WASHINGTON, November 3, 2016 — Can you use the word “horticulture” in a sentence? Try this one: You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.
Nor, it seems, can you do that with some political candidates.
Donald Trump possesses an undisciplined and undernourished mind. He’s not an idiot, though he seems deliberately to avoid mental nourishment, and he does it to his own harm. One observer likened his response to a debate question about Aleppo to a fifth-grader delivering a book report on a book he hasn’t read.
That describes Trump on just about every substantive issue he’s asked to address, from Aleppo to nuclear proliferation to Ukraine, barring only his signature issue, trade.
Contrary to some claims, Trump is probably not a psychopath, though only an arrogant twit or a media pundit tries to psychoanalyze people from a distance and without professional training. “Narcissist” seems to fit the bill a little better, and he seems to dwell in his own reality, but again, those observations are made without benefit of a medical degree.
Trump certainly isn’t Hitler. He has neither the ideological zeal, the discipline, nor the organizational skill to be the great American dictator.
What Trump is is probably the singularly most inept, willfully unprepared, deliberately ignorant candidate to receive a major party nomination in the last century. The surprise is that anyone at all is surprised when Trump is caught not knowing something that he should.
The 2016 election is unusually important. There is an open Supreme Court seat, with Justice Ginsburg’s seat likely to open in the next four years. Justice Kennedy is another likely departure; the next president could nominate three new justices, more with a second term. That would reshape the court for a generation, tilting it decisively left or right.
There’s more at stake than the Court. President Obama’s major achievement, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is unraveling. ACA has extended health insurance to 10.4 million who didn’t have it before, but it is falling short of enrollment expectations, especially among the young and healthy. Costs to insurers are rising, and they are passing those costs along to policy holders. Insurance exchange sticker shock will hit millions of Americans this year.
Hillary Clinton promises to strengthen and expand ACA, horrifying Americans to whom that sounds like more of the same, doubled down. Trump vows to get rid of it and replace it with something better. But with what, exactly? At a Pennsylvania “meeting talking about health care,” Trump and five congressional Republicans—four physicians and a nurse—promised “a better way.”
James Hamblin of the Atlantic quotes orthopedic surgeon Tom Price of Georgia at that meeting: “We want a system that’s affordable for everybody, that’s accessible for everybody, that’s of the highest quality, and provides choices for patients—all of those things have been destroyed by Obamacare.”
But the only thing Trump had to offer was bits of Obamacare mingled with medical savings accounts and interstate insurance markets.
It was a blown opportunity for Trump to demonstrate his understanding of a crucial policy issue, but hardly his first. He was singularly unprepared for the debates with Clinton. He could afford to hire some experts on health policy, the Middle East and tax policy to bring him up to speed, help him cram for interviews and debates, and give him lists of talking points beyond his usual “it’ll be great.” But if he’s hired them, they’ve made no impression on him at all.
Clinton is a disaster. America doesn’t want her. Trump would, if he had any self-discipline and a campaign team that he’d listen to, have a commanding lead. And yet he couldn’t even keep himself under control for one lousy, 90-minute debate.
He didn’t let his team do opposition research on his own background, thus letting himself be caught flat-footed by the “pussy-grab” video. How does a serious candidate not try to figure out ahead of time what his opposition will throw at him?
Trump has sabotaged himself at every turn, made mistakes that campaign pros could easily have prevented, and refused to do his homework. He only has a chance now because he’s running against the worst, most corrupt, least likable candidate the Democrats could scrape off the floor, the only campaigner worse than he is.
Trump is a disaster, and a baffling one. His candidacy is doubly baffling. First, he’s absurdly incapable of staying on message and bafflingly doesn’t seem to care. Second, the GOP knew what he was, yet party elites barely raised a finger to stop him, and the rank-and-file seemed not to care.
For all that, he might win. His odds have risen from one in nine to one in three. If he wins, he promises to surround himself with “the best” people. We can hope, but the best people expect to be paid and listened to, not stiffed and ignored as he did to his policy shop last summer.
One of the few good things that can be said of Trump is that he isn’t Clinton. And as Camille Paglia said, “People want change and they’re sick of the establishment … if Trump wins it will be an amazing moment of change because it would destroy the power structure of the Republican party, the power structure of the Democratic party and destroy the power of the media.”
Silver linings may be the best America has to hope for right now.