The Associated Press asked Donald Trump yesterday about the climate crisis and his indifference toward the evidence. The president responded as only he can.
“My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”
As presidential word-salad goes, this is bewildering. But instead of offering a laundry list of instances in which Trump has demonstrated ignorance about scientific basics, I want to focus specifically on the president’s belief that he has “a natural instinct” for science.
The trouble is, I’m reasonably sure Trump doesn’t know what “instincts” are.
In May 2016, for example, then-candidate Trump sat down with Bloomberg News to discuss his views on immigration – by most measures, his signature issue that defined his campaign. The Republican conceded at the time about his beliefs, “I’m not sure I got there through deep analysis.”
Trump added that he hadn’t done any meaningful research, and though he opposed the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” proposal, he wasn’t sure what it entailed. But Trump was nevertheless confident that his assumptions about immigration were true anyway. “I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess,” the future president said at the time.
As we regular readers may recall, this didn’t make any sense. If he had literally no substantive understanding of developments at the border, and hadn’t done any analysis of immigration, it was impossible to rely on “instincts” to understand the value of current border policy.
Similarly, people can have extensive knowledge about science, or they can be ignorant on the subject. But those who have no meaningful understanding of scientific facts or details cannot have “a natural instinct for science.”
They can guess what they think might be true, but that’s not the same thing.
If I pitch Rachel Maddow on a story for the show, she can instinctively tell whether or not it’s a good idea because she has expertise in this area. Similarly, if I were to ask Donald Trump about the value of a high-rise in Midtown Manhattan, he might be able give me a decent instinctive answer.
But the president can’t instinctively understand climate science because – and this is important – he doesn’t know anything about the subject.
When Trump refers to his “instincts,” he seems to mean baseless assumptions that result from superficial news consumption and assorted motivated guesses. For a guy having an argument in a bar, that’s merely annoying. For the leader of the free world, it seems rather dangerous.