Two things about Trump are really evident as his presidency groans on — although not to his adoring supporters. One is that he’s not very smart. His FEMA director brought colored pictures into the Oval Office to explain Hurricane Florence, on the premise that Trump is a “visual learner”. I worked with learning disabled kids in the 1970’s when “visual learner” was a big buzzword. It doesn’t describe Trump. It isn’t that Trump learns primarily through visual modalities; the problem with Trump is that he doesn’t learn. He doesn’t read, or process complex information, and he has a woefully short attention span. He’s like the kid who never went beyond picture books in early elementary school. I know, I know — he got through Wharton undergrad. I’ll eat my hat if father Fred didn’t write a big check to make it happen.
The other thing is that Trump is not a very good business man. People think that you have to be good at business to make money in commercial real estate. Actually, when you start with a pile of your father’s money, you don’t have to be good. And Trump wasn’t. He regularly overpaid for things, over-leveraged, ran businesses into the ground [Trump airways] or had to let go of properties to his creditors [Plaza Hotel]. He failed at the casino business, driving his business near bankruptcy on several occasions. That’s not even to mention is shady business practices, where he regularly refused to honor contracts, pay his vendors, or meet his debt obligations. Banks and reputable legal and accounting firms refused to work with him. He was never one of the major New York developers. He wound up with a bunch of golf courses and a branding and marketing operation. He probably would have made more investing his father’s pile in a mutual fund.
How did he get elected president? He’s not smart and not a good business man, but he’s an artful con man, a grifter. People have always fallen for grifters. There’s nothing new about that.
Now Trump’s two big weaknesses are coming together in a perfect storm that could be disastrous for the U.S. economy: the trade war with China. Trump doesn’t know much, and he holds on to some very antiquated views of how the global economy works. Now he’s the point man on the tariff war. God help us.