On Saturday morning, before most people were awake, President Donald Trump was tweeting about how very, incredibly, stupendously smart he is.
“Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” tweeted Trump. “Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”
His tweets came in reaction to the less-than-flattering picture painted of him in Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury.” The portrait of Trump is of someone viewed as a child by those who work for him and who appears to act that way as well – impetuous, bullying and unaware of what he doesn’t know. Wolff himself has said that those around Trump believe he is deteriorating mentally.
To which Trump responded with a flurry of tweets insisting he is the world’s greatest super-genius.
Is he? Who knows? Trump talks about how smart he is all the time. I haven’t seen his IQ test, and, of course, being very smart is not a prerequisite for being president.
What Trump’s tweets this morning prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the idea that he is some political savant executing a three-dimensional chess strategy that only he can see is simply wrong.
A debate over his mental competence is not one that Trump should want. He should be talking relentlessly about the rising stock market, the economy, the companies giving their employees bonuses because of the tax cut he shepherded to passage.
Debating whether he is a) smart b) mentally competent or c) in a state of mental deterioration is a stone-cold loser for him. Strategic politicians fight only on ground that is favorable for them. Or they steer conversations or debate to ground that is favorable to them. They don’t engage in fights they can’t win. And the “I am really a very smart genius” fight is not one that has a “win” for Trump.
Why fight it then? Because Trump’s secret strategy is that there is no strategy. He thinks something and then does something. He acts and then reacts. He is a political creature of almost entirely id.
For people who doubt it, remember this: Trump never planned his days as a businessman. As he explains on the first page of “The Art of the Deal,” he liked to let the day come to him – no planned meetings, no set agendas. Just let the day unfold and sort of wing it.
And, it worked for him. He became a billionaire, a reality TV star and, now, President.
So, why would he ever stop? He wouldn’t.
Trump’s lack of strategy is, in an odd sort of way, the most consistent thing about him. Any look at his life tells you that he is someone who just, well, does stuff.
Why has it taken the political world so long to wake up to that fact? Because we tend to view presidents – and presidencies – as tied together by some sort of narrative arc. That each statement, each policy decision, each tweet is somehow in support of a broader agenda. That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That theirs is a story being told to us by the White House – and it’s our job to sniff it out.
Trump’s presidency is abnormal in all sorts of ways. But perhaps the most important to understand is that it lacks any sort of meta-narrative. There are just his reactions to things. That’s it.
And that, whether you like Trump or hate him, is not the hallmark of a three-dimensional chess-playing super genius.