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On October 7, 2019, President Donald Trump tweeted, “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” And I thought Trump couldn’t laugh at himself! About his “great and unmatched wisdom” he has to be joking. Right?

Great and Unmatched Wisdom

In May 2016, when the thought of him becoming our president was still only a bad dream, I wrote “The Main Problem with Donald Trump: He's a Fool.” By “fool” the essay clarified it meant someone “who acts unwisely.” Since 2016, Trump has acted the fool more times than any of us can count.

Wisdom scholar Robert Sternberg has written that “people are wise to the extent that they use their intelligence to seek a common good,” and that people are often unwise because of four fallacies, which he identifies as:

What directs Trump’s actions is his narcissism. A narcissism that leaves no room for wisdom or other moral values such as humility or empathy.

  • The egocentrism fallacy, whereby they come to believe that the world revolves, or at least should revolve, around them. They act in ways that benefit them, regardless of how that behavior affects other people.
  • The omniscience fallacy, whereby they come to believe that they know all there is to know and therefore do not have to listen to the advice and counsel of others.
  • The omnipotence fallacy, whereby they come to believe that their brains and education somehow make them all-powerful.
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  • The invulnerability fallacy, whereby they come to believe not only that they can do what they want, but that others will never be clever enough to figure out what they have done, or to get back at them.

All four points involve too big an ego. Look at the Trump quotes gathered together in 2016 in my “The Humble Mr. Trump in His Own Words” for examples of how Trump personifies such fallacies. For example, “I’m very smart. My life has proven that I’m smart.” And “My whole life is about winning. I always win.”

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In my 2012 essay “Reflections on Wisdom and Politics,” I listed some of the virtues required of political wisdom. They included love, compassion, positiveness, empathy, humility, tolerance, an ability to laugh at oneself, creativity, temperance, self-discipline, passion, courage, a commitment to justice and freedom, and the proper combination of realism and idealism. Finally, political wisdom implies an ability to coordinate and prioritize these values in order to further the common good. It implies the possession of a moral compass.

But as I have argued elsewhere, Trump has no such compass, no wisdom to coordinate positive values, which are almost nonexistent in him. What directs Trump’s actions is his narcissism. A narcissism that leaves no room for wisdom or other moral values such as humility or empathy. As conservative columnist David Brooks has written of Trump: “He has no . . . capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out.”

walter moss

Walter Moss

The sooner he departs the presidency, the sooner we may hope to see at least a glimmer of wisdom emanating from the White House--although if it’s Mike Pence who takes his place we would be utopian to expect any more than a glimmer.

Walter G. Moss

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