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The era of stupidity

| Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Watching Donald Trump stumble his way through his presidency has been a fascinating and depressing experience. How has a man who lacks intelligence, experience and political instincts managed not to destroy his own presidency yet? It seems like he is incapable of stringing a coherent sentence together when it isn’t scripted. How was he still taken seriously after he accused Biden of doing “quid pro quo times 10,” after he was accused of withholding aid to Ukraine? How did he survive the infamous rally when he mocked a disabled person? How was he not laughed off the stage when he said: “Nobody knows what a community college is?” The man failed to condemn Nazis after they rioted in Charlottesville. Those were probably the easiest political points he could have scored since his presidency began and he couldn’t do it.

I could spend this entire column just listing the moronic things Trump has said over the past four years, but that would be a waste of everyone’s time. We know how volatile he is, and we are intimately familiar with his complete lack of knowledge of all things political. The more he says the more insane it seems that he’s managed to hang on this long. How does he do it?

The prevailing theory is simply that Trump has been puppeted by men who are smarter than him. People like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan (before he fled) seemed to be pulling Trump’s strings with immense success. McConnell has been pumping courts with conservative judges since day one, and he appears to have been using a firm hand with Trump behind the scenes in order to get that done. This theory has ample support from Trump’s aides and former advisors, who describe working with the president as akin to babysitting a child, and equally as frustrating. As long as the men holding Trump’s leash can keep him tame for long enough, though, they can get their agendas through.

The problem with finding a perfect idiot who doesn’t mind his strings being pulled is that he will continue to be an idiot when you’re not around. It’s when Trump is allowed to strike out on his own that he creates the biggest threats to his own presidency. For example, one has to assume the quotes above were less than scripted, he sanctioned the assassination of a top Iranian general against the counsel of every expert in the room and when he’s allowed to place a phone call unchaperoned he manages to commit an impeachable offense in a few minutes flat. 

So what do you do when your puppet starts endangering the things you’ve worked for? We got to see the answer to that question during the impeachment trial this last week. The question at the center of impeachment wasn’t whether there was enough evidence to convict — there was — but whether or not the establishment GOP would cut their puppet lose, and they didn’t. This wasn’t like Nixon’s impeachment, who was, at the very least, not a moron, though he did commit serious crimes, which is why Trump’s impeachment didn’t mirror Nixon’s impeachment in the way some were guessing it would. Nixon wasn’t just the pet of more intelligent men, and his presidency couldn’t be more different than Trump’s.

The people pulling Trump’s strings are clearly confident they can keep Trump leashed for a few more months, but they’re taking a risk. What will happen the next time they let him loose? What world leader will he call? What U.S. official will he brazenly threaten next?

These are important questions for the present, but we shouldn’t let that distract us from thinking about the future, too. Is Donald Trump a one-off, a bizarre blip in history? The perfect idiot with just enough of an ego and more than enough money who met with just enough smart, morally bankrupt men to claw his way to a position he doesn’t even understand? Or will this happen again? Will the GOP’s strategy for 2024 be to get another easily manipulated egomaniac into office so they can do whatever they want behind the scenes?

As much as Trump loves to tweet about being in office forever (tyranny is hilarious!), the GOP will have to find someone to take his place in a few years. It’s unclear whether that replacement will be a return to what the GOP was before Trump, or whether the party has damaged itself too much to ever go back to normal. It’s also unclear what the Democrats will do if the Republicans decide to stick with the insanity that worked in 2016. 

Will the future face of politics have the same orange tint of a bad spray tan that we have today, or was this a once-in-a-lifetime nightmare?

Mary Szromba is a senior majoring in philosophy and political science, and she’s never been wrong about anything in her entire life. Questions, comments, and anonymous love letters can be directed to [email protected] or @_murrrrrr on Twitter.

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