It seems the nation’s attention is absorbed by Cohen’s testimony, what Trump may be doing with Kim in Vietnam, whether India and Pakistan are going to war, what Brexit means, and the increasingly vague hopes for Chinese trade negotiations. The Wall? Who even remembers the Wall? I, on the other hand, am a slow thinker, so I’m still reflecting on an article in the Washington Post from yesterday, which seems like ages ago in the current way of news cycles.
James Hohmann, and others, reviewed Trump’s Mad Man tactic borrowed from Nixon. By pretending to be an unpredictable out of control head of state capable of doing anything, it’s claimed he’s forced Europeans to up the ante for their own defense, brought Kim to heel, made the Chinese blink, and buffaloed congressional Republicans into dazed submission.
Hohmann went on to note that Nixon’s Mad Man tactic didn’t work out as he hoped it would. While some claim it brought about the end of the Viet Nam War, the same could have been achieved at any earlier time without Kissinger’s manipulative “Realpolitik,” and without so much additional loss of life. It was supposed to save political face for Nixon, and it did for a few days, but history hasn’t been kind to it.
Trump isn’t Nixon. That’s obvious even to a small town commentator looking on from afar, trying to make sense of what can be known through reporting from others.
What I observe is this: Nixon used the Mad Man tactic as one tool among many in his large tool shed. Whatever genuine madness he slid into, it shouldn’t be confused with his mastery of many political tools, including the Mad Man tactic. Trump’s adolescent bullying version is not so much a tool as normal behavior. He appears to approach every engagement as a win-lose transaction in which he wins and the other loses. The only other tool in his small bag is an ability to feign kindness and generosity when it’s in his interest to do so, and then for limited duration. When he doesn’t win, he never admits defeat, he just quits the field of play as if he was never serious about winning. I suspect he compensates by collecting grudges the way some people collect commemorative coins, expecting a payback at the right time.
Relationships with those who’ve surrendered loyalty to him are another matter. From the outside they look like master-servant arrangements where obsequiousness is rewarded by avoiding the master’s wrath.
He may be an unwilling student of limited intelligence, but he’s schemingly clever in his ability to use the few tools he has to get what he wants, so should never be underestimated. Moreover, since he plays by his own rules, it’s a mistake to assume that established norms and standards have any value to him. He may be amoral, but he’s not without his own closely held standards. Don’t buy into the idea that he’s unpredictable and might do anything. He’d like everyone to think that, but it’s not true. He may play by his own rules, but they are rules, he plays by them, and seldom deviates. The press and political leadership are slowly learning, but they need to study harder and learn quicker. A few pundits claim he learned everything he needed to know by watching Godfather movies. Maybe that tells us everything we need to know about Trump.