On Sunday, Donald Trump said, in an interview on ABC, that Russia is not going to encroach on Ukraine. “[Putin is] not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”
Of course, Russian troops have been there for more than two years. When George Stephanopoulos reminded him of that, Trump then allowed, “OK — well, he’s there in a certain way.”
The New York Times gave a very nuanced explanation of the exchange, saying it was “difficult” to gauge his understanding of Ukraine-Russia relations. CNN characterized his latest statements, in addition his bullying of a fallen soldier’s parents, as “Donald Trump’s Bad 72 Hours.” CBS followed up with a thorough fact-check of his Ukraine comments.
But no one is calling Trump what he truly is: an idiot.
It is easy to be blinded by his racist, xenophobic bluster. But what Trump truly is is a rich, uninformed buffoon lacking in intellectual curiosity about anything other than himself. His lack of knowledge on world affairs is dangerous and the core of that danger stems from his utter ignorance.
That the media is not attacking his idiocy as aggressively as it did Sarah Palin’s back in 2008 makes me wonder if sexism is playing a role in how we measure Trump’s intelligence. If you think about it, his interview with Stephanopoulos was his 2016 Palin moment. Or worse.
When Palin told ABC’s Charlie Gibson that Russia could be seen from Alaska, she was derided as an imbecile. It was clear that the Alaska governor knew essentially nothing about foreign affairs, and could barely engage in the most basic conversations about diplomacy and national security. She could not adequately explain the Bush Doctrine, and she stumbled over questions about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. But it was her response to Gibson’s question on how the U.S. should respond to the Russian invasion of Georgia that summer that made her IQ the brunt of jokes that year and beyond.
“They’re our next door neighbors,” she told Gibson. “You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”
It wasn’t that she was inaccurate; one can, in fact, view Russia from the state of Alaska. It was that Palin, the governor of a minor state with fewer people than the city of Indianapolis, attempted to equate her state’s physical proximity to Russia with foreign policy experience. Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee who picked Palin as his running mate, is well-versed in Russian politics and provided sound responses during the eight-day war.
Palin, on the other hand, sounded like a doofus during the hour-long interview.
Trump’s takes on domestic and foreign policy are equally vapid.
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough reported this morning, citing an anonymous source, that Trump repeatedly asked a foreign policy advisor — three times in an hour-long briefing — why the U.S. cannot use nukes. That you would have to tell a presidential nominee that nuclear weapons cannot be used as freely as a slingshot is a sign that you’re talking to a man who doesn’t have a clue.
When he arrived in Scotland for the opening of one of his golf courses in June, he tweeted that Scots were excited over Brexit—even though most of the country voted to stay and its prime minister vowed to break from England to stay with the E.U. He says he would consider not backing NATO members during an attack, even though much of the alliance fears Moscow and is made up of some of America’s most loyal supporters.
Back in March, Trump said he would use his business skills to push creditors to accept write-downs on the more than $19 trillion in debt the U.S. owes. Given that America has always made good on its debts, such a move would drive down the dollar and send yields—which are tied to mortgages and other consumer loans—surging.
“This is stupid and ridiculous and never going to happen,” one expert told Bloomberg.
These are not simple gaffes. They are the sign of someone who is highly unread and uses bravado and “tough talk” to make up for his stupidity.
Had Palin been as brusk and racist as Trump in 2008, perhaps that would have hidden her lack of intellect. But I doubt it. For one, the intrinsic sexism of our political framework would not have allowed for her to exercise such behavior. Even for Hillary Clinton, who lost to then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2008 primary and was an astute foreign policy buff, “raising her voice” was considered threatening for some men.
But here we have Trump, speaking with no apparent self-censorship or forethought at any given moment, and much of the media is acting as though they do not know what to make of him. His attacks against Muslims, Latinos, women, and immigrants are all egregious and warrant intense scrutiny. But Trump’s most basic flaw is the lack of intellectual depth he displays when discussing the most rudimentary of subjects.
Do Trump’s supporters look past his poor grasp of world and domestic affairs because he taps into their own racism, or are they as uninformed as the candidate himself? Why haven’t most comedy skits focused on Trump’s lack of intelligence, rather than his xenophobia? Is it because we aren’t used to a seeing a Klan member without his or her hood? Or is it because we give men a pass for being uninformed in ways we never afford women?
Sarah Palin was raked through the coals, rightfully, for daring to accept the vice presidential nomination. She was so unqualified that each time she opened her mouth, it was a punch line. When Trump opens his, we might as well be sitting at comedy hour. But, for some reason, I’m not seeing us laugh as hard at Trump as we did at Palin. And why not?
Trump is just as big a joke as she was.
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.