Ignorance as strength: The three pillars of the Trump presidency

Ignorance as strength: The three pillars of the Trump presidency
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I keep coming back to George Orwell’s “1984” and the notion that President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE is bathing himself — and the rest of us — in the comforts of ignorance. If you pay attention to his news conferences and interviews, you will recognize a distinct pattern to Trump’s approach. He regularly relies on three pillars of ignorance. They are: 

  1. I didn’t know about that
  2. I haven’t heard about that
  3. No one told me that

The president’s default when he throws out something completely ridiculous or irresponsible is to couch it in these terms. He thrives on the power he derives through ignorance. The more room he leaves to speculate, the more power he perceives he can hold onto — and the worse off the American people are. 

Take Trump’s proclivity for questioning the accuracy of the coronavirus death toll. Experts all agree that we are undercounting the deaths from COVID-19. However, as Axios reports, members of the president’s team believe the government has created financial incentives for hospitals to identify coronavirus cases, such as Medicare giving a 20 percent bonus for treatment of coronavirus patients. We all know that, with the widespread testing shortages nationwide, it is, frankly, impossible that the count is not underestimated. 


The president won’t let that stop him. As recently as Friday, Trump pushed back on CNN’s Kaitlan Collins after she asked about the American death toll reaching 86,000 (it has since surpassed 90,000). Trump replied to her, “Or lower than that. I don’t know, I don’t know.” She then followed up with, “Did you see any indication that they could be lower than that?” His reply? “Oh I don’t know, but I’d like that.”

Yeah, we’d all like that. But the data don’t support it. Especially the same week a New York University study found that the Abbott Labs rapid test for coronavirus, which the White House uses, has produced, on average, 48 percent false negatives.

Another example of the pillars of ignorance at work is Trump’s latest bizarre theory that we wouldn’t have COVID-19 cases without testing. “Don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases,” he remarked.

It was a bit of a head-scratcher for all of us. A discerning person — of any age — knows that isn’t how it works. But this is the cornerstone of the religion of ignorance. Testing is simply information. It doesn’t help or hurt anyone infected; it just tells you something. No testing allows you to speculate that the more than 90,000 people died of something else, or better yet: Who knows? Perhaps there’s even a way to blame it on Democrats! 

The freedom to speculate breeds wild conspiracies, which have become the bread and butter of the Trump era. We are experiencing it at work with the ridiculous “Obamagate” conspiracy, as well as the president’s son’s latest. On Saturday night, during an appearance on Fox News, Eric TrumpEric TrumpTrump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Florida city bans gambling amid prospects of Trump-owned casino Lara Trump on Senate bid: 'No for now, not no forever' MORE predicted that “after Nov. 3, coronavirus will magically all of the sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”


Without sowing doubt, Trump has nothing. And so the president, his team and his family will continue to manipulate and draw their power through ignorance. The head-in-the-sand approach seems to be very comforting.

It’s critical to draw the distinction between the Orwellian use of ignorance and the president’s disdain for the truth, which is well documented. From his accusations of “fake news” in the face of good, accurate reporting to false statistics when it comes to immigration, health care or the economy, lies are very much his currency.

It has always mattered that the president lies. The impact, though, is even more deeply felt during a global pandemic such as that we are experiencing, and his use of ignorance as a strongman mechanism makes the lies even more dangerous. 

Power through ignorance is a great brand for a man of such incredible ignorance. It’s up to the American people to see through the act of obfuscation and distraction. 

America deserves a president who subscribes to three very different pillars. We deserve a president who does know, who has heard about that, and has been told about that and is working on it.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.