If He’s So Rich, How Come He Ain’t Smart?

A healthy ego is required to run for the presidency of the United States, but Donald Trump takes it to his characteristic levels of excess. The tendency was on full display Tuesday during the announcement of his campaign for the nation’s highest office, where he boasted of his top-secret-but-foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, confidently predicted that “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” bragged that his nearby Gucci store was worth more than Mitt Romney, and described himself as “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far.”
The oft-bankrupt real estate mogul and longtime reality television series star clearly isn’t running on the usual aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular guy shtick that fabulously wealthy Democrats such as Hillary Clinton routinely employ, and we must admit that he’s at least savvy enough to know that wouldn’t have worked for him, and that it probably wouldn’t have hurt the aforementioned Romney to have been a little less defensive about his more honestly earned and more generously shared wealth, but surely some small measure of humility is required to actually be the President of the United States. We’ve read enough Greek dramas to know about hubris and nemesis, and enough of the Bible to know that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, and when you throw in that ridiculous haircut of his and the embarrassment of a long-running reality television show Trump seems to be just asking for it. While we admire financial acumen just as much as the next guy, or at least the next Republican guy, we also have to quibble with his rather limited definition of success.
Trump might or might not be the richest person ever to run for the presidency, depending on which accounting of his extremely complicated spreadsheets you choose to believe, but that hardly makes him the most successful. George Washington had successfully led a rag-tag army of farmers and merchants to victory over the world’s mightiest military, which is at least as impressive as getting rich, which we he also did. Alexander Hamilton’s failed candidacy came after he had played a key role in that same rag-tag army’s victory, and then as the first Secretary of the Treasury had set up an American financial system that was the most successful wealth-generator in history until our recent profligacy ruined it, and we’re further impressed that he selflessly chose not to enrich himself in the process. Ulysses S. Grant had successfully forced the legendarily wily Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, which most historians agree was of far greater significance than his numerous failures as a businessman. Dwight Eisenhower had led a fissiparous coalition of out-gunned countries to victory over the Nazis, thus saving the world from history’s greatest calamity, and one needn’t be a historian to see how that’s a bigger deal than a Gucci store and an Atlantic City casino. That Trump measures success only in terms of dollars and cents, and even then by the most favorable accounting methods, is as problematic as his ego.
Other past presidential candidates have offered up impressive resumes full of notable successes, as well, and in many cases they’ve haven’t resulted in successful presidencies. Herbert Hoover had become quite wealthy with his international mining ventures, and he did so without the benefit of inherited wealth and in a way that won him world-wide acclaim for his ethical business practices, then volunteered for such hard jobs as coordinating relief efforts for Europe after World I, coordinating similar relief efforts for the victims of the Great Mississippi Flood, and serving as Commerce Secretary during the boom years of the Coolidge administration, and he was widely regarded as spectacularly successful in each of these tasks. He’s now regarded as one of the least successful presidents, however, and we think that’s largely due to all the counter-productive tinkering he did to overcome the Great Depression because he believed in his own powers more than he did the resilience of the free enterprise system. George H.W. Bush had a resume that not only included a successful private sector career but also public service posts ranging from Central Intelligence Agency director to Ambassador to China to being Vice President during the most successful presidential administration of our lifetime, and a similar confidence in himself had less dire consequences but slowed the momentum from the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-B-movie-actor Reagan years.
Pretty much every presidential candidate ever has had a less a ridiculous haircut than Trump, going all the way back to the powdered wig days and even through the era when the bald were still eligible for the job, and none of them ever became famous for saying “you’re fired” to the sorts of desperate attention-seekers who co-star on cheesy reality television shows, and even the egotistical likes of John Kerry and Barack Obama preferred to let their allies in the mainstream press talk about how they would be the greatest presidents God ever created, and all of these things also figure into our definition of successful. By our accounting Donald Trump isn’t anywhere near the most successful person to run for president, and we have no doubt he’d be a spectacularly unsuccessful president, and his candidacy seems the quixotic quest of one of those desperately attention-seeking sorts you find on cheesy reality shows. The money and the name recognition and the desire of much of the media to portray the Republican nomination race as a freak show will bring him plenty of attention, and the fabulously wealthy and downright ridiculous Ross Perot has already proved that a certain percentage of the country can fall for it, but the sooner he’s out of this race the better.

— Bud Norman

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