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Ignorance As a Political Virtue

Surprise, surprise: Donald Trump made a fool of himself in his foreign policy interview with Hugh Hewitt [1]:

Donald J. Trump revealed gaps in his mastery of international affairs during a radio interview on Thursday, appearing to mistake the Quds Force, an Iranian military group, for the Kurds, a Middle Eastern people, and growing testy over questions about foreign leaders.

From the HH transcript:

HH: You know, I’d buy that, because you’re a builder. But on the front of Islamist terrorism, I’m looking for the next commander-in-chief, to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?

DT: No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone. I knew you were going to ask me things like this, and there’s no reason, because number one, I’ll find, I will hopefully find General Douglas MacArthur in the pack. I will find whoever it is that I’ll find, and we’ll, but they’re all changing, Hugh. You know, those are like history questions. Do you know this one, do you know that one. I will tell you, I thought you used the word Kurd before. I will tell you that I think the Kurds are the most under-utilized and are being totally mistreated by us. And nobody understands why. But as far as the individual players, of course I don’t know them. I’ve never met them. I haven’t been, you know, in a position to meet them. If, if they’re still there, which is unlikely in many cases, but if they’re still there, I will know them better than I know you.

HH: That’s what I’m getting at, because the Islamist extremism is metastasizing. Nasrallah’s been there a long time, and al-Baghdadi’s running ISIS. And so I wonder if you’re going to throw yourself into the details of this during the campaign the way you did into the U.N. deal, because you knew that stuff cold.

DT: Well, you know, and unfortunately, I said I’d build it for $500 million. They were at $3 billion. And it ended up costing $6 billion, and I told them that would happen. And it was a disgrace. Frankly, that whole U.N. situation was a disgrace. They ended up spending $5-6 billion dollars to renovate a building that I would have done for $500 million, and I told them I would have done it, and it would have been better. Now as far as what you’re talking about now, I will know every detail, and I will have the right plan, not a plan like this where we’re probably going backwards based on everything that I’m hearing, but we’re probably going backwards, zero respect. We have, we are not a respected country, and certainly as it relates to ISIS and what’s going on, and Iran.

HH: Now I don’t believe in gotcha questions. And I’m not trying to quiz you on who the worst guy in the world is.

DT: Well, that is a gotcha question, though. I mean, you know, when you’re asking me about who’s running this, this this, that’s not, that is not, I will be so good at the military, your head will spin. But obviously, I’m not meeting these people. I’m not seeing these people. Now it probably will be a lot of changes, Hugh, as you go along. They’ll be, by the time we get there, which is still a pretty long period of time, you know, you start, let’s say you figure out nominations, and who is going to represent the Republicans in, let’s say, February, March, April, you’ll start to get pretty good ideas, maybe sooner than that, actually. But that will be a whole new group of people. I think what is really important is to pick out, and this is something I’m so good at, to pick out who is going to be the best person to represent us militarily, because we have some great people, militarily. I don’t know that we’re using them.

HH: All right, well, let me expand it, because you know, it’s not gotcha. I’m trying not to do that. But I wanted to see if you…

DT: Well, it sounded like gotcha. You’re asking me names that, I think it’s somewhat ridiculous, but that’s okay. Go ahead, let’s go.

Daniel Larison slams both Trump and Hewitt for the interview. [2]

Me, I am not surprised by Trump’s ignorance, nor will I be surprised to learn that this not only won’t hurt him with his constituency in the GOP electorate, but might even help him. After all, Sarah Palin’s foreign policy ignorance, embarrassingly exposed in her early interviews, only solidified her support among what would become her hard core populist base. Many people attracted to populists resent elites and spite them for knowing things that they, the common people, do not. “So what that Trump doesn’t know who the players are in the Middle East? He’s just like us, Our Donald!”

This is how ignorance becomes a political virtue, and we allow tribal loyalties to exterminate an expectation of competence. This is how conservative government produces something like a low-level party hack running FEMA when an unprecedented natural disaster strikes:

Of course, it must be acknowledged that all the brilliant people in the Bush administration who did know something about foreign policy led us into the Iraq morass. Still, the stupidity of the smart does not vindicate ignorance.

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72 Comments To "Ignorance As a Political Virtue"

#1 Comment By TB On September 5, 2015 @ 9:30 am

It should come as no surprise that “Ignorance As a Political Virtue” is accepted in authoritarian Christian communities like the GOP.

Tertullian:
“Crucifixus est dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est.
Et mortuus est dei filius; credibile prorsus est, quia ineptum est.
*Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile.*”

*”He was buried, and rose again: it is certain – because it is impossible.*

#2 Comment By M_Young On September 5, 2015 @ 10:53 am

“As an addendum, kudos to you, m_young for actually protesting Iraq before it happened.”

Thanks JonF — I know sometimes our little arguments hear get heated from my side, for which I apologize. Your ‘kudos’ means a lot to me.

#3 Comment By M_Young On September 5, 2015 @ 11:07 am

“Trump’s father started out in the working class. Trump was raised by a man who started out building houses with his hands before he got into New York real estate. ”

One of the things I love about Trump is his old fashioned white working class New York accent. My father was a shipyard worker who moved to California when the Brooklyn Navy Yard was closed; so were a lot of his friends and a lot of them had the exact same accept– though strangely my parent’s wasn’t as obvious. The interesting thing is that they weren’t obviously ‘ethnic’, their names, like Trump, ended in consonants and didn’t typically contain a ‘Mc’, ‘O’, or -stein. Sort of like Archie Bunker really existed en mass.

#4 Comment By Daniel (not Larison) On September 5, 2015 @ 11:17 am

Read this exchange again, Trumpistas:

Hugh Hewitt: Are you familiar with General Soleimani?
Donald Trump: Yes, but go ahead, give me a little, go ahead, tell me.
HH: He runs the Quds Forces.
DT: Yes, okay, right.
HH: Do you expect his behavior…
DT: The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by …
HH: No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Forces.
DT: Yes, yes.
HH: …is the bad guys.
DT: Right.
HH: Do you expect his behavior to change as a result…
DT: Oh, I thought you said Kurds, Kurds.
HH: No, Quds.

It’s clear that in the
Context,
If Trump misheard “Kurds”, he also was bluffing about knowing who Soleimani was. If he did know who he was, he would already be thinking about Quds, not Kurds.

Or maybe he thinks Soleimani was Barzani, since they both end in “ani”…common mistake,
Like confusing “Trump” with “Rump”.

#5 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 5, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

Trump was raised by a man who started out building houses with his hands before he got into New York real estate.

Donald, however, inherited a fortune, lost it, managed to win it back, and stands as an excellent argument for all estates to be subject to 100 percent taxation above a certain level, say, one million dollars, or even 10 million if you want to be generous to the little brats.

Let the next generation earn its own fortune, like daddy did, and work for it like grandpa did. Trump would have had a very different outlook on life, if he had started out working with his hands before getting into real estate. (When I’m done spouting off here, I have to go put some finishing touches on the new plaster walls of the spare bedroom.)

Carson v. Sanders, or Kasich v. Hillary. Those would be the best pairings I can see emerging here. (I’d seriously consider voting for Kasich, depending on how he emerges and how much he’s really learned from his anti-union legislation getting thumpingly rejected by the voters).

And he is completely unaware that you can’t just pound your fists and get things done in world politics. There is nothing behind Trump’s bluff and bluster at all.

It may have escaped him viscerally, even if he knows it intellectually, that the leaders of Iran, China, and Russia are not on his payroll, and he can’t fire them. There was that remark about “making” Mexico pay for the wall, was there not?

#6 Comment By MWorrell On September 5, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

Please do not take this comment as an endorsement of Trump, but Americans have honestly had it with politicians who know more about foreign concerns than what is happening right in their faces in our own country. No one is supporting Trump because he knows everything that the other politicians know. They are excited about him because he knows what they don’t. We need jobs. We need practical infrastructure. We need to be wise in our negotiations. Open borders and a welfare state can’t coexist. Multiculturalism is an epic fail.

#7 Comment By K. W. Jeter On September 5, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

Get your head around this: it’s not going to be an election decided on foreign policy issues. Foreign policy is something Americans care about when times are good, i.e. real unemployment is plummeting and there’s a chicken in every pot. When times aren’t good, the less attention so-called leaders pay to what silly and obnoxious people in Wherever-stan get up to, the better. And frankly, I’m fine with that historically sound isolationist principle; there’s a lot of good that can be accomplished in the world by the simple expedient of minding one’s own business, and not trying to convert the fractious Muslim world to New England townhall-style democracy.

#8 Comment By Kurt Gayle On September 5, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

Thank you, Divine Right. This is one of the very finest TAC posts that it’s been my good fortune to read:

* “[Trump has] said a lot of good, and necessary, things on the economy and immigration…Voters…very much care if America’s Ruling Class outsources their jobs or insources huge numbers of foreign competitors through legal and illegal immigration…

* “The important thing is that Trump seems to have a least some modicum of good sense when it comes to major issues: he opposed the Iraq War and has not publicly recanted his position or hedged to a great deal (even recently stated that GWB should have been impeached), while he has hedged on other issues such as stating that he opposes the Iran nuclear agreement but would also enforce it (I can live with that; I’m sure he has correctly calculated that he can’t go too far with supporting the deal in the GOP primary)…

* “Until Trump makes putting ground troops in Syria and Ukraine a major part of his pitch, I can easily live with performances such as this one, especially considering the quality of the other republican candidates – and Hillary on the other side…

* “…Trump is liked because he has rightfully embraced views important to working-class republicans.”

I agree with you completely, Divine Right, that TAC should do a better job of covering many of the issues that are important not only to working-class Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, but to all Americans who understand the need to bring home the living wage jobs that were shipped overseas, to deal with both illegal and legal immigration, and to rebuild the American middle class.

Write more often, Divine Right, O.K.?

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 5, 2015 @ 6:29 pm

Foreign policy is something Americans care about when times are good, i.e. real unemployment is plummeting and there’s a chicken in every pot.

During the renewal of the Great Depression 1938-1940, there was a very substantial isolationist movement that was very concerned about foreign policy. And in fact, it turned out there was nothing like a good war to get the economy out of the doldrums.

#10 Comment By Darth Thulhu On September 5, 2015 @ 11:07 pm

JonF wrote:

As an addendum, kudos to you, m_young for actually protesting Iraq before it happened.

Agreed. The amount of Sullivan-esque sneering at protests against the rush to war, and the amount of Not-Remotely-Subtle NYT cheerleading and spin in favor of the Iraq War, were both entirely off the charts.

Anyone and everyone standing in front of those onward-rolling tank columns ineffectually, deserves praise for being right when nearly everyone respectable was being Willfully, Malignantly, Gleefully Wrong.

#11 Comment By M_Young On September 6, 2015 @ 3:27 am

“Anyone and everyone standing in front of those onward-rolling tank columns ineffectually,”

I was in London at the time, so opposition to the war wasn’t to fraught. It was a friggin cold February day though. In fact my first communication with one Rod Dreher was an email I sent to him at NR saying his characterization of the London protestors was unfair (I seem to remember him being quite negative and in truth there was a lot of knee jerk anti-Americanism including a giant puppet (isn’t there always at least one) of a bald eagle red in beak and claw. But what can you do?). Good times.

#12 Comment By K. W. Jeter On September 6, 2015 @ 4:33 am

Per Siarlys Jenkins:

During the renewal of the Great Depression 1938-1940, there was a very substantial isolationist movement that was very concerned about foreign policy.

Pretty much my point; those isolationists were isolationists precisely because they didn’t want the US to get pulled into whatever mess was developing in Europe. They wanted government to be concerned about domestic policy, not foreign policy.

And in fact, it turned out there was nothing like a good war to get the economy out of the doldrums.

What doldrums? By the end of 1936, US GDP was at 1.06 trillion, back up to the level at the end of 1929. Then 1.11 trillion at the end of 1937, 1.08 at the end of 1938, 1.16 trillion at the end of 1939, and 1.27 at the end of 1940. If a “good war” (your loathsome phrase) is so wonderful for an economy, then why has US GDP steadily marched from 2.22 trillion at the end of 1945 to 16.30 trillion at the end of 2015, without any supposed stimulus from a World War II-level war?

#13 Comment By JonF On September 6, 2015 @ 10:25 am

Re: I know sometimes our little arguments hear get heated from my side, for which I apologize. Your ‘kudos’ means a lot to me.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to meet some of the people I argue with here and have a beer with them and talk about other things. I haven’t had any real set-tos with Bernie or Leslie Fain, but we three had a great time realizing we disagreed less than we thought at the Crawfish Broil during Walker Percy Weekend.

And seriously, you did something over Iraq that I very much respect. My own life back in those days was in one of its worser phases (I was telemarketing! Then moved to Florida to start over). I was paying only cursory attention to the whole business and when the shooting started not long after my birthday in 2003 all I could think was “How the deuce did we get talked into this?”

#14 Comment By JonF On September 6, 2015 @ 10:28 am

Re: I’d seriously consider voting for Kasich, depending on how he emerges and how much he’s really learned from his anti-union legislation getting thumpingly rejected by the voters

I am in Arizona on vacation and last night did dinner with my very leftwing cousin Mary. We had a grand old time putting down Mr. Trump, but we agreed that the only Republican who has his head screwed on tight is Gov. Kasich.

#15 Comment By Kurt Gayle On September 6, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

Divine Right wrote:

“[Trump has] said a lot of good, and necessary, things on the economy…Voters…very much care if America’s Ruling Class outsources their jobs…”

Very relevant to this discussion is TAC’s reposting today of Pat Buchanan’s excellent Sept. 6, 2011 essay “How Capital Crushed Labor.”

Of all candidates for President in both parties only Donald Trump has seriously addressed this burning issue!

[3]

#16 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 6, 2015 @ 3:14 pm

K.W. Jeter, I have a few words for you:

Inflation, rearmament, military-industrial complex, Cold War.

What we MIGHT have made of a peacetime economy, under socialist or Republican or Democratic leadership, liberal or conservative, is fascinating to think about.

The fact is, we had massive unemployment in 1946, we had a military staff that had no intention of going back to their sleepy pre-war status, we had a new demon over the horizon… and our post-war employment levels were in significant part due to military spending on which whole cities became dependent.

There must have been a better way, but these are some of the things that happened.

Daniel (not Larison) — thank you, that is precisely what I did not find in the citations offered here before. There is of course the old argument “why didn’t you follow the link,” but I maintain that if someone wants to make a point, they should provide sufficient material to sustain their point. The links are helpful in case someone want to check for context.

#17 Comment By Hyperion On September 6, 2015 @ 5:31 pm

RD write: This is how conservative government produces something like a low-level party hack running FEMA when an unprecedented natural disaster strikes.

Brownie was pretty unlucky. No Katrina and he gets home free. An even better (worse?) example of this is the 24 year old fellow who was put in charge of setting up the Iraq Stock Market. His biggest qualification was that he was a Young Republican!

#18 Comment By K. W. Jeter On September 6, 2015 @ 6:28 pm

Siarlys Jenkins —

I have a single word for you: Reality. Try getting acquainted with it. You claimed that the US economy was in some kind of “doldrums” in 1938-1940, that a “good war” got us out of. The facts I provided, with the GDP as a rough measure of the state of the economy, showed no such thing happened.

Similarly, the growth in GDP post-WWII, can hardly be ascribed solely to inflation or spending by the military-industrial complex; there’s been a lot else going on in those decades, all of which shows that we don’t need “good war”-type spending to have a growing economy. In fact, military spending is most likely a net drag on the economy, as it wastes resources that could be more productively spent on infrastructure and industrial development. Other countries such as South Korea have developed their economies at much faster rates than ours, with nowhere near our military spending.

Those are facts. I realize they’re inconvenient for you to deal with, but they remain facts nevertheless.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 6, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

Reality. Well, that is a broad concept, Jeter. Did you make it up yourself, or does it have an intrinsic existence outside of your own mind?

#20 Comment By Stephen Gould On September 6, 2015 @ 8:03 pm

@TB – re Tertullian: Christopher Hitchens – who was significantly better read wrt early Christian texts than almost all his opponents – noted that what Tertullian meant was that someone would only advance an apparently impossible claim if it were true (a liar is more likely to invent a plausible story than a totally implausible one), which is not quite the same as believing something just because it is impossible.

IMO the problem with the American Right nowadays is not Tertullianism, but the lack of understanding of conservative principles and philosophy. Instead of being pragmatic and sceptical, they have adopted that most oxyomoronic of concepts, axiomatic conservatism. That provides them with the structure that as authoritarian types so many of them crave, but inevitably leads to difficulties when their axioms are unsupported in reality. But rather than undermine their new structure, they prefer to maintain their axioms, which requires rejection of reality.

One reason that TAC is such a fine conservative site (Warning: Promo) is that the contributors are familiar with conservative principles and philosophy, and to the extent that they crave structure they can find it in these and in their informed religious beliefs, and they aren’t wedded to the GOP’s new axioms.

#21 Comment By Mike l On September 7, 2015 @ 8:40 am

You Trump haters have lost it. General Soleimani?? Really. I consider myself fairly well informed but I wouldn’t know this General Soleimani and I can assure you that 99.9 percent of the population wouldn’t either. Do you hysterical Trump haters really think people care that he doesn’t know this? Do you think it will make a difference?

#22 Comment By David J. White On September 7, 2015 @ 12:19 pm


Neither has Trump served in the military at any level. Were he Commander-in-Chief, I would hope that he would have a very good Secretary of Defense, who is not an amateur, but a seasoned old Pro. Eisenhower has no political experience, but his years as Supreme Allied Commander in WWII, along with Commander of NATO after the war, gave him an enormous advantage as Commander-in-Chief.

Eisenhower had no political experience only if one’s definition of “political” is the narrow one of “holding elected office.” The job of Supreme Allied Commander was nothing if not political: coordinating the actions of allies, dealing with egotistic generals on the one hand and egotistic politicians on the other, etc.