One thousand Americans died yesterday from the coronavirus. One thousand Americans died the day before. One thousand Americans are probably going to die today. This is the reality governors are witnessing in their states. This is a hard fact they know well. In the face of the sheer scale of death, it’s a fact they won’t forget.
Jared Kushner knows better, though. The president’s “senior advisor” doubts whether governors know what they need. He doubts whether they know the inventory of medical supplies they already have. He doubts whether governors understand what he understands well, which, per the Times, is “how to make the government effective.”
The political paranoid looks at a deadly pandemic, with its attendant body count, and sees not a human tragedy but instead a management failure.
Young Master Jared doubts their abilities so much he took time out of his busy day to explain how the government is supposed to work. During a White House press briefing Thursday, the multimillionaire real estate magnate, who never worked in a public capacity before his father-in-law won the presidency four years ago, said:
The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use. … Some governors you speak to … they don’t know what’s in their state. Don’t ask us for things when you don’t know what you have in your own state. Just because you’re scared, you ask your medical professionals and they don’t know. You have to take inventory of what you have in your own state and then you have to be able to show that there’s a real need (my stress).
Never mind the bodies piling up. Never mind the fear and panic. He knows better. The pandemic, Kushner said, has revealed which leaders are “better managers than others.” Put slightly differently, don’t blame us for all the people dying. First blame yourselves.
I’m not going to talk about the staggering level of arrogance that goes into telling governors facing mass death that they don’t know what they are talking about. Michelle Goldberg has done that heavy lifting. In “Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed,” the Times columnist revealed the 39-year-old’s public health bona fides:
Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors—his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal [in the Middle East]—have been failures.
Which is to say, he has no public health bona fides.
I am, however, going to expand on Goldberg’s foray into political psychology, which I think is the best way of understanding what the hell is going on. To be sure, Kushner’s arrogance is blinding. To be sure, his very presence in the White House offends the American creed of hard work, fair play and merit. But there’s more here, I think, than rank nepotism and hubris. Kushner is a classic example of a political paranoid.
I know what you’re thinking. Kushner might be egotistical and breathtaking in his incompetence, but he’s not crazy. He’s not Joe McCarthy or Robert Welch, men who really believed communists lurked behind every bush and tree. He’s different from state legislators banning Sharia Law without fully understanding what it is. Paranoids feared that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim bent on destroying America. Sure, Kushner and his wife are complicit in the smear, but they didn’t really believe it.
This, however, is a one-dimensional view of political paranoia. Crazies believing crazy stuff is hardly worth bothering with. The problem, as Richard Hofstadter saw it in his classic essay, “The Paranoid Style in Politics,” is when non-crazies believe crazy stuff. “The idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds,” Hofstadter wrote in 1963. “It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”
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Paranoids aren’t irrational. Just the opposite. Paranoids are hyperrational, as Alan Wolfe noted in a 2013 reassessment of Hofstadter’s essay. That’s what makes them so dangerous. Their mode of thinking is clinical—and cold-blooded. It will not take into account non-rational human values, like compassion. It looks at a pandemic, with its attendant body count, and sees not a human tragedy but a management failure.
The reason paranoids refuse to account for non-rational human values is pretty simple, as I see it. It’s fear. They can’t trust. They can’t risk trusting. They can’t risk trusting what might happen after exposing themselves to opposing people and ideas.
They can’t trust themselves to decide what’s right for them or for the greater good. They can’t risk listening to public health officials. Listening might lead to changing their minds, and that’s impossible. To change one’s mind is to betray one’s tribe.
Which is the only thing paranoids trust.
Kushner won’t believe governors know what they are talking about when they say they need more ventilators and other things needed during a disease outbreak because believing they know what they are talking about is a leap of faith he will never take. “You have to be able to show that there’s a real need.” Meanwhile, 1,000 died yesterday. One thousand died the day before. One thousand are probably going to die today.
His incompetence won’t kill us. His paranoid mind will.