The Difference Between Donald Trump and William of Ockam


Almost two years into the Trump presidency, the debate continues about what kind of craziness best explains his bizarre behavior. You can take your pick of explanations.

Trump is Lying More, and He’s Doing it on Purpose:

History books will likely declare the last few months a turning point in the Trump Presidency, and Kessler’s laborious work gives us metrics that confirm what is becoming more and more apparent: the recent wave of misstatements is both a reflection of Trump’s increasingly unbound Presidency and a signal attribute of it. The upsurge provides empirical evidence that Trump, in recent months, has felt more confident running his White House as he pleases, keeping his own counsel, and saying and doing what he wants when he wants to. … At this point, the falsehoods are as much a part of his political identity as his floppy orange hair and the “Make America Great Again” slogan. The untruths, Kessler told me, are Trump’s political “secret sauce.”

He’s Just Stupid

Does Trump Even Understand What He Did Wrong?

Even the briefest observation of Donald Trump is adequate to confirm that he is not a man of profound intellect. He certainly possesses his share of social intelligence, a knack for salesmanship and an obsessive drive to dominate and humiliate others stemming from a yawning maw of overlapping insecurities. But in terms of how we traditionally measure intelligence in the modern developed world–the acquisition of knowledge over time and the ability to process, digest and act cogently in response to complex information–Trump probably doesn’t even reach the 50th percentile of Americans. And that is being generous.

This basic fact is difficult to keep in mind when assessing his decisions because we have never had a president like this. Society tends to dramatically overestimate the talent and intelligence of those fortunate enough to be rich and powerful, but rarely are they as objectively ignorant and lacking in basic competency as Trump. Far too often we look for a schema or strategy behind Trump’s actions, only to discover that his decisions were precipitated by the dumbest of reasons: because he saw a Fox News segment that made him angry, or because he heard that Barack Obama had originated a policy, because some extraneous person mentioned some falsehood to him that he was credulous enough to believe, or because he was openly bribed. This principle has become known as “Trump’s Razor“: when seeking to understand the president’s behavior, look for the stupidest possible reason.

A Thought from Aardvark: In a World of Much Uncertainty, This We Know

We know he is delusional. Even so, we may, I think, say with ever-increasing confidence that many of Trump’s lies are conscious lies. But we cannot, with any great confidence, estimate what percentage of his 4,229 lies he believes, and what percentage he knows are bullshit. Indeed, we cannot say with any confidence what “knowledge” even means in Trump’s fevered brain.

Nevertheless, we know without peradventure of doubt that he is delusional. He is delusional in that he anticipates that his conscious lies will be accepted, and that this general acceptance of falsehoods, repeated over and over, will get him out of trouble. Because, inter alia, only half of self-identifies Republicans are buying his bullshit: the rest of them are squirming.

It is exactly the kind of delusion that very small children sometimes show. It is like three-year-old Al Sharpton denying that he had eaten the blueberry pie, when there were blueberries all over his face.