Many years ago a work colleague, after having watched one of those dreadful and endlessly recycled World War II installments on the History Channel, breathlessly informed me that, “Hitler was a really great artist!” I nodded, lacking the heart to tell him that Hitler sucked as an artist. But it occurred to me then as it occurs to me anew these days that there exists in the human composition a tiresome tendency to ascribe some heretofore unknown talent to monsters, e.g., “Charles Manson was a great musician,” and the like.
These wheezing proclamations are almost always wrong, yet they persist, and the recent, “Donald Trump used to be really, really smart,” serves as a conspicuous exemplar. It is true, one can readily enough locate on YouTube many specimens of a youthful Trump speaking in full, internally consistent, cogent paragraphs, a characteristic that has entirely abandoned him in old age.
But speaking in paragraphs is nothing distinguishing – most people can do that – and is far from the sine qua non of high intelligence. Nevertheless, if one pays attention to the central propositions behind those competently assembled words on YouTube, they remain an unremittingly fascistic, self-congratulatory, intolerant hodgepodge of semi-baked pablum and externally contradictory tripe.
Or you can take it from the late William T. Kelley, who taught Trump at the University of Pennsylvania, when he said that “Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”
It’s sad to have to admit this, but perhaps if Trump had been born black or female, most of us would have seen through his blather to the horseshit at its center more quickly. There’s something about the spoken word of a rich, white male that makes some of us prone to ascribing wisdom to such a speaker that the speaker simply does not possess. Never mind that the speaker came to his wealth by way of inheritance, squandered it to the point of bankruptcy six times and had to, in the end, steal and swindle and defraud to get some of it back.
Just as it’s a shame for posterity that the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts wasn’t fooled by Hitler’s lack of talent and instead twice rejected him, it’s a shame so many voters were fooled by Trump, and once elected him. Trump is an idiot. Trump has always been an idiot. Trump will always be an idiot.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.