Views My Own

Trump Is Making America So Goddamn Dumb

If you listen to him, you might think California doesn't have enough water to properly fight its wildfires. Don't listen to him.

by Harry Cheadle
Aug 7 2018, 3:42pm

Trump at an August rally. Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty

Donald Trump is on vacation this week at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, where "his staff have largely given up on futile efforts to supervise him, leaving the president's schedule open and unstructured," Axios reports. Trump is probably filling that time watching TV (especially TV starring Trump) and aimlessly scrolling through social media until he decides to tweet something himself. On Monday, that "something" was an inexplicable riff about California's wildfires:

Like a huge chunk of what Trump puts out into the world, these tweets have to be extensively unpacked for anyone to even begin to grasp what they're intended to convey. California firefighters say they have plenty of water. As for "must also tree clear," a wildfire expert told the New York Times that California has spent millions to reduce the risk of fires while the federal government hasn't done squat. The weirdest idea in here—that water is being diverted to the sea and away from fighting fires—is possibly a reference to the long-running conflict between farmers who want to use water for irrigation and environmentalists concerned about fish habitats—but there's no connection between that debate and the fires, unless you live under Trump's hair.

Still, these half-formed thoughts naturally garnered attention, coming as they did from the most important pair of thumbs in the world. The frustrating thing about this is not that Trump got something wrong—an occurrence as regular as the earth orbiting the sun—but that journalistic man-hours were once again consumed in order to affirm that his latest claim had no bearing on reality.

Engaging with Trump's rhetoric very often means disproving obviously untrue things. No, the Department of Justice does not have records showing immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to be terrorists. No, Democrats did not create Trump's family separation policy. His inauguration crowd was not larger than Barack Obama's. Three million ballots were not illegally cast in the 2016 election. The problem is, no matter how easily reporters and experts can disprove Trump's statements, a portion of the president's base will believe him over all other evidence—that's how you got a poll from 2017 finding that a quarter of registered voters believed his nonsensical voter fraud claims.

We can, and probably should, ignore what Trump tweets, if only for our own peace of mind. (More important than his tweets was the news Sunday that his administration had declared the Carr fire a federal disaster, which will provide aid to the victims.) But Trump's platform means that he has the power to sway opinion, at least among the GOP, on issues ranging from tariffs to Russia. A July poll found that only 32 percent of Republicans "somewhat" or "strongly" agreed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump, which puts the majority of them at odds with the US intelligence community. The same poll found that about two-thirds of Republicans (and a sizable chunk of Democrats) thought the US shouldn't have to defend allies from attack if they didn't spend more on defense, an echo of Trump's NATO bashing.

To some extent, polls like this just show that many Americans are strong partisans. For instance, Republicans seemed to largely approve of Trump's handling of his North Korea summit while Democrats largely did not, a split that likely has as much if not more to do with knee-jerk assessments of the president than informed opinions about nuclear diplomacy. That's not the problem—no one has the time to learn and think deeply about every issue, so it's only natural that many of us outsource our views to politicians we trust.

The problem is that Trump commands that trust while spouting off garbled right-wing talking points. As recently as last year, a poll found that 51 percent of Republicans thought Obama definitely or probably was born in Kenya, no doubt in large part thanks to Trump's spreading of that racist conspiracy theory. Given results like that, I have no doubt some of his supporters think the wildfires might be put out already if that no-good Democrat Jerry Brown would just stop sending water out to sea. They likely aren't all that worried about climate change, the larger catastrophe that's probably making these fires more common. Believing what Trump says very often serves to make you a less informed person. That may sound elitist, but there's no other succinct way to put it.

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