Trump Gets One Right (Partly)

February 26, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s easy to make fun of Trump’s claim to heroism, and Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker does it very well.  Trump, speaking to a group of governors today, was criticizing the deputy who did not enter the Marjory Stoneman school during the shooting. Then Trump went on to say,

You don’t know until you're tested, but I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon – and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too, ’cause I know most of you.

This was remarkably similar to what Pam Bondi, the Florida Attorney General, had said on Fox News just a few hours earlier: “When you have a school full of students, and your duty is to protect those students, even if I didn’t have a firearm I would have gone into that scene.” Heroic minds think alike, I guess.

What’s ignored in most of the discussion about Trump’s comment is that he said something that was correct: “You don’t know until you’re tested.”

It’s pointless to argue whether Trump would or would not have charged weaponless into the building to confront the shooter. We don’t know. Neither does Trump.

If we’re asked what we would do, and the hypothetical situation is a familiar one, we can make a pretty good guess. Of course, we’d all like to think that we’ll do the right thing. But we can also look at how we’ve behaved in similar situations in the past, and guess that we’ll do something similar the next time. But when it comes to novel situations, our powers of prediction are just not very good, especially when that situation is stressful. When I show students the Milgram film, I ask if they would continue shocking the victim all the way to the end. Nobody ever raises their hand. Yet we can be fairly sure that about half of them are wrong. They’re not lying – saying something they know to be untrue. Neither is Trump.

The TV show “What Would You Do?” frequently concocts some morally questionable behavior and then focuses its hidden camera on a naive person who happens to be present. A shopper in a store sees a clerk being rude to a Black/overweight/transgender/whatever customer. Someone in a bar overhears two women planning to steal the money of man at the bar. What will the shopper or bargoer do? What would you do?

To the list of episodes we can now add: sounds of shooting coming from inside a school. What would you do?

For all these, the most accurate answer is, “I don’t know.”

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