Vail Daily column: Shooting from the lips misfires
Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush make snap decisions. Both men lack historical perspective because they shy from reflecting on or reading about difficult problems. Instead, shooting from the lips ranks as their verbal target practice of choice. They assume deciding this way hits the right bulls-eye.
Trump and Bush believe they are blessed with intuitive skills that make them deciders. Such intuition goes by other names. Critics call it “dumb luck.” Trump’s and Bush’s supporters treat as a sixth sense their ability to size-up situations and make immediate decisions.
Are Bush and Trump blessed with uncanny accuracy? Both deciders depend on “gut feeling” rather than sifting through policy papers or delving deeper into issues. Their gut tells them what action to take.
Unlike Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower who scanned several newspapers before morning appointments, George W. Bush shunned this practice. He expected staff to sift through headlines for him.
Trump’s decisiveness feeds on a short attention span, also. He favors listening to TV sound-bites instead of delving into books to catch up on world news.
Last July 26 in a Washington Post opinion piece, radio personality Garrison Keillor judged it odd that a presidential candidate wasn’t a book lover, like Jefferson. Looking at last century’s presidential elections, Keillor admits that voting Americans “made our mistakes back in the 20th century (in presidential elections).
Keillor offers some illustrations of how voters stumbled. “Calvin Coolidge had his limits. Warren G. Harding spent more time on his hair than strictly necessary. Lyndon Baines Johnson was a piece of work. But all of them read books. When I envision a Trump Presidential Library, I see enormous chandeliers and gold carpet and a thousand slot machines. God help us. I mean it. We’re in trouble down here,” laments Keillor.
Politicians proficient at shooting-from-their lips don’t need God to help them govern. They’re already blessed with that gift in their guts. If they confer with God, it’s usually done by co-opting His opinion, as George W. Bush did. Bush erased the fine line between what he decided and God’s endorsement of such matters.
Biographer Jean Edward Smith exposes the down-side of shooting-from-the-lips. “Unprepared for the complexities of governing,” writes Smith, “with little executive experience and a glaring deficit in his attention span, untutored, untraveled and unversed in the ways of the world, Bush thrived on making a show of his decisiveness.
“I’m not afraid to make decisions,’ he told a biographer. ‘Matter of fact, I like this aspect of the presidency.’ But his greatest strength became his worst flaw. His self-confidence and decisiveness cause him to do far more damage than a less assertive president would.”
Like Bush, Donald Trump prides himself on being a decider who doesn’t dilly-dally before asserting what’s right. He habitually ranks intuition over intellectual competence. He likes simplicity over detail. Trump’s world is composed of only right choices. His certitude surpasses sifting through options. Intuition replaces complexity in his world-view.
This kind of decisiveness forms a “shoot-’em-up Wild West” kind of thinking that’s deficient, juvenile, prone to snap judgements and unwise. It works for casino bouncers and sells during political campaigns.
Shooting from the lips, however, is totally un-presidential. In a blistering Wall Street Journal commentary, Robert M. Gates, who has served eight presidents and distinguished himself as secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, declares how Trump shoots himself in the foot.
Bogged down by deficit attention and rejection of book-learning, “Mr. Trump is also willfully ignorant about the rest of the world, about our military and its capabilities, and about government itself. He disdains expertise and experience while touting his own — such as his claim that he knows more about ISIS than America’s generals. He has no clue about the difference between negotiating a business deal and negotiating with sovereign nations.”
Gates believes Trump confuses intuition with self-serving reliance on ignorance. “A thin-skinned, temperamental shoot-from-the-hip and lip, uninformed commander-in-chief is too great a risk for America,” warns Gates.
Gates’ judges Donald Trump as “…unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief” because basing decisions on intuition leaves little room for reality checks. Does he read books about thorny subjects? Not when your gut tells you the answer. Ever question what your heart confirms as true? Not when your internal monitor supersedes informed opinion. Does Trump mull over important decisions? Not when responses pop up from the gut.
Intuition is a rare gift God distributes to decision-makers. It usually works best when intellect, listening and reflection correct and revise what raw intuition suggests is the right answer. Toss a dose of humility into that mix, also. Then decide.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com).