Trump’s An­tics: Chaos by de­sign

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Dr James J Zogby

We are only a lit­tle more than six months into the Trump pres­i­dency and I’m al­ready be­com­ing emo­tion­ally ex­hausted by the an­tics of the pres­i­dent and his un­der­lings. What I’m be­gin­ning to sus­pect is that this may be the re­ac­tion Trump is seek­ing to elicit from his op­po­nents. He is us­ing chaos and out­rage to wear us down. Like mil­lions of other Amer­i­cans, I wake up each morn­ing and turn on TV and check Twit­ter to see what new and out­landish things have been said by the oc­cu­pant of the White House: Who has he de­meaned? What new whop­pers has he told? What bizarre charges has he levied at his fa­vorite tar­gets?

An­a­lysts and com­men­ta­tors have posited sev­eral the­o­ries in an ef­fort to make sense of the pres­i­dent’s be­hav­ior. I think, to a de­gree, all of them may be valid. One the­ory sug­gests that the pres­i­dent makes par­tic­u­larly out­ra­geous com­ments when he is un­der at­tack or fail­ing. Un­der­stand­ing me­dia, he knows that if he can cre­ate a “feed­ing frenzy” with a crazy tweet, he can steer at­ten­tion away from his in­abil­ity to pass leg­is­la­tion or dam­ag­ing as­pects of the con­tin­u­ing probe into Rus­sian col­lu­sion.

Oth­ers see in the lan­guage Trump uses in his tweets and speeches an ef­fort to play to the worst in­stincts of his sup­port­ers while cul­ti­vat­ing his own brand of au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­er­ship. In his mes­sag­ing, he pro­motes the no­tion that he and he alone speaks for true Amer­i­can values and, there­fore, those who ques­tion or op­pose him are not pa­tri­otic. He uses his tweets to tar­get his (and, there­fore, Amer­ica’s) en­e­mies - the me­dia, judges, the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, those law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who are in­ves­ti­gat­ing him, mi­nori­ties of all stripes, etc. Be­cause, as he has claimed, “no one knows the sys­tem bet­ter than me, [and there­fore] I alone can fix it” - it is par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing that those who are sus­cep­ti­ble to his mes­sag­ing are be­ing led to see our na­tion’s most fun­da­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions as a threat to their leader and his abil­ity to re­store some vague prom­ise of “great­ness”.

Un­hinged Nar­cis­sist

Then there are those who sim­ply see in Trump’s tweets an un­hinged nar­cis­sist who out of his own sense of in­fe­ri­or­ity needs to prove him­self to be bet­ter, stronger, smarter, and more vir­ile than ev­ery­one else. This need drives the pres­i­dent to make out­ra­geous and clearly dis­hon­est claims about the size of his crowds (or his hands), his leg­isla­tive suc­cesses, or his abil­ity to ac­com­plish things that no other pres­i­dent has been able to ac­com­plish. This same pathol­ogy leads the pres­i­dent to de­mean op­po­nents or those whom he feels are stand­ing in his way. Fi­nally, there is what I men­tioned in the be­gin­ning - the chaos and the ex­haus­tion. Whether by de­sign or un­in­tended con­se­quence, Trump’s tweets are tak­ing a toll on the psy­che of many Amer­i­cans who are sim­ply find­ing the daily out­rages and the cir­cus-like an­tics in the White House to be too much to bear.

Like other charis­matic au­thor­i­tar­i­ans be­fore him, Trump thrives on chaos. From the be­gin­ning, his staff had com­pet­ing power cen­ters. This was by de­sign. As he watched his un­der­lings squab­ble and/or can­ni­bal­ize each other in a craven strug­gle for in­flu­ence and ac­cess to the “great man”, he kept ul­ti­mate power and de­ci­sion­mak­ing in his hands. In this game, he played the me­dia as a use­ful tool. One day, it’s Ban­non and his al­lies on top, the next day it’s his son-in-law and his al­lies. When he sees one or the other get­ting too much credit or at­ten­tion, Trump knocks them down a peg. The re­sult is that he re­mains in con­trol.

Dur­ing last week, we were gifted with a full dose of all of these be­hav­iors. His speeches to the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica and an au­di­ence in Youngstown, Ohio were clas­sic Trump. He bragged, made prom­ises he couldn’t keep, re­peat­edly at­tacked the “fake news” me­dia, and en­cour­aged boos for for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama. He used his tweets to re­peat­edly hu­mil­i­ate his at­tor­ney gen­eral. Trump is fu­ri­ous with the AG be­cause he re­cused him­self from the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion and, as a re­sult, can’t do the pres­i­dent’s bid­ding. It is spec­u­lated that Trump wants this AG out of the way so he can ap­point a more “loyal” per­son who will fire Spe­cial Pros­e­cu­tor Mueller and thereby stop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Rus­sian con­nec­tion and Trump fam­ily fi­nances.


As an ad­di­tional dis­trac­tion, Trump cre­ated an un­nec­es­sary firestorm with tweets ban­ning trans­gen­der Amer­i­cans from mil­i­tary ser­vice. While he claimed that he made this de­ci­sion in con­sul­ta­tion with “my gen­er­als”, that was re­futed by the Pen­tagon which said it would not im­ple­ment this tweet. Net re­sult, no im­me­di­ate change in pol­icy, but “red meat” for his base, and enough of a dis­trac­tion that Rus­sia was out of the news for a day.

NOTE: Dr James J Zogby is the Pres­i­dent of the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute

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