A pattern of behaviour is emerging that should make us all think twice about dismissing Trump as someone who does not know what he is doing.
The pattern goes like this. He makes wild threats of bringing down the whole global system that no longer serves American interests. Whether it’s NAFTA, trade relations with Europe (particularly Germany) and China, support for NATO when others are not making their agreed contribution to defence expenditure, tearing up the multipartite agreement with Iran, or even starting a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.
The crucial element to these threats is that everyone believes that Trump is out of control. Therefore all the threats are credible.
His opponents (a term which includes more or less everyone as he does not really believe in allies unless they are clearly acting to support American interests) take his threats seriously and start to act. Negotiating with America becomes a better option than letting the whole system collapse.
NAFTA is being re-negotiated. China has announced measures to open up their market further (we’ll see). North Korea is embarked on a charm offensive and has said that it is willing to consider abandoning its nuclear programme (again, we’ll see), European countries are scrambling to find ways of increasing their defence expenditures within their fiscal constraints.
The key elements in the Trump approach are twofold. The first is that he refuses to play by the generally accepted rules. He is unpredictable and it’s never clear what the next Twitter-announced policy will be. Others are left scrambling – unable to work out what to do next in the atmosphere of chaos that he creates.
The second, as mentioned earlier, is that his threats are credible. Everyone believes him capable of bringing down the whole system – something that no previous US president – not even George W Bush and his entourage of right-wing fanatics – managed to achieve.
Since he set out to win the Republican nomination, every expert has consistently told Trump that he was doing things the wrong way. That he should follow the well-trodden path. He ignored them all and proceeded to win the nomination and then the presidency. Now he again finds himself surrounded by those who try to urge him to play by the rules.
They do not last long – hence the revolving door of senior level appointments. Trump has his methods and he is looking for people who support them. Such people are hard to find since most senior level people are creatures of the establishment used to doing things the way they have always been done. That won’t work under his administration.
The New York Times is maybe the poster-child of Trump-hating media. It was therefore interesting to read a recent article by Thomas L. Friedman that opened with the following line:
“One of the hardest things to accept for all of us who want Donald Trump to be a one-term president is the fact that some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them.”
How’s that for deeply embedded bigotry? It’s not clear how long we will all continue to close our eyes to the fact that Trump may end up achieving things for America that others before him have failed to achieve.
We may not agree with many, maybe most, of his policy positions. We may flinch at his style and his words. But he’s certainly shaking up the system and there may, after all, be some method to what we have all quietly decided is his madness.
We should pay more attention.
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Paul Gregory says
Well said. Almost all national actors try to game the logic, best example Putin. But no, this is not playing, least of all at chess. Upend the chessboard.
On only a slightly different topic. Some readers here may have heard the interview between the FT’s top man and Steve Bannon. I came to it with an open mind. IMO Bannon won hands-down. Not an appropriate comment for a centrist website, I concede.
BTW Joe: Radix is impossible to read for many of us because it uses the feintest of feint fonts. I copy to a wordprocessor and save with my default font, but others I recommend Radix to may just give up, which would be a pity.
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
Thank you Paul for your comments. I too listened to the interview and agree with you. Please note we are not a mere centrist web site but a radical centrist one, so wild and weird ideas are most welcome – including Bannon’s. Though one may not agree with all (or maybe even much of) he says, that does not mean shutting down before one has even heard and considered what he has to say. I also found it sad that the FT felt that they had to devote a long editorial to justifying why they had interviewed Bannon at all rather than just shutting him out.
Thanks for your comments about the font. We have had similar comments before and have made the font darker. But clearly it’s not yet enough so we’ll work on that.