The ‘brilliant’ Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a strange man, hard to pigeonhole into a simple ideological box.

All of us tend to be more kindly disposed to those who are nice to us and less so to those we think are being unkind. What makes Trump different is that, like in most things, he carries this to extremes. He seems to place great value on what people say to him and about him and as long as those things are complimentary, he responds in kind, sometimes with even effusive praise. But attack him or insult him, and he lashes back angrily. He does not do half-measures.

Nowhere is this more on display in the curious case of Russian president Vladimir Putin. At his annual news conference in Moscow, Putin had referred to Trump and first reports said he had described Trump as a ‘very bright and talented man’. Other reports gave the description as ‘brilliant’.

What Putin actually said is in some dispute. He was speaking in Russian and the word that he used does not have a straightforward translation and has been interpreted different ways, depending on which translator you talk to. The general tenor of the word has been more along the lines of ‘vivid’ or ‘colorful’, and while ‘brilliant’ has a similar connotation in some contexts, Trump has chosen to take it as meaning that Putin was praising his intelligence. That is of course the Trump signature move, to interpret everything in the light of how it reflects best on himself. Trump has been so pleased that he has gone out of his way to say nice things about Putin in return.

Trump’s vigorous defense of Putin, and his earlier calls to work with Russia to address some of the problems in the world at a time when the US political establishment has demonized him as some kind of tyrant who seeks to reconstitute the Soviet Union by force in necessary, shows an independent streak that will not endear him to the neoconservatives and others who want nothing less than have every nation bow to the power of the US and thus want to marginalize Russia and also China.

But Trump, whose lead in the polls has grown after a series of inflammatory Islamophobic slurs, called the Russian president’s remarks a “great honour” and described Putin as “a man highly respected within his own country and beyond”.

Trump was called out on the platitudes during an interview with MSNBC on Friday. Asked to condemn the Kremlin’s alleged involvement in the assassination of reporters, he responded: “Our country does plenty of killing also.”

In a heated interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Trump said: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has.”

His statement that the US does a lot of killing too is absolutely true but will not win him friends in the political and media establishment. His call for talking with Putin and working with Russia is also eminently sensible and goes against the grain of the current crop of Republican cold war enthusiasts.

This will only add to the efforts of the Republican party establishment to try and get rid of him.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    His statement that the US does a lot of killing too is absolutely true but will not win him friends in the political and media establishment.

    Yabbut … Trump has so far led the GOP campaign by stating bluntly what the rest of the clown car euphemizes

    This imperial honesty in some ways does us all a favor, making explicit what a lot of progressives have more decorously pointed out in vain. Trump has put the outlines of racial and religious hegemony in the spotlight; why shouldn’t he do the same for international hegemony?

    Progressives now face the challenge of dragging these unprecedented exposures to the center of the table and making them a topic of discussion beyond, “Fuck yeah!!1!”

  2. doublereed says

    Well, his statement that the US does a lot of killing wasn’t some criticism of the US, he was just defending lots of killing.

  3. Mano Singham says


    Yes, I did see that study and was planning a post on it but did not get around to it.

  4. Lofty says

    Trump is bright like a nuclear reactor going into melt down. Dangerous, toxic and it’ll take forever to clean up the mess he left.

  5. says

    I remember one time I was youtubing around and stumbled across some old video of William Buckley debating Noam Chomsky and someone (I believe it was Christopher Hitchens) had said “Buckley is what stupid people think ‘smart’ sounds like.” That applies fairly well to Trump, too. The pearl clutching and fanning* from the non-conservative population is predicated on the recognition that Trump is a crass parvenu who is cunning: cunning enough to sound like a leader, to sound dynamic and “in your face” — he’s a ‘reality’ TV star; the fact that he’s gotten this far means that his supporters aren’t going to magically wake up and realize he’s a bad of hot wind -- they already know it and they like him because of it. If you contextualize Trump as a shot fired in the class war, he’s a hit below the waterline against the upper class. They won’t be inconvenienced very long; they’ll have to sigh, open their wallets, and buy Hillary (we already know she’s not very expensive but her price has certainly gone up lately) it’s almost as if the working class have figured out they’ve been being played by the Mennebunkport oxford shirt set, and have decided to blow the yacht up. I favor this message, although it means the Democrats are going to get bought out bigtime and will shift bigtime toward “awful” in service of their new paymasters.

    (* using a recyclable cardboard menu from Whole Foods, of course!)

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Trump “described Putin as ‘a man highly respected'”. But remember, he also described Katie Hopkins as a “respected columnist”. He keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

    His statement […] will not win him friends in the political and media establishment

    The entire point of Trump is that he doesn’t need “friends in the political and media establishment”. His whole selling point as a candidate is that he is explicitly thumbing his nose at those people. That is, arguably, why he’s going to win.

    This will only add to the efforts of the Republican party establishment to try and get rid of him

    And we’ve seen how that’s working out for them so far. They’ve not tried actual bullets yet, but
    (a) that may be the only thing that would work and
    (b) I wouldn’t put it past them.

  7. lorn says

    Within such communities terms like “brilliant, bright, and talented” are used to indicate commonality and compatibility with the core beliefs and assumptions of the in-group. It is essentially self-flattery. Lacking a common understanding of the world but still being considered a part of the community is usually expressed in terms like ” I don’t know him”. Derision is limited to those outside.

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