The Trump in All of Us
Trump’s White House resembles rowdy free play in the schoolyard under a substitute teacher. The world is at risk.
May 1, 2017
We live in an age when speech is increasingly deteriorating to mere noise. It carries a calculated pretense to being purposeful action.
All of us are overwhelmed by noise. We attend dinner parties where 6 people hold 4 or 5 different “conversations” simultaneously and we go to meetings where loud intensity is in inverse proportion to exchange of thoughts.
Noise, not thought
We also suffer through the endless verbal claptrap that is emanating from the politicos, whether principals or analysts. We are exposed to polemicists who even manage to expand what amounts to no more than a primal scream into book-length manuscripts.
This mindless cacophony is generally praised as a sign of a vibrant, pluralistic society. Civic health is equated with the number and decibel level of mutually unintelligible voices.
The trend toward high officials shooting their mouths off at the slightest provocation – often with the only provocation being their own irritable bowel – has reached new heights under the Trump reign.
Why Trump is so perfect
Trump himself is the personification of a perfect noise-maker. His rate of sound production is astoundingly high and almost completely disconnected from any evident thought process.
Trump, like a never-aging teenager, subjects us to an endless stream of dissociated, loud exclamations that erupt from various organs in his being.
However, unlike 99.9% of all Twitter “communications” that do not leave behind even the slightest sign of their evanescent existence, Trump’s utterings do not quickly vaporize.
Since Trump is President of the United States, champion of the “free world,” etc., others pay attention. They not only try to divine meaning and intent, but also try to anticipate his actions.
Worse, his subordinates will take these Twitter utterings to be literal statements of national intent and policy. That is all the more risky as his senior appointees include persons of a dogmatic bent fixed on doing radical surgery on the American body politic.
Take Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard(!) Sessions III. He hails from notorious Selma, Alabama, of all places. He is an old-fashioned Southern racist with an autocrat’s contempt for anyone who doesn’t share his prejudices.
The Wall Street mafia
Meanwhile, those in charge of financial matters, mainly at the SEC and Treasury, are literally agents of the Five Families of Wall Street and their armada of predators.
They are the visible point men in the campaign to turn the present U.S. plutocracy into an outright kleptocracy – like Yeltsin’s Russia. They don’t need to engage in extortion, they just change the tax code.
Other Trump appointees are on missions to destroy the very agencies they head: EPA, OSHA, FDA, FCC, Labor, Housing, HEW, et al.
These people, like their boss, are uninhibited emoters who feel free to say anything, in whatever crude words please them. Their natural mode of expression is “locker-room” talk, kitchen table talk, frat talk, bar stool talk, and their variants.
In the process, they gain the advantage of controlling the national (and even global) discourse, setting the agenda, and steadily ingraining their ideas into the highly permeable minds of the media and the public.
MIA: The Democrats
What about the Democrats? They seem to be fully content with having a permanent lock on the Antonio Barrero Prize for sportsmanship.
The prize was named in honor of the Spanish bullfighter, now retired, who was gored a record 23 times – and still dreams of a triumphant comeback.
How Trump plays with fire
Trump has no overall conception of the global system or its operating principles. Instead of using insights for guidance, he acts on the basis of mere impulses and fleeting, shallow opinions.
While Trump claims to mostly seek his own counsel, he is susceptible to being brainwashed by friends, family, advisers and even foreign leaders. In addition, he is a remarkably insecure macho, addicted to symbolic displays of strength.
Setting the world on fire?
You may think that foreign policy is fiendishly complex – or that it at least requires multi-sentence explanations as to the why or how. Not so with Trump. His utterings don’t mention implications and consequences. It’s all about sound bites.
Chaos as an organizing principle
Chaos is the outcome. Trump’s White House resembles rowdy free play in the schoolyard under a substitute teacher.
Or, as veteran U.S. diplomat Chas Freeman has put it: Policy-making in the White House these days resembles an octopus struggling to put on a pair of mismatched socks.
For all the grand talk about the United States having the world’s finest military, these distinguished military men, with serried rows of ribbons and medals down to their belt buckles, are full of strategic surprises.
Case in point: They cannot even get straight whether an Aircraft Carrier battle group is heading North to do something or other in Korean waters or slated for ship’s leave in Freemantle, Australia.
Military men out of their depth
The point is not that Mattis, McMaster et al. are dunces or were/could be busts as battle field commanders under testing conditions. They may be brilliant commanders.
But the world of strategy and high politics is another universe that, truth be told, is entirely alien to them. It demands different skills and aptitudes than those which they possess.
They should not be in those positions. Greater self-awareness might have led them to decline the appointment. At the very least, they should recognize the virtue of holding their tongues until they can figure out what they’re talking about.
Progress on that front would be facilitated if they spent more time in their offices, or at home, instead of flitting around the globe on missions whose only evident purpose is to be pictured “doing something.”
Unfortunately, those tours of the Middle East by Secretaries of Defense, as well as National Security Advisors and assorted generals have become as obligatory in U.S. politics as Presidential candidates’ visits to the Iowa state fair. To what supposed end will be revealed in their memoirs — maybe.
Admittedly, this rashness conforms to the Trump model. They are mimicking his antics. And in most cases, to sound convincing, they are playing off Trumpian rhetoric.
The problem is that this rhetoric can shift from day to day. Consistent on Iran, it fluctuates like a weather vane on Russia, China and Syria – in the last case, it turned 180 degrees within 36 hours.
Responsible senior officials should strive to compensate for those shortcomings and liabilities – not exploit them out of vanity or dedication to personal ambitions.
In truth, the entire Trump scene has immaturity written all over it. It makes no difference that you have flinty eyes, a granitic chin, untold riches in your bank accounts, or a resume studded with gold stars.
You still can be intellectually and politically immature.
Trump is the personification of a perfect noise-maker. His loud sounds are completely disconnected from any thought process.
Trump appointees are on missions to destroy the very agencies they head.
The Democrats seem to be content with having a permanent lock on the Antonio Barrero Prize for sportsmanship.
Trump's utterings don’t mention implications and consequences. It’s all about sound bites.
Trump's officials are mimicking his antics. To sound convincing, they are playing off Trumpian rhetoric.
Michael J. Brenner
Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh [Texas, United States] Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS/Johns Hopkins. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas. Brenner is […]