As a result of good fortune and our own diligent efforts, we’ve come to know quite a few highly intelligent people over our many years. Both of our parents are very smart people in very different ways, the friends they invited to the house also tended to be very smart in various ways that fascinated us as we eavesdropped on the adult conversations, and thus we learned at an early age to cultivate friendships whenever possible with very smart people.
At this point our circle of friends includes all sorts of people, some of them not so bright but endearingly good in other important ways, but also professors at prestigious universities and award-winning authors and journalists and fully-fledged partners at fancy-pants law firms and successful politicians, as well as many artists and musicians and entrepreneurs whose genius hasn’t yet been appreciated. One thing we’ve noticed about very smart people is that they don’t brag about how smart they are, and are more acutely aware than most about how much of the infinite store of possible knowledge that they don’t know.
President Donald Trump has proclaimed himself a “very stable genius,” and has claimed to know more than anybody about everything from taxes and debt to “the awesome power of nuclear” and America’s government and the Bible, and he clearly considers himself the greatest polymath to occupy the White House since at least the administration of President Thomas Jefferson. Which we find worrisome, especially with this coronavirus spreading around the world and spooking all the global stock markets as it inflicts increasing pain on the world economy.
Last week Trump donned a campaign ball cap and visited the Centers for Disease Control, where he boasted that all the doctors he’d encountered were awestruck by his deep knowledge of epidemiology in general and the coronavirus in particular. “Maybe I have a natural ability,” Trump explained, noting that he had a “great, super-genius” uncle who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s the same uncle who told his nephew that atomic bombs are very destructive, by the way, which is why Trump claims to know more than anybody about “the awesome power of nuclear.” At the same time he admitted being surprised to learn that the normal seasonal influenza is also often deadly, although that’s pretty common knowledge, and even though the flu had killed his uncle’s father and his own paternal grandfather, which the all the press already knew.
All of the very smart people we know would have let the doctors at the CDC who are clearly smarter about epidemiology in general and the coronavirus in particular do all the talking and be in charge, but Trump has his own ways of doing things. He has hunches that the coronavirus isn’t as deadly as the medical experts say, and that it will all be miraculously over come spring, and that although he’s not going to shake any hands and will keep a cruise ship full of American citizens at sea to contain the virus there’s really nothing to worry about. Unless you have complete faith in Trump’s “very stable genius,” it’s not reassuring.
At the same time, there’s all the economic fallout from what might very well prove an over-blown panic about the coronavirus. Mass public events and private vacations are being cancelled, elementary and post-graduate classes are being sent on-line, workforces are being asked to work from home, supply chains between vital countries in the global economy are being disrupted, and stock markets everywhere are tanking. Trump still touts the “best economy” ever but the federal government is running trillion-dollar deficits and the Federal Reserve Board is already damned near to zero on its interest rates, and more worrisomely the bond markets are offering a zero yield, and all the smart people we know about this stuff freely admit they don’t know what to do in case of a possible recession, as deficit spending and lower interest rates and newly-printed money are the usual answer.
Trump might very well propose a stimulus package of deficit spending and quantitative easing of freshly-printed money to keep the economy afloat, much as President Barack Obama did during the last recession, in which case all t he Republicans and Democrats will probably all change sides. We’ll freely admit that we don’t know what to do, and will retain our usual wariness about what all the smart people admit they don’t know, and continue to hope for the best.
— Bud Norman