Checkpoint: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

In the age of Trump, where absurdity is common, and commonality is viewed as absurd – it has become frustratingly difficult to discern the difference between deviousness and stupidity.

When there is no common reality of facts, style, history or morals to connect us through our shared context - a state of affairs arises whereby all opinions are deemed equally valid, and equally incontestable. In every act of the Trump tragedy there seems to be a central dilemma – what is the driving agent of these events? From the first suggestion that someone as laughable and pointless as Donald Trump could be president, to the fact of Russian electoral meddling on his behalf.

We are forced to conclude one of three options. The first, is our gut feeling, although it leaves only ourselves to blame – that Trump and his associates are the unfathomably stupid and egotistic beneficiaries of happenstance, and the insidious foreign policy directives of antagonistic state actors. The second somewhat alleviates us of fault, but fills the gap with a great deal of stress; this is the possibility that Trump, his campaign, and his administration are devious Machiavellian actors whose mendacity is only limited by their vocabulary, and what would seem to be their rather moronic goals. The third option is a coalescence of the first two, for which the most prominent aspect is an indifference so pliable that every ache of the 20th century, from the Pogroms to The Cold War, are being masochistically invited back into our lives – a masochism provided for us by a sadist.

For argument’s sake, or rather - for the sake of Hobbesian prudence (Hobbes held prudence to be the only innate faculty) we have to accept, until proven otherwise, one of these rather pallid conclusions. In light of the most recent of controversies, let us find ourselves prudential at the expense of Donald Trump’s eldest son, imaginatively named Donald Trump Jr.

It is said the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but even so, as a forebear, Donald Trump is about as fruitful as a modern coal mine, and his offspring are just as bright. Trump Jr. has been at the core of controversy this week after leaking his own e-mails detailing a meeting he had on June 9th, 2016, with a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr. released the e-mails on Twitter after being contacted by the editor of The New York Times who had knowledge of the e-mails and intent to publish.  

The e-mails are a conversation between Donald Trump Jr. and British music publicist Rob Goldstone, a casual business colleague of the Trump organization who had worked at the Miss Universe pageant. Goldstone contacted Trump Jr. suggesting he meet with Veselnitskaya who was allegedly in possession of clandestinely acquired information about Hillary Clinton. In one email, Mr Goldstone suggested the information was “obviously very high-level and sensitive information, but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.” Trump Jr. responded by saying “If it’s what you say I love it.”

Considering McDonald’s slogan is “I’m loving it,” this is perhaps why Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said before Trump Jr. released the e-mails, that the meeting between Trump Jr., and Veselnitskaya was “a nothingburger.” Which was no doubt a slight jab at Trump Jr. himself for “nothingburger” was the very description Trump Jr.’s teachers sent home with him in his report card each semester.

President Trump has been unusually reserved in response to this controversy. His only response to the shark frenzy that Donald Jr. dived into gel first was provided through the always off-putting medium of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. This impression of Huckabee Sanders may boil down to the fact that through the power of nominative determinism, the deputy press secretary sounds like a hair-brained and demented political hybrid - the answer to the question of what happens when an immovable object, Huckabee, meets an unstoppable force, Sanders. The event seems to nullify itself, much like her speech, which has the range and the confidence of a revving Prius.

Perhaps however, I am being slightly harsh considering her dreary material – The President’s statement was as follows: “My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency.” Such proud parenting and fatherly encouragement hasn’t been seen since Abraham commended Isaac for behaving so calmly during his binding.

However, President Trump did later go to the effort of reiterating that all the media speculation surrounding the moral, ethical, a patriotic vacancy of himself, his administration and his progeny was a “Witch-Hunt.” Trump went on to say the people leading these “witch hunts” are “conflicted.” The President is of course singular in being utterly without conflict; such is the state of blissful ignorance without all those pesky ideas and morals that cause internal dilemma.

Much like Trump’s claim that he is the most poorly treated President in history, Trump’s persistent ‘Witch-Hunt’ analogy is about as historically accurate as Blazing Saddles, but much more absurd. Witch-Hunts were disgusting punishments for imagined crimes, something utterly contrasting to Trump, who seemingly profits from his morally malign activities. Joan of Arc was said to have suffered the sentencing of a Witch-Hunt, and she had gone to the trouble of saving her nation, not undermining it.

In his famous history of the French heroin (Joan of Arc), Mark Twain writes: “The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was unfailingly true to an age that was false to the core; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation… she was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes.” Quite glaringly, Trump and his ilk are the latter in each of these contrasts. Indeed the most revealing aspect of Trump’s persistent reiteration of the ‘Witch-Hunt’ narrative is not so much his antagonism for the practice, but his nostalgia for it. After all, Trump is entirely consistent with a 15th century worldview, the sun revolves around him, and the presence of power in a woman could only be explained by the supernatural.  

The Trump Jr. emails do not on the surface prove that wonderful buzzword: collusion. However, they did prove what had been obvious from the start - that the Trump campaign was perfectly happy with Russian interference.

So, we are back at the central confusion at which all Trump related investigations lead – why would Trump Jr. release these e-mails when they reveal he sought to harbor the alleged profits of Russian espionage? The first temptation is that Trump Jr. was and is extremely stupid. Or perhaps the Trump campaign and administration are responsible for a much larger devious conspiracy of collusion with the Russians - and Trump Jr. is playing the part of a sacrificial pawn.

I think it is a good policy to mix rationalism and empiricism like a fine cocktail. Take a Manhattan for example, or as I prefer, a Rob Roy – the rational is the sweet vermouth, it is subtle, hopeful, and keeps you coming back for more. The empirical however, is the whisky, the water of life and our base spirit. It is reality - sometimes hard to swallow, sometimes wonderfully nuanced and complex, always strong.

My rational side tells me the Trump family and administration ought not to find themselves anywhere near where they are, especially considering they seem to treat their shared brain-cell like a hot potato. This rationalism grates against me and retains that inkling feeling that they must be responsible, or at least vaguely aware of a grand devious plot masked by mendacity and feigned ineptitude.

It is time to be prudent however, and take our empirical medicine; indeed as Monty Python told us: “Hobbes was fond of his dram.” Since we have no evidence yet to convince us otherwise, we must conclude that the Trump administration, and in this case, Trump Jr. are really, by fathoms yet to be fully explored, incredibly stupid.

Forrest Gump was often asked if he was stupid. He always replied with a line so simple it could be confused for the answer the questioner was looking for. “Stupid is as stupid does.” Gump was anything but stupid. If he had been dressed in sandals instead of Nikes he would have looked the Philosopher. Indeed, when I think of him on the park bench, he sits with Cicero, Seneca, and Montaigne - admirers of the simple but profound truths. Gump's phrase is endearingly apposite, for it serves the meaning – judge my stupidity by my actions – Forrest may have been ‘slow’ of mind, but his actions demonstrated him to be kind, brave, honest, and above all, wise.

This phrase, I submit, would be a fine lens to view the age of Trump, not to denigrate the Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” and to say nothing of the tautology atop the New York Times. I at least, am choosing to judge these people on their actions, that is the prudent position. Their foolishness does nothing but spoil the expensive lessons of history, and pour salt upon the topsoil - it’s true, “Stupid is as stupid does.”