Dunning–Kruger effect and the Presidency

Border Wall San Diego Tijuana, Personal Collection

I know I am not the first one to go there. I suspect I will hardly be the last. The President of the United States is not a very intelligent man, however, he believes he is. What is more, he is not mature enough, because in his case it is also a matter of emotional intelligence, to realize this. He believes he knows more than anybody around him. He is an expert in literally everything.

You have heard him.

He knows more than the generals, believe him. He also knows more than his intelligence people. At one point we might have diagnosed that as hyperbole, that came from a campaign. There is a strong anti-authority and anti-intellectual undercurrent in American culture. We know this, and historians like Richard Hofstadter and Susan Jacoby have gone into this in two different decades.

So you could make an argument that as this has reached crisis point, this would be a good way for a politician to get elected. We know that there is resentment against those with education, especially when perceived as liberal education. We have seen a very successful campaign over the last forty years to distrust government and experts.

President Donald Trump is not above using these popular appeals. He is a right-wing populist who seeks to divide and sow chaos. But he is also an ignorant fool, an essential man. He shares this with other authoritarians around the world. He is the expert. Just trust him, because he knows more than anybody else, and is too immature to understand just how ignorant he is. Your uncle at Thanksgiving dinner may share this with him, and given Trump is his seventies, he is not going to change.

He is suffering, and a large number of his base do as well, from the Dunning–Kruger effect. Incidentally, to a point, we all can go through this. However, the president is a man especially affected with this, and literally, that could get all of us killed. This is one reason why:

Another contributing factor is that sometimes a tiny bit of knowledge on a subject can lead people to mistakenly believe that they know all there is to know about it. As the old saying goes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A person might have the slimmest bit of awareness about a subject, yet thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, believe that he or she is an expert.

Incidentally, and this matters. This does not mean that Trump is stupid. What he also has is a very high sense of himself, bordering on narcissism. He shares this with many dictators around the world. He believes that he is that critical and only he has the solutions to every problem.

This brings me to the wall. Many of the people who surround Trump, like oh Stephen Miller, are white supremacists. They have figured out how to stroke the ego of a man who is quite ignorant. I am also convinced Trump shares the ideology of white supremacy.

The president is not alone. In my purely anecdotal data set, people who live in the interior of the country, and mostly in monocultural areas, believe the border is not unlike Sicario, Dia del Soldado. It is a wild place, where shootings happen often, and people are transported to be sold in the backs of cars. Incidentally, human trafficking is a real problem, and most of it is internal.

To date, estimates of human trafficking have focused almost exclusively on international trafficking victims (Laczko & Gozdziak, 2005), and this holds true for the United States as well. Only a recent estimate of minors at risk for sexual exploitation comes close to estimating U.S. domestic trafficking. Between 244,000 and 325,000 American youth are considered at risk for sexual exploitation, and an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors occur each year in the United States (Estes & Weiner, 2001). These figures, however, are limited estimates of youth at risk for human trafficking and do not address adult U.S. citizens trafficked into the sex industry or American children and adults trafficked for labor. We can, however, turn to estimates of other at-risk populations, such as runaway/throwaway youth, youth exploited through prostitution, and child labor, to gain a better sense of the potential prevalence of domestic trafficking, or at least the numbers of people at high risk of trafficking. (My emphasis)

Given the correlations between runaway/throwaway youth and minors exploited through prostitution (Estes & Weiner, 2001), findings from the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children can offer additional information about the possible prevalence of minors trafficked or at risk of being trafficked domestically into the commercial sex industry (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002). For example, in 1999, 1,682,900 youth had a period of time in which they could be characterized as a runaway or throwaway youth; 71 percent of these youth were considered at risk for prostitution (Estes & Weiner, 2001).

In comparison, from the same source, about 50,000 people were trafficked into the United States a year. Prosecution of these cases is very low, and they have this to say about that.

Additionally, as of June 2007, 1,264 foreign nationals (adults and children) have been certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as victims of human trafficking, eligible to receive public benefits. Of these, 1,153 are adults, with 69 percent female victims. Of the 111 minor victims certified, 82 percent were female. For some victim service providers and NGOs, these figures are not considered representative of the actual number of human trafficking victims in the country. They believe that many victims go unreported (and uncounted) because they do not want to cooperate with law enforcement and, therefore, are never reported to authorities or receive Federal assistance (Caliber Associates, 2007). (My emphasis)

This data tells you that the dystopia presented by the far right wing is a very scary fantasy. The data we have on this problem is very different. It is serious, and we need to deal with it. But ascribing this to foreign trafficking hides the true nature of this. It also prevents us from dealing with the actual crisis. Oh and incidentally, some of those Americans trafficked for sex end up abroad. And this is not something that you will hear too often.

Then there is the other part of the dystopia. If we are to believe politicians like Senator Lindsey Graham or Tom Cotton, I live is a very violent place. We have drug dealers running wild in shootouts with law enforcement. That is far from reality. The border region, consistently, is the safest in the country. I know this hurts the storyline, but it’s true, and we know this from FBI data.

San Diego is a good example. If you listen to people who do not live by the border, you’d think this city is a very dangerous place. Crime must be through the roof… well, not so fast.

According to reporting from the San Diego Union-Tribune, quoting the FBI:

According to FBI data released this week, police investigated 5,221 violent crimes in 2017, giving San Diego a rate of 3.7 crimes per 1,000 people, fewer than New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago. The FBI tracks four kinds of violent crimes: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

While San Diego regularly logs the lowest murder rate of the country’s 10 largest cities — it did last year with a murder rate of 2.5 killings per 100,000 residents — 2017 was the first time in at least five years that San Diego recorded the lowest overall violent crime rate.

And it is not just San Diego. Border towns consistently have lower crime. How is this possible? Well, see that Dunning–Kruger effect? It is in full force. With a dash of expectations versus reality. If you expect crime to be through the roof, reports from experts are going to make zero dents in what you think

We saw this after 911 when DHS (which was a newly formed agency) talked about the threat of terrorism. The same places that today are afraid of violent thugs in shootouts with local cops, along with the border, were convinced that their towns were going to face an attack in the next few hours. They tended to be far from actual targets, like New York, or Los Angeles were, and in the interior of the country.

At the time I lived in Hawaii since my husband was in the Navy. I lived in Navy Housing, and near a major navy base. Our only saving grace, which made us a harder target, was that we were an island. However, we were far more of an actual target than oh, Topeka Kansas or Cleveland Ohio. Yet, in CNN interviews you heard people living in these two towns ready to get plastic sheets and duct tape. They were literally expecting an attack in hours.

This is at times both jarring and baffling. But people who do not live at the border region, and especially in more monocultural areas, are easier to scare. We, who live at the border, and in multicultural cities are less scared. But, we also live in a very safe area. My biases have also been confirmed by actual government data.

However, the president is not convinced. He wants a wall, and will not let go of his monument to himself. That is his narcissism speaking. But it is also his belief that the border is a wild zone, and all the government data, from experts, is wrong.

Incidentally, they just captured the largest shipment of Fentanyl in the United States, That was at a port of entry in Nogales, Arizona. Most drugs come through ports of entry, whether they are land, sea or air. That is the reality. So that is hardly a surprise and no wall will stop that.

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