Tag Archives: law

Donald Trump Redux: Evil, Stupid, or Crazy?

It seems I’ve managed to strike a chord. Over the last few weeks, my post Donald Trump: Evil, or Just Stupid? has been receiving a steady stream of visitors, which has basically never happened before. Additionally (based on referring search terms), a lot of people who end up on that article are also wondering whether or not Trump is crazy, a question my original post did not address. Since this is something people are interested in, and since the original was fairly specific to the time it was written, here’s an update.

Let’s start with the possibility that Trump is crazy. That depends heavily on what we mean by “crazy”, which tends to be a pretty broad term. If we take it to mean anything clinical or medically formalized then he’s pretty unambiguously not crazy. He may not be the most well-adjusted person in the world, but he’s a far far cry from that kind of crazy.

Another more colloquial definition of crazy that might fit is that he believes some things which are not true. While he certainly has some weird beliefs, I would tend to be lenient on this point as well. After all, 260 million people believe in god – and if you don’t think that’s a crazy belief, 28 million do not. One of those groups must be wrong. Maybe on this definition he is crazy, but if so he’s hardly alone.

A third definition of crazy that tends to come up a lot is simply as a synonym for “foolish” or “stupid”. So let’s revisit my previous post. This was my effective conclusion in that piece, however uncertain I was:

Trump is a garden-variety idiot whose incompetence and rhetoric has led the US to a potential civil war by accident. Because we are imagining a final destination, the steps taken down the path look intentional even when they’re not.

I like to think that the last month or so has borne me out on this point. While the Trump administration has still had more than its share of bumps and weird decisions, there has not been nearly as much of the breakdown of order that seemed so plausibly like the intentional dismantling of the United States.

So, again, I encourage you to take heart from the most likely explanation: Trump is a lucky moron. The US will in all probability remain a democratic republic and will head into the 2020 election scarred, but alive and kicking.

In the mean-time, liberals have a lot of work to do.

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Donald Trump: Evil, or Just Stupid?

It’s been quite interesting to see two competing narratives emerge in the liberal media in the past few weeks. The seeds of this split have been present since the Republican primary last year, but Trump’s first few weeks in office have thrown it into sharp relief. His first acts and executive orders might have been expected to “pick a winner” and prove out one of the two theories, but instead we are left with still more questions.

What is the million dollar question then? It’s simple: is Trump (or Steve Bannon, or whoever is whispering in his ear most of the time) evil, or just stupid?

Jake Fuentes makes a reasonable argument for “evil”, and the same sentiment can be found less clearly expressed in a number of places advocating for violent resistance and protest. Others, such as author John Scalzi, view the last week of chaos as the product of stupidity, not “11-dimensional super-chess political moves”. Scott Alexander spends a lot of time dumping on Trump and then concludes that despite his other short-comings, “he does not… take marching orders from the KKK”.

I find a lot of the arguments on both sides unconvincing. Hanlon’s razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, probably since there is a lot more stupidity than malice in the world) suggests that stupid should be our default assumption. From that perspective it is hard to see the Trump administration’s actions as anything more than bumbling incompetence. However the argument baked into this position is that because Trump is incompetent, he can’t also be evil. He’s greedy and lazy, sure, and a garden-variety racist, but not actually a true-believer Nazi.

This isn’t really convincing to me because it doesn’t appear to adequately explain the sequence of events surrounding e.g. the DHS’s organized defiance of a federal injunction. When layed out one after the next, it seems like an awfully extreme coincidence for bumbling incompetency to have sent the United States so cleanly down the path to a fascist coup d’état. On the other hand, pretty much everything else Trump and his administration have tried has seemed like one gross mis-step after the next, and it would be weird for them to be so methodical with their fascism and so sloppy with everything else.

So which is it? It could, I suppose be both. Trump (or more likely Bannon) is a legitimate fascist planning a coup and kind of a moron, one who just happens to have gotten lucky on all the things that really matter. But this still seems unlikely; a better explanation would be that luck is running the other way: Trump is a garden-variety idiot whose incompetence and rhetoric has led the US to a potential civil war by accident. Because we are imagining a final destination, the steps taken down the path look intentional even when they’re not.

In the end, it may not matter. Contrary to popular aphorism, this is a case where the destination matters a lot more than the journey we took to get there. Even on the still-decent odds that the US remains a liberal and democratic republic, the rule of law will continue to be sorely tried, and from those stress fractures will bleed human rights.

Take heart from the most likely explanation: if Trump is just a lucky moron, then at least nobody in power is actively trying to dismantle the United States. Who knows, there’s a tiny chance somebody in the inner circle might actually realize the effect their policies are having and put a stop to the madness.

And even if they don’t, nobody’s luck lasts forever.

Edit: I wrote a follow-up post here.