It was neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris who described President Donald Trump as ‘evil Chauncey Gardiner’, referring to the 1979 comedy-drama film Being There. In it, the main character, the simple-minded Chance the Gardener is elevated to great positions of importance by people who mistook his simple proverbs about gardening for deep political wisdom. According to Harris’ metaphor, Trump too is a simpleton who was brought to power by people who see more in him than he actually is, but he’s also evil in his view.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, on the other hand, has a very different opinion of the 45th POTUS. In an interview with Tucker Carlson back in August, he had this to say about him:
‘You can criticize him [Donald Trump] for many reasons, I understand all the discussions. But, you know, the best foreign policy of the recent several decades belonged to him. He did not initiate any new wars. He treated nicely the North Koreans, and Russia, even the Chinese. He delivered the policy which was the best one for the Middle East, the Abraham Accords…He is criticized for not being educated enough to understand the world—that is not the case. Facts count. His foreign policy was the best one for the world.’
Which interpretation of Donald Trump is correct?
With recent developments in the world, it seems more and more likely that it is PM Orbán’s. First off, in order to get on board with Sam Harris’ view, we would have to chalk a lot of things up to chance that we would not in the case of any other person.
Yes, Donald Trump took over his father’s real estate development company, which was already successful at the time, in 1971—this is undeniably a lucky head start in life very few people had the privilege of having. However, he also managed to build upon that foundation and achieve even more with it. By the 2000s, the Trump Organization had become a luxury brand with high-end real estate in places like Las Vegas, Manhattan, Chicago, and Toronto. Prior to Donald Trump’s takeover, its main focus was apartment complexes for middle-class residents in Brooklyn.
Also in the 2000s, Donald Trump went on to achieve massive success in a completely different and highly competitive industry: television.
The reality competition show The Apprentice premiered on NBC in 2004, with Donald Trump as the host. It ended up running for 15 seasons with high ratings, only being brought to an end—and this is a first in television history—by the host’s presidency in 2017. As a result, Trump has also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He and Ronald Reagan are the only two Presidents with this distinction.
Geopolitics After the Trump Presidency
Similarly, not many reasonable people would argue that the current state of geopolitics is any better off than it was when President Trump left office.
After the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Islamist terrorist group Taliban took over the country once again. Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea during the Obama presidency in 2014, then reached Kyiv with his armed forces in 2022 under the Biden presidency. Curiously enough, he made no major advancement into Ukraine during the four years of Trump in the White House.
Last Saturday, Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israeli civilians and military personnel alike—this happened, again, curiously close in time to the Biden administration unfreezing about $6 billion in funds to Iran, a country that, even by the Biden admin’s admission, is financing Hamas in Palestine. By contrast, President Trump brokered the historical Abraham Accords, a series of peace agreements between Israel and a group of Muslim-majority countries, namely the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Sudan, and Morocco.
Even during his time in office, President Trump faced a lot of condescending backlash over his approach to dealing with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un. He was accused of prompting a nuclear war with the Communist dictatorship when he began his aggressive messaging towards them on Twitter. Instead, he became the first sitting US President to set foot in North Korea in June 2019.
What else would need to happen in this world for the intellectually credible people on the other side of the aisle, such as Sam Harris, to drop the ‘lucky idiot’ argument about Trump?