Opinion by Robert Reich
(BERKELEY, CA.) -- For more than a year now,
I’ve been hearing
from people in the inner circles of official Washington – GOP
Republican pundits, even a few Republican members of Congress – that
Trump is remarkably stupid.
I figured they couldn’t be right because really
stupid people don’t
become presidents of the United States. Even George W. Bush was smart
hire smart people to run his campaign and then his White
Several months back when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
called Trump a
“f—king moron,” I discounted it. I know firsthand how frustrating it
can be to
serve in a president’s cabinet, and I’ve heard members of other
cabinets describe their bosses in similar terms.
Now comes “Fire and Fury,” a book by
journalist Michael Wolff, who
interviewed more than 200 people who dealt with Trump as a candidate
president, including senior White House staff members.
From 'dope' to 'idiot' to 'dumb'
In it, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster calls Trump a
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and former Chief of Staff Reince
refer to him as an “idiot.” Rupert Murdoch says Trump is a “f—king
Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn describes Trump as
“dumb as sh-t,”
explaining that “Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not
policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world
because he is bored.”
When one of Trump’s campaign aides tried to educate him about
Constitution, Trump couldn’t focus. “I got as far as the Fourth
aide recalled, "before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his
are rolling back in his head.”
Trump doesn’t think he’s stupid. “Actually,
throughout my life, my two
greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really
smart,” he tweeted Saturday December 30. As he
“I went to an Ivy League college … I did very well. I’m a very
Trump wasn’t exactly an academic star. One of his professors
University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and
Finance purportedly said that
he was “the dumbest
goddamn student I ever had.”
Trump biographer Gwenda Blair wrote
in 2001 that Trump was admitted to Wharton on a special
favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who had
known Trump’s older
But hold on. It would be dangerous to underestimate
Even if Trump doesn’t read, can’t follow a logical argument,
and has the
attention span of a fruit fly, it still doesn’t follow that he’s stupid.
There’s another form of intelligence, called “emotional
Emotional intelligence is a concept developed by two
Mayer of the University of New Hampshire, and Yale’s Peter Salovey, and
popularized by Dan Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name.
Mayer and Salovey define emotional intelligence as the ability
to do two
things – “understand and manage our own emotions,” and “recognize and
the emotions of others.”
Granted, Trump hasn’t displayed much capacity for the first.
thin-skinned, narcissistic, and vindictive. As dozens of Republican
foreign policy experts put it, “he is unable or unwilling to
from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks
and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate criticism."
Okay, but what about Mayer and Salovey’s second aspect of
intelligence – influencing the emotions of others?
Trump's uncanny ability to manipulate
This is where Trump shines. He knows how to manipulate people.
He has an
uncanny ability to discover their emotional vulnerabilities – their
anxieties, prejudices, and darkest desires – and use them for his own
To put it another way, Trump is an extraordinarily talented
He’s always been a conman. He conned hundreds of young people
parents into paying to attend his near worthless Trump University.
He conned banks into lending him more money even after he
to pay them. He conned contractors to work for them and then stiffed
Granted, he hasn’t always been a great conman.
Had he been, his
cons would have paid off.
By his own account, in 1976, when Trump was starting his
career, he was
worth about $200 million, much of it from his father. Today he says
some $8 billion.
If he’d just put the original $200 million into an index fund
the dividends, he’d be worth $12 billion today.
The greatest conman in American politics
But he’s been a great political
conman. He conned 62,979,879
Americans to vote for him in November 2016 by getting them to believe
about Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, Barack Obama, Hillary
all the “wonderful,” “beautiful” things he’d do for the people who’d
And he’s still conning many of them.
Political conning is Trump’s genius. This genius – combined
utter stupidity in every other dimension of his being – poses a clear
present danger to America and the world.
The 25th Amendment must be invoked before it’s too
REICH is the Chancellor’s Professor of
Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior
the Blum Center for Developing Economies.
as secretary of labor in the Clinton
administration and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective
secretaries of the 20th century.
has written 14 books, including the
best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations, Beyond Outrage
recently Saving Capitalism.
He is also
a founding editor of The American
Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the
Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning
INEQUALITY FOR ALL.