Commentary: Trump says a lot of idiotic things. Taking them seriously gives him too much credit
AP

Commentary: Trump says a lot of idiotic things. Taking them seriously gives him too much credit

{{featured_button_text}}
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on5/18/2020. President Trump held a meeting to discuss Opportunity Zones.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on5/18/2020. President Trump held a meeting to discuss Opportunity Zones. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

It has often occurred to me that the appropriate response to some of the ridiculous things President Donald Trump utters is: "He's an idiot."

Don't get me wrong (as op-ed writers like to say). I'm not impugning Trump's IQ. By "idiot" I mean something a bit different: that Trump often doesn't know what he's talking about. (That doesn't exclude the possibility that some of his misrepresentations are knowingly false, i.e., lies.)

Examples of idiotic statements by Trump are legion. Recently they include Trump's hyping of the efficacy of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.

Also idiotic in my definition of the term is Trump's assertion on Twitter Wednesday that "Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election."

Six hours later, Trump corrected his statement to say that Michigan had sent out "absentee ballot applications." Details, details.

"Trump's an idiot" - or even the more verbose formulation "Trump doesn't know what he's talking about, and doesn't care" - strikes me as the obvious take on a lot of the Trump statements that drive commentators to distraction.

Alas, neither of those formulations takes up much space on the editorial or op-ed pages, which is why it's tempting for people in my line of work to treat every Trump comment as if it's a serious policy proposal. But such overinterpretation runs the risk of giving Trump too much credit.

Granted, some of Trump's stupidities are used - "weaponized," in current jargon - to achieve sinister political ends. Trump's gaffe about Michigan and absentee ballots, for example, serves his purpose of undermining the credibility of voting by mail, potentially laying the groundwork for a claim that, if he lost in November, it would be because of voter fraud. So maybe in this case he was being stupid like a fox. (Trump also coupled his criticism of Michigan with a threat that appeared to assert a power Congress hadn't given him: "I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!")

But some of Trump's idiotic comments aren't cannily calculating, just ignorant. That includes some of the assertions he prefaces with "Many people are saying" or "There are a lot of people that think ..."

In criticizing Trump for such absurdities, it's important not to overanalyze them. Don't Get Me Wrong No. 2: That doesn't mean that his propensity to traffic in absurdities isn't an indictment of his unseriousness. We want presidents to be serious about what they say. Trump's reckless disregard for the truth is a potent argument against his reelection.

Still, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes an idiotic statement is just an idiotic statement. The challenge for commentators is to decide which of many Trump idiocies is worth denouncing.

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Michael McGough is the Los Angeles Times' senior editorial writer, based in Washington, D.C.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

0
0
0
0
0

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Imagine if you killed somebody on your job, and all you got that day was fired. You go into work the next day, return the keycard you swipe every morning when you get on the elevator, pack the things from your desk, toss out whatever food you have in the pantry refrigerator and say goodbye to your co-workers before two security guards escort you out of the building. And, let's just say this ...

This is how a thug acts. Twitter at long last has affixed fact-check links to a couple of tweets by President Donald Trump that include verifiably false details, in this case claims by the president that mail-in balloting leads to election fraud. Note that Twitter didn't remove the tweets, and hasn't gone so far as to add fact-check links to the president's baseless insinuations that MSNBC ...

You have to hand it to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: He may have been lured into an unwinnable election-year fight with President Donald Trump, but at least he's still throwing punches. Shortly before 1 a.m. EDT Friday, Trump verbally barreled into the hot flaming mess on the ground in Minneapolis, where protests over the death of George Floyd had turned violent. A bystander's video shows an ...

In a tweet about violent protests in Minneapolis over the death of a black man in police custody, President Donald Trump thundered: "These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen ... Any difficulty and we will assume control but when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Twitter, as part of its newfound vigilance about Trump's rants, appended a note ...

It will happen, many thousands of times, and in every conceivable permutation: People will contract COVID-19 because of someone else's actions and will seek compensation. How should we handle such liability claims as a society? Mitch McConnell, gatekeeper of the Senate, has an idea. First, immunize all businesses. It would mean, as an example, that even if your boss fails to provide safeguards ...

President Donald Trump and I have something in common: we both take the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. In my case, it's to treat the immune system disorders lupus and arthritis. In his case, it's to make some sort of point about how right he is to tout it as a miracle cure for COVID-19. On May 18, Trump proudly announced that he is taking the drug to stave off the coronavirus, ...

In mid-April, I received a message from the nursing home in Connecticut where my mother lives. When I called back, a doctor told me, "your mother has a fever." Those were words I'd been dreading and expecting. "We assume it's COVID," the doctor said. My 80-year-old mother was comfortable for the time being. Her fever wasn't very high and she was breathing okay. But the doctor said not to take ...

As a child, I grew up in abject poverty with our family being evicted often. A number of times I found myself in a poor African American neighborhoods or public housing. During those times, I was often the only white child in my class. I can say in total honesty, I was never happier as a child than when I was in those neighborhoods, housing projects or those classrooms. Ever. During the rare ...

The news that Donald Trump will likely not preside over the traditional unveiling of his predecessors' official White House portraits is disappointing, but not exactly surprising. After all, Trump and Barack Obama do not like or respect each other. The prospect of having the Obamas and a bunch of their former administration officials back in the White House for an occasion on which Trump would ...

"You are the most selfish (expletive) people on the planet." I jerked my head to the left, where I saw a neighbor glaring at us from his driveway while unloading groceries from his trunk. "Where's your (expletive) mask?" he said. "Unbelievable." My jaw dropped. I had just walked three blocks home with my toddler and my dad in our mostly empty Los Angeles neighborhood because my kid had thrown ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News