Tuesday, June 07, 2016
The North Korea of American Politics
In 2013 George Friedman, of the global intelligence firm Stratfor.com, wrote an interesting analysis of the national strategy of North Korea that he titled "Ferocious, Weak, and Crazy." Mr Friedman described the strategy this way:
"... the North Koreans positioned themselves as ferocious by appearing to have, or to be on the verge of having, devastating power. Second, they positioned themselves as being weak such that no matter how ferocious they are, there would be no point in pushing them because they are going to collapse anyway. And third, they positioned themselves as crazy, meaning pushing them would be dangerous since they were liable to engage in the greatest risks imaginable at the slightest provocation."
I would suggest that nearly the same strategy - intentionally or not - applies to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Here's my thinking ...
Depending on how you look at it, Mr Trump either already has or is on the verge of having devastating power. One could argue that he already has devastating economic power*, being able to use his wealth to bulldoze opposition to his development projects and to fund (at least initially) his own presidential campaign. And he's clearly on the verge of having devastating military power, since as president, he'd be the commander-in-chief of the most powerful and professional military force on the planet (although he probably doesn't agree). Both are scary thoughts, so we'll check the ferocious box.
The second element of the North Korean strategy applies as well. Mr Trump is in many ways like a typical grade-school bully, blustering, threatening, and insulting those he wants to pick on, and with a notoriously thin skin for any perceived insult to - or even criticism of - himself. Some psychologists suggest that bullies compensate for weakness and insecurity with outsized aggression and apply the model to Mr Trump, although others argue that he's not a classic bully because the people he picks on are powerful in their own right. He's spring-loaded to the "attack" position whenever challenged, and refuses to give an inch even when confronted with proof that he's in error. I think we can check the weak box, too.
If we use Mr Friedman's definition of crazy in this context ("liable to engage in the greatest risks imaginable at the slightest provocation"), I think we can check that box, too. Consider three of the actions Mr Trump has stated he will take if elected: build a wall along the US border with Mexico, and force the Mexican government to pay for it; round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants now inside the US**; and ban entry to the US for Muslims. While none of these actions equates to the bombastic North Korean rattling of its nuclear saber at every provocation, they represent a reckless willingness to alienate one of our largest trading partners and two of the largest ethnic and demographic groups on the planet. Not to mention that banning any religious group from entry is almost certainly unconstitutional***. Although it doesn't quite line up with the Friedman definition of crazy, Mr Trump also is on record as stating that it's important in foreign affairs to be unpredictable, to keep other world leaders guessing what he'll do next ... and if any government on the planet is predictably unpredictable it's North Korea. Overall, I think we can safely check the crazy box as well.
Ferocious, weak, and crazy ... I think Donald Trump is arguably the North Korea of American politics, and those who fail to recognize it would be in for a very big shock should he ever be elected.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.
* There is, of course, some debate over exactly how wealthy Mr Trump is - something that might be clarified should he ever choose to release his tax returns for public scrutiny. Let's just say that even on his economically worst day, he's a hell of a lot richer than I'll ever be and probably doesn't worry about how to pay for his health care.
** This is not to minimize the problem of illegal immigration, which I believe that, as a sovereign nation, we must address. But the answer is not to build a ridiculous and impractical wall, but to reform our immigration laws and policies. If you haven't read my proposal for how to do that, you can check it out here.
*** Everybody worships the Second Amendment, but it's worth remembering that the first clause of the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion and enjoins the government from "establishing" any particular religion. If you want to see what living in a theocratic paradise is like, you may want to check out garden spots like Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Pakistan.