We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world – bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are whores for power and oil with hate and fear in our hearts.
~ Hunter S. Thompson
I have restrained myself from joining the liberal chorus that labels Donald Trump as “stupid” in reaction to his many blatantly ignorant false statements—and his intentional lies. It is not that he is so smart, or that he is not so ignorant as he appears. Lies are, after all, a form of violence, not physical, but mental cruelty. Certainly, Trump is neither particularly smart nor well informed. But that’s not the point. We have had various presidents of diverse levels of personal competence. This time something is different.
Trump transmitted many of his statements to the public out of a need to generate a reaction and cause chaos among his many perceived enemies. In his quest for attention and adulation, Trump will impulsively do anything. He wants to harm others, which makes indiscretion all the easier. He simply cares not one bit about accuracy or truth, or the pain of others, as long as he is able to “make waves.”
All that constitutes a severe threat to the Republic.
Stupid as a Fox?
In the political context, the various expert psychiatric assessments of Trump’s extreme narcissism and sociopathy mean little. His actions speak for themselves. Trump’s penchant for cruelty toward immigrant children he sees as alien others (other than human) raised strong humanitarian indignation at first. Nevertheless, the public far too quickly normalized his crimes against humanity, as the media far too quickly grew bored with repeated reports of new atrocities.
But in the tragic aftermath of Trump’s utter failure of leadership—indeed, his anti-leadership—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent economic collapse, we were most shocked. His fundamental ignorance of basic facts and his capricious assertion of strange ideas—think hydroxychloroquine—expressed so casually, many found puzzling but not quite enraging. Why?
We must remember, however, that ignorance is different from stupidity. Many folks know that they don’t know certain things. Some may even know what they don’t know. However, often they do know that they might benefit from the knowledge of others. Most presidents gather men and women of knowledge around them to assure sound presidential decision-making. Trump prefers the megalomania of his “gut.”
Oppression is More than a Lifestyle
Yes, Trump is different. He does not care whether or what he knows, or not. To him, facts are mere tools to create and use in the pursuit of power. If facts conflict with his quest for power, then he creates “alternative facts.”
That is why it is important to understand Hannah Arendt’s explanation of the role of “facts” in the minds of tyrants:
Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it.
~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, quoted in Vox Populi.
This, of course, brings to mind Trump’s repeated expression of his desire to limit testing for exposure to the novel coronavirus and his entirely unsubstantiated assertion that mail-in ballots are subject to widespread fraud.
Trump much prefers the illusion that somehow if we had less testing there would be fewer cases. Facts do not matter; only the appearance of fact is his concern. He knows that with fewer documented cases, people might be insufficiently concerned about the risks to blame him for refusing to establish an aggressive viral suppression program as so many other nations have done with excellent results.
Trump knows that many Democrats, who fear the risk of infection far more than do members of his ignorant base, are much more likely to vote by mail if able, to protect themselves from the disease. So, he constructs boogeymen out of thin air to stoke fear of a tainted election, which he can then use on his defeat as a justification for invalidating the election results.
So, Trump is not entirely stupid. He just acts that way because he is too stupid to know the difference between ignorance and stupidity, and is incapable of recognizing either in himself. After all, neither facts nor good judgment matter to the wannabe tyrant—he creates them as he goes along his path to power. Sadly, so many others still cannot tell the difference.