The conventional wisdom is that Donald Trump is intentionally “dumbing down” his rhetoric in order to appeal to low-information voters, or, as Trump calls them, the “poorly educated.”
Trump’s messages are indeed aimed quite low. The language and content of one of Trump’s debates during the Republican primary season was scientifically analyzed and determined to be at the fourth-grade level. One of his public news conferences was determined to be at the third-grade level.
Not that we needed scientific confirmation — Trump’s over-simplicity is obvious. Just consider his signature issue: “Let’s build a wall to keep out the bad guys.” While this may make sense to some fourth-graders, it makes no sense to sophisticated adults.
Or consider another Trump doozy: “Let’s ban all Muslims from entering America.” Some fourth-graders might think this is logical, but serious adults know it is ludicrous.
The examples of Trump’s childish simplicities and outright idiocy go on and on. Think about his statements like, “We should have taken the oil in Iraq,” or “We should impose a 45 percent tariff on China,” or “We should default on the U.S. debt and renegotiate it.” These might all make sense to a fourth-grader on a very surface level, but in real life they would all lead to disastrous consequences for the nation.
And as we know all too well, Trump is fond of a highly juvenile form of communication that is riddled with profanity and insults, including calling people “loser,” “stupid,” “fat pig,” “moron” and the like.
So what is Trump up to here in dumbing down his messages? Well, the conventional wisdom holds that there is method in his madness. And indeed, exploiting the “poorly educated” may be a rational political strategy because of how many of them there are. That is, of course, if you have no problem ignoring the deplorable lack of ethics in exploiting other people.
The vast majority of Americans, approximately 70 percent, possess an intelligence level of only average or below, which is roughly at or below a high-school level. Only 10 percent of the population is regarded as superior or above. So Trump’s strategy seems apparent: Aim low to capture more people.
But perhaps the conventional wisdom about Trump is wrong. Perhaps Trump is not in fact exploiting people of low intelligence, but rather a single person of low intelligence: himself. Perhaps Trump is, in fact, one of them. Perhaps Trump possesses a very low level of intelligence himself.
Actually, this makes a lot of sense. If Trump were a person of high intelligence who was only playacting to appeal to voters of low intelligence, he would still be able to communicate at a higher level as well. But Trump has never been able to communicate at a sophisticated level.
Trump’s inadequacies were on full display during his first presidential debate against Hillary Clinton. Trump was a disaster. He failed to articulate coherent answers to many of the most obvious questions. He was unable to defend against Clinton’s anticipated assertions. And he simply could not execute the most basic debating skills of quickly answering questions about his weaknesses and then pivoting to strengths. Plus, he was like a child who could not control himself from fidgeting, making silly faces, shouting, and constantly interrupting.
Upon reflection, Trump’s entire campaign has been consistent with the theory that he is not intentionally dumbing himself down, but rather, that his display of an exceedingly low level of intelligence is actually genuine. You want real? You want authentic? Take Trump and his intellect at face value and you see a man so unintelligent it is, well, stupefying.
When viewed through this perspective, everything about Trump suddenly becomes clear. This explains all sorts of things. It explains why he has made blunder after blunder. It explains why he repeatedly tells blatant lies that are easily debunked. It explains why he flip-flops and is incoherent. It explains his remedial reading level when he delivers speeches from the teleprompter. And it explains why he has not offered any substantive policies or proposals.
It also explains all of his absurd statements, like that climate change is a hoax invented by China, that immigrants are rapists and murderers, and that we should assassinate the innocent wives and children of terrorists. He is not faking. These are not strategic calculations. He really believes this stuff.
Just imagine if Trump really is afflicted with a low borderline level of intelligence. This would mean that the entire Republican Party has nominated as its candidate someone with an intellectual disability.
Prominent members of the Republican Party are busy genuflecting to this intellectually inferior person, such as Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Reince Priebus and Mike Pence. And the Republican leadership has been modifying the entire Party’s positions on substantive issues to conform to the ideas of someone who is intellectually impaired.
And pundits and commentators have been utterly wrong. So many of them have proclaimed Trump as a genius at this or that, such as at appealing to the middle class, outmaneuvering his political opponents, or manipulating the entire media industry to dominate coverage.
As it turns out, however, Trump is not any sort of a genius at all. He merely says what his fourth-grade mind actually believes. That’s all it is. That is the extent of his complexity. If a fourth-grader proposed such ideas, like building a wall or banning all Muslims, these ideas would quickly be dismissed as far too simplistic. But when Trump says them, the media sensationalizes every word.
This is hardly Trump masterfully controlling the media, but rather, this is the media foolishly mistaking Trump for a mastermind and utterly failing to appreciate that this is no more than a person who is mentally underdeveloped.
The entire spectacle is quite comical. But it is also very serious.