The Secret Behind Trump’s Stupidity Revealed

Donald Trump

Trump’s level of stupidity is mind-numbing, but we can now reveal the secret that gives it power. 

A psychological principle known as the Dunning-Kruger effect explains a lot when it comes to understanding Trump’s inability to understand and accept his intellectual shortcomings.



Psychology Today reported the day after Trump’s inauguration in an article titled “The Dunning-Kruger President” that:

Named for Cornell psychologist David Dunning and his then-grad student Justin Kruger, this is the observation that people who are ignorant or unskilled in a given domain tend to believe they are much more competent than they are. Thus bad drivers believe they’re good drivers, the humorless think they know what’s funny, and people who’ve never held public office think they'[d] make a terrific president. How hard can it be?

Forbes provided the following background on the effect:

The 1999 paper that launched the Dunning-Kruger Effect was called “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Across 4 studies, Professor Dunning and his team administered tests of humor, grammar, and logic.



Writing for the Pacific Standard, Dunning explained the effect as follows:

In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize  —  scratch that, cannot recognize  —  just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers  —  and we are all poor performers at some things  —  fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

The Dunning-Kruger President

If you do a Google search for “The Dunning-Kruger President” you will find that several news organizations have published articles applying the principle both before and after the 2016 presidential election.



Salon published an article in September 2016 explaining that “Trump is not merely ignorant. He is also supremely confident and feels superior — the most dangerous kind of idiot,” attributing his behavior to Dunning-Kruger.

Bloomberg published an article in May 2017 explaining that “We’re all ignorant, but Trump takes it to a different level” in an article titled: “Trump’s ‘Dangerous Disability’? It’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect.”

Conservative author and political commentator David Brooks published an article for The New York Times that same month explaining that Trump was the “all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect” due to his infantile lack of mastery of “three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25.”

According to Brooks:

  • “First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers [during] interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.”
  • “Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.”
  • “Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious. But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved.”

More recently, Washington Monthly reported earlier this year that Trump “got up this morning, watched Fox And Friends do a segment on his mental health, and used his Twitter thumbs to give the world a textbook example of the Dunning Kruger effect.”

After posting those three tweets, Washington Monthly reported that:

No stable genius has ever bragged about what a stable genius they were. No smart person would try to convince the world of their high IQ by using poor punctuation and 4th grade vocabulary while using “like” as a filler word in text.

No one with an ounce of historical awareness would argue that they retained their mental acuity by comparing himself to the Alzheimers-afflicted Ronald Reagan. No one who understood his legal peril would call out the FBI’s most high-profile investigation in the country as a “hoax.” No one of sound mind would forget that they had run for President at least once before, back in the year 2000.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains Trump supporters

Politico took the obvious next step, attributing Trump’s popularity with some voters to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Politico started their article, reporting that:

Many commentators have argued that Donald Trump’s dominance in the GOP presidential race can be largely explained by ignorance; his candidacy, after all, is most popular among Republican voters without college degrees. Their expertise about current affairs is too fractured and full of holes to spot that only 9 percent of Trump’s statements are “true” or “mostly” true, according to PolitiFact, whereas 57 percent are “false” or “mostly false”—the remainder being “pants on fire” untruths. Trump himself has memorably declared: “I love the poorly educated.”

Continuing, Politico explained that: “The problem isn’t that voters are too uninformed. It is that they don’t know just how uninformed they are.”

[Dunning-Kruger] may well be the key to the Trump voter—and perhaps even to the man himself…. In voters, lack of expertise would be lamentable but perhaps not so worrisome if people had some sense of how imperfect their civic knowledge is. If they did, they could repair it. But the Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests something different. It suggests that some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect also explains Fox News

Actor, comedian, and screenwriter John Cleese used the Dunning-Kruger effect to explain Fox News in a 2012 video posted on the Monty Python YouTube page.

You can click here to see John Cleese discussing Fox News and Dunning-Kruger.

Cleese responded to comments posted on their videos. “The problem with people like this is that they are so stupid,” explained Cleese, “they have no idea how stupid they are.”

“You see, if you’re very very stupid, how can you possibly realize that you’re very very stupid?” he continued. “You’d have to be relatively intelligent to understand how stupid you are.”

“There’s a wonderful bit of research by a guy named David Dunning, a friend at Cornell I’m proud to say, who’s pointed out that in order to know how good you are at something requires exactly the same skills as it does to be good at that thing in the first place,” Cleese continued, “which means – and this is terribly funny – that if you are absolutely no good at something at all, then you lack exactly the skills you need to know that you are absolutely no good at it.”

Continuing, he connected that concept to Fox News.

“And this explains not just Hollywood, but almost the entirety of Fox News.”

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