The Trump Administration: Side Effects May Include Stockholm Syndrome

You’ve probably heard of Sweden, a Scandinavian country that President Trump suggested had suffered a major terror attack in February of this year. (It hadn’t, of course.)

In any event, that got me thinking about an actual crime that occurred there, namely the August 1973 robbery of one of its largest banks, Kreditbanken. In that robbery, Jan-Erik Olsson and an accomplice held four hostages inside the bank’s vault for six days, physically and mentally torturing their captives over that period.

After release, none would testify against their captors in court and, in fact, they began to raise money for their defense. This curious and counter-intuitive incident gave us the psychological term “Stockholm Syndrome” in which victims develop positive feelings toward their captors as well as sympathy for their causes.  Disney, probably inadvertently, recently contributed to the genre with its live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

Here in the United States, our most famous victim of Stockholm Syndrome was Patty Hearst, a young heiress and California debutante who was kidnapped by urban guerillas – the Symbionese Liberation Army – and ended up adopting the nom de guerre Tania and helping the SLA rob banks.  While Stockholm Syndrome failed as a defense in her court case – imagine how hated those Hearsts must have been in California – President Clinton eventually pardoned her.

As you might imagine, law enforcement folks aren’t too fond of Stockholm Syndrome which they often see as a phony version of an insanity defense. The diagnosis, however, did make an appearance in the Fifth Edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual under the rubric “Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified.”  It is characterized by the strong emotional ties that develop between a victim and another person who “intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses or intimidates the other.”

How, you might reasonably ask, does this relate to the Trump Administration? While I don’t think we’re quite there yet, I do believe we have to be on the lookout for manifestations of Stockholm Syndrome among the American Public, at least figuratively held hostage by the Trumpites.  Not only that, the canaries-in-the-coal-mine victims are most likely to be found in our equivalent of the Swedish bank vault, namely the members of the media and especially those most vulnerable, the media’s pundit class.

The Syndrome first hit my radar screen with the recent reaction of some media figures to Trump’s Tomahawk missile strike in Syria. Because it looked like something that more conventional mainstream politicians – e.g., George W. Bush, Hilary Clinton, etc. – would do, it was viewed with relief and even embraced by some large segments of the media.  Forget about the fact that it didn’t seem to be related to any long-term strategy, a missile strike – of all things – was taken as evidence of Trump’s magnanimity, sanity and overall wholesomeness.

Next came the supposed feud between the Bannon and Kushner factions (apparently coming to a head because of the Syrian missile strikes). Now I completely get it that Bannon is a scary and horrible person and that his faction in the Trump White House is made up of the worst-of-the-worst.  Yet the media Stockholm Syndrome reaction was to act as if the President’s favoring of his entirely inexperienced mid-thirties son-in-law was the equivalent of hiring a resurrected Howard Baker as his chief of staff.

In normal circumstances, i.e., without the prospect of Bannon and his alt-right cronies running the show, putting Jared in charge of everything from Middle East peace to relations with China to reinventing government would be about as appalling as anything imaginable.  When suffering Stockholm Syndrome, though, it comes as something of a relief.

And it shouldn’t be a relief. We’re not Patty Hearst, tied up in a closet by the SLA and psychologically bonding with the captor who brings her a doughnut rather than the guy who beats her every day.  We’re Americans and our reaction should be something along the lines of “Bannon is horrible, but Jared is pretty freaking bad too.”

Instead, we got a lot of media crowing about how Jared is really a decent guy and needs to be given a chance and maybe if we’re nice to him he won’t wreck our country (and maybe he’ll bring a doughnut to the closet where we’re bound and gagged).

Again, that’s not the way it works. Criticizing the Trump Administration can’t become about defining these departures from American tradition and good sense according to degrees of egregiousness.

If it’s bad, call it bad.  And, so far, it’s been almost all bad.

Novices Need Not Apply

Isn’t it about time for an essay about President Trump that discusses why he is totally unsuited to be President of the United States, but doesn’t concern his terrible character and horrible associations? Well, this is that essay.

For a purely empirical reason (and not because he’s an ill-informed and unsavory human seemingly without access to able and/or honorable aides), Trump is entirely unsuitable for his current position. It’s because of his total lack of experience.  And that palpable lack of experience was borne out in the recent Obamacare repeal debacle.

No one – not Fox News or even Trump himself – can claim he has any experience in government. This sets him apart from the other 43 men who have served as President of the United States.  (And for these purposes, we don’t count Grover Cleveland twice.)  Thirty-nine of our 43 Presidents had previously served in some significant role in government:  Vice-President, Senator, Governor, House member, or Cabinet Secretary.  Of the other four – Washington,  Zachary Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower – all served as major generals in major wars.  Leading an army is not an elective or appointive office, but invading another country (or taking on an invading army from another country) is a pretty big administrative task not unlike the executive functions a President faces.

Many of our presidents held multiple important governmental jobs before assuming the presidency.  Take James Monroe, for example.  Prior to becoming our fifth president he had been Vice-President, Secretary of State, and a Senator from and Governor of Virginia (as well as ambassador to France and the United Kingdom).  He may not be remembered today for much other than his Doctrine, but no one could ever say the guy wasn’t prepared to be President.

It’s true that not every President had extensive experience. Abraham Lincoln – certainly one of our best if not the best – served just one measly term in Congress.  President Obama served just two-thirds of a term in the Senate.  Nixon, though, who was a bit of a disaster, had been a Congressman, Senator, and Vice-President.  Thus, experience doesn’t necessarily equate with a good performance as President.

In the end, though, those 43 all had government experience. And Trump doesn’t.  Maybe all this outsider stuff isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.  At least that’s the way it looks after Trump failed so miserably in the effort to repeal Obamacare.

In the process, he got rolled by the mediocrities in the House Freedom Caucus. His efforts to sell “Trumpcare” were puerile.  “It’s a wonderful bill,” he was reported as saying.  (Whatever else you could say about the bill, nobody thought it was “wonderful.”)  Once the discussions about the bill got more than an inch deep, Trump’s lack of knowledge about healthcare policy left him speechless.

So much, too, for his vaunted negotiating skills. Hard to believe that a guy who had a book called The Art of the Deal ghostwritten for him, could have messed this up.

So Trump has (a) never been in government, (b) shown little interest in it, and hence (c) knows virtually nothing about it. All of these facts proved to be a toxic combination when Trump sought to enact one of his first and biggest promises, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  Sad.

None of this was a secret, by the way. Pretty much all of us knew that Trump had no experience.  Some, though, thought that Trump could overcome this inexperience or even rise above it, based on a magic bullet, namely his experience and success as a businessman.  So far, it hasn’t worked.  And anyone who expects it to work in the future is dreaming.

This raises the more general question concerning how deferential we should be to the “businessman.” The willingness of something less than half of American voters to make Trump President is the apotheosis of something that’s been going on for a long time, namely the lionization of the businessman.  Sure the boss of a company is the chief executive officer (or CEO) and the President is the chief – he even gets hailed as such – of the Executive Branch, but c’mon.

The difference between running even a major corporation and running the main part of the U.S. government is night-and-day. Just look at Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, one of the world’s largest companies, now running just one department, State.  So far, he looks like he’d be more comfortable performing at the Winter Olympics in Pairs Ice Dancing.  At Exxon, Rex had one constituency, Exxon’s shareholders, and one primary concern, the company’s price per share.  At the Department of State, he’s got to worry the other 180 or so countries in the world and what they’re up to.

Which is all a long way of saying that anyone who thought that Trump’s business experience as a real estate promotor, casino operator, and purveyor of name-branded ties was somehow going to make him capable of being President were kidding themselves.

With the failure of Trumpcare (and all the other myriad failures of the first two months), the myth of Trump (and the myth of the omni-competent businessman) may be finally melting away.