The Bannon-Trump pogrom has swept into Washington intent on fulfilling Steve Bannon’s scorched-earth vision of “deconstructing the administrative state” while seeking an unprecedented $54 billion military build-up to prepare for what he passionately and literally believes is the fast-approaching, all-out apocalyptic clash between western civilization and Islam writ large (not merely its terrorist fringe).
Surpassing the devastation of climate, health care, education, diplomacy, social services, freedom of speech, liberty, and justice for all, nothing is more incomprehensible than the now-plausible prospect of all-out nuclear war. For all but the few remaining survivors who witnessed the atomic bombing of Japan and its aftermath, we simply have nothing in our own experiences to imagine instantaneous annihilation—quite literally we are here one second and vaporized the next, along with everyone and everything.
Because of this existential threat, it is absolutely urgent that we understand the differences between a president who is merely “crazy like a fox,” (shrewd, calculating, the truth is only spoken when it happens to coincide with one’s purposes) versus what I have termed “crazy like a crazy,” (well-hidden-core grandiose and paranoid delusions that are disconnected from reality). To illustrate the differences, two actual episodes from recent American history are useful to consider in terms of how DT might act faced with similar circumstances.
In 1979, near the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the nightmare phone call came at 3 AM, awakening National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski with the news that 250 Soviet nuclear missiles were bearing down on America. Knowing that he had five or six minutes to act and that mistakes could cause false alarms, he directed the aide to find further verification. The aide immediately called back, this time to report that 2,500 missiles were incoming. As Brzezinski prepared to call President Carter to advise full-fledged counter-attack, he elected not to wake his sleeping wife, reasoning that she would be dead in a matter of minutes. As he was reaching to phone the president, a third call came in announcing that it was a false alarm caused by a computer glitch.
It is extremely disconcerting to note that false alarms and accidents are by no means a rare occurrence.
Unlike the nightmarish false alarm lasting five minutes that few were aware of, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962, lasted twelve white-knuckle days, played out before the entire world in a series of very real, terrifying actions and reactions between America and the USSR. At several junctures, the world was within an eyelash of all-out nuclear holocaust. The gist of the crisis entailed Russia’s intention to place nuclear missiles in Cuba in response to America having deployed nuclear sites close to Russia’s borders in Turkey and Italy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously pressured President Kennedy to preemptively attack Cuban missile sites already in place, with the rationale that Russia would back down and not counter-attack, especially given its much smaller nuclear capability. Fortunately, JFK had the equanimity to hold off and follow the advice of his civilian advisers, notably RFK and Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara.
Interviewed many years later, MacNamara remembered leaving the White House late in the crisis, marveling at a beautiful sunset, and thinking that might well be the last any of us would ever see. Government families in DC, as well as those from cities and towns everywhere, were fleeing to remote regions in the hope of surviving a nuclear attack.
The stand-off climaxed when Russia agreed to remove the existing missile sites from Cuba and build no new ones in exchange for the US’s public commitment never to invade Cuba. Saving face, JFK also secretly agreed to remove the missiles from Turkey and Italy. The world exhaled.
The “crazy like a fox” characterization of DT needs little explanation. The phrase describes someone who may appear “crazy” (e.g., erratic, irrational, impulsive) on the surface, but whose seemingly crazy external behavior is a cleverly designed strategy to mislead, distract, and deceive others into responding in precisely the manner that is secretly desired. This is indeed one aspect of DT’s behavior. Someone who is “crazy like a fox” is actually the exact opposite of crazy.
When insisting that the FAKE MEDIA created the “feud” between himself and the intelligence community, such a person would fail a reliable lie detector test because they know they are lying.
In a recent post, the diagnostic category of mental illness from DSM-5 known as Delusional Disorder was discussed in great detail, including examples of DT’s behavior that strongly suggest this diagnosis. After the piece was published, the most jarring evidence yet of delusional order came with DT’s early morning tweets (subsequently deleted) that his Trump Tower phones had been wiretapped by a “ bad (or sick!) Obama,” spewing insane comparisons to Watergate and McCarthyism. His actions have generated bipartisan criticism and a complete lack of evidence from anyone, anywhere that he was targeted for surveillance. The suspicion that one is being wiretapped is an absolutely classic expression of paranoid delusions, behaving “crazy like a crazy.”
When insisting that the FAKE MEDIA created the “feud” between himself and the intelligence community, such a person would pass a lie detector test with flying colors because they believe the delusion is actually true reality.
For the “crazy like a crazy” delusional person, the external behavior of sanity, charm, and high achievement actually masks a contained underlying insanity. Unlike the delusions of the schizophrenic which are bizarre and typically obvious to all, delusional disorder tends not to interfere with observable actions except when the delusions themselves are challenged.
“Crazy like a fox” defines a person whose apparent external irrationality masks underlying rational thinking. “Crazy like a crazy” characterizes a person whose apparent external rationality masks underlying irrational thinking.
Returning to our historical examples of nuclear emergency, is there anyone who could possibly believe DT—or Bannon, for that matter—would have shown Brzezinski’s grace under pressure had he himself received the call? If indeed Trump harbors grandiose and paranoid delusions (for which there is mounting evidence), he would have launched missiles faster than he could fire off paranoid tweets on a Saturday morning.
Given the twelve days of excruciating tension during the very real threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis, is there anyone who could possibly believe that DT could have demonstrated JFK’s composure, wisdom, and judgement, especially in the face of unanimous pressure from his military advisers? If DT were indeed cleverly “crazy like a fox,” it’s still a stretch. But increasingly that appears not to be the case.