My wife and I recently went car shopping. The moment we stepped on the lot, a salesman was there to greet us. His tactics were familiar, starting with a smile, handshake, and light hearted joke. Within a minute he was trying to bond with us over dogs (leashes on the seat), grandkids (car seats buckled in), and marriage (“How long have you two been together?”). He was doing his best to elicit a positive emotion because he knew by training and experience, if he can hook us by the feels, we will be more likely to give him our trust. Trust can be a profitable thing.
Trust is willingly becoming vulnerable with the hope of a positive outcome. Most of us like to have first order information (convincing experience) before committing to trust. We want to see things in action, make sure they work, or go for a test drive.
In the absence of that, second order information can supplement. This could be a referral from a family member, numerous good reviews, or an endorsement by a trusted group.
What do we do when first and second order information doesn’t answer the question? We trust our gut.
If you can believe social science, there are several studies suggesting human emotion is a highly valued source of information for most people when they are making decisions (here). The business world takes stock in this theory, writing about it often. Many stock traders, sales staff, loan officers, and marketing reps get training about the connection between human emotion and the development of trust. Most can verify from professional experience that competence is profitably enhanced when clients are groomed for a positive emotional experience.
Gut-based decision making has some limitations (we all have that one friend who serially enters one bad dating relationship after another). In an oft replicated classic study, a pair of researchers collected life satisfaction data from college students. Those social scientists also kept track of the daily weather. When the sun was shining, subjects rated greater life satisfaction than when it was raining! (Schwarz & Clore)
When human beings feel good, they are more likely to let their judgement lean in a positive direction. When they feel bad, the world around them looks more negative than usual. These social scientists also found they could eliminate the attributional connection between mood and judgement by simply letting subjects know that decision making can be corrupted by emotions.
When Trump showed up in political force, most of us had very little first order information. We knew Trump was in real estate, he ran a casino, and was the star of a reality game show that judged the business skills of contestants. However, we did not know how he would run a government or collaborate with Congress for the good of our nation.
When it came to second order information, there were not many endorsements or recommendations. The Republican Party was slow to lend support. GOP politicians seemed reluctant to endorse. Media outlets mostly attacked Trump and rarely gave a positive write up.
Undecided voters were left to trust their gut. Citizens searched their hearts. The man was rich, had beautiful kids, conducted some pretty exciting campaign rallies, and claimed with great confidence he had the skills to Make America Great Again.
The sun was metaphorically shining when undecided voters stepped into the voting booth and made a heart-felt decision.
Things are different today. We now have 142 days of first order information about how Trump will continue to govern. His flamethrower approach is well documented in speeches and tweets. He has burnt Congress, the Intelligence Community, and world leaders. The porous boundary between his presidency and the family business looks to be permanent. This means Making America Great Again also means keeping Trump Industries flush with WH generated contacts and opportunities. Trump’s godfather-like kiss the ring loyalty pledge is the standard which seems to come before Constitution. Finally, despite his best efforts to stomp out the embers of investigation, the fire surrounding Russian interference in the last election continues to grow.
We also have new second order information available to us. An erosion of support is evident by the polling data from multiple sources. Most critically, Trump is not winning new supporters as he governs.
Do we declare our Trust in Trump or put him on notice and demand better? After 142 days we can say the test drive is over. We’ve read the reviews and the nation doesn’t appear to be going through a Trump conversion. What of trusting our gut feelings? Fading away is the rush of emotionally charged campaign rallies, the excitement of those flashy red ball caps, and the thrill of shoot-from-the-hip speeches. A thunder cloud is on the horizon and the smell of rain is in the air.