Thursday morning’s big story was the revelation that Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson had no idea what Aleppo was. Not knowing the epicenter of the Syrian refugee crisis IS a big deal when you are running for the highest office in the land. It reveals a clear ignorance regarding current international affairs and makes it appear you have no interest in foreign policy. Johnson was widely ridiculed, as he should have been.
Yet, ask yourself this — what would have been the reaction if GOP nominee Donald Trump said this during an interview, town hall forum or debate? Honestly, we would have collectively yawned. It is because, after more than a year of Trump’s nonsense as a presidential candidate, we have grown immune to his know-nothingness. We are no longer shocked or surprised when Trump reveals his complete lack of knowledge on a certain subject, despite him being a major party candidate for POTUS.
This, of course, is a major, major, major problem. And it was something that was driven home during Wednesday night’s Commander In Chief Forum. In his 30-minute portion of the town hall, aired live by NBC and MSNBC and hosted by Matt Lauer, Trump said at least ten different things that would have immediately disqualified any other candidate in American history. But, at this point, it is just the same old, same old.
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias noted that while yes, Lauer was an objectively terrible moderator last night, it is the fact that Trump knows absolutely dick about foreign policy that “just kind of breezes by.” After pointing out that Trump continuously gets by with lying about his opposition to the Iraq War and Libya intervention, and bringing up all of the shocking things that were stated in the forum, Yglesias highlighted the fact that this was par for the course but shouldn’t be normal:
The troubling thing about it is that to anyone who’s been listening to Trump talk for months, this all seems completely normal.
On the one hand, he’s been saying we should have stolen Iraqi oil for a long time. On the other hand, he’s never had any kind of explanation of how that’s supposed to work. The more follow-ups he gets asked, the more BS he spits out.
When Hillary Clinton gets pressed on her somewhat slippery answers about why exactly she decided to use an off-label email server, she ends up looking evasive. She looks and acts like a normal human being who’s been caught out in an embarrassing situation. She’s admitted that she did the wrong thing, but she also doesn’t think she should suffer any consequences for it. It’s not a great look.
Trump, by contrast, is shameless. What’s his plan for ISIS? It’s a secret. If the generals are so dumb, why would he ask for their plan? He’ll get different generals.
Trump hasn’t learned. He doesn’t know basic facts about the world and he doesn’t care. The question now is whether the American people will.
Meanwhile, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait opined that “Matt Lauer’s pathetic interview” made him believe for the first time that Donald Trump could actually win in November. His feeling is that most people aren’t as knowledgeable about political media as journalists, and would therefore just assume that Trump came off well Wednesday night because he wasn’t pushed that hard by Lauer.
Trump went on to make a series of wild and dangerous statements. He praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong, effective, and popular leader. Lauer did press him on this point, and when he did, Trump offered the astonishing rebuttal, saying President Obama had done equivalently brutish things. Lauer did not press Trump on his claim that the president of the United States behaves in a fundamentally similar way to a dictator who imprisons and kills political critics and journalists. Trump likewise reiterated his belief that “to the victor go the spoils” is the proper basis for American foreign policy, specifically with regard to his long-standing lament that the United States failed to steal Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion.
Lauer’s attempt to press Trump was the completely ineffectual technique of asking repeatedly if he is ready to serve as commander-in-chief. Lauer probably believes the answer is no, but nothing about this question would drive home Trump’s extraordinary lack of knowledge. Instead it allowed him to performatively demonstrate his confident, alpha-male reality-show character as a prospective chief executive.
Both of these beliefs stun and appall foreign-policy experts in both parties, as readers of the Washington Post or the New York Times know. But the average undecided voter isn’t reading those newspapers. The average undecided voter is getting snippets of news from television personalities like Lauer, who are failing to convey the fact that the election pits a normal politician with normal political failings against an ignorant, bigoted, pathologically dishonest authoritarian.
We keep hearing that Trump has been graded on a curve by the media. And this is obviously and blatantly true. However, at the same time, he’s also graded on a curve by the American public. We just expect that he doesn’t know shit and we accept it. If he somehow kind of shows he knows a little bit about an individual subject, he’s given far more credit than a major party presidential candidate deserves. If he says something wildly inaccurate or unbelievably offensive, we all just shrug.
We’ve officially lost the ability to be shocked by Trump. Two months until Election Day, we’ve been beaten down. Anti-intellectualism has won out. We’re willing to harp about email servers, coughing fits and optics to our hearts’ content when it comes to one candidate but just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ when another cozies up to a brutal autocrat because he polls well in the country he rules with an iron fist.
This should frighten us all that we’ve become this complacent.