The greater fool fallacy and Trump

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There are some who support Trump even though they know he’s a bigot and a racist, but they support him despite this, because they think he offers the possibility of significant change (same goes with quite a few who voted for Brexit). That he can be manipulated into doing certain things other politicians won’t do. Other politicians would feel the need to run things by “advisors” and “experts” and worry about public opinion (or put the idea to focus groups), then realise its not going to work and hesitate. A shoot from the hip type president will do things others won’t, because he’ll act first without thinking things through.

Examples of those looking to exploit a future president include space cadets, the far right and even some elements of the far left (Bernie Sanders types who took all that anti-Hillary stuff way too seriously). I’ve even heard it argued by some Chinese that Trump would be better for China than Hillary because she’ll stand up to China, while he’s such a good business man (the sort that’s gone bankrupt 4 times?), he’d do a deal with them. At the very least Trump undermines the case for democracy, which Beijing likely sees as helpful. In all cases the assumption of these groups is a variation on the “greater fool theory”, in that they think he’s a bigger fool than them and hence can be manipulated. However as I will discuss, this is a dangerous fallacy.

By way of example, let’s take the space cadet brigade. Much of the pro-Trump rhetoric I’m hearing from them is more or less identical to the stuff I was hearing about G. W. Bush back in 2000. The assumption was he was more pro-space than Al Gore, largely because Bush was seen as an amiable dunce. How did that work out? Well within the first few months of office, he gutted the NASA’s science budget to pay for tax cuts to his wealthy donors. Several important projects were cancelled, from space missions to Jupiter (only recently resurrected and flown under Obama), the Helios solar drone project (as I discussed in a recent post), various shuttle replacement proposals and much more, all were defunded. This put NASA in an awkward position after the Colombia crash as they were left with no obvious alternative to the shuttle.

The Colombia disaster did give Bush the opportunity to reset US space policy. And he did come up with something a little more appealing to them. But his policy was completely disjointed. His proposals were a mishmash of whatever he felt would appease the space cadets and the corporate lobbyists, yet without any extra funding attached. The Ares 1 rocket was clearly one designed by lobbyists rather than engineers, whose sole purpose was to make sure the same contractors building and servicing the shuttle kept their jobs. As one commentator at the time put itNASA is being expected to carry out John Kennedy’s space program with Bill Clinton’s space budget”.

Within months critics were panning his plans as unworkable, I was even hearing rumours  of Bush’s plan being referred to as “project Cancellation” within NASA rather than its official title Constellation, as it was widely assumed that such an obviously unworkable project would not survive multiple president’s and multiple layers of congressional oversight. Indeed it was mostly all cancelled by the end of Obama’ 1st term. So Bush (again the supposed champion of the space cadets) score card would show that he ran NASA into the ground and essentially ended US manned space flight.

So what’s likely to happen with Trump in charge? Well my guess is that he too will initially gut NASA’s budget, to pay for tax cuts and various other vanity projects. And as a vain and insecure person who bears grudges he will cut not what’s cutable but what cuts will punish his perceived enemies. If California votes against him (as expected) he’ll likely shut down JPL or Ames. If Virginia votes democrat, what’s the bet that Langley will be closed? Naturally anything with the word “environment” in it will go too, which is a lot of NASA’s budget (often one of the best ways of learning how the atmosphere of Mars works is by studying our own).

While I suspect Trump could be eventually persuaded to back something like a mission to Mars (as a vanity project), he will only be doing so on basis of lining his own pockets. The contracts won’t go to someone sensible like Elon Musk (unless Musk bows before him and kisses his rings and slip him a few quid in the next few months), but to whichever of his cronies promises him the largest cut of the money they skim off the top. Who knows maybe he’ll do what he did with the Trump towers and give the contact to some Mafia front (Goodfella’s Rocket Company?). Which is probably rather fortunate because it will prevent him actually flying any hardware that might kill someone. Any proposal backed by Trump for a Mars mission will likely either be some sort of one way suicide mission (with Hillary and Elizabeth Warren slated as flight crew!) of the Mars one variety, or a two way Banzai charge of the sort the Mars society proposes.

As for those on the left, do you honestly think Trump a wealth corrupt buffoon is really going to promote a leftist agenda? Yes he may pull back from international trade agreements, but what he replaces it with will be written to suit the elites like him. And those on the far right, yes he might build a wall or do something about immigration, but he’s not going to end it or deport anybody. After all some of these Mexicans work in his hotels. Do you think he wants to end up having to hire a load of Americans instead? They’d be asking for minimum wage and paid vacation time, then keep bringing up their “rights”. Trump’s plan will be to control immigration for his benefit, not end it.

As for Brexiters, Trump is not going to sign up to a trade deal with a post-Brexit UK which would put those who funded his campaign or his blue collar supporters at a disadvantage. And as for the Chinese, while I suspect Trump would eventually leave China better off after launching a trade war (or worse an actual war) with China and losing, but this is hardly positive. Its like arguing that Hitler was an all American hero because his actions left America much stronger after world war II. For sure Hillary will be a pain in the ass, both for the UK and the Chinese. But she’s not going to do anything stupid. She’s not going to start a war for the sake of the Philippines (doubly so now they’ve elected their own version of Donald Trump).

And bringing up the matter of Hitler, its worth remembering that he too was a product of this “greater fool” fallacy. Many of those who helped him into power, notably those on the centre right of Germany at the time did so because they saw him as a useful idiot, who could be manipulated and controlled once in power. Of course they soon found out this wasn’t the case. Putin too came to power as a result of being seen as a puppet, who like his predecessor could be manipulated and controlled….just one who could stay sober for more than five minutes. But quickly Putin showed himself to be less a puppet of the Oligarchs and more the puppet master.

Voting for a madman like Trump on the assumption that you can control him is a bit like opening the gate on a lion’s pen and assuming you can control the lion, just cos you saw someone do it on the Discovery channel. Its a logical fallacy and amounts to a tacit admission that whatever you are advocating is basically unworkable. Any plan or proposal that is unable to withstand the rigours of conventional politics and requires a madman in charge to implement is by definition a bad idea.

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6 thoughts on “The greater fool fallacy and Trump

  1. Pingback: The greater fool fallacy and Trump | daryanblog | AGR Daily News Service

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