God’s in His Heaven, All’s Right with the World

Vasari calls my attention to Bruce Bartlett, writing in the Guardian, under the headline, Donald Trump’s incompetence is a problem. His staff should intervene:

In recent days, there have been a number of press reports suggesting that President Trump is unable to absorb essential information needed to do his job. His attention span is too short, he won’t read anything longer than a page, and must be bribed with flattery to keep his mind focused. Writing in the New York Times on 18 May, Peter Baker asked those working at foreign embassies in Washington what they have learned from their interactions with Trump.

Said Baker: “Keep it short – no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.”

Some of us have thought for a while now that the search for the method in the madness is futile: he’s just crazy. Aardvark’s sense is that most of the sentient folks among us are by way of finally shaking off their unwillingness to confront the truth.

Be that as it may, Bartlett helpfully proposes the following, which would be a great idea if it could work:

Trump has a huge staff at his beck and call. He should use them to research issues for him rather than getting his briefings from Fox & Friends. He should let his staff draft statements for him and let them go through the normal vetting process, including fact-checking. And he must resist the temptation to tweet or talk off the top of his head about policy issues, and work through the normal process used by every previous president.

Trump may not get any smarter any time soon, but he can act a lot smarter very quickly if he simply uses the resources at his disposal.

I will say this for the Bartlett article: its argument roughly approximates its headline. The same may not be said, I think, for Masha Gessen’s Trump’s Incompetence Won’t Save Our Democracy, to which Fredda Foxy has kindly directed my attention.

But the point of Gessen’s piece is about saving or losing democracy, but rather to advance the argument that other authoritarians were (or are, as the case may be) likewise ignorant and mentally limited. Gessen writes,

A careful reading of contemporary accounts will show that both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education and imagination — and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they are not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brings them to power. It is the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propels their rise in a frighteningly complex world.

Modern strongmen are more obviously human. We have witnessed the greed and vanity of Silvio Berlusconi, who ran Italy’s economy into the ground. We recognize the desperate desire of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to be admired or at least feared — usually literally at his country’s expense. Still, physical distance makes villains seem bigger than they are in real life. Many Americans imagine that Mr. Putin is a brilliant strategist, a skilled secret agent turned popular leader.

As someone who has spent years studying Mr. Putin — and as one of a handful of journalists who have had an unscripted conversation with him — I can vouch for the fact that he is a poorly educated, under-informed, incurious man whose ambition is vastly out of proportion to his understanding of the world. To the extent that he has any interest in the business of governing, it is his role — on the world stage or on Russian television — that concerns him. Whether he is attending a summit, piloting a plane or hang-gliding with Siberian cranes, it is the spectacle of power that interests him.

And so on.

Aardvark takes the point, and is willing to indulge the assumption that it is accurate. But here’s my question: even if we should not see Hitler, Stalin, and Putin as geniuses, were they not able to grasp the basics of cause and effect? Couldn’t they focus on a topic for longer than 30 seconds? Couldn’t they sometimes avoid belief in delusional ideas, and thus effectively work to advance their evil ends?

Enquiring Minds Want to Know.