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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Stable genius

Seriously, how dumb is Trump?

Robert Reich

My definition of stupidity is continuing to do something that has so far cost you a minimum of $91 million because you won’t stop doing it.

In recent days, Trump has again publicly charged that E. Jean Carroll’s allegation of sexual abuse, for which he has been found liable in court, is “false.”

When a jury last year found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, Trump responded at a CNN town hall by defaming Carroll again.

So when it came time earlier this year for another jury to decide what Trump owed Carroll in the second defamation lawsuit, her attorneys asked jurors to make sure it was enough to “make him stop.”

The second jury awarded Carroll $83.3 million (which, with interest added in, is $91 million). But it apparently is still not enough to make Trump stop.

Trump has just renewed his attacks on Carroll in much the same terms as before — claiming that she “made up” the story and that he had “never heard” of her.

Unsurprisingly, Carroll’s attorney now suggests there could be a third lawsuit, because the previous verdict was obviously not enough to dissuade him from more defamation.

I have to wonder why the mainstream media isn’t discussing Trump’s extraordinary stupidity.

The media continues to discuss Trump’s criminal indictments, and is — finally! — noticing that Trump is becoming less and less coherent. But why isn’t it reporting on something almost every lawmaker and journalist in official Washington knows — that Trump is remarkably stupid?

I don’t mean just run-of-the-mill stupid. I mean extraordinarily, off-the-charts, stupifyingly stupid.

In December, Trump said his comments about immigrants “poisoning the blood” of America were not inspired by similar statements made by Adolf Hitler about Jewish people, because Trump “didn’t know anything” about Hitler.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump explained that “I’m not a student of Hitler. I never read his works. They say that he said something about blood, he didn’t say it the way I said it either, by the way, it’s a very different kind of a statement.”

The media interpreted this as Trump trying to backpedal from his Hitler-ish remark. But what if Trump in fact doesn’t know anything about Adolf Hitler?

After all, he recently claimed that magnets don’t work in water, that the Civil War was unnecessary because it should have been “negotiated,” and that no one would know who Lincoln was if he hadn’t gone to war.

Still don’t believe Trump is stupid?

Consider the views of the people who worked most closely with him during his presidency. Anyone remember when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “f—---- moron?”

Or when National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called him a “dope?” And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and even Rupert Murdoch all referred to Trump as an “idiot?” (Technically, Murdoch called him a “f—---- idiot.”)

Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn described Trump as “dumb as s---,” explaining that “Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

When one of Trump’s campaign aides tried to educate him about the Constitution, Trump couldn’t focus. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” the aide recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”

Of course, Trump doesn’t think he’s stupid. “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” he tweeted. As he recounted, “I went to an Ivy League college … I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.”

Trump wasn’t exactly an academic star, however. One of his professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Finance purportedly called Trump “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

Trump biographer Gwenda Blair wrote in 2001 that Trump was admitted to Wharton on a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who had known Trump’s older brother.

But hold on. I ask myself: How could Trump have become president, and now clinch the Republican nomination for the presidency for a third time, if he doesn’t have something in the brain bank? Even if Trump doesn’t read, can’t follow a logical argument, and has the attention span of a fruit fly, I keep believing he must have some intelligence.

Well, it turns out there’s another form of intelligence, called “emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence is a concept developed by two psychologists, John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Yale’s Peter Salovey, and popularized by Dan Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name.

Mayer and Salovey define emotional intelligence as the ability to do two things: “understand and manage our own emotions,” and “recognize and influence the emotions of others.”

True, Trump hasn’t displayed much capacity for the first. He’s thin-skinned, narcissistic, and vindictive. As dozens of Republican foreign policy experts have put it: “He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate criticism."

Okay, but what about Mayer and Salovey’s second aspect of emotional intelligence — influencing the emotions of others?

This is where Trump’s brain outperforms the brains of ordinary mortals. He knows how to manipulate people. He has an uncanny ability to discover their emotional vulnerabilities — their fears, anxieties, prejudices, and darkest desires — and use them for his own purposes.

To put it another way, Trump is an extraordinarily talented conman.

I believe he’s always been a conman. He conned hundreds of young people and their parents into paying to attend his nearly worthless Trump University. He conned banks into lending him more money even after he repeatedly failed to pay them. He conned contractors to work for him even with a well-deserved reputation for stiffing them. He’s been an even greater political conman.

In November 2016, he conned 62,979,879 Americans into voting for him, getting them to believe his lies about Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and all the “wonderful,” “beautiful” things he’d do for the people who’d support him.

And now he’s conned most Republican voters into believing his utterly baseless claim that he won the 2020 election. Political conning is Trump’s genius.

This genius — combined with utter stupidity in every other dimension — poses the clearest and most terrifying danger to America and the world.

Robert Reich is a professor at Berkeley and was secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. You can find his writing at