Thursday, February 16, 2017

Underestimating Trump


Underestimating Trump

One peril we face in trying to understand Trump is underestimating him. There is a delicious moment of television during the primary season when Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota, warned that Trump might become president and the New York Times reporter, Maggie Hagerman, led out a “vigorous belly laugh.” After Trump’s election some of my liberal friends were convinced that the Republicans were preparing to impeach him to make way for Vice President Mike Pence, who while very conservative, is temperamentally fit to be president. In the same vein, many critics announced that Trump had a narcissistic personality disorder, a diagnosis rendered as part of the argument that he was simply unfit to be president. Let me make clear that I oppose the politics of the Trump administration and the Republican congress. The purpose of this post is not to assess his policies, but rather to consider the man in the round, to grasp his talents as well as his limitations, and to assess the conditions under which he might succeed or fail on his own terms. As the great Chinese military master Sun Tzu said, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

The limits of narcissism as an explanation

Take for example the issue of narcissism. Steve Jobs was a famous narcissist. He bullied people, denied the paternity of his child, cried when his initiatives were blocked, attacked people personally when he felt their work was inadequate, violated antitrust laws by threatening competitors who were hiring Apple employees, and parked in handicapped spaces. Yet we admire him because we know that he brought his rage, ambition and single-mindedness under the control of his impulse to design beautiful, useful and novel tools. Looking beyond his psychology, we see how he was shaped by a wider context; in particular, the entrepreneurial setting of Silicon Valley, the role of the hobbyist culture in developing the personal computer, and the aftershocks of the counterculture. This matrix, shaped by his talent, his setting and his psychology gave rise to what he can call his character. Character as a concept offers up a way of understanding a person in the round. A psychological diagnosis by contrast is one-dimensional.

Consider as well the case of Jimmy Hoffa, the leader of the Teamsters (truck-drivers) union, who built it into an economic powerhouse from the 1930s through the 1950s. In a masterful study of character, Abraham Zaleznik highlights his political and organizing genius, as well as the primitive layers of his character. He built the union’s power by identifying the weak points in interstate trucking routes, where a strike at one warehouse could cripple truck traffic between major metropolitan areas. He played off one employer group against another and kept his “file cabinet of data and information all in his head.” His union members loved him. He was schooled by a Marxist and believed that capitalism was doomed. Growing up in the depression, in the home of his single mother, he had a deep sense of injustice. As a young labor organizer he fought physically with anti-labor cops and scabs and valued his toughness. He “had flashes of uncontrollable rage, and although he learned to keep his feelings under control in public, he occasionally resorted to bare fists when aroused. Flaring up viciously at his associates, he undermined the self-respect of those he admired most.” He was close to his children and family and flew home on weekends to be with them. His daughter reported, “He never spanked us.” As Zaleznik makes clear, we would so impoverish our understanding of Hoffa if we reduced him to a psychological diagnosis, for example highlighting his rage and antagonism as expressions of narcissism. Instead, we should see his character in the round; in its roots in the Great Depression, his sense of injustice, his Marxism, in close ties to his struggling mother, his genius for organizing, his physical courage, as well as his primitivity.

Trump’s Dark View
One question this raises is what talents and dispositions does Trump bring to the present moment in American politics. One feature of his success, I suggest, is his dark worldview and its resonance with the experience of many voters. My readers will recall his inaugural address in which he noted that, “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
The reference to “carnage” was a striking metaphor, evoking as it did slaughter and bloodbaths. The address echoed his earlier acceptance speech at the Republican nominating convention in which he referenced the “chaos in our communities.” Critics pointed out that these terms were gross exaggerations. But their emotional overtones resonated with precisely those residents in older urban and rural communities where joblessness and drug use are undermining families and communities. One result is “cultural carnage” as men in such settings lose the material basis for their roles as providers and fathers, the hallmarks of their masculinity. This is why they and their wives were sensitized to the discourse of political correctness (PC), which, by attacking “male privilege,” only fanned the flames. This is also why Trump could profit by attacking PC, and why Clinton failed to win the “white woman” vote. They were protecting their men.
It may seem strange that Trump, born into privilege, should win the affections of working class people in decaying industrial towns. But one of Trump’s great strengths is his concreteness. He has led his life in the world of buildings and construction and had an early education in manual labor as an apprentice in his father’s real estate business. Describing his early education in construction, one author notes,  He ran errands. He collected coins from laundry rooms. He hosed down dust at the Trump Village construction site.” Working in a machine shop he reported, “I loved it, working with my hands, and I saw a different world, the world of the guys who clean and fix things.” (loc 4082)*

Attending a military academy as a teenager he was schooled in a culture of physical discipline and toughness where, “Physical brutality and verbal abuse were tolerated, even encouraged.” His mentor, the academy’s athletic director, would set up a boxing ring two afternoons a week forcing cadets with poor grades or disciplinary problems to fight each other, “whether they wanted to or not.” (loc 724) His frugal father, who was at once his protector and mentor, put great store in the value of supplies and tools, picking up unused nails off the floor and returning them to his carpenters at building sites. From one point of view Trump’s buildings and signs are garish shaped by, “surface decoration, clumsy massing and opulence.” But they also reflect a life lived in a material world where ideas, abstractions and nuance lack salience.

In addition, Trump comes to his dark worldview honestly. It is not a conceit or a public relations stance. This is why he can represent it emotionally. Despite his privileged background, he is after all the son of an enormously successful real estate entrepreneur; he sees the world starkly, as a battle for status and as a setting where defeat is always around the corner. An oft-reported vignette is revealing here. Talking to a New York Times reporter in 1980, when he was 24 years old, he described an experience he had upon attending the opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York city. “The rain was coming down for hours … In a corner just standing there in the rain, is this man, this 85-year-old engineer who came from Sweden and designed this bridge, who poured his heart into it, and nobody even mentioned his name. I realized then and there, that if you let people treat you how they want, you’ll be made a fool. I realized then and there something I would never forget. I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.” 
The life and death of his older brother, Fred Jr., was also telling in this regard. The presumed heir apparent of their fathers business, Fred Jr. lacked the interest and temperament for the construction business. He was a gentle and good humored and loved flying, but died of alcoholism in his parents’ home some years after separating from his wife. Reflecting on his brother’s presumed failings, two months after his death, Trump said that he had learned, “to keep my guard up one hundred percent. Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat. You just can’t let people make a sucker out of you.” (loc 1646)
The term “sucker” is revealing. It is closely connected to the idea of humiliation. Humiliation is different than shame. The latter is an internal experience. We are ashamed in front of ourselves when we fail to live to up to our own ideals. But humiliation is public, in which for example, a man who has a reputation for public probity is revealed to have stolen money from the company treasury, or hired escorts. A person has some control over how he regulates his internal experience of shame, for example, by rationalizing his conduct-- “my unhappy marriage drove me to use drugs,”--but little to no control over his public humiliation. Trump’s foolish obsession with the number of people who attended his inauguration, an obsession that undermined his gravitas, was not in this sense based on a thin skin, or low self-esteem. As befits a good narcissist he has high self-esteem. Rather, it reflects his attunement to the prospect of humiliation.
Trump’s restlessness

The prospect of defeat and humiliation accounts I think, for Trump’s strong work ethic and indeed his restlessness. To build his brand as a business tool he encouraged the press and newsmakers to think of him as a playboy if not a sybarite. But this is far from the truth. Ned Eichler, who helped the Penn Central Railroad divest its real estate in Manhattan, saw the younger Trump as a man “more focused and more competitive than anyone he had ever seen. ‘He’d be in a meeting, performing and carrying on, and then some guy would ask him a technical question and he’d be on it like a tiger… The only topic of conversation, all day long and during dinner as well, was business. You didn’t talk about any of the ordinary things, like movies or books. With Donald, there was no small talk.’” (loc 4500) Peter Osnos who edited Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, for Random House Publishing, noted that, “Trump had this urge to be a really big name, so he cultivated celebrity. But his lifestyle was surprisingly unglamorous. He’s quite disciplined in some ways. Doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, lives above the store. He was not a big New York socialite, never was. He basically enjoyed going upstairs and watching the tube.” (loc 1734)

As two authors write, For all of Trump’s salacious chatter on the radio and carefully staged appearances with models and other beautiful women, those who spent lots of time with him through the 1990s described not as an overheated Casanova, but rather a workaholic and something of a homebody, a savvy business operator who was keenly aware of the value of being perceived as a player. Goldberg, the attorney who was often by Trump’s side during those years, said many of his client’s much-ballyhooed associations with famous women and top models were mere moments, staged for the cameras. ‘Give him a Hershey bar and let him watch television.’” (loc 2914)

His relationship to women

Indeed, his relationship to women is more complex than his occasional predatory behavior or his playboy image would suggest. (Though it should be noted that, as happens to many powerful men, women have sent him solicitation letters.) He has mentored women and given them great responsibility in his business. His first wife Ivana, was his business partner. He gave her the role of CEO of the Trump Castle and casino in Atlantic City and put her in charge of doing the interiors for the Commodore Hotel. “Demanding, insistent, hoarse-voiced from screaming so often and so loudly, Ivana worked eighteen-hour days for months on end to be sure that the new hotel would radiate glitz and glamour in every detail.” As she told a reporter in 1988, ‘Donald calls me his twin as a woman.’” (loc 5244)

As her quote suggests, Trump may in fact be most comfortable with women who are masculinized. This may be due in part to his wariness of women’s sexuality. As he told a reporter, “Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. . I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part. . . . There’s nothing I love more than women, but they’re really a lot different than portrayed. They are far worse than men, far more aggressive, and boy, can they be smart. Let’s give credit where credit is due, and let’s salute women for their tremendous power, which most men are afraid to admit they have.” (loc 2687)

A psychoanalytic perspective

A psychoanalytic perspective may illuminate this constellation of character traits; his dark view, his restlessness and his suspicion of femininity. It is common conception in psychoanalysis that a worldview is partly a projection of our inner world. This is the world shaped by our fantasies and images, mostly unconscious, of the primary figures in our lives; the figures of “mother,” “father,” “man,” “women,” “rivals and friends,” the “dominant and the submissive”, and the “sexualized and the neutered.” We can see this internal world externalized in our myths, fairy tales, films, and literature. This is why these art forms are compelling and their familiar themes so timeless. For example, the popularity of the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight,” is a projection of a fantasy of inner chaos that anyone who has experienced some damage or disappointment in an early relationship to a mother, father or sibling, can identify with.

We can only speculate about the specific contents of Trump’s inner life. Perhaps his fear of women and their femininity reflects some early and primary disturbance in relationship to his mother. From a psychoanalytic point of view such an early experience certainly marks a man. Indeed, a reading of his biographies suggests to me that he had a good relationship with his father, who though a sometimes a harsh disciplinarian -- after all, he exiled Donald to a military academy when he was thirteen -- was also a mentor and life-long supporter.

But whatever the contents of his inner life, he responded adaptively to inner chaos by becoming a restless builder and business developer. This is one reason why he did not simply take over his father’s business, an easy step for a less ambitious son. Instead, he decided to take the risk of constructing luxury buildings in Manhattan, rather than build middle class apartments as his father had in Queens, an outer borough of the city. In this sense he has externalized his conflicts and channeled them constructively, at least in term of his wider culture’s scale of values.

This is altogether common. For example, there are any number of successful Wall Street traders who pore their genius and emotional life into trading as a way of staving off a lack of meaning. But the emotional basis for meaning is in the loving relationships we develop, if not at first with the members of our family of origin, then with the primary figures in our adult lives. Building the latter relationships takes psychological work.  Many successful and ambitious people put it off by externalizing it through culturally sanctioned activities like trading, commerce, lawyering, or even scientific research. Such people, particularly men, may face a life-crisis only later in their lives when they consider retiring, or when they lose their edge.

Trump as Trickster

One of the more peculiar features of Trump’s primary campaign was the ease with which he insulted his opponents, calling Marco Rubio, “Little Marco,” Ted Cruise, “Lying Ted,” (with the added phrase-“nobody likes him”), and Jeb Bush, “low energy.” In describing Carly Fiorina he said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Doubly puzzling was the fact that many voters found these insults funny. After all, in earlier presidential primaries and elections small slipups derailed campaigns; for example, when President Gerald Ford, running in the Republican primary for a second term, was labeled a “klutz” after slipping on the stairs of Air Force One. 

One hypothesis is that Trump posed as the great disruptor. Carl Jung proposed that cultures throughout the world shape their mythology by evoking archetypal figures such as the “hero,” the “wise man” or the “explorer.” One such archetype is the “trickster” who “disobeys rules, ignores what is normal or expected and often encourages chaos. He openly questions and mocks convention, and encourages other characters to follow their impulses, to do what is fun or what feels good rather than what is right.”

The biblical patriarch Jacob is certainly a trickster. He tricked his brother into giving up his birthright “for a mess of pottage” (bowl of soup), his father into giving him a deathbed blessing due his older brother, only to be later tricked by his uncle Laban, who gave him the matriarch Leah rather than Rachel, the woman he really loved, after seven years of servitude.

In modern culture, the “Joker,” in the Batman movie “Dark Knight” is a destructive trickster. He lives for chaos, though he retains features of a clown, for example his makeup, his grin, “the upward swoop” of his shoes at the toe, and indeed his name. Bart Simpson, a cartoon character in a long-running television franchise, is a more benign trickster. In the “The Telltale Head,” an episode of the first season, Bart joins a group of juvenile delinquents who shoplift at the “kwik-e-mart” and throw rocks at the statue of “Jebediah Springfield,” a revered town founder. Later, Bart cuts off the head of the statue to impress his delinquent friends. The episode’s title is actually a takeoff on Edgar Alan Poe’s story, A Tell Tale Heart, about a murder. Turning a murder story into a clownish tale is itself an act of trickery, disguising murder as the decapitation of a statute. As Freud said, a tendentious joke is a rebellion against authority; its hostile intent masked by the discharge of pleasure we feel upon laughing at it.

If this line of reasoning is correct, Trump’s mix of hostility and humor resonated because he took up a culturally embedded and readily understood role --the trickster -- as a way of promising that, unbound by convention –after all, he almost always spoke of the cuff -- he would upon his election overturn traditional policies and practices, risking chaos in the process. This is also why he has questioned shibboleths about trade, treaties, nuclear weapons, our relationship with Russia and the two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

One can see why his promise of disruption resonated. After all, Trump’s populism meant that he was borrowing tropes from the left as well as the right. What did the left’s conception of the “neo-liberal order” mean if not that elites had such a lock on resources and opportunities that “left behind” communities, whether in the inner cities or in old industrial towns were on their own to choose their favored route to social decay? What did it mean if not that global commerce favored world cities such as New York, London, and Paris, which by rapidly becoming playgrounds for the rich, made even middle class living standards unsustainable? What did it mean if not that student debt now exceeds credit card debt hobbling young people, starting out on their careers, for many decades to come? How could there be any change without significant disruption? The elites, as Trump implied in his inaugural address, were corrupt. Trump as a symbol of disruption, compared with Clinton as a symbol of continuity and corruption, sealed his victory and her defeat.
Commerce as War
Trump’s preparation for the trickster role was conditioned by his belief and experience that commerce itself is a form of war, which after all abides by few conventions and privileges disruption, surprise and deceit. Indeed it is said that in war, “the first casualty is truth.” In an oft-told tale, Trump was eager to attract Harrah Hotel executives as investors in a hotel he wanted to build in Atlantic City. He owned the site but had limited financing for construction. “To impress the Harrah officials, Trump told a crew to dig up dirt and push the piles around the two-acre lot..to make it look like the most active construction site in the history of the world..  Three weeks later, Harrah’s agreed to invest $50 million up front.” (loc 2222)
My own view is that this conception of commerce as war was realistic, or at least socially acceptable within his milieu. Consider for example the case of the lawyer Roy Cohn. Some writers have made much of the fact that Trump seemed close to him or at least used him as counsel. After all, as one journalist writes, “In the Sixties, Cohn was indicted four times (the first case ended in a mistrial) and always acquitted. He has suffered several judicial reprimands for unethical conduct, had his wrists slapped in civil cases, and been ordered to make restitution. In the Seventies, he has been indicted for violating Illinois banking laws; the Internal Revenue Service has audited his income tax returns for the last nineteen years and seized some of his assets. He has been the target of criticism and innuendo about his ethics, his finances, his personal life.”
Yet at the peak of his career his clients included, “Newhouse newspapers and Conde Nast magazines; the Catholic Archdiocese of New York; the Ford Model Agency; Studio 54; Potamkin Cadillac, Baron di Portanova; the biggest names in New York real estate, including Lefrak, Helmsley, Trump; Louis Wolfson, owner of Affirmed; Warren Avis, as in rent a car; Peter Widener and his sister Tootie, a Main Line Pennsylvania family with coal, rail, and racetrack interests; Jerry Finkelstein, a New York businessman; John Schlesinger, a British investor in South Africa; Carmine "Lilo" Galante, the reputed boss of bosses; "Fat Tony" Salerno; Nicholas "Cockeyed Nick" Rattenni; Thomas and Joseph Gambino, sons of the late Carlo; and a string of hoods; Nathan's Famous; Luca Buccellati, the jeweler; Congressman Mario Biaggi; Mrs. Charles Allen Jr., wife of the chairman of Allen & Company, He has counseled his friend George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees. As a favor to his friend Halston, Roy advised Bianca how to handle Mick.”

As another journalist wrote after Cohn’s death, “Large slices of the upper crust of New York and Washington snuggled up to him, laughed and entertained one another with stories about his crimes as though they were choice insiders' jokes, and wrestled for the privilege of partying with Cohn and his crooked and perverse friends.”

The puzzling question is why Cohn should have such social standing. One hypothesis is that many people of wealth and privilege, particularly if their status is not secured, such as first generation entrepreneurs, believe that competitors, ex-spouses, new spouses (who sign prenuptials), tax authorities, politicians on the take, gangsters, banks that hold their debts, recreational drug dealers, and fair-weather friends are out to bankrupt them. Cohn in this sense was their pit-bull, whose dirty tactics and litigiousness, made it costly for his clients’ enemies to go after them. I suggest that this social milieu, where the struggle for money and status is never ending, shaped Trump’s conception of commerce as war by other means.

The Apprentice

There is a striking dialogue in Trump’s TV show, The Apprentice, about the relationship between truth telling, winning and what it takes to compete in his milieu. Recall that The Apprentice was a show in which contestants formed teams and competed to complete real tasks like creating and promoting a workout class for a gym, or designing a promotional character for a new brand of ice cream. Many of the tasks were trivial but the team dynamics were serious. Trump and his staff judged how project managers responsible for a particular task took up their roles and how team members collaborated to accomplish the tasks. In the end the “best performer” won a job in Trump’s organization.

My readers familiar with group dynamics will readily recognize the tension in the show’s design. To win, contestants had to stand out, to excel. But should they fail to collaborate with others, and subordinate appropriately to the project manager, they would lose. Similarly, project managers had to take up a leadership role. But should they fail to mobilize their team members’ best efforts, for example by being authoritarian, they would lose. In the “boardroom” scenes Trump and his advisors would interrogate team members about their process and performance. Taking counsel, Trump would decide which team members to “fire” based both on their task performance and the way in which they took up their roles in the boardroom itself.

At one board meeting Trump is querying a project manager, Ted, who apparently okayed a decision to give out gift bags with nothing in them. A woman named Summer is on his team.

Trump: You know Ted these people are laughing at you. I am starting to laugh at you.
Summer: (Interrupting). I am sorry, you know. Let me,.. I must say something really quick.
Trump: Why should your interrupt me, when I am knocking the hell out of him?
Summer—ah…
Trump: By interrupting me when I am knocking him, what are you doing to yourself?
Summer: Because I am being truthful and will always be truthful.
Trump: How stupid is that? Right?
Summer: It is not stupid.
(A teammate, whispering, counsels Summer to say, “Sorry.”)
Trump. I am getting ready to almost fire him for being a horrible leader and you interrupt me?
Summer: If I stay, I want to stay on the truth..
Trump: (To Summer) And you had no great strengths yourself. You did a lousy job, here I am getting ready to practically fire this guy and you keep interrupting me and stopping me from doing it, and in the end what Carolyn (Trump’s advisor) said is true.
Summer: I want him to be fired with the truth ..
Trump: She (Carolyn) said what have you done, and you couldn’t answer it. You know what Summer, you’re fired.
Summer: Okay
Trump Go, thank you (to whole team)
Trump: (to Ted): You did not make it by much, I want to tell you. You know she saved your ass with her own stupidity. She saved your ass. 

This is a harsh interchange, underlining the entertainment value of the show. But Summer’s “stupidity” is salient on the scale of values that Trump abides by; whether or not participants on the show are tough enough and competitive enough to survive in his world of commerce. In a telling moment in another episode, Felicia, the project manager and Ala are at loggerheads, with Ala “browbeating” Felicia, (Trump’s term), for her poor leadership. At the end of their argument we have the following dialogue.

Trump: Felicia do you really believe you are tough enough to work in New York?
Felicia: Absolutely I do.
Trump: By the way Ala, I have no doubt about it. You are tough enough. But Felicia you are not strong enough to be here. You’re just not strong enough. You’re lovely, you’re smart, you have so many things going, but you’re not strong enough for this city. Felicia, you're fired.

From Campaigning to Governing

There can be little doubt that Trump was a brilliant campaigner, upending many traditions and practices, while melding his spontaneity, skills in self-promotion, and his capacity for publicity, to what turned out to be a very sophisticated polling and outreach operation. He currently dominates the news. But it is very reasonable to ask if he has the capacity to govern, or at least the ability to learn how. In some degree, people asked the same question about Barack Obama, who after all came into the role with no executive experience and limited exposure to the rough and tumble of politics. His rhetorical gifts as well as the promise he represented for a post-racial society carried him a long way. In retrospect, his failure to build a stronger Democratic party in the wake of his two presidential campaign victories was a grievous one.

It is seriously wrong to imagine that Trump’s relative lack of education; he has a business degree and was an indifferent student, signals any lack of intelligence. A developer, Jack walker, who worked with him for a decade, noted that he could retain a “remarkable amount of detailed information in his head.” (loc 6024) I have reviewed only selected videos of his shows, The Apprentice and later, The Celebrity Apprentice. They are hard to find online. But a colleague of mine, a psychiatrist and management professor whose judgment I trust deeply, reports teaching management and leadership skills using these videos. He was struck by Trump’s ability to incorporate a great deal of second-hand data about team members’ performances --he did not observe them in their work -- and then integrate this information with his assessment of a person’s character based on his or her boardroom behavior. As my colleague wrote, “He blocked out the noise and picked up the signal,” a salient skill when making decisions situations rife with uncertainty and complexity.

Abstraction

Trump has great interpersonal strengths and the habit of command. However, his capacity for abstraction may be limited. By this I mean his understanding of how power is institutionalized, how the contest for influence is governed by rules and conventions rooted in culture, and how the levers for exercising power are widely distributed. President Lyndon Johnson understood these power dynamics and used them successfully to build a coalition that supported the passing of Civil Rights legislation in the U.S. Congress. The abject failure of Trump’s immigration order, a two-page document rendered without careful vetting, and his subsequent attack on the character of the judge who ruled against him, reflects this lack of understanding. He acted as if power was based on interpersonal exchange and the competition for dominance, rather than on the interplay of institutions.

To some degree, he comes by these limitations honestly but they may prove costly. As an entrepreneur running a family business he never faced the dilemma of balancing interest groups. His subordinates were unquestionably loyal, his children I imagine were deeply grateful for the opportunities he gave them. The pressing issue is whether he can learn to rely on advisors who can make up for his limitations.

A signature idea?

There is no doubt that Trump is relying for the moment on the Republican Party’s traditional program of deregulation, low taxes and privatization. This is a turn away from Obama’s priorities, but it is not a moment of social or economic disruption. My hunch is that this will not satisfy Trump’s restlessness, his impulse to disrupt and his habit of command. Nor is it likely to create jobs in the communities who so strongly supported him and are hoping, after all, for improvements in their living conditions. Economists agree that jobs are created when new small businesses are established. It is unlikely that small business owners would commit time and money to an enterprise located in a depressed city, even if taxes were lower and regulations less onerous.

Trump had one signature idea in his campaign; the trillion-dollar infrastructure program for rebuilding bridges, roads, tunnels and airports. This idea emerged organically I believe from Trump’s own experience. He is after all a builder, and “decaying” bridges and roads instantiate the idea of “carnage,” physically and concretely. The idea also has the merit of being simple in conception, focused in its execution with the likelihood that it could provide construction jobs as well as work for people whose employers sell construction materials and equipment. A “buy American” proviso would amplify its impact and solidify his support among unions. As is the case with defense spending, the dollars could be spent widely so that voters in a wide array of congressional districts would see benefits in their neighborhoods. Should there emerge local shortages of skilled or semi-skilled workers, cities, counties and states would have an incentive to fund community college and other vocational training programs. Were Trump clever, he would negotiate with construction unions for their commitment to scaling up minority apprenticeship programs. Many Democratic congressmen would support the program.

But the plan at least as it has been discussed to date, is designed to avoid federal deficit spending, the most ready source of dollars for spending on such projects. Instead it relies on private spending and lending stimulated by tax credits. The Cato institute, a conservative think tank has registered its skepticism. For example, private companies or public agencies, like electricity producers, may simply use the credit to finance their current spending plans rather than increase spending. In addition, much infrastructure, like local roads, is not profitable. Even if investors get a tax credit for funding such projects, they can’t expect to recoup any profits from them.

Deficit spending is anathema to the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. But should Trump presume that he has no leverage over them, particularly after he has advanced their agenda on so many other fronts? My hunch is that this is the kind of dilemma that is likely to engage him fully. It lands him in his sweet spot of negotiating multi-party deals, a skill he honed in his years as a developer. It focuses his attention on issues he has mastered in an arena where the resources and objectives are concrete and visible. Most importantly, it provides direct material support to the people who voted for him. There are of course many reasons to be skeptical. But as I wrote at the beginning of this essay, we should not underestimate Trump.

*loc refers to the location in the amazon kindle version of the book.

  



10 comments:

  1. Al Gore emphasized the need to spend on infrastructure; so does Paul Krugman (in era of low-interest rates), and Tom Friedman in his fine new book, 'Thank You for Being Late". Republicans have tried to block federal spending at every opportunity. Trump has to use brute force leverage (coercion, support of candidacy in 2018, ridicule) to get their approval. Trump's major deficit continues to be his nearly unhinged reactions to humiliation (cartoons, media, TV shows, foreign leaders). How long can he rely on his loyal base?

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  2. The need to rebuild infrastructure is not new, but he may be at a great advantage to actualise it. He is a boss, and not a leader --just right as the "blue collar billionaire." https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/6b/04/cd/6b04cd8dcc1d0772504ab483638a8829.jpg

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  3. Dear Larry,
    I welcome and greatly appreciate your objective, well-researched, psychoanalytic perspective. I thought your article offered keen insights as you integrated elements pertaining to his family and childhood experiences, to help understand what shaped his mindset, observable behaviors (especially his restlessness and concreteness), and self-image. Thank you!

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  4. Those who oppose Trump are blind to his abilities. You cited the Art of War- one of the ultimate guides to strategy. Trump has a strategy which may be side tracked by his emotions but is there to be dealt with. He is practicing "Disjointed Incrementalism" (See Braybrook and Lindbloom) to get where he wants to go. I believe that his goal is all about him and not really about a better American. Ultimately, he will be found out but not before he does many things- good and bad- they we should all be ready for

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    2. d, you might have said: "Those who see Trump to have abilities tend to be blind to his lying and large incompetence." Those who feel warm about your alternative comment tend to be those who have never worked with or for him. Yes, there is some short term befits from deceit but the longer term costs are very high and the deceiver skips out on them.

      Yes, you are right about the role of the Art of War but in so being it has encouraged strategic thinking to run amok in denigrating business in particular and societies in general. Warfare, if you have ever been in a front line position, increasingly avoids strategy in that deceit in the small group is a cancer. Those in the successful front lines, unlike Sun and Clausewitz, are close to guerilla warriors who make fun of strategic thinkers hiding in the back, like Clausewitze. To be clear, Clausewitze said, "Strategy is Deceit, if its not deceit its not strategic." In our time, Donald's plagiarizing of Ayn Rand who mostly plagiarized Clausewitze's ideas is getting pretty thin on content.

      As a side issue, but back to the point at hand, Eastern Strategic Thinking is based on "terror," while Western Strategic Thinking is based on "deceit." Both are aligned with evil but one has even less character than the other. Yes, that same group thinking is disjointed but mostly via the limits to human intelligence.

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  5. Larry, it is reassuring to hear your measured thinking, its insights. For the sake of all of us, I only hope that Trump's strengths, which you explore here, are real enough, especially in regard to the restoration of infrastructure. However, for a another look, see the observations of one of the story editors of The Apprentice: https://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/2016/11/an-apprentice-mea-cupla/ He reports that Trump was often so off the mark in those final boardroom scenes that they had to rewrite, re-edit, the video material to come up with Trump's "conclusion." What you mark as a subtlety of judgment, a capacity to pick up cues outside his actual experience was often no such thing. The editors had to reverse-engineer the video to fit Trump's pronouncements. Plus they had to insert post-audio of Trump "talking" in the boardroom. The picture that emerges these days, not just with this editor's comments, shows a man whose outbursts and follies must be managed by the people who surround him. A Potemkin Presidency comes to mind.

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  6. Hi Larry. Long time, no see. You seem to be doing well. I think I've been fired from every job I've had since we last met. I'm now leading a $650 million Foundation I started to see if we can replace idiot men as leaders. Its the Foundation of the Eternal Feminine. Its English translation can be visited at eternalfeminine.org. Soon I will fire myself and hire a woman to replace me, since I'm an idiot male. I will be then starting a Foundation focusing on ethics and why strategic thinking, especially in business schools, killed them. I mention this in that it directly relates to from where my comments on your nice work arise.

    I liked your posting, but feel it perhaps sacrifices some essential truth and humor in attempts to locate the rational in an extraordinarily irrational being. There is no sign of the preferred non-rational in the subject you address and try to analyze.

    It is not easy to be accurately objective about this "Donald" person that takes pride in being intrinsically subjective in intent and content. His will to power, perhaps to compensate for small fingers, is all that drives him. Those that need to pretend that "Their Donald" can walk on water will not be pleased nor irritated by your piece. Your words have to many multiple syllables.

    I instead see him on that proverbial scale offered in Walter Kaufman and Ernst Becker's work. They rely on categories of good and evil. "The Donald" is certainly spot on as one more leading character in Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning work of 1974 on the making of the evil, "Denial of Death."

    "The Donald" is desperately seeking a 21st Century immortality project, almost identical to Becker's portrayal of our 20th Century main man, Hitler. The trouble for "Our Donald" is that he is not smart enough to gain admission to the world's evil class. Probably he is something more like a disorganized Mussolini who seeks Hitler.

    I know a bit of "Our Donald." Last time I had to be near him was when we were together receiving awards at a dinner in Manhattan in 2005. It was given by a company with very bright leaders that Donald could not comprehend. After that they buried him under his regrettable business acumen. By 2015 he was again flirting with bankruptcy. That company still notes in humor that in business dealings "The Donald" failed to negotiate, he just lied.

    Of most importance in the short term news is an individual, in addition to Putin, that lent "The Donald" $1.5 billion. As with Putin this man required copies of tax returns. That man says he plans to release those "informative documents at a suitable time." They are said to present the truest possible picture of "The Donald", his character and the prospects of those he governs.

    In fact, I am not so concerned about "The Donald." He and his weaknesses are clear and omnipresent. He is simply ready to provide the US with its long needed enema. My concern is with the voters who, in lacking rude experience in their lives, (e.g., the savagery of WWII)and thus out of unrequited selfishness and anger at their failed lives they voted for him. They created "The Donald" as a savior. He thus allows them to openly express their hatred of all things different and seemingly better.

    Our tragedy is that this seems overtly similar to a like minded group that brought German frustration to the fore after WWI and formed a similar agenda in the 1930s.

    Scary will come when Donalds's mental state engages that of North Korea's leader. These men of similar intellect and personalities can then discuss their approach to the "art of the deal."

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  7. This analysis makes it plausible that Trump will fail, because he is a risk-taker and because he doesn't understand systems and institutions. But what I'd like to know is: How will he respond to failure? I don't really see him as a systematic authoritarian, partly because he's not systematic about anything. But he can't do what he has done before -- declare bankruptcy and start over. What can we predict from this personality analysis? Will he simply break down?

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