If you were Donald Trump it would be hard not to wake up every morning and think you are a genius.
Look at it from his perspective. He comes from a part of society that measures success in terms of wealth and power. He is rich, he then went on TV and became a star. Then he ran for President, and against all the odds, he won.
He is now the top person in his country, and the most powerful man in the world.
He lacks the insight or intelligence to have any humility, so without that insight he could only reach the conclusion that he’s a genius.
It must be a buzz waking up in the White House. Next door is a man with a button only you can press, which can destroy countries, end humanity. You can sign a piece of paper and save someone from death by execution; another signature and someone gets killed by a drone. You have the powers of a god.
Everyone around you fawns. You are escorted everywhere by bodyguards, driven in a bomb proof car. World leaders crave your ear.
You can turn up at meetings of other world leaders, and you are primus inter pares. You have the biggest motorcade, the most bomb proof car, the most body guards. You can push other world leaders out of your way, lecture them. They have to listen to you.
A simple Tweet can move markets, shift geopolitical certainties. Your every word gets repeated by the world’s media. Millions, maybe billions of people hear you when you speak, analyse your every word. Every moment of every day, you are making history. People write articles about your lunch. The TV is all about you. Everything is about you.
In that sense, Trump is a monster of our making. The most rational thing to do would be to ignore him completely. To ignore his Tweets, not to mention him on the news, not to bother protesting against him, just make him irrelevant, take away his glory, reduce him to a nobody, but humanity doesn’t have the collective discipline for such a thing, so he continues as a god.
This could be why Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have clashed horns. Each of them is a god in their own sphere of existence, and this planet cannot sustain two man-gods.
Both of them are isolated from any criticism they have to acknowledge. Both are trapped inside information bubbles that massage their own warped view of the geopolitical world. People hang on their every word; with Trump it is his Tweets, and Kim with his uniformed lackeys writing down everything he says in those notebooks they all have out in the photos.
Thinking about it, I’d love to see the two of them sat in the same swanky bar, each ordering ever more expensive bottles of champagne to impress the girls, sending each other the occasional round of vodka shots to see who blinks first and turns them down, ending up with some grotesque dance-off on an empty dance floor as the girls they so wanted to impress giggle behind their hands.
So to Trump, he is a genius.
Trump is the living embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect. This research has shot to fame thanks to his presidency. In a nutshell, Dunning and Kruger got people to do tests, then estimate how well they did. They found that the higher people scored, the lower they expected they had scored, and the lower they scored, the higher they estimated their score to be.
The conclusion was that people who are incompetent are too incompetent to realise they are incompetent; people who are stupid, are too stupid to be able to work out they’re stupid; you don’t know what you don’t know. Conversely, it takes a degree of intelligence to have the insight to realise you may not know things, and to understand that you may not be as clever as you think.
That same insight and intelligence is required for humility. This is why you rarely see people who are acknowledged to be geniuses claim to be a genius. In fact, it is fair to say that anyone who claims to be a genius, is by definition not a genius. Trump is too stupid to understand that, and is not a genius.
But the problem with Trump’s genius is that he has spent his life winning. He has muddled and bullied his way through all his failed business ventures, survived saying the most absurd and stupid things in full public view, made it through a presidential race despite doing nothing by the book. In his own mind he is vindicated; he was always right.
Now he is President, he is surrounded by people who will be fired if they challenge or disagree with him. Clearly, from all the leaks, these people are starting to struggle with their consciences. But at the end of the day, they are in or out. The morally correct thing to do would be for them all to mutiny at once; all speak out, tell the truth, and all lose their jobs, taking Trump down with them. But that is asking too much of a group of people already comfortable with the divisive, racist, destructive bent of the Trump administration, so it is not likely.
Because Trump is so convinced of his own genius, he will never see that he was wrong. In his own mind, he will always blame other people, will always know it wasn’t his fault; will always realise that with his level of genius not everyone can understand him, not everyone can keep up, and sometimes those lesser mortals around him will let him down.
The problem is that his base — those who, despite everything, still think he’s great, a genius, and doing a good job — are almost by definition also Dunning-Kruger dunces. To support Trump now, with anything other than embarrassed reluctance, you have to be ignoring or disputing such an avalanche of facts, criticism, and dissent that belief in Trump is more like the blind faith of a religion than a considered opinion.
It’s no longer the ‘Liberal Media,’ ‘fake news,’ and the entrenched establishment that is criticising Trump, but also hardened Republican law makers, Steve Bannon, almost all world leaders, of all political colours. To ignore that takes a lot of denial, wilful ignorance, or just lack of mental engagement. Being too stupid to realise you’re stupid, too ignorant to realise what you don’t know, too incompetent to understand you might be incompetent. You can’t argue with someone like that. They can comfortably be sure they are right, regardless of what you say.
So, in Trump’s world, Trump is a genius, and that will never change. If he is impeached, if he ends up in jail, if he is disgraced, he will always believe he was right and other people, lesser minds than his, failed to see his brilliance. His base will reach the same conclusion, that he wasn’t understood, that we couldn’t see his genius, that lesser people than him brought him down to restore the status quo.
Almost more than his being President, it pains me to think that for the rest of his life he will be a former-President, will sit alongside the Bushes, Obama, and Clinton on podiums, will get his Secret Service bodyguards. If he makes it through his term without going to jail, even if he loses the next election, he will carry the title ‘Mr President’ for the rest of his life, and will therefore forever remain a genius in his own eyes.