Donald Trump thinks you’re an idiot.
Not just you, though. Pretty much all Americans.
He seems to have taken a timeless insight often attributed to H.L. Mencken — that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people — and applied it to politics.
Don’t believe me? Take but one recent, nearly self-parodic example.
On Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” host John Dickerson asked the Republican presidential front-runner what he took away from a recent church service that he attended in Iowa. The subject of the sermon: humility.
Behold this Trump-Dickerson exchange:
TRUMP: “It was very good. It was very a nice service, beautiful church. I liked it.”
DICKERSON: “But humility, a lot of people don’t think — your name is on everything. You have often talked about sometimes braggadocio is part of your pitch.”
TRUMP: “No, I know, but there is more humility than you would think, believe me.”
DICKERSON: “Hidden humility.”
TRUMP: “We are all the same. We’re all going to the same place, probably one of two places, you know, but we are all the same. And I do have actually much more humility than a lot of people would think.”
Got that? Trump is very, very, unbelievably, terrifically humble. And (with apologies to Churchill) he has much to be humble about.
Trump, after all, is a man who has previously declared himself to be, in roughly his own words:
● Self-reflective, but not necessarily one of these people who sits there all day and thinks about himself.
●The worst thing that ever happened to the Islamic State, the least bigoted of anybody you’ve ever met, the least racist person on earth, the person who will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.
And of course:
●A candidate who could shoot somebody in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose voters.
If these aren’t the statements of someone with boatloads of humility, well, maybe Trump doesn’t know what the word “humility” means.
Or, more likely, he doesn’t think the rest of us do.
Likewise, on issues besides his own character, Trump has also taken to low-balling voters’ intelligence.
He absurdly promised to make Mexico pay for a big, beautiful wall that would keep Mexicans out of the United States. (In my fantasies, this wall would really be a scheme to make Mexico and the United States fall madly in love, “Fantasticks”-style; alas, such an outcome seems unlikely.)
Among his other infrastructure priorities is a new $100 million ballroom for the White House. “We’ll get the top people, the top everything, we’ll have the best ballroom,” he said at a recent political rally, as if he believed this were really a hard-hitting policy issue crucial to the success of the American republic.
He promised that his tax plan would raise taxes on the rich and not reduce revenue, even though basic arithmetic and the most generous of economic assumptions say the opposite. He promised to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific” but as yet unspecified. He promised to grow the nation’s economy by 6 percent or 7 percent, when the Federal Reserve predicts long-run growth rates of 2 percent.
Only someone who thinks Americans are really, really dumb would expect voters to buy any of this.
Of course, Trump is hardly the only candidate to treat voters like we have IQs around room temperature.
Other candidates’ tax plans, foreign policy proposals, regulatory schemes and economic predictions also often depend on assumptions of widespread idiocy within the populace. And to some extent, this has always been true. But Trump, innovative political entrepreneur that he is, has just gone bigger and bolder, assuming Americans are even dumber than anyone ever thought possible.
Not that Americans themselves agree. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, about two-thirds of respondents said that the word “intelligent” describes the typical American fairly or very well.
The next few months will help determine who’s right.