David Brooks has a pretty decent column, for once, in the Times today. He discusses Trump’s strange lack of “theory of mind” and notes that the world is over-analyzing his work.
But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.
We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.
This seems pretty insightful! And it would seem more insightful if I had not read a nearly identical piece from David Roberts, writing in Vox, four days ago:
On Twitter I talked about “theory of mind,” a basic capacity humans develop around the age of 2 or 3 to recognize that other people are independent agents, distinct minds, with their own beliefs, desires, fears, etc. We learn to “read” behaviors as evidence of those internal states.
Much of the dialogue around him, the journalism and analysis, even the statements of his own surrogates, amounts to a desperate attempt to construct a Theory of Trump, to explain what he does and says through some story about his long-term goals and beliefs.
But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there’s no there there? What if our attempts to explain Trump have failed not because we haven’t hit on the right one, but because we are, theory-of-mind-wise, overinterpreting the text?