We as a nation have long been clear on the fact that Donald Trump is an appalling bigot. Indeed, Mr. Trump has made it his primary selling point, just above shouting “Winning!” at roughly the same rate and level of coherence as peak-coke Charlie Sheen.
We have also long been aware that Trump is a misogynist. The only real debate there is whether he’s just the creepy viewing-all-women-only-as-sex-objects kind, the more insidious gaslighting-emotional-abuser kind, or a sort of combo platter of rage, fragile masculinity, and inappropriate downstairs thoughts. Yes, the smart money is on combo platter, but for some reason, we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt. Still.
But even as we have writhed with national shame over the advancement of Trump to one of the top two candidates in our presidential race OH GOD, OH GOD, IN OUR FOR-REAL, ACTUAL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, we have taken comfort in the notion that he at least has to be fairly bright on some level. He graduated from Wharton, right? And made a bunch of money? We have clung to the notion that surely, even with the bizarre behavior and complete refusal to learn about foreign or domestic issues, he must have something going on upstairs.
Terrifying as the thought is, it’s time to let that fragile hope go.
The first tentpole to collapse, alas, must be the Wharton story. You will be shocked to learn that Trump has been allowing a version that has been a teensy bit exaggerated to circulate in the press. Trump transferred into Wharton his junior year and was admitted by an admissions officer who was friends with his brother and was doing the family a favor. And while he did graduate (with a bachelor’s degree, not an MBA), Trump was hardly a distinguished student. Trump has allowed multiple news outlets to print that he graduated first in his class – I am not sure where they would have gotten that idea, but I think I could get it in three guesses – but in fact he graduated with no honors of any kind. His fellow students can barely remember him being on campus and there are no accounts of him even being particularly interested in his classes. Students at the time say he was mostly gone.
There are many ways for a young man with a colossally wealthy father who wants him to graduate from a particular school to make it through college. One of them is through study and hard work. (If Mr. Trump takes issue with any implications in the last couple of sentences, he can certainly release his academic records, as he repeatedly and shrilly demanded of President Obama. You know, right around the time that Trump was sending fictional squads of detectives to Hawaii.)
As for the business-smarts thing, if we’re being honest, that’s been shaky for a while. Trump got his infamous “small loan” of a million dollars from his dad when he started out in real estate. What we don’t talk much about is inflation. If Trump got that itty bitty million bucks in 1970, (He has not been clear on the year, but that would be two years after he left Wharton like a majestic shooting star of academe), that would be the equivalent of getting a loan of more than $6,100,000 in today’s money. Which, when backed by the credit and name of his dad’s multimillion dollar empire, starts to sound a little more doable, doesn’t it? Like maybe you too could scrape by?
And the deal Trump gets the most canniness credit for, the joint purchase of the Commodore hotel with Hyatt, was backed by his father’s connections and a $70 million loan guarantee from Hyatt and his dad’s company. And there’s reason to believe that Donald was simply the front man for what was really his father’s deal. Again, don’t you think you could muddle through under those circumstances?
When it comes to Trump’s own business dealings, his two main business plans seem to have been 1) putting his name on things in giant fonts and 2) fucking over contractors by refusing to pay them to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And he still lost money. On casinos.
As Trump’s casinos flailed, he borrowed $9 million against his inheritance and got another small series of loans totaling around $14 million from Pop. Trump’s father also bought $3.5 million in casino chips and then – Whoops! – forgot to use them, which the casino authorities for some crazy reason decided was an illegal loan. I can’t think why. And Trump still, according to his own leaked taxes, managed to lose more than $900 million. In a single year.
As for his business ideas outside his family’s real estate model, Trump’s brainchildren have ranged from fraudulent to narcissistic to simply batshit. He thought people wanted a commuter airline with more gold on it. Or steaks of uncertain provenance. Or a game about becoming just like him.
Looking at Trump’s business ventures is where we must admit that he is maybe not real bright.
Looking at his presidential campaign is where we must come to the realization that he is a fucking idiot.
Most people agreed from the start that Trump didn’t really want to be President of the United States. He wanted to copy (no, of course it isn’t his own idea) the odious Newt Gingrich business model of running for office to sell unreadable books and drive up his speaking fees. Trump surely liked the idea of selling some more ghostwritten books, but his main goal in announcing (in front of a crowd of paid extras, for whom the casting call was easily traced) his candidacy was to juice him as a presence on his TV show, The Apprentice. And then in that announcement, Trump said something so viciously, disgustingly racist that NBC severed ties with him.
That’s really fucking stupid.
Literally the one thing he had to do was not poison his own show, and he failed at that immediately. Trump almost certainly kept running in part because his yawning, cavernously needy ego was suddenly being fed by rabid crowds of happy racists, but it also has to have been in part because he destroyed his own exit strategy on the first day.
And Trump wasn’t just drastically underestimating the network’s reaction. Even if NBC hadn’t pulled the plug, it does not seem to have occurred to Trump that Mexican-Americans might have watched his show, and might stop doing so once he called them rapists. (Yes, plenty of white people go through life thinking of white as the default for “people,” but any even marginally shrewd businessman and entertainer should be able to wrap his head around the idea that non-white people do things and buy things. Not so for, Trump, who after a year of shouting about race still can’t. The closest he’s come to thinking about non-white people is asserting that all black people in the United States live in a dystopian hellscape of constant gunfire. I’m still trying to figure out which ‘70s exploitation flick was his source material.
Then there was the weird press conference where he was surrounded by steaks that he claimed were from his long-defunct mail-order steak venture. And the magazine that doesn’t happen anymore and the water that only gets put out in his hotel rooms. He decided that he could put all those things on camera and no one would check to see if they were real and one could still buy them. He decided that his best bet was to plug his failed businesses.
That’s unbelievably fucking stupid.
And I have to skip over months and months of stupid because he’s done that many stupid things. I pitched this article a few days before I could write it, and I started to panic on the first day because Trump was already doing so many different stupid things than the stupid things that inspired the pitch that I grew overwhelmed and terrified of falling behind.
The man bitched about his finances coming under scrutiny and bitched more about the legal proceedings against his fake scam university, but he still failed to file the basic legal paperwork that would have made his fake scam charity a real charity.
He shat the bed so thoroughly on preparing for his first debate with Clinton that his team desperately released accounts of how unprepared he was to lower expectations and he still failed to meet those lowered expectations.
He walked straight into Clinton’s Miss Universe trap. And then he insisted on staying in it and flailing around even though the door was open. That could have been a few lines at the debate and a quickly forgotten minor Clinton ad, but no. Days later, Trump went into a frenzy of late-night tweeting about it like a meth-addled vampire. That’s not thin-skinned, as the press has been calling it. That is fucking stupid.
Trump wasn’t even able to understand what the real issue was. Any normal misogynist politician would have listened to his advisors (oh, and he would have some decent advisors) and release an insincere anodyne statement to the effect that yes, he made some foolish youthful statements in the past, but he now understands how truly damaging attacks – however unintentional – on a woman’s body image can be. Instead, he made the rounds talking about how he was totally justified in calling a woman “Miss Piggy,” because she really did gain some weight. That’s not unguarded shooting from the hip; that is a lack of basic cognitive skills.
The whole world has been after Trump’s taxes. Even previously safe interviewers are now openly calling him out on the ridiculous, long-debunked lie that he can’t release them because he’s under audit. Not only has Trump not bothered to think of a better lie even though he looks worse and stumblier every time it comes up, nobody bothered to think about what to do if some of his tax returns got found and leaked. In this age of “the cyber,” as Trump keeps calling it.
So far the Trump campaign’s story is that losing $900 million in a single year was brilliant and that writing it off was a brilliant use of the tax codes. If it was so laudable, it’s weird that Trump has been scrambling so hard to hide his returns, isn’t it? But that’s the best story he’s come up with. It’s true that Trump’s core supporters are deliberately avoiding making logical leaps like that one, but surely a few of them will. Or at least a few will have it shouted at them by exasperated relatives and will be unable to answer.
And Trump isn’t fighting for his base anymore. They’re a lock, but they’re not enough to get him over the top. He’s fighting for people of color (oops) and millennials who are dumb enough to support Gary Johnson (hmm) and white suburbanites who are uncomfortable enough with Hillary Clinton that they might be coaxed into voting for the most impulsive and least qualified politician since Caligula. And those are not necessarily people who are going to line up behind a billion-dollar tax dodge from a noted scam artist. Or at least not without a better story behind it. But, again, Trump can’t think about groups of people who aren’t his base or his immediate family. And he doesn’t seem to get the concept of people hitting their limit of sleaze and incompetence and turning away.
Trump has been able to bully and bluster his way through the campaign so far. That doesn’t make him smart or even cunning. It makes him a two-trick pony. One that isn’t even bright enough to look at what the other ponies do.
Just yesterday, Trump was at a rally in Nevada and Yorksplained how to pronounce “Nevada” to the Nevada audience. And, out of two possibilities, Trump picked the wrong one. He did not bother to drill himself on the correct pronunciation or to just double-check before going onstage. And he stuck with the wrong pronunciation even over the shouting of the crowd. That’s not just arrogant. It’s incredibly, ridiculously, avoidably, inexcusably stupid.
I know it’s frightening to face just how flat-out dumb Donald Trump is. It’s easier to cling to the idea that he’s a smart guy playing a game, or at least a shrewd guy who’s just not good at censoring himself. There’s a shred of hope and order there.
But he isn’t. It isn’t productive or safe to pretend that Trump is anything other than an unreasonably fortunate dolt who has figured out that he can buy and shout his way through life. Yes, it makes him an even greater threat to the nation should he win the election, but it’s a threat that we must face clear-eyed and head-on.
It’s the only explanation that fits all the evidence: Donald Trump is a fucking idiot.
Let’s be brave about it and move forward in strength.