BIDLACK: The brilliance of Donald Trump

Author: Hal Bidlack - October 18, 2017 - Updated: October 18, 2017

Hal Bidlack

Our current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been accused by some of not being the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. Donald Trump has given the American people compelling evidence (on a number of occasions) that his mental perspicacity may not be at the high level of other occupants of the White House. He likely never even uses the word “perspicacity,” though that may be a low bar, given that I don’t either, unless my Word thesaurus suggests it.

But Mr. Trump did, in fact, famously say that no one knew how “hard” health care reform would be (spoiler alert – lots of people knew that). At a Republican presidential candidate debate, the future POTUS did not know what the nuclear triad was, which is fine unless you are trying to get a job that commands it. And let’s not forget his claim to know more about ISIS than the generals. Perhaps I’m being unfair, and just doing some anti-Trump priming the pump. But recall that in a May 2017 interview with the Economist, Mr. Trump claimed to have invented the term “priming the pump” just a couple days earlier. Indeed, a Google search of the term “Donald Trump stupid” returns 15,200,000 hits.  A search of “Three Stooges Stupid” only returns 422,000 hits.

And so it may come as a surprise, dear reader, when I assert that in the most important way, Donald Trump is brilliant. And that brilliance is in how masterful he is in manipulating the media by simultaneously attacking the media as grossly unfair to him while in fact he has dominated, twisted, and cowed the media into little more than a cheering squad for his actions, and I’m not even talking about Fox News.

While most winning candidates are happy to tuck past campaigns away, Mr. Trump continues to obsess about his victory with a variety of both true (won the Electoral College) and false (three million illegal aliens popped up, voted, and then dropped back into the shadows) claims and boasts. And if you listen to Mr. Trump or his most dedicated acolytes, you know the press was wildly for Hillary and against Donald, and important stories (like her emails) got no attention from the “lame stream media” while truly unimportant things (like bragging about assaulting women) got way too much coverage. There’s only one problem with this narrative – it’s false. And this is where Mr. Trump demonstrated true brilliance.

The thing about making claims is that often times, they can be checked. In one of a number of comprehensive studies (Google is your friend), the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard did, literally, the math to study how the media had portrayed both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton during the 2016 campaign. From the actual data – you know, facts – the study authors found that Mr. Trump was simultaneously able to get huge numbers of people to believe the media wasn’t covering Mrs. Clinton’s “email scandal” while actually seeing the emails covered far more than was his own “locker room talk.”

In fact, the study was able to prove that the media covered Mrs. Clinton’s “scandals” far more than her issue positions, while Mr. Trump had the opposite – the media covered his issue positions far more than his “scandals.” For example, there were nearly 70,000 sentences in the media written on emails, while the next highest was roughly 40,000 sentences written on Mr. Trump’s views on immigration (Mrs. Clinton got less than 10,000 on her own immigration position. Mr. Trump’s “Russia problem?” – less than 10,000. His problems with taxes, women, “Trump University,” and the Trump Foundation? All less than 10,000 sentences over the course of the campaign. But emails? Nearly 70,000. Because… I dunno…Benghazi? (oh, Benghazi also got more than 10,000). The authors concluded that “attempts by the Clinton campaign to define her campaign on competence, experience, and policy positions were drowned out by coverage of alleged improprieties associated with the Clinton Foundation and her emails. Coverage of Trump associated with immigration, jobs, and trade was greater than that on his personal scandals.”

Brilliant! I’ll say it again — Donald Trump was brilliant. He did what has never, to my knowledge, been done before. He created a media hurricane with himself safely in the eye, not as the victim he pretended to be, but rather as the beneficiary of a media so cowed, so timid, so concerned about being called biased that in bending over backwards to be “fair,” they actually tilted into involuntary but complicit members of Team Trump.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.