Why Trump’s Ignorance Matters and Why it Doesn’t

Every day it seems that Donald J. Trump reveals some new level of ignorance that boggles the mind. Each day it may be ignorance or misunderstanding of history, the Constitution, diplomacy, the workings of government, non-whites, grammar, the presidency, or the majority of the American people. Liberals gloat and point out his shortcomings while his supporters stoutly defend him from those elitists who rely on so-called facts or science. They say his critics get too hung up on of the literal meaning of his words or that he gets a date or fact wrong, while it is his policies that will ultimately matter. Just as they are willing to forgive his sexism, racism, nepotism, and gorging at the public trough in hopes that it will eventual result in better lives for them, they are willing to overlook his gaffes. Indeed they also might not know the fact that Frederick Douglass is no longer alive or that Andrew Jackson died before the Civil War or one of the other facts he has gotten wrong or lied about. All they know is that Obama, for example, with his refined speech, big words, and complete sentences did not improve their lives. Most of the other presidents with their so-called knowledge have not done enough for them, so it is time to try something else. They reason that Trump has a fortune so he must be a good businessman who has said time and time again that he will work for them.

To them Trump’s first 100 days have been a success. The stock market has responded positively, the economy is still growing, some large employers have said they will keep some jobs in the the country. In a flurry of activity he has signed more executive orders in his first one hundred days than any of the the presidents in the last 50 years. He has already started streamlining government by firing or not replacing hundreds in his administration and his cabinet secretaries all seem devoted to dismantling their departments. He claims credit for all of these things and his supporters give him credit. All of this is of course nonsense. The economic gains he touts were all done under Obama; most of the executive orders he has signed have been plans to make plans rather than actual actions, the cuts in government he has made are a mere drop in the bucket. He has not had any major legislative victories. His plans to build a wall have come to naught so far. Obamacare is still the law of the land because it has been impossible to pass a new healthcare bill. His first budget proposal was a general outline rather than a real budget and it was dead on arrival when it reached Congress. Although deportations have increased, the courts have moved to thwart his immigration policy.

How many¬†of these failures has been due to his ignorance? It is hard to tell, but at least some of it is due to his misunderstanding of the Constitution and Congress. He has called the Constitution an “archaic” document because it limits his power to do things. He has admitted that the job of the president is harder than he thought. Perhaps this is because of his ignorance of the presidency and the checks and balances of the governmental system. The courts have blocked some of his executive orders because they are concerned with his words and their unconstitutionality. How much does this stem from his ignorance of the law and the Constitution? His failure to get significant legislation passed is clearly due to his lack of understanding of how politics work.

Trump is ignorant of many things, but he is not stupid. He was smart enough to win the presidency albeit aided by the Russians, the Democrats, and reality television. Ignorance can be overcome by learning and we are still in the early stages of the Trump administration. He was so arrogant when he came to office that he felt no one knew better than he about anything. Perhaps he will learn from his mistakes and actually get better at implementing the policies he wants. This possibility is frightening because if he is able to overcome his ignorance about process, he will be able to implement his ignorance about other things. Reality is a rough mistress, but if he adjusts then some of the ignorance we mock will become the ignorance we fear.

 

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