23 Nov '15     home | previous

Donald Trump and "Stupid People"

"We're tired of being led by stupid people." So says candidate Trump. Trump had to be thinking of President Obama.

A president's policy choices, as we know, are made from a variety of alternatives, most often all of them unattractive. And each alternative consists of a complexity of details. To sift through all of this, a president consults with advisors and information provided by people with expertise. In recent decades, some of us see a president as having made a poor choice, but we don't believe we would be accurate if we labeled them as stupid.

Trump is quick with the "stupid" label perhaps because he has simplistic and his easy solutions to problems. He appeals with bumper sticker ideas like his slogan "Make America Great again. And referring to ISIS he provides us with his solution: he says he would "blast the hell out of them."

A more detailed analysis of what should be done regarding ISIS was provided yesterday by former general Jack Keane on Sunday Morning with Maria Bartiromo – Fox News.

Keane gives Obama a "check" (approval) for declaring that ISIS should be defeated. He gives him a second check for pushing local Sunni ground forces against ISIS. And Keane approves of Obama's air campaign against ISIS. Keane is not as simplistic or absolutistic in his differences with Obama as Trump. What Keane wants is more. He wants to "unleash American air power" and he wants more and bigger hit and run raids via helicopters.

Ending her interview with Jack Keane, Maria Bartiromo, asks why more wasn't being done now. It's a vacuous question, and she supplies her own answer: "The President is out of touch with how the American people are feeling right now."

Is the president supposed to follow with his finger up to the unstable breeze of public opinion, or are they supposed to lead? The reality is that public opinion has changed with the Paris attacks. As recent as last September a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed public support for Obama's airstrikes against Islamic State militants and also showed a low appetite for a long campaign against the group. The public had long been opposed to applying US military force in Syria, many taking the position that we should just let the Arabs fight it out among themselves.

This changed with the Paris attacks. According to an NBC poll, six out of ten Americans would support sending additional ground troops to fight Islamic State and 58 percent believe that "using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism." And Obama has made an accommodation with the change in public opinion. He has vowed not to "relent" against ISIS, saying "We will cut down their finances, we will hunt them down. We will destroy ISIL... We're going to get it done."*

Trump wants to impress people that he is tougher than the president and tougher than his Republican rival candidates. So he uses tough-guy rhetoric like "blast the hell out of them" and he claims he would do things that the Obama administration isn't doing.

His rhetoric is working, at least with some Republican voters. As of yesterday, polls have Trump extending his lead in Iowa to 30 percent, with Ted Cruz second at 21 percent. And in New Hampshire, Trump is leading 32 percent and Marco Rubio is second at 13 percent.

Much of Trump's appeal is said to be that he is "not a typical politician" and that "he says things others are afraid to say." Maggie Haberman writes in the New York Times that Trump "has a knack for muddying the waters with catchall phrases that allow his supporters and detractors to read whatever they want into his statements." She quotes Matt Latimer, a speechwriter for President George W Bush, that what voters are looking for is "attitude and tone."

Perhaps it can be said that Trump got it backward. Instead of "We are tired of being led by stupid people," many of us should find fault with the simplicity of "we" who vote them into office, including those now attracted to Trump.

Anyway, fears may subside by October 2016, and voters may be more focused on domestic issues such as money in an out of pockets. And some of us still think it is not likely that Trump will be the Republican nominee. Meanwhile, according to ABC News as of yesterday "Trump isn't ruling out an independent run," if he is "treated unfairly," despite having signed a pledge that he would not do so.

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* On November 16, three days after the Paris attacks, President Obama said this:

We'll do what's required to keep the American people safe. And I think it's entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I'm not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I'm too busy for that.

Arizona's Senator McCain responded, naming a variety of people who were apparently "just popping off," including General David Petraeus "when he testified to the Armed Services Committee that the President's strategy has failed to create the military conditions to end the conflict in Syria and that ISIL will not be defeated until we do so.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.