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President Mudslinger: a Strategy of Dirt

It seems we are living in a tit-for-tat world, playing games at all levels, regularly calling out the opposition with bold aplomb. Call it chess if you can see 10 moves ahead or checkers if you like going here and there and getting crowned with occasional local glory. Hopefully it’s not a mutually-assured-destruction game of tic-tac-toe.

I suppose we all act according to a strategy, some of it on purpose: Me first, an eye for an eye, the golden mean, turn the other cheek, neither a lender nor a borrower be (Polonius), the pursuit of happiness (DOI), let’s do it to them before they do it to us (Sgt Stan Jablonski), that’s not a knife… that’s a knife (Paul Hogan), ignore it and hope it goes away (standard government operating procedure), but what to make of “say anything and hope something sticks” (President Mudslinger).

Indeed, is “say anything” just another smokescreen to hide the truth – that the rich do whatever they like with impunity? As the 24/7 rants continue, we see not only the gap between the rich and poor becoming wider, but a Grand Canyon-sized chasm between the politically able and the disenfranchised. As usual based on money. On the bright side – because of the abuses of the over-privileged and the over-reaching, we have laws to deal with those who would do anything.

We used to hope that low-sparking, high-heeled boys didn’t overly impact our lives, pushing softly by us in the invisible streets of everyday life, but with a loose cannon at the helm of USS Madness, no one can be sure anymore. How to pixelate the thoughts of one who rarely means what he says or says what he means (intellectually spliced as literally/seriously)? Has chaos (Chaos) and the forces of badness at last won out against the forces of goodness and niceness (Control) as if in a remodelled Mel Brooks farce? Hollywood couldn’t make this stuff up. But isn’t Mr Big Biz supposed to be an expert on strategy?

There are various ways to rate a strategy, quantifying whether being nice, aggressive, insulting, hard-nosed, or intransigent works, or if “say anything” is just the art of the deal as Bibi Netanyahu recently parroted back to his flip-flopping good friend Donald Trump from the White House logo pulpit. One bona fide way is to exaggerate or disguise one’s interest to ultimately score a better outcome, hoping one doesn’t get gazumped along the way. Hell, changing speeds is the ultimate weapon for today’s MLB pitcher, slotting 92 down the middle and then nibbling the corner at 85. Keep the buggers off guard.

The Art of the Deal, the book that launched Hurricane Donald on his whirlwind odyssey, presumably asks similar questions. Full disclosure, I didn’t read the book, though I did read How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions by Francis Wheen, who noted that even the “gloriously vulgar” Trump was keen to avail of the deluge of self-help books spewing forth old snake oil in the fancy new bottles of a freewheeling ‘80s. Wheen reminds us that power is everyone’s favorite aphrodisiac: “The logic is inescapable: rich people are sexy.”

In The Winner-Take-All Society, Robert Frank and Philip Cook further note the allure of power in today’s culture wars, though cautioned against confusing popularity with quality. After Trump bought thousands of copies of his own book to install his opus on the Best Seller list, they applauded his shrewd business sense in cold financial terms, yet added “as anyone who has read The Art of the Deal, or sat through an episode of Beavis and Butthead can attest, popularity in itself is no guarantee of quality.” Alas, how else to get such great fake news out there if not to create your own great fake list?

Many have questioned the method to the apparent madness. Deutsche Bank called in a 2005 $640-million loan when the repayments on another eponymous high tower failed to appear after the 2008 credit crisis, calmly stating the sober truth: “Trump is no stranger to overdue debt.” The height of chutzpah, Mr Wheeler-Dealer countered with force majeure, citing the “once-in-a-century credit tsunami” that had derailed the whole world, even suing Deutsche Bank for $3 billion as complicit in the crash. You know the one about the schlemiel and the schlimazel? – DT Barnum has been spilling soup over everyone for years.

Of course, the would-be Donaldísimo is a poor little rich kid who just wants his own way, throwing mud at everything and hoping something sticks, followed by “Give as good as you get” sand-box style, blame the other guy (especially Obama and the press), and hope the public doesn’t figure out how hate has become a poker chip. As for those who pass his permanently arched brow, Benjamin Barber aptly noted in Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, “you end up not only as a Trump employee but as a kind of junior Donald Trump sharing in the many celebrity perks of being Trump.” It seems we are all sidekicks now, looking to shine in reflected glory.

The reality of course is very different. Will selective immigration and border taxes make America safer and great again? More like accusing the wrong “bad hombres/dudes” will incite real anger while unilateral border taxes will set off a nasty tit-for-tat trade war, creating a less safe world and border taxes for all. Less taxes for the already under-taxed? Better hope an almost $20-trillion debt doesn’t triple again as when Ronald Reagan pulled that same fast one with his famed Laffer curve. And preferring so-called clean coal over renewables is like backing the horse over the car. Is it time to call out “Honest Donald” (his own tremendous adjectival moniker for himself) as a busted flush?

You can’t play all the hands to claim an occasional victory like that lucky monkey randomly typing Hamlet after an infinity of tries. Such ineptitude causes real pain, though hopefully not as bad as that same lucky monkey randomly typing Revelation. It seems in a land of lies, the half-truth man is king, but we all know an eye for an eye will eventually leave everyone blind, one reason it has been axed in most civilized worlds.

But there must be a strategy – right? It can’t all be bluster. What happened to catching more flies with honey than vinegar, a spoon full of sugar helping the medicine go down, letting sleeping dogs lie? One can’t say anything, justify all actions, and never admit how one won the spoils. If one lies and cheats, not all can be easily forgiven just because you win the gold.

It’s the old means/end conundrum. Ask Lance Armstrong, who cycled his way into fame with a story of pain and determination, overcoming cancer and changing his body type to win the impossible, but in fact lied and cheated and is now a cautionary tale about what not to do. In The Rebel, Albert Camus elegantly skewered the ways of Soviet communism by powerfully showing that you can never win future freedom by enslaving the present. Has anyone tweeted that cold truth to Fibber McDonald?

Tweeter D is clearly a lightning rod for a new kind of angst – not being able to get what one wants whenever one wants it. Instant reality-show gratification. Clickable citizenship. And thus the mud keeps flying. With today’s say-anything strategy, truth has become fiction as clocks around the world strike 13.

Maybe President Mudslinger thinks that being offensive is the strategy of a winning commander – classic ad hominem fallacy plastered all over the Internet. One could call it the Jerry Springer model: He who yells loudest wins the most air time. The truth: if he says something about another, he means himself. Classic projection. And oddly, as the mud flies, everyone else seems to be getting dirty. Of course, there will be no hiding the truth when the ratings don’t jibe after yet another failed top-down house cleaning, CEO style. One need look only to Grandpa Reagan and ask “Are you better off?”

We all know the system doesn’t work, antiquated 2-party madness polarizing positions everywhere, heightening debate as if a negotiating tool. Even the Goldman Sachs riggers know the system is broken, playing the naysayers off against each other in pretend anti-government guise. But aren’t we tired of a world run by those who didn’t receive their privilege by merit or service? How about fairly divvying up the spoils this time?

Happily, no amount of racist, sexist, xenophobic doggerel can change how to better one’s life – in concert with family, friends, and fellow citizens. No amount of extemporaneous black-and-white, say-anything, bigly nonsense from a carnival-hawking mudslinging Maleagant can change that truth, no matter what kind of rich man’s anarchy is coming down the sludge pipe. Let’s hope there is plenty of tat left to follow the tit.

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John K. White, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Physics, University College Dublin, and author of Do The Math!: On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013). Do The Math! is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at: john.white@ucd.ie.

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