“Trump veered… like a squirrel caught in traffic”

So I’d decided to break my self-imposed politics ban about a week ago.  Election is coming up so politics are actionable and just too salient and…   Then I got a stomach bug.  Then the rest of the family got the stomach bug…  Some posts marinating but the piece below deserves wider distribution.

FYI the guy was General Mattis speechwriter.

“For the remainder of the meeting, Trump veered from topic to topic—Syria, Mexico, a recent Washington Post story he didn’t like—like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another. The issues were complicated, yet all of the president’s answers were simplistic and ad hoc. He was shooting from the hip on issues of global importance. With that, the meeting ended.  I learned an important lesson that would pay off when Trump returned for a briefing the following January: only use slides with pictures … no words.”


In crowd psychology terms, the Trump phenomena is reminding me more and more of a financial market bubble.  Note that in both cases, you are OK in steps 1 and 2.  We all do some of that just to stay sane and make decisions.  The agonizing losses start on the slippery slope into steps 3 and 4.

  1. Develop a thesis.
  2. Over-weight facts that support your thesis, underweight facts that don’t.
  3. As the un-supporting facts pile up, construct a narrative that depends less and less on facts and more and more on some unseen “its different this time” belief.
  4. Narrow your information flow to only confirmatory sources to keep the facts/belief dissonance within tolerable levels.  Choosing the model in your head over observed reality.

The “being wrong” part isn’t so damaging.  The danger lies in the very human instinct to double down on a false belief vs admitting you were wrong. We’ll gladly invent “facts” and twist our initial narrative rather than face up to that truth. Choosing the model in your head over observed reality.

When large groups do this, it can be incredibly powerful and long-lived. The dot-com bubble and the real estate bubble were exactly that phenomena.  All bubbles are.  People who stay home in the face of hurricanes (“I got through the last one“) or stay put in the face of immanent genocide (“they are our neighbors! They’d never do that!“) are also doubling down vs facing up to facts.  It is very human behavior.

A bunch of emotionally attached, “traditional Republicans” are sliding down that slippery slope right now.  Doubling down on a fantasy (“He’s fighting Deep State corruption!”) to avoid an uncomfortable truth.

The smarter ones are starting to peel away and acknowledge reality.  That is how bubbles eventually pop.  But the main body is still doubling down on the fantasy – hence Trump’s stable ~40% approval rating.

Meanwhile, the facts keep piling up.  Even the best deep state conspirator couldn’t make up the color and detail of that piece above.  The more reasonable and likely explanation is the simplest one.  He’s telling the truth.  Meaning we all should be much more afraid than we currently are.   

Of that 40% who still approve, I’d guess half are too dumb/ignorant to see it.  Half are “seeing” it, but choosing not to deal.  Hence the increasingly brittle, fantasy-driven narrative coming out of formerly serious people and institutions (e.g. the Wall Street Journal).  My guess is that the smarter half finally peels off.  The bubble collapses as they do.  My greatest fear is I’m over-weighting their intelligence…  🙂


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