Warning, Warning! Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

[Published on 11 December 2016].

Fans of the 60’s show Lost in Space have this phrase etched in their memory banks. That  robot was such a useful guard dog for a family pitched suddenly into a completely alien environment.

As long as it was aliens you were after. The dangers posed by the show’s antagonist, the wily Dr Smith were far more difficult for the robot to detect.

In the US post-election environment,  liberals and democrats experience fresh danger every day, as Trump announces his new administration. The aliens are everywhere, overloading their warning mechanisms. It’s pretty clear to them that he is assembling a team to take down the liberal agenda of Obama and Clinton, probably even that of Kennedy and Roosevelt.

Or is he? The Trump camp emits frequent contradictory messages. A climate change skeptic will head the EPA. But Ivanka met Al Gore. Or did Trump himself meet Al Gore? Could it be that it’s not as bad as we thought? No wait – a new nominee is so anti-women it’s frightening. Four of them have been charged with sexual abuse. And some republican state is now planning to ban abortions after 6 weeks. But that’s before you’d even know you’re pregnant! And what about this flag burning stuff and that decision to stay on the Apprentice team? What about Man of the Year and registers for Moslems?

It’s all too much. This kind of socio-cultural messaging engages and enrages today’s liberals and social justice warriors. But it also fragments their focus and overwhelms their ability to pay attention. They become pliable and vulnerable to red herrings. The Trump agenda hides in plain sight, but they can’t distinguish signal from noise. They are in real danger of being neutralised.

In the theatre of the mind that has suddenly become the way politics are done in the USA, it is always critical to see beyond the puppet show, to identify the stagecraft and to look for the repeated themes. We need to go backstage and take a behind the scenes view.

Most of all we need a theory of mind for Trump. We need a set of hypotheses to test our assumptions about what he wants, how he prefers to operate, what his critical success factors are, what time frame he’s working to, what his expectations are and where his vulnerabilities lie.

On that last point we need to recognise that these vulnerabilities are exploitable not just by what we must call the resistance, but also by any organised intelligence within his team. Narcissistic dictators have a way of serving the needs of people THEY think are serving them.

Doesn’t this sound dramatic? It’s crazy. And yet, probable.

So let’s step back and imagine we are the trusted chief strategists for the President-Elect. Our goal – at least in the short-term is to turn his potential power into actual power – as much as possible.

What have we done? We’ve sent him off to do what he does best – to talk to the people. Trump is consolidating his base – reassuring them that they made the right choice – that he is their guy. His tools of choice are the small seemingly inconsequential issues that separate his followers from other US citizens.  ‘Person of the year’ or ‘Man of the Year’ he asks a crowd at his rally. Subtext: the country has gone to hell in a handcart but I’m here to restore order. We’ll use 21st tools to return the world to 1962. Or 1983 maybe. Before it all went so terribly wrong.

He’s not just building their confidence, he’s giving them the kind of facts they love – trump-facts – straight from the horse’s mouth. Like the one about the 3 million illegal votes for Hillary that gave her the edge in the popular vote. It isn’t quite the voice of God, but it’s like that.

But he’s not only consolidating that base, he’s also priming his version of fascist black shirts – the men [mostly] who will get out there to harass and intimidate other citizens, dividing the rest of the country into two groups – the people who have to go [or be watched, or stopped] and the people who have to go home and shut up about what they think they’ve seen.

At the fringe there are people who take guns to pizza places they’ve been told are fronts for child porn circles run by the Clinton team. But, a step back from them are people with a lot of anger and a militaristic mindset who are ready if ‘Mr Trump’ suggests it, to punish flag burners or migrants or whoever he says is responsible for this mess.

So he’ll have his base and he’ll have his activated henchmen – and he’ll have his random messaging, boosted by the relentless offline and online mass media machines amplifying the confusion of messages. In Washington he’ll divide and conquer politicians and lobbyists. They’ll be confused too. The big funders who think they own him now will find that they don’t. Well, not unless they keep paying. Republicans will be as vulnerable as anyone else. His currency will be access. The only rules and officeholders that survive will be the ones that don’t get in his way.

But what does Trump want? I think it’s probably quite simple – to be the richest, most powerful man in the world, with the richest, most powerful family. Far far richer than Putin. Richer than anybody on the rich list – Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega [of Zara fame] and Warren Buffet are the top 3. Bill has 87 billion. But they don’t have countries. Maybe Trump could be the first trillionnaire. It’s pretty obvious he wants to establish a dynasty for the kids. Maybe they’d like a state each. He doesn’t seem like a guy with lots of buddies. But family – that’s everything.

He’ll want to clip the ticket – any and every ticket. And I’m sure he’d rather not be challenged. I don’t think he’ll want to play with politicians. He doesn’t want this to be more difficult than it needs to be – he has a business to run. He wants his wishes carried out efficiently and the US Federal Government doesn’t seem very efficient. He’ll make deals of course, but only on favourable terms. It’s pretty much a certainty he will use what power he has to hit back harder – pour encourager les autres. No point having power if you don’t use it.

His primary power though is in that adoring base that sees him as a Saviour. Him – not the Republican Party. He will give them what they want – or at least, the appearance of having what they want. He’d be foolish not to try and make them richer and happier, so that they remain grateful. Trump wants respect. Loyalty matters a lot. Especially if millions of people can be encouraged to see that what’s good for Trump is good for them.

Who can stop him? People who know as he does, what it’s like to be so far above the crowd. Billionaires, mad people and geniuses I suppose. His game actually is the best game – you stop him by playing his game better than he can. You don’t do it by following the old rules or getting stuck in the details.  You are prepared to do what it takes to disrupt the Trump machine – to fight confusion with more confusion, to encourage internal divisions within the Trump team, to embarrass and harass him so that instead of setting the agenda, he is being assaulted by unforeseen events and his deals fall apart. States start threatening to secede, international treaty partners rip up their treaties, partners back out of deals. Hackers hack and trolls troll. Instead of holding all the cards and pulling all the strings, he’s stymied at every turn.

It’s ludicrous isn’t it – this is the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel. The people that made the ABC show Designated Survivor must be worried that their show isn’t extreme enough, with its portrayal of the destruction of a US government. But unless something happens to short-circuit the inauguration of Trump in the next 30 days, this is all going to make horrible sense.

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