Rationality and Trump

Trump gives new insight into the prisoner’s dilemma, and any problem where the needs of the individual don’t match the needs of the group he or she belongs to.  The truth is that Trump changes everything, and he does so by forcing us to consider how rational humans aren’t.

The dilemma part of the prisoner’s dilemma comes from the fact that we expect people to be rational, self-interested actors.  But we’re not, and Trump understands this, and doesn’t behave as if rationality is important.  For example, during the campaign Trump outright stated he would prosecute Hillary Clinton if he won.  Now that he’s won, he’s saying he won’t.  What could possibly cause this change?  Well, there was an enormous liberal, and smaller conservative, backlash against that, as it is behavior better suited for an African dictator than a US president.  Maybe we changed his mind.  Maybe now that he’s seen the evidence he agrees with the FBI that she shouldn’t be prosecuted.  But the most likely explanation is that he knew that threat would create a greater emotional bond with an audience that in some cases didn’t like Clinton, and in other cases flat out despised her.  He knows that if an emotional bond is strong enough than things like evidence and hypocrisy don’t matter.  They’ll be ignored and forgotten.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Trump’s biggest supporters do think he tried to prosecute Clinton, or that she’s already in jail.  Rationality is not a part of the decision making process.

This is one of the reasons that I don’t believe Trump will be quite as bad as the worst that he campaigned on.  He made these promises for the emotional appeal, and now that he’s established the emotional bond, he can ignore them.  Things like the border wall, a trade war with China, escalating the war with ISIS, are all things that have a far greater emotional than rational component, and will now be discarded.  That isn’t to say that he can’t do a great deal of harm.  My biggest concern is the environmental impact he’s going to have.  Not to mention how he’ll roll back women’s’ health issues and LGBTQ rights.  Those are huge risks, but there are silver linings there, too.  That goes into the other side of his emotional impact, an idea which I’ll expand on in a later piece.


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