Congress invited the CEO of Google to explain why Google image searches for the word “idiot” returns a mosaic of Trump portraits. The answer is simple, people use the two words (Trump and idiot) together A LOT.
I can’t tell you how often I see people shake their heads and ask how anyone can support a man who knows so little about things he’s supposedly in charge of.
I tell them that they’re making a mistake if they’re simply discounting him as dumb because that means that they probably don’t understand the game he’s playing. Or how deadly serious of a game it is.
Rethink your yardstick of intelligence
Trump regularly talks about things he has absolutely no understanding of and fills in his lack of knowledge with made up facts or outright lies. Take, for instance, his claim that the murder rate “is the highest it’s been in 47 years.”
This statement is the crime equivalent of saying the world is flat. The fact that crimes, including serious crimes like murder, have been steadily declining for the past 40 years, and is near all-time lows, is one of the most basic facts about crime today. Anyone with even a basic understanding of crime would know this.
So, if your yardstick of intelligence is whether someone knows stuff, then clearly, he is extraordinarily dumb. Easily one of the dumbest Presidents in modern times.
But before dismissing him as a simpleton, I’d caution you to stop and rethink your yardstick.
The core issue is that he is an authoritarian not an idiot.
Throughout modern history, the purpose of facts is not to convey truth or knowledge but to use facts (the more fanciful the better) as strategic tools to achieve political ends. An end that most people don’t recognize until it is far too late.
Trump’s selling a world-view not knowledge
First, keep in mind that Trump did not create the authoritarian playbook. He’s using the playbook all modern authoritarians use. And they do it for good reason… it works well.
His goal isn’t to convey truth but to reinforce and spread an ideology, a world-view.
One where he creates a problem, some mythical boogieman pulled from the collective conscious of his constituents, so that he can slay this dragon and come off as the hero.
His followers whoop and cheer at rallies while handing over their rights, and the rights of others, in the name of their authoritarian protector who continues to amass more control and power.
He wins, they win (or at least they think they do), and his opponents leave dazed, confused, and befuddled.
A good example is this tweet… “Could somebody please explain to the Democrats (we need their votes) that our Country losses 250 Billion Dollars a year on illegal immigration, not including the terrible drug flow. Top Border Security, including a Wall, is $25 Billion. Pays for itself in two months. Get it done!”
Clearly, no part of this statement is factually or logically true, but it doesn’t matter. Again, conveying factual knowledge was never the goal.
This is why his tactics so often infuriate his critics. They think he’s playing one game but when he plays it wrong yet still wins, they can’t comprehend how some buffoon keeps out-maneuvering them.
In many ways, this tweet is a master-class political ballet, simultaneously outwitting his critics while rallying his supporters who gladly hand over more money and power for a greater sense of protection.
Let’s break down the logic behind his statement.
He understands his opponents much better than they understand him or themselves
First, critics are drawn, almost compulsively, to debate his numbers ($250 billion). They scratch their heads scrambling to make sense of them. Even Politifact said, “It’s entirely unclear where Trump’s estimate comes from.”
But if you follow his prior tactics, it’s pretty straightforward where he got that number… he made it up. He took the highest number he found floating around the right-wing blogosphere (currently $115 billion) then doubled it to some round number.
Because if you’ll believe a false number like $115 billion, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t also believe $250 billion. And before his presidency’s over, there’s a good chance he’ll probably double it again when it’s convenient.
He’s selling the boogieman his followers want to believe
The reason fantasy works so well is because his followers already want the fantasy to be true. Or already do.
This particular set of beliefs is that… 1. immigrants are bad, 2. he (as always) has the solution so should be given more money and power and 3. those that oppose him (Democrats) are both ignorant and aligned with wrongdoers.
If you’re a supporter, you likely already believe all these things to be true. Especially that Democrats are wrongdoers and undocumented immigrants are a huge financial liability.
What exactly that cost is no one knows (I’ve searched but can’t find a consensus answer). But they believe that there’s some number and it’s really big. Whether it’s $2 billion, $250 billion, or even $1.2 trillion makes no difference because no matter what number he says, his goal is simply to reinforce his world-view. Therefore, any large number will suffice.
If you hold the world-view that immigrants are bad and costly, there’s no set of facts that would change your mind. Any analysis that shows them to be a benefit and net gain is instinctively dismissed as politically motivated, biased accounting.
On the other hand, the reverse is also true. If you don’t support him and believe that immigration’s the backbone of our country, there’s probably no set of facts that would change your mind about that either. It’s part of our nature to accept facts that resonate with pre-existing world-views while ignoring those that don’t.
For instance, when I said that crime’s been on the decline for forty years, did you actually check that it’s true? Probably not. Most likely you either accepted it as true or rejected it as false based on what you already believed. (Although, I would never lie to you. It really is true.)
Critics can’t resist falling into his trap and doing his bidding
Trump’s tactics outplay his opponents in other more subtle and important ways. By throwing out blatantly false numbers, he knows that his opponents can’t resist responding because they think he’s playing a game of facts.
Once they’ve engaged in a debate about the right cost of something, the question of whether that something has a cost is logically settled.
They’ve unwittingly proven his point for him. At least in the minds of his supporters.
Another trap he knows they can’t resist is the constant use of poor grammar and punctuation.
He knows there’s no reason to use five capital letters in a phrase like “Top Border Security, including a Wall, is $25 Billion.”
But when critics mock his grammar, all they accomplish is to reinforce the belief among his followers that 1. he is a regular Joe like them and speaks their language and that 2. his critics are elitists.
The grammar police might be the only social group more universally hated than politicians.
At its core, the game he’s playing is to sell an ideology to rally supporters to his cause of greater authoritarian control and power while baiting his opponents into unwittingly reinforcing his message.
Once you understand this, you need to do three things. First, do not dismiss him as dumb. Understand how his use of facts is strategic political tools that works surprisingly well.
Second, stop getting baited into his traps. Don’t worry about grammar and don’t debate false facts. Point out that they’re lies and move on.
Third, focus on building an alternative. Once you’ve made people aware of his authoritarian game, if you don’t offer a viable alternative, your efforts would be futile because they have nowhere else to go.