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Uncovered, Part I: Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

As you may have heard, Donald Trump went on a pretty strange tangent at one of his rallies this weekend, appearing to praise (fictional) serial killer Hannibal Lecter from the movie The Silence of the Lambs (and from the books it is based upon, as well as the various sequels to the movie). Here's what he said:

Has anyone ever seen The Silence of the Lambs? The late, great Hannibal Lecter is a wonderful man. He oftentimes would have a friend for dinner. Remember the last scene? "Excuse me. I'm about to have a friend for dinner." As this poor doctor walked by. "I'm about to have a friend for dinner." But Hannibal Lecter. Congratulations, the late great Hannibal Lecter. We have people who are being released into our country that we don't want in our country, and they're coming in totally unchecked, totally unvetted.

Given the age of Trump's supporters, their general embrace of men who are strong/violent, and the fact that the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture back in 1992, the odds are pretty good his audience knows the movie. (Incidentally, for those who like their Academy Awards trivia, it's the only horror film to win Best Picture, and is the earliest-released relative to the year it won—the release date was February 14, 1991.)

Yesterday, The Bulwark weighed in on the story; their angle was taking The New York Times to task for not covering the story. The site's Jonathan V. Last writes:

Surely this is newsworthy, because it suggests that Donald Trump is either suffering from aphasia or is non compos mentis. And at the risk of belaboring the point: This man could well become president.

Last included a screenshot of the Times' front page, sans Lecter story, and laments that the paper did not get to the story on Monday's front page, either.

To start, the Times actually did cover the story on Monday, they just didn't see fit to put it on Page 1. Beyond that, however, it was also our instinct not to bother with the story. We thought we would explain why.

A part of our non-coverage is that, taken out of context, this quote sounds particularly nonsensical. But there are two things to know if you want to understand what Trump was going for. First, this was part of a lengthy harangue on how those horrible brown immigrants are invading the United States. In this specific case, the former president was referring to a favorite "fact" of his that Venezuela has let all of its most dangerous criminals out of its prisons, and has transported them all to the United States. Other than the fact that Venezuela has let some people out of prison, there's nothing truthful here, and Trump has been called out on this lie on TV (by CNN's Jake Tapper) and could not provide an actual source for his "information."

The second thing to know is that Trump was trying to be funny/sarcastic by implying that one of the evil brown criminals who has invaded the U.S. is Lecter (Note: The character is NOT Latino, and was played by a Welshman, Anthony Hopkins, in the movie). Trump's knowledge of pop culture ends pretty much at the same time as the Cold War, so it's not surprising he went with a reference that is more than 30 years old. And he's the worst president of the television era when it comes to delivering a joke, so it's not surprising people didn't pick up on the jokey element, and thought he was playing it straight.

So, taken out of context, it seems nutty. In context, with a little additional detail added, it's just a standard Trump bizarro monologue. His thought process—or, at very least, his ability to communicate his thought process—has been fuzzy like this for years and years. Consider this headline, for just one example: "Trump's incoherent speech shows why he's unfit to be president." That item is not about the Hannibal Lecter harangue. It's not even about the 2024 campaign, or the 2020 campaign, for that matter. It's from 2016. Even then, it was clear that Trump had declined significantly from the days in the 1980s and 1990s when he was actually reasonably lucid and well-spoken.

Since this aspect of Trump is now baked in, it's really not a story. The people who think Trump has lost his fastball (not to mention his mediumball and his slowball) largely aren't voting for him. The people who ARE voting for him don't care and, in fact, see criticisms of his mental abilities as cheap shots from the pointy-headed, snobbish lib'ruls who are trying to cover for their own candidate's cognitive issues.

It is at least possible that if presidential debates happen, with low-information voters actually paying attention, and Joe Biden and Trump onstage at the same time, the contrast between Biden and Trump could hurt the former president. Not likely, we think, but possible. But until that point, these meandering, nearly incomprehensible rants don't move the needle, and are just par for the course. Probably the only time Trump legitimately makes par, we would guess. (Z)

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