One might see this solid majority response as the weary, off-the-cuff judgment of an American public worn down by Trump’s barrage of outlandish claims about coronavirus treatments, or fantasized accounts of legions of violent antifa leaders orchestrating the present nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd. (Indeed, since that poll’s release, it was reported that Trumpin his newly adopted home state of Florida using an out-of-state address.) But in truth, this was far from the first poll to find that a substantial number of Americans see Trump as not very bright. Anin 2019 asked, “Compared to other presidents since World War II, would you say that Trump is more or less intelligent?” Forty-seven percent said that he is less intelligent, 22 percent said he has about the same intelligence, and just 21 percent thought he is more intelligent.
It appears that Trump’s performance in office has had a negative effect on perceptions of his mental acuity. The Quinnipiac poll tracked perceptions of Trump’s mental sharpness from 2016 through 2018, asking, “Would you say that Donald Trump is intelligent, or not?” When first asked in, 74 percent of people said yes, and only 21 percent said no., however, those answering in the affirmative had fallen to 55 percent, while those in the negative camp rose to 41 percent. Subsequent polls found roughly the same ratio.
Closely related to doubts about Trump’s intelligence is the question of whether he is too ignorant to do his job. In 2016 and 2017, theasked people, “Do you think Trump has the knowledge to serve effectively as president?” In the five times the question was asked, 60 percent of people said no and just 40 percent or fewer said yes.
Further evidence that Trump is widely viewed as something shy of the sharpest knife in the drawer comes from another, far-from-leading query pollsters have posed about him. In September 2017, aasked people an open-ended question: “What one word best describes your impression of Trump? Just the one word that best describes him?”
Quinnipiac asked ain December 2017: “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of President Trump?” By far, the most frequent word that came to mind was “idiot.” Other common terms included “incompetent,” “moron,” “ignorant,” and “stupid.”
Of course, Trump regularlyas a “.” As proof, he often mentions that he got an undergraduate degree from the prestigious Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, after spending his. However, there is no evidence that he was. He didn’t make the list of matriculating students in his class who graduated with honors., one of his professors, William T. Kelly, later disparaged Trump as one of the dumbest students he ever had.
There is no evidence that Trump has ever sought the company of intellectuals or taken any advice even from those of a conservative persuasion. It’s absurd to imagine him hosting a dinner for 49 Nobel Prize winners,. (On that occasion,, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”)
From the, it has been obvious to everyone who has come in direct contact with him that Trump knows very, very little about any policy issue or even. Among those most alarmed by Trump’s ignorance and incompetence were those in theand. After a National Security Council meeting on January 19, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattisthat Trump had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.”
To this day, Trump pays. He receivedabout the coronavirus that he completely ignored—at. Long after the seriousness of the pandemic became too serious for him to ignore and after many briefings on the subject, Trump continued to make ridiculous comments about, including some that are.
Trump’s mental failings are also painfully clear to foreign diplomats, who are professionally obligated to be frank and clear-eyed about him. Among themselves, diplomats early on: Don’t assume he knows anything about your country, flatter his ego, and be mindful of his extremely short attention span. It often appeared to aides that Trump didn’t even understand that other countries. He quickly became a “laughing stock,” as one unnamed official put it, at international meetings, where diplomats.
In 2017, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, harshly assessed Trump’s intelligence and ability to function in office. In a, Darroch said, “As seen from here, we really don’t believe that this administration is going to become substantially more normal, less dysfunctional, less unpredictable, less faction-driven, less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”
When the French ambassador, Gérard Araud, left his post in 2019, he blasted Trump,: “You have an old king, a bit whimsical, unpredictable, uninformed, but he wants to be the one deciding.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was despondent at the 2017 G7 meeting, where Trump showed no awareness of climate change and rejected international cooperation to deal with it. According to, “His speech was a break from centuries of Enlightenment and rationality. The president presented his political statement as a nationalist manifesto of the most imbecilic variety. It couldn’t have been any worse. His speech was packed with make-believe numbers from controversial or disproven studies. It was hypocritical and dishonest.”
In July 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedlyfor his bungling and incompetence. That same month, National Security Adviser H.R. McMasteras an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner” at a private dinner. In 2018, White House chief of staff John Kelly. A long list of other close Trump advisers.
Nevertheless, throughout all his screwups, Trump has maintained fanatical support among Republicans. Yet occasionally a dissenting view will leak through, again exposing a harrowing view of the world’s most powerful man as he really is. On October 8, 2017, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”
Republicans are not blind to Trump’s shortcomings, although blind partisan loyalty generally keeps them on message in public, reserving their honest opinions to whispered comments behind closed doors. One who went public, however, was Erick Erickson, a former CEO of the popularwebsite, a Republican hangout. In a rare moment of candor,:
“The president exudes incompetence and instability. Divulging classified information to the Russians through bragging; undermining his staff’s defense of his conduct through inane tweets; even reportedly asking the FBI director to suspend an investigation of a former adviser—all these strike me not so much as malicious but as the ignorant actions of an overwhelmed man. Republicans excuse this behavior as Trump being Trump, but that will only embolden voters who seek greater accountability to choose further change over stability. The sad reality is that the greatest defense of the president available at this point is one his team could never give on the record: He is an idiot who does not know any better.”
And that’s the assessment of an ideological fellow traveler; as the polling results and unvarnished assessments of global diplomats suggest that the president is not merely “overwhelmed” and that the idiot defense for his chronic incompetence and misconduct is more than a simply rhetorical tactic. With the Trump presidency, H.L. Mencken’sthat one day the White House “will be adorned by a downright moron” has now come true.