President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Giving Trump more information won’t solve the problem

By the time the Republican National Convention got underway in July, Donald Trump was already auditioning for the role of America’s biggest Vladimir Putin fan. CNBC’s John Harwood asked Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) at the time whether Trump’s affection for the Russian autocrat serves America’s interests.

Cotton was confident that Trump was simply ignorant, which is a problem that could be solved. Putin “was a KGB spy and he never got over that,” the Arkansas senator said, adding that after the presidential hopeful received classified briefings, Trump might have “a different perspective on Vladimir Putin and what Russia is doing to America’s interests.”

That didn’t work out well. Trump started receiving classified intelligence briefings soon after Cotton made the comments, but the Republican quickly decided he didn’t agree with the information presented to him. Instead of gaining a new “perspective,” Trump willfully ignored the intelligence community’s findings – and started publicly taunting the agencies themselves.

Among some leading elected officials, however, hope springs eternal. Politico reported yesterday:
House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed confidence Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump will be “better informed” on Russian hacking after he’s briefed by the intelligence community.

“I think he has not received his Russia briefing yet. I believe that’s scheduled for Friday,” the Wisconsin Republican told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday morning. “So hopefully, he’ll get up to speed on what, you know, has been happening and what Russia has or has not done. And he’ll be better informed on that.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, added this morning that Trump may think differently about Russia’s suspected espionage operation targeting the American election if only the president-elect attended more intelligence briefings.

Here’s the problem: information only matters to those who are interested in learning. Donald Trump is not. The president-elect has a lengthy record of believing deeply strange conspiracy theories, showing little interest in reality-based facts. Providing him with intelligence briefings doesn’t work, in part because he doesn’t trust those providing him with the information, and in part because he has his own unique approach to critical thinking – which filters out facts he doesn’t like.

Consider, for example, Trump’s affection for the “birther” conspiracy theory. The reality-show personality said he believed President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and he championed the racially charged assertion for years, effectively positioning himself as one of the theory’s principal spokespersons.

One might have been tempted to think Trump would change his mind if he were given more information, at which point he’d be, to use Paul Ryan’s phrasing, “up to speed” on the truth. But facts were irrelevant to Trump. In 2011, President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, which Trump labeled a “fraud,” before repeating the conspiracy theory in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Trump already has access to information, but he struggles to accept it, unable to separate what’s true from what he wants to believe. Those waiting for him to be “better informed” are going to be routinely disappointed over the next four years.

Postscript: Speaking of Russia-related intelligence, Trump told reporters on New Year’s Eve he had special information that others haven’t seen. Asked what that might be, the president-elect declared, “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Today’s Thursday.

Donald Trump and Intelligence

Giving Trump more information won't solve the problem