Donald Trump Is Profoundly Ignorant

The excerpt from Michael Wolff’s book that was printed in New York Magazine yesterday is well worth reading, if for no other reason than it begins by confirming the suspicion a lot of people have had all along about Donald Trump. He didn’t expect to win the presidency—nor did he even want to.

But I’d like to focus on a few other tidbits because they too confirm what we’ve heard previously about this president.

Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: He was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance. Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,” Nunberg recalled, “before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”…

From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him. He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for groveling…

Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate. He trusted his own expertise ­— no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do.

A lot of ink has been spilled to make the case that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. Much of that has been in arguments over whether he is mentally ill. But the picture these descriptors paint is equally troubling. It reminds me of what Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal, told Jane Mayer a year and a half ago.

“Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said.

We’ve also heard about this when it comes to Trump’s intelligence briefings.

Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,” according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.

What we have is a president who is profoundly ignorant. That is a problem that could be remedied. But it is compounded by the fact that he is so impulsive and narcissistic that he perpetuates his own ignorance. Information that might challenge his thinking is ignored or discarded in favor of his “gut.” Most of all, he is too impatient to absorb anything that is not in service of propping up his own ego.

It seems clear that everyone who deals with Trump on a regular basis is aware of these patterns. Rather than sound an alarm, they enable this to continue by accommodating him. It is no different than those who enable someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol—except in the number of people who will pay the price for this behavior.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.