Trump’s prefrontal cortex is entirely offline

Trump’s prefrontal cortex is entirely offline

Jennifer Senior writes:

From the beginning, Donald J. Trump has taken a rather peculiar view of the new coronavirus: If he can’t see the damage it’s doing, it’s not doing any damage.

It was how Trump justified saying nothing to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who blithely kept his state open through April 2. “They’re doing very well,” Trump said of Floridians on March 31. “Unless we see something obviously wrong, we’re going to let the governors do it.” It is how he justifies opening up the country when tests remain in short supply. “You don’t need testing,” he explained on April 10, “where you have a state with a small number of cases.” Tests were necessary only “if there’s a little hot corner someplace.”

Where he could see it, in other words.

The hole in this reasoning is not terribly difficult to spot. It’s like offering to use a condom after you’ve already gotten a woman pregnant. Horse-has-left-the-barnism as national policy. Yet this is now the logic for reopening the United States, ZIP code by ZIP code.

One could argue, to some degree, that Trump is simply doing what humans are hard-wired to do. “We believe our eyes before we believe what people tell us,” said Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard social psychologist and author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” when I phoned to ask him about the infuriating persistence of this habit. “The apparatus that sees the world is over 400 million years old. The prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that comprehends projection models from the C.D.C. — is maybe 2.5 million years old. That’s brand-new, in evolutionary terms. It’s still in beta testing.”

Which is why fighting things we can’t see is so hard, like pandemics and climate change.

But this, one could argue, is the most important job of the presidency: to sweat the long-term stuff. Our implicit assumption is that presidents will plan, self-moderate and reason. Executive function is an essential requirement for executive office. [Continue reading…]

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