The smartest person in the room: Stories about fact, fiction, good, and evil

Part One

Several times in recent weeks I have been lured into clicking on Internet posts purporting to show the IQs of US presidents, including the president-elect now waiting to take over.

You will find over 700,000 results f you ask Google, “What is Donald Trump’s IQ?”

I have scanned several of them but I have yet to find a definitive IQ for any president. Based on one study using biometric data, John Quincy Adams had the highest IQ of all US presidents, 168. Donald Trump was not included in this study. These IQs are estimates based on biographical data and other historical evidence. One post asserted Trump had an IQ of 156, which was shown by Snopes to be bogus. Most of the posts I read indicate all US presidents have been more intelligent than the average US college graduate.

I have seen Trump in videos extolling his high “aptitude,” which he said he inherited from his parents. He also said in a video he was proud of his German “blood.”

Never one to define terms, as usual he did not discuss what aptitude was in his video. I suppose he was saying he had high aptitude for business and whatever that aptitude was it would work for the good of everyone when he took over as president of the US.

I have also read on the Internet Trump only has about a 200-word vocabulary. It’s probably larger than that, but based on hearing him talk numerous times in the last few years, it seems to me he has the smallest vocabulary of any president I have heard in general conversations, including Bush II. In general people with high IQs do not have small vocabularies.

Regardless, Trump has told us over and over in various ways he is very smart because he has made so much money. No one can use the aphorism “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” against him. At the outset of his presidential campaign, he let his Repub competitors for president know in TV debates he had more money than all of them put together, implying that made him smarter than they were, maybe smarter than all of them were together.

While running for president he and his public relations people led us to believe he had a degree from Wharton, a respectable finance graduate school of business, at the University of Pennsylvania, not too many rungs down the business school prestige ladder from Harvard Business School, where Bush II got a master’s degree. It turns out Trump does not have a master’s degree from Wharton. He merely took some finance courses at the University of Pennsylvania, where Wharton is the business school, while earning a bachelor’s degree. It’s unclear whether his SAT and GRE scores were high enough to get accepted into Wharton for a master’s degree.

We have also been told over and over that Trump is a “billionaire” with no definition of the term and little context. In general a billionaire is a person who has a net worth of one billion dollars or more. Net worth is total assets owned minus total debts owed. There is no way to prove whether Trump is a billionaire because we have no idea what his total assets and debts are worth. Since most of his assets are land and buildings, he can say they are worth enough to produce a net worth of ten billion dollars, which he has done. In reality however his land and buildings are worth what they can be sold for in today’s market. One analyst said Trump has about two hundred million dollars in cash and liquid assets, not shabby, but sounding far less “bigly” than billions.

Apparently his parents handed over to him one or three million or so dollars to play with as a young man after college, telling him he was a king and such, and he lost a lot of it in failed deals; but it seems he learned on the job how to function as a real estate mogul and oligarch, as no doubt his father and mother wished; and eventually apparently some of his deals and schemes paid off, after he smartly learned to always hire the “best” people.

A relevant consideration is how much net worth did the Donald inherit from his parents after they died. According to Fortune and Forbes magazines, Trump’s net worth is now somewhere around three billion dollars. It’s possible he inherited that much wealth from his parents, adjusted for inflation. If so, he has not “made” any money on his own.

Trump worked for his mother in her business called Elizabeth Trump & Son, which no doubt included assets inherited from her husband when he died, when the Donald attended the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate. He changed the name of Elizabeth Trump & Son to The Trump Organization after he inherited it in 1971.

One article on the Internet posted a few years ago said in the throes of borrowing money from a bank Trump was forced to disclose enough verifiable asset and debt data that the bank was able to determine that his net worth was about $700 million, a lot of money, but not enough to be a billionaire, based on the standard definition of the term. On the other hand, based on stated market values for his land and buildings he may be a billionaire now, assuming his holdings could be sold for the asking price.

As anyone who has studied or done accounting knows, it’s not easy to prove what facts are in large businesses, even if the large business hires certified public accountants to audit their business, and even if the audited findings are made public. Almost nobody has seen any audited financial statements for Trump’s mainly rentier businesses since they are not publicly traded. Rentier businesses do not produce products; they mainly collect rents.

Ever hear of a fictive business called Enron, back in Houston, Texas, crafted to sound like Exxon, back in the Bush II days? Enron was run by the supposedly smartest people in the room, until it imploded, wiping out employees and stockholders alike, there in Houston; and two of those smart people running it, who had MBAs from Harvard Business School, were sent to prison for faking facts and cooking the books.

Nor is it easy to prove what “smart” is, or what an IQ is. My mother told me once, in our lumber yard and hardware store at Wolfforth, Texas, back in the 1950s, “You don’t have to tell people how smart you are. If you are, they will just know it.”

After proving he was smart enough to get elected, it remains to be seen how smart the Donald will be as president of the United States.

Richard John Stapleton is an emeritus professor of business policy, ethics, and entrepreneurship at Georgia Southern University who writes on business and politics at He is the author of “Business Voyages: Mental Maps, Scripts, Schemata, and Tools for Discovering and Co-Constructing Your Own Business Worlds.”

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2 Responses to The smartest person in the room: Stories about fact, fiction, good, and evil

  1. Going by Der Trump’s record I question his “smartness index”. How smart is it to fire the head of the DC National Guard one minute after he is inaugurated on 1/20/17 (per official notice) and leave no one in charge with a million + protest scheduled for 1/21/17? Also, how smart is it to notify all ambassadors they are fired on 1/20/17 leaving all those offices unattended. This includes the ambassadors to China and Russia. Finally, how smart is it to immediately take a Friday-to-Monday holiday from 1/20-1/23/17 with no one in charge of the Oval Office?

    My mother also told me that if you are smart, people know without telling them. She also said if you are stupid it sometimes takes people a bit longer to figure it out.

  2. Smart does not always mean moral, nor ethical, nor enlightened, nor knowledgeable.
    Smart sometimes means crooked. It sometimes means having the ability to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
    Smart sometimes means having the ability to be a pussygrabber and getting away with it while also boasting about it.
    Smart sometimes equates with being ignorant. It sometimes equates with being a liar. It sometimes equates with being an abuser. It sometimes equates with being a bully.
    Smart sometimes equates with being full of mud as in swamp-mud.
    Smart sometimes means snuffing the oxygen out of the planet and having the ability to obscure the light
    Smart, often times is, as Donald Trump has demonstrated it to be, the selling of the London Bridge along with the yet to be experienced Buyers Remorse that comes along with it.
    Smart is making people believe that the windmills of your mind are not windmills of your mind at all. That the alternative planet you live in, is actually a Reality world welcoming You to its universe.
    Smart is hitting people with the sputtering of the windmills your mind (project your mud onto others)and make them stick (falsely) as truths about the other.
    Smart is making people believe in you … projecting an image of yourself as polished, when you yourself know that you are nothing more than unadulterated muck from the swamp.
    Smart is …..