It becomes increasingly clear that people in the political sphere are talking around each other rather than to each other. Ever since the 2016 US presidential election season (and perhaps even before then) people fail to understand their opponent’s points of view. The other side is just plain dumb and misinformed. They can’t be rehabilitated, they’re a lost cause. As a Trump supporter in social democratic Norway, this is very clear to me. Skimming through national newspapers, both the journalists and the letters to the editor are full of people that don’t have a clue about how to interpret Trump or the current political climate. Just like militaries often use the strategy of the last war during the current war, politicos use old lenses for viewing current events.
In order to understand Trump and modern politics in general, you have to have a basic grasp of the different layers that apply. You must understand the importance of political persuasion, the role of new media/social media in modern political communication. Without such perspectives, Trump’s actions do indeed appear to be random and unhinged. With a properly calibrated lens however, Trump emerges as a shrewd, calculating and successful political operative. While I don’t subscribe to the theory that everything (or nearly everything) Trump does is intentional “4D-chess”, he does possess remarkably good instincts that serve him well. A few examples are in order.
Trump announced the policy on transgender soldiers just as the Democrats were attempting to pivot from identity politics to an economic message. They dutifully took the offered bait and reverted to form. Their overshadowing single-minded focus on identity politics is part of why they lost last year’s elections. Trump won partly due to his focus on real issues, economics and jobs in particular. His policy here is a low-cost method for achieving his desired ends. From a purely rational and coldly calculating point of view, it was very successful at achieving its intended goal.
One thing that really irks me is that the political left have abandoned principled thinking. They used to have a principled devotion to Marxism, however misguided its end goals were. At least they were somewhat principled. Now principles have given way to what is expedient in the moment. The immigration debate is a prime example of this. The Democrats lament Trump’s decision to give DACA to Congress. From a principled point of view, this is the correct course of action. Separation of powers wise, the decision belongs in Congress. Obama made a questionable power grab with his executive order. Shouldn’t the Democrats applaud Trump for not acting like the dictator they so often claim he is? A dictator would simply make a decision, separation of powers be damned. They should be against such expansions of the reach and scope of the executive branch, especially with their mortal enemy Trump at the helm.
We also have to mention Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un. Their actions aren’t irrational or erratic. They are acting within a rationality of what is best for their own countries. I’m reminded of what I got from reading Putin advisor Alexander Dugin. There is a lot of in depth material and multi layered thinking behind their perspectives and actions. Although Western politicians and journalists fail to see this, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. The danger is that the other side misinterprets the intentions of the other and vice versa. Both sides could benefit from expanding their horizon with an understanding of their adversaries. We have already seen the consequences of this in domestic politics, with people being labelled Nazis and subjected to a campaign of silencing and violence. The consequences of this transformation lifted up to the global stage are too frightening to list here.