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Smarts

by on December 15, 2016

                                                                          Smarts

                                                               by Marco M. Pardi

Addressing the concerns related to skipping intelligence briefings, Donald Trump recently told Chris Wallace of ‘Fox News Sunday,’ in part, “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years…I don’t need that. But I do say, ‘If something should change, let us know.'”

President Obama shared his own views on intelligence briefings during an interview with Trevor Noah of Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’:  “It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible.” He continued, “And my experience with our intelligence agencies is that they are not perfect. They would be the first to acknowledge that.” Obama added, “But they are full of extraordinarily hard-working, patriotic and knowledgeable experts, and if you are not getting their perspective, their detailed perspective, then you are flying blind.”

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All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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Every day since the election I hear or read something from Donald Trump that stuns me. I’m not so much stunned by Trump himself; he was utterly obvious throughout his campaign.  I’m stunned by the underwhelmed response from the general public.

I’ve long been sensitive to the misuse and/or the misapplication of terms.  Yes, many people choose smart when they are trying to convey intelligent. But many people are not elected to the highest, most demanding public office in the land. While I’m sure some readers may find me overly pedantic, and even again displaying a bias against Trump, I will tenaciously hold to the principle that ambiguous and imprecise speech is indicative of ambiguous and imprecise thinking.

I differentiate smart from intelligent along very basic lines. A smart person is able to grasp facts as they are presented, remember them, and quote them back as needed.  An intelligent person is able to grasp facts as presented, sense what is not presented, anticipate how unknown variables may alter the presented facts, and devise tactics and strategies for best utilizing the facts while preparing for possible alterations to the facts.  For example, I have known very many physicians throughout my career.  I felt each of them was smart; I felt few of them were intelligent.

Donald Trump impresses me as that kid who excelled at Monopoly, and likely that kid who dumped the board on the floor when the game did not go his way.  He reminds me of a man I knew in the military.  This man, at first, seemed to be an expert chess player.  No one lasted more than a few moves against him, and he never missed a chance to heap scorn on the loser.  I then found that he had compulsively memorized books on chess showing almost every conceivable opening.  So, playing against him was not playing against him; it was playing against the Masters who had written the books.  Although I never put into practice the test I devised for him, it was structured this way:  I would get two reasonably good players to start a game and, after several moves, have them stand aside from the board.  I would then bring in Mr. Chess Expert and give him 30 seconds to evaluate the board, pick a side, and resume play against the particular player on the other side.  While not likely perfect, I felt it was a reasonable way to measure his intelligence as applied to the game.  Now, I feel this test is a reasonable analogy for what faces an incoming President.  The world does not reset to zero just because a new President takes office; the pieces are in play and, not immediately apparent to the new player, there are tactics and strategies, objectives and goals, which are not simply portrayed in the facts on the board.  Trump’s refusal to listen to the Daily Intelligence Brief, claiming they are repetitive and should only be attended “if things change” shows clearly he is unable to conceive that what’s not said is often as important, if not more so, than what is said.

Of course, we’ve long had self appointed smart people.  Over the years I have lived in a county northeast of Atlanta, Georgia I have received, as part of my cable subscription, the county newspaper.  This county is one of the most right wing in the nation, and that is well reflected in the editorials and letters to the editor of this paper.  Having a Democratic bumper or rear window sticker on your car was (and is) an invitation to road rage, vandalism, and possibly getting pulled over for a “broken tail light”. Each issue of the county newspaper was typically about 1/4″ thick.  Almost every issue printed letters to the editor by people trying to demonstrate how smart they were in the area of national and international economics. Then the Housing Crisis erupted.  The newspaper quickly swelled from 1/4″ to an inch in thickness, fattened by the now dominant section devoted to notices of foreclosure and bankruptcy. This went on throughout the entirety of the crisis, accounting for many thousands of homes and businesses. Smart. Yes, so very smart they couldn’t even keep a roof over their heads. Yet, after President Obama repaired the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression this county went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, a person they saw as a fellow smart guy.  After all, he filed bankruptcy and refused to pay for work done at least five times. He must be, in the eyes of the readers of this newspaper, “one of us”.

The nation is not a business.  The world is not a corporation.  In the same way that people drive fancy cars without a thought to the roads and bridges they travel, this demographic of “smart” business people gives no thought to the fragile ecosystem which underlies us all, regardless of whatever economic philosophy we espouse.  They see the dollars on the table, unmindful of the environmental support which allows them to breathe the air and drink the water while they grab for those dollars.  They may be smart at grabbing dollars, but they are manifestly unintelligent in understanding the less obvious support system on which they rely.  Alan Watts once said: “We do not ‘come into’ this world, we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

Most of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks so far have been people long sworn to disable or destroy the department or agency to which he has appointed them. Some readers may assume the bulk of my on-line time is spent rattling on this blog.  In fact, I sign many dozens of political and environmental petitions each day.  Usually these provide me an opportunity to add my thoughts to the petition letter.  For the political ones I insert: “I was born into Fascist Italy. I know Fascism when I see it.”  For the environmental ones I insert: “As a father and a grandfather I would like to see the special plans these polluters/climate deniers have made for their own children while so many others suffer and die.”

As Trump’s attacks on the 1st Amendment (Free speech) already indicate, I may soon get an email asking: Are you now, or have you ever been a climate scientist? Sound extreme? Already the Trump transition team has sent a 74 question questionnaire to the Department of Energy, seeking the names of everyone who has worked on climate issues, social costs of carbon issues, and various other issues including attendance at any and all international meetings on climate change over the past five years.  The message is clear: The accomplishments of their careers will be the nails in the coffins of their careers.

The Department of Energy, working in areas as diverse as the Iranian nuclear deal and internal operations at national energy labs, has some 100,000 employees, of whom 14,000 are federal workers. The rest are private contractors. The DOE has refused to submit names.  But once this regime takes power they will likely be threatened with funding cuts until they comply.  Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who vowed to abolish the Department, has been named by Trump to run the Department.

As this pattern is repeated across a wide swath of federal agencies we might ask ourselves if this is smart. (No need to ask if it is intelligent)

Apparently it is the American public which is in need of Daily Intelligence Briefs. The substantial votes for Trump and his regime clearly indicate the public, faced by Trump with an endless repetition of baseless claims and outright lies, failed to ask about what was not said, failed to ask HOW this “smart” person was going to rectify all the wrongs he claimed about this country but provided no evidence for.  

Regardless of your opinion on every stance President Obama has taken, I doubt anyone can credibly discredit the quality of the mind he invested into those stances.

Now that Trump no longer needs to give beer hall speeches, I wonder what his first State of the Union address will be like. Does Nuremberg come to mind?

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6 Comments
  1. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Another remarkably insightful and thoughtful piece; I’m going to have to figure out another way to say that, or abbreviate it, or something.
    The issue of most politicians often being only moderately articulate (at best) has bothered me for a long time. (Politicians, hell, it’s damn near everybody, public figure or not.) Most people think that an approximation of meaning is good enough, never having heard Twain’s maxim that “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.” And they seldom realize that such inarticulateness is often deliberate and intended to deceive. I am sick to death of the mass media’s referring to Trump’s dishonesty as “false information” or “misstatements,” as if the President-elect cannot be expected to speak the truth because he just doesn’t know any better, instead of what it invariably is: outright lies.
    Current examples are legion–the lackwit Texan Louie Gohmert shambles to mind–but until now, George W. Bush was probable the premier example. His linguistic and intellectual ineptitude make him look like Socrates next to Trump, however. And we ignore this phony just-like-one-of-us-regular-guys shtick at our peril. The comparisons with Hitler are not nearly as inapt or overblown as Trump’s yipyop supporters would like us to think.

  2. Thank you, Mike. This whole affair is utterly miserable, beyond enumerating every aspect. But you see well beyond the facts to the implications. That tired, old example of the frog in the heating water no longer conveys the power of the stew in which we find ourselves.

  3. The things I’ve always known (or suspected) about you have come more from what you didn’t say than what you did; it’s called reading between the lines. I know more now than I did before, and it causes me to worry about you. Thinking is a dangerous occupation in today’s world; not thinking even more so.

    Am I the only one who took note of Trump’s manipulation of both the media and public fear, even in the early part of the campaign. He would draw attention to himself by verbally attacking his opponent with lies, then gain attention again when he apologized for his “mistake”. He is a Master Manipulator, willing to tell any falsehood which serves his purpose.

    The Presidency is a game to him; he is like a spoiled, petulant child, making up the rules as he goes along, and insisting that everyone play by them. He has intentionally chosen the worse possible candidates for almost every position in his cabinet. I wonder if perhaps he wants someone to blame when it all falls apart.

    • Thank you, Rose. The world seems more and more like it is playing out a Kafka script. Yes, he manipulated the media by saying outrageous things and they went for it because it got good ratings. And the media fell into the trap of creating a false equivalency of his words and deeds with Clinton’s email problem. We are living in a very dangerous world now. And the sad part is there is nowhere to go; American policy affects the entire planet.

  4. I worry that those of us who dare to think aloud in a public forum such as this might someday find ourselves on a list like the one “they” are trying to compose of those active in climate research. I am horrified that speaking out against the government and its policies might soon be a dangerous thing to do. Are we, I wonder, on our way to another Dark Ages?

    • I think that day has arrived. I can tell you I felt similar, but not as clear feelings in the late ’60’s and early 70’s but chose to stay in the system to work for a correction from within. However, even under Reagan and G.W.Bush I did not have the sense of overwhelming hopelessness as I do now. The stakes were high then, but they are now at an all time high. .

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