All adages are seeds of wisdom, eggs we fertilize by bringing our attention to them, causing them to start subdividing into a range of complementary and conflicting perspectives about matters fundamental. We fertilize them by cracking through the shells that hold them together. Opened, their parts can be played with. We can slot alternative words in, find ways to make them say the opposite. Crack open a saying and reverse the pieces, you usually get something interesting. A save in time stitches nine. Can’t see the trees for the forest.

Take psychologist Abraham Maslow’s adage “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Why a hammer? Abraham Kaplan’s slightly earlier version of Maslow’s point goes “I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”

A hammer isn’t just any tool. It’s good for nailing things together and breaking things apart. By millions of years, it is the oldest tool in our tool kit. For a long time all of us only had a hammer. If all you have is a hammer, everything might also look like something to pulverize, to smash into tiny inconsequential pieces.

Hammers tend to be big, over-sized for some jobs. We have other metaphors for overkill, for bringing too big a tool to the task. Making a mountain out of a molehill, for example. A bull in a china shop.

And yet sometimes we bring tools too small for the task too, making a molehill out of a mountain, a china-shop clerk at a bull stampede, or more familiarly bringing a knife to a gunfight. One might make the mistake of bringing a gun to a knife-fight too.

Of course you don’t want to overthink this stuff. That would be making a mountain out of molehill. Right wing populists like Donald Trump and transcendental spiritualist like Eckhart Tolle think that people like me over-think things. Sometimes they imply that we over-think for devious reasons. The right-wingers think folks like me make a big deal out of global warming because we want to impose socialist control over society. Tolle would say our greedy manipulative egos make us intellectualize.

But the anti-intellectuals also imply that we intellectualizers are just victims of the law of instrument. If all you’ve got is this ability to analyze things to death then everything needs to be analyzed to death.

I hang out with academics and I think there’s something to Trump and Tolles’ perspective. I know some who seem to fit the description, knowing more and more about less and less, overworking some ridiculously inconsequential piece of theory because they can or perhaps because they can only, since intellect is their only tool.

You’ve got to know how far to think something. There will be disagreement among us about what has been over-thought, but most of us would agree that over-analysis is possible. Analysis paralysis happens–overkill, bringing too much analytical gun-power to something best handled with a simple slice of the knife. Sometimes you’ve got to stop deciding and simply decide.

Still, not every bit of analysis that bores or frustrates us is over-analysis. Most of us prefer simplicity. If your only tool is a gut-desire to simplify, everything looks really simple. If all you have is dismissive rhetoric, every topic is an issue to dismiss rhetorically. If you’re only tool is hand-waving, every issue will be dismissed with the wave of a hand.

Sometimes over-simplification is deviously motivated, but a lot of the time it’s just evidence of too little available intellectual fire-power. Limited capacity for debate, deliberation and reconsideration means a limited range of issues one can consider difficult to address. If all you have is a fly-swatter every issue looks like a fly, a nuisance to be swatted away.

We should keep this in mind when considering the Republican’s super-simple solution to our budget woes which includes $1 trillion in new tax cuts to the rich. This, in light of the uber-rich seeing their income taxes drop from 26% tot 17% between 1992 and today.

Oh, and a 25% cut in education funding. Let’s give all the future citizens fly-swatters. Then all problems will seem none too challenging, and all solutions super-simple.

Nothing is ever absolutely certain, I could continue to wonder about Republican intent, but no, it’s sufficiently obvious. The motivation for simplifying the way they have is devious. But many will believe their impossibly preposterous simplifications simply for lack of intellectual fire-power to doubt. It’s not a question of character. Those citizen’s gullible enough to fall for the plutocrat’s fake populism are victims of circumstance. Too much pressure and not enough education in rhetoric and critical thinking isn’t their fault. Still that doesn’t make the consequences of their gullibility any less dire for us all, them included.

Democracies die when leaders so arrogant they don’t have to doubt, lead citizens so cornered they can’t afford to.