Emotional Intelligence and Con Men

  • Robert Reich on Trump’s stupidity — except for his emotional intelligence, which manifests as his being a con man;
  • Peter Wehner on “Fifth Avenue Republicans”;
  • Tom Nichols about why Trump shouldn’t be given security briefings;
  • Music: Neil Finn’s “Into the Sunset,” with its beautiful pendant melody.


One of the best takes on Trump I’ve read.

Robert Reich, 14 Mar 2024: Seriously, again, how dumb is Trump?, subtitled “And why has his extraordinary stupidity fallen off the radar during his third run for the presidency?” (Also at AlterNet, here)

He begins discussing Trump’s litigations with E. Jean Carroll.

My definition of stupidity is continuing to do something that has so far cost you a minimum of $91 million because you won’t stop doing it.

And then,

I have to wonder why the mainstream media isn’t discussing Trump’s extraordinary stupidity.

The media continues to discuss Trump’s criminal indictments, and is — finally! — noticing that Trump is becoming less and less coherent. But why isn’t it reporting on something almost every lawmaker and journalist in official Washington knows — that Trump is remarkably stupid?

I don’t mean just run-of-the-mill stupid. I mean extraordinarily, off-the-charts, stupifyingly stupid.

He goes with examples from Trump himself (“magnets don’t work in water”) then from those who worked with him (Rex Tillerson: “f–king moron”; Rupert Murdoch: “f–king idiot”) and how he doesn’t read and is easily bored by briefings.

Of course, Trump doesn’t think he’s stupid. “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” he tweeted. As he recounted, “I went to an Ivy League college … I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.”

While in reality,

Trump wasn’t exactly an academic star, however. One of his professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Finance purportedly called Trump “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

Trump biographer Gwenda Blair wrote in 2001 that Trump was admitted to Wharton on a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who had known Trump’s older brother.

This is a classic example of the Dunning–Kruger effect, of course.

But wait, Reich wonders, then how did Trump become president??

Well, because there’s another kind of intelligence — “emotional intelligence.” This is about how to

“understand and manage our own emotions,” and “recognize and influence the emotions of others.”

Trump fails on the first count. But he’s a genius on the second count. In other words, he’s a con-man.

This is where Trump’s brain outperforms the brains of ordinary mortals. He knows how to manipulate people. He has an uncanny ability to discover their emotional vulnerabilities — their fears, anxieties, prejudices, and darkest desires — and use them for his own purposes.

To put it another way, Trump is an extraordinarily talented conman.

And I’ll quote the rest of the post:

I believe he’s always been a conman. He conned hundreds of young people and their parents into paying to attend his nearly worthless Trump University. He conned banks into lending him more money even after he repeatedly failed to pay them. He conned contractors to work for him even with a well-deserved reputation for stiffing them.

He’s been an even greater political conman.

In November 2016, he conned 62,979,879 Americans into voting for him, getting them to believe his lies about Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and all the “wonderful,” “beautiful” things he’d do for the people who’d support him.

And now he’s conned most Republican voters into believing his utterly baseless claim that he won the 2020 election. Political conning is Trump’s genius.

This genius — combined with utter stupidity in every other dimension — poses the clearest and most terrifying danger to America and the world.


I read the Daniel Goleman book Emotional Intelligence years ago, and so I understand the concept. And I understand that I do better on IQ tests than on EQ tests. This is why…. well never mind. Different kinds of “intelligence,” or intuition.

My point for today is that these ideas, the way Reich frames them, are consistent with the ideas of human nature as discussed in the Wilson and Pinker books I’ve read, and the political trends I’ve been following for years. Human survival, to the extent that it entails cooperation, depends on emotional intelligence.


Related items.

NY Times, Peter Wehner, 10 Mar 2024: If There’s One Thing Trump Is Right About, It’s Republicans

I’ll note again that Wehner is a conservative who served under Reagan, Bush, and Bush. Here he identifies “Fifth Avenue Republicans.”

Fifth Avenue Republicans support Mr. Trump, regardless of what he does — even if, as he said in 2016, he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and shot someone. This wasn’t an exaggeration; it was prophecy.

The radicalization of the Republican Party isn’t going to abate anytime soon. Another band of traditional Republicans, who could serve as a counterweight to MAGA Republicans, is fleeing Congress. Republicans who recently left or are about to leave include Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse in the Senate and Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Patrick McHenry, Kay Granger, Will Hurd, Ken Buck and Mike Gallagher in the House. Some of these people have said privately that they knew that continuing to serve in Congress as representatives of a party saying good things about Mr. Trump that they knew weren’t true was not good for their souls.


The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, 13 Mar 2024: Donald Trump Is a National-Security Risk, subtitled “The GOP candidate should not be given intelligence briefings.”

(Again, I reviewed one of Tom Nichols’ books here.)

Presidential candidates are traditionally given security briefings, long before elections. Nichols thinks this is a bad idea in Trump’s case, for reasons echoing Robert Reich above:

The risks of denying Trump these early briefings are negligible. As we learned from his presidency, Trump is fundamentally unbriefable: He doesn’t listen, and he doesn’t understand complicated national-security matters anyway. The problem with giving Trump these briefings, however, isn’t that he’s ignorant. He’s also dangerous, as his record shows.

And so on.


I need to consolidate my music posts, so I don’t accidentally re-post something. For three weeks now I’ve been re-listening to albums by Crowded House, and Neil Finn, and the Finn Brothers. I’ve mentioned more than once how songs by Neil Finn end in beautiful “pendant” melodies, sometimes even in the earlier Crowded House albums, but especially in his solo albums. Here’s the song where this is especially prominent. It’s the last song on his 2nd solo album, One All, aka One Nil, from 2001/2002. (I have both versions.)

The pendant begins:

And I’m away from home
And it’s a way of life…

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