Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trump and Tacit Knowledge

We often know much more than we can prove.  We possess tacit knowledge that is difficult or impossible to communicate.  This can be incredibly frustrating, a sort of Cassandra metaphor.  You are in the grips of an important truth and you have no means to communicate it to others.

So it is with Donald Trump.  It is as plain as the nose on my face that he is a terrible person whose deplorable character and complete disregard for the truth mark him out as one of the most dangerous presidential candidates of all time.  But this knowledge, while not quite tacit, is very hard to capture in simple English.  Trump has many defenders who deploy arguments with superficial plausibility—don't all politicians lie?  Aren't all politicians narcissistic?  Isn't Trump's most distinctive attribute that he wants to put America first?

These arguments are certainly not going to persuade everyone, but they are persuasive to a large number of people, and they are basically impossible to refute concisely.  The essence of tacit knowledge is that it takes arbitrarily large amounts of time and effort to convey it.  Luckily, Trump's awfulness is not purely tacit knowledge.  You just have to find the right way to express the concept.  So the search is on for a way to encapsulate it in simple English.  I offer as an example this passage from a David Brooks column, as quoted by Charles Murray in the National Review:

Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa. . . . He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12.
That last line in particular rings true.  Of course, that just means that it resonates with me, not that it would actually be effective with people who are persuadable.  But I hope the Democrats are directing significant resources to finding and testing these approaches to reveal him for what he is.


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