Among the most common assertions I heard during the 2016 election cycle was that Trump was “not a politician”. His supporters repeated it until it became a slogan and they continued using the line long after the original mantra, “he’s rich and will fund his own campaign” had been demonstrated to be completely false.
The keystone of the “not a politician” argument was that Trump, because he had never held office before, would be unbeholden to political interests. He had the potential to be a disruptor and to flush out corruption. His supporters insisted that he would do so, sometimes breaking into “drain the swamp” chants at the future President’s rallies.
At the time, I argued against the notion. He was a politician, I would explain. He’d been a politician for decades, but merely one without an elected office. He’d used payoffs to Atlantic City council members to drive people from their homes pending an expansion for the Trump Taj Mahal. He’d reportedly attempted to get onto the ticket for the Republican Party as George H.W. Bush’s Vice Presidential pick. He spoke before Congress at the behest of Democrats to condemn Ronald Reagan. He sent experts to consult with Jesse Ventura’s staff in an effort to determine what actions went into a successful independent run. He made an abortive move toward securing the nomination for the Reform Party in 2000. Shortly afterward he’d coordinated with Roger Stone to develop and strengthen associations with Republican media figures, an effort which continued for a decade and a half. Of course he was a politician!
I stand by my assessment of the time. I must, however, amend it.
The chorus of “he’s not a politician” was correct in one key way. I didn’t pay attention to it because it was not an argument being made by his supporters. If anything, his supporters would have been dismissive of the point. Donald Trump is not a politician because he does not know politics.
Trump was ridiculed by many for having no comprehension of any of our founding documents at the time of his original campaign. His statements indicated he’d never read the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, much less the Federalist Papers or Anti-Federalists or supporting, inspirational or explanatory documents like On the Wealth of Nations, Common Sense, the Magna Carta, any of John Locke’s works… it seemed as if Trump had no grounding in the fundamental concepts of America.
He’s now been President for more than three years, and he shows no sign of having learned anything about any of them. Additionally, he shows no indication of having learned anything about the way the United States government is constructed.
This is a level of incompetence which is virtually unfathomable. More than simple vapidity, it demonstrates a complete refutation of the American political system. It serves as a perpetual indictment of Trump’s leadership skills, which are insufficient for anyone save a dictator.
This truth is at the core of why the Trump Administration’s efforts to rescind DACA were rebuffed by the court today, and why the Trump Administration has lost so many cases at the Supreme Court and through the World Trade Organization. A large number of these cases have been about actions which Trump could easily have legally pursued, however unwise some may have thought them. He simply does not have the ability to pursue them legally.
He’s not a politician because he cannot comprehend how a legal or political system works. His incompetence is on display and will continue to disappoint and in some cases even lead to the deaths of his followers…. but, hopefully, only for a few more months.