Trump on policy

We’re so used to how incredibly stupid and inane Trump can be on matters of policy (photo ID to buy cereal?!), that it’s too easy to just laugh it off and say, “there he goes again.”  But it’s worth it every know and then to just stop and think about the fact that our president is simply stunningly ignorant of how policy actually works (on balance, I would say that’s a good thing– the old “malevolence tempered by incompetence”– but , still).  It’s not that Trump would just come nowhere near passing my college Public Policy course, I would be embarrassed to hear his answers from my 12-year old (who is, admittedly, pretty smart).  Anyway, Yglesias digs into Trump’s latest Daily Caller interview to remind us just how bad this is.  You should read through Trump’s rambling, incoherent answers for a reminder.

Trump is utterly unable to discuss policy

A unique aspect of Trump as a politician is that he can’t talk about the substance of any policy issue in a remotely coherent way. Tough interviews can sometimes obscure exactly how bad he is at this because they become combative. But here is he grappling with a softball:

THE DAILY CALLER: Sir, I do want to turn to policy.

TRUMP: That’s why I always joke when I say they’ll all be endorsing me. ’Cause I don’t know what happens to their business after I’m gone.

THE DAILY CALLER: Sir, right now, in 2010 we saw several pieces of major legislation passed in a lame-duck Congress. What can we expect your and the Republican agenda to be in this Congress? Is it going to be an immigration fix? What about criminal justice reform? What are the two to three things you’re looking at?

TRUMP: We’re working on many things. Criminal justice reform we’re working on very hard. We have a meeting today, did you know about that? We have a meeting today.

THE DAILY CALLER: We heard about that.

TRUMP: Get these two in, all right? I think we have a chance at that. We should be able to fix health care. We should be able —

THE DAILY CALLER: Just one second, sir, on that criminal justice bill. Is that the Jared Kushner-backed bill that you want to focus on?

TRUMP: The answer is I’m looking at it very closely, okay? I am. It’s a good thing. You know, Texas is backing it, if you look at Mississippi and Georgia and a lot of other places, they believe in it, those governors, and they’re conservative people. Rick Perry’s a big fan.

You know, a lot of people are backing it. Look at the people that are backing it. Even, you know, like Mike Lee, he votes against a lot of things and we respect Mike and Mike is backing it. We have a lot of people that are backing this.

If you haven’t been following this issue, you might be curious as to what the content of the bill Trump is backing is. What does it do? How will it impact your life and your community? Trump has nothing to say about this, nor does he seem up to speed on what the actual state of play in Congress is. He just knows he has a meeting and also that his energy secretary likes the bill and that Utah Sen. Mike Lee “votes against a lot of things.”

Of course, nobody in politics is an expert on everything that crosses his desk, but when Trump gets a question on his signature issue of immigration, he starts ranting about Mueller again:

THE DAILY CALLER: What about immigration, sir? Are you willing to shut down the government if you don’t get a certain set of policies?

TRUMP: I may be. I may be. I’ll have to see how it plays out. But I may very well be willing to shut down the government.

I think it’s horrible what’s happening and, you know, building the wall, it’s in smaller stages, we can build it very quickly. I’m building the wall in smaller stages and we moved the military there, we put up barbed wire, we did all sorts of things. You have to have a barrier. You have to have a barrier.

Look, we have a chance of, they can do presidential harassment, put very simply, and I’ll be very good at handling that, and I think I’ll be better than anybody in the history of this office. And in a certain way, I look forward to it because I actually think it’s good for me politically, because everyone knows it’s pure harassment. Just like the witch hunt, the Mueller witch hunt. It’s pure harassment. It’s horrible. It’s horrible that they’re allowed to get away with it.

Again, not Senate-confirmed but, you know. You have 17 people, half of them worked for Hillary Clinton, some on the foundation. The Hillary Clinton Foundation. I mean, you think of it.

Where Trump does have detailed, albeit entirely made-up, beliefs is on the subject of voter fraud — a phenomenon he claims to believe is widespread despite all evidence to the contrary…

As David Brooks tries to reassure us that Trump is too inept to be a scary authoritarian, the Caller review is a reminder that it’s really a both/and situation.

There’s no clear line between Trump’s dishonesty and his sincere lack of information, or between his tendency to engage in vain but pointless boasting and his alarming efforts to overturn legitimate election results.

The main throughline is that even though Trump makes no sense, tramples on basic values routinely, and has no grasp of the actual substance of his job, he does have a large, well-financed, and fairly relentless conservative propaganda apparatus at his back that tries to obscure his failings from their audience while trusting that keeping him in power is broadly beneficial for the goals of the conservative movement — even if he is only dimly aware of what those goals are.

So we’re left with a president who is both relatively likely to blunder us into some catastrophe and likely to respond to catastrophe in inappropriate or illegal ways. [emphasis mine]


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Trump on policy

  1. Nicole K. says:

    Unlike Trump, I am fairly certain that I could pass your public policy course. I got an A in PS 310; however I am really unsure how I managed to do that since I took it in the summer of 2012 when my narcolepsy was ruining my life. That was a year after the disaster in PS 313. I can’t remember who I took it from, but there must not have been a required paper assignment to pass the class since I was incapable of delivering one at the time. I would have been a lot smarter back then if I had immediately dropped any class that required any out of class writing, but that would have required a fully working brain to figure out. I am glad to no longer have that issue anymore.

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