Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Definitive Uncertainty Engine Post

I have been referring to Trump as an Uncertainty Engine since he won the election, and I keep wanting to point to a post where I explain it.  Yet, I don't have one, so here it is.

What do I mean by Uncertainty Engine?  Trump creates doubt about everything every day with almost every utterance, tweet, and action.  He constantly changes stances so it is hard to figure out what is real and what is not.  Even stuff that is a regular theme--China as currency manipulator, NATO as obsolete--gets ditched when he gets an itch to go the other way.  He is purely transactional--the only thing that matters is the transaction of the moment, not what happened last month or last year.  Except for real grudges.

Why is Trump an Uncertainty Engine?
  • Trump does not remember what he says.  In the recent AP interview, he is reminded of something he said two minutes before.  This happens all the time.  "I didn't say that."  Actually, yes, you did.  
  • Trump has broken promises his entire life.  Twice divorced, bankruptcies multiple times, stiffing contractors repeatedly, Trump University, etc.  I have yet to hear him say: "I give you my word, my word is my bond," because perhaps he knows he would be laughed out of the room.
  • Trump does not know much and is not curious enough to read, to study, to even ask for answers from those who have them.  He doesn't ask his intel agencies about wiretapping.  He just reacts to something by speaking rather than thinking.  When asked about NATO a while back, he didn't say he didn't know, he said it was obsolete (again the AP interview).  He cannot say "I don't know", which means he ends up saying stuff based on ignorance and needs to be revised once he learns a bit more "it's complicated."
  • Trump is easily manipulable.  The challenge for his staffers is to be the last one in the room, since that seems to be the stance he goes with.  He likes to breed rivalry among his advisers, which makes him sound FDR-esque, except FDR was really smart and knew the facts of the situations and could adjudicate the competing claims.  Trump? I have no idea what works to persuade him, but it leads to heaps of leaks as people try to put stories in the press so that Trump will read them or watch them on Fox and then react in ways that support their stances.  This creates more uncertainty since the White House has many, many messages emanating out of it, making it harder for outsiders to figure out what is going on.
  • Are tweets policies?  Does Trump's late night, ill thought out utterances become policies?  Maybe.  If so, this means policies are not based on a careful vetting process.  If not, then we don't really know what is going on.  Yep, more uncertainty.
  • Trump bluffs all the time.  He constantly issues threats and then either forgets them or says that the other side did what he wanted (when they clearly didn't).  This undermines American credibility.  There are academic debates about whether credibility matters or not, but I am pretty sure that even the resolve skeptics are pretty concerned about this.  It is not good to have China thinking of the US as a paper tiger.  Not good!
For some countries, this might make sense.  But the US is a status quo power, seeking to keep the international system stable as, despite Trump's ignorant fears, the US benefits from the current order.  Creating uncertainty in the security realm or the economic realm is bad for Americans.  It might just get people killed.  Of that, I am kind of certain.

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