At dinner last night with a friend who, as it happens, runs the European end of a global media empire (he picked up the bill, because he’s filthy rich and it was his turn anyway), we pondered which, and whether, descriptions of the president’s fitness for office were accurate. “Where is Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn,” I asked? If they’re patriots and Trump is unfit, do they not have a duty to come forward to say so, to explain, in detail, what is going on.
There was no argument that he wasn’t a vulgar, amoral ignoramus, or that he had any motivations beyond self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. But that much was obvious when he was elected. Is he senile? Does he suffer from mental illness? Is he just lazy and shallow?
These aren’t questions asked because of his policy choices. Love them or hate them, there will always be disagreement over policy, and even if you are absolutely certain his choices are wrong, even horrible, that’s the nature of democracy and elections. We get to elect bad people to office if we choose. This choice is exacerbated when the other choice is, to voters, worse.
But there are hard indicia that there is something very wrong here, and it comes out in ways that are entirely within Trump’s control and can’t be explained rationally. Some look to his rambling and incoherent statements during press conferences, but many people ramble and make little sense, not because they suffer from some illness but are just not very good at speaking coherently.
There are the lies, particularly the ones that are obviously, blatantly, laughably false, but politicians lying is the punchline of jokes. But there remains one thing, put together by Axios, that can’t be ignored or wished away.
President Trump this week revealed yet another subject matter in which he claims to have expertise: drones and drone technology.
“I know more about drones than anybody. I know about every form of safety that you can have.”
Absurd hyperbole? Cringeworthy? Obviously. But this isn’t a one-off assertion.
- Campaign finance: “I think nobody knows more about campaign finance than I do, because I’m the biggest contributor.” (1999.)
- TV ratings: “I know more about people who get ratings than anyone.” (October 2012.)
- ISIS: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.” (November 2015.)
- Social media: “I understand social media. I understand the power of Twitter. I understand the power of Facebook maybe better than almost anybody, based on my results, right?” (November 2015.)
- Courts: “I know more about courts than any human being on Earth.” (November 2015.)
- Lawsuits: “[W]ho knows more about lawsuits than I do? I’m the king.” (January 2016.)
- Politicians: “I understand politicians better than anybody.”
- The visa system: “[N]obody knows the system better than me. I know the H1B. I know the H2B. … Nobody else on this dais knows how to change it like I do, believe me.” (March 2016.)
- Trade: “Nobody knows more about trade than me.” (March 2016.)
- The U.S. government system: “[N]obody knows the system better than I do.” (April 2016.)
- Renewable energy: “I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.” (April 2016.)
- Taxes: “I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.” (May 2016.)
- Debt: “I’m the king of debt. I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me.” (June 2016.)
- Money: “I understand money better than anybody.” (June 2016.)
- Infrastructure: “[L]ook, as a builder, nobody in the history of this country has ever known so much about infrastructure as Donald Trump.” (July 2016.)
- Sen. Cory Booker: “I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.” (July 2016.)
- Borders: Trump said in 2016 that Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he was endorsing him for president because “you know more about this stuff than anybody.”
- Democrats: “I think I know more about the other side than almost anybody.” (November 2016.)
- Construction: “[N]obody knows more about construction than I do.” (May 2018.)
- The economy: “I think I know about it better than [the Federal Reserve].” (October 2018.)
- Technology: “Technology — nobody knows more about technology than me.” (December 2018.)
- Drones: “I know more about drones than anybody. I know about every form of safety that you can have.” (January 2019.)
- Drone technology: “Having a drone fly overhead — and I think nobody knows much more about technology, this type of technology certainly, than I do.” (January 2019.)
Is it possible that Trump believes that his supporters believe this, that his claiming to know more about X than “anybody on earth” leaves some fellow in Iowa nodding his head, “Yup, he knows more than anybody. Yup.” Is this just some bizarre speech tick, cringeworthy in itself but otherwise harmless and silly?
Or does this manifest a grandiosity that exposes a more concrete problem? Is he “selling” himself or suffering from delusions? It’s one thing to argue that he’s playing the public when he twits, whether as distraction from failure or personal impropriety, but it’s entirely different to persistently make such bold and bizarre assertions such as this.
Former Trump officials, like Tillerson and Cohn, or Mattis and McMaster, have achieved personal success and reached that time of life when they no longer need to prove their worth. They have spent time with Trump, worked (to the extent that word applies) with Trump. Sure, there have been words circulating, “moron, idiot, dope,” but it’s whispers and, well, who we elected.
But is he competent? Not ignorant or too lazy to read briefing reports, not so impetuous that whatever pops into his head comes out of his mouth with neither a clue nor a thought. Is he unfit.
There is a critical mass of former officials who, whether you like them or not, have established their bona fides over their careers. If they are patriots and put the nation first, they should come out of the shadows, speak on camera either individuals or as a group, and express whether the President of the United States of America is fit for office.
Or does he, in fact, know more than the generals? If he doesn’t, then there is something seriously wrong here and it needs a patriot with knowledge to say so. “Is there any reason you can think of why Tillerson or Cohn would be afraid to come forward and clear this up?” I asked my dinner companion. “No,” he replied, and then he ordered cheesecake for dessert.