Tuesday Reads: The Doddering Old Man in the White HousePosted: January 29, 2019
Folks, the “president” is a bewildered, doddering old man. He’s 72 years old. The last doddering old man we had as president was Ronald Reagan, who was 69 when he took office. Like Trump, Reagan made up stories out of whole cloth; and, especially in his second term, often seemed confused and sometimes couldn’t remember the names of his own cabinet members.
A couple of famous examples of Reagan’s confabulations (actually memory errors) from Dangerous Minds:
12/12/83 Addressing the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, President Reagan tells this heart-warming story: “A B‑17 coming back across the channel from a raid over Europe, badly shot up by anti‑aircraft … The young ball‑turret gunner was wounded, and they couldn’t get him out of the turret there while flying. But over the channel, the plane began to lose altitude, and the commander had to order bail out. And as the men started to leave the plane, the last one to leave – the boy, understandably, knowing he was being left behind to go down with the plane, cried out in terror – the last man to leave the plane saw the commander sit down on the floor. He took the boy’s hand and said, ‘Never mind, son, we’ll ride it down together.’ Congressional Medal of honor posthumously awarded.” [….]
12/16/83 Columnist Lars‑Erik Nelson – after checking the citations on all 434 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded during World War II – reveals that not one of them matches the story President Reagan told the other day. “It’s not true,” writes Nelson. “It didn’t happen. It’s a Reagan story … The President of the United States went before an audience of 300 real Congressional Medal of Honor winners and told them about a make‑believe Medal of Honor winner.” Responds White House spokesman Larry Speakes, “If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.”
12/20/83 At a press conference, President Reagan claims that El Salvador has “a 400‑year history of military dictatorships.” As it happens, though, the first military regime didn’t take power until way back in 1931. Okay, so he was off by a few centuries, so what?
12/28/83 Lars‑Erik Nelson reports that a reader saw a scene very similar to President Reagan’s Medal of Honor story in the 1944 movie Wing and a Prayer. “Adding to the confusion,” writes Nelson, “Dana Andrews at one point reprimands a glory‑seeking young pilot with the words: ‘This isn’t Hollywood.’ … You could understand that some in the audience might confuse reality with fiction.”
1/11/84 Lars‑Erik Nelson suggests another source for the Medal of Honor story: an apocryphal item in the April 1944 issue of Reader’s Digest, a magazine known to be a life‑long Reagan favorite. “The bomber had been almost ripped apart by German cannon,” it read. “The ball turret gunner was badly wounded and stuck in the blister on the underside of the fuselage. Crewmen worked frantically to extricate the youngster, but there was nothing they could do. They began to jump. The terror‑stricken lad screamed in fear as he saw what was happening. The last man to jump heard the remaining crewman, a gunner, say, ‘Take it easy, kid. We’ll take this ride together.’”
And then there was the time that Reagan claimed to have been present at the liberation of Auschwitz. From Salon:
During Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s November 1983 visit to the U.S., Reagan told Shamir that during his service in the U.S. Army film corps, he and fellow members of his unit personally shot footage of the Nazis’ concentration camps as they were liberated. Reagan would tell this story again to others, including Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal. But Reagan was never present at the camps’ liberation. Instead, he spent the war in Culver City, California, where he processed footage from the liberation of the camps.
…his campaign-trail tale of a “Chicago welfare queen” with 80 aliases, 30 addresses, and 12 Social Security cards, whom he alleged had claimed “over $150,000” in government benefits. The woman whom Reagan made infamous was convicted of using only two aliases, used to collect $8,000.
These are most likely source-monitoring memory errors, in which people recall events and information but not the the source from which they learned them. Memory errors like this happen to everyone but tend to get more severe in old age.
Now we have another “president” who is even worse than Reagan at making things up out of whole cloth. Some of his confabulations are outright lies, but some could be the result of memory errors.
In recent weeks, journalists and government officials have been trying to learn the source some very explicit claims Trump has been making about what is happening at the border withe Mexico.
The Hill, 1/25/19: Trump goes on ad-libbed riff on human trafficking.
President Trump on Friday delivered an extended, apparently ad-libbed warning about the consequences of failing to secure the southern border as he announced he would sign a short-term government funding bill that did not include money for a border wall.
At one point during his remarks, the teleprompter in the White House Rose Garden stopped as it read “Talk about Human Trafficking.”
For roughly two minutes, Trump gave a graphic description of people being brought across borders against their will in a modern form of slavery, describing women bound and with duct tape covering their mouths.
“But they come through areas where they have no protection, where they have no steel barriers, where they have no walls,” he added. “And we can stop almost 100 percent of them.”
This wasn’t the first time Trump told this story. More from Monica Hesse at The Washington Post: Why does the president keep talking about women and duct tape on the border?
“Women are tied up, with duct tape on their faces, put in the backs of vans,” the president said, citing human traffickers who he alleges are the perpetrators of this violence against migrants.
But women are not tied up, experts have said. They do not have tape on their mouths. When Trump repeated this claim a few weeks ago, my colleague Katie Mettler contacted many authorities on trafficking who have spent time at the border, and none of them had seen or heard anything resembling the violence he described.
Nevertheless, there was Trump on Jan. 4, dramatizing the traffickers who “have three or four women with tape on their mouths and tied up, sitting in the back of a van or car.” There he was on Jan. 6: “They nab women, they grab them, they put tape over their mouths.” On Jan. 11: “Taping them up, wrapping tape around their mouths so they can’t shout or scream, tying their hands behind their back and even their legs.”
Sometimes the tape is explicitly duct tape, sometimes it’s electrical. Sometimes it has a specific color, as it did on Jan. 10: “Usually blue tape, as they call it. It’s powerful stuff. Not good.”
Hesse analyzes these Trump-created fantasies in the light of Trump’s history with women and his notions of Mexican men as “bad hombres.”
Vox reports that the Border Control has tried to find out where Trump got these ideas about human trafficking at the border.
It’s become a staple of President Donald Trump’s riffs on the horrors of the US-Mexico border, something he knows so well that he doesn’t even need it scripted on a teleprompter: Human traffickers gag women with tape so they can’t breathe before packing them into vans and driving them across the border illegally.
But two weeks after Trump had started talking about tape-gagged women — when a January 17 Washington Post article had questioned the claim — a top Border Patrol official had to email agents to ask if they had “any information” that the claim was actually true.
The email, shown to Vox by a source within Border Patrol, was sent as a “request for information” by an assistant Border Patrol chief, apparently on behalf of the office of Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan (referred to internally as “C-1”). It asked agents to reply within less than two hours with “any information (in any format)” regarding claims of tape-gagged women — and even linked to the Post article “for further info.”
Vox’s source indicated that they and others in their sector hadn’t heard anything that would back up Trump’s claims, but wasn’t sure if agents in other sectors had provided information. However, no one from the Trump administration has come forward to offer evidence for the claim, either before or after the internal Border Patrol email was sent.
Trump has also claimed that prayer rugs have been found abandoned near the border and that the drug smugglers and traffickers have amazing vehicles the like of which we’ve never seen before. From Charles Pierce at Esquire:
They’re driving in and they’re not coming through checkpoints, because you can’t have three or four people in the back with tape over your mouths and your hands tied and drive past someone who is checking out your van…The fact is if we don’t have barriers, walls, call them what you will, very strong barriers where people can not any longer drive right across. They have unbelievable vehicles. They make a lot of money. They have the best vehicles you can buy. They have stronger, bigger and faster vehicles than our police have and that ICE have and that Border Patrol have. [Ed. Note: And they still have to tie people up, four to a backseat? They really got snookered by some salesman, boy.] They’re pretty good at that. They have areas they go to. It’s like a highway.
If this guy weren’t the “president,” people would be telling his family members to have him evaluated for dementia.
Last night, Rachel Maddow suggested that Trump might have gotten these crazy ideas from a movie called Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Here’s the trailer:
Steven Benen writes about Trump’s violent fantasies at MSNBC: Has Trump peddled bogus claims about the border because of a movie?
First, they’re demonstrably false. There’s nothing especially amazing about smugglers’ vehicles; there’s no evidence at all of prayer rugs being found in the dirt by the border (in fact, the whole idea is kind of silly); and experts have marveled at how bizarre Trump’s claims are about women tied up with tape.
Second, each of these appeared in a recent fictional movie.
No, seriously. As Rachel noted on the show last night, there’s a movie called Sicario:
Day of the Soldado, which was released last summer, and which included a woman being tied up with tape, smugglers driving vast vehicles, and officials finding prayer rugs in the dirt near the border.
Again, just so we’re all clear, the movie is real, but the story is fictional. The script was written by screenwriters, not documentarians. The plot of the film is made up, as are the characters and developments that unfolded on screen.
As Rachel added, “In a normal administration, it would be insane to suggest” the president of the United States saw stuff in a movie and maybe thought it reflected reality. And who knows, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
But let’s not miss the forest for the trees: Donald Trump’s observations about the border are so at odds with reality that there are reasonable questions as to how in the world he even came up with such strange ideas.
I can’t say with any certainty whether the president took a fictional movie a little too seriously, but that’s not really the point. Rather, what matters is that we’re left to wonder how and why Trump comes up with these stories, which he peddles to the public, despite being wrong.
I doubt that Trump watched this movie, but maybe one of his advisers (Stephen Miller?) did and told him about it. But regardless of where Trump got these confabulations, they likely indicate that Trump, like Reagan and his Father Fred Trump, is developing Alzheimer’s disease.
We’re stuck with another dangerous doddering old man and president. This is one reason I’m so opposed to someone as old as Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders running for president. They would both be much older then Reagan or Trump if they took office in 2020.