Although I agree with Josh Marshall (and the rest of the sane world) that Trump is an idiot, I’m not sure about this point (“Trump and the Problem of Militant Ignorance,” Talking Points Memo, 4/14/2017):
So far the Trump Presidency has been a sort of Mr Magoo performance art in which the comically ignorant Trump learns elemental or basic things that virtually everyone in the world of politics or government already knew – things that the majority of adults probably know. Health Care: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” North Korea: “I felt pretty strongly that they had tremendous power. But it’s not what you think.” There are perhaps half a dozen examples equally stark.
In other words, President Trump is open about his discoveries and even eager to share them but universally projects his previous state of comical ignorance onto the general public or whomever he is talking to.
There’s no doubt that Trump is fully ignorant about the laws surrounding health care or the complexity of the relationship between China and North Korea. But I don’t believe he’s ignorant to the extent that he doesn’t know that health care reform isn’t simple or that China can’t solve the North Korea situation by snapping its proverbial fingers. Again, he’s ignorant in the sense that he’s unaware of the complex nature of these and a million other examples, but (probably) not ignorant in the sense that he really believed they could be solved overnight by an alpha male.
When Trump tells The Wall Street Journal that he learned a lot about China and North Korea from Xi in ten minutes over chocolate cake, I don’t think he’s telling them that he genuinely learned something. (Maybe he did, but I seriously doubt it was some sort of revelation.) Instead, Trump is making up an excuse for whatever future action he takes (or doesn’t take) with regards to North Korea. He’s trying to make the impression that he gleaned information from the Chinese president that us normal peons are unaware of and perhaps can’t appreciate.
So I don’t believe these are genuine “discoveries” of Trump’s. I’m not yet willing to go down that rabbit hole because I don’t want another repeat of George W. Bush in the sense that liberals believed he was a complete idiot. Bush was incompetent and unqualified, but I don’t believe, and didn’t believe then, that he’s a genuinely stupid person. Trump, on the other hand, is a stupid person—I merely object to the notion that he’s so ignorant of the world that he’s constantly discovering things as a child would in the manner Marshall describes. Trump knows that drafting a health care bill isn’t easy, though once he found out just how complicated it would be he didn’t bother to try.
Trump is an ignorant person in virtually every way imaginable, but Marshall is confusing the extent of Trump’s supposed ignorance with straight-up lies. No serious person believed Trump when he said he knew more about ISIS “than the generals,” so we wouldn’t say that Trump stating the ISIS situation is more complicated than people know as complete ignorance of the situation—yes, Trump is ignorant of the nuances of operations surrounding ISIS, but it’s doubtful that he actually thought for a second that he knew more about it than the top military brass.
Regardless of this very fine point, the problem remains the same: Trump is an idiot and is the most powerful person in the world.