How Intelligent is Donald Trump?

by Pitt Griffin on September 12, 2018 · 0 comments

in Trump presidency

It’s hard to define exactly what intelligence is. There are many stories of people with high IQs that have made a mess of their lives. Take Ted Kaczynski — the Unabomber. His IQ was measured at 167. A mathematical prodigy — he was appointed the youngest assistant professor at UC Berkeley. Then he retreated to an isolated cabin in Montana, from where he waged a pointless bombing campaign.

John Gotti, on the other hand, was a high school drop-out — which in itself is not proof of stupidity. Estimates put his IQ at 110, respectable but not exceptional. His rise to the top of his profession was based on other factors than sheer smarts — let’s call it street smarts and intimidation.

Trump seems like an amalgam of the two — with John Gotti’s thuggery and IQ mixed with Kaczynski’s paranoid delusions. 

I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist so you should take my analysis with a grain of salt. But I think the larger point has validity.

People who study intelligence have tried to establish some objective measure. The best-known is the IQ test. But cynics say that the only thing an IQ test measures is one’s ability to take IQ tests. In the US, the SAT is held up as a measure of intelligence. But contrarians argue that the test merely measures academic smarts — and then only the basics. Others criticize it for cultural bias and claim that SAT tests underrate minorities.

Some people suggest that intelligence correlates with the size of one’s vocabulary. Others believe that intelligence can be measured by the ability to use analogies. All agree that intelligent people read voraciously — both books and magazines. And not just in their specialty. Teddy Roosevelt was a speed reader and known to read several books a day — and not just in English. He was also noted — as all intelligent people are — for his powers of concentration 

Smart people stay out of the echo chamber and look to experts for knowledge and guidance. They are not afraid of contrary opinions. And they hire people for their ability, not for their obsequiousness. Lincoln famously had his ‘team of rivals’. Most of whom thought he was a country rube — until they realized he wasn’t.

Also judged as factors contributing to overall smarts are emotional intelligence and empathy.

That may sound ‘new agey’ but imagine the advantage of being able to ‘read’ other people — to know what they are thinking. Great negotiators, for instance, listen well, study body language and work to understand what is important to the other party. This is especially important when the parties are in balance. Say in a trade negotiation between two large economies. Or in arms reduction talks between two powerful nations.

Having covered that ground, let’s see how Trump stacks up. We don’t know his IQ or his SAT scores. He transferred to Wharton from Fordham so he wasn’t required to meet U Penn’s relatively high SAT requirements. And we only have his word for it on his IQ.

His vocabulary is notoriously limited. His speeches are delivered at a 4th-grade level. And he isn’t ‘dumbing it down’ for the hoi polloi — he always talks like that. If he has used an analogy recently it died of loneliness. 

He does not read. In fact, he will not take in any new information. He ignores people with contrary opinions and is always on the lookout to fire people who demonstrate insufficient loyalty. He cannot concentrate. And his sentences end in a different direction from which they started.

He does have a innate talent to spot the other man’s weakness. And he has a facile ability to diminish others with a well-chosen insult. He is good at bullying a successful resolution (for him) out of people he has power over — just ask his sub-contractors. 

But he has had less success when dealing with people who do have power. The Chinese tariff war has gone nowhere. And he has done nothing to blunt Russia’s moves — although that may point to other deficiencies. And for all his bluster, North Korea hasn’t shuttered one nuclear facility nor has Iran shown any cracks.

Let’s also consider this. Name a genuinely smart guy who boasts of his intelligence. Albert Einstein famously said: “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” Of course, he was a genius, enough to identify that intelligence without hard work is a race car without a transmission.

It doesn’t matter what Trump’s IQ is. His lack of curiosity, his conviction that he knows best, his obstinacy in the face of evidence all point to a second-rate mind. And there is nothing about his intellectual discipline, personal habits, character and personality that shows he uses whatever intelligence he may have.

It has become a cliche — but he is the Dunning-Kruger President.

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