It should go down in history as the “I Have a Gut” speech.
And what a prodigious and extraordinary gut he has!
Trump’s gut does amazing things. Last week, he said there was no need to prepare for trade negotiations with the Chinese president because “I know it better than anybody knows it, and my gut has always been right.”
He told the Daily Caller that his decisions about which candidates to endorse are based on “very much my gut instinct.” He told the Washington Examiner his 2016 campaign strategy came from multiple locations in his torso. “Yeah, gut,” he said, but also “from my heart.”
He said in 2011 that “my gut tells me” President Barack Obama’s birth certificate may have been forged. His gut also told him to do “The Apprentice.” He has over the years been a veritable fortune cookie on the primacy of gut: “Go with your gut. . . . You have to follow your gut. . . . Develop your gut instincts and act on them. . . . I’ve seen people that are super genius, but they don’t have that gut feeling.”
Obama, during a moment of adversity in his presidency, remarked: “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” Now, in a similar moment, Trump has an equally felicitous phrase: I’ve got a gut. And it thinks better than some brains! No wonder his primary physician before coming to the White House — the one who pronounced all Trump’s test results “positive” — was a gastroenterologist. A great gut needs great care.
There are, of course, other life forms that do their “thinking” with parts other than brains, but these tend to be sponges, scallops and the slime mold that re-created a map of the Tokyo subway system — not exactly a desirable cohort in which the president has placed himself.
Or perhaps he is claiming to be an evolutionary throwback. Anthropologists’ “expensive-tissue hypothesis” posits that as animals’ guts got smaller, their brains got bigger. If Trump’s gut remains so prominent, might his brain be smaller than his hands?
But Trump isn’t wrong to say his belly has brains. Researchers have found that bacteria in the gut send signals to the mind about what to eat, for example. I undertook a gut check on Trump with Braden Kuo, a director of the Center for Neurointestinal Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he told me the large number of neurons and neurotransmitters in the gut make it a sort of “second brain.” This is why people eat comfort food when sad or get butterflies when anxious. “A lot of our emotions, how we feel things, comes from nerve endings in our gut,” he says.
The problem is the gut, intelligent though it may be (and no offense to any guts that are reading this), does not know how to run a country. “Even though it has a lot of neurons and can do a lot of things, it doesn’t think a lot about nuclear policy or climate change,” Kuo says. Nor is the gut well schooled in the nuances of monetary policy — the matter on the mind of Trump’s gut most recently. (Although Trump’s anxiety over rising interest rates “may be exerting influence in his gut, making him queasy,” the doctor says.)
Bandy X. Lee, the Yale University psychiatrist who has sounded the alarm about the president’s mental functioning, thinks Trump’s preference for his gut is a rare moment of self-awareness. When Trump talks about his gut, she says, he’s really referring to his “primitive brain” — from which a rush of emotion is “overcoming him so he’s not able to access his actual intellect.”
“For people who are cognitively impaired, they use what we call our ‘gut,’ but it is really their primitive mind,” she says. “It takes over and can defeat those operations in the cognitive and rational realm.”
This appears to be what’s going on with climate change, for example, where Trump’s views are contradicted even by his own administration’s findings. Trump says he doesn’t believe his administration’s report despite being one of those with “very high levels of intelligence.”
“His thoughts are in conflict with his emotions,” Lee diagnoses, and “in order to eliminate that conflict and pain, he aligns himself with the primitive part of the psyche.”
Trump’s emotional gut, in other words, dominates the rational part of his brain.
This should give us all butterflies.
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