This is something we must all live with: There is someone – maybe lots of people – who are living today who soon won’t be because Donald Trump’s toxic cocktail of ignorance and hubris prevents him from sitting in a chair for an hour a day to hear what experts have to tell him about national security. And if you find that hard to believe, then consider this memo that came across George W. Bush’s desk in August of 2001:
“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”
A few weeks later Bush sat in a classroom dumbfounded and flat footed as the largest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor signaled the end of an era of relative security and the beginning of a terrifying new one. It was a particularly astonishing crime considering he, as the saying goes, got the memo.
One unending War on Terror, two conventional wars in the Middle East, and a series of lone wolf attacks inspired by Islamic extremism and it’s clear that the threats against America aren’t just going away. Any safety and quiet Americans enjoy today is due to a mixture of vigilance from the intelligence community, relationship building on the international stage, and competence from the president. And even with all of that, the country can still be blindsided.
Now here’s Trump, a man who is feeling humiliated by the CIA after they had the audacity to point out the obvious fact that Russia was (not even particularly covertly) tampering with the U.S. presidency in favor of pro-Putin Trump getting the win.
“I don’t have to be told ― you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day,” Trump said in an interview airing on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t need to be told … the same thing every day, every morning ― same words. ‘Sir, nothing has changed. Let’s go over it again.’ I don’t need that.”
People have noted that this just goes to show how large Trump’s ego is. They point out the flippant way he dismisses intelligence for his own gut instinct. They remark on the dangers of this level of hubris, tantamount to Trump going on Fox in 1911 to explain why he ordered the lifeboats taken off of the Titanic. “The ship is unsinkable,” he says with a shrug as Steve Doocy nods respectfully. But even still, this is hard to take in. A real moment of clarity for anyone still under the illusion that Trump will be anything but a disaster.
During the election, Republicans made a lot of noise about Hillary Clinton being asleep during Benghazi. The criticism was patently false, but it stuck. She ignored the intelligence and people died. How then, can these same Republicans watch Trump boast of not going to intel briefings and not burst into flames by the sheer friction of their hypocrisy? Clinton may have committed the high crime of not being omniscient, but she never actually bragged about her ignorance. Trump wouldn’t be asleep during Benghazi, he’d be live-tweeting SNL.
Trump is open about his disdain for information. He is quite literally the least qualified person to ever be elected – a job that up until Election Day he showed every sign of not actually wanting – and somehow still feels prepared to take over the most important job in the world. He gets his “intelligence” from a mixture of right-wing internet sources and the yes men who glob onto him. He doesn’t have a spiritual bone in his body but he reads Breitbart religiously. What he doesn’t get from internet conspiracies, he makes up. Discerning whether Trump is lying wholecloth or getting his false statements from the internet has become a full-time job in the newsroom.
Ironically, he once bashed President Obama for supposedly skipping his intelligence briefings.
The difference here is major: First, there is no evidence that Obama doesn’t read his intelligence briefings. In fact, in response to this lie, Obama’s intelligence advisor Tommy Vietor specifically said that he reads the briefing every single day. He even sent Trump a direct message.
.@realDonaldTrump Fact: what you wrote isn't a fact. It's wrong. And stupid (per usual)
— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) September 30, 2014
But more importantly, this was during Obama’s presidency. He had been president for 6 years. He had lived with this intelligence for a better part of a decade. Trump, let’s remember, is completely clueless and doesn’t even have basic knowledge of foreign policy outside of which countries allow him to make his Trump brand ties with the cheapest labor. If any president ever needed to spend some time cramming for the big test it is Trump. And he’s blowing it off because studying is boring and he hates his teachers.
This is, of course, reprehensible merely on an intellectual level. Our new president is profoundly dumb and worse still devoid of the curiosity that makes a strong critical thinker. He thinks he knows it all. But there is also this: People will die for that hubris. People have died for less. And the only thing to be done, barring an electoral college coup, is to hope that you are not the unlucky person who has to suffer the consequences of Trump watching SNL instead of getting the next memo that says one of America’s enemies is “determined to strike.”
Featured image via Steve Pope/Getty Images