The Ig Nobel Prize is given to those who make earth-shattering observations which on their face are hilariously funny, but deeply true just the same. Justin Kruger and David Dunning won theirs in 2000 for a paper entitled “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessements.” The entire paper can be summed up with this one graph:
Donald Trump is at the pinnacle of confidence in every category of Making America Great Again™, and expert in only one: Making Donald Trump Look Great*. We could have a great deal of confidence that he will take the controls of American governance and do only one thing: crash it.
It doesn’t matter what policies a President Trump pursues. It doesn’t matter if his term is marked with peerless efficiency or (more likely) unsurpassed fecklessness. He doesn’t know enough about ends and means to know how incompetent he is at both. Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett wrote this about Trump in 1979:
Trump’s problem is not so much what he’s done, but how he’s done it. I decided at the start that I wanted to profile him by describing his deals — not his lifestyle or his personality. After getting to know him, I realized that his deals are his life. He once told me: “I won’t make a deal just to make a profit. It has to have flair.” Another Manhattan developer said it differently: “Trump won’t do a deal unless there’s something extra — a kind of moral larceny — in it. He’s not satisfied with a profit. He has to take something more. Otherwise, there’s no thrill.”
The presidency is Trump’s ultimate deal. Politics has run in the Trump family for a century. Spreading the cash around to acquire political favors is a Trump mainstay–it was for dad Fred and it is for Donald. The apple has not fallen far from the tree.
In 1966 the Fred Trump/Bunny Lindenbaum relationship became a major city scandal. The State Investigations Commission, after extensive public and private hearings, issued a report on the handling of Trump Village’s $60 million Mitchell-Lama mortgage and prompted the commission chairman, Jacob Grumet, to publicly assail Trump, Lindenbaum, et al. as “grasping and greedy individuals” and ask housing finance officials: “Is there any way of preventing a man who does business in that way from getting another contract with the state?”
Then there was Fred Trump’s racism, which Donald defended.
According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the central office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. Three doormen were told to discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents. A super said he was instructed to send black applicants to the central office but to accept white applications on site. Another rental agent said that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to blacks. Further, the agent said Trump wanted “to decrease the number of black tenants” already in the development “by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.”
Donald Trump charged in the press that the suit was part of a “nationwide drive to force owners of moderate and luxury apartments to rent to welfare recipients.”
“We are not going to be forced by anyone to put people…in our buildings to the detriment of tenants who have, for many years, lived in these buildings, raised families in them, and who plan to continue to live there. That would be reverse discrimination,” he said. “The government is not going to experiment with our buildings to the detriment of ourselves and the thousands who live in them now.”
If the deflections and doubletalk sound familiar 37 years later, we know where they were learned. I am not suggesting that (Donald) Trump is a racist. I don’t believe he is. But I do believe he is very comfortable dealing with racist attitudes, and knows how to use them to his advantage.
To Trump, government is simply a means to an end–pull a lever, throw some cash, and get a result. To hell with checks and balances, separation of powers, limitations of executive authority. In the White House, He will be the authority. And after 70 years of the executive branch usurping legislative prerogatives, and Congress abdicating its own authority to presidential fiat and the administrative state, Trump will have the power to implement his will, his way.
Speaker Ryan already signaled his acquiescence to Trump’s authority when he agreed to step down as Chairman of the Republican National Convention should Trump request it. Will it be any different with President Trump?
The bully billionaire doesn’t know what he’s doing, and has no desire to listen to others’ advice. He sees no difference between means and ends. Instead of a president, we will have a Caesar, an Emperor whose pronouncements will carry the weight of a royal proclamation; a religious imprimatur; a legal mandamus. Do his supporters and appeasers realize the damage he will do to our system of government?
Once in office, a power-drunk Trump will certainly seek a second term. By the end of that he will be a spry 79. Fred Trump lived 93 years, his mind only succumbing to Alzheimers in his late 80’s. Trump’s mother Mary Ann MacLeod Trump lived to be 88. Donald has the genes to torment us for many years and hand pick his successor.
American politics has always been considered to be so corrupt as to be incorruptible, in the sense that our polity will only allow the government to move so far in one direction before a natural counterbalance forms and pushes back. Mostly that’s because of the limited powers of the executive and the constant re-elections of the lower house of Congress. Trump could be the stone that breaks the counterweight.
If a dilettante billionaire with nothing but charisma and a flare for showmanship can win the presidency, who will be next? Our national appetite for reality shows, bread and circuses won’t be satisfied by boring governors, senators or members of congress. Give us someone interesting! Give us someone who can seduce women with a glance! Give us someone who will make the trains run on time, force businesses to their knees or else, and generally improve the lot of the common man.
Give us Il Duce!
Mussolini was actually a very learned man, an academic and bookworm. He was also a Fascist, a philanderer and a physical coward. If Trump were more than an inexperienced naif in governing, history, and statesmanship, he’d realize how much his beliefs have in common with Benito, and how badly it ended for the Italian dictator.
Hillary Clinton in the White House will be a national shame and a scourge for all conservatives. I will never support her. But a Trump presidency may have an even worse outcome: Destruction of the foundation of our Republic.
*I will accede that Trump did a fairly good job raising his kids to adopt his values; they seem to be fairly well-adjusted, healthy people. I will also agree that Trump isn’t prone to wasting his own money, only other people’s. These are solid elements of success in life. But they don’t outweigh even a hundredth of the negatives.