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It’s Not That Donald Trump Doesn’t Know, It’s That He Doesn’t Care

Donald Trump’s interview reveals something worse than not knowing the names of Mideast players: his insistence that he doesn’t need to know.


Donald Trump has been whining about being bombarded with “gotcha questions” about the Middle East on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.

I thought Hewitt was fairly gentle and respectful in the interview—see the transcript—and that Trump did a fine job of embarrassing himself with his ignorance of the players and issues in the region. But Trump’s natural response, whenever he does a face plant, is to blame someone else. In this case, he dismissed Hewitt as a “third-rate radio show announcer.”

Hewitt is such an insignificant third-rater that Trump has appeared on his show five times before. But this merely confirms what a lot of us have been thinking about Trump’s bluster: that it’s overcompensation for a profound insecurity, for a delicate ego that needs stroking.

I know Donald Trump is new to politics, so let me offer him a pro tip: you don’t get to claim exemption from difficult or even hostile questions. You’re going to get a lot more of them, from here to Super Tuesday, and—if he makes it that far—from here to next November. And for the whole of his presidency. So buck up, sissypants.

Sorry about that, but macho posturing and insults are so much a part of Trump’s signature style that I can’t resist throwing it back at him when he decides to get all sensitive and delicate.

But the Hewitt interview reveals something that’s worse than not knowing the names of major Mideast players. What’s worse is his insistence that he doesn’t need to know them. His immediate excuse for this is that “by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed…. The names you just mentioned, they probably won’t even be there in six months or a year.”

Oh, really? Hassan Nasrallah has been head of Hezbollah since 1992. Qasem Soleimani has been commander of the Quds Force since 1998. Ayman al-Zawahiri has been al-Qaeda’s Number 2 man since 1998 and has been running it since Bin Laden’s death in 2011 and probably a few years earlier. If Donald Trump has information that allows him to confidently assert that these people are going to be pushed out of power—in dictatorial systems where no one ever leaves office voluntarily—then I’m sure there are a lot of Middle East experts who would like to know about it.

What this highlights is not just Trump’s ignorance of the Middle East. It’s his contemptuous indifference to knowledge. It’s the fact that he feels confident making a sweeping assertion about the Middle East—that all of the big players are likely to change in the next year and a half—without even knowing what an absurd assertion this is.

The problem isn’t that Trump doesn’t know, it’s that he doesn’t care.

He asserts that he will know “when it’s appropriate.” And he offers us this doozy of blustering over-confidence: “first day in office, or before then, right at the day after the election, I’ll know more about it than you will ever know. That I can tell you.”

You know when it is “appropriate” to know basic information about the Middle East? It’s appropriate to know it now, while we’re still deciding whether we want him as our president. If it’s so easy for him to become an instant expert on all of this, to know it all better than anyone else in the world within 24 hours—well, how about he takes a weekend to do that, and then he can go back on the radio shows?

But this highlights the problem. Donald Trump is too accustomed to being the boss who hires and fires other people—not the guy sitting down for a job interview. So he acts like he’s running to be our boss, when in fact he’s running to be our employee. Or maybe this analogy is better: he’s running to be the manager we entrust with our most precious investments, with our safety and our economic future. And if we’re going to hire someone to do that job, we don’t just want to trust that maybe he will figure what he’s doing eventually. We want him to show us that he knows what he’s doing.

Let me put it this way. Would Donald Trump invest a significant part of his fortune—let’s say $200 million—in a New York City real estate venture run by somebody who doesn’t know the difference between New York neighborhoods, between Chelsea and Lenox Hill, or between Murray Hill and Morningside Heights? Or someone who doesn’t know the name of the mayor, or the building commissioner? Would he accept that person’s assurance that he’s really smart, and once you give him the money, he will immediately know all of this stuff right away, even better than Trump!

This is, obviously, a rhetorical question. I know Trump doesn’t make decisions like that, because he still has money left.

So he might cut the rest of us a little slack for trying to run America’s business the same way he runs his.

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