Monday, September 23, 2019

Understanding Trump: Know Thine Opponent

Understanding Trump

For 2500 years humans have been advised of the importance of knowing, of understanding, one's opponent in politics and enemy in war. Notwithstanding the availability of such advice it is more often ignored than followed -- including our "wars" in Vietnam and soon-score of years in Afghanistan.

The first known offer of this advice came from a famous Chinese general, Sun Tzu (544-496 B.C.). He wrote:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, III. Attack by Stratagem, 18.

I read books when I have time to sit. When I'm driving, walking, or tending to home chores that require my eyes but not my ears, I listen to audiobooks. This morning, while doing kitchen chores, I was listening to Cliff Sims' Team of Vipers. Sims was involved with the Trump campaign and White House and seems capable of a relatively balanced portrayal of the President -- at least as far as I am in the book. What he said reminded of Sun Tzu, so much so that one section of Sims' chapter 7 caused me to go back to it later, when at my laptop and able to transcribe it. [Photo: Cliff Sims with President Trump on walkway outside Oval Office; photo credit: Yellowhammer News]

Cliff Sims was describing former Speaker Newt Gingrich's effort to categorize politicians by using the ancient Greek poet Archilochus' line, "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing." Hedgehogs are the "big picture guys." Foxes are the policy wonks, focused on details and creative alternative solutions to problems.

With these ancient literary sources in mind, here is what Sims wrote:
Trump is a hedgehog who knows one very big thing: 'We need change.' . . . He is the agent who will deliver the needed change. . . . Trump believes he alone, often through shere force of will, can solve certain problems. That's one lens. Layered on top of that is his belief that all of life is a negotiation, and that all negotiation is a zero-sum game. There's no such thing as a 'win-win.' Someone will win and someone will lose. Layered on top of that is his belief that personal relationships are paramount, taking precedence in all negotiations, even over mutual interests. And layered on top of that is his belief that creating chaos gives him an advantage, because he's more comfortable in the mayhem than anyone else.
Make of it what you will. This characterization of Trump helped me to understand the Democrats' opponent. And I'm with Sun Tzu -- knowing, understanding, Trump is an essential part of any successful campaign.
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See also, "Trump Will Lose? Don't Be So Sure,""The Gazette, May 29, 2019, p. A6.

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