Following his impressive primary wins on Tuesday, Donald Trump is well on his way to securing the Republican nomination for president. His xenophobia, misogyny and deceitfulness have all been manifest, but have done little to stem the excitement of many among the Republican electorate in his campaign. His lack of understanding of key foreign policy matters was on display in the last Republican debate and caused some momentary qualms, but clearly not enough to affect the recent round of primary voting.
However, a key characteristic of The Donald, which, when combined with lack of public service experience, is particularly worrisome and also has not been sufficiently emphasized when critiquing his candidacy. He just isn't very smart, in spite of his frequent self-assessments to the contrary. Like George W. Bush he has very little intellectual curiosity about the world around him, and like Bush, he seems to be relatively unaware of his own limitations in this regard. But unlike Bush he appears to have few knowledgeable resources to lean on, and little willingness to do so if he did.
This week, in an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe program, Mr. Trump said he was the person he listens to most on foreign policy. "I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things."
As the fictional police officer Dirty Harry once proclaimed, "A man has to know his limitations". My own concerns about Trump's delusions in this regard first hit home for me when I was communicating with a well-known friend whom I respect for both his humility and his intelligence. He described meeting Trump on numerous occasions, and on one such occasion Trump told him, "You are one of only three people I have ever known who are smarter than me". As my friend put it to me, "No person who was actually smart would be likely to say something like that".
Either Trump only talks to those who play up to his delusion, or he simply doesn't listen to those who might burst his bubble. Either way, that is a cause for worry. We have seen in Iraq, or following the flooding in New Orleans, how a president without a willingness to question the basic facts that advisors may provide him with, can embroil this country in dangerous and ultimately disastrous policy decisions.
Trump's lack of basic knowledge or even an interest in knowledge was clearly on display than last week, when he secured the endorsement of former neurosurgeon and presidential candidate Ben Carson. At a press conference announcing the endorsement, Trump stated "I was most impressed with his views on education. It's a strength. It's a tremendous strength." As a result, Trump indicated that on matters of education, Carson is "going to be involved with us".
As I have described in an earlier post, Carson is, however, if anything anti-education. He is certainly on the record as anti public education. He has stated, "The best education is the education that is closest to home, and I've found that for instance home-schoolers do the best, private schoolers the next best, charter schoolers the next best and public schoolers the worst."
Besides the obvious fact that charter schools are in fact, public schools, his claim is not substantiated by any data.
As for actually teaching children the basic features of science, or far more importantly opening their minds to explore new ideas, Carson will have none of it. He has argued that evolution and the Big Bang are the work of the devil. He claims the Earth is 6000 years old, and wants children not to be dissuaded from their faith by the evidence of the scientific establishment, who he views as both godless, and liberal.
We should not let such a man anywhere near children's schools.
Almost 30 years ago, Alan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind. In it he argued that political correctness, moral relativism, and the social mores surrounding rock music had taken over the popular psyche, replacing sound critical thinking based in classical philosophy, and ultimately dehumanizing young people, leading to a rejection of the quest for truth. A generation later we are seeing quite the opposite. Political leaders are emerging who yearn to return to the earlier times so romanticized by Bloom, yet whose minds, like Trump's and Carson's, are closed on a whole different scale. Like a steel trap, nothing appears to get in, and as far as I can see, nothing of substance gets out. And the quest for truth is essentially completely abandoned, as is the deeper notion that truth matters at all.
For all of his bravado, obnoxiousness, hatred, and vitriol, the scariest thing about Trump to me is his unique combination of ignorance about the world, convolved with ignorance about himself.
Lawrence M. Krauss is Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and the author, most recently of A Universe from Nothing.