Weekend Open Thread: Object Permanence, Covid, and the Trump Worldview.


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“When you test, you have a case.
When you test, you find something is wrong with people.
If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”
– President Donald J. Trump

“Object permanence,” as you may already know, is an important concept in the theories of influential child psychologist Jean Piaget, and refers to a child’s ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard.  In the first six months of their lives, babies are extremely egocentric.  They “have no concept that the world exists separate from their point of view” – their point of view at that very moment, that is:

“To determine if object permanence was present, Piaget would show a toy to an infant before hiding it or taking it away. In one version of his experiment, Piaget would hide a toy under a blanket and then observe to see if the infant would search for the object. Some of the infants would appear confused or upset by the loss while other infants would instead look for the object.

“Piaget believed that the children who were upset that the toy was gone lacked the understanding of object permanence, while those who searched for the toy had reached this developmental milestone. In Piaget’s experiments, this tended to occur around the age of 8 to 9 months…” [although it’s now thought that usually occurs earlier, between 6 and 8 months.]

Watching our President, we begin to wonder if it’s possible that some adults – even high-functioning ones – may never have developed object permanence.  To believe that cases of a disease or virus are CAUSED by testing for that disease or virus is a sign of not yet having reached that stage.  The infantilism of our President has long been noted and mocked, but for the Free World to be led by a man stuck in a developmental stage before 8 months is … more severe and troubling than we thought.

Fish rotting head-down and all, we’ve all noticed the increases in America’s racism and sexism in the years since a proud racist and sexist was elected to be our leader – Trump models the pathologies that most Americans were previously ashamed of, if only a little, if only enough to control their behavior a bit.  That’s gone now.

In the same way we see Trump’s infantilism and denial of plain reality mirrored in the more susceptible populace around us:  

  • Supervisor Wagner incapable of grasping that opening up the economy and following public health advice are not contradictory but mutually necessary. 
  • Supervisor Michelle Steel discerning “species discrimination” in the public health advice to not put masks on dogs, but only humans. 
  • Valley-girl anti-mask speakers at the Board of Supervisors rolling their eyes, “HELLO?? Are we still TALKING about this?” to the applause of their cohorts. 
  • Facebook trolls hissing “I’m SO OVER this” when the topic turns to coronavirus.  (And then actually coming down with it!)  

After all, what’s the point of being more mature than the Leader of the Free World?

I hope that when, in the centuries to come when we try to figure out how America ever elected Trump (assuming a future with thought still exists) we can see him as a sort of object lesson, where we put the absolute worst of us, all our pettiness, cruelty, stupidity, solipsism, and infantilism, up onto the pedestal of the Presidency, just so we could learn to purge all those things from ourselves, for good.

Can I get an “Amen?”

I suppose this is your Weekend Open Thread.  Then VENT, me hearties!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.