Monday, October 16, 2023


In a New York Times op-ed, Katherine Miller writes about recent Donald Trump campaign speeches:
He brings ... emotion to tracing everything going wrong in the world back to: What if they hadn’t rigged the election? Then, in the dream sequences that pepper Mr. Trump’s speeches, there would be no inflation, no war in Ukraine, no bad Afghanistan withdrawal. Forget what we’ll do now or what we should have done then.

The broad themes Mr. Trump is working with right now are that Mr. Biden picked economic policies that are crazy and because the Afghanistan withdrawal was so bad, the world has fallen apart — but with 2020 always lurking nearby. “All these things wouldn’t have happened if the election weren’t rigged,” he said in Cedar Rapids. “If the election weren’t rigged, you wouldn’t have Ukraine, you wouldn’t have had any of it. It’s so sad what they’ve done. There’s plenty of evidence. It’s all there. You know it.” In Florida last week, he added one to the mix: Hamas would never have attacked Israel. “You’re in a different world,” he said in West Palm Beach, “and it’s getting worse.”
Trump imagines a Utopia in the second term he wasn't granted, but he has no idea how it would have happened. As Miller writes, "Forget what we’ll do now or what we should have done then" -- Trump has no idea. Nevertheless, he's certain that he would have done an amazing job, and his base, which is not particularly well educated, agrees.

I don't think everyone in Trump's base is stupid exactly, but they're mostly people who have expertise in certain areas -- maybe they run marinas or are retired union factory workers -- but don't respect expertise in general. I'm an elite-college-educated son of working-class parents, so I've been on both sides of this. My education, and probably yours, taught me to believe that while not every credentialed expert is right about everything, there is such a thing as expertise, and if you want to understand a subject you don't know much about, you should start by learning what's being said by people who know the subject well.

You should do this with some skepticism, of course, but the kinds of people who follow Trump bring nothing but skepticism to the statements of mainstream experts. They believe in a kind of anti-expertise: The real expert is someone without credentials who says credentialed people are full of shit (and the truth is whatever these listeners want to hear).

Trump is their perfect anti-expert. He has no military experience but claims to know more than the generals; he had no foreign policy experience prior to his presidency, yet he (in his telling) handled Putin and Xi and Kim Jong-un masterfully; and so on.

Trump says he's more of an expert than actual experts, but one of his favorite formulations -- don't tell the enemy in a conflict or the other person in a negotiation what you plan to do, to preserve the element of surprise -- is a cover for the fact that Trump can't tell you his own plans, the reason being that he has no plans (and he has no plans because he doesn't know anything about anything). He just thinks he'll slide by on vibes and his own intuitive brilliance. Hs expertise-skeptical base thinks that's a brilliant approach to leadership, an approach that's much better than what ordinary leaders do.

Trump and his fans think this approach actually worked during his four years in office. The economy was good (at least until the pandemic) because Trump served at the perfect point in the post-recovery business cycle; Xi and Putin and the combatants in the Middle East caused fewer problems for Trump than for Biden for reasons unrelated to who was the American president. Trump lucked out, and now he and his people think dumb luck is a plan for the next presidential term. If he wins, it won't work a second time. The Trumpers don't know that, but we'll all find out. And it's going to be ugly.

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