The Calculated Chaos that is Trump
tl;dr: Trump is milking the chaos he creates by slight of hand and misdirection, and is effectively playing both the left and the right.
I was born in India. I love the country, it shaped my early years and my views on life, on diversity, on what to expect and how to deal with uncertainty. Indians are good at this, have made a virtue of embracing the unimaginable multitude of problems and opportunities that present themselves every day. If you have been to India, you will know what I mean.
They are also incredibly astute business people. I have seen this in the covered market in Calcutta, buying gems in Agra, or sitting in a cottage emporium in Kochi, Kerala. It is nothing like buying a pair of shoes here in the West. Or even queueing up for a must have iPhone, or clicking on the buy now button on Ebay. Obviously not.
Trump has always struck me as being much like a ruthless and half charming bazaari. He lies, haggles, charms, twists, rebukes and defers to you. Only to turn around and tell you the opposite a second later. How something is the best you will ever see, the most silken cloth known to man, the most exquisite and fine cut on an emerald, or the most luscious and luxurious fine wool, hand crafted sandalwood elephant or silver bracelet. It doesn’t matter, he will sell you anything.
He will also invariably turn around and shout at his staff, appear aloof to their wishes and not care one bit about anything else than the sale, the deal, the business in front of him. And part of the art of the deal is to create a distraction, confuse you briefly, withold crucial information, use your lack of knowledge or insecurity.
One essential ingredient in all this is a fine dose of chaos. People like Trump, and just about every Indian I know, are perfectly at home with this. Let me give you an example.
In December 2004 I was travelling on the backwaters of Kerala with my wife and a small group of tourists. We had rented a small boat, spent one whole day gliding through wonderful scenery and spent the night on a miniscule island. We each had a small, clean and enchanting hut to ourselves, or in our case one for my wife and me. It was divine. We were the only guests, and dinner was a spectacularly delicious bowl of fish mowli and rice.
That night, while we were sleeping a few feet away from the rivers of the backwaters, some 3000 km away, a Tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean. In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the waves reached a height of 12m, taller than the trees at the coast. The town was completely wiped out. In Thailand, a police boat was carried more than 2km inland. The towns along the west coast were stricken severely, and more than 5000 people were killed. In Sri Lanka, a train was derailed by the waves. By the time the waves hit Kerala, a few small fisherboats were turned over, nets were ruined and casualties were low. But we did not know this. None of this. The next morning I got a worried call from my father, who knew where we were. The connection was bad and I said we were okay. Our boat headed back to the small town of Alappuzha, from where we wanted to take the train to Varkala, which sported several hotels by the beach and was a popular attraction for travellers and tourists. We wanted to spend New Years Eve there.
As I mentioned, I love India. The people are incredible, the culture is rich as in few other places on earth, and the cuisine is divine. Having said all that, the small town of Alappuzha does not showcase any of that beauty well. It is a dump. We arrived there to the news that all trains had been cancelled. People talked about the railtracks having been swept away, the roads for the busses had been damaged. All was up in the air, and information was sparse. We met other travellers who also wanted to go to Varkala. We sat together in a tea shop, discussed options and tried to garner anything concrete so that we could decide what to do. The locals urged us to stay the night and wait until things became clearer. Several people offered to take us to the nearest hotel. I quickly understood. This was an opportunity to gain some custom. Nobody stayed in Alappuzha. Any hotelier, all their staff, their family, and friends would know this. Of course they had incentives to make the situation appear worse than it was. Here was a group of four, five westerners, all heading for a different town, only passing through. We had tea, some cake and maybe a samosa. That was all. We could be spending five, ten times that if we decided to stay. These are the opportunities of chaos.
Some hours later the other group was told to take the bus, as it was said that the train would pass closer to the ocean, and be more risky. So they did. If you have ever travelled any distance by bus in India you will know that bus drivers keep going at night by drinking copious amounts of liquor, and keep awake by constantly bleating the air horn. Hurling down the middle of the road at night, with rattling windows, a banging suspension and on hard, sticky seats, the four hour trip to Varkala would be a constant near death experience. If the train was running, I wanted to take the train.
We arrived in Varkala and the next morning met up with the people we had met in Alappuzha. They were incredulous that we had escaped the exhausting bus ride. While they had been swayed by the talk of fear and chaos, I had not.
Coming back to today’s world and Donald Trump we have to realise the parallels. Trump causes diplomatic chaos on a near daily basis. He misdirects the electorate time and time again, hiding his real motives. The left falls for each and every one of his slights of hand, gets upset at his gaffes and spends time and energy complaining about his incompetence and lack of policy proposals. At the same time everything is so simple. He is a businessman. He wants to do business.
Don’t get distracted from the bravado. Don’t fall for the empty rhetoric. Keep your eyes on his gaze, ignore the chaos he creates and look out where he has his hands. Then you will see how he benefits from the opportunities chaos creates. The chaos he creates.