Regime-change in the USA

Be honest – how many of you were expecting to see something like this:

No one really knows what a Trump presidency will look like. But we can agree at least that this election result is more profound than the usual changing-of-the-guard seen in political duopolies like America.

In my latest piece at Mercatornet, I examine Trump’s victory in the sensible context of ancient Chinese history:

There’s a Chinese proverb to the effect that “he who wins becomes king while he who loses becomes an outlaw.” Though Trump has suggested that this might literally be the case once he is inaugurated, what the saying really refers to is the historical Chinese concept of the “mandate of heaven.”

At various points in history, dynasties became corrupt, weak, unjust or ineffective and were overthrown. A successful rebellion was taken as evidence that the defeated regime had lost its way, effectively surrendering the right to rule through its own misdeeds and poor governance.

As power changed hands, the mandate of heaven became a way of retaining theoretical continuity with the previous regime while lending legitimacy to the new one.

A modern democracy mirrors the mandate of heaven, but fixes authority in the “will of the people” instead. Fair and free elections allow for political transitions to occur without massive violence and disorder, and the victors typically pledge to unite the whole country, to work for the good of those who voted for them, as well as those who didn’t.

8 thoughts on “Regime-change in the USA

  1. To answer your question I can honestly say I was not expecting Trump to turn into Sideshow Bob at all. I expect Trump to be “presidential”, to be somewhat conciliatory, more moderate in his tone, at least for the time being. It has always been tactically effective to pander to the fear and ignorance of disaffected individuals for political purposes and this was what campaigning version of Trump was all about – “divide and conquer”. I expect the Presidential version of this man to be be quite different from the campaigning version, or at least I can hope that this is the case. From what I have seen thus far in his acceptance speech and in his meeting with the current president, he has demonstrated this. But maybe it’s too early to know for sure. We have to wait and see.

    However, I certainly do expect that a small minority (perhaps one could fairly refer to them as a small “deplorable” minority) would turn into something resembling the villainous character from The Simpsons. There are already isolated reports of blacks and Muslims being racially abused, Muslim women having their head scarfs pull out from their heads, racial slurs in the form of graffiti on walls and even on people’s cars, people being told to leave the country etc etc.

    I don’t think anyone genuinely feared that Trump would become Sideshow Bob. But I do think that many feared that Trump would vindicate and embolden those who have a little or a lot of Sideshow Bob already in them. The overt stuff is of course worrying but I also worry about the latent stuff that festers underneath, perhaps unbeknownst to the host and unbeknownst to society. Just like the how the popularity of Trump was unbeknownst to everyone. That was one of my concerns about Trump’s victory.

    • I agree. I ended up rewatching that Simpsons episode (s06e05) for nostalgia, but it was surprisingly apt. Evil maniacal laughter aside, it showed Bob as an outsider using all his unconventional tricks to win the people over, and defeating his “establishment” opponent. Good for a few laughs.

      I try to emphasise in the article that no one really knows what Trump will be like in his presidency. Though I’d tend to agree with you that he will turn out to be far more pragmatic and reasonable than his opponents fear.

      I’ve been reading the blog of the Dilbert creator, Scott Adams. He predicted this outcome some time ago, on the basis that Trump is what he calls a ‘Master Persuader’, and that seen through the lens of persuasion, a Trump victory was almost always the most likely outcome:

      • Ah! Good ol’ Dilbert! Comes in handy again during a time of anxiety and uncertainty!

        I also came across a couple of other notable people who predicted the Trump victory. Noam Chomsky wrote a piece on it and Michael Moore was adamant that Trump would win and tried to warn his constituency about this.

        While I do believe Trump will be more moderate during his presidency overall, I do wonder whether a few Trump-esque things might come out eventually. Maybe part of his current conciliatory tone and moderate demeanor is because he is having to come to terms with the reality that he is president. His tone and his body language is interesting to observe.

        Some think that he wasn’t expecting to actually become president and that his run for office was just to feed his narcissism. But perhaps in time he will adapt and be more comfortable and come out of his shell a little more. We saw how reactive he was towards critics who questioned him. No doubt he will come under scrutiny during his term in office and it will be interesting to see how he responds when he has fully settled into the role and is a little more comfortable in his own skin. I expect he will at least raise a few eyebrows.

        • I’m basically trying to imagine what he will do and how he will behave when he’s in power…and coming up with a range of possibilities that depend on information I don’t have access to. I would say the one constant is that he cares primarily for his own pride. But even that could lead him to be swept up by the nature of the presidential office, into some kind of great-statesman role.

          I am sure he will moderate himself…but for how long, and in what direction, and against which possible countervailing internal interests?
          Stay tuned….

  2. Out of the successful predictors, only Scott Adams is conflating luck with skill. This is a theme in Dilbert too, BTW: superior nerd says, “told you so”. (In my corporate exile I relished the self pity afforded by my Dilbert books.)

    If Trump were such a great player, he would have won by higher margins.

    When will the mask come off and the statesman emerge? While there are protests? While minorities are fearful? Perhaps while announcing tax cuts.

    Sometimes a lucky boor isn’t a manipulator in disguise. We’re still waiting for George W. Bush to establish his mastermind status.

    It reads like you’re resigned to him getting the benefit of the doubt for a while. I am too. Though I don’t believe he deserves it because of the uncertainty his campaign has generated.

    A voting public has given an outsider access to the cockpit, displacing experienced pilots. He needs to RTFM right now.

    • ‘Luck vs skill’ is the question isn’t it? I started reading the blog earlier in the year and found it interesting. I’ve read it years before and found it intelligent and incisive, yet also off-putting for a number of reasons. I’ve made an educated guess at Adams’ temperament ; )

      But regarding lucky versus skilled or boorish versus manipulative, I don’t think it’s necessarily either/or. I have reason to be skeptical and wary of ‘persuaders’ in general, and taking into account temperament, it’s quite possible for Trump to be a great persuader/manipulator, and also be a boor, and also be ‘lucky’.

      But on that last note, it would help to know in greater detail what you mean by ‘lucky’ in regard to Trump.

      • First, back to Scott Adams’ blog. He chuckles that the media are now scrambling for an explanation, secure in the knowledge that his explanation was correct because his prediction happened to occur. He totally lost me when he started Trump’s Hero’s Journey.

        Explanations are very appealing. Perhaps moreso to journalists who bring home the bacon by crafting plausible narratives. Daniel Kahneman writes that our intelligence leads us to fill the gaps with concocted reasons.

        Luck just doesn’t make a good story. But identifying a silent, suffering majority AND knowing what they desire AND developing appeal to them WHILE no one else was able to exploit the same opportunity. Now that’s a ripper of a yarn.

        So just as skill and luck are not either/or in people, so it is not mutually exclusive in situations. A lot of the ‘genius’ in Trump’s campaign can be seen as ‘in the right place at the right time fighting the right opponent’. Add to that our tendency to want story, and that’s why I’m reserved as to whether he’ll be able to suddenly pivot into a dignified presidential role.

        • Okay, if by ‘luck’ you mean that Trump couldn’t possibly have predicted how it would all unfold, I agree. My tentative reading of the situation is that he saw some kind of opening for his personal brand of politics… perhaps in part because no one else was doing it that way… and simply launched into it with very little consideration for how people normally campaign in elections.

          I don’t think he’s a genius who knew from the start that he would win. And if you look at Adams’ pre-election stuff, it’s all about Trump’s persuasive skills, not about the policies or issues or even the electorate.

          So while most journalists were saying “this guy is unbelievable, he doesn’t stand a chance,” Adams was saying “this guy is a ‘Master Persuader'”; he wasn’t saying “this guy will win over the silent majority”.

          So Adams’ narrative is all vested in Trump’s persuasive skills – not so much in Trump’s predictive skills or deep insights into the electorate.

          After the election, everyone has grabbed hold of this narrative of the silent large minority, and are reading into Trump the profound insight and foresight of having identified the silent minority and spoken to them. It makes him seem (in hindsight) a lot more skilled and knowledgeable, yet it’s quite plausible that Trump didn’t expect to win.

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