The Benjamin Button
In May of 1922 F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It was adapted and made into a movie in 2008 starring Brad Pitt. You may remember it. The story is about a man who is born, fully developed, as a 70 year old and proceeds to age backwards. It is an interesting concept and one that may seem particularly relevant as we watch our current “President.” If you have been paying attention to the news over the past few days (or weeks, or months, for that matter), you may have noticed that the Tweeter-in-Chief has been trying to “Benjamin Button” the United States on both the foreign and domestic fronts. In his headlong rush to un-do all that was “Obama,” Trump is also attempting to set the clock back to some mythic time in U.S. history, when white men ruled and the U.S. was the greatest “Superpower” in the world (opposing the now-defunct U.S.S.R.).
In not (quite) certifying the Iran deal today, Trump is sending us back in time, against the advice of his own advisors, by living up to his campaign promise of pulling us out of this “terrible deal.” While he is actually just passing the buck to Congress, the optics are all that is important to Trump and those optics are that he’s being “tough” on Iran. It will be up to the Congress as to whether we impose “tougher” sanctions on Iran and, until then, we are actually still part of the deal and, whether we pull out or not, all of our allies are still in it. This is similar to his “pulling out” of the Paris Climate Accord --- also a move to appear to be reversing time but, in fact, not doing much. Trump’s bail out regarding Climate Change makes us only one of three countries (along with Nicaragua and Syria --- even North Korea is “in!”) that is not recognizing the need for worldwide collaboration in turning back environmental threats. And, of course, this was Obama’s “signature” foreign policy accomplishment (along with the Iran deal).
Speaking of which, we also saw the sabotaging of Health Care in this morning’s tweet.
The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!
5:36 AM - Oct 13, 2017
Yes, at 5:36 a.m. Trump was up and tweeting --- and finding a new way to undo Obamacare. Using an Executive Order (something he castigated Obama for) Trump will withhold funds and sabotage the insurance markets wherever he can and, as President Benjamin Button, send us backwards in time.
When I taught U.S. History to 11th graders I used to talk about how children growing up in this country --- at a very early age --- seem to understand the very abstract concept of “rights.” Third graders, I would note, will tell a parent that they can’t do something (impose a punishment, for example) because “I know my rights.” Even though it is an abstract idea, we grow up learning there is something special about this country, that everyone has some kind of insured protection that was established long ago, guaranteeing civil liberties. It’s akin to religious faith and its attendant belief in “commandments.” Very young children, however, simply cannot understand the concept of rights --- it is beyond their cognitive development. And, I’m afraid, our “President” has aged back to the state where he is incapable of understanding the First Amendment.
With his attacks on the free press and NFL protests --- both guaranteed under the First Amendment --- Trump shows that this concept of “rights” seems too complex a notion for him to grasp. The late Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, in his Stages of Moral Development, noted that infants and toddlers, in Stage One, have “no point of view, only the ‘self’ is recognized.” This is also called “Blind Egoism.” Stage Two, that of a 3 to 5/6 year-old, “Sees that others a) have goals and preferences, b) either conform to or deviate from norms.” This is called “Instrumental Egoism” and, when I studied with Kohlberg in the early 1980’s the short-hand for it was: “scratch-scratch,” meaning “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It’s elemental, primitive, transactional relationships with others. “Mom & Dad will punish me, therefore, I’ll obey. Other kids have no leverage on me so I can do what I like.” Trump seems incapable of understanding that a free press is about allowing, indeed, encouraging, speech we disagree with or even find offensive. In calling NBC “disgusting” and using the power of the Presidency to call for shutting down news outlets because they disagree with him reveals that Trump is operating at Stage Two and, Benjamin Button-like, he has regressed to acting like a 3 to 6 year old.
Finally, regarding Trump’s dust-up with Rex Tillerson for calling the "President" a “f*&%ing moron,” Trump's challenging the Secretary of State to take an IQ test, demands we familiarize ourselves with a psychological term called the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” (See Gavin Hayes in the October 11, 2017 Guardian) As explained in Wikipedia:
In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence. (bold, mine)
Metacognition, of course, is the “awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes.” Simple observation makes it clear that this “President” lacks the skill of metacognition and does, in fact, often display the Dunning-Kruger effect. It might all be less distressing if we simply accept that we’ve elected Benjamin Button. A year from now we may well be observing true toddler decisions, pure Stage One --- “Blind Egoism.”