America’s 15th President, James Buchanan, has been considered, until recently, our worst president. The nonprofit and non-partisan American Political Science Association, comprised of over 12,000 political science students and scholars, now contends Donald Trump is our nation’s worst president.
Here’s my assessment, not from a political science perspective, but from a “behavioral learning” perspective.
The heralded and revered Four Stages of Learning applies to all aspects of life, whether it’s learning the alphabet, solving algebra problems,excelling at work or serving as president.
The first stage is Unconsciously Incompetent: you don’t know what you don’t know. Understandably, babies don’t know how to cloth or feed themselves. So it is when people take a new course or start a first job ... they don’t know what they don’t know.
The second stage, Consciously Incompetent, is when you know that you don’t know. Children naturally act dumbfounded when asked to swim for the first time. Job hoppers are easy to recognize: when the job becomes overwhelming, instead of persevering to learn the tasks at hand, they quit or blame others for their failure.
Consciously Competent, the third stage, is that eureka moment when you know that you know. Children feel proud when they can read or ride a bicycle. Skilled workers’ self-esteem and productivity are at its zenith when they know they’ve mastered their job.
The final stage of learning is Unconsciously Competent, when without thinking of what to do next in a task, it is completed virtually automatically. When was the last time you consciously thought of the 12 steps required to tie your shoes? Reliable workers perform their job without hard-core thinking and it’s done repeatedly well.
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When Donald Trump was running for president, even his die-hard supporters shook their head in disbelief to his multiple antics yet exuded “once he’s elected, he’ll learn how to become presidential.”
Two sayings come to mind. First, from personal experience: old habits are hard to break. Behavioral scientists note that while it takes 30 days to learn a new habit, it takes 90 days to overcome a bad one. Trump has had well over 400 days to learn the dignified role of POTUS.
Psychologists tout “past actions are the best predictor of future behavior.” Trump’s 71 years of repeated self-centered actions reflected in his current behavior partially explains why 65 to 70 percent of Americans do not support his presidency.
Sam Nunberg, Trump’s campaign adviser, who tried to explain the Constitution to Trump only “got as far as the Fourth Amendment before he (Trump) pulled down his lip and his eyes rolled back in his head.” Nunberg also said of Trump: “The misconception is that the president does not know what he does not know. In my experience, the reality is that the president knows what he does not know and does not think he needs to know it.”
President Trump has had at least 17 months to learn how to become a Consciously Competent president. Trump’s erratic non-presidential propriety behavior, explicitly damning actions and harmful statements against America’s justice system, Congress, FBI, Attorney General’s Office, CIA, State Department, Defense Department,FISA Court, National Security Council, NAFTA, TPP, WTO, legislative process, law enforcement, media, civil servants,LGBTQ, immigrants, minorities,disabled, war heroes, Muslims, South Africa, world allies, international trade partners and others is more than evident he’s going to continue to only be a stage two Consciously Incompetent president for three more years.
I’m confident Buchanan’s heirs are pleased Trump is challenging to become the worst of the worse.
• Steve Corbin is an Iowa district leader for the nonpartisan and not-for-profit group No Labels.