Political news is breaking so quickly it’s hard to know how to think about what’s happening, much less make sense of it. What made some sense yesterday is highly questionable today. I wanted to reflect on Trump’s style of negotiation, only to be interrupted by Iran’s arrival in Paris for important talks that bypass Washington, German elections keeping Merkel off balance, and Johnson’s loss of a parliamentary majority further undermining his already flimsy claim to national leadership. What’s next is anyone’s guess. Oh yeah, for America there remains a truly dangerous hurricane, the Amazon is still on fire, and there’s rioting in Hong Kong. Among it all, my gun toting friends are slowly waking up to the fact that most of us are sick of their NRA talking points.
So, what the heck, back to Trump’s negotiating style. He has one, and it’s very predictable. It’s manifested in two parts. Part one is relatively simple: after a little Trumpish glad-handing, he makes an offer. When the other party counters, he amplifies his original offer with intimidating threats, making it clear the only acceptable agreement is the one he’s proposed. Sometimes he wins, but in the presence of those who can’t be intimidated, he folds.
Part two is more complex. He can’t abide the success of others, especially predecessors, and revels in portraying himself as the only person who can solve difficult problems. When he enters an arena of negotiation where another has prepared the ground for progress, he is compelled to demolish it as incompetently done so he can promote himself as the only reliable source of a way forward. We’ve seen it reported in the media as his penchant to create controversy where there was none so he can be seen as the one who resolves it. Having thus created a state of negotiating chaos, he unpacks the few tools he’s accustomed to using, which is to demand agreement with him or face retaliation. As a private citizen he was not taken seriously by most people of power and means who felt free to ignore his bloviating. Lesser folk sometimes endured his wrath. As some have noted, his is the track record of a bully who always punches down, but turns coward in the face of real power and money. Unfortunately, as president he has substantial means of retaliation to employ, and many perceived challenges to his competency to avenge. Instead of representing the interests and dignity of the nation, he uses the power of the presidency to indulge his ego and satisfy personal whims.
It’s made worse by the ease with which sycophants and political axe wielders have been able to infiltrate the White House, each gaining momentary influence that whipsaws chaotic presidential decisions. They always settle down to those satisfying his narcissistic needs of the moment. It means no one can last long. It creates an environment of predictable instability in national and international affairs, with other world leaders biding their time hoping to ride out the last two years of his term.
How the nation will recover remains to be seen.