As you ponder the machinations of the White House administration, do you sometimes imagine that you must be in some creaky old theatre in a disused warehouse watching a weird drama by an avant-garde playwright hell bent on surprising, shocking, and revolting his audience with bizarre narrative, unpredictable twists and turns, unbelievable scenarios, and a crazy central character whose every move takes your breath away? Do you then try to comfort yourself by pretending that after all this is not reality, and that when you walk outside into the daylight, the nightmare will be gone?
Does the horror then descend upon you that it’s not a nightmare you’ve been having after all – it’s the frightening reality of living in a Trumpian world, a real world as bizarre as any far-out playwright could conjure up?
Donald Trump, President of the United States, so-called leader of the free world, is no laughing matter. Guffaw as we so often do at his behaviour, his demeanour, his words, his tweets, and his actions; this man has to be taken seriously.
Every day something Trump does bursts into the headlines, so often unexpectedly, inexplicably. And the very next day he may do the opposite!
This man is a menace, a threat to us all. We live in a global community. In the West we cherish our democratic way of life. The actions of the most powerful person in the world affect us all, for good or for bad. As Thomas L Friedman, a CNN columnist, wrote in Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all of us now: ‘The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy is in the Oval Office’.
Something needs to be done to bring this unstable, ignorant, arrogant, brash, foolish man under control. But what can be done? Who can do it?
I’ll canvass some options later.
I’ve already described Trump’s extraordinary behaviour in Can political honesty be resurrected? In that piece I canvassed the proposition that Trump is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder since he exhibits all the characteristics of that malady. His demeanour when signing executive orders is an apt metaphor for rampant narcissism.
In another TPS piece: Is Donald Trump mad a number of pointers to Trump’s mental state were listed, and I cited an article in The New Yorker by Evan Osnos who quoted a February 2009 article in the British medical journal Brain titled Hubris Syndrome: An Acquired Personality Disorder?. The authors, David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary, who is also a physician and neuroscientist, and Jonathan Davidson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke University, who studied the mental health of politicians, proposed the creation of a psychiatric disorder Hubris Syndrome for leaders who exhibited, among other qualities, “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice, and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.”
Trump is a classic case of Hubris Syndrome.
His recent dramatic firing of his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by way of a Tweet before the official dismissal reached Tillerson, is hubris writ large.
Readers of this blog site will not need too many examples of Trump’s dangerous behaviour to be convinced of the hazard of the Trump presidency, so let’s begin with last week’s story – his imposition of a 25% trade tariff on imports of steel to the US, and 10% on aluminium imports – ‘to protect American jobs’.
If any reader can find anyone, anyone at all, who applauds such a move, please tell us all who he is.
The consensus among world leaders, economists, and politicians of all persuasions, is that this move is dangerous, ill thought-through, and certain to cause major disruption on world markets and hardship for many nations, including our own. It was calculated that the tariffs would have resulted in the loss of 20,000 manufacturing jobs here in Australia.
Our Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe, insisted: ‘the proposed tariffs would be “highly regrettable” and “bad policy”…“History is very clear here… Protectionism is costly. It’s costly to the country that implements the protectionism and it’s costly to everyone else…It's just not the right thing to do."’
Lowe’s advice: ‘..the best thing for everyone to do – perhaps the hardest thing to do, but the best thing to do – is just to sit still and do nothing,’
Turnbull soon voiced his opposition, and condemned such protectionism as a recipe for a disaster in which everyone loses. His scarcely concealed astonishment and anger was heightened by the fact that Trump, in the presence of our trade and other ministers recently promised that Australia would be exempted from these tariffs. We can only hope that Turnbull will finally realize that Trump is a habitual liar and only too ready to renege on any promise he makes.
Trump in his former life did whatever he liked, unconstrained by a higher authority. He has never come to grips with the fact that as president he is responsible to his electorate, his party, and indeed to the entire globe, occupying as he does the most powerful position in the world. He has never left the world of the all-powerful billionaire tycoon, the reality show host and star, whose word reigned supreme at all times.
The immediate fallout of the tariff decision for Trump was that his chief advisor on economics, Gary Cohn, resigned and left the White House. Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president, a free marketeer, had strongly opposed the tariffs.
Unperturbed, Trump continued on his own destructive way. He tweeted: ‘When a country [USA] is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down [$129 billion] with a certain country and they get cute, don't trade anymore – we win big. It's easy!’
Can you believe such arrogance, such ignorance, such recklessness? We had better get used to it. He won’t behave any better.
Fears of an escalating trade war triggered selloffs on Wall Street and in Asia and Europe, hitting the share prices of steelmakers and manufacturers supplying US markets particularly hard.
Although Trump believes the tariffs will safeguard American jobs, many economists say the impact of price increases for users of steel and aluminium, such as the auto and oil industries, will destroy more jobs than the tariff curbs on imports create.
Even members of the Republican Party are angry at Trump. Majority leader Paul Ryan and fellow Republicans want to stop the tariffs and already are floating legislation to reverse them.
Trump quickly heralded exemptions for Canada and Mexico, ‘for security reasons’. Although Foreign Minister Julie Bishop initially said that she has ‘no expectation that Australia would be exempted’, Trump soon announced that Australia indeed would be. We are yet to see what the ‘world’s greatest deal-maker’ will demand in return! Behaving like a schoolyard bully he threatens to smash your face in. But as you recoil in shock he smiles, says he won’t smash your face in after all, but that you ‘owe him’!
Let me detail just one other example of Trump’s dangerous incompetence – his attitude to global warming, the most pressing existential threat to all who live on this planet.
He is an entrenched ‘climate denier’. He has insisted, via his preferred mode of communication – Twitter – that ‘climate change is a hoax that China has devised to secure an unfair trade advantage’. Such an utterance is so excessive that it beggars belief. Sadly, this is classic Trump.
He ignores the evidence that affirms that global temperatures are rising inexorably; he ignores all the data accumulated by thousands of climate scientists over many decades that verify dangerous global warming; and he ignores the increasing number of adverse weather events that we have experienced in recent years, which climate scientists attribute to climate change.
Trump not only ignores this compelling evidence of global warming, he actively supports the very industries that create the greenhouses gases that cause it. He promotes coal and other fossil fuels, and reverses measures introduced by the previous administration to curb pollution.
Writing in POLITICO in an article titled: Climate change skeptics run the Trump administration, Emily Holden describes in detail Trump’s alarming assault on climate science. Here is the initial paragraph:
'President Donald Trump is filling the upper ranks of his administration with appointees who share his disbelief in the scientific evidence for climate change – giving them an opportunity to impose their views on policies ranging from disaster planning to national security to housing standards.'
To read the rest of this frightening article, click here.
So there you have two examples of an irresponsible, reckless, incompetent POTUS whose actions dangerously threaten both the global economy and the global environment.
Let’s now return to the question in the title: What can be done about President Trump?
Let me address this in two ways: ‘What can be done to change Trump’s entrenched beliefs, his worldview?’ And ‘What can be done to change Trump’s intentions?’ They are very different questions.
What can be done to change Trump’s entrenched beliefs, his worldview?
In my opinion – nothing at all! Trump, like everyone else with entrenched beliefs, will not, indeed cannot, change. For example, his beliefs about climate change cannot be changed by facts, figures, events, logic or reason. This is the nature of entrenched belief as described in the TPS piece: We need to understand entrenched belief.
If you need any further convincing of this unnerving fact, take a look at the video below: George Lakoff on Trump's moral challenge to liberals. It’s 24 minutes long, so you may not set out to listen to it all, but if you listen to the first few minutes, you may find it hard to turn off.
Lakoff is Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, a world-renowned thought-leader about the political process. By way of background, his underlying thesis about what drives political ideology and discourse is based on his central metaphor: ‘Nation as Family’, which he elaborates as follows: the Nation is a Family; the Government is a Parent; the Citizens are the Children. From this he derives the ‘Strict Father’ and ‘Nurturant Parent’ models, which he uses to explain conservative and progressive thought and action. The myth of political sameness, explains Lakoff’s thesis.
George Lakoff on Trump's moral challenge to liberals.
Lakoff has also written extensively about the use of ‘framing’ in political discourse; he mentions this in the video. For your information, there are three articles on framing written in 2016 on The Political Sword
that are derived from Lakoff’s work. After you view the video, you may care to quickly glance through them to refresh your understanding of this strategy: Framing the political debate – the key to winning
, More on framing the political debate – the key to winning
, and Still more on framing the political debate – the key to winning
In the video you will have noted that Lakoff acknowledges that Trump, being a super salesman, is able to change people’s brains. He emphasises the power of repetition to achieve such change. He gives examples of repetition used by George W. Bush and Trump. He points out that such repetition rewires our neural networks. A neural filter is created that sifts out anything that doesn’t fit, until the message is entrenched. He insists that this will
occur unless it is actively resisted. Because entrenched beliefs are hard-wired into our brains, and since our brain is inextricably connected to our body, our whole being embraces such beliefs.
Given then that it is not possible to change Trump’s entrenched beliefs, we are left with the second question:
What can be done to change Trump’s intentions?
Or put another way:
What can be done to change his behaviour?
While there’s no point in trying change his entrenched beliefs, it is possible to change his behaviour through linguistic devices such as reframing.
Trump intuitively uses linguistic strategies to brainwash his public. He picked as his positive election theme: ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’. His negative themes were: ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Fake News’. He repeated them ad nauseam
, until these slogans were hardwired into the brains of his supporters, who then ‘believed’ them. Many, if not most, still do!
To counter Trump, it is pointless trying to counter his wild assertions, most of which are based on his entrenched beliefs, such as his contemporary belief in the benefit to America of tariff impositions. All that does is to reinforce them in his and his supporters’ minds, most of whom have already been hard wired to believe whatever he says.
A more fruitful strategy is to bring about change in his behaviour
by reframing. This is what Australian officials did in response to his imposition of tariffs that initially included Australia. Instead of reminding him of his promise to exempt Australia, or worse still reprimanding him, they reframed the issue by pointing out the historic connections between the two countries: trade and military relationships, as the reason for exempting Australia. Trump responded favourably to this language and repeated it as his rationale for making the exemption.
In the video you will hear Lakoff’s advice in these situations. He stresses that language matters. He suggests we use language that focuses on the real issues, shifts the viewpoint towards the public good, tells the truth, and shows care towards others. His mantra as a progressive is that ‘Without care there is no democracy.’
That brings us back to the beginning: ‘What can be done about President Trump?’
Anyone who deals with someone as narcissistic and volatile as Trump should understand that confrontation needs to be avoided as that serves only to reinforce his entrenched beliefs, and heighten the devotion of his supporters.
Reframing each situation in a way that massages his huge ego and his voracious appetite for acknowledgement is much more likely to change his demeanour towards more appropriate behaviour. The frame needs to be congruent with his way of thinking, while avoiding obsequiousness. Anyone negotiating with Trump needs an ego less in need of reinforcement than his, and linguistic skills that only a few accomplished politicians possess. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
Who can carry out the reframing that might change Trump’s behaviour? The Australian contingent successfully reframed the tariff issue. Whether this was simply a slice of good fortune, only time will tell. Let’s hope they learned something from it.
Can other world leaders accomplish similar reframing, or will they, as usual, resort to criticism and condemnation and threaten retaliation, thereby reinforcing Trump’s entrenched beliefs? Linguistic scholars could help them to do better, but would they listen? Time will tell. Don't hold your breath! Sadly, many are no different from Trump – they too are egocentric and arrogant, and incapable of learning how to deal with him using the niceties of linguistics.
Don’t we live in a depressing world!
This piece is based on my observations and research. Your opinion of the arguments and propositions I have advanced would be welcome.