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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Is Trump “Open-Minded”?

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Bill Gates, 09/24/2013 © JStone / Shutterstock

September 20, 2018 10:24 EDT

Bill Gates actually believes Donald Trump has a mind and that it’s open for philanthropic business.

At least one famous and influential person, Bill Gates, is willing to step up and recognize the intellectual merits of Donald Trump, currently excoriated by even senior members of his administration for acting like a spoiled child. From an exclusive interview with The Guardian, many people will be surprised to learn from the mouth of Microsoft’s founder that “Donald Trump is ‘open-minded’ about policies and might be persuaded on foreign aid.”

Could this just be Gates’ eternal optimism, or does he know something even the staff of the White House seems to ignore?

Here is today’s 3D definition:


Ready to embrace any idea or course of action that can be proved, logically or otherwise, to be in one’s self-interest to pursue.

Contextual note

Another possible alternative to the thesis of Gates’ optimism would be something very few people would be willing to apply to Trump: gullibility. Because Trump has no principles or stable ideas, confronted with a smooth talker, the president might be persuaded to change his mind. Is this Gates’ way of hinting that the right sales person could sell Trump the Brooklyn Bridge?

Gates might be right. It could have been this kind of “open-mindedness” (i.e. gullibility) that allowed Trump — after listening to right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — to doubt that Barack Obama was born anywhere else than Kenya.

Bill Gates tries to be more precise in his description of Trump: “One of the things you can say, a plus or minus, is that in very few areas does he have a fixed ideology. If there’s something where he feels he can look smart … particularly if it’s doing things in a different way than was done before, then yes, I think he’s open-minded.”

Like most Americans, Gates believes that the decision-making of Americans, and especially politicians, will generally follow a fixed ideological orientation. This contrasts with classic economists who believe firmly in the reality of a non-ideological (and amoral) homo economicus, an abstract person who makes all decisions on the basis of a calculation of the highest gain and lowest cost.

Gates appears to have a better understanding of US culture than economists. Like everyone else, he knows that there are two and only two species of Americans: Democrats and Republicans. Independents are merely temporary fence sitters who will eventually jump in one direction or are simply hiding from view their true identity. Democrats are for things Republicans are against, and vice versa. But Trump isn’t a classic Republican, who are notoriously wedded to a rigid ideology, so Trump must be open-minded.

Bill Gates may be right about Trump. The evidence we’ve seen so far tells us that Trump is “open-minded” in at least one context. If someone from Fox and Friends were to argue in favor of foreign aid or any other liberal talking point and took the trouble to point out how “smart” it would make Trump look if he were to act on it, it might just work. No one would be surprised if he immediately followed suit. But there is little likelihood that Fox and Friends will ever provide that service. And is that really what we mean by “open-minded”?

Historical note

Gates has some experience in recent years interacting with the White House. He played a key role in the disastrous educational policy of the Obama administration, in conjunction with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Together they preached the merits of charter schools, and Gates promoted the idea of subjecting teachers to modern management techniques focused on the kind of performance indicators used in the corporate world, where the notion of productivity translates into profit.

As recently as 2013, Gates was talking about improving teaching by “using multiple measures to understand a teacher’s performance,” without taking into account the reality of schools, communities and curricula. Now we learn that the Gates Foundation’s “new strategy … has drawn much attention for stepping away from the top-down approach the foundation had taken in the past.”

Is this an example of Bill Gates being “open-minded,” after hearing for seven years — but never reacting to — the repeated complaints of teachers who claimed the foundation’s initiatives were undermining everything that was good in education and taking no account of the reality of classrooms or the actual process of learning?

Now Gates is telling us: “We have to work with Trump himself and the whole administration on ‘What is your vision for Africa?’” What sort of vision does anyone imagine the two of them can concoct together, knowing how dismal the results were when Gates worked with the clearly more open-minded Obama administration on American education, a much less complex issue than the future of Africa?

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.] 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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