Since his inauguration, how Trump makes decisions — his process and method — has been not simply a puzzle but of concern. He is often portrayed as an unenthusiastic consumer of the Presidential Daily Briefing: apparently they’re too long, the language too dense, and more graphics and charts are needed. It’s become clear that he is not a fan of briefing papers, especially if layered with data and summaries as well as policy suggestions. Media pundits have posited that Trump is not a reader. And he’s certainly not wonkish about the complexities of government (e.g. separation of powers), nor is he innately curious, though he has described himself as breathtakingly intelligent.
And so the question nudges: What is his decision-making process?
During a recent interview with The Washington Post, he said, “I have a gut and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody’s brain ever can tell me.” Really?
Days before that interview, Trump stood amid the ashes of a town called Paradise, California, population once 20,000, now a ruin of charred cars, solitary chimneys and little else. A reporter asked if his visit, seeing the carnage of the fire, might change his opinion regarding global warming. His response was a study in brevity. He simply said, “No.”
Actually his administration was about to release a report on climate change, “The National Climate Assessment,” completed by a cohort of scientists, with a litany of dire warnings regarding the impact of man-made climate change (rising sea levels, longer fire seasons, droughts, famine and environmental refugees), its conclusions verging on the apocalyptic.
When asked, during the Post interview, about that study, he said, “I don’t believe it. If you look at articles, they talk about global freezing, they talked about at some point the planet could freeze to death, that it’s going to die of heat exhaustion. A lot of people like myself we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers.”
Recently, during an East Coast cold snap, he tweeted, “Whatever happened to global warming?”
So based on alternative information, he made the decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. I wonder, did this involve the presidential gut? What is of interest here is that such decision-making doesn’t require expert opinion, science, intel, or perusing even a page of exposition. It simply requires — what? A presidential gut check.
I admit that I wonder where Trump’s gut is located. Closer to the heart than, say, the diaphragm? And is it a feeling, morphing into a belief that has to feel right before taking action? Actually, relying on a perpetual gut check before making a choice or weighing the situation is sort of old new age ’60s stuff. Perhaps best described as a hybrid of sensations and instincts involving going with the flow. What it does lack, especially if you are the president/commander-in-chief, is rigor. Actually, it’s alarmingly casual, self-centered and really amounts to no more than a guess or hunch. I acknowledge that the gut check is involved in the emotion of love; however it apparently only works some 50 percent of the time.
Put another way, facts/truth are beside the point. Alternative facts can feel, well, right. The media is the repository of the “fake” and the gut a far more reliable reality. Is it a stretch to opine that the gut is where conspiracies, hoaxes and the belief in hunting witches reside? In other words, a gut check is a real fortune cookie of convictions and wildly detached from reality.
Perhaps this process is all about instincts and vibes. A disconcerting example might be Trump’s take on his much-anticipated summit meeting with Kim Jong Un. Trump said he’d know “in the first minute” if Kim is serious. “Just my touch, my feel. It’s what I do.” Keep in mind that he has also referred to himself as a “very stable genius.”
Why am I not reassured?
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.