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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns in Bluffton, S.C. on Feb. 17, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns in Bluffton, S.C. on Feb. 17, 2016. Matt Rourke—AP

Donald Trump's Lizard Brain

Feb 18, 2016

On "Morning Joe" Thursday, I got into a bit of a kerfuffle with the host when I said that Donald Trump was operating out of his lizard brain. Joe Scarborough apparently thought I was denigrating Trump--and I was, but not in the way Scarborough thought. First of all, the lizard brain is an actual part of our brain, the amygdala--the most primitive part, governing fight or flight impulses, sexual impulses and our involuntary nervous system (breathing, heart beat, etc.).

We all have a lizard brain, including me and Joe Scarborough. But we also have a frontal cortex, which is the site of thinking and reason. I would argue that Trump's appeal is not to reason, but to more primordial impulses--like fear (especially when it comes to fighting or fleeing).

Scarborough also challenged me when I said that Trump wasn't a particularly good dealmaker. I said this after praising Mika Brzezinski for a question she asked on last night's MSNBC "forum" with Trump, held Wednesday night. She cleverly listed some characteristics of a candidate and asked who Trump thought it was. It was clear from the jump that (a) this was a trick question and (b) that the candidate she was describing was Bernie Sanders. Trump thought she was describing him--very revealing, I'd say. Trump has no apparent knowledge of anything beyond himself, a tragic quality in a negotiator, and one which calls into question Trump's claim to be a dealmaker. Joe cited Trump's fabulous business history, which I would say was more gaudy than fabulous—there are those four bankruptcies—and more attributable to his success as a genius marketer than as a dealmaker (although he obviously knew enough to hire a few good negotiators along the way).

The fact is, Trump knows very little about public policy, just enough to be a populist rabble-rouser. Scarborough seems to think that Trump had something going for him because all these people--a minority of the Republican party--were voting for him. "Are they dumb?" he asked me. I would prefer to call them reflexively angry and under-informed.

Our job as journalists is to try to inform them. I wish we were spending more time on that—on pointing out Trump's false claims and general ignorance—than on his sleight-of-hand, the phony lawsuits that he'll never file, the wild slurs against his competitors and the misleading, over-simplistic positions he's taken on serious matters of state. But I guess I'm just an old fogey.

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