America has spent the past decade ping-ponging between presidents with radically different relationships to their gut. George W. Bush called himself a “gut player.” Barack Obama, when asked about his gut instinct, answered at typical Obama length about the dangers of relying on intuition. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is the president who says “I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”
This pronouncement—one that perhaps captures the essence of Trump’s decision making—came in the middle of a freewheeling November interview with The Washington Post. He was venting about the Fed’s monetary policy then, but he could just as well have been talking about whom to endorse in the midterm elections or how to end the trade war with China or the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate—all topics he has professed to entrusting to his gastrointestinal system.
Gut instinct is of course real and even rooted in biology. That sinking feeling in your stomach is conveyed by the 100 million neurons plugged into the digestive system. (Second only to the number of neurons in the brain.) But to Trump, gut instinct has become a substitute for all expertise and all nuance. He doesn’t need a multipage daily briefing to learn the intricacies of the world. He’ll take some bullet points or diagrams. Or better yet, he’ll watch Fox News.