E.J. Dionne writes that Donald Trump presents, "fitfully and inconsistently, a dark worldview rooted in nationalism, authoritarianism, discomfort with ethnic and religious differences, and a skepticism about the modern project." And yet, continues Dionne, there is ambiguity in the Trumpian presentation; at times, his worldview seems more Mattisonian. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the phonetic pun.)
His lack of constancy makes it difficult to judge exactly what he believes. We commonly describe his contradictions as the product of administration power struggles between Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller, the populist nationalists, and Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the representatives of a more conventional approach to foreign policy….
But to the extent that Trump does have a gut instinct about the world, it seems closer to Bannon’s. The president’s spontaneous outbursts, his Twitter revelations, and his reactions to individual foreign leaders point Bannon’s way.
The paradox is that Bannon fancies himself an intellectual — a reader of world history, a student of political philosophy, an indulger of Hegelian cycles. As the L.A. Times reported late last year, a former associate "fondly remembered" talking big ideas with Bannon: "He talked about Plato and Socrates all the time," she said. Trump, however, wouldn't know Plato from Walt Disney's Pluto. Hence it's rather difficult to conceive that Bannon could be an appreciable influence on Trump. Indeed the thought of staging an authentic Socratic dialogue with Trump is akin to Dr. Johnson's remark: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." (Now for a second apology, this one for Johnson's sexism, although the chauvinist Trump would have to have the apology explained to him.)
What troubles Dionne — that Trump's "lack of constancy makes it difficult to judge exactly what he believes" — needn't trouble him at all (although, also paradoxically, the reason is profoundly troublesome). For it can be resolved by accepting that Trump believes exactly nothing — except his magnificence — and he understands even less. When he blathers a "dark worldview" in speeches, such as the one he delivered in Poland, he is merely blathering the views of speechwriters who in fact possess such pseudointellectual views. He comprehends nothing of their darkness, their discomfort with ethnic and religious differences, their skepticism about the modern project. I doubt that Trump even grasps the fundamentals of authoritarianism, since they must be counterposed with a knowledge of pluralism and checks and balances — none of which Trump seems to fathom.
In brief, Trump is but a cipher, an empty buffoonery entirely unto himself, a swaggering ego absorbed in extraordinary ignorance. Now that's troubling.