Monday, December 26, 2016

What Does "Change" Mean In Regard To Trump?

People write things like, "now that he is no longer a candidate" or "once he becomes president" Trump will change with the office.  Mitt Romney seemed to think he could have a calming effect. Tech leaders felt meeting with Trump would have a positive effect.  Thomas Friedman thinks there might be some room for optimism.

Really?  The man is 70.  What things will a 70 year old change?

He's not going to change his basic way of behaving, and from his point, why should he?  Everyone said it couldn't work in the primary and he won.  Then it couldn't win in the actual election, and he got enough votes in key states to win the electoral college.  So from his point of view - even if a 70 year old could easily change his basic behavior, there's no reason to.  His behavior works.

He can change things that aren't fundamental parts of his personal identity and the habits he's acquired over the years.  His basic goal in life is to win, but it doesn't seem to be wed to any ideology beyond that.  So specific policy issues could change based on the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.   Things like what he's going to do about Israel, building a wall on the Mexican border, or climate change.

But the bluster, the belief that he's the smartest guy in the room, his wheeler/dealer business style, his bullying, his need for attention and approval, those things aren't going to change.

If he's lucky, those around him will edit him before he goes public.  He's not the kind of guy who takes easily to editing, but once he discovers how much work being president is, he'll delegates lots of the work to others.  Though some of the people he's appointed have belief systems worse even than Trump's in areas.

He'll continue to be quick to take offense when someone slights him.  He'll continue to demean others.  He'll continue to make quick judgments because he thinks he is smart enough to figure it out.  He's not likely to start reading much.

The positive thing about Tweeter Trump is that he publicly says, and puts on record, what he's thinking.  The kinds of things I'd guess lots of powerful figures think, but only say when surrounded by like thinkers, and don't utter publicly.  That means we know a lot more about his true beliefs and values than we have of others in the past.  Well, we surmised, but they rarely gave us proof we were right.

So, I expect to see current Trump relationships change as new disagreements arise and or he decides someone's help is needed for something.  His friendship with Putin is based on a similar authoritarian style, so Trump recognizes another player who sees the world as he does.  But the first time Trump realizes that Putin has played Trump for a fool, that friendship will end.    Other actions - like supporting Netanyahu's pro-settlement stance - may have initial positive benefits, but will quickly lead to a backlash.  The world is a lot more complicated than doing business deals.  The US military power is a lot less effective in a world of ied's  and suicide bombers than he thinks it is.  Putin was able to use military power in Syria because he doesn't care about collateral damage.  An American president has to think about such things.

My fear is that Trump will do a lot of damage both in the US and the world, before he leaves office. Things that will have to be undone before we can move on.  And while he won't kill people Hitler style, if he does slow down climate change action, the result will be turmoil and human suffering and death around the world.  Severe weather events will create havoc for farmers all over the world.  Rising temperatures mean that crops that grow at a certain latitude now, or with a certain level of rainfall, won't in twenty years or less.   This will disrupt food supplies and livelihoods everywhere.

Many people believe that the five year drought in Syria was related to climate change and a major contributor to the rebellion there.  Farmers could no longer raise their crops and moved to the cities where they couldn't make a living.  They were the dry kindling of revolt.

Americans believe that their way of life is far superior to how people live in the rest of the world.  But those who have traveled, worked, and lived in other countries long enough to become friends with locals, know that their middle classes' lives were not significantly different, in the most important ways, from American lives.  These are the people who are now refugees from the killing in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the world.  Civilization is a fragile thread.  We aren't immune from craziness here.  There are Americans who would be happy to perform 'ethnic cleansing' of non-white parts of the US population, just as the Hutus and the Serbs and ISIS did and are doing.  Those fleeing Aleppo or Bagdad were just as shocked to see their normal lives disrupted by horrendous urban military violence, as American will be if it happens here. The election of Trump shows us that nearly half the voters are willing to overlook all sorts of authoritarian, racist, and sexist behaviors for the hope of regaining the respect they had living in a society where non-whites and women had significant barriers to economic and social justice.  Focus on 'others' rather than the economic system in which owners of businesses get rich by replacing workers with machinery makes economic improvement ever so much harder.

I hope I'm wrong on all accounts.  Trump's style is one where there are few friends for the long haul.  It's why he wants his family as his close advisors.  This is a Mafia like world view.  Only family can be truly trusted.  Because his style creates lots of enemies.  I'm sure the Cruz's, the Christie's, Bush's, and others are just biding their time until they can avenge the personal abuse Trump heaped on them.  And like the people of Aleppo, the rest of us will be in the cross fire.  Probably not actual violence - though I don't rule that out - but more likely the destruction of our social infrastructure that protects the victims of a form of capitalism that has no respect for workers, that buys companies to raid workers' pensions, that lies to customers to squeeze out more profit, and finds all sorts of ways to make the rules work for those who are already wealthy against those who are not.

I've rambled on long enough here.  I offer a June 2016 Atlantic analysis of Trump by Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern as a more in-depth and nuanced assessment of Trump's qualities and how they may play out in the presidency.


  1. And a warning for America on the rise of Hungary's populist autocrat, from the Washington Post:

  2. Jacob, yes, there's a wave of this going on. Even if Putin isn't hacking Europe, his Syria policy which is flooding Europe with immigrants is impacting the elections.

    Anonymous, I put your link into the spam box, because you didn't explain how it was relevant to the post and I don't promote random links.


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