On Donald Trump, Osama bin Laden, and Sam Harris
A brief examination of an acute case of TDS
There is as yet no vaccine for Trump Derangement Syndrome, and we still desperately need one, even given that the “pandemic” period most associated with it ended in January 2021. Perhaps the cure for those afflicted by this dreadful malady will require imprisoning the former President for the rest of his life, or even his physical exit from this world, which so many of them so frequently avidly and forthrightly say they desire.
I have a hard time figuring this level of hatred out, and I suspect it’s not only because of my politics. I can’t think of a single person in public life on the American left that occupies anything like the place in my head that Dreadful Orange Man occupies in the heads of those laboring under the afflictions of TDS.
I’ve had a good opportunity to study the ailment close up for the past few years. My place of employment has been an ongoing superspreading event for the disease from the time he became the Republican nominee for the 2016 election, as was true for most institutions of higher education. But that didn’t surprise me much, given what I know about the propensity for rage-driven radical political ideologies on campus.
More intriguing to me is when I find cases of people of an apparently calm and composed demeanor and whom I generally find intellectually interesting, at least on some matters, who nonetheless, when the topic turns to things Trump, begin ranting like madmen in straitjackets.
The public intellectual Sam Harris is one of these people. A political podcaster I listen to with some frequency, John Derbyshire, had a good segment on a recent patch of fairly loopy discourse from Harris about Trump (it starts at 17:38 here). It includes a long bit of Harris, who has often claimed to be a great admirer and supporter of American democracy, talking about why anti-democratic methods might be necessary to keep voters from putting Donald Trump into office.
The most remarkable line from Harris here, among a lot of remarkable material, was this one justifying the media freeze on stories of Joe Biden’s son in the weeks before the election: “Hunter Biden literally could have had the corpses of children in his basement, I would not have cared.”
Because it was that important to make sure the outcome of the election was determined in the way Harris preferred.
Here’s another clip of him in that same interview talking about Trump as a force so malevolent that literally just about anything to stop him being reelected would be morally conceivable and justifiable.
Harris later went on his podcast to try to clear up what he’d said in this discussion, and somehow he made himself seem even crazier.
Among other things, he said on his podcast that Trump is a “worse person” than Osama bin Laden. Yes, that Osama bin Laden.
Perhaps we could use a reminder of precisely who Harris is talking about here before we get into more of what he said about him.
This is of course the person who funded and planned the 9/11 terror attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans and others in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville PA. I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about 9/11 over the years. One of the first things that comes to my mind whenever that topic comes up is the several recorded phone calls made by people in the World Trade Center that morning to operators after the planes hit. I have listened to these recordings. A few of them end when the building the person is calling from collapses, and you can hear that person die in agony. These are some of the most awful bits of audio evidence of which I’m aware.
The man Sam Harris considers a better man than Donald Trump engineered and approved those atrocities.
He also sent large amounts of money to Islamist militants in Algeria in the early 1990s to encourage them to create civil war in that country, and he was successful in moving them in that direction. The result was a monstrous, atrocity-filled war that killed perhaps 200,000 Algerians. I teach students about that situation in Algeria in the ‘90s. It is a stunning case in human brutality, and bin Laden helped produce it.
He also funded the Luxor massacre of more than 60 tourists at an archaeological site in Egypt. He materially aided the Taliban regime in the ‘90s in myriad ways, including sending them weapons and fighters to help them liquidate thousands of Hazaras, an ethnic minority group there. He funded and planned the 1998 US Embassy bombings in two African cities that killed more than 200 people.
This man, the one who wished for, plotted and materially made possible all of these monstrous events, this man, in Harris’ view, was a “more or less normal human being psychologically…[who] was just living in the grip of a dangerous and idiotic worldview…he demonstrated many virtues…real self-sacrifice…personally quite courageous…generally a person of real integrity and generosity and compassion…none of these things can be said about Donald Trump.” It’s about 7:45 in here.
Trump, Harris continued, is “missing something that almost every other person on earth [presumably including bin Laden] has…you could probably walk a thousand miles in any direction and not meet a less admirable person than Trump…if he weren’t funny, and I admit he can be funny, he might be the least admirable person on Earth.”
This Earth to which he refers is a world, should you need reminding (I won’t link to any of these deeds, but you may trust me that none are invented), that contains architects of genocides and mass starvations and mass poisonings of whole populations; mass murderers and mass rapists of children, terrorists who cut the heads off their victims or set them ablaze alive or drop them from tall buildings or stone them to death and videotape all of these gruesome proceedings in order to make them available to others they want to terrorize into compliance or simply to let them know what’s coming to them too; inhuman criminals who punch random elderly people in the face so hard that they fall head-first onto the concrete and suffer catastrophic injuries and then leave them to die on the street while they take the $50 in their wallets and when arrested and asked why say without emotion it’s because old people can’t fight back as well; depraved burglars who capture whole families asleep in the homes they rob and rape the women and girls and make the husbands and fathers watch and then set the whole house on fire and leave everyone to die horribly in the flames, etc.
On this Earth, the one that contains all those people just described and many other authors of truly heinous deeds, Harris thinks Donald Trump might be the absolutely worst person of all of them.
One would laugh, but this is not funny. At all.
I admit I don’t know how you can conceivably make sense of that, whatever your reasonable view of Trump as a person and a politician, without suspecting the person saying those things is consumed by a serious psychopathology of some kind. None of that hyperbole fits the evidence. None of it.
At just the first approach: How in the world would the worst person on earth not have managed to do much more destruction to all of us during four full years at the helm of the most powerful country? How did any of us survive four years of the worst person in the world as our leader?
I gather Harris thinks part of the answer here has to do with how incredibly incompetent Trump is, but how could someone so uniquely incompetent and malevolent get elected President in the first place? It just doesn’t make any sense.
I find no joy or schadenfreude in pointing this out. I’m quite sad about it. We need sane pundits in the public square, people who can keep to reason even on matters that get them emotionally charged up, and all of us have those matters with which to contend. It is hard work. But Harris has failed here, and spectacularly. There’s no other way to say it.
I’ll keep listening to his podcast from time to time because his guests are sometimes of interest to me. And he has insights I find valuable.
But it is a mystery to me how people as smart as Harris is can believe such things as he does on this topic.
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The real answer is that Harris isn't that smart. Even at the height of my High School atheism I found his "Letter to a Christian Nation," uninspiring compared to Christopher Hitchens. Ultimately Harris is an entertainer, pop thinker, who blended New Atheist psychobabble with bland Southern California bland Buddhism. A mix you can find in every crystal store and cafe in Ojai and San Diego.
A fine analysis of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Thank you. TDS is, certainly, a symptom of deeper disorder(s), as was the earlier Variant, BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome). It all brings me back to a long, dark, post-concert drive in the Midwest about twenty years ago. To stay awake between two distant Community Concert dates I switched on the radio, to be greeted by a conservative talker shouting, "Liberalism is a mental disorder!" Scoffing, I switched to a nice Soft Rock station.... And yet now, look where we are - a namby-pamby version of the Bizarro World.