Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Utrikesperspektiv.se or the Association of Foreign Affairs Lund. Also note that this piece was written approximately a week before publishing, and therefore does not account for the most recent developments.
The tactic most frequently employed against the threat of a Donald Trump presidency has been polemic against Trump’s views. From the clumsy ‘basket of deplorables’ comment to the more recent attacks on his Putin apologist stance, criticism primarily concerns his controversial nature and political incorrectness. This may be missing the ball by some distance. The threat of a Trump presidency does not stem from the fact he is a misogynist, nor does it stem from the fact he openly mocks the disabled. Even the charges of sexual harassment levelled against him, horrific as they undoubtedly are, do not present a world destabilising risk. The attribute of most concern is one of the least discussed – the fact he is an absolute moron.
Consider the role of the US president. On the one hand, the POTUS is charged with managing the biggest economy that has ever existed, coordinating global megacities, and maintaining uniquely innovative spaces such as Silicon Valley and Ivy League schools. Add to this the social responsibilities of reducing the enormous poverty in the rust belt and in urban centres, while simultaneously attempting to ease simmering racial tensions. Layer on to this the need to engage with debates over amendment rights and religious sensitivity, and contribute something meaningful in the event of a mass shooting or terrorist atrocity. These are a fraction of the domestic concerns that could be on the shoulders of Donald Trump in less than two days.
Further to this, consider the military-industrial complex. The US is unrivalled in its capacity to wreak havoc across the world, spending close to $600,000,000,000 on defence per annum. Combining the military budget of the second (China), third (UK), fourth (Russia), fifth (France) and sixth (India) highest spenders does not bring one close to that figure. To put this in perspective, read the description journalist and author Christopher Hitchens gave American naval prowess in his book ‘Blood, Class and Empire1’:
‘…[imagine] a gigantic [aircraft] carrier bearing an airforce the size of Italy’s and a cruise-missile arsenal capable of making war on a super-power (…) shadowed by a flotilla of smaller but more agile ships, and escorted by nuclear submarines the size of dreadnoughts beneath the waves, and highly sophisticated airplanes invisible in the skies above (…) the United States had more than a dozen such “carrier groups,” and was outfitting more of them (…) This was not naval and military and aerial “superiority” as earlier powers had conceived it. It was absolute global military mastery, outdoing all potential rivals combined and doubled, on a scale that no other power in history had even been able to conceive’
The US constitution places the president as ‘Commander in chief’ of this force, and they can operate with relative independence when dictating foreign policy (and total independence on the nuclear issue). There is scope in this role to wipe entire countries off the map. Combining the economy and military facets, one could easily make the case that the US presidency is the most responsibility any one person has had in human history. Consider the calibre of person that is necessary to fulfil that role – Obama has only just survived at times. A president requires an intelligent, worldly, compassionate, articulate, rational and principled character, or at least humility enough to defer to people with these attributes when necessary. To present this staggering amount of power to someone who is the antithesis of rational, humble, and intelligent is to roll the dice in a way that no developed country has before.
Turning to Trump, the notion he is simply too stupid to be a functioning president has been all but confirmed. Content wise, his speeches are indistinguishable from the stumbling answers given by beauty pageant contestants on topics they know nothing about. There are thousands of hours of footage that capture Trump’s thoughts, yet not one clip has surfaced where he constructs a coherent argument or comments incisively on a geopolitical issue. This is significant, and it is not a subjective criticism of his ideas – he is just blatantly unable to arrange sentences in his head:
‘You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They are devaluing their currency and there’s nobody in our government to fight them and we have a very good fight and we have a winning fight because they are using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China and many other countries are doing the same thing. So we’re losing our good jobs, so many of them.When you look at what is happening in Mexico, a friend of mine who builds plants says it’s the eighth wonder of the world (…) some of the best plants — with the United States, as we said, not so much. So Ford is leaving. You see that, a small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio, they are all leaving. And we can’t allow it to happen anymore. As far as child care is concerned and so many other things, I think Hillary and I agree on that. We probably disagree a little bit as to numbers and amounts and what we’re going to do, but perhaps we’ll be talking about that later.
This is a typical response rather than one that confuses the Quds and Kurds or advocates a war crime – an in-form Trump talking about one of the cornerstones of his campaign. In spite of this, he cannot stay on the same example for more than two consecutive sentences, and brings in childcare completely out of left-field. Clinton’s answer to the same question was characteristically sanctimonious, but filtered and organised information in a way that is incomparable to Trump’s word salad. The implication of this has not been emphasised enough – author and neuroscientist Sam Harris makes the point that ‘smart people don’t talk this way. When people are speaking, they are thinking aloud.’ The more attention one pays to Trump’s speech, the more glaringly obvious it becomes that he cannot process information in anything more than bitesize chunks.
This disjointed reasoning process is coupled with a total disregard for consequence, evidenced by a trail of lawsuits, and petulance that is unmatched even among celebrities, evidenced by bizarre late night twitter storms. If these reactions are honest representations of his character, and there is no reason to believe they are not, what will be the result of swapping the tweet button for the world’s most powerful military? ‘The ‘act first, mitigate later’ approach Trump has taken to business and media is not likely to be substituted when his power is amplified. Even in a president with good intentions, these characteristics would be disastrous.
And Trump does not have good intentions. It is clear that the smallest impact his policies would have is a tumultuous end to the American experiment. A 1900-mile wall, intersecting mountain ranges and private land, is categorically unfeasible. The forced deportation of 11 million people is categorically unfeasible. Budgeting for these projects while simultaneously implementing a multi-trillion-dollar tax cut is categorically unfeasible. Defaulting on the inevitable debt that will arise from this… If any one of these ridiculous measures are implemented, the global economy will go into a tailspin. If these measures are not implemented, how will his frenzied followers react? The best possible outcome – that he is keeping a genius macroeconomic strategy under wraps, and that these proposals are all bluster – would almost certainly result in an eruption of violence against migrants and minorities (see the (far less racially charged) UK for evidence).
Even that is wishful thinking. Consider whether there is any evidence that Trump is not the unrestrained, careering rhinoceros described above apart from his own declaration that ‘I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words’. Supporters presumably take this alongside his business ‘acumen’ as assurance that he is capable, but the fact this intelligence has never been demonstrated publically is a cause for concern. Both of these supposed strengths are, in fact, unassured: without delving into detail, there are serious questions about both his academic background and his entrepreneurial capability. Trump owes the bulk of his earnings and status to his personal brand – the Kim Kardashian version of fame has led to his rise. Such a candidate would never have been able to progress through the political system organically – it was a horizontal leap from the entertainment industry that allowed him to bypass so many checks and balances and secure the nomination. At no stage during this process has he had to show basic competency.
Finally, to weigh Trump’s level of ignorance, bombast and undesirability against Hillary Clinton’s failings is a complete non-argument. There has already been a Clinton administration, and Hillary was heavily involved in its dealings. The minor asymmetries between a Bill w. Hillary and Hillary w. Bill tenure are the only unknown quantities on the democratic side – the pair will be centrist economically, hawkish on the Middle East, and will try to accumulate as much wealth for themselves as possible in the process. The last episode attracted a vitriolic commentary from one of the authors already mentioned above, entitled ‘No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton’; there will be dishonesty at every turn if Hillary is elected, but there is no doubt she will be able to keep the machine running.
America is on the precipice. No self-respecting dystopian fiction would put such a sociopathic, narcissistic ignoramus this close to the most powerful seat in the land. His entire history, preached and practiced, tells the story of an unintellectual, anti-intellectual firecracker that produces error after insurmountable error. Miscalculations and cognitive dissonance to the extent that he has demonstrated time and again are simply disqualifying when it comes to POTUS. Author Andrew Sullivan plainly summarised the threat in a recent podcast appearance:
‘… he uniquely threatens global stability in a way that no candidate for presidency has ever done in this country. Just because we haven’t been here before, there is this amazing complacency about what can happen in a democracy and if you’ve read history and you see this happening, it is textbook for how democracies perish. It is incredibly dangerous, at a level completely outside (…) of anything in American history short of the 1860s’
Take a good look at America before the 8th – we may well be witnessing the last days of Rome.
Hitchens, C. (2004). Blood, Class and Empire. London: Nation Books, p. xxvii