David Brooks keeps writing about Trump as though he’s just discovering him for the first time. Every column in which Brooks condemns Trump in his very special way that, no matter what, always feels like an over-rehearsed retort the nerd delivers to the bully on the playground that falls completely flat. They always come off like a punch in a dream—no weight behind them. So while I welcome one of America’s leading Conservative Intellectuals© going for The Donald’s throat, he’s always at least a little bit off about something (“When the World is Led by a Child,” The New York Times, 5/16/2017):
At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.
But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.
This is the introduction, and the rest of the column is a take-down. But I have to quibble with the notion that Trump is not a budding authoritarian.
Brooks is right to say Trump isn’t a populist: his, or really Paul Ryan’s, proposed health care bill is a huge tax cut for the rich, and his, or really Paul Ryan’s, idea of tax reform is yet again huge tax cuts for the rich. But Trump does have authoritarian tendencies; he’s just too inept to find a way to implement them, because figuring out a way to do that would take work, and Trump hates work.
Like Brooks suggests, Trump is a mental infant, and it’s in that way that his authoritarianism expresses itself. For example, Trump gets two scoops of ice cream for dessert, but everyone else only gets one. He appears to have fired James Comey out of anger more than as a sinister power move. In his unwillingness to do the legwork to get major legislation moving, he issues poorly-worded executive orders that get hung up in the courts. These are all childish impulses and don’t include his fidgeting, his manic and unfocused responses to questions, and his low level of diction and disdain for reading.
But we saw last week how quickly those who were becoming mildly amused by Trump’s incompetence careened wildly toward panic mode when it appeared that Trump had fired Comey with the explicit purpose of obstructing the FBI’s investigation into his campaign (which still may be the case, but his careless reveal of highly classified information in the absence of any sort of pressure suggests he’s still just an impulsive idiot), which means that even if he’s not aware of it, Trump has at his disposal the tools to enact more authoritarian schemes, especially since Republicans in congress are continually uninterested in reacting to everything he does.
So yes, Trump is stupid. But don’t discount his ability to do something awful—on purpose.