I was raised by a probation officer, which means I was raised by a mother with a pinpoint bullshit detector.
This is no exaggeration—Mom has a gift for knowing whether people are lying, are insincere, are covering up, are out of their league. And, when I was a boy, my mother and I used to take these long walks through the streets of Mahopac, and she would explain to me what (and who) to believe, to doubt, to question.
Thought my two decades as a journalist, this turned out to be an invaluable gift from Mom. She didn’t show me how to throw a slider, or the intricacies of long division. But snooping out insincerity—any skills I possess come straight from Joan Pearlman.
I thought of this earlier today, when I watched a snippet of Donald Trump’s Rose Garden press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah. It was so ridiculously terrifyingly dumbfoundingly (not a real word) awesome that I posted it above.
My favorite part, by far:
Reporter: “If I may, Mr. President: You know very well that the Iranian militias and Hezbollah have been propping the Syrian regime for a while, over a few years now. Will you go after them? What message will you give them today? And will you work with the Russians to stop, to ground, the Syrian Air Force and to establish safe zones?”
It was a fabulous question, because: A. It’s smart; B. It calls for insight; C. It led with “you know very well”—and, truly, Trump doesn’t know very well. Listen to his reply. Listen again if you must. He talks solely about the Iran-U.S. nuclear agreement … which has nothing to even remotely do with this. Like, not a thing.
To the reporter’s credit, she picks up on the nonsense. “But sir,” she said, “I’m talking about the Iranian militias in Syria supporting the Syrian regime, separate of the nuclear deal. What message do you have for them today?”
Trump’s answer: “You will see. They will have a message. You will see what the message will be, O.K.”
As Charles Blow wrote in today’s New York Times, “It was beyond embarrassing: It was mortifying. And it was terrifying.”
And, indeed, Blow is correct. But what scares me isn’t just Trump’s ignorance. It’s his otherworldly inability to conceal his ignorance. Yes, Joan Pearlman taught me to read the language of bullshit. But no PhD-level education on the subject is needed here. You could be an ISIS fighter in Afghanistan, a prime minister in England, a maniac authoritarian in North Korea or Syria, a school child in Montreal … and it is blatantly obvious that Donald Trump could not answer the question, because he lacked the knowledge to do so.
This is our president.
This is who you (if you voted for him) elected.