Why Sarah Palin Knows More Than Trump

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Good thing he didn’t challenge her to a game of Jeopardy! ™ (Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters)

After the latest GOP debate, I noted that Donald Trump was remarkable for his very high-level performance skills, and for his near-absolute lack of knowledge about policy or public affairs. Then readers weighed in to the same effect. Now, more from readers on Know-Nothingism and the Rise of Trump.

I’ve heard from a reader who for professional reasons has carefully studied a very large number of “newsmaker” interviews in recent years. The reader writes that Trump’s cumulative record is remarkable, especially when compared with Sarah Palin’s:

Most liberal folks in my experience have never really listened closely to either Trump or Palin very much but instead rely on superficial appearance and caricature, so I thought I’d contribute the view of a liberal who has actually listened to them very carefully.

In the year or so after the election, I listened to a lot of Palin interviews, and although her range of knowledge is certainly quite limited, she spoke very confidently and enthusiastically about some Alaska-specific issues, one being the oil industry in the state. Another was less important but still fascinating—the myriad complexities of voting and getting votes counted in Alaska. She took obvious pleasure in her mastery of these subjects and pleasure in explaining them to people who didn’t know much about them.

I have now been through dozens of interviews with Trump with a variety of interviewers, and I have never once—not once—heard him discuss anything, any subject of any kind, with any evidence of knowledge, never mind thought. None. Zero. He’s like a skipping stone over a pond. He doesn’t even come close to the level of dilettante.

You’d think at some point, something, anything would have engaged his interest enough to read up on it and think about it, but as far as I can tell, nothing has. Much more so even than George W., he appears to lack anything resembling intellectual curiosity. Maybe he’s faking it, but while understanding can sometimes be faked, you can’t fake ignorance convincingly.

From another reader:

Quite simply, Trump is the embodiment of the saying, “fake it ‘til you make it.” Confidence can have an impact on outcome. If you don’t have the skills or knowledge to get the job you want and you don’t feel confident, you simply pretend to be confident until you gain the experience required to make it happen. Accordingly, Trump is always the best at everything (in his mind). He’s mastered this skill so thoroughly that I doubt even he recognizes it within himself.

And on practicalities of the job he is seeking:

Why hasn’t anyone considered how Trump would actually handle being president? It seems fairly obvious that after a few months of confronting the frustrations of the job, he would get bored and disinterested. If he thinks the nonstop narcissistic rewards of campaign rallies will continue post inauguration, he has a rude awakening coming.


Finally for today, on the conjunction of Trump’s performance skills and his oft-discussed hands:

Trump obviously had substantial acting coaching, especially with his hand gestures. Other people notice this too, since most of his press photos feature his hand gestures. I suspect he learned to do this as a reaction to Graydon Carter’s infamous epithet [in Spy magazine] “Short-fingered vulgarian.”

Nothing sticks to Trump. He is a master of “frame control.” He never accepts the premise of a question or comment, instead he answers it within his own frame of reference. He has absolute control over any interaction, skillfully deflecting anything that might hit him and stick.

EXCEPT one thing: his hands.

So my new hobby is photoshopping Trump’s hands. I have to find a way to get these pics to Graydon Carter. The only problem is, they’re too good; nobody can tell they’re photoshopped. I tried not to make them totally implausible, I only reduced them by about 25 percent. You could easily overlook the resized hands, which was kind of my point. I sort of hoped they would escape and go viral and nobody would notice the difference until it was too late. But no luck so far.

I think it’s entirely possible that this is the only way anyone will take down Trump. I wish I knew some other way. But I don’t. So here for your amusement are some of my depictions of the short-fingered vulgarian. I wish I knew what to do with them. These are mostly copyrighted AP news photos but I’ll claim Fair Use as satire.

Here’s one from his rally [this weekend] in Cleveland. Maybe I should start a blog and do one of them every day.

Photo-shopped version of AP photo of Trump at Cleveland rally

This reader concludes:

Maybe I shouldn’t continue to mock Trump’s tiny hands. He will just get stronger. But I can’t help myself.


[Update another reader writes in to suggest one exception to the Trump-as-blank-slate principle. That is the subject of eminent domain, which Trump has indeed discussed as if he knows something about it.]