinton). There are, unfortunately, many women who hate gays too. They tend to be Bible-thumping Christians, like Mrs. Pence, and do not have the intellectual capacity to understand that their Bible stories are largely myths that, however inspiring, never happened, and have no place in a secular, Constitutional democracy, which is what America is. These same women who hate gays tend also to subscribe to their husbands’ views that women should be subjugated to men: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord,” it says in Colossians 3:18, which goes on to add:
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God….”.
Onward Christian soldiers! And for all those Sharia-fearing Christians who are so intolerant of the burka, here is the New Testament’s rule for women when the Rapture comes: “…any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head …For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair.”
They said it in the Bible, folks!
Pence’s homophobia is lifelong and stubbornly resistant to cure. His master’s homophobia is of more recent acquisition. Trump never had the reputation as a gay basher, and he’s downplayed gay issues in this campaign—at least, from his own lips. But that hasn’t stopped him from making whoopee with homophobes like Pence and the crowd at Liberty University and all the other haters. What causes a heretofore tolerant New Yorker to come down on the homophobic side of the fence? Trump looked around, realized that in order to get elected President he needed the support of a group of people he had mocked all his life as redneck rubes—evangelical Christians—and suddenly discovered his inner homophobe.
So much for principles!
Incidentally, it’s not only Christians who have a medieval attitude towards women and gays. So do many Orthodox Jews. I once made friends with a young Chasidic man, of the Lubavitch persuasion, who introduced me to his friends in Berkeley. I got to know their chief rabbi and actually studied with him. After a year or so, I became troubled with their group’s reputation as being virulently anti-gay, so I had a little chat with Rabbi. I asked him what he thought about all the “death penalties” in the Old Testament, of which there are dozens.
For instance, Exodus 21:!7: “’Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.”
“So, Rabbi,” I asked, “does that mean that if a little kid has a temper tantrum and says to his father or mother, ‘Fuck you!’ that kid should be murdered?”
“Of course not,” Rabbi smiled indulgently. “It’s a metaphor.” And “a metaphor” is how he described every death penalty I described to him—some two dozen in all. Until, that is, we came to the most infamous Torah death penalty of all, Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” And being “an abomination,” of course, it is punishable by death: preferably stoning in the public square.
“So do you agree with that, Rabbi?”
Here, Rabbi seemed a little uncomfortable. Instead of calling it “a metaphor” he shifted in his seat and tried to change the subject, but intrepid journalist that I was, I wouldn’t let him.
“So, Rabbi, again, does that mean you believe gay people should be killed?”
“Look,” Rabbi finally said. “It’s not going to happen until Moshiach” [the Jewish Messiah] “returns to Jerusalem and institutes Jewish law. So nobody has to worry about such things for a while.”
Well, the problem here, of course—as it is with radically religious Christian Republicans—is that “the thought is father to the deed.” I for one don’t want to keep my fingers crossed and hope that the Messiah never comes, so that gay people will not be executed. Nor do I want Christian homophobes to come anywhere close to the levers of power, for haters like that have judgments so clouded by superstition and resentment, they can’t be trusted to make any decision affecting millions of Americans.
And yet, here’s Mike Pence, potentially a heartbeat away from the Presidency, with his violent attitudes towards millions, possibly tens of millions, of LGBTQ citizens, including children. Which is why I use language that is admittedly immoderate—but moderation in the pursuit of human freedom is never a virtue. Pence, take your Christian homophobia and shove it!
As my readers know, I’m hardly a fan of the Wall Street Journal. I read it to see what the other side is saying—usually lies and smears against Democrats. But every once in a while, they surprise me.
For example, the other day, Dorothy Rabinowitz, a rightwing columnist, came out firmly against Trump and for Hillary. Dorothy has the wits to discern the truth about this election. Putting partisan politics aside—which is hard for the tea party, since that’s all they care about—Dorothy came to the righteous conclusion that Hillary is the right person for the job of President of the United States. Kudos to her: Dorothy, you’ve almost managed to redeem yourself! (But how can you remain a Republican?)
On the other side of the coin—the sicko side—are those Hillary haters, whom Dorothy took care to distance herself from. I, personally, can see no basis for criticizing Hillary Clinton at all. She’s fought all her life for women’s rights, children’s rights, and for bringing sanity and compassion to our politics and public policies. I can understand—barely—differing with her on some minor issue of insurance policy or educational standards or trade deals. But the true haters have me scratching my head, trying to understand their real motive, and all I can come up with is this: they are mentally ill.
Especially those who use the word “killary.” It shows up a lot in my Facebook feed. I have no idea who these people are: they’re my “friends” only in a Facebook sense. I read their rants: Hillary did this, she did that, she murdered, she had her Secret Service agents kill on her behalf, she’s responsible for thousands of deaths—personally responsible, as a woman. Now, these same people don’t hold George W. Bush personally responsible for killing Afghans or Iraqis or whoever else gets offed by us. No, but they have convinced themselves that Hillary Clinton is a special case, satanic, evil. Just yesterday, one of my Facebook “friends” went on a hate-filled rampage about “killary” that was barely coherent. She may have been drunk, or on drugs, she may have simply gotten herself into a rage, who knows? I Googled “killary” and actually came up with 1,640,000 results. Here, from the basket of deplorable comments, are two typical hits:
- Breaking: evidence that #killary would be in favor of murdering her opponents.
- The Clinton body count: The following is a partial list of a large number of persons who have recently met their demise in suspicious circumstances who appear to have some connection to the Clintons.
And then there are the high school kids in Ohio whose minds were literally poisoned by their parents: they started an organization they dubbed “Killary Clinton” that was so violent, the Department of Homeland Security visited and made them disband their little hate group.
Can you imagine who these kids’ parents are? “Johnny and Susie, why don’t you blog about Killary’s murder victims?” Would you want your kid associating with such wackos?
I don’t need to talk with people who use the word “killary.” I don’t want to hear their complaints, I don’t want to get their Brietbart links or hear their conspiracy theories. People who use the word “killary” are suffering from a serious mental problem. I can’t begin to fathom it. I just know how wrong it is—evil, even. It comes from the worst instincts in people, from the sewers of their minds. How do you have a conversation with such people?
You don’t. The only thing you can do is beat them in this upcoming election, and as soundly as is possible. They won’t go away—if anything, when their guy loses, they’ll find even more conspiracies to blame it on. Hillary Clinton murdered the people who count the votes! Hillary paid to have the electoral college assassinated! Hillary personally tampered with the voting machines! Hillary paid off the election officials! Chelsea was seen…Well, you get the crazy idea.
But when the killary crowd loses this election, badly, maybe someone close to them will urge an intervention. Because anyone who uses the word “killary” has a very serious psychological problem and needs help.
Trump has had such an awful week that I hardly have to write about him to make people loathe him. This latest smear of PTSD vets is right up (or, more correctly, down) there with his insults to John McCain, Gold Star mothers and other military families. But why should anyone be surprised? Donald Trump thrives on insults. It’s his lingua franca, the kind of trash talk he’s always resorted to to put down his “enemies.”
We’ve all known bullies like him, haven’t we? Can you imagine young Donald Trump, what an asshole he must have been? Born to a multi-millionaire father, sent to private schools where bad behavior was tolerated if not encouraged, Donald must have been a piece of work. Normal parents would have restrained his tendencies to brag and bully. I have known a lot of really rich people in my life, due to my former job as a famous wine critic, and I’ve known their children, too. I’ve known rich kids who were entitled schmucks, and rich kids who were wonderful, spiritual human beings, and believe me, Donald Trump was never a wonderful, spiritual human being. He seems like the kind of kid who burnt insects with matches and taunted girls for being “ugly” and who socked weak, little kids because he could get away with it. And his sons, those endangered-species killing neer-do-wells, are of the same ilk.
I wonder what it’s like to be a Republican who still possesses a shred of decency, to have to support this horrible person. Paul Ryan, John McCain, how must they feel? I may not agree with them on most issues, but they’ve shown themselves to be fundamentally decent human beings. They have to be appalled by Trump. Why don’t we see them denouncing him? Why don’t they hold onto whatever moral fiber they still have and tell us they’d rather lose this election to a Democrat than have to stand behind the worst presidential candidate in Republican history? This is something they’re going to have to explain someday, especially after Trump is crushed in the general election—as he will be—and more ugliness about him emerges.
By the way, Trump is now claiming that he “understands tax law better than anyone” (because he took advantage of loopholes so frequently), and so he will be able to “fix it.” Does anyone believe that? Trump is able to fix the tax code for ordinary workers better than Elizabeth Warren? Wow. If you believe that, there’s a bridge in New York City I’d like to sell you.
People like Julian Assange are saying, “Wait a minute, we have a ton of awful emails about Hillary we’re going to put out.” Well, the right wing has been threatening Hillary for years, and what have they come up with? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Why is Assange so anti-Hillary anyway? When did he join the basket of deplorables? Is he a Trump surrogate? Question for Julian Assange: Why don’t you use your hacking skills in a useful way and release Trump’s tax returns? Why have you turned so violently against the Democratic Party? I’d like to see Julian Assange’s emails. What’s his problem? I will make this prediction: whatever “super-damaging” emails he has about Hillary are going to be complete bullshit. Julian: you’ll never be pardoned, by Republicans or Democrats, so give up on your dream of returning to America—unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of time in a federal pen.
Does this mean I don’t appreciate what Wikileaks did? No, that’s not what it means. I like transparency. But I simply don’t understand why Assange is going after Hillary, and not Trump, who represents a far greater threat to world security than Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. By the way: Trump’s gaming of the tax system—which enabled him to avoid paying Federal income taxes for twenty years—is not a sign of “genius,” as the reprobate Giuliani, the about-to-be-indicated Christie and Trump himself allege. It just means he can buy himself thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers to avoid paying his fair share. Hey, you blue collar workers in Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, North Dakota, Idaho: You really respect this guy? Seriously? He spent the first 70 years of his life fucking you over. Now he’s on your side? Wow. I’m trying to put this delicately. Take your anger and put it in a place where you can’t possibly have any further impact on America. We are a fundamentally liberal, secular country, and if you could only think clearly, you would realize voting for Hillary is in your, and your children’s and grandchildren’s, interest.
There’s a rhetorical device people use to defend an unpopular or ludicrous point of view by comparing it to its opposite and then saying that both points of view are bad. For example, on MSNBC lately, they’ve had the rightwinger, Hugh Hewitt, claiming that there are no good choices in the upcoming presidential election. Hewitt, arch-conservative Catholic Republican that he is, cannot deny Trump’s obvious lack of qualifications. So his crafty approach is to say, “They’re both terrible,” as though there were some kind of moral equivalence between them, when there really isn’t. This is a rhetorical device to distract attention from Trump’s unfitness and muddy the waters.
We saw this trick played again in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal, where the prevaricator was none other than Reagan’s second-string speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, a longtime Clinton hater. In her op-ed piece, “The Politics of ‘The Shallows,’” she uses this rhetorical device for a similar purpose: to take the heat off Trump by pretending to be calling for “fairness.” Like Hewitt, there’s no way Noonan can portray Trump’s recent behavior as anything but horrible. She knows he’s a total shambles. Yet she can’t bring herself to admit that her own Republican Party created this Frankenstein monster. So what’s a tea party columnist to do?
Turn to that old rhetorical device! Here’s how Peggy works it. First, she admits how awful Trump’s debate performance was, and how badly he’s mishandled the Miss Universe issue. But she then blames the media for reporting on it! Their “utter antagonism toward” him, she says, is simply unfair. Addressing CNN directly, she tells them to “Tell the story, ask the questions [but] give it to [people] straight…report both sides.” The constant airing of Trump’s incoherences “isn’t helping.”
Well, it’s “not helping” get Trump elected, that’s for sure. Look, when Peggy Noonan is calling for the media to be fair and honest in their reporting, you can’t help but smile. She’s pissed because “the mainstream media” are reporting on Trump’s crazy statements, his thin-skinned tweets, his bullying, his insults, instead of simply “tell[ing] the story.” How many times has Peggy Noonan been on Fox News—on Hannity, on O’Reilly, on the rest of that crowd of haters, where lies and smears of the Clintons and of the Obamas are routine red meat for the tea party? “Give it straight”? Not on Fox.
But have you ever read a Peggy Noonan column where she takes Fox to task for congenital partisanship? No, of course not. Peggy Noonan’s chastising lips are shut tight when her side of the aisle is doing the character assassination. But when her party’s candidate melts down for all the world to see, and CNN and MSNBC point it out, suddenly Peggy discovers “journalistic ethics” and wants everyone to “give it straight.” Do you see the irony? The hypocrisy? More important, do you see her rhetorical device? Here it is, broken down:
- The mainstream media isn’t fair.
- Therefore, when the media reports on anything negative about Donald Trump, you can disregard it.
- But when Fox reports on something negative about Hillary Clinton, you can take it to the bank!
As a strategy, it’s laughable and insulting to thinking people; and, fortunately, it isn’t working. For the past week, fivethirtyeight has continually upped Hillary’s chances of winning; as I write this (Sunday evening), they’re nearly 67 percent. They wouldn’t be that high if the media weren’t telling the American public about Miss Universe, about the bizarre 3 a.m. tweets, about Trump’s obsession with Bill Clinton’s sex life (which is curiously reminiscent of Kenneth Starr’s), about Trump’s insult of Gold Star families, about Trump’s tax evasions, his bilking small vendors, his numerous affairs and his ex-wives and girlfriends. But the media are telling us about these things, and rightfully so. And people are listening. Which drives Peggy Noonan simply, utterly mad, as she sees her nemesis, Hillary Clinton, inching ever closer towards the White House.
We don’t know whether Trump himself or his surrogate deplorables will introduce Bill Clinton’s sex life into the campaign, but the latest reporting suggests that it’s coming. So desperate is the Trump camp to find something, anything to keep their candidate from tanking that they’re even willing to go “there.”
The question is, why? Trump has been married, how many times? Three. He’s admitted to adulterous affairs, which means he cheated on his ex-wives (and may be cheating on Melania, for all we know). So he’s hardly the perfect messenger to criticize anyone for sexual infidelities.
Besides, Bill Clinton was one of the most popular and beloved Presidents in recent U.S. history. Even after he was impeached by Republicans, his approval rating was an enormously high 73%, and when he left office, in early 2001, his approval rating was 65%, higher than any other departing President since Harry Truman. Even today, long after he last held office, his approval ratings hover in the mid- to high 50s. So it really doesn’t make much sense to go after Bill, does it? And besides, Hillary has enormous popular respect for the dignified way she suffered through the scandal and held her family together.
If Trump tries to get away with this trash talk himself, he’ll be roundly criticized, by the media, the public, even large segments of his own party. So who would be the lucky surrogate to get the dirty job? Giuliani? Haha. Like his idol, Trump, he’s been married three times, and any reader of the New York press knows how ugly his divorces have been, including the nasty little soap opera with wife #2, Donna Hanover. So it would be the height of ridiculousness to send Giuliani out there to criticize Bill Clinton. Besides, Giuliani was Trump’s chief coach for debate #1, and look what a fiasco that turned out to be. (There are rumors Giuliani has been relieved of that responsibility for future debates.)
Who else, then? Christie? Well, he’s apparently been happily married to the same woman, Mary Pat, for thirty years, so he passes the fidelity test. But Christie fails in other important capacities as a messenger. The people who know him best, New Jerseyans, give him historically low approval ratings, only 26% positive, and he has a gigantic albatross circling around his neck: Bridgegate. His coverup is rapidly unraveling, as his former aides turn against him hoping to escape major prison time for themselves. It would be rather embarrassing for the Trump camp to keep Christie on in a visible role, especially if an indictment comes in, as it easily might. Even if Christie could overcome these negatives, he’s not liked by the public at large. His run for the presidency was a joke: Americans took a look, and decided: No.
There’s always Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager and chief representative on television. She’s apparently happily married—good news there—but there is a hitch: her husband, a lawyer named George T. Conway III, was a top advisor to—guess who?—Paula Jones, one of Bill Clinton’s alleged paramours. The unfortunate Ms. Jones was utilized by rightwing Christian fundamentalist groups that wanted to destroy Bill Clinton. George T. Conway III was, in other words, an early signer-on to the vast rightwing conspiracy that tried, and failed, to take the Clintons down. To have been a part of that cabal, which has been roundly been rejected by the American people, really makes George T. Conway III radioactive, and by extension, his wife, too. All Hillary has to do is remind people that Kellyanne’s husband was one of those semen-sniffing rightwingers who tried to destroy her popular husband. The public will hate him.
So who else could do the dirty deed? Pence? He’s likeable enough, was an altar boy, and apparently has a solid marriage. But if Trump were to send Pence out there on a smut-spreading mission, his likeability would tank. The American people don’t like nastiness. Besides, Hillary’s supporters could always counter with Pence’s vicious homophobia.
There’s one more possibility: Gingrich. Now, I know he gives most of you the creeps—me too—but he was already out there yesterday, dropping hints. I, personally, would love it if Newt takes on this job, because he will get slammed so hard by everyone, he won’t know what hit him. Gingrich is yet another three-time husband, and the story about how he visited his first wife, who was in the hospital with cancer, to demand a divorce so he could marry wife #2 (whom he subsequently divorced for wife #3), has followed him for years. Again, Gingrich is just about the worst messenger for this kind of smut-peddling that Trump could find.
Look, voters have signaled that they don’t give a damn about Bill Clinton’s sex life. They made that decision twenty years ago, and today’s younger voters in particular don’t care what he did. Trump has absolutely nothing to gain from this stupidity. But then, without viable alternatives, sinking in the polls, he is grasping at straws, hoping against hope he can salvage what’s left of his reputation. He can’t. He can only further ruin it.