Friday, April 21, 2017


I think The Atlantic's Michelle Cottle is almost serious about this:
Let the betting pools begin: What will be the next policy issue that Donald Trump suddenly discovers is way more complicated than “anyone” ever imagined?

... It’s hard not to be unnerved by the level of on-the-job training Trump requires.

... That said, what if some good could come from Trump’s cluelessness? What if, as he slammed head first into the real-world complexity of the problems he so blithely vowed to fix, he tried to bring his voters along with him in his education—at least part of the way?

... it’s precisely because of his anti-establishment, know-nothing persona that Trump may well be uniquely suited to the delivering such lessons of politics and government.

... With Trump’s Policy-for-Dummies speaking style, the difficulties of even eye-glazing issues could be laid out without voters’ feeling patronized. Better still, Trump would be delivering the tutorials as information that he himself had only recently learned. (“As my good friend President Xi shared with me just last week ...”) Everyone would be in more or less the same boat, so no one would need to feel belittled.

... he’s almost childlike in his delight at learning something new—even when it’s something most adults would be too embarrassed to admit they hadn’t long known.
It's true -- he's very open about the fact that he's just learned a fact he should have known well before he ran for president, and that can seem surprising given the rest of the rhetoric, which largely focuses on his own omnipotence.

But this wouldn't work. Cottle writes:
For Trump, sharing with voters a bit of the intricacies of governing would have the added benefit of making him look like less of a loser when some debate or issue doesn’t go his way. When Trump boasts that all it takes to solve Problem XYZ is instinct and toughness, he looks all the worse when negotiations break down or Congress gives him the finger or he has to do a policy 180. (Of course China is isn’t a currency manipulator!) But if he could unpack his discovery that the situation is, in fact, much more complicated, then maybe everyone’s understanding of government could improve.
But Trump will never concede that he failed because a problem his administration tried to solve was difficult. He still has a compelling emotional need to be perceived as all-powerful. So he'd much rather blame other people when he fails.

As for turning his presidency into a civics tutorial, that would require Trump to actually remember what he learned when he lived through all these learning experiences. Do you think he can still tell you anything Xi Jinping told him in that famous ten-minute tutorial about China and Korea? Apart from "It's complicated," do you think he recalled any of it even two hours later?

I think Trump unabashedly recounts obvious facts -- health insurance is complicated, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican -- not because he's humble enough to confess earlier ignorance, but because he thinks the facts are obscure bits of insider knowledge to which he, as the ultimate insider, now has access. He thinks recounting them shows he's smarter and savvier than the people he's talking to. I think he literally believes that the reporters in the press pool didn't know the obvious facts until he told them.

Cottle is imagining a peculiar version of Undercover Boss, in which Trump, as a former citizen (and thus technically a taxpaying boss of officeholders, assuming he paid any taxes), now gets the job of president and sees that it's harder than it looks. But I can't imagine this ending with hugging and learning. Trump isn't being humble when he tells us what, to us, is blindingly obvious. He thinks he's being superior.

No comments: