Among the things I never thought I’d actually have to say, let alone prove, while responding to reader comments

Martie Sirois
Jun 15 · 20 min read
Image by Justin Martin from Pixabay

The most widely shared piece I’ve published here on Medium was one I wrote in November 2018, titled “Donald Trump Is The Dunning-Kruger Effect Personified.” To date it has 3.8Kclaps” — mere circus peanuts compared to some of the other top “Culture” writers on Medium who are pretty amazing and have, like, 33K followers, or 230K claps on one piece alone. But still, my numbers are nothing to scoff at, especially for someone who didn’t get her writing start until later in life.

3.8K claps (and about half as many shares over various media platforms) means the piece resonated on some level with quite a few people. I still get notifications in my Twitter feed that it has been shared again. And again. And just when I’ve forgotten about it, again. It sort of takes me by surprise every time, because this wasn’t a piece that I spent a lot of time or energy on. It was just my observation and opinion — coming from what little knowledge that having a degree in Psychology has afforded me — of possibly the most talked-about individual in America today.

This piece is also the one for which I’ve received the most reader responses. I know because I always try to respond back to those who take the time to leave a comment, time permitting. I’m not great at always following through on this because, you know, life and all… if I’m not working my full-time job, out with my husband or one of three teens, running my program at the local LGBT Center, volunteering, playing with my super smart pitbull boxer mix, or my very unintelligent duo of cats, or just dead tired from any or all of those things, then in my spare time I’m networking online and responding to emails and reader comments.

But in all sincerity, reader feedback here on Medium means something to me. I get that it takes time, effort, and energy to get one’s thoughts out and compose a response. Usually.

Suffice it to say, reading the comments on this piece has been… (hmm. Interesting? Entertaining? Searching for the right word…) I guess it’s fair to say reading the comments on this piece has been more of an eye-opening experience, because I’ve been able to see the almost perfectly equivalent divide playing out among the commentators, which coincidentally, I see as a symbolic representation of our country right now.

From those who took time to leave comments on the piece, as of right now there are about an equal number of readers who agreed, vs. disagreed, vs. those who were somewhat neutral regarding my observation (and opinion) that Trump is not some mystifying, multi-layered, complex ball of wax, but simply a textbook case of Dunning-Kruger.

(If you haven’t read my Dunning-Kruger piece, in short, the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a cognitive bias in psychology where people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise or ability. Simply put, the Dunning-Kruger effect happens when someone is ignorant of their own ignorance, but furthermore, when they are also overconfident in their knowledge or abilities.)

I thought it’d go without saying that Donald Trump also has the added ingredients necessary for making a person narcissistic, sexist, bigoted, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and all the other classic toxins we “armchair diagnose” him with. At least from outward observation, he appears to embody all of those things. But I learned from the comments that it didn’t go without saying. I needed to have said it.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Many folks thought I was downplaying the dangers of his mind — of which, I’m convinced, becomes strikingly more evident with each day, that there is no real “mind” underneath that conglomeration of hair. The danger of his actions? Yes. Absolutely. Trump commits atrocities weekly, if not daily. His impulsive, hasty, reckless, and cruel actions threaten the lives of marginalized and minority communities, most especially.

Where I’m having trouble is finding evidence that proves Trump’s skull contains anything beyond an airless void. A black hole. In total, he appears the physical embodiment of a wall of stupidity, cloaked in a poorly designed human suit.

But, I digress.

I should’ve made it more clear in the Dunning-Kruger piece that, yes, I do agree with all of you clinical types who chimed in to say he also appears to be suffering from mental decline, on top of already being hard-wired with a personality disorder. And also, I agree with all of you who asserted he likely suffers from incurable, raging narcissism, and possibly, even that he’s a psychopath — though not an intelligent one, as I pointed out in one of my responses.

Image by heblo from Pixabay

Donald Trump simply doesn’t come off as the type of person mentally organized enough, let alone, intelligent or attentive enough to meticulously plan (as serial killers do) every detail of every step, predict every possible outcome and make contingency plans for each, all in advance of the act.

Nor does Trump seem to have the mental capacity to cooly and calmly execute all of those steps, successfully, on top of leaving little to no clues for authorities to pursue, forever evading all consequences.

I do believe he will someday, somehow, pay for his many crimes.


Within the comments on my Dunning-Kruger piece, as of a few days ago there were a few to which I hadn’t yet responded. Not for lack of trying. I began composing my responses a couple of times, but for any number of reasons got sidetracked or busy, and then forgot. Until more comments came in and notifications reminded me which ones I hadn’t responded to yet.

I eventually got to most of them, including the out-of-network comments, except for one or two that didn’t warrant a response; another one from a reader who posted a comment (which I can still see), and then immediately blocked me (so I could see what they wrote but not respond directly to them); and another one that I was just having difficulty with in finishing my response.

Tonight when I was finally finishing up that last response, I realized I was typing far too much for this to be just a reply. It was a whole other separate piece, and I needed to get it out of my system.

So, for context, here’s the readers’ comment that I’m responding to:

I am the furthest thing from a fan of Donald Trump, however I don’t think that he’s an idiot. I think he’s far more intelligent than people give him credit for; he simply carries himself like the New York real estate broker he is, and thinks that this sort of mentality will power him through international politics. His businesses and personal dealings have been wrought with all sorts of briberies, numerous lawsuits and bankruptcies because that’s how high level business often works. It’s simply that his life has had an enormous media spotlight shone right onto it.

Secondly, labelling him and far more importantly his followers as; racist, xenophobic, sexist, idiots is doing nothing to help political dialogue in the United States or the world at large. I feel as though there are many intellectually oriented people who are incredibly good at denouncing and poking fun at Trump and his followers, but they’re missing the incredibly obvious truths in the matter.

Donald Trump is the POTUS. Congress is Republican owned. Calling these people idiotic bigots is not only wrong but it’s a wildly ineffective political solution. His followers aren’t stupid, they just have incredibly different moral preferences and a very different way of viewing the world; but it doesn’t make them intellectually deficient. By denouncing the Trump phenomenon as a distillation of general stupidity, you’e wildly neglecting the substantial facts; that he used the flippancy of American popular media to become president, and every single day he uses inflammatory forms of speech to garner the attention he so willingly receives the world at large.

If you have listened to the way he talks in interviews, long before his Presidential candidacy, you’ll find that he’s not the idiotic buffoon you claim he is. He’s just figured out the perfect way of playing the media to work for him.

Before I finish, I just want to reiterate that I am NOT a Donald Trump fan, but I think that incorrect criticisms lead to the wrong outcomes, and that it’s of utmost importance to identify the real problems and not just the emotionally attractive ones. Furthermore, calling Trump’s followers, idiots, xenophobes, racists and fools you are simply pushing the possibility of successful political dialogue further away. No one has ever agreed with someone right after they’ve just been called an idiot.

Here’s my response:

Hello (reader), thank you for reading and responding! I’m very glad to know you consider yourself the “furthest thing from a Donald Trump fan.” I have to admit it’s always refreshing and good to hear that. You’ve made a lot of fair points here, and I want to acknowledge that up front.

That said, I have to make clear the points where we disagree. First, the part where you wrote:

“he’s far more intelligent than people give him credit for,”

and second, a portion of this next part, where you wrote:

“calling these people idiotic bigots is not only wrong but it’s a wildly ineffective political solution. His followers aren’t stupid, they just have incredibly different moral preferences and a very different way of viewing the world; but it doesn’t make them intellectually deficient.”

On the “intelligence” factor

Obviously, I’ve argued in the original piece that I do not believe Donald Trump to be intelligent at all. I also don’t believe that he has ever been intelligent, and yes, I’ll confess that I have listened to several of his older interviews, some of them in real time. I’m a child of the late 70s/early 80s. I remember being a young kid, shopping in the grocery store with my Mom and seeing Donald and then-wife Ivana’s images splashed all over the tabloid covers.

“Don’t look at that junk; it’s so tacky,” my Mom would always say under her breath, referring to the tabloids she saw me looking at. Then when she saw who was featured on the covers, she’d roll her eyes and say, “Gosh; they’re just so tacky! Yuck!”

I always agreed with her on that.

Looking at his images, I always thought there was just something cheap, vile, and smarmy about him, even before my mom said anything. Just a vibe I got. He had beady snake-like eyes that appeared conniving and were fixed in an evil gaze, like they were hiding something lurid. According to my three kids (though often begrudgingly on their parts), I’m an excellent and ridiculously accurate judge of character based off just the “vibes” I get from people, generally, during first impressions.

I also remember seeing Trump on Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous with Robin Leach. Even as a child and teenager I thought he sounded arrogant and stupid — not anything like the New Yorkers I knew.

Thus, I’d have to argue that him being “far more intelligent than people give him credit for” doesn’t ring the least bit true in my mind. I’d offer that he’s more of a snake oil salesman, a con man, a “Professor Harold Hill,” but without the good side — a self-centered opportunist who preys on and exploits innocent peoples’ fears and plays into their ignorances, usually, at an (often unrealized) cost to the very people who put their trust in him. In this way, he’s much like the notoriously corrupt televangelists or cult leaders.

Image by Foto-Rabe from Pixabay

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take “intelligence” to do what Trump does — it’s just common schoolyard bully behavior. Many people who’ve paid attention to Trump’s long-documented antics over the decades, some of which you also referenced, have known this in spades.

The problem itself is not so much in the behavior itself, but in who is doing the behavior, and the fact that this bullying behavior is coming from the Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America. As the person who occupies one of the most symbolically powerful governing seats in the nation, his brutish child-like behavior is far beneath the dignity of the office. More importantly, though, for a society (and moreover a democracy) to function — and function well — what have we learned over the course of history, if not the lesson, it is never the president’s place to punch down?

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

When I say Trump’s not intelligent I mean specifically that he’s not academic, in the sense that he doesn’t crave learning or willingly seek out new knowledge, and it seems he neither retains information, nor learns from the past. I also mean that he’s neither bookwise nor street-smart, he doesn’t have common sense or business acumen, and he doesn’t have good gut instincts at life or business in general. And perhaps more symbolically relevant, his side of the relationship with, literally, our respected and apolitical intelligence community is faithless. Why on earth would he make a good president for America?

It seems none of this should come as a surprise to anyone at this point. There is a long documented public history of his numerous failed enterprises, businesses, organizations, and of his failures to the tune of billions in lost revenue. In one ten-year period, his core businesses — apartment buildings, hotels, and casinos — racked up losses of more than a billion dollars.

Over a four-year period, Trump’s core businesses lost $359.1 million. Later, over a two-year period, his core businesses racked up losses of $517.5 million. And, between 1992 and 1994, even as the economy was recovering, Trump’s core businesses lost another $286.9 million.

Image by meineresterampe from Pixabay

I’ve had people argue, “failed businesses are just part of the process to becoming a millionnaire.” That may be true, in part, but in Donald Trump’s case, it has been one massive failure, after another, after another. Almost as if one would have to try really hard and purposely self-sabotage to excess, in order to make so many unintelligent business decisions.

Even after entering the White House and branding it with his personal markings of frenzied chaos, his reported lack of intelligence in all situations was the one thing that remained constant. It was widely publicized that Trump’s daily morning briefs had to be “dumbed down” to only “bullet points and charts and graphs to suit Trump’s preferences.”

But why take just my word for it? There are plenty of others who’ve weighed in on the matter.

I actually have a friend who, during the 90s, worked as a stylist in a posh NYC salon where Donald Trump also had his hair done. She spoke of how awful he was, how demanding, how presumptious, how fake. Him and his whole traveling entourage came to be known this way, and eventually, his paid claqueurs as well.

According to my friend who worked there, only one particular stylist in the salon was allowed to touch Trump’s hair, ever. And every time before he arrived, they had to take extra time and effort to hang an enormous circular tent of black velvet drapery from the ceiling which concealed him so that no one could ever witness the process, the same process that his daughter Ivanka willingly revealed:

“an absolutely clean pate — a contained island after scalp-reduction ­surgery — surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray.”

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff


Going back to Trump’s college days, there was the late William T. Kelley, PhD, former professor of marketing management for both undergraduates and graduates at the Wharton School of Business & Finance, the author of a then-widely used textbook, Marketing Intelligence — The Management of Marketing Information, and one of Trump’s professors. Dr. Kelley had some choice words, according to his long-time friend and colleague, Frank DiPrima, P.A., a Cornell University and Columbia Law School graduate:

“Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

DiPrima elaborated on this:

Professor Kelley told me 100 times over three decades that ‘Donald Trump was the dumbest goddam student I ever had.” I remember his emphasis and inflection — it went like this — “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddam student I ever had.” Dr. Kelley told me this after Trump had become a celebrity but long before he was considered a political figure. Dr. Kelley often referred to Trump’s arrogance when he told of this — that Trump came to Wharton thinking he already knew everything.

Image by 849356 from Pixabay

What about his fellow classmates? Interestingly, most of his own classmates hardly remember him, but those who do remember him as someone who skipped classes, never served in any type of leadership roles, was “loath to really study much,” would come to study groups unprepared and did not “seem to care about being prepared.” They remember that Trump was barely seen around campus on weekends, remained uninvolved in most campus activities and his picture was even absent from the yearbook.

Despite Trump’s claim that he graduated “first in class,” 1968 Wharton graduate Jon Hillsberg added that “there was no indication on the 1968 Commencement Program that Trump graduated with any honors. A copy of the program acquired from the Penn Archives lists 20 Wharton award and prize recipients, 15 cum laude recipients, four magna cum laude recipients and two summa cum laude recipients for the Class of 1968. Trump’s name appears nowhere on those lists.”

Classmates also say Trump was admitted to Wharton on a “special favor” from a friendly admissions officer.

Back in 2016, Trump’s former Penn classmates said they watched his rise in the Republican party with dread. Donald Morrison, a 1968 Penn graduate and editor-in-chief of The Daily Pennsylvanian that year, now living in Paris, stated before the 2016 election:

“Like most Americans, and perhaps even most Republicans, I wouldn’t feel comfortable being in the same neighborhood as this guy.”

In July of 2016, over 4,000 Wharton alumni, faculty and then current students signed an open letter to Donald Trump stating “You do not represent us,” in which they collectively denounced Trump and the hatred he “actively endorses.”

Jane Rich, another 1968 College graduate, said she did not even realize he was in her graduating class at Penn until seeing him in an interview.

“I found it amusing many, many years ago when I saw him interviewed,” she said. “I heard him telling people that he was first in his class in Wharton.” She said that she and her husband believe him to be “shockingly horrible and laughable,” adding that she “has nothing good to say about the man,” and “I personally find it hard to believe anybody with an education could believe anything he says.”

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

It’s not just classmates, either. There are plenty of corroborating stories from various business associates and employees over the decades. It doesn’t take much of a Google search to find former Trump employees and contractors who reveal exactly how his less-than-elaborate smoke and mirrors cons were pulled off, or how many of them remain unpaid, still to this day, for services rendered.

As we all learned not too long ago, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former “fixer,” personal attorney, executive vice-president of the Trump Organization, and national deputy finance chairman of the RNC, who pleaded guilty & is now serving prison time for campaign finance violations tied to hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and others at the direction of Trump, and lying to Congress for Trump (among other crimes tied to Trump), revealed that he threatened academic institutions not to release Donald Trump’s school records.

He admitted to writing a letter in 2015, when Trump was about to run for president, threatening Fordham University with legal action if Trump’s records were released.

Similarly, the New York Military Academy, where Trump attended in his younger years, moved all of its files on Donald Trump to a more secure location amid bribes and pressure from wealthy Trump allies.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of “The Art of the Deal,” says Trump had “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He called him a “frightened child,” and said “fear is the hidden through-line in Trump’s life — fear of weakness, of inadequacy, of failure, of criticism and of insignificance. He has spent his life trying to outrun these fears by “winning” — as he puts it — and by redefining reality whenever the facts don’t serve the narrative he seeks to create.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It’s a fear narrative that most of us can relate to on some level — in fact, one can almost start to feel pity for the man, but that sense is quickly lost the moment he opens his mouth and offends on an even lower, more dispicable level.

Even those who worked directly under him in his chaotic White House didn’t spare the “idiot” criticism.

Republican Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “fucking moron;” Gary Cohen, Trump’s former economic advisor, in an email circulating within the White House said Trump was “dumb as shit,” “less a person than a collection of terrible traits,” and “an idiot surrounded by clowns.”

During a private dinner, former national security advisor H R McMaster called Trump “an idiot” and a “dope;Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Trump had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader,” former Trump advisor Sam Nunberg called him “an idioton live national TV; Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin called Trump “an idiot,” and former Chiefs of Staff John Kelley and Reince Preibus each referred to Trump as “an idiot.”

The list goes on. There’s plentiful, undeniable evidence pointing to the fact that Trump is not intelligent, and little to no evidence of anything, anywhere, suggesting the contrary.

On the “different moral preferences” factor

Addressing your second point:

“calling these people idiotic bigots is not only wrong but it’s a wildly ineffective political solution. His followers aren’t stupid, they just have incredibly different moral preferences and a very different way of viewing the world; but it doesn’t make them intellectually deficient.”

The only parts here I can agree with are:

  1. calling people “idiotic bigots” is a wildly ineffective political solution. I agree with you. And, well, it’s a good thing I was attempting to do neither: a.) I never called Trump supporters “idiotic bigots” in this piece (I reserve that name for Donald Trump himself). Rather, I posed a question to readers: “Are (Trump supporters) more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect, if Donald Trump suffers from it himself?” I then pointed to recent studies that show people who identify politically now as Democrats tend to be more educated now than those who identify politically as Republicans (it used to be the opposite), potentially making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect. And b.) I did not present my opinion as a “political solution,” but rather, as cultural commentary. I don’t claim to have any sort of political solutions — honestly, at this point, I don’t know that anyone does.
  2. “they just have incredibly different moral preferences and a very different way of viewing the world; but it doesn’t make them intellectually deficient.” Fair point. You’re exactly right on this. Having different moral preferences and different ways of viewing the world does not make people intellectually deficient. Moral preferences may not be tied to the aspect of intelligence. There may be no correlation whatsoever.

But also on that point, here’s where it seems our mindsets part ways:

What you (and others) call “moral preferences,” I (and others) call “basic human rights,” and they aren’t up for negotiation. Referring to the way someone’s brain is hard-wired for, say, their sexual orientation or gender identity as a “moral preference,” or that something like my advocacy for my trans child is my “moral preference?” To me, that’s akin to saying that being gay is a “lifestyle.”

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Intelligence notwithstanding, no one gets to strip basic human rights away from other living, breathing, human beings, especially the ones who are already in the minority and under threat with Trump at the reigns — like transgender military members and the the LGBTQ community at large, immigrants, Muslims (or anyone who isn’t Christian, for that matter).

I get that you said you’re no fan of Donald Trump, and that’s cool. But every person who in any way defends him, enables him, and certainly those who voted for him and still support him bring some level of normalization to him, normalization that becomes contagious to everyone in that orbit. And the normalization of someone like Donald Trump should never be allowed to happen.

If our democracy is going to suceed, we have to draw the line somewhere. Leaders (and society) must behave better both in public and behind closed doors. Integrity and empathy seem to be the two missing but necessary ingredients in America right now. We have to determine what’s tolerable, and what’s intolerable, because no matter how much folks who practice Trumpism want it to be, tolerance of intolerance isn’t a “thing.”


A word on political correctness

I sometimes hear in comments that the Trump presidency is all “liberals’ fault,” that he’s a “direct result of the scourge of political correctness.”

What I say to that is, first, “you don’t like political correctness? Too bad! In your own words, ‘suck it up, buttercup!’” followed shortly by, “what kind of fool cuts off his nose to spite his face anyway?” —you know, the idiom that means we should never do something out of revenge that will end up causing more harm to ourselves than to the person or group of people with whom we are exasperated? It seems to me that’s exactly what Trump voters did.

If Americans perceive that “political correctness” is forcing them to think, talk, and act a certain way and they’re tired of being told what to do, well, that’s just too bad. Changing the way we treat others, especially minority groups, is a small, tiny sacrifice for the greater good.

I wish we all could at least occasionally think of others first, and at all times, think beyond our own interests. Our society needs to abandon the “out of sight, out of mind mentality,” i.e., “if it doesn’t affect me personally, why should I care?” That’s the first tenet of Trumpism, and it’s the antithesis of empathy.

Usually the folks who complain about political correctness are the ones who are not in any way affected by the things that the minority, the aggrieved or marginalized people are. So why do they care so much? In their own words, why are they so “butthurt?” (I despise that word, for the record.) The use of more politically correct practices allows these marginalized groups to feel some modicum of protection and humanity; what kind of mean-spirited, unhappy person would deny them that?

After all, “political correctness” is really just a synonym for “trying not to be an asshole.” At one point in time, our society seemed to agree on the criteria that made folks assholes in the first place. Now, the crass schoolyard bullies are considered “winning,” as they wrestle one another for the top spot, while simultaneously whining over issues that don’t affect them, complaining like cowards over the use of political correctness, and being highly offended at the notion they might have some sort of unchecked privilege. It makes you wonder: who really are the delicate “snowflakes?”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Martie sir-ROY (she/her) writes a variety of social commentary. She’s a top writer in Culture and LGBTQ for Medium, editor of Gender From the Trenches, and has been a featured contributor for HuffPost, Scary Mommy, NPR affiliates, and SiriusXM Insight, among others. Martie is the founder of S.E.A.R.CH., a program of her local LGBT Center, for trans youth and their parents. Connect with Martie on Twitter, Facebook, or follow her website & blog.

Martie Sirois

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Martie sir-ROY (she/her) featured on HuffPost, NPR affiliates, SiriusXM, etc. Descendent of Charles Dickens; social & political commentary is in my blood.

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