THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2023
That said, dumbness spreads: "He's just so dumb," the frustrated analyst said. "Either that, or he plays dumb."
The analyst to whom we refer is Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough. He made those remarks on this morning's show, at roughly 7:10 Eastern.
Scarborough was speaking, with frustration, about former president Donald J. Trump. He's just so dumb, the morning man said. Either that, or he just plays dumb.
For ourselves, we'd drop the either / or formulation. At times, we'll guess that Donald J. Trump actually does play dumb. But it's also true that, by normal standards and in various ways, Donald J. Trump, almost surely, simply is remarkably dumb—especially so, given his station in life.
Quite often, we'd judge that he isn't playing dumb. In a wide array of situations, we'd say that he simply is.
Last night, on CNN, was Donald J. Trump just playing dumb? In particular instances, it's hard to be sure—but the dumbness, it mightily burns!
How dumb did Donald Trump's statements get during last evening's town hall? When it comes to the deeply spectacular / world-class dumb, we'd cite these three presentations:
Handling the war in Ukraine:
How would a future President Trump handle the war in Ukraine? When Kaitlan Collins asked, she received an amazingly stupid reply:
COLLINS: But the question here is, Would you give Ukraine weapons and funding if you were elected?
TRUMP: I would sit down—let me put it a nicer way. If I'm president, I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.
COLLINS: How would you settle that war in one day?
TRUMP: I'll meet with Putin, I'll meet with Zelenskyy. They both have weaknesses and they both have strengths. And within 24 hours, that war with be set settled. It'll be over. It'll be absolutely over.
He's going to settle the war in one day! On its face, that statement belongs to the spectacular dumb. The audience applauded.
The need to avoid default:
At one point, Collins mentioned the current fight about the need to raise the debt ceiling, thereby avoiding default.
In his most significant statements of the night, Trump seemed to say that we should go ahead and default now, because we'll just have to do so later.
It seems to us that his statement smay have made it much more likely that we will default in the coming weeks. But when its comes to world-class dumb, consider Trump's smirking statements as Collins tried to pin him down:
COLLINS: So just to be clear, Mr. President, you think the U.S. should default if the White House does not agree to the spending cuts Republicans are demanding?
TRUMP: Well, you might as well do it now because you'll do it later, because we have to save this country. Our country is dying. Our country is being destroyed by stupid people—by very stupid people.
COLLINS: You once said that using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge just could not happen. You said that when you were in the Oval Office.
TRUMP: Sure, that's when I was president.
COLLINS: So, why is it different now when you're out of office?
TRUMP: Because now, I'm not president.
He said one thing when he was president, but another thing now. Smirkingly, but with spectacular dumbness, he was playing the world-class wise guy in that exchange.
The audience laughed and applauded.
His stance on abortion rights:
Now that Roe v. Wade is gone, how would a President Trump handle abortion rights? Collins tried and tried and tried—but she was met with some very dumb statements:
COLLINS: Just to be clear, Mr. President, you would sign a federal abortion ban into law?
TRUMP: I said this. I said this, I want to do what's right and we're looking. And we want to do what's right for everybody.
COLLINS: But what's right?
A future President Trump will do what's right for everybody!
As the candidate rambled on from there, Collins repeatedly tried to elicit a clearer statement. The candidate kept making statements like these:
COLLINS: Some of your allies on Capitol Hill said they want to introduce legislation when it comes to banning abortion. If they send it to your desk, would you sign it?
TRUMP: Some people are at six weeks, some people are at three weeks, two weeks.
COLLINS: Where is President Trump?
TRUMP: President Trump is going to make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what's fair for the country,
As president, Trump will do what's right for the country and he'll do what's fair for the country. Along the way, as the transcript notes, the audience laughed and applauded.
He's going to stop the war in one day. He's going to do what's right for everybody.
He's willing to recommend defaulting now, because now he isn't president! Almost surely, this is as dumb as it ever has gotten in presidential campaigning.
Sometimes the dumbness is being feigned—but sometimes, the dumbness is real. In many ways, this former president simply is (something resembling) dumb, a fact which is especially striking because of his high station.
Tomorrow, we hope to flesh this out in a bit more detail. We hope to do that as we return to our discussion of the way a certain creative paraphrase spread in the wake of last week's release of Trump's deposition.
For now, we want to restate a basic point—in human affairs, (something like) dumbness is quite widespread. Indeed, (something like) dumbness has long prevailed, even at the highest levels of academic thought.
Even at those highest levels, (something like) dumbness has always prevailed! Or at least, so taught the later Wittgenstein, as described in the first half of this essay by Professor Horwich for the New York Times—and Wittgenstein was chosen, in several polls of major academics, as the most significant philosopher of the twentieth century.
Donald J. Trump often makes statements which are extremely dumb. We'll guess that sometimes he's just playing dumb, but in many settings and circumstances, with respect to many types of concern, he's simply remarkably unsophisticated, uninformed, inarticulate.
Given his station in life, he's often remarkably dumb.
That said, (something like) dumbness dogs human affairs, all the way up to the top. We mention this because of a recent wave of Creative Paraphrase Drift.
As best we can tell, the paraphrase in question got its start at Vanity Fair. Edited headline included, the mag's Bess Levin quickly blogged what you see below after last Thursday's session in the E. Jean Carroll rape / defamation trial:
Trump Doubled Down on the Right to Sexually Assault People...in Insane Deposition
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Donald Trump is currently on trial for rape, and so far the civil case has not appeared to be going in his favor. Of course, no one knows which way jurors may be leaning—but presumably, taped testimony they heard today did not paint him in a great light, as it featured the ex-president doubling down on his claim that if you’re “a star,” it’s fine to sexually assault people—and then insulting E. Jean Carroll’s attorney’s looks.
According to Levin, Trump had "doubled down" on an earlier claim. According to Levin, Trump had said, in his deposition, that if you’re a star, it’s fine to sexually assault people.
Offering readers a paraphrase, that's what Levin said. We leave you with a question:
Had Donald Trump really said that? On balance, we'd have to say no. We'd also have to say this:
Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, never asked Trump if that was what he actually meant by what he actually said. Also, Kaplan never asked Trump if that's something he believes.
We'll guess we know why those questions weren't asked. But in the absence of some such explicit Q-and-A, Levin authored a paraphrase of what Trump had said and meant.
In our view, it was a creative paraphrase. The next day, it started to spread.
Among experts, this process is known as Creative Paraphrase Drift. By the way, who the heck is Bess Levin?
According to Vanity Fair, your answer would be this:
Bess Levin is a politics correspondent at Vanity Fair. An essential voice of our current tragicomedy, she is an incisive, hilarious daily narrator of the horrors that never seem to stop.
In short, Levin is part of the entertainment press. News orgs make money playing this game—and the unhelpful dumbness spreads.
Levin had written a song sung blue. Finally, but not till this past Monday night, Anderson Cooper was singing the song, and after that the deluge!
Tomorrow: We try to complete our report