Leaders of 194 countries, scientists, humanitarians, even Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell back the Paris Climate Accord. The President’s daughter and son-in-law are in favor the 2015 agreement. The Washington Post reports that 71% Americans support remaining in the agreement, and of Trump voters, only 25% oppose the treaty.
So, what is in it for Trump to pull America out of what is almost unanimously considered an essential and mutually beneficial pact? What could be more important for him than a collaboration targeted at maintaining a sustainable planet?
Rational thinking cannot answer that question. Re-framing the question to read, “What does a man with a bully pulpit get from thumbing his nose at the rest of the world?”, points towards insight. Taking on the world, adapting an “OK come get me, what are you going to do about it?” stance is, for the President, the source of a very big dopamine high.
While some observers suggest that President Trump’s grandiosity, lack of sleep, hyper-activity, inability to focus, or sustain a train of thought, are symptoms of cocaine use, a more likely explanation is an extreme addiction to the neurochemical, dopamine.
No wonder though, that Trump looks and acts the part of a cokehead. Like cocaine, for some, conflict, rage and aggression can also activate pleasurable, addictive rewards of dopamine, from the same areas of the brain. As with all addictive substances, a tolerance develops rapidly. Cravings demand steady, ever increasing quantities to maintain the high, or even just to fend off physical discomfort and depression from withdrawal. Pleasure mutates into desperate need. No price is too high. The best interests of others, including America, pale in comparison to a drive for the next shock, or crisis capable of pumping out large doses of dopamine.
The real danger is not only the addiction that continuously demands more, at any cost. For the U.S. and global interests, it’s also the fact that when dopamine exceeds normal, healthy levels, regions of the brain required for advanced comprehension and responsible actions, including analytical, big-picture, cause and effect thinking, emotional and behavioral management, or empathy, go off-line. Clear-headed comprehension and responsible behavior become difficult to impossible.
Some examples of this, in Mr. Trump’s case, are his affinity for administrative chaos, bullying dissenters, and media skirmishes. Incoherent and disruptive as they appear to be, they are predicable dopamine generators. Adversity is his go-to dealer.
Late night tweets arrive when the whirl of events quiets down. For a few hours, the world fails to provide opportunities to act out and posture with the attention of an audience. His sources of dopamine missing, he turns to his imagination and cell phone. A belligerent, rude, or shocking tweet scores a fix of dopamine to soothe his addiction. Heavy smokers and substance abusers of all kinds are familiar with desperate, middle of the night cravings that get them out of bed in search of a fix, and temporary relief.
If it takes a steady stream of belligerent, self-aggrandizing actions to protect Trump from the discomfort of dopamine withdrawal, then only more dangerous interactions with even higher stakes can produce enough dopamine for him to feel euphoric. What would this condition forecast for America and the world? Escalating tensions, increased conflict at all levels, and, lots of rallies, where the President’s inflammatory rhetoric, shared with followers, will produce floods of dopamine for both the speaker and his audience.