I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately it must be said: Donald Trump knows exactly what he’s doing.
This article was originally published at Salon
To be clear, I’m not saying the man is a super-genius or even particularly intelligent. By most measures, Trump is likely of below-average intelligence. He’s incurious, half-literate, and would almost certainly be flummoxed by a basic math problem or a grade-school reading comprehension test. He ran his business into bankruptcy multiple times because his sense of his own talents grossly outstripped what nature had given him. None of this is in dispute.
But when it comes to Trump’s true passion in life — being an abusive, bigoted bully and troll — he is highly competent and extremely successful. As I argue in my book, “Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself,” Trump’s voters elected him to do two things: 1) Impose his white supremacist vision on America and 2) Troll liberals into madness.
A year and a half into his presidency, we can say that by those measures, the Trump presidency has been a smashing success.
For some reason, there’s widespread resistance among progressives to the proposition that Trump might actually be competent, at least at the goals he set out to accomplish, i.e., liberal tears and white supremacy. New York Times reporters like Maggie Haberman keep portraying him as a dim-witted and lazy old man, not a person who has become an accomplished sadist after a lifetime of practice. Many liberals are eager to buy into that, because the idea that the orange moron in the ill-fitting suit might actually be getting over on us is painful to accept.
So liberals keep chalking up certain horrors of the Trump administration to incompetence, when the likelier explanation is that Trump and his cronies are doing these things by design.
I usually agree with Salon columnist Heather Digby Parton, but her recent piece on this topic misses the mark by ascribing the fallout from both the Muslim travel ban and the family separation policy to incompetence. I would argue instead that things rolled out exactly how the administration wanted.
Digby writes that the administration “hadn’t thought through the logistical ramifications” of the Muslim travel ban, “resulting in confusion and chaos everywhere.” Similarly, she argues that a plan “for clear identification of the children and their parents, so they can easily be tracked and identified for reunification at the end of the process, was overlooked.”
She also argues for political incompetence, writing, that Trump officials “failed to anticipate how people would react” to “taking babies from their mothers.”
Michelle Goldberg, writing for the New York Times, makes a similar argument, writing that there’s ” a multiplier effect” to “Trump’s incompetence and malevolence.” crediting that combination as the cause of “the White House’s catastrophically inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico” and “the cavalier way the administration took thousands of children from migrant parents with no process in place to reunite them.”
From where I’m sitting, there’s no reason to assume incompetence in any of this. Trump is a racist and a sadist, and both have been well-documented for decades. What more could a person with those qualities want than trapping Muslims in airports, destroying the lives of Puerto Ricans, separating Latino immigrant children from their parents and then “losing” the paperwork necessary to reunite them? This is the Trump who talks about immigrants from “shithole countries” being “animals.” Using assumed ineptitude as pretext for dishing out pain sounds about right to me.