Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thomas Homer-Dixon Looks at Trump - From Bones to Entrails

In today's Globe and Mail, author, historian and professor, Thomas Homer-Dixon tries his hand at vivisecting the Cheeto Benito, Donald Trump, to see what may lie in store for America and the world. Brace yourself.

The headline, "Crisis analysis: How much damage can Trump do? (A lot)" is a bit of a giveaway.

"Okay, here's what happened," wrote an American friend after the U.S. election. "Someone threw a switch, and now we're living in an alternative universe."

The big problem with alternative universes is that we don't know how they work. The assumptions, intuitions and rules of thumb we've previously used to anticipate events, and guide our navigation, suddenly don't apply. So we face an exploding range of possible futures, including many that once seemed crazy.

U.S. President Donald Trump's psychological characteristics make such uncertainty acute. It's clear, for instance, that Mr. Trump's lying is less a calculated political strategy than a reflection of his deep inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. He creates a make-believe world for himself and surrounds himself with people who, to advance their narrow ends, help him sustain that world. When Mr. Trump appears to be lying, he's simply reporting what he sees in his own alternative world, where fantasy and reality mush together.

Trump's Bill of Fare: Financial Crisis, Civil Violence, Authoritarianism and/or War.

"Moderate" authoritarianism could involve, for instance, use of federal resources to intimidate or constrain journalists and judges; substantially increased application of force to track, detain and deport immigrants; and criminalization of protest. Mr. Trump, or in the case of criminalization of protest, his acolytes at the state level are already checking some of these boxes, so I estimate the probability of this degree of authoritarianism in the administration's first year to be 70 per cent. "Severe" authoritarianism would involve actions like a declaration of a state of emergency, federalization of the National Guard, or suspension of key civil liberties. This outcome is much less likely; even after five years, I don't think it's higher than 30 per cent.

A "moderate" war crisis, by my definition, would include any regional conflict between the United States and an intermediate power like Iran, or a great power like China, say in the South China Sea. "Severe" war would involve use of massed military force against a great power like Russia. The category would also include any conflict, for instance, with North Korea, that carries a substantial risk of nuclear escalation. In part, because of Mr. Trump's expressed hostility towards Iran and China, and his tendency to see all international relations in zero-sum terms, I estimate the five-year probability of a "moderate" war crisis to be high, at 60 per cent.

The four crisis types are likely to be causally linked. In particular, civil violence or war could create conditions that Mr. Trump might use to justify an authoritarian crackdown. Financial crisis could also be a consequence of war. The administration's decision-making incompetence increases the risk of financial crisis, civil violence, and war. For instance, Mr. Trump's team of advisers contains little high-level economic expertise, so his administration could be out of its depth should serious trouble develop in financial systems overseas, say in China or Europe.

Yet the specific probabilities are less important than the overall analytical exercise of categorizing the types of crisis Mr. Trump might create and the causal pathways that might lead to them. It helps us see possible futures more clearly. In Mr. Trump's alternative universe, we need all the help we can get.


Anonymous said...

Trump , much like the USA public, think of life as a game show.
If it does not work; change channels.

I say again; the USA public has become a sub species of the human race.

As a whole they really do believe in the American dream.


Northern PoV said...

Dangerous? you bet.

Alternate Universe? No way. Its a SciFi dodge: gee who's this alien who arrived and took over?

This little mental evasion hides the long term culpability of the US public and elites in the ascendance of tRump. tRump's 'win' just sped-up the race to the bottom that began with Ronald Raygun

The Mound of Sound said...

Homer-Dixon is in good company when he views Trump as living in an alternate reality where truth is malleable at best, heresy at worst. The guy is 70 years old which suggests he's too old to have come late to this game and too old to embrace reality. His psyche is deeply embedded and delusional convenience is an integral, inseparable component. His aides must confront his lunacy - and try to at least partially rein it in - on a daily basis. They have to keep him from being seen as batshit crazy by his followers and I'm sure that's not easy.

Just today he repeated the GCHQ even as the deputy chief of the NSA said the claim is preposterous.

What I wonder is how America's intelligence and security leadership assess Trump's threat to the United States. The guy is barking mad and easily set off. They know their POTUS is unhinged. During the campaign a raft of these officials, Republicans to a man, wrote open letters warning that Trump was a danger to American security and a threat to world peace. Top generals have said precisely the same thing. Is it realistic to expect them to stand by and watch him take down their country?

Anonymous said...

Trump is everything you say he is.
As a singularity he is relatively harmless as he sways from one subject to another; never staying long enough to provide lasting direction.
The ultimate danger comes from those that will use him as a portal to their ambitions.
Trump spends too much time covering his own arse and deception and not on affairs of state.


Anonymous said...

Interesting times!!\
Dangerous times


Northern PoV said...

Hey ... the quote I was challenging was "we're" living in an alt reality not tRump. The "switch" metaphor absolves folks of personal responsibility for this outcome which is in essence just another few steps down the road.

Just cause tRump may or may not be bat-shit crazy is beside the point.

Funny how all the 'principled' Republicans etc
(who preferred the predictable war-monger over the unpredictable useful idiot who at the time you might recall was trashing their Iraq lies and trumpeting 'no intervention' rhetoric)
are now happy with the policies (54B more for war profiteers and the end of ACA, court picks, destruction of civil society by appointing vandals to high positions, etc) They are using tRump (including all the distractions he provides) to further the neo-CON goals of the last 40 years. No alt-reality here ... just another day at the office.

Purple library guy said...

While all that text in italics is quite true, it also all seems to be business as usual for the United States. How does it represent an "alternate universe"?

Purple library guy said...

To be precise, I'm talking about the section starting "moderate authoritarianism".