Friedman and Bruni

In “Peanut Butter on the Trump Team’s Chins” The Moustache of Wisdom says the president’s apologists are embarrassing.  Mr. Bruni, in “Ben Carson’s Gray Matter,” says the good doctor’s precision with words isn’t exactly surgical.  Here’s TMOW:

For many years the famous Crystal Palace dinner theater in Aspen featured a cabaret song that every audience loved: “The Peanut Butter Affair.”

It told the story of a C.E.O. who had gone to work one day, without properly washing his face, and still had a lump of peanut butter on his chin. But none of his employees dared to tell him.

When he got home, though, his wife told him it was there and he was appalled. But he was even more appalled when he showed up for work over the next few days and eventually “every jerk from the chairman to the clerk had a lump of peanut butter on his chin.”

That spoof of underlings who witlessly mimic their bosses came to mind as I listened to Trump aides and allies justifying the president’s Saturday morning Twitter rant alleging — without any evidence — that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower phones be tapped during the 2016 campaign. It seemed like the whole Trump team was putting peanut butter on their chins. The only question was who had the biggest lump.

My vote goes to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told ABC’s “This Week” that President Trump “is going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.” Unspecified information that he’s seen? U.F.O.s that he’s seen? How is that a standard for accusing his predecessor of a vile crime? Give that woman a four-year supply of Peter Pan.

But Sanders is just a flack. More troubling was watching an honorable soldier, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, dab on some Skippy and defend Trump’s claim on CNN, saying that “the president must have his reasons.”

Then why doesn’t the secretary of homeland security know them and why doesn’t the president share them? And, by the way, why are you on television with peanut butter on your chin, saying the President has reasons but not saying what they are? That’s how a morally bankrupt president soils everyone around him, even such a good man.

Trump ran for office promising to protect Americans from terrorists, immigrants and free trade agreements. But who will protect us from him? If our president is willing to casually throw under a bus our most elemental principles of presidential conduct — such as, you don’t accuse your predecessor of a high crime without evidence, just to divert attention away from your latest mess — we have a real problem.

We have so many big, hard things we need to do, but big hard things can only be done together. And that takes a leader who can bring us together to do things worthy of our energies and dedication — like proper health care reform, immigration reform, tax reform and infrastructure investment, or properly working with China and Russia where we can and drawing red lines where we must.

But it also requires trust in the integrity of that leader — that when things get tough, the leader won’t bail and shoot his aides and followers in the back. There is not a G.O.P. congressman or U.S. ally abroad who today is not asking: Can I trust this guy when the going gets tough, or will Trump lay a fact-free Twitter rant on me? Can I even trust sharing information with him?

Government moves “at the speed of trust,” observes Stephen M. R. Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust.” “There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. … That one thing is trust.”

Despite a bizarre number of meetings with Russians, no proof has surfaced that Trump’s team colluded with Russia. What our top three intelligence services have declared, though, is that Russia did hack our election on Trump’s behalf. And as more of our lives move to cyberspace, understanding exactly how that was done, how it is probably being done in European elections right now and how to deter this new weapon from undermining the West, which is Russia’s goal, is a vital security issue. Without an electoral process we can trust, we’re sunk.

Sadly, most of the Republican Party today is morally AWOL, preferring to sweep the Russian hacking under the carpet rather than have a credible, independent investigation. That will lead people to question any collaboration Trump tries with Moscow.

Moreover, one day soon something will happen — in North Korea, the South China Sea, Ukraine, Iran — that will require him to make a judgment call. Trump will have to look the American people in the eye and say: “Trust me — I decided this based on the best information and advice of the intelligence community.” Or, “Trust me, we needed to work with Russia on this.”

And who will believe him? There is nothing more dangerous than a U.S. president who’s squandered his trust before he has to lead us through a crisis. But that’s what happens when he’s surrounded by people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins. It greases the decline of companies and countries. Or as the “Peanut Butter” song warns, “Strange to think what a guy can do just because everybody thinks he’s right.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I need Ben Carson in my head.

In my hippocampus, to be exact.

According to Carson, the human brain stores a perfect, indelible record of everything that it has seen, heard and done, and if he just drilled a hole through my skull and planted electrodes in the right region, bingo! I’d have access to the whole wondrous trove.

Drill, baby, drill. I need the access. As things stand now, I lose 45 minutes every week to the retrieval of forgotten passwords, and I recently got three-quarters of the way through a mystery before realizing that I knew whodunit, how he dun it and why he dun it. I’d already read the book.

Carson, our brand-new housing secretary, made an introductory, supposedly inspirational speech to federal employees this week, and while this kind of thing normally doesn’t wind up in the news, there’s nothing normal about Carson.

During the speech, he went on the tangent about the brain that I just described, and while, granted, he’s a renowned neurosurgeon and I’m an expert on little more than semicolons, I do question his assertion that with proper cerebral stimulation, someone can “recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago.” Maybe “Green Eggs and Ham.” But “The Mill on the Floss”?

Several of Carson’s fellow brain experts scoffed at this claim, though there was much louder scoffing at a subsequent stretch of his remarks that described America as a magnet for dreamers who arrived with “all of their earthly belongings in their two hands, not knowing what this country held for them.”

He continued:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Sometimes Twitter goes berserk because it’s Twitter, other times because it should. “Their dream?” tweeted the movie director Ava DuVernay. “Not be kidnapped, tortured, raped.”

I was transfixed by “even longer, even harder, for less.” Not to be a stickler, but that doesn’t quite cover the distance between the sweatshop and the plantation.

On ABC’s talk show “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg recalled previous odd statements by Carson, noting that “the man who thought the pyramids were built for grain silos” and who “called the Big Bang theory ridiculous” was back with “a brand-new epic.”

“Were the slaves really thinking about the American dream?” she asked. “No, because they were thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ” It’s a thought I myself have had after listening to Carson.

Carson is the only African-American in Trump’s cabinet, and he’s a great lesson — for the left as well as the right — that sensitivity is a function of sensibility, not merely of complexion or membership in a given identity group.

A black person can bumble into racially hurtful comments. A female executive can turn a blind eye to sexism in the ranks below her. A gay person can ignore or indulge homophobia. Diversity increases the odds that an organization sees the world more acutely, accurately and empathetically. But it’s not the end of the effort, and it’s no guarantee.

Carson rose from hardship to acclaim and riches. He performed awe-inspiring surgeries. He also suggested that prison causes homosexuality, which he separately likened to bestiality, and that Planned Parenthood aimed, through abortions, to limit the black population. He compared Obamacare to slavery.

He’s a riveting jumble and an important reminder that brilliance and competence along one axis hardly ensures brilliance or even coherence along another. Although we like to tag people as geniuses or fools — it’s a stark, easy taxonomy — they’re more complicated and compartmentalized than that.

Carson is enraptured by what people can be made to remember. I’m fascinated by what they choose to forget. Just before Trump nominated Carson to be housing secretary, one of Carson’s principal campaign advisers said that the good doctor knew far too little about the federal government to work in it. Trump decided to pay that no heed.

During the campaign, Trump said that incidents of aggression in Carson’s youth revealed a “pathological temper” and lumped him together with pedophiles, explaining: “You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological — there’s no cure for that.”

But Carson shrugged that off when Trump came around with a glitzy job offer. It was all water under the hippocampus.

In his speech on Monday, Carson said, “There is nothing in this universe that even begins to compare with the human brain and what it is capable of.” He got that much right, and how.

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