Trigger warning: politics.
I am not a pundit. What I am is a futurist, and somebody who studies narratives for a living. And quite honestly, I’m finding myself pretty compelled by my professional take on what’s going on in the White House these days.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, though. The alleged president of the United States of America is not very good at his job. He’s not a diplomat; not a statesman; not a successful executive. Not even a politician. What he is is a swindler, a con man, and an intermittently successful reality TV host. (The first season of The Apprentice did pretty well, though a glance at the ratings shows a pretty steep viewership drop in year 2.)
It so happens that swindler, con man, and reality TV host have a skill set in common — and that skill is one that’s relevant to my own professional abilities.
It’s the skill of convincing the other guy to buy into your bullshit.
It includes emotional manipulation, misdirection, a good line of patter (“fast talk,” as we call it in the world of roleplaying games), and the ability to make the mundane seem high-stakes and interesting. You get the mark to invest their ego in your narrative; you make them feel special and smart. You get their buy in, and if you’re successful, they will come back to be swindled over and over again because it hurts them less than admitting they have been had.
Trump runs his administration as a series of cliffhangers and reversals. He doesn’t actually realize, I don’t think, that the other world leaders are actually trying to govern, not engaging in kayfabe. He’s not self-aware enough to realize that other people have a different internal reality than his own, which is why every single thing he accuses somebody else of turns out to be something he’s doing himself.
But seriously, his staggering from attack to attack is essentially him trying to run the Presidency like a series of episodes of the Apprentice. “You’re on the outs this week! Such drama! How will you earn my love again? Wait, you’re looking at Russia? I don’t want you to look at Russia! Here is a shiny new fight with Iran! Oh, let us kiss and make up with North Korea, because hate sex is so watchable!”
And actual world leaders blink at him in bewilderment. Because it turns out that statecraft is not really a game to improve your Nielsen numbers.
Do I think Putin has something on Trump, as evidenced by Trump’s servile toadying to Putin? You bet. Layers of kompromat, starting with sexual and financial indiscretions and culminating in proof of collusion.
I think Putin’s entire goal here is to destabilize the United States, keep us busy fighting ourselves and lashing out at countries as is convenient for Russia.
Destabilizing enemy governments and economies is how this game works. Russia does it. Britain does it. The US certainly does it, with predictably chaotic and horrible results.
I think most of Trump’s actual “policy” decisions are designed to benefit Russia and the Russian economy. Who benefits from increased fossil fuel use? Who benefits from a weakened NATO and EU? I mean, who does a US/China trade war benefit, anyway?
I also still think that the big season-ender twist here, the edge-of-your-seat cliffhanger, is Putin burning Trump as an asset. He’ll dump all the compromising data he has, and create a further crisis in the US as we sort it out and point more stupid fingers at one another.
When Vlad has gotten all the interior destabilization out of Trump he thinks he can, that’s when we’ll find out what Russian intelligence knows. Besides, I can’t imagine Putin denying himself the satisfaction.
I mean, that might just be me deluding myself because I really want to know the answers. I’m speculating here.
Maybe we will never know.
That would be an unsatisfying end to the narrative.