It’s very important to Donald Trump that you think that he is a really smart person with a very good brain. He’d also like you to know that he is very highly educated (he went to an Ivy League school) and he knows words — the best words. Donald Trump needs to keep saying these things because he wants you to believe him when he says he’s the best person to run the country and solve the complex problems that face us even though he doesn’t always seem like he has a specific plan for how he’s going to do that. If he did, that would mean that he was prepared, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned following Monday night’s debate it’s that if you prepare for something, you should be mocked.
Donald Trump needs you to believe that he is smart for the same reason that he needs you to believe that he’s a good businessman: he is trying to sell us on a brand that signifies sophistication and strength. The problem is Americans aren’t only concerned with smart vs. stupid, we care about right vs. wrong, too. It’s in our bones because we’re mostly good people who believe in equality and possess, what Vice President Joe Biden called, “a moral center about what it [is] to be an American,” and Donald Trump, based on his own words from the debate and immediately after, comes up woefully short there.
“That’s Called Business”
While talking about the economy during the debate, Hillary Clinton accused Trump of rooting for the housing crisis in 2006. Trump responded by saying, “That’s called business, by the way.”
In case you were wondering, CNN fact-checked Clinton’s charge and said it was true. In 2006, Donald Trump did comment in an interview about the possibility of a housing crash for an audio book wherein he said, “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy.”
Trump is right, by the way, that is “business.” And there’s nothing illegal about it, but it is poor form to actively root against the interests of your country and your fellow citizens, especially when you’re campaigning to be the person to lead us into the future. How can we trust that Donald Trump will be able to so completely switch his priorities and make “America first”? Especially when he has indicated that, if he wins the presidency, he won’t completely sever his family’s connections to The Trump Organization, a business which, according to Newsweek, is enormously complex with financial ties all over the world. A situation that could raise concerns with regard to foreign policy and national security.
That’s the overhead view of this issue, though. To bring it down to eye level, chances are you, or someone you know, was impacted by the economic downturn that Donald Trump was apparently rooting for so he could fatten his investment portfolio. As someone who worked for a company in the construction sector that went out of business in 2007, Trump’s words offend me. I was hoping to catch a break and this guy was hoping that the economy would fall apart. I have a hard time understanding how Trump can flip a switch and go from being a prospective pain profiteer to the defender of the little guy because of this.
Those same concerns come to mind when you think about Trump’s tepid excuse for why he allegedly didn’t pay an architect after he designed a clubhouse at one of Trump’s properties — one of many small business owners who have made similar accusations.
“Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work,” said Trump during the debate.
Again, because politics lives in the gut, I ask: do you know anyone who runs a small business or who works as a contractor? Do you know someone who builds cabinets, puts up sheetrock, or draws up plans? Can you imagine what would happen to them and their business if they were suddenly unable to get paid for a huge job they’d done, the labor of their employees (which they would still have to pay for), and the cost of materials (which, again, they would most likely have to eat)? Can you imagine what would happen to their family or yours if you were in that situation?
This is why we don’t need someone to run the country like a business. More often than not, businesses, like Donald Trump’s, are most concerned with smart vs. stupid, and not right vs. wrong. Oh, legal vs. illegal comes up, but that’s not morality so much as it’s self-preservation (and we know Trump’s opinions on regulation). Whether that is, in and of itself, a problem is another question, but whether you believe that businesses should operate with a sense of conscience or civic responsibility with regard to their communities or you absolutely do not, surely you understand and believe that government should. And surely you believe that there is, at least, some value in someone understanding that when they seek to be the head of that government.
“That Makes Me Smart”
It’s fair to assume that you also believe that the president should pay his or her fair share, just like we all do. But in the debate, Trump said “that makes me smart” when Clinton insinuated that maybe he hadn’t paid federal income taxes in the past. Clinton went on to talk about the services that we all take for granted like our troops, schools, and health services and that’s fair. Though Donald Trump may choose to embrace the fear-bait fantasy that America is in no better shape than a third world country, the fact is we enjoy a number of services that are paid for by tax dollars. Again, there’s a conversation to be had about the (many) things that we fall short on, but the basic safety net exists and it’s on all of us to provide the thread to make it stronger.
Again, it’s not about smart vs. stupid, it’s about living up to one’s responsibilities as a citizen. And I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who fulfill that responsibility and simultaneously think it’s particularly clever or charming when someone puffs out their chest and proudly boasts that they have found — with one assumes, the aid of high-priced accountants and advisors — a way to evade that responsibility. For lack of a better term, it’s deplorable and it’s morally wrong.
“I Just Didn’t Want To Say What I Was Going To Say.”
In a move that feels like it came from the “have your cake and eat it too” playbook, Donald Trump would like everyone to know that he is above mentioning the infidelities committed by Hillary Clinton’s husband. And he’s doing that by letting everyone know about his courageous bite of the tongue, which in turn, reminds people about those infidelities… that no one has forgotten. Really, it’s a kind of magical combination of the smart vs. stupid/right vs. wrong thing, because in trying to convince people that he is right and good, he’s doing a very stupid thing that is also morally wrong by victim-shaming Clinton. And for an added sh*tty flourish, he sounds condescending when he says that he’s not saying anything because he has “a lot of respect for Chelsea Clinton,” Hillary and Bill Clinton’s adult daughter who, like the rest of us, is already well aware of Bill’s indiscretions.
Unfortunately, there’s a limit to that vaunted restraint and his respect for Chelsea because Trump also teased that he might bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs in the next debate. Which, in concert with the above-mentioned comments from the first debate, will only serve to alienate mainstream voters, prove that he has a poorly functioning moral compass, and in terms of political strategy, come across as more stupid than smart.
Jason Tabrys is the features editor for Uproxx. You can engage with him directly on Twitter.