Probably not, but wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?
In honor of our ongoing War on Expertise, I bring you a link to a post of mine from two years ago, which featured a This American Life story about Bob the Electrician, and his deluded belief that if he couldn’t understand the Theory of Relativity, that meant that it was bunk. Because everyone everywhere all the time should be able to understand everything, so one person’s as good as the next when it comes even to the trickiest of intellectual or policy questions. It doesn’t matter if some of us have devoted our lives to the study and mastery of some forms of knowledge, nor if we actually do this for a living. From my post on July 15, 2014:
To summarize: Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong. [Reporter Robert Andrew] Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons: there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians. In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have. But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.
Donald Trump’s entire presidential campaign has been a Bob the Electrician campaign, composed of an ongoing set of assertions and Tweets that expertise doesn’t matter. Like Bob and his fellow delusional amateur scholars, Trump also craves the respect and attention of those whose expertise he disdains. Those political pundits who counted him out? Losers! Those career political consultants and operatives who orchestrate every major political campaign except his? Overpaid, useless hacks who didn’t do his primary opponents any good except when it came to spending their money. To be fair, up to this point it looks like he was right. He won the primary without those losers, didn’t he? And he can’t stop talking about his past victories–not until the political and media establishments bow to him and proclaim him the real expert.
(It’s not like this is a new phenomenon: after all, the John McCain campaign eight years ago had that truth-teller from Toledo, Joe the Plumber, on his side, not to mention Sarah Palin. But in defense of the McCain campaign: Joe the Plumber was a media creation meant to symbolize it’s appeal to the working class, and Palin had been elected mayor and governor before her selection as McCain’s VP.)
But in spite of this long flirtation with the absence of expertise, I’m betting that Trump wrong in the long run of the general campaign. The news today that the Trump campaign is sending Omarosa Manigault to Philadelphia today to respond to Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy ideas. Seriously. Not only does this say something about Trump’s judgement that a reality TV star from the previous decade with zero expertise in foreign policy or the State Department would be tasked with this responsibility. I think it also says something about Trump’s inability of the foreign policy establishment to take his telephone calls, let alone to act as campaign surrogates. When you can’t get John Bolton on the line to speak for your patently reckless and dangerous foreign policy positions, it’s time for a global rethink.
It makes more sense to send an actor who once played Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, or Ronald Reagan. But they’re probably not taking Trump’s phone calls either. After all, they’re experts in something–acting, for example–and when you’re an expert in something, you’re generally very willing to acknowledge the limits of your expertise and to yield the floor to the real experts.
It says a lot about Trump that he sees no limits on his own expertise. (It also says a lot about Scott Baio’s acting chops, but at this point it just feels mean to beat up on the guy.)