Monday, July 30, 2018


Pundits and political observers can't figure out what the hell Rudy Giuliani thinks he's doing these days on President Trump's behalf. Most seem sure that he's only hurting Trump. (Wonkette: "Rudy Giuliani Just Lighting All The President's Alibis On Fire"; the Daily Beast: "Giuliani Knows ‘Collusion’ Isn’t a Crime—But Conspiracy Is and Trump Looks Guiltier Today.")

But Giuliani is out there solely to pump up the MAGA crowd, so it doesn't really matter what words he utters, as long as he radiates absolute certainty that Trump is innocent and the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. Whatever he says will be interpreted as proof of Trump's innocence by the intended audience, no matter how we interpret it.

I'm reminded of a piece called "The President's Speech" in Oliver Sacks's book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Dr. Sacks observed a ward full of aphasics -- people who literally couldn't understand language -- who were watching a Ronald Reagan speech on TV and laughing. As Sacks noted, aphasics derive some meaning from speech -- they process the tone of what's said, even though they don't process the words. Sacks's aphasics were laughing because they heard falsehood in Reagan's intonation, even if the words he spoke were meaningless to them.

Trumpers are like that. Trump could say in 2016 that Mexico would pay for the wall and now insist that U.S. taxpayers should pay; he could say in 2016 that he'd go after the tax breaks of the rich and now say he wants to give the rich another huge tax cut via executive order. He can go from threatening Kim Jong Un with hellfire and damnation to being his best bud. It doesn't matter what he says -- all that matters is that what he says feels Trumpian and lib-owning. His fans will cheer him on regardless of the meaning of his words.

This works for Giuliani, too. When he speaks, all that matters is that he's defiantly pro-Trump and anti-Mueller. In a way, shocking his interviewers is good, even if he's shocking them by making Trump look guilty -- the Trumpers in the audience aren't processing the words, they're just processing the sense that lib journalists are being shocked (and thus owned) by a triumphant-sounding Rudy. He could acknowledge that Trump has done every illegal thing we suspect he's done and say the pee tape is real, and if he concluded his announcement with "And that's why the president is innocent and this is a witch hunt," the Trumpers would cheer. They're effectively aphasic. All they understand is the tone.

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