Monday, October 3, 2016

When stupid people don’t know they are stupid: Donald Trump and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Donald Trump is a political brawler. He is also a raconteur, a self-styled maverick, a political “outsider,” an adult male adolescent and the drunk guy at the local bar who picks fights with strangers by yelling racial and ethnic slurs or harassing women.
As I watched Hillary Clinton pummel Donald Trump during Monday’s debate, it occurred to me that beyond being merely unprepared to be president of the United States — see also Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his inability to answer basic questions about international politics — that Trump is, in fact, supremely confident in his ignorance and sense of intellectual superiority over other people.
This is the psychological concept known as the “Dunning-Kruger” effect — put very simply, when stupid people don’t know that they are stupid — in action.
Writing for Pacific Standard, psychologist David Dunning explained it as:
In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize  —  scratch that, cannot recognize  —  just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers  —  and we are all poor performers at some things  —  fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.
Sound familiar? Trump’s first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton was replete with examples of this phenomenon.

Trump believes that the United States could have defeated ISIS by stealing other Middle Eastern countries’ oil in the form of a bounty. Beyond being militarily impractical it is also a violation of international law.
As Trump has said:
“Or, as I’ve been saying for a long time, and I think you’ll agree, because I said it to you once, had we taken the oil — and we should have taken the oil — ISIS would not have been able to form either, because the oil was their primary source of income. And now they have the oil all over the place, including the oil — a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters.”
Trump does not understand cyber warfare or espionage. Yet, he persists in making references to “400-pound” hackers sitting on their beds and his child’s skill with computers.
And Trump has also said:
“So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”
Trump believes that China should invade North Korea in order to create more stability in the region. China is a sponsor of North Korea. Both countries are also armed with nuclear weapons.
The Republican presidential nominee has stated:
“I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table. Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea. And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I’ve ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal. Iran is one of their biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea. And when they made that horrible deal with Iran, they should have included the fact that they do something with respect to North Korea. And they should have done something with respect to Yemen and all these other places.”
Trump actually believes that Clinton, a former secretary of state and U.S. senator, lacks “basic ability” as compared to him, a man who has no experience in politics or public policy. This is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
He has said:
“And she doesn’t say that, because she’s got no business ability. We need heart. We need a lot of things. But you have to have some basic ability. And sadly, she doesn’t have that. All of the things that she’s talking about could have been taken care of during the last 10 years, let’s say, while she had great power. But they weren’t taken care of. And if she ever wins this race, they won’t be taken care of.”
Yet despite such incompetence, Trump remains in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton, and is several weeks from potentially being elected President of the United States. This is both a scathing indictment of the right-wing political elites that paved the way for Trump’s ascendance as well as his “basket of deplorables” — members of the public with racial resentment who are more compelled to vote for a reality TV star than they are to uphold civic virtue and the common good.
A democracy does not need to elect a person who fits the mold of Plato’s philosopher king in order to be healthy and successful. For example, the United States has had presidents who were intemperate (Lyndon Johnson), lacked preparation (Ronald Reagan) and overwhelmed by the demands of the office (George W. Bush). But Trump is something different. He is a fascist who wallows in his ignorance and stupidity about public affairs and then willfully confuses such attributes with wisdom and intellectual acumen.
The weeks between now and Election Day will provide an opportunity for Trump to demonstrate if he is ready to do the hard work — and yes, studying and preparation required — to be president of the United States of America.
It is unlikely that Trump will be able to successfully do this. To borrow from one of my favorite movies, “Star Wars,” on Nov. 8, the American people will have to ask themselves, “Who’s the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?”
A vote for Trump is an indictment of one’s intelligence. Trump’s voters, sad proof of the Dunning-Kruger effect themselves, are pointing a dagger at the heart of the republic.

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