Four angles plus one on reading Trump
[ by Charles Cameron — on the need for an analytic open mind — or hedging one’s bets? ]
I suppose we have to start with Trumpian Fundamentalism — by wbich I mean, taking the literal meaning from whatever he says. This view is simple, even simplistic.
One down, three to go.
There’s Lt. Gen. Flynn‘s view:
Lt. Gen. Flynn: I'm trying to improve Trump's foreign policy talk https://t.co/OylHXDL6Ie | AP photo pic.twitter.com/sik2mfqiRb
— POLITICO (@politico) May 19, 2016
In the linked Politico article, Flynn is quoted thus:
Former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn says he’s trying to get Donald Trump to be more precise in how he talks about foreign policy, but he defended some of his hardline proposals as simply opening offers in negotiations on world affairs.
“First of all, I don’t agree with everything that he said. But he’s an individual who’s willing to take on a challenge,” the retired lieutenant general, a former President Barack Obama appointee who advises Trump on foreign policy, told Al Jazeera English’s “UpFront.” “The other aspect is there must be more precision in the use of the language that he uses as the potential leader of the free world. There has to be more precision, and those are the types of pieces of advice that I’m trying to get into him to say [to] be more precise, be more conscious about what you say about foreign policy issues because they are complicated.” [ .. ]
In Trump’s defense, Flynn said the real estate mogul sees the world from the perspective of a global businessman and suggested the billionaire’s bombastic rhetoric is just a starting point for negotiations.
Trump’s strategy is to “start really, really high and really, really hard, OK?” Flynn explained. “And then, be prepared to get down to where you think you can actually negotiate.”
This view has the advantage of following a business model, and Trump may or may not be anything else, but he’s surely a businessman. It also leaves a lot of room for “play” between his stated intentions on the one hand, and what he’s liable to settle for when talk comes to signature on the other.
Third, there’s Trump’s ghostwriter’s view:
Something I saw early on w/ Trump: most negative things he says about others are actually describing him. Read his tweets with that in mind
— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) July 27, 2016
Schwartz‘ tweet was quickly paired — for instance — with:
Hillary Clinton should not be given national security briefings in that she is a lose cannon with extraordinarily bad judgement & insticts.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
This angle has the advantage of psychological plausibility.
How can I put this kindly? The poet Rumi is quoted as saying “Many of the faults you see in others, dear reader, are your own nature reflected in them.”
I gather there is or was until fairly recently a US submarine defensive system called a MOSS (mobile submarine simulator) MK70 — a decoy launched from a torpedo tube which Wikipedia tells us [1, 2] lacked an explosive warhead but was “able to generate both an active sonar echo and a passive sound signature recorded to be extremely similar to that of the launching submarine” — thus effectively simulating a full size submarine.
I learned this today after looking up “chaff” in the belief that Trump may simply be scattering all manner of provocative yet contradictory statements in his wake, with a view to confusing the hell out of his enemies — whether his fellow Republicans, his presumptive Democratic opponent, or potentially hostile state and nonstate actors abroad.
Call that the Kim Jong Il factor — and consider by way of analogy Why it’s sane for Kim Jong-il to be crazy.
Those were my four original angles — but thought of Trump and Kim Jong Il reminded me of talk of Trump and Vladimir Putin — and I can’t really leave this topic without noting blog-friend Cheryl Rofer‘s recent writings on the subject:
Cheryl Rofer, Trump and Russia Cheryl Rofer, Trump’s Russian Deals Cheryl Rofer, What Trump Has Said About Russia Cheryl Rofer, Donald Trump: Fellow Traveler Or Useful Idiot?
In my view, reading Trump comes close to qualifying as a wicked problem:
A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. The term was originally coined by Horst Rittel.
Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.
Perhaps this explains in part why there’s such considerable polarization in our various responses to Donald J Trump and his many tweets and speeches.
For more on wicked problems:
Jeff Conklin, Wicked Problems and Social Complexity
The epigraph to Conklin’s chapter is from Laurence J. Peter, and reads:
Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.
I have to say, I feel that way a lot these days.
July 31st, 2016 at 5:50 pm
Charles, thanks for the links!
I agree that reading Trump is a wicked problem. My approach is to stand back a little farther than the examples you give in this post. In particular, not trying to line up words across Trump statements at different times or even within a single appearance, because Trump has contradicted himself multiple times within a single appearance.
I think that Trump may believe he is doing what Michael Flynn believes he is doing: starting a negotiation from an impossible position. But whom is he negotiating with when he makes his pronouncements on The Wall and keeping out undesirables? The voters? Congress? Other countries? All of the above?
If it is the last, then he stinks as a negotiator. You simply can’t do that: negotiations are very focused if you want to get anything accomplished.
Trump’s tactics, which may be used in negotiations, look to me to be more like Russian propaganda tactics: toss out so much stuff, true and untrue, that the other party becomes disoriented. Then quickly take the money and run. This probably will not work with the same party twice and may lead to lawsuits. Trump has been hit with many lawsuits.
Another problem with Trump’s discourse is that it is so inappropriate to the concept of civic responsibility. His response to the Democratic Convention was that he wanted to punch the speakers. This is not the way a democracy runs. He compares his “sacrifices” of building buildings and hiring people to what parents have lost when their soldier son was killed. That is not the way compassionate people feel. And there is much more beyond what we expect from people with responsibility.
That last is the most damning and relieves us of having to consider the words emerging from Trump’s mouth that seem to form a policy statment.
August 1st, 2016 at 1:32 pm
This tweet alerts us to a major piece by John Schindler:
Today I’d like to juxtapose it with this tweet from Casey Michel which I posted a few days back in Putin, Hezbollah on the Brit right, Pokémon Go at the Yasukuni: