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The Dunning-Kruger Effect is named for two psychologists who could demonstrate that the less knowledgeable and competent a person is, the more that person believes in his or her own superior intellectual abilities. People such as President Trump who claim such superior abilities not only reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.
To sum up the Dunning-Kruger Effect regarding Trump, he is ignorant of his ignorance.
True geniuses rarely “toot their own horn.” They are far more likely to perceive the reality of the vastness of what they do not know and may never know. As a wise professor of mine used to say, “He who tooteth his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.”
We’ve all been witnesses to Trump’s boasting — “Nobody knows more than I do” regarding a vast multitude of complex domestic and global issues such as energy, the debt, the Federal Reserve, trade tariffs, border security, infrastructure, fighting ISIS, military strategy and most recently, the superior wisdom of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.
I am not certain of the source of the following quote but it fits well into this theme: “Trump’s rise to power marked the democratization of ignorance, empowering a dangerously self-possessed demagogue who, devoid of learning and discernment, portrays himself as sufficient to all things.”
Regarding the National Climate Assessment, which he never read and dismissed out of hand without considering the expertise of our climate scientists, Trump commented, “People like me, we have very high levels of intelligence.”
With Trump’s mantra of “fake news” and his Republican allies’ promotion and advancement of “truth decay” as well as their assault on science and higher education, it seems the Dunning-Kruger Effect has now pervaded the country and infected more than a third of our nation’s electorate.
Consider Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” which undergird Trumps alternative reality in which he is able to create a cult of followers who would follow him even if he stood in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue and shot someone.
A couple of years ago, Charles J. Sykes, a former conservative talk show host, crafted an op ed for the New York Times titled “Why Nobody Cares the President is Lying.” Sykes referenced a comment by Garry Kasparov, a Russian political dissenter: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
As Sykes further states, “When the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth, trouble is afoot.”
In applying the Dunning-Kruger Effect to Trump’s actions and rhetoric, it is easy to understand his propensity of accusing his enemies of the very sins of which he is guilty: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Crazy Bernie.”
He accused Clinton of being “a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future” and he has charged that “there was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats.”
In his book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” Andrew Keen warned that the internet had democratized information to the dangerous point of replacing genuine knowledge with “the wisdom of the crowd,” thus blurring the lines between fact and opinion, informed argument and blustering speculation.
Tom Nichols, in his book, “The Death of Expertise,” wrote of the dangers that “every opinion on any matter is as good as every other.” Ignorance was now fashionable.
As this columnist sees it, millions of our fellow citizens, like Trump, now see “ignorance as fashionable” while devoid of the ability to realize it. Again, like Trump, millions of our fellow citizens have been infected with the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.