Give the Guy a Break Already

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

Look, statistics are hard.

Anyone who has had to do regression analyses and figure out confidence intervals would most likely agree that it’s not an intuitive process. With the novel coronavirus escalating in an exponential manner, many have laid blame on the president for misusing statistics. However, while the president’s opponents try to undercut him based on his mistaken math, we reasonable folks in the majority have to keep in mind this one critical factor: Donald Trump is not smart.

And it may not be his fault. Think about it, was he ever really “required” to be smart? I’d wager not. His family was rich, so he didn’t have to perform in school to get into an Ivy League school. Fred Senior took care of that. And, according to Mary Trump (his niece), he didn’t even have to take the SAT. So, college admissions were a breeze.

After college, his father supplied him with millions of dollars, which Donald then augmented by dodging taxes. Paying smart people to cheat on taxes doesn’t require HIM to be smart; it required the pencil-pushers to be smart.

In his various business endeavors, his lack of intellect was evident seemingly across the board. He bankrupted un-bankruptable businesses like casinos, a feat not many others have been able to achieve in modern history. The house always wins (except when the house has a 50-foot-tall TRUMP logo emblazoned on the side).

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The most intriguing example of his utter lack of brains? It’s a tough question with so many potential answers, but I think it’s this: Back in the early 90s, he was the single biggest loser of money in the entire country. The. Single. Biggest. Loser.

As The New York Times wrote regarding his tax documents from the mid-80s to mid-90s: “His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.”

To make that clear, no other businessperson lost as much money as Donald Trump. In fact, no one lost even HALF as much money. He was the single worst businessperson in the country by MORE THAN DOUBLE. Smart people just don’t do that.

Here is what a smart person might have done: Invested his money in an index fund (like the S&P 500) and gained far more money. According to the Associated Press, Donald Trump, Stable Genius, would have $9,000,000,000 more if he’d simply put the money in the stock market and left it alone. That means that his decision-making, far from improving his wealth, actually decreased his potential wealth by $9 Billion. Assuming his (probably inflated) net worth is accurate, he’s 300% worse off for having done things rather than sitting on the sidelines.

Which brings us back to statistics. They’re hard. Even for smart people.

Over the past several weeks, the president (proven not-bright person) has been saying that Covid-19 cases have been on the rise because of a dramatic increase in testing. To be fair, there are some true components here: Cases are up. So is testing.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

However, cases aren’t up BECAUSE testing is up. Cases are up because there is a deadly, highly transmissible virus wreaking havoc across the United States and elsewhere. Cases are up because Americans (and especially our leaders) refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the virus. Cases are up because we got tired of doing things to mitigate the virus. It’s pretty simple.

What the president seems to miss is that confirmed cases are not the same thing as cases. Confirmed cases are up because we are (finally) testing more and people that suspect they have Covid-19 are able to find out for sure. Cases have nothing to do with testing; they have to do with droplets from an infected person getting into the system of a non-infected person and infecting them. That produces a new case. That case isn’t confirmed until a test is done, but the case is still there; that person is now infected.

The president also seems mistaken on leading vs. trailing indicators. He claims that more cases haven’t led to more deaths, so the virus must be weakening. One small detail, though: the virus doesn’t usually kill right away. People show symptoms and get tested. They try various treatments and it gets worse. They become unable to breathe and go on a ventilator. Then they die. This happens weeks after the onset of symptoms, but it happens with striking frequency. Death is a trailing indicator, since it follows the confirmed case by weeks.

The president’s desire to downplay the virus and to employ bad statistics to do so is understandable. The polls look bad. The economy looks bad. His hair looks bad.

He’s got a lot working against him. He desperately wants everyone to believe that there is no danger in kick-starting the economy and returning to work; he has little electability without a roaring economy. He understands that being down by 10–12 points is bad, which is about all the math his brain can handle.

Which brings me to my request: Give the guy a break.

If you have the temperament and brains of a 6-year-old, it’s impossible to understand all of the statistics being hurled at you. When you are a bad businessperson and bad decision-maker, too, all the worse. Then you add in the lack of human emotion and empathy and you’ve hit the trifecta of being incapable of sitting at the adults’ table.

I can’t rightly blame the president for his lack of knowledge and curiosity. He never needed to be smart, so he isn’t. Asking him to know what he’s talking about would be like asking my 6-year-old to understand regression analysis. He would have to read, and understand, statistics to know that 99% of cases aren’t harmless (current death rate: 2–3.4%) and that most cases don’t “automatically cure.”

Sure, others before him gave us a false sense of the president being someone to look up to, to admire, to emulate. Donald Trump is simply giving hope to the slackers in the back of the room, the rich kids doing coke in the bathroom, and the con artists running long games that they too can be president someday. You don’t need to “know what you’re doing” or “care about the country” as long as you can dupe enough people into thinking you do.

Luckily for the president, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to be president. Or to suggest injecting yourself with bleach to cure a deadly virus.

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Jamie Kanter

Jamie Kanter

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