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Screw Objectivity--   

With Trump all Bets are Off

By Frank Van Riper

Photography Columnist


          Some poor bastard set himself on fire the other day outside the Trump hush money/election fraud trial in Manhattan. He carried pamphlets spouting anti-government conspiracy theories, and had been quoted as warning of “an apocalyptic fascist coup” involving BOTH Joe Biden and Donald Trump working together.

          Cops rushed to him, doused the flames with a fire extinguisher, and sped the man to a nearby hospital in critical condition, where he died the next day.

          According to the NY Times, Max Azzarella, 37, of St. Augustine, Fla., had had a recent history of increasingly bizarre behavior. He was in a cordoned-off area near the courthouse reserved for pro-Trump demonstrators when he doused himself with accelerant and set himself alight. It was hard to say at first whether he was a Trump lover or a Trump hater.

          Either way, ex-President Donald Trump, who wallows in his own election year conspiracy theories, and whose daily utterances also are sounding increasingly unhinged, could likely view Azzarella as a fellow martyr to the “deep state” government that now is “persecuting” Trump in a series of show trials as he seeks another four years in the White House.


          Frankly, though, given Trump’s current health, cognitive status and rage, I think he will be lucky if he makes it to Election Day without suffering a stroke, more noticeable dementia, or even worse.

        Welcome to campaign ’24.


 Picture of Dorian Trump...A striking NY Times image of a disheveled, seemingly disheartened, Trump in the Manhattan courthouse where he is standing trial--the first of several.


          The old saying goes “There’s lies, damn lies—and statistics.”

          Today, I would amend that to read:

           “There’s lies, damn lies—and Republicans.”

          Now that the once-respectable GOP has been transmogrified into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Donald Trump, a lying sack of guts who also happens to be a traitor, a rapist, Vladimir Putin’s and Xi Jinping‘s useful idiot—and now an even more poisonous slow-witted fool--the future of serious two-party government in this country is in dire jeopardy.

          Finally, the mainstream media is starting to report Trump’s increasing mental decline—on exhibit every time he opens his mouth, but especially now when he is addressing adoring—and forgiving—crowds of like-minded supporters in tightly controlled campaign events, the only ones in which he is comfortable.

         In the current issue of, New York psychologist Suzanne Lachmann said Trump, 77, would "seemingly forget how the sentence began and invent something in the middle" resulting in "an incomprehensible word salad"—a behavior, she argued, that is a marker for “patients who have dementia."

           Dr. Lance Dodes, a supervising analyst emeritus of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and retired Harvard Medical School professor, was among those recently quoted by Duty To Warn, an association of mental health professionals publicly concerned about Trump.

         "Unlike normal aging, which is characterized by forgetting names or words, Trump repeatedly shows something very different: confusion about reality," he wrote in a statement published in April that referred to Trump's confusing Barack Obama with Joe Biden.

             But, of course, that was not Trump’s only recent case of mistaken identity. Remember how he whined that Nikki Haley, his then-rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, could have stopped the Jan. 6th rioters if she really had wanted to? (Trump actually meant to smear then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with this lie.)

            This raises a question for me, a former White House correspondent and national political correspondent, who tried over 20 years with the New York Daily News—through Democratic and Republican administrations--to be as objective as possible in his political reporting from Washington…

             “How can one be objective in reporting on Donald Trump?”

             My answer: one cannot be. With Donald Trump, all bets are off in terms of objectivity. In fact, I would argue that slavish “on the one hand this; on the other hand that” objectivity when reporting about Trump, his increasingly bizarre meanderings and his lies performs a disservice to this country and our democracy by effectively legitimizing what he says as acceptable political discourse.

            The old constraints on what one could say (or get away with) when running for office have been shattered by an obese, short-fingered vulgarian (thank you Graydon Carter) whose mendacity comes seasoned with a rancid mix of racism, xenophobia, greed and stupidity.


          Add to this now increasing dementia.


Trump never could have achieved what he has without his rabid followers, who feel this demented con man speaks for them.             © Frank Van Riper


          Two predictions:

          1. Trump will never appear at traditional campaign rallies, open to the general public, where he can be heckled (and rattled) by people who don’t support (read: love) him. He will spend the fall campaign in his red baseball cap speaking ONLY to adoring, screened crowds under the watchful eyes of his security detail  and his protective staff.

          2.  Trump will NOT agree to presidential debates with incumbent president Joe Biden. When he was the heavy favorite to clinch the GOP nomination (and already was in control of much of the GOP’s apparatus) Trump got a pass when he refused to share the podium with countless other nominee-wannabes. This time I believe Trump knows he can’t debate Biden. Never good at spontaneous thought requiring whole sentences, he is even worse now.

           Donald Trump probably fears losing his marbles even more than he fears losing his money. Serious dementia runs in his family, directly from his own father, Fred Trump.

          Frederick Christ Trump (1905-99) a controversial Queens real-estate developer who was accused of systematic “redlining” to keep black folks out of his enterprises—not to mention real estate profiteering during World War 2—went downhill quickly after he first showed signs of dementia in the early 1990s. At the time Fred Trump was barely ten years older than Donald is now.

          Mary Trump, Donald Trump’s niece who also is a clinical psychologist and author of a tell-all book describing her uncle as the “World’s Most Dangerous Man,” has publicly said that Donald is a severe “narcissist” who grew "visibly upset at his father’s descent into dementia," notably when Fred did not recognize Donald at a family gathering.

          So upset—some might say frightened—by his father’s worsening condition, that he reportedly preferred that the old man be kept out of his sight.

          It does not take a genius to see how candidate Trump projects his own fears of frailty when he lashes out at ”sleepy Joe” Biden and says that Biden’s the one who is losing it. Only Biden isn’t the one who is slurring words even when reading a teleprompter, mispronouncing them embarrassingly, or having trouble staying awake at his trial.


I long for the day when the only thing we will have to remember Trump by is this toilet brush. © Frank Van Riper


          Keep in mind: Trump’s astonishing political rise in 2015-16 could not have happened without help—not just from spineless Republicans who dared not speak against him, but also from the internet--and Trump’s vaunted ‘base.’

          Let me be candid: ever since Hillary Clinton (legitimately) badmouthed the “basket of deplorables” opposing her presidential run against Trump in 2016, the Trump “base” has gotten off far too easily—aided by willing left-of-center journalists trying to be oh-so-evenhanded in describing these people, whose ranks too often are full of racist, xenophobic, conspiracy-minded knuckle-draggers.

          I’m certain of this: without the internet and social media giving Trump’s hare-brained views currency among society’s bottom feeders, Donald Trump would today be remembered only as bankrupt former real estate guy from Queens who had a hit TV show.

           “The formation of public opinion is out of control because of the way the internet is forming groups and dispersing information freely,” Robert C. Post, a Yale law professor and former dean, said in an interview three years ago with my former colleague Tom Edsall, now a columnist for the NY Times.

         Quoting Post, Edsall said: “Before the advent of the internet people were always crazy, but they couldn’t find each other, they couldn’t talk and disperse their craziness. Now we are confronting a new phenomenon and we have to think about how we regulate that in a way which is compatible with people’s freedom to form public opinion.”

           Or put another way: years ago, people spouting Trump’s views about, say, Mexican rapists overwhelming our southern border or about Clorox enemas to fight Covid, would have largely been ignored with eye rolls, not allowed to spout, cancer-like, via thousands of internet eyeballs.

           I leave the last word to columnist David Brooks of the NY Times:

           “Trust is the faith that other people will do what they ought to do. When there are no shared moral values and norms, then social trust plummets. People feel alienated and under siege, and, as Hannah Arendt observed, lonely societies turn to authoritarianism. People eagerly follow the great leader and protector, the one who will lead the us/them struggle that seems to give life meaning.”

           This is what we face this year as we head to the polls in November.


Frank Van Riper is a Washington-based documentary photographer, author, and former political journalist. He was a 1979 Nieman Fellow at Harvard and jointly holds (with the late Lars-Erik Nelson) the 1980 Merriman Smith Memorial Award from the White House Correspondents Association.



Van Riper Named to Communications Hall of Fame


Frank Van Riper addresses CCNY Communications Alumni at National Arts Club in Manhattan after induction into Communications Alumni Hall of Fame, May 2011.   (c) Judith Goodman

[Copyright Frank Van Riper. All Rights Reserved.  Published 4/23/24]