An interesting article from 2016 appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday. In the article, Donald Trump, who was about to gain the Republican Party nomination for the U.S. presidency, explains that he is too busy to read books.
Trump claims that he reaches the right decisions, “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”
In educational parlance, we would state that Trump is claiming the possession of general critical thinking skills that he is able to apply to any situation and that, well, trump the need for detailed, domain-specific knowledge. If you agree that such generic skills exist then that makes you just like Donald Trump.
Trump’s views also prove that the belief in such skills is not somehow left-wing and that the alternative view, that knowledge is vitally important, is somehow right-wing. There is plenty of wilful ignorance and anti-intellectualism on both sides of politics.
I tend to disagree that critical thinking skills of the kind that Trump proclaims actually do exist independently of domain-specific knowledge. You can read Dan Willingham’s case against such skills here.
However, whatever you think of the man, Trump is highly successful by any traditional measure. He does, after all, occupy the highest office in his country. Presumably, he must have made some good decisions – good for him if not the rest of us – in order to get there. This, I think, leaves three possibilities.
1. Trump is right and generic critical thinking skills exist (although this leaves open the question of whether they can be taught). He possess them and this accounts for his good decisions.
2. Trump is lucky. He has no special insight that enables him to make good decisions but he just happens to have made more good ones by random chance.
3. The balance of good and bad decisions made by Trump is roughly what we would expect from chance. However, Trump is a wealthy individual who started out with lots of cash from his father and capitalist systems tend to protect the very wealthy from the consequences of their bad decisions.
If you’re just like Donald Trump, then you can use your critical thinking skills to decide which option is likely to be true.