Donald Trump is the Mike Tyson of Politics

In June of this year Nouriel Roubini, the man who predicted the 2008 financial crisis, told CNN Money that Donald Trump was what statisticians and financial advisors call a tail risk. That means Dr. Roubini thinks the President’s actions are creating an extraordinarily dangerous risk.

A gambler’s dispute in 1654 led to the creation of the mathematical theory of probability by two famous French mathematicians, Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat. Probability can be used to determine if an event will be greater or less than an average or norm. Without thinking about it most of us use statistics every day. Parents are constantly comparing their children to what they think are normal characteristics of other children, like height, weight, test scores, etc. Baseball and most sports commentators would be lost without averages to compare players and teams.

Think of a large sheet or tent being draped over a tall pole in the center of the sheet. The sheet droops to the ground so that parts closest to the center pole are higher from the ground than parts closest to the ground. In what statisticians call a “normal” distribution the sheet would droop evenly from the center to the ground from all sides so it would appear that all of the parts of the sheet that touched the ground looked like they laid smoothly with no difference between the sheet and the ground all the way around the center pole. All that probability means is that values of distances closest to the pole are more likely to occur than those that are farthest from the pole which should make sense to most people because the height of sheet is so much greater the closer it is to the center pole.

In a normal distribution, events that are farthest from the average or the tent pole, in my example above, are the least likely to occur and there are many fewer of them. Part of the reason they are least like to occur is because their characteristics are so dramatically different from those closest to the norm. Think of a batter getting a hit every time he batted. That would mean his Batting Average would be 1.000 compared to an average batting average .255. Alternatively think of a batter that never got a hit. His average would be .000. Both extremes would be farthest from the normal/center pole (i.e. where the average is .255) but there would also be the fewest number of batters at these extremes.

For those who remember Mike Tyson’s boxing matches and compare his style to those of other boxers they’ll remember how different Tyson’s style was compared to the “average” style used by most boxers of the time. The average boxer was generally risk adverse, always aware of the punching power of his opponent. He opted for a style that included a large ingredient of defense. They cautiously approached their opponent, if ever, and would constantly “bob and weave” so they were a difficult target to hit with any force. The whole point of this strategy was to avoid a match ending punch until they could land their own match ending punch or win by a decision after the final bell.

Mike Tyson’s strategy was quite different from the average style. His was very risky. He was constantly on a vilolent attack, rarely backing off and always pounding his opponents arms and body so their defense weakened as the match went on. Tyson and his famed manager, Cus D’Amato, relied on Tyson’s extraordinary strength and punching power to be able to counter any punches an opponent might land. They counted on Tyson being able to knock-out any opponent with a single, well-landed punch, regardless of how many times an opponent might land punches on Tyson. For most of Tyson’s career their strategy worked, of Tyson’s 52 matches he won 43 with knock-outs

Tyson also used intimidation as a way to win before a fight even started. Call it the fear factor. Tyson brought it to every bout throughout much of his career, and the mere mortals scheduled to fight him couldn’t deal with it. As he would pace the ring before the opening bell, in his black trunks and black shoes (with no socks), white terrycloth towel sitting on his shoulders instead of a robe, his opponents had, in most cases, already lost. Tyson’s first major loss didn’t come until he met Buster Douglas in Tokyo in January of 1990, and Tyson didn’t loose the fight until the last round when he charged Douglas after being knocked down. That risk allowed Douglas to land a knock-out blow and end the fight.

Like Mike Tyson Donald Trump’s style is an outlier compared to the styles of conventional elected officials. He’s about as far from the “average” politician as anyone can get. Like Tyson Trump seems to think he can defeat opponents with intimidation instead of skill and he takes large risks, like frequently telling lies he thinks will enamor him with his audience,

At this link ( ) you’ll find a list of lies told by Donald Trump as compiled by the New York Times. Regardless of your thoughts about the New York Times, who would have ever thought one of the, if not the, major newspaper in the country would feel the need to list lies told by the President of the United States for the American people to read? According to the Times, Trump told public lies or falsehoods every day for his first 40 days as President.

Most politicians have an “average political style”. Trump has a “Trump political style” and it’s worked, allowing him to win the Republican primary and the general election, until it won’t, when his lies will create a catastrophe he won’t be able to escape. Trump will eventually encounter his “Buster Douglas”!

After sending a tweet saying there might be tapes of his conversation with former FBI Director Comey, Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt suggested it was a smart way of making Comey “stay honest” during his Senate testimony earlier that month, Trump responded, “Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.” However, according to former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, that comment was less than smart. “He’s trying to affect the testimony of a witness, which you’re not supposed to do.” said Zeidenberg

“As US allies wrestle with what to do next, China hopes to benefit from a world in flux.” Financial Times — Thursday, June 23

“Today, in the era of Donald Trump, it feels as though we may be living history backwards. America has a president who disdains his country’s handiwork… says Robert Kagan, a trenchant conservative critic of Trump. “It is hard to imagine who will sustain it when the US president himself is actively undermining it.”

Both Tyson and Trump are what Nouriel Roubini calls “tail risk”. They are statistical events that occur far from the average but when they do occur cause great harm.

This Risk Impact /Probability Chart provides a useful framework that helps us decide who’s behavior, Mike Tyson’s or Donald’s Trump’s, is worse for Americans and the world.

A risk has two primary dimensions:

  1. Probability it will occur — A risk is an event that “may” occur. The probability of it occurring can range anywhere from just above 0 percent to just below 100 percent. It can’t be exactly 100 percent, because then it would be a certainty, not a risk and it can’t be exactly 0 percent, or it could never occur
  2. Impact when it does occur — A risk, by its very nature, always has a negative impact. However, the size of the impact varies in terms of cost and impact on health, human life, or some other critical factor.

Donald Trump is the Mike Tyson of politics, the behavior of both is equally risky but Trump’s is likely to result in a deadly impact for millions.
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3. Originally published at on September 27, 2017.


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