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What Trump Does Well


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President Trump is not a complicated man. There are no hidden layers to his personality or philosophy — in fact, he seems to subscribe to no political philosophy at all. We can decipher who he is from what he does: he is petty, narcissistic, a poor administrator, and reckless. His administration has not one major accomplishment, because Donald Trump the man is completely unequal to the office he now occupies.

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All that said, there is one part of the business Trump seems to understand. The president has a keen understanding of what gets America’s blood boiling — an instinct for our instincts. Further, he has an uncanny ability to use this insight to cover for his systematic failures. Before we all jump headfirst into a debate on patriotism or the “real” meaning of the flag, we should first understand why we feel so compelled to enter into that debate, and why it all works to the president’s advantage.

Why We Feel How We Feel –

In the words of New York University Professor Jonathan Haidt, “Hume got it right.” Dr. Haidt is a leading voice in the modern study of moral psychology. His book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion lays out a convincing theory to explain the differences between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. At the heart of these differences: our unique moral compasses.

First, Dr. Haidt outlines what is known as the Social Intuitions Model. The Social Intuitions model posits that, like David Hume suggested over two centuries previously, human intuition guides strategic moral judgements. In other words, we feel first, and then justify these feelings with our reasoning minds. These gut-judgements include issues of religion, politics, and morality.

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Dr. Haidt then lays out his Moral Foundations Theory. This theory argues that there are six innate moral foundations, upon which cultures develop their moralities. He compares these moralities with the taste receptors on the tongue, and believes they developed genetically over the course of evolution in order to deal with issues of survival. The six foundations are Care/harm, useful in protecting helpless young; Fairness/cheating, useful in promoting stability in social interactions; Loyalty/betrayal, useful in promoting group cohesion, and thereby stability; Authority/subversion, used to promote order; Sanctity/degradation, originally useful as a way of recognizing unclean or unhealthy habits; and Liberty/oppression, useful in the repression bullies or unsuitable authority figures.

These theories were originally developed to explain cross-cultural differences in morality, but Dr. Haidt and his collaborators have also found they work to explain political divides. They have found those on the left tend to emphasize the Care and Equality foundations, whereas conservatives tend to endorse all six foundations more or less equally. Libertarians, as you might guess, tend to be most sensitive to the liberty foundation.

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Haidt Applied –

Dr. Haidt’s work can help shed light on current events. To pull an example out of the news, when exposed to images of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, some American will instinctually experience a sensation of outrage, while other Americans may feel sympathy for the cause the players claim to represent. Both sides will then use their cerebral faculties to support these gut reactions: policing statistics, classical philosophy, etc. This is an example of the Social Intuitions Model.

The Moral Foundations Theory can then explain why liberals and conservatives approach the anthem issue so differently. Rooted in their Care and Equality foundations, liberals are more likely to instinctually sympathize with the disproportionate outcomes black Americans face in the criminal justice system. Conservatives, while also likely able to sympathize with this struggle, are also more likely to balance that reaction with the foundations of Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. To conservatives, America is the home team, and the flag is her sacred symbol.

Trump’s Strategy –

The president has been losing a lot lately. Despite all his bluster, Trump has not been able to command the respect of foreign leaders, including the equally bombastic dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. As America loses her influence overseas, Republicans have failed to deliver on their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. With Senator Susan Collins “no” decision on September 25, it seems like the most recent Graham-Cassidy effort will also fail. And because the president refuses to accept defeat, a resulting legislative traffic jam has denied him potential political victories in tax reform and infrastructure.

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So what is the president to do? Easy: stick his thumb into divisive and inconsequential debates that will distract both his base and his opposition. It is no coincidence that after Senator John McCain’s “thumbs-down” defeated the earlier “skinny” Obamacare repeal, President Trump decided to announce — after no consultation with his Joint Chiefs — a controversial change in the military’s transgender policy. And now that the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill is likely to meet the same fate, the news is suddenly in a frenzy over NFL players taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

This is what Trump does well. Instead of allowing his base, or even his opposition, to get a sense of how badly he is failing, he sends them off on a passion-riddled wild goose-chase. He is able to throw red meat to his base (and whatever the vegan-equivalent of red meat is to his opposition) and we can’t help ourselves but bite. We run to Facebook and Twitter to proclaim our outrage, because in our bellies we know we are right.

I nearly gave into this temptation myself. This piece began as an essay on why we must protect freedom of expression, even for those who we disagree with. But stepping up onto my soapbox, I could not help but notice the puppet-strings on my back. I believe those strings lead back to a smartphone in the White House, held by a teeny-tiny little hand.


What Trump Does Well was originally published in That Good You Need on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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The post What Trump Does Well appeared first on Epeak World News.



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