Very little of what Donald Trump says is intriguing.
Appalling, yes. Annoying, surely. Argumentative, of course. Egotistic, certainly.
Intriguing? Not so much.
But the president hooked me last week with a remark about the Federal Reserve, a subject I hardly ever find intriguing. Call it a character defect.
Asked about the Fed raising interest rates and its impact on the economy, Trump responded, “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”
The comment was widely lampooned, and given the speaker, his past conduct and his bent for unbridled boasting, it’s easy to see why. But the list of successful people who say they rely on their gut when making decisions ranges from singer Barbra Streisand to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
And so Trump inserted himself into an ages-old argument:
Your gut or your brain?
It’s kind of refreshing to renew that debate since everything nowadays seems to be run by algorithms. It’s all formulas, no feelings.
Algorithms govern our social media platforms — though it wasn’t an algorithm that led Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg to order up personal and financial research on investor George Soros after he criticized the social network. Algorithms run call centers — which leave you shrieking into your phone that you just want to talk to a human.
There are even algorithms in baseball — the sport now is in thrall to analytics, with front offices using data to call the shots. Sports fans have been arguing gut vs. brain forever.
Discussing whether managers should rely on instincts or data is a bit of a false flag. An old-timer like Billy Martin was renowned for managing by his gut. But his gut was informed by a lifetime of experience and previous decisions — what he knew, run through the grinder of what he felt.
Trump covered both bases last week. Asked about dire forecasts in a recent climate change report, Trump talked about “a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers.”
In his telling, he has both a highly refined gut and a highly refined brain.
Trump’s gut has served him well in his successes, not so much in his failures. As a campaigner, he eschewed polling, going with his gut on what he needed to do to win. He read the crowd each night, and his gut told him how to play it, and he rode that to victory. You can decry the result, and deplore the words and actions spoken and taken to achieve it, but you can’t deny the role of Trump’s gut in producing it.
So what’s Trump’s gut telling him now, now that he’s seen Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman yukking it up at the G-20 summit in Argentina, their broad smiles and jovial high five-handshake and three hearty hand pats from MBS to Putin apparently celebrating the fact that they kill journalists and dissenters, har-har, and get away with it?
Trump’s gut, if it’s good, is telling him that they’re a pair of stone-cold killers. His brain, if it’s good, and if it’s listening to the intelligence of his own agencies, is saying the same.
But when Trump acts in defiance of facts, he undermines his gut, too. We all at times go with our gut in the end, but we all know that what’s in our brain has played a part.
After last week, Trump knows something else, too: exactly what it is former lawyer Michael Cohen can do to him now that he’s pleaded guilty to lying on Trump’s behalf in the Russia probe. This Trump knows in his brain.
As for what special counsel Robert Mueller can do to Trump, that’s in Trump’s gut. And how that plays out is intriguing.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.