Friday, December 30, 2016


During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump famously said: "I love the poorly educated."

Here's the quote, really just an aside, in its proper context, which came at the end of one of Trump's victory speeches, as he read through a laundry list of the demographic groups he won in the Nevada Republican primary last February:
We won with highly-educated, we won with poorly educated, I love the poorly educated! We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people.
That last sentence would imply that Trump may love the poorly educated, but certainly doesn't equate himself with them. In fact, our president-elect seems to be obsessed with his own IQ, allegedly in the neighborhood of 156, or so he says, well into genius territory. If it's true, that would place him (according to estimates of the IQs of all the presidents) at number two, behind John Quincy Adams and just above Thomas Jefferson.

But with all else in the Trumposphere, claims he makes about himself must be taken with at least a grain of salt, more likely a truckload. To my knowledge, proof of Trump's advanced intelligence does not come from any standardized test, rather the assumption that he must be a genius because he attended a prestigious college, Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Needless to say, dummies need not apply to Wharton, that is unless they have friends in high places or a rich daddy. Trump had both. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from that school, not too shabby.  Still, nothing in his records would indicate he was an exceptional student. He also enrolled at that Ivy League school as a junior after spending two non-incredible years at Fordham University in New York City. Entering Wharton when he did meant he was not subject to the same rigors he would have had as a freshman.

This certainly does not mean that Trump is not a genius, all it means is that unless we believe Trump's word, a shaky proposition at best, from the information we have, the facts about his intelligence are inconclusive.

Genius or not, clearly the guy has some smarts, after all he is very successful at what he does. He also got himself elected President of the United States, doing so using a strategy never attempted before.

Is that remarkable success a result of his staggering intelligence? One of my all time favorite quotes (used in this space before), from one of my all time favorite movies, sheds some light on the issue. In pursuing the life story of the recently departed newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane in the movie Citizen Kane, a reporter interviews Mr. Bernstein, Kane's business manger. The reporter brings up the name of Wall Street tycoon Walter Parks Thatcher, Kane's adopted father/caretaker. Of Thatcher, Bernstein comments: "That man was the biggest darn fool I ever met." to which the reporter quips: "(but) he made a lot of money." Bernstein responds: "Well it's no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want is to make a lot of money."

Trump made a lot of money being ruthless and unscrupulous. by not playing by the rules. Prudent business men and women learned early on that if you did business with him, make sure you got the cash up front. Unfortunately a lot of people never learned that lesson because they were swayed by the Trump brand, which Trump the man, tirelessly promoted, despite much of it being little more than smoke and mirrors. If Trump has a genius, it's for self promotion, driven by a superhuman ego, fueled by a pathological sense of self-importance, and his legendary narcissism.

I'm reminded here about jury duty. If you've ever had the privilege of the experience, you no doubt encountered folks incensed at the inconvenience. who talk openly in the jury room about how they plan to get up in front of the judge and tell her or him in no uncertain terms that they have much better things to do than spend precious time performing their public service. But when the time comes to actually face the judge and all those assembled in the courtroom, these folks usually turn out to be sheep in wolves' clothing, trembling and mumbling "no sir" or "no ma'am" when asked if there is any reason they feel they shouldn't serve on the jury, rather than being publicly humiliated by the judge.

But not somebody like Trump. He's the guy who tells off the court then sits there stone faced while the judge reprimands him for being a cad. In the end he wins, as no lawyer or judge is willing to put up with a hostile juror, and he gets sent home.

Long before he ran for president this time around, Donald Trump understood that the key to getting votes was to set himself apart from the other candidates, and the way to do that was get his mug on the airwaves more than they did. Most candidates get attention buying broadcast time to get their point across. Needless to say that costs a lot of money. Trump did an end run around that by understanding that any free media attention, be it positive or negative, worked to his advantage. I needn't go into all the stupid, asinine, and hateful things he did or said during the campaign, it's on record and I'm sure you've heard it all. No matter how pitiful he was, it didn't matter, it got his face on the tube. And for every American who was horrified by Trump and his indiscretions, there was almost another American cheering him on. To the latter group, Donald Trump was the man who would make this country great again by leading it out of the morass of so called "political correctness". To them, his pronouncements, whether they were about Mexicans, Muslims, women, or African Americans, struck a chord, as he was saying exactly what they felt, but wouldn't dare say, before Trump came along that is.

To the other side, that is to say the majority of Americans who didn't vote for him, Trump sounded as if he were running for Doofus-in-Chief.

What ultimately set Trump apart from his opponents, was his willingness to play the role of the fool. The bigger the fool he was, the more media coverage he got. That was the key to his victory. It turned out that all he needed to win the presidency was the vote of a minority of Americans (who lived in the right places), who may not have exactly approved of him, his actions or his lifestyle, but were convinced that if nothing else, he was at the least better than "that lying bitch."

The truly difficult thing for me to understand about this election is the overwhelming willingness of so many Americans to believe every single bad thing they heard about Hillary Clinton, no matter the source. It's true that Mrs. Clinton was not entirely up front and sometimes even blatantly careless with the truth about her own indiscretions. But on the whole, every credible source points out that she was no different in that regard and certainly no worse than other politicians, better than most, and without a doubt light years more open and honest than Donald Trump.

The thing that stands out for me perhaps more than anything else these last several months is the disregard for and utter contempt of reason and facts on the part of Trump's supporters. Despite Trump's obvious character flaws, his lack of understanding of the basic functions of government, and his blatant pandering to the basest of human instincts and values, his supporters without any substantive information to back it up, insisted that Hillary Clinton was much worse. It was like someone convincing himself that the car he just bought, despite an oil leak, cracked engine block and blown transmission, was infinitely superior to the car he didn't buy because of its less than appealing color. 

I think his real draw was the way he presented his message. Hillary Clinton to many, represented the snobbish moneyed cultural elite, and the way she presented herself (especially compared to Trump) emphasized that point. Not that her speeches were exactly college dissertations. but they were substantive to a point. and did contain on occasion, bits and pieces of policy, as well as multi-syllabic words.

In stark contrast, the language of Trump's speeches, actually stream of consciousness rants, were rated at about a fifth grade level, placing him hardly in the Adams-Jeffersonian stratosphere, but bringing up the rear as far as the sophistication of presidential speech making is concerned, that is to say, more in the league of George W. Bush, and that's giving Trump the benefit of the doubt.

Personally I think that fifth grade assessment is a bit of an overreach as my fourth grade daughter uses a broader vocabulary and unlike Trump, has the ability to speak in complete sentences.

It makes one wonder if Trump dumbed down his language in order to better appeal to his beloved uneducated crowd, or did we actually see the real Trump on the stump and he is in fact, not quite as smart as he claims. 

In either case, it's clear to me that rational thought and discourse, self-reflection, honesty, truth and integrity took a real beating in this election. Through whatever force he used, Donald Trump convinced just enough Americans that he, perhaps the most unqualified person ever to be elected president, was more deserving of the job than the person who was, at least as far as experience is concerned, by far the more qualified.

In a sick and twisted way, you kinda have to hand it to him.

This is the dawning of the age of incompetence and Donald Trump is about to be ringmaster and head clown, no easy feat. Maybe he is a genius after all.

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