Another of the many basic things Trump has never thought about


Trump voters wanted an outsider, but I doubt that they, or I, or anyone yet fully grasps just how out-of-the-loop this guy is.

I think I have a pretty good idea, based on the last year and a half. I’ve long known enough to see that — if you see the same things — you’d have to be stark, raving mad to want to put this guy anywhere near the Oval Office. But look what’s happened.

So, each day will bring us face-to-face with yet another thing that demonstrate that Donald Trump has never spent a moment of his garish life thinking about things that are second nature to people who — regardless of party or philosophy — possess the most basic qualifications to be president.

Sometimes it’s something small — but telling — such as this:

Now here’s a place where my own gut feelings are the same as those of our president-elect. The idea of someone showing such hatred and contempt toward the flag that our bravest Americans have given their lives to defend, and to raise over such places as, say, Iwo Jima — a flag that symbolizes the noble ideas upon which our nation was founded — is profoundly offensive, even obscene. I have utter contempt for anyone who would even consider such a thing.

But I wouldn’t use the power of the state to punish someone for it, certainly not to the extent of loss of citizenship, or a year of imprisonment. You might have me going for a moment on something such as writing the protester a ticket, but ultimately I’d even have to reject that. Why? Because of those very ideas that the flag stands for. If burning the flag causes a person to be burned or causes some other harm, then you have a crime. But if the expression itself is punishable, then it doesn’t matter whether the flag is burned because it doesn’t stand for anything.

(This is related to my opposition to “hate crimes,” one of the few areas where I agree with libertarians. Punish the crime — the assault, the murder, the arson, whatever the criminal did — not the political ideas behind it, however offensive.)

People who have their being in the realm of political expression have usually thought this through. And true, even people who have thought about it may disagree with my conclusion, wrong as they may be. Still others cynically manipulate the feelings of millions of well-meaning voters who haven’t thought the issue through themselves.

But I don’t think that’s the case with Trump. I think he’s just never really wrestled with this or thousands of other questions that bear upon civic life, so he goes with his gut, which as I admitted above is much the same as my own on this question. He engages it on the level of the loudmouth at the end of the bar: I’ll tell ya ONE damn’ thing… 

In a time not at all long ago — remember, Twitter didn’t exist before 2006 — we wouldn’t know this as readily as we do now. Sure, a political leader might go rogue during a speech, or get tripped up on an unexpected question during a press conference. But normally, the smart people surrounding a president would take something the president wanted to say and massage and process and shape it before handing it to a press secretary to drop into the daily briefing.

Now, the president-elect — or Joe Blow down the street — can have a gut feeling and without even fully processing the thought himself, immediately share it with the entire planet. As this president-elect does, often.

That’s a separate problem, of course, from the basic cluelessness of this president-elect. Not only does he not know a lot that he should, he has the impulse and the means to share that lack of knowledge and reflection with the world, instantly.

Quite a few people in public life haven’t figured out social media. They don’t understand something that editors know from long experience — that you have to be very careful about what you publish. (And yes, posting a random thought on Twitter does constitute publication.) Our governor, soon to be our U.N. ambassador, had a terrible time learning that, although to her credit she hasn’t done anything notably foolish on Facebook in a while.

As Aaron Blake writes on The Fix, it might be nice to think we could ignore these outbursts:

For the second time in two weekends, President-elect Donald Trump stirred controversy, bigly, using only his thumbs.

With a trio of tweets Sunday alleging millions of fraudulent votes and “serious” fraud in three states, Trump effectively hijacked the news cycle for the next 24 hours with baseless conspiracy theories. A week prior, it was Trump’s tweets demanding an apology from the cast of “Hamilton” for disrespecting Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience the previous night.

It can all feel pretty small and sideshow-y at times. Some have a prescription: The media should resist the urge to cover Trump’s tweets as big news. Others even say we should ignore them altogether….

But we can’t. In the months and years to some — assuming no one gets control of him, and I doubt anyone will — we must treat them as seriously as if the president strode into the White House Press Room and made a formal announcement.

This is what we’ve come to. Our window into the mind of the most powerful man in the world will to a great extent be these spasmodic eruptions onto a tiny keyboard.

We might as well brace ourselves…

51 thoughts on “Another of the many basic things Trump has never thought about

  1. Mark Stewart

    This from the guy whose agreement with the GSA for his Old Post Office hotel specifically states that no elected official may receive benefit from the property lease.

    Trump never wanted to actually win. And he didn’t, which is the only saving grace in this.

    1. Claus

      Trump will not be an elected official until January 20, 2017. He has nearly two months to remove himself from his company.

      How did Trump not win the election? At last word he beat Clinton by 306 to 232, that’s a pretty wide margin.

        1. Claus

          The popular vote only counts at the state level. The electoral college votes are what they’re after. You can win by one popular vote or a by every popular vote in a state and still collect all of the electoral votes. I don’t agree with it, but it’s the way it is. But then I don’t agree with much of the voting process the way it is now, I believe in voting only on Election Day or by absentee ballot (if you’re in the military or have a legitimate medical excuse… being fat and lazy isn’t one of them). No early voting.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Even after all we’ve been through, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the ranting pettiness, the utter childishness, of Tweets such as this:

    I just still cannot believe it. I cannot believe that a single person over the age of 18 wanted THIS to be POTUS…

    1. Doug Ross

      He knows EXACTLY what he is doing. He’s not clueless. He’s got you and people like you all wound up and he’s got his base saying “Hell yeah!” He’s pushing buttons (and not the red one) and the little monkeys jump up and down.

      140 characters generates so much angst. I am amazed at how much time some people spend analyzing, commenting on, retweeting, etc. How about ignoring those tweets for a week? Can you do it? If not, you may want to examine how much of your energy you are expending on this. You can’t win.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        “He knows EXACTLY what he is doing. He’s not clueless.”

        Okay. Let’s assume this for a second. So you’re saying that Trump knows that flag burning is protected speech, but even so, he’s putting out a statement he knows to be wrong. Okay…why?

        1. To annoy certain people?
        2. To get the support of certain people?
        3. To distract everyone from other things?
        4. Just for laughs?
        5. Other.

        Again, whichever answer you pick….why?

        1. Doug Ross

          I’d go with 1,2,3… because people are easily manipulated. I go back to what Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams (a trained hypnotist) was saying last year when he said Trump would win. Trump is much, much smarter than some people think he is. He is a master of manipulation using words. When he keeps saying things are going to be great, great, great, there are people who will believe him.

          If he says X and you think X is outrageous, then later he comes back with Y which is a toned down version of X, then you’re more likely to agree. He is a consummate negotiator. He is forcing his detractors to compromise — think about how Mitt Romney as Secretary of State is now becoming a reasonable alternative to the same liberals who vilified him four years ago.

          The greatest defense against Trump is to ignore him. That’s what I’m doing (and what most of the people who I come in contact with seem to be doing).

          This piece by Scott Adams covers it very well:

          “As Trump continues to demonstrate that he was never the incompetent monster his critics believed him to be, the critics will face an identity crisis. They either have to accept that they understand almost nothing about how the world works – because they got everything wrong about Trump – or they need to double-down on their current hallucination. Most of his critics will double-down. That’s how normal brains work.

          And that brings us to our current situation. As Trump continues to defy all predictions from his critics, the critics need to maintain their self-images as the smart ones who saw this new Hitler coming. And that means you will see hallucinations like you have never seen. It will be epic.

          The reason this will be so fun to watch is that we rarely get to see a situation in which the facts so vigorously violate a hallucination. Before Trump won the presidency everyone was free to imagine the future they expected. But as Trump continues to do one reasonable thing after another, his critics have a tough choice. They can either…

          1. Reinterpret their self-images from wise to clueless.


          2. Generate an even stronger hallucination. (Cognitive dissonance.)

          If Trump’s critics take the second option – and most of them will – it means you will see a lot of pretzel-logic of the type that is necessary hold onto the illusion that Trump is still a monster despite continuing evidence to the contrary. “

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      The only explanation is that millions of adults have never developed any ability to sense a person’s character simply from the odd ways they put words together. I read a line or two from someone and can often tell immediately whether that person is a flake, or someone you might be wise to back away from. It’s not what he says as the way he says it. Or rather, it’s not JUST what he says.

      It’s something that’s very difficult to explain to someone who does not possess that kind of radar…

      1. Claus

        So you’re comfortable insulting millions of people? We all know that you believe that you’re much smarter than the rest of us, you have that egotistical trait. There are sheep here who you can herd, but there are also people here who see you as nothing more than a guy with an opinion.

        Do you consider Hillary to be a flake or someone you might be wise to back away from? Would you follow her as your leader? I wouldn’t follow her across the street, but that’s just my opinion.

      2. Scout

        I was just trying to explain this very thing to my husband this week. It comes from body language as well as words. I am astounded that so many people don’t see through him. Maybe it is an Intuition (N) thing.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Maybe. But for me, it’s so startlingly clear that it’s incredible others don’t see it. It’s as though he’s walking down the public road like a leper of old, crying out “unfit” so that none will approach him. It’s as though he has it tattooed on his face…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yep. None stupider, in U.S. history.

        I’m just so EMBARRASSED for my country. And every day for the next few years, I’ll wake up and have to be embarrassed again. And who knows how long it will last? Our political system is now in such disarray — neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any idea how to get back to electing rational people, and there are no other entities on the horizon prepared to do so — that I can’t see the end of this epidemic of stupidity.

        I’ve always despised H.L. Mencken for his contempt toward most of America, but now it seems we’re every bit as stupid as he thought we were.

        The people who made “Idiocracy” lacked imagination. It’s arrived 500 years earlier than they supposed…

        1. Doug Ross

          “And every day for the next few years, I’ll wake up and have to be embarrassed again. ”

          That’s a choice, not a requirement. You can choose to focus on other things that matter more.

            1. Claus

              Sometimes I wonder if you’re serious or just trolling for responses.

              Do you really wake up in fear every morning since the election? Has there been a President in your lifetime that has personally affected you or your lifestyle? I’m 51 and I can’t think of one.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I don’t wake up “in fear” of anything. (And I’ve certainly never, ever considered for a moment how an election my affect “me and my lifestyle.”) I keep telling people (have I said it here? I can’t recall right now) that it’s not that I’m worried about what Trump might do, although God knows he’s likely to do practically anything.

                No. See, the bad thing HAS ALREADY HAPPENED. By having this man elected. By having someone this clueless, this petty and self-absorbed, this unbelievably tacky in almost every aspect of his life, this resentful, this immature becoming President of the United States, this fact in itself has already greatly diminished and shamed this country that I love so much.

                That is a real, palpable and terrible thing, just as it is. All future history books will be tainted by this person having held the same position as Washington, Lincoln, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, the two Roosevelts.

                It can’t be undone. It has already HAPPENED… Any bad thing that happens henceforth is just additional, just piling on…

    1. Doug Ross

      Hmmmm… Hillary was the thought leader on this idea a decade ago. If only she’d had Twitter to make her opinion known.

      “In 2005, Hillary Clinton co-sponsored the Flag Protection Act which, while it did not call for the stripping of citizenship, made flag burning with the intent to incite violence or disturb the peace punishable by a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Clinton and then-Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, never made it out of the Judiciary Committee, but was floated as a compromise to a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban flag burning.”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I had forgotten about that. Well, all I can do is refer you to what I said above: “Still others cynically manipulate the feelings of millions of well-meaning voters who haven’t thought the issue through themselves.”

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I suppose the only defensible part of it was the “with the intent to incite violence or disturb the peace.”

          In other words, with the intent to commit a crime. But that seems a somewhat thin justification…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, it isn’t. Not unless you’re talking to a Democrat, or someone who thinks Hillary is the greatest thing.

          It DOES seem to undermine my argument that no serious person who understands what the country is built on would say it. Which makes me glad I included that “cynical manipulation” qualifier…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            But Hillary is totally irrelevant at this point. She lost the election. As much as it’s fun to do so, Trump doesn’t need to highlight the hypocrisy of Hillary supporters.

            Also, he didn’t run on anti-flag burning laws. It never came up this cycle. I’m just really failing to understand why this is even crossing his mind. Doesn’t he have other things going on? It would be like Trump coming out for some sort of law prohibiting men from wearing baseball caps at nice restaurants. I mean, sure, it’s tacky, but I’m not really sure it’s something the President needs to worry about.

            1. Doug Ross

              It takes him a few seconds to tweet out something like this. He’s not sitting around trying to craft a message that is written by someone else, sanitized, focus-group tested, and then distributed through traditional media.

              1. Doug Ross

                Would we rather have Ari Fleischer or Josh Earnest or others of that ilk spouting half-truths and pablum from a podium?

                Tweet it and move on.

                1. Kathryn Fenner

                  Also, I’d prefer a POTUS with at least some basic understanding of the Bill of Rights, but that’s just a crazy thing about me.

              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                “He’s not sitting around trying to craft a message that is written by someone else, sanitized, focus-group tested, and then distributed through traditional media.”

                I think you meant to say that like it’s a bad thing. It is not. Deliberation and discernment are essential in crafting anything that a POTUS says.

                So yes, if you leave out “sanitized,” and “focus-group-tested,” then you’ve described what a president, or one who will soon BE president, should do.

                Before a POTUS takes a position on basic civil liberties, it is not too much to ask that he go through a process at LEAST as strenuous as what we did in taking a new position at the newspaper — the board (in a president’s case, his senior staff) discussed the issue thoroughly, and then we reached consensus about the right way to approach it. (Or, as one of my colleagues used to say somewhat cynically, we did what Brad decided to do.) Before the meeting broke up or we moved to another topic, I would state the position aloud, and the person who was going to write it would take notes. Everyone would have the opportunity to poke holes in it at that time.

                The writer would write it. I would edit it, first alone, then with the person looking over my shoulder so that I didn’t introduce an error in editing it.

                Then it went on the page. Then everybody read proofs, which provided another opportunity to fine-tune (or, in rare cases, have a whole new argument).

                THEN it went out for other people to see.

                That may sound unwieldy, but it wasn’t. All those things were second-nature for professionals who took what we did seriously. It went quickly, and we got a lot done.

                The president of the United States taking a position on something is MUCH more important than a newspaper doing so. So I would expect at least that level of care, with smart people backstopping each other. You know, like on The West Wing… 🙂

                Anything a president says has consequence. To pretend it does not doesn’t change the fact…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I’m still confused over Doug’s statement that “It takes him a few seconds to tweet out something like this.”

                  Did you mean that that is a GOOD thing, in that he’s not wasting time thinking or seeking advice first, or that it doesn’t matter, because it was just a whim of the moment, and he spends the rest of the 24 hours being careful and responsible? (Believe him.)

                  Whatever you meant, it condemns him. Because it is deeply, profoundly wrong for the soon-to-be most powerful man in the world to carelessly toss out statements about taking away civil liberties.

                  As a libertarian, you should care about this more than I do…

                2. Claus

                  Sounds to me you just admitted that it was done “Brad’s way” or it didn’t go out. I’ve been on teams like this with team members who would throw a tantrum if it didn’t get done exactly their way. On minor issues we just said it wasn’t worth the hassle of arguing and gave in… could it be possible that’s how it was done at The State? Sort of a Sheldon Cooper version of compromise?

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  No, one of my colleagues put it that way, and I’ve never been entirely sure she was serious. She was kind of needling me, knowing that I set great store by the consensus process. Yeah, there was a point at which Brad said, “OK, then here’s what we’re going to say…” But everyone else had had their say before we got there, AND after. And these were not shy, retiring people.

                  At some point someone had to state the consensus, so that we could agree (or not) that that’s what it was. And I was the guy who did that. I stated a position that took into account what everyone had said, which contained concessions on points raised by people who may have had objections to the direction in which the conversation had been moving.

                  Synthesizing, on the spot, a position based on a discussion that had gone in multiple direction in a way that takes a strong, clear position and yet takes everyone’s views into account was THE thing I was best at in that job. Better than writing, maybe better than editing. It was difficult, but I had a knack for it. (And it’s probably the most useless talent in the world when you’re looking for a job OTHER than editorial page editor, believe me. Not many jobs call for doing that exact thing that way.)

                  And I did it clearly and coherently enough that if someone wrote it down, they almost had the editorial written.

                  To a casual observer, it might have LOOKED like it was just me deciding, and sometimes I WAS, when we seemed at an impasse. But my stating it aloud was everyone’s opportunity to disagree, and sometimes they did, but usually not. Because I did a good job of reflecting their concerns.

                  It was a tricky thing. You’d sort of have to participate in the process to appreciate it. But it enabled us to deal with two or three controversial issues in a meeting, and then adjourn and go get the work done. Which is essential in putting out a daily paper…

                4. Doug Ross

                  I mean that I’ve seen so much navel gazing and analysis of single tweets in the past two weeks that it is incredible. It’s a tweet, not a law or a policy statement. Relax until something actually happens. You’re expending way too much energy on this.

                  If you really want to do something, run for Congress in 2018.

                5. Doug Ross

                  You want everything to conform to your view of the way things should work. It’s not going to happen. Give up.

                6. Claus

                  “You want everything to conform to your view of the way things should work. It’s not going to happen. Give up.”

                  I have a family member with this affliction, she’s not happy unless she’s unhappy and has something to complain about. When everything is going right she find something to complain about. It gets old in a hurry and we tolerate her when we have to and ignore her when we don’t. It’s one of the down-sides of the holiday season. I think for Christmas this year I’m going to completely ignore her, that should make her upset… and yet happy at the same time.

            2. bud

              Actually she won the actual vote count, and by a wide margin. What she lost was the crude vote approximation, a system that counts a black persons vote .95 as important as a whites. Which is really all the electoral “college” is. More like electoral pre school. Democracy is dead in the USA.

              1. Claus

                Well since the election isn’t counted by actual vote but by electoral vote it really doesn’t matter.

                So now black votes are only counted as 95% of a white vote? When did that happen, a source for this information would be appreciated. As I understand bud, black votes went from 67% to 100% to 95%. Interesting, I’m surprised the media hasn’t mentioned this.

  3. Claus

    “I cannot believe that a single person over the age of 18 wanted THIS to be POTUS…”

    Believe it, there are millions out there who would rather have him than Hillary. No regrets voting for him.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      At this point, I’d like to say his very BEST line (even better than the MLT one), “I’ve seen worse.”

      In this case, I haven’t. When I try to compare it to Jackson’s election, you correctly remind me that even Andrew Jackson had considerably greater qualifications than this guy…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, a purist might have been inclined to say democracy was dead when the House handed it to J.Q. Adams in 1824. But of course, what they did was preserve the dignity of the republic for four more years.

        I don’t worry about whether our democracy is mostly dead nearly as much as I worry about our republic…

  4. Harry Harris

    I don’t think that US voters are stupid. I think very many are:
    intellectually lazy
    easily fooled when told what they want to hear
    narrowly educated – mostly centered on making a living
    inclined toward blaming others
    only minimally committed to truth and facts
    highly materialistic, but don’t think so
    label and stereotype-prone.

Comments are closed.