Trump Time Capsule #129: 'Nobody Says It the Other Way'

Reno, the "biggest little city in the world," in a state whose name Donald Trump wrestled with yesterday (D. Ramey Logan, via Wikimedia Commons)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Before anyone writes in to point it out: of course a public figure mis-pronouncing a certain place’s name, when visiting that place, doesn’t “matter” in any real sense. It usually just reflects a lack of local spot-knowledge. For instance, I know firsthand that you can make people in Ohio laugh by mis-pronouncing the name of their city Lima. I had thought it was leema, like the capital of Peru. Turns out it’s lyma, like the bean. Oops! And let’s not even get into Louisville.

But Donald Trump’s wading into the Nevada morass does matter, because it’s a perfect small window into the mind and temperament of the man. The brief clip below is remarkable; explanation below, after you take a look.

What’s remarkable here? It’s this trifecta:

  1. Trump is totally wrong. If he had bothered to ask, he could have learned in one second that locals don’t say Ne-VAH-da, with a broad a in the middle. They say Ne-VA-da, with an a like the one in cat or hat. What’s the reason? It’s just how they say it, much as Willamette, Oregon, and Houston Street in New York are pronounced in ways different from what outsiders might assume.
  2. Trump doesn’t know he’s wrong, or care that he might be. Most people understand the difference between what they know, and what they’re assuming or guessing or considering more-likely-than-not. The most sophisticated thinkers in any field, from finance to science to sports and any place in between, try always to wonder about what they don’t know, and about what questions they’re not asking. No less a figure than Donald Rumsfeld memorably summed up this concept when talking about the “Known Unknowns” and so on. By contrast Trump, as you’ll see, is absolutely certain in this thing he’s absolutely wrong about.
  3. And still he is a bully and jerk about it. Trump’s approach to this intrinsically trivial point is the same as his approach to everything else: He’s right, you’re wrong, and people who disagree with him are losers. His tone in the clip above is identical to his snap judgment, as reported back in June in installment #26, that a missing EgyptAir flight must have been brought down by terrorists. The weeks have gone on; no responsible official has said for sure what happened; but Trump immediately knew: “What just happened? A plane got blown out of the sky. And if anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100% wrong, folks, OK? You’re 100% wrong.”

Again, saying Ne-vah-da doesn’t matter. But the combination shown in this clip does: it’s the toxic mixture of ignorance, certitude, and bullying. This is just about the opposite of what you’d like to see in a Commander in Chief. Yet with less than 33 days to go, nearly all “responsible” Republicans from Paul Ryan on down still say, He’s fine! Please make him the most powerful man in the world.


Because it’s more than 100 entries in the past, I’m recycling some of the “news analysis” part of the earlier post about Trump’s rush-to-judgment on the EgyptAir disappearance. The passing months have only heightened concern about Trump’s decision-making and knowledge-weighing abilities.

From the original post:

The hardest part of a president’s job is assessing unclear, murky, and contradictory evidence, which is the kind of evidence in most big decisions a president makes. The clearer, easier choices get made by someone else. Real presidents become aware of and burdened by the gap between “probability” and “certainty.” They try to remain aware of the spectrum between choices they must make quickly, even knowing that available information is inadequate, and others where the wisest option is to buy time. John Kennedy kept asking for more time and more options during the Cuban Missile Crisis. George W. Bush rushed with uninformed haste toward his decision to invade Iraq.

Trump was the opposite of deliberative or presidential in rushing toward his conclusion about the EgyptAir crash last month, as he was this month about the ever-more-tangled situation of the Orlando mass-slaughter. Trump immediately declared the shooting an ISIS operation justifying new controls on Muslim immigrants. “It’s war, it’s absolute war!” he said. This weekend Dina Temple-Raston of NPR reported that intelligence officials and investigators had told her they were “becoming increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little — or maybe nothing — to do with ISIS.” In both of these cases, terrorism might end up having been a significant cause. But that’s not clear right now, and it certainly was not during Trump’s immediate spasm of “you’re 100% wrong!” Remember, too, that the Orlando shooting was the occasion for his saying that President Obama was “prioritizing the enemy” by not cracking down on Muslim immigrants. Trump’s responses to both emergencies — Egyptair, and Orlando — might be considered old news, except for this weekend’s reminder of the real-world complexities of each, which real leaders would need to reckon with.  


In one case only has Trump publicly reflected on the difficulty of judging complex evidence and probabilities: the decision by Cincinnati zoo officials to kill the gorilla into whose cage a toddler had fallen. This issue Trump addressed with genuine feeling, depth, and expressed awareness of tradeoffs. Other issues, from whether the U.K. should leave the European Union to whether Japan should build nuclear weapons, require no apparent deliberation at all.