It can be tempting to latch onto one of Donald Trump’s less-admirable qualities and assign it almost supernatural explanatory power. The way to understand the chaos he’s unleashed is through his narcissism. His showmanship. His anger. (That last one was mine.) I have come to fear, though, that we’ve been neglecting our president’s stupidity. Americans knew evil was banal, but we never dreamed it could be this dumb.
Any journalistic attempt to convey the parameters of Trump’s dumbness is indistinguishable from insult comedy—one of many reasons, perhaps, that Trump hates newspapers. We have begun to drape him in the language of the very young or the very old: He is a toddler mid-tantrum, an impulsive boy-king, a syphilitic emperor with Swiss cheese for brains. He is anything but an adult human with the discipline to, for instance, read a paragraph of text that does not have his name in it.
Trump is so unfit for office that his underlings must scheme to maintain a modicum of normalcy in the White House. Everyone who interacts with our idiot president is responsible for making sure the American experiment doesn’t turn into an entry in The Darwin Awards. His aides and friends and diplomatic partners are handmaidens and babysitters and kindergarten teachers and ventriloquists. (Turns out Trump is the puppet, but the scary kind that might come at you with a cleaver.) The brave men and women of Washington are stuck playing that old-timey game where you make subtle motions to tilt a wooden board and steer a big silver marble through a labyrinth. In this version of the game, though, the marble is an autocrat with the attention span of an infant, and if you lose then you get fired.
The U.S. government, once a solemn ballet of checks and balances, has become a demeaning spectacle in which lackeys try to coax a bull through the orchestra pit without crushing all the instruments. Until Republican senators decide a concert hall is not an appropriate place to store a bull, we all must do our part. Herein are strategies Trump’s handlers have already used to appease, distract, and cajole their obstreperous charge. And in the interest of saving the world from imminent destruction, we’ve included a few suggestions of our own.
Write his name everywhere.
As noted above, members of the National Security Council have, per a Reuters source, taken to strategically sprinkling the president’s moniker in “as many paragraphs [of their briefs] as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned.” How might this look in practice? A Defense Department factotum could write: “Diplomatic TRUMP and ideological crosscurrents hampered U.S. efforts TRUMP to slow nuclear proliferation TRUMP in North Korea during the first Bush TRUMP administration TRUMP.”
Of course, as The Far Side reminds us, there’s a still danger that his eyes will flit past all the words but one.
Frame matters of national import as relevant to his business interests.
When asked by Tom Friedman how global warming might affect Trump golf courses, the mogul-in-chief promised to “look very carefully” at the issue. From this we can infer that appeals to the president’s assets might lead him to at least consider averting a worldwide catastrophe. I suggest implicating the Trump brand further by encouraging the POTUS to “fire” climate change on live TV.
Frame matters of national import in terms of how the media might cover them.
Methods for sweeping the strings of Trump’s self-interest are as numberless as the stars in the sky. This next one comes courtesy of a Politico story, which reveals that “White House aides have figured out it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy of strategy. Instead … present him with a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be—especially how it will play in the press.” It’s all about the ratings.
Dazzle him with tough-guy posturing.
Trump was extremely impressed when Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis bragged that he could get more out of a prisoner using “a pack of cigarettes and a couple beers” than via torture. In fact, that revelation led the president to revise his stance on waterboarding. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will henceforth be known as “Shark Bite.”
Flattery, flattery, flattery.
Take a hint from Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who opened his remarks at the White House this week by congratulating Trump on his “legendary” electoral victory.
Or from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who described his triumph as “stunning” in January and praised him for giving voice to “ordinary working people.”
Or from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who poured forth links-related blandishments during a visit to the White House in February: “My scores in golf is not up to the level of Donald, at all.”
Or from Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, who feted Trump as “bright and talented” during the 2016 campaign.
Advisers should mention the Electoral College twice for every one reference to Mitch McConnell. Lawmakers should also pair each proposed revision to the American Health Care Act with a valentine addressed to OUR GREAT BOSS.
Don’t talk for too long.
Foreign Policy reports that as part of an effort to “tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span,” NATO is insisting that heads of state speak for no more than two to four minutes at a time, lest the president get bored and bomb something.
It may also be wise to provide the POTUS with a coloring book and a small gavel that he can bang if a foreign leader exceeds his or her limit.
Ensure all memos are short, simple, and written at a third-grade reading level.
Classified guidelines leaked to Mother Jones in February directed the intelligence analysts preparing Trump’s daily briefs to include less information and fewer dissenting opinions. Members of the National Security Council were also instructed “to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps,” according to the New York Times.
Difficult material should be served with a slice of the most beautiful chocolate cake.
Communicate through the idiot box.
Take advantage of our stupid president’s fervent obsession with cable news. “Foreign diplomats have urged their governments’ leaders to appear on television when they’re stateside as a means of making their case to Trump, and U.S. lawmakers regard a TV appearance as nearly on par with an Oval Office meeting in terms of showcasing their standing or viewpoints to the president,” reports the Washington Post. Want to propose a new family leave policy or threaten the U.S. with a nuclear attack? Do it on Fox & Friends!
Alternate negative press with “treats.”
“White House and former campaign aides have tried to make sure Trump’s media diet includes regular doses of praise and positive stories to keep his mood up—a tactic honed by staff during the campaign to keep him from tweeting angrily,” reports the Post.
Why not apply this technique more broadly? Make sure complicated documents such as trade agreements are salted with notes like “Go Trump!” and “You’re doing great!”
Also, if the president goes a week without “tweeting angrily,” he should be allowed to order a drone strike on a patch of uninhabited Arizona desert.
Don’t leave him alone with world leaders—or anyone, really.
Senior administration officials told the New York Times they are afraid to let Trump speak to foreign heads of state unchaperoned. No wonder, given that the president is entirely ignorant of the issues he would presumably be discussing with his important guests. Also, what if he puts a whole box of those presidential M&M’s in his mouth at once? Embarrassing, and a possible choking hazard.
If he starts babbling sensitive intelligence at the Russian ambassador, intervene.
Ask him where he got his tie. If that doesn’t work, tackle him. If he persists, press the button that controls his shock collar. If that also fails, commence impeachment proceedings.