How Does Trump Know?

Terry H. Schwadron

It may not be illegal, but the President’s disclosure to Russian officials of classified information without the permission of the unnamed ally is stunningly reckless and hugely embarrassing, even to him. The Washington Post account of what at best was unintended sharing of secrets is totally believable, despite White House efforts to deny the incident afterwards.

As we watch the inevitable unraveling of this particular knot, let’s understand that this has to do directly with Donald Trump’s sense of propriety and his comfort level with his Russian visitors to share the information.

What is interesting, apart from all else, is that he took in the information. What is appalling is that he could share it, prompting the White House to scurry to make amends. Given his statements about Hillary’s e-mails, which never went left her immediate political family, this is hypocrisy personified.

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That Donald Trump disdains science in most forms as the basis for problem-solving and policy-making is well-known and documented. In his own words, President Trump has heaped abuse on scientists involved in climate change, clean air and water policies, health care, education, even on what to do about communicable disease.

His proposed budgets attack a long list of science-oriented positions, programs and agencies across a number of federal departments from energy to environment to health and human services.

He rejects any notion of a standing “truth,” famously, as Kellyanne Conway taught us, preferring “alternative facts” that meet his notion of what should be true.

The question is why?

Can any version of his science-adverse considerations can possibly lead to intelligent decision-making? Most of us think not, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and various religious and cultural spiritualisms through the centuries have allowed civilizations to continue, sometimes even thrive — at least for a while.

Just where does Donald Trump get his “knowledge”?

He has shown through his talk and actions that the source is not science, or history, or the arts, or books and literature, or written summary and argument. Even his listening skills to find areas of acceptable shared knowledge among disagreeing factions seems not to be the source of what he knows. What we hear is that the only effective information source for him is Fox News commentators and whispers from his children, who, I’d bet have better respect for science and history than Dad.

The criteria appear to be only two: Does it help me make money? Does it make me look good? That leaves out a whole lot in the world that may have nothing to do with Donald Trump’s image.

The effects prompted by this question are significant. How does he decide whether to bomb Syria or, God forbid, start a preemptive nuclear war with North Korea? How does he decide that police are always right, even in the face of continuing incidents of failures that end in deaths of black citizens, or that all Mexicans/Muslims/immigrants bring bad things to U.S. borders? How does he argue that coal will make a comeback, or that cutting health benefits and Medicaid somehow will help women’s health, or that protecting gun buyers will lead to safer streets?

The President (and Vice President Mike Pence) think that vaccines cause autism, that we should drop national standards in education, that we probably should withdraw from the Paris environmental accords. Each of these is having its own consequences, including a measles outbreak in Minnesota, a Betsy DeVos pushback on standards for charter schools and international criticism over Paris. He believes we should replace scientists at the EPA with representatives from the industries they had regulated, he appears to believe that anyone who worked on climate change questions should lose their jobs. The President appears to see no link between science research and the development of new industrial lines of employment.

So, rather than help develop bio-fuels, he wants to expand jobs for coal mining when coal has been abandoned by the vast majority of industrial, manufacturing and utility markets. It just doesn’t make sense in a world where the United States could be the dominant leader of solar energy, selling its products to the entire world.

Just in the last week surfaced the relatively lighter thought that the President avoids exercise

“because he believes it drains the body’s ‘finite’ energy resources” (a notion rejected, of course, by “scientists,” physical trainers, parents, sports coaches and anyone who ventures outdoors because there is actual knowledge that human body actually becomes stronger with exercise.

The whole James Comey affair generally comes down to this: The President made clear that he had wanted to fire the FBI direction for a year because he disagreed with Comey’s legal opinions about the Hillary Clinton emails, and that he disagreed with any notion that there is a need to probe Russian influence in the elections. In other words, he started with the conclusion, and worked backwards. Result: Comey out. Reason: Pick one.

What scientific thinking has taught us is that we need to ask questions, come up with a hypothesis for testing, test, and then conclude. And repeat. Actually, religion also prompts us to ask questions, though it is the faith part that is usually stressed. So do history and the arts. See what happened, ask yourself why it came about that way, and learn something that allows you to avoid a simple repeat.

We have learned tons over the years about job creation, economics, national security, authoritarianism, about compromise. But if you disdain science — or learning of any sort — you reject that. So we’re back to why Donald Trump believes in what he does (forgetting the fact that he used to believe virtually the opposing positions on abortion or war policy in the Middle East and on and on).

After the election, the New Yorker magazine explored Mr. Trump’s exclusion of science and learning. The magazine cited an anti-environmental tweet, saying it was “a warning shot. It’s a sign of things to come — a declaration of the Trump Administration’s intent to sideline science.

In a 1946 essay, George Orwell wrote that ‘to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.’ It’s not just that we’re easily misled. It’s that, by ‘impudently twisting the facts,” we can convince ourselves of “things which we know to be untrue.’ A whole society, he wrote, can deceive itself “for an indefinite time,” and the only check on that mass delusion is that “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality.” Science is one source of that solid reality. The Trump Administration seems determined to keep it at bay, and the consequences for society and the environment will be profound.”

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