In 1901, Sigmund Freud published a book called The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. It offers entertaining observations about slips of the tongue and pen, ‘bungled actions’ — e.g., you mistakenly reach for your keys when approaching the door of a friend’s house — various forms of forgetfulness, and what Freud congregates under the categories of ‘determinism and superstition.’ As long as you do not take it too seriously, it is an amusing agglomeration of eccentricity and (mostly) mild insanity.
It also cries out for updating. Freud died too soon to encounter a stupendous form of everyday psychopathology, one that is everywhere patent in the upper reaches of American society today. I mean, of course, anti-Trump hysteria — and I use the term ‘hysteria’ advisedly, in a quasi-Freudian, etymologically sensitive sense.
For taken all in all, there is a brittle, catty, whinging quality to the phenomenon of anti-Trump hysteria that puts it at odds with everything direct, forthright, and manly in our everyday concourse.
Let me forestall spluttering indignation by saying that I understand that these days the word ‘manly’ can hardly be deployed straight, without implicit deflationary quotation marks. But I answer that that only corroborates the insinuating prevalence of that fraught feminization that has manifested itself (speaking of psychopathology) in such embarrassing developments as the so-called ‘pussy hats,’ the maenad-like ferocity of the Department of Justice and the FBI under the pantywaist watch of characters like Rod Rosenstein, James Comey, and Robert Mueller, and the coven of dismal choristers who weave dirge-like prognostications in their gossipy, fake-news stories, blog posts, and Twitter feeds around every development, imagined as well as real, pertaining to the Trump administration.
This is a deep, or at least a broad, subject, and I may make a sort of mini-series reflecting upon it. For the moment, let me just mention a signal instance of psychopathology that bubbled up from the depths a day or two ago. It involves — or supposedly involves — Michael Cohen, the low-life former personal lawyer of President Trump. Mr Cohen is about to embark upon an extended stay at Club Fed for various crimes, none of which (alas for The Narrative™) have anything to do with ‘Russian Collusion,’ the supposed raison d’être of the Mueller investigation that swept him up in its insatiable maw. (Since I brought up Freud already, let me also suggest that some enterprising soul write a study of Mueller’s activities under the title Prosecution Terminable and Interminable.)
Many months ago, when Michael Cohen first came to the attention of CNN, Bill Kristol, and other acolytes in the anti-Trump sorority, a rumor was floated that he had been in Prague in 2016 and had spoken to unnamed but highly placed ‘Russians’ either to hand over the US government to Vladimir Putin or to assure Putin’s connivance in making Donald Trump President.
A notable flaw in this theory was that Michael Cohen had never visited Prague, not then, not ever.
If you think that is a disabling flaw, however, you do not appreciate the robust goad to invention that hysteria provides. That fact that Michael Cohen has been shown not to have been in Prague is merely a fact. What is that against the ardent heart’s desire to Get Trump and cancel the effects of the 2016 election?
Just because the idea that Michael Cohen was in Prague doing Trump’s dirty business was shot down when originally floated, does not mean that it might not fly when resurrected. Which it just has been: ‘A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen,’ McClatchy breathlessly reports, ‘briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016.’ Says who? Why ‘four people with knowledge of the matter.’ Oh. ‘Four people,’ you say. And they have ‘knowledge of the matter.’ Well, that settles it, right? Jonathan Chait offers a similarly vacuous intervention at New York magazine (where he also reprises that hardy perennial, the infamous ‘dossier’ bequeathed to the world by Christopher Steele.)
I hadn’t thought Michael Cohen was known for his sense of humor, but his response to this insanity was pretty droll. ‘I hear #Prague #CzechRepublic is beautiful in the summertime,’ he tweeted, ‘I wouldn’t know as I have never been. #Mueller knows everything!’
Many years ago when I was living in New York, I had a friend who worked in an intelligence capacity at the New York Police Department. Among his responsibilities was responding to people who would call in with complaints that the telephone company (for example) was sending them mind-control signals. ‘Oh yes, we’ve heard about that,’ my friend would say. ‘What you need to do is line you windows with aluminum foil. It will keep out the evil signals.’ It usually did the trick, too.
I’m sorry my friend is no longer with us. He might, just maybe, have been able to calm the hysterics who are overexcited by these newly invented telephonic emanations.