Imagine that you’re listening to some garrulous old guy in a diner, telling you what’s wrong with the world — which mainly involves how we’re being victimized and taken advantage of by foreigners. You hear him out; after all, there have been approximately 17,000 news analyses telling us that garrulous old guys in diners represent the Real America.
Despite your best efforts to avoid being condescending, however, you can’t help noticing that his opinions seem a bit, well, factually challenged. No, we aren’t experiencing a huge wave of violent crime carried out by immigrants. No, we don’t give away vast sums in foreign aid. And so on down the list. Basically, what he imagines to be facts are things he thinks he heard somewhere, maybe on Fox News, and can’t be bothered to check.
O.K., in general we should be prepared to cut ordinary citizens a lot of slack on such stuff. People have children to care for, jobs to do and lives to live, so we can’t expect them to be policy wonks — although maybe they should have a better sense of what they don’t know.
But what if the ranting, ill-informed old guy who strongly believes things that just aren’t true happens to be the president of the United States?
Donald Trump’s declaration that he’s ready to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum is bad policy, but in itself not that big a deal. The really disturbing thing is the way he seems to have arrived at that decision, which apparently came as a surprise to his own economic team.