Friday, November 30, 2018

Trump's legacy on climate change - and just about everything else - 'I Have a Gut' speech

Dana Milbank, columnist for the Washington Post, asks Does Trump’s great gut mean a tiny brain? There are good reasons to ask that question. None of them are comforting to either my gut or my brain.

It should go down in history as the “I Have a Gut” speech.

President Trump, asked Tuesday by The Post’s Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey about the Fed’s interest-rate hikes, gave a gastrointestinal response.

“They’re making a mistake,” he said, “because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

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?

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,” [Braden Kuo, a director of the Center for Neurointestinal Health at Massachusetts General Hospital] 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.

OK. That was fun. But now let’s get serious about climate change.

Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, reviews evidence that Climate change is more extensive and worse than once thought. Here are excerpts from the Daily Star this morning.

Climate scientists missed a lot about a quarter century ago when they predicted how bad global warming would be.

They missed how bad wildfires, droughts, downpours and hurricanes would get. They missed how much ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland would melt and contribute to sea level rise. They missed much of the myriad public health problems and global security issues.

Global warming is faster, more extensive and just plain worse than they once thought it would be, scientists say now.

For example: “Massive ice sheets in Western Antarctica and Greenland are melting faster than scientists figured a quarter of a century ago.”

“I don’t think any of us imagined that it would be as bad as it’s already gotten,” said University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles, a co-author of the recent U.S. National Climate Assessment. “For example, the intensity of severe weather. We didn’t know any of that back then.”

Recently economists have joined scientists in forecasting a costly future. Yale economist William Nordhaus, who won the 2018 Nobel prize for economics for his work on climate change, told the Associated Press that his calculations show climate change would cost the United States $4 trillion a year at the end of the century with a reasonable projection of warming.

The way science has looked at global warming has changed over the last quarter century because of better knowledge, better computers, better observations, more data — and in large part because researchers are looking more closely at what affects people most. Add to that what many scientists see as an acceleration of climate change and the picture is much bleaker than in the 1990s.

Back then, Michael Mann was a graduate student exploring global warming.

“I honestly didn’t think that in my mid-career we would be watching the impacts of climate change play out on my television” nor that they would be so strong, said Mann, now a prominent climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. It is playing out with wildfires, rain-soaked hurricanes, flooding, drought, heat waves and other extreme weather, he said.

Also in the Daily Star, Ann McFeatters confesses that My gut tells me there’s trouble ahead.

So, Donald Trump says his “gut” is better than most people’s brains. Thus, the economy is not sliding into soft, potentially dangerous territory but is on an upward trajectory that will amaze us.

Trump also says he does not “believe” in the science of climate change. Now, since the federal government and 99 percent of the world’s scientists do “believe,” Trump’s disavowal of the facts truly does take guts.

Nonetheless, Trump, once again remarking on his remarkable intelligence, told the Washington Post that “people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers.” Huh?

But enough digressing. Let’s talk about the soaring economy, even though most people with ordinary brains think climate change will be devastating to everyone’s economy.

Let’s do. Trump’s tax cuts for the rich have done not one thing for the working middle class. Trump’s tariffs have done one thing for farmers - it’s killed the soybean market and caused our international trading partners to look elsewhere. Manufacturing jobs (as in, say, GM plants) are not coming back. Trump backs a murderer over his own intelligence services. And he does not believe in the climate change reported by a dozen of his own agencies.

Now Trump is repeating his intention to shut down the government if he doesn’t get $5 billion for his wall, the mythical structure across the border that the experts say will not and could not ever be built. (Separating mothers and babies, jailing hundreds of teens in desert tent cities without adequate supervision and tear-gassing children are not doing the job of keeping Americans safe from migrants, Trump asserts.) The last Republican shutdown of the government cost the economy billions of dollars.

If you have faith in Trump’s gut, you remain unworried. Let’s hear it for that spectacular economy, going up, up, up, making the rich ever richer.

If you have more confidence in brains, as opposed to guts, you may be getting a trifle uncomfortable. Consumer confidence index levels indicate you are not alone.

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