One of the reasons it’s so difficult to determine whether Donald Trump and members of his administration are “guilty” of colluding with a hostile foreign power is that it’s hard to distinguish between criminality and stupidity.
We often hear that while there’s “a lot of smoke,” there is, as of now anyway, “no fire.”
That’s completely consistent with what generally happens when stupid people accidentally do something illegal. You end up being able to trace them to the crime, but you can’t prove intent because during the course of the investigation, their diminished mental capacity becomes so readily apparent that you begin to question whether they’re even capable of doing something iniquitous.
Trump’s actions fit that description almost to a T.
Who, for instance, would be so oblivious to bad optics as to risk firing the FBI Director in charge of an investigation into Russian meddling in an election and then brag about it just hours later to two Russians?
Or, what kind of person would take to Twitter to lambast a judiciary that just blocked an executive order knowing full well that the very same circuit will be revisiting the very same executive order in the weeks and months ahead?
The answer: someone who is more stupid than he is nefarious.
With that in mind, consider the following amusing excerpts from Max Boot’s latest entitled “Donald Trump Is Proving Too Stupid to Be President”…
I’m starting to suspect that Donald Trump may not have been right when he said, “You know, I’m like a smart person.” The evidence continues to mount that he is far from smart – so far, in fact, that he may not be capable of carrying out his duties as president.
There is, for example, the story of how Trump met with the pastors of two major Presbyterian churches in New York. “I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” he bragged. When the pastors told Trump they weren’t evangelicals, he demanded to know, “What are you then?” They told him they were mainline Presbyterians. “But you’re all Christians?” he asked. Yes, they had to assure him, Presbyterians are Christians. The kicker: Trump himself is Presbyterian.
Or the story of how Trump asked the editors of the Economist whether they had ever heard of the phrase “priming the pump.” Yes, they assured him, they had. “I haven’t heard it,” Trump continued. “I mean, I just … I came up with it a couple of days ago, and I thought it was good.” The phrase has been in widespread use since at least the 1930s.
Or the story of how, after arriving in Israel from Saudi Arabia, Trump told his hosts, “We just got back from the Middle East.”
These aren’t examples of stupidity, you may object, but of ignorance. This has become a favorite talking point of Trump’s enablers. House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, excused Trump’s attempts to pressure FBI Director James Comey into dropping a criminal investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on the grounds that “the president’s new at this” and supposedly didn’t realize that he was doing anything wrong. But Trump has been president for nearly five months now, and he has shown no capacity to learn on the job.
More broadly, Trump has had a lifetime – 71 years – and access to America’s finest educational institutions (he’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he never tires of reminding us) to learn things. And yet he doesn’t seem to have acquired even the most basic information that a high school student should possess. Recall that Trump said that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” He also claimed that Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War, “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.”
Why does he know so little? Because he doesn’t read books or even long articles. “I never have,” he proudly told a reporter last year. “I’m always busy doing a lot.” As president, Trump’s intelligence briefings have been dumbed down, denuded of nuance, and larded with maps and pictures because he can’t be bothered to read a lot of words. He’d rather play golf.
There’s a reason why surveys show more support for Trump’s impeachment than for his presidency. From his catastrophically ill-conceived executive order on immigration to his catastrophically ill-conceived firing of Comey, his administration has been one disaster after another. And those fiascos can be ascribed directly to the president’s lack of intellectual horsepower.
How could Trump fire Comey knowing that the FBI director could then testify about the improper requests Trump had made to exonerate himself and drop the investigation of Flynn? And in case there was any doubt about Trump’s intent, he dispelled it by acknowledging on TV that he had the “Russia thing” in mind when firing the FBI director. That’s tantamount to admitting obstruction of justice. Is this how a smart person behaves? If Trump decides to fire the widely respected special counsel Robert Mueller, he will only be compounding this stupidity.
Or what about Trump’s response to the June 3 terrorist attack in London? He reacted by tweeting his support for the “original Travel Ban,” rather than the “watered down, politically correct version” under review by the Supreme Court. Legal observers – including Kellyanne Conway’s husband – instantly saw that Trump was undermining his own case, because the travel ban had been revised precisely in order to pass judicial scrutiny. Indeed, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in refusing to reinstate the travel ban on June 12, cited Trump’s tweets against him. Is this how a smart person behaves?
You could argue that Trump’s lack of acumen is actually his saving grace, because he would be much more dangerous if he were cleverer in implementing his radical agenda. But you can also make the case that his vacuity is imperiling American security.