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Friday, January 15, 2021

How successful was the Trump doctrine?

In retrospect, President Trump would have had greater success if he'd followed the teachings of Sun-Tzu

S ome commentators have claimed that President Trump was following the teachings of the great military strategist Sun-Tzu. In fact, he was doing the opposite, and it explains much about why his attack on the system was mostly unsuccessful.

The Trump doctrine was to treat everything—dealings with foreign powers and negotiating with his political enemies—as a form of deal-making. It was a clever and innovative strategy, but it ultimately failed because politics is not just two parties trying to jockey for advantage; it is also a war with an enemy that is deceitful and arrogant.

I've been stuck in academia for a couple years now, and we have deceitful, arrogant people up the wazoo. In fact, deceit and arrogance is what academia is all about. There is only one way to deal with such people: you must conceal your motivations and actions at all times—an information embargo.

Trump's fake news tweet
Trump's famous 'fake news' tweet

It works like this: let them say anything they like. If their words turn into actions, as they eventually will, isolate them as if they're a disease. The trick is never to tell them why. As Sun-Tzu said, all warfare is based on deception. He wrote:

The general unable to control his irritation will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken.

To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, “Well done!” Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

Trump's angry-sounding tweets might have made his base happy, but in signaling his motivations he was giving priceless information to his enemy. Trump was skilled at feigning disorder (as Sun-Tzu recom­mended) but his make-a-deal doctrine was insufficient to deal with people who simply want to destroy.

In one famous tweet he called the NY Times and CNN fake news. It was pointless and foolish. Conservatives already knew it, and to leftists it was irrelevant because they believe there is no such thing as truth. In revealing his opinions, he was giving aid and comfort to his enemies. Sun-Tzu again:

There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

Trump on 20 trillion dollar bill
Proposed design for a 20 trillion dollar bill

Trump's followers rejoiced in the fact that he would “fight back.” But complaining is a sign of weakness. When you are in a position of strength, you do not complain, you simply act. In dealing with Chinese mercantilism, a better strategy would have been to simply impose tariffs and state that the purpose is to achieve parity and fairness. In dealing with the Paris treaty, simply state that we have already complied.

In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.

Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

Thanks to years of dishonesty and collusion between media and politicians we now live in a low-trust society. The only way to deal with it is to strike like a thunderbolt, where they don't expect, as Sun-Tzu recommended. The enemy has no need to understand what's happening. It is the fate of the arrogant to fail and never to know why.

jan 15 2021, 5:25 am

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