Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump, Explained

Apparently Trump's detractors still don't understand him.  How else to explain their continued reaction to every action and tweet.  Freelance journalist Salena Zito perhaps said it best:

"The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally."

As good as that is, and brevity being the soul of wit and all, there are times when more depth is required.  For those interested in better understanding, for example, why Trump still provocatively tweets about illegal votes and flag burning knowing he is opening a huge can-o-worms,  I offer the following in-depth Trumpsplanation.

Six Unconventional Trump Perspectives

Full disclosure:  I was a #NeverTrump-er before it got a hashtag.   Right after Trump announced I called him a shock-jock and compared him to Howard Stern.  Later I made a video parody of Caddyshack featuring Rodney Dangerfield’s character with Donald Trump’s voice.  I considered the whole thing to be good comedy.  Throughout the primaries I wrote often about how he was making unforced errors and was certainly not a conservative.  In short, I never thought Trump would go as far as he has. 

But he has, and as the primary wore on he grew on me.  For one thing he kept winning.  For another, he was fearless, tenacious, energetic, politically incorrect, and able to think on his feet.   That’s not to say I ever warmed to his demeanor.  I continue to cringe at his antics though the difference is, at least now I understand why he does it. 

Trump is doing these things deliberately.  There is a method to his madness.   He’s following a game plan he wrote about thirty years ago that he developed for success in business.   He has been far more strategic, methodical, and consistent than he’s ever given credit for.    Now that he's won, we must pay attention.            

1. Trump on Trump

A good place to start is this whole issue of demeanor.   Many Americans are particularly turned-off by Trumps demeanor.  Many women especially.  Donald Trump is not playing the gentleman’s game of politics we are used to.  While it doesn't make it right, it is absolutely by design.  

"In most cases I'm very easy to get along with. I'm very good to people who are good to me. But when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard."                                                                                                                                                     Donald Trump, “Art of the Deal”, 1987

This “attitude” of his to “fight back very hard” is why he has attacked John McCain, Megyn Kelly, The Khans, and countless others.  It is an attitude that served him well in the ultra-competitive world of Manhattan real estate, but it has also gotten him in lots of trouble lately.  It is obviously a risky strategy in national politics. 

One reason the attacks hurt him so badly is that he does it all personally.  Trump has had to be his own one-man war-room.  He had a skeleton staff, spent almost no money on negative ads, and lacked even a party to fight for him.  But he'll probably continue to operate like that as president because after all these years it's who he is.   

One side-note on Trump’s tendency to attack:  He was born at the same time and place as the saying, “nice guys finish last”.  Leo Durocher was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and coined that phrase around the summer of 1946.  Donald Trump was born that same summer, a stone’s throw away in Queens.   

As I’ll explain later, Trump’s "nice guys finish last" attitude has thrown the other side off their game.    

"One thing I've learned about the press is that they're always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better...The point is that if you are a little different, a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you." 
                                                                                     Donald Trump, “Art of the Deal”, 1987

Donald Trump is a veteran media maestro.  His very business model – branding his name – was achieved in large measure by being controversial and getting free media.  For years, his tabloid antics helped keep his name in the spotlight, and the Trump name was emblazoned on every one of his properties and projects.  For Trump Inc. any publicity was good publicity.  

His presidential bid used the same game plan.  By being “sensational”, “different”, “outrageous”, “bold”, and “controversial” he managed to run a presidential race on the cheap with almost no staff or ground-game.  He played the media like a Stradivarius to get his name, face, and candidacy in the conversation every day.  That’s why he started this bid with the Obama birth certificate quest.  It made news. Trump was being sensational and outrageous by design.  Does he really think Mexico will pay for the wall?  Does he really think we should have seized Iraq’s oil?  All we know is what he reveals in his own book.

A vintage example of Trump playing the media was his birther press conference during the campaign.  Trump announced he was going to make a big statement about Barack Obama’s birthplace and invited all the media to a presser.  The networks all covered it live expecting a big announcement, but instead they got a lengthy parade of military endorsements for Trump.  At the very end he made a brief statement that Obama was born in the U.S.  The press went apoplectic.  They knew they’d been trolled.     

By trolling the media Trump has been able to provoke them into over-reactions that almost always backfire.  (See Salena Zito quote in the first paragraph.) The public knows that calling a bomb, “a bomb”, is not an unreasonable assertion.  The public knows that a temporary halt to unscreened Muslim immigration is not outrageous in the context of a global jihad that has declared war on us.
Granted, Trump has tweaked the media so often that nearly all his coverage is negative at this point.   But that doesn’t seem to concern him.  He seems to be banking on his ability to go directly to the people, a la Ronald Reagan. 

"You can't con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on."                                                                                                                          Donald Trump, “Art of the Deal”, 1987

Donald Trump really likes to throw in some “hyperbole”.  Does he really want to throw flag burners in prison?  Can President Trump really Make America Great Again?  Will he really be the best jobs President God ever created?  Does he really think America’s going to win so much we are going to be tired of winning?  All we know is that he knows he has to eventually “deliver the goods”.    

And he has delivered.  He won the nomination and then the Presidency.  He has over-achieved by every single measure of a rank amateur in politics, let alone on the biggest stage - presidential politics.

And he has delivered the goods throughout his career.  Of course not every project succeeded, but Steve Jobs also had plenty of flops along with his successes.  That's just the nature of risk and high achievers.  At least Trump never got booted from his own company.

“You always, when the service was over, you said, ‘I’d have sat there for another hour,’” Mr. Trump recalled. “There aren’t too many people like that. It wasn’t the speaking ability, it was the thought process.”    
                                      Donald Trump on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Minister at Marble Collegiate Church

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is an often overlooked piece of the Donald Trump puzzle.  Beginning as a teenager, and continuing for decades,  he attended The Marble Collegiate Church, which was led by Dr. Peale, author of the bestselling book, "The Power of Positive Thinking".

The power of positive thinking, according to Peale, was that if you you could train your thought process to focus on positive visions of yourself, your abilities, your prospects, your achievements, etc., you could go as far as you wanted to go in life.  Nothing could stop you as long as you held firm to this positive picture.

Typical Peale quotes are:   "Change your thoughts and you change your world."   "There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment."   "If you have zest and enthusiasm you attract zest and enthusiasm. Life does give back in kind."

You can hear echoes of Peale in every aspect of Trump's oversized positive image of himself, his abilities, and his accomplishments.  It's hard to deny Peale's power, though, when so many of those accomplishments are real.    

“While he may be the billionaire from New York … he’s much more of a blue-collar guy.”                                                        
                                                                                                                          Donald Trump Jr., 2016

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when Donald Trump was a household name and a fixture of the NY tabloids, I ran an industrial plant in the NY metropolitan area.  Trump was a surprisingly popular figure with the hourly plant workers, truck drivers, tradesmen, and office workers I worked with.  It struck me as odd that a brash billionaire with his name in big gold letters, flying around in a helicopter, with bejeweled arm-candy always at his side, could be a hero to these hard-working blue-collar workers.  Didn’t they know he was a “greedy one-percenter”?  (Though we didn’t talk like that back then.)  Didn’t they know he ran an “evil corporation”?  Didn’t they know he made “a profit”?  Didn’t they know he had a “yacht”?

Sure, they knew all that, but they also knew he was genuine, he shared their affection for pro wrestling, he was unabashed about his wealth, and he was having a good time.  Yes, he was having a really good time!  In short… they wanted to be like him. This was the American Dream they grew up hearing about.  It made him a working-class hero.   

They also saw that Trump spoke more like a blue-collar guy than an elitist rich guy.  The lingua franca on New York construction sites was not what you hear coming out of the mouths of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Trump’s fluent blue-collar, sentence-fragment lingo is refreshing after eight years of Obama’s hyper-careful, faculty-lounge act.  Voters loved Obama’s erudition after George W. Bush’s seeming inability to speak fluent English, but after eight years, that act has worn thin for many. 

2. Milton Friedman 

I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion, which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing
                                                                                                                          Milton Friedman 

Many Americans believed Hillary and Donald were precisely the wrong people for the job.  But according to Dr. Friedman, they could still do the right thing under certain circumstances.

In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected president with far less than a majority of the electorate. Most Americans thought he too was the wrong person for the job.  In his first two years, he raised taxes and grew government.  The economy stagnated, and the stock market was soft.  As a result, Democrats lost big in the mid-term elections of 1994.   In came Newt Gingrich and The Contract With America. Weakened by the rout in ’94, Bill Clinton was forced to do the right thing against his instincts.   He lowered taxes, supported free trade, declared an end to big government, and supported welfare reform.  The economy and the stock market went on a tear, all without the aid of zero percent interest rates.  The budget got nearly balanced, and to this day Bill Clinton is known for the strong economy that came after he "triangulated" and reluctantly agreed to many of the planks of Newt's contract. Bill Clinton was forced to do the right thing despite being the wrong person.

Can the electorate make it "politically profitable" for President Trump to do the right thing?  Based on the example of Barack Obama, I think we have a much better shot given that this "wrong person" is not a "historical first" from a politically favored class of citizens. 

Donald Trump will not be coddled by the media, or Hollywood, or academia, or anyone.  He will not be given the benefit of any doubt.  It will be politically unprofitable for him to do the wrong thing.     

3. Think Tanks

We think we just elected a single person to be President, but it’s not that simple. 

Aaron Klein, a journalist based in Israel, has written extensively about what Barack Obama is going to do before he even does it.  Does Mr. Klein have some prophetic powers acquired in the Holy Land?  No, he simply reads the policy papers from The Center for American Progress (CAP).  Apparently, so does Obama.  

During the campaign Donald Trump came out with a detailed proposal for school funding.   Did he just think up this plan in-between campaign stops?  No, he got it from a think tank. 

And that’s the point.  Presidents lean heavily on their think tanks.  For Democrats it’s CAP, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Human Rights Watch, and George Soros’ Open Societies Institute.  For Republicans it’s The Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution, and Freedom House.

There’s an army of very qualified eggheads who will conceive and implement any presidential priorities. Trump’s lack of government experience is irrelevant in this context.

4. Saul Alinsky

To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in Saul Alinsky, but Saul Alinsky  is very interested in you.  The late Saul Alinsky is the most influential political strategist of our time.  Barack Obama went into community organizing because of Saul Alinsky, settled in Chicago because of Alinsky, and taught Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” as an instructor.  Hillary Clinton knew Alinsky, corresponded with him in college, and wrote her college thesis on Alinsky. 

Prior to Alinsky politics was a dirty business, but post-Alinsky it got radicalized.  At least on one side, that is.   Alinsky's 1971 book, “Rules for Radicals” quickly became the tactical political bible of the radicalized Left.  The Right haplessly ignored it.  

And then came Trump.  Trump’s own book, “The Art of the Deal”, is kind of a “Rules for Radical Businessmen”.  Donald Trump is a natural-born Alinskyite.  His ability to “fight back very hard”, and take a “nice guys finish last” approach, threw the Left off their game. 

The radical Alinsky tactics did not work as effectively on Donald Trump as they did on gentleman GOPers like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain.  They were all turned into Hitler caricatures via the Alinsky tactics, and their only response was to turn the other cheek.  It is sad to say this, but running a race for president as a GOP gentleman is an enormous liability in this radicalized Alinsky age. 

5. The Trump Family

Donald Trump has been quoted as saying he was a lousy husband, but a good father.  I believe he is right.  His kids are all amazing.  They are not typical billionaire ne’er-do-wells.  They all work in the family business, are doing great things, are stable citizens, and aren’t taking salaries from the family charitable foundation.   

If his kids are a reflection of him, and to a person they claim to be, Donald Trump looks pretty good as a human being. 

6. What was, What is, and What may be 

Perhaps Trump’s biggest advantage in the race was his lack of government experience.  No matter what you think of Donald Trump, you cannot be certain what he will do as President because he has never even held a public office.  Everything negative ever said about a prospective Trump presidency, is exactly that - prospective.

My advice when it comes to all politicians is never listen to what they say, only what they do.  Forget what Trump says.  Just watch what he does.    


Think about this:  a complete neophyte, who’s never run for dog-catcher, let alone national office, with a bad haircut, a penchant for controversy, and a shocking lack of decorum, was elected President over a person described by President Obama as, “the most qualified person to ever run for President.”

Now we must do our best to understand our new President and not be whip-sawed by every Trumpian tactic he used to get elected, and will most likely continue to rely on.  It's a new game, and it's best to know the rules.      

As I have said throughout this political season, I consider the country to be like a stage four cancer patient. We have $20 trillion in debt, no prospects of growing out of it, radical Islam is metastasizing here and overseas, Karl Marx is the most assigned economist on U.S. college campuses, most Americans would choose the constitution of the old Soviet Union over our own in a blind test, and cops are being gunned down in cities across the country.

President Trump has almost no chance of singlehandedly curing us of this cancer.  But he could be like chemotherapy.  We may lose our hair, we may get nauseous, and we may feel drained, but we may also go into remission.       

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