Trump’s 70’s vison and “I”-zero-sum world


“All mythologies become outdated as the concept of goodness keeps evolving. Every ‘good’ of a particular time becomes ‘evil’ as time changes.”
Awdhesh Singh


“Just because outdated ideas are persistent, doesn’t mean they aren’t poisonous.”
Steve Maraboli


I sometimes believe I could have a second career writing about Donald J Trump. Almost everything that I wrote in 2015 and 2016 in my attempt to warn everybody on who Donald Trump was as a person and his appeal to voters has proven to be true. I sometimes believe now that when I write about Trump I am simply repeating over and over the same things I said almost 9 years ago. Conman, a grifter, a pathological liar, speaks the language of victimization, resentment and ‘old school’ benevolent dictatorship leadership power bullshit. But at the core of who and what he is remains someone stuck in the 1970’s. He has a 70’s vision of the world, he has a 70’s attitude, and he has a 70’s business acumen. And all of it circles the scummy drain of a zero-sum world belief. Unfortunately, a lot of this appeals to a certain group of people and touches some chords of what people think.

A 56 percent majority of Trump voters say that if a national media outlet reported that Trump said something untrue, they would be more inclined to believe him than the news outlet.

Which leads me to say that suggesting Trump has an ideology is nuts.

He has a personal opinion and view of the world. Simplistically, it is stuck in the 1970’s wrapped up in a fatty bacon filled wrap of I-centered zero-sum attitude. To be clear. Not all zero-sum worlds are the same and an “I-centered” zero-sum view is especially different. What I mean by that is viewing the world as a competition of winners and losers is a bit different than seeing oneself as ‘me against the world.’ The latter is a bit narcissistic as well as a bit fatalistic. And what I mean by fatalistic is that the individual in this case tends to begin thinking it is a game of survival, not just simply winning and losing. And when that happens, well, it becomes a world view and shifts from simply narcissistic to anarchistic. But back to I-centered. The I-centered zero-sum attitude sometimes comes to life as a victim of the entire world therefore the world is always suppressing someone’s ‘brilliance.’ Or it can come to life in terms of a simplistic win or lose mentality. Either way it is ‘I against the world’ and the world is always wrong and the I is always right. This usually gets compounded by a meritocracy attitude wherein the “I” certainly has the merit, therefore, the only reason the “I” doesn’t get what is merited him is because the world is conspiring against him.  Therefore, the “I” is always fighting against the injustice and the injustices the world is inflicting upon the “I.” That is Trump in a nutshell. Trump doesn’t really care if his I-view world is reflective of what will benefit everyone else, it simply suggests if it is good for him, it is good for everyone else. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is a singularly horrible point of view for a president to have, but he projects his personal view onto a fairly large swath of people who believe the same.

Which leads me to the business ideology of the 1970’s: zero-sum.

1970’s business was strewn with ‘dog eat dog’, ‘big fish eat little fish’ and ‘it’s a war’ competitive mindset (kill or be killed). It was horribly unhealthy and made humanity zero-sum. In other words, business was hollowed out by a bunch of white men with a zero-sum attitude. There were only winners and losers and profit/wealth trumped ethics and morals. The best of the horrible leaders were known as benevolent dictators and the worst were simply pathologically stripped of empathy, compassion and the greater good.

Which leads me to the 1970’s strain of politics that had cult-like qualities.

Let me first say that one of the business principles of the 1970’s was a binary “be loved or be hated, but don’t be in the middle.” If one were to fully embrace this thinking than one would strive for cult-like status. From there you are off to the ‘what extreme things do I have to say to have people come to my cult campfire’ races. There lies the lesson of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan referred to leaders like Hitler as “an individual of great courage,” and “longed for a kind of internationalism rooted in those small towns and conservative values and in whiteness, whether in the U.S. or in Serbia or Russia or South Africa or elsewhere (Heilbrunn).” For Trump it was narrative gold. A stance with sharp edges to inflame and inflate American conservative support supported by a smallish network of non-ideological people driven solely by money and power.

Which leads me to a transactional worldview.

So, once yu have embraced the ‘winners/losers’ mentality and a political cult narrative objective, if all you do is think transactionally, a nationalist point of view becomes easy. The world simply becomes a menu of transactions to do or not do (with zero sum being the filter for all). This also eliminates the more complex transnational agreements because, well, it is too difficult to assess whether you are “the” winner or simply a loser (and that can’t fit into a simplistic narrative). The Trump world-view is transactional bilateralism, hostile to traditional globalization thinking and free trade/market, cloaked in a rhetoric-driven ‘America First’ world-view. Don’t believe me? He cut ties with almost every transnational agreement (and would have added NATO to the list but it was useful to his ‘us versus them’ narrative).

In doing all of this Trump shows he has no desire to be transformational or even to shape the future, he favors only transactional relationships dealing on the basis of cost–benefit calculations as to how each deal works in America’s perceived economic or political interests.

From there we are off to the 70’s mentality races. Smokestack industries churning out raw materials for building shit. “If you don’t have steel, you don’t have a country!” Trump once tweeted. He dreams of the days when United States possessed almost half the world’s manufacturing capacity, the majority of its food supplies, nearly all of its capital reserves and an unparalleled military power. He ignores the political and leadership aspect, of creating a world order of which the US was the hub, and sees individual aspects as the tools of power to do whatever he wanted. Strategic alliances and institutional multilateralism was only for those who didn’t have enough power to be THE “I” in a zero-sum world.

And this is where he puts victimization and resentment to work. Services have risen from 47% of gross domestic product in 1948 to 69% today; at the expense of making shit. It cost people jobs and careers despite the fact the country gained significantly more widespread prosperity and economic power. This isn’t the result of any government policy (even NAFTA). It’s just the way modern economies evolve. As the economy becomes more productive, generating more wealth, capital naturally flows to activities that earn the highest return. This also means more mature industries, fighting to maintain margins and profits, will migrate to developing countries where production and labor costs.

My real point here is that people are always the victims of capitalism and the pursuit of profits and they should resent that, but it matters who and what you resent. Trump, leaning into his 70’s mentality, will use that victimization and resentment to feed a false-ish “us versus them” narrative (and he never offers any real solutions). Look. There’s nothing wrong with championing the traditional industries of old. But it’s wrong to do so to protect those industries at the expense of others, which is what Trump does.

  • ** note: Analysis by the nonprofit group Trade Partnership says Trump’s protective tariffs would boost steel and aluminum employment by about 33,000 jobs. But they’d kill 179,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy, because of the higher prices manufacturers of cars, appliances, industrial equipment and many other things would face. That’s a net loss of 146,000 jobs—before accounting for retaliatory measures enacted by other countries that would hurt U.S. exports to other countries and further dent production.

With childlike simplicity, Trump wants products purchased in America to be made in America. He doesn’t seem to care about supply-chain efficiencies, low prices for consumers or the autocratic nature of telling companies how and where to direct their capital. His 70’s view just cannot accommodate a more globalized world (which actually increases American prosperity). But the worst aspect of his non-thinking is his embrace of 70’s industry at the expense of future looking investments in future-necessary industries. Once again, there is nothing wrong with supporting old technology, but not at the expense of EVs, solar/wind energy, nuclear energy and whatever else the tech industry has up their sleeves.

Which leads me to Trump’s weird view of globalism.

The Trump ‘empire’ spans the globe. He is a ‘globalist.’ That said. Trump’s view of globalization is not a normal transnational business person’s thinking about globalization. He thinks about it, as he does about everything, in a very transactional way. The global economy may be interconnected in a variety of ways between countries, but he never looks at it as a complex weave like a web of possibilities but instead as a simplistic series of small linear transactions which get a assessed in a win/lose way. It’s simplistic, it’s flawed, and dangerous – at least if you were worried about the future prosperity of the United States.

To be clear. The cost to maintain its global leadership status are rising, and there is a slow relative decline of central importance, but the US remains in a structurally advantaged leadership position.

The truth is, despite Trump’s view of things, US’s global grand strategy of deep engagement continues to make sense and maintains leverage globally.

“Current year is too late to care about current thing.”

Anduril founder Palmer Luckey

Which leads me to the worst king of wishful thinking ever.

The reality is wishful thinking never creates the future we need or even want. The best Trump can do is try to resurrect past wishful thinking because he cannot even envision a future other than what he remembers in the 1970’s. As a side note, probably the worst problem for society and the United States is that no politician can actually articulate a better vision than his 70’s idiocy. What this all means is that it does not allow us to comprehend an increasingly complex present nor does it allow us to start shaping the course for a better future. Trump doesn’t help us understand why some things happen at certain moments rather than others which creates an environment almost impossible for people to be able to see the steps that are necessary to be able to get to a better future. At his worst his wishful thinking is deferring our future. This doesn’t mean that some of his words don’t resonate. When he says the system is rigged, there is a truth to that. And it’s not just that some people are benefiting more than others, but there’s actually a growing swath of public services which seem to increasingly not be meeting everyday needs. We could point out a number of reasons why, but Trump doesn’t care about solving anything, he just cares about ginning up the resentment and the increasing the senses of the everyday person that the entire system appears to be rigged against them. Solutions exist, but Trump doesn’t care or the answers are simply too complex for him to grasp. And this is where his wishful thinking makes it worse. His past-driven wishful thinking encourages his cult of likeminded thinkers to constantly diminish the ideas, that are actually being well produced and innovations for a better future, to be diminished blow-by-blow under the guise of these ideas are not scalable. This diminishing effort suffocates imagination for what the future could be therefore the only solution resides in the past. Conveniently to the ones enticed by him and his narrative, Trump, in his 70s-ism, offers something which seems comfortable, but is just wishful thinking. And here is the odd thing. Populism, at its core, is a version of politics that challenges prevailing common sense in managing the economy. That is a good thing. But economic populism is different than national identity populism. The latter wraps itself in a flag and some nebulous idea of social national identity while the former demands real solutions crafted to the benefit of the population and not the elite. Look. There is a version of populism in which it is the people who will invent the future and not seek to resurrect the past, but that is not Trump’s populism. Trump’s vacuous nihilism is reflective of many of the Uber wealthy and dwells in unhealthy transactional ideas which not only defer the future, but actually increase the likelihood that we will never attain a better future.

Look. People will argue with me, but I struggle to identify one thing that Trump believes in, let alone anything his administration did, that bettered the country and its people for the future. I can certainly point to transactional elements or segments of the population who benefited in the present, but, once again, I struggle to find any one thing that betters the future.

“To paraphrase someone smarter than me, who still knows nothing, the philosophical task of our age is for each of us to decide what it means to be a successful human being.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I would like to find out.

James Othmer <from the book ‘The Futurist’>

To be clear. None of what I’ve shared isn’t to suggest the existing system is perfect, but destruction of the system, and USA central role, is clearly not to the benefit of America’s future.

In the end, Trump embraces a warped 70’s vision of America, its good and bad, and wraps it in delusional word salad of lies. While he builds flimsy houses from splinters of facts, most of what he says is insanely ignorant wishful thinking. He is a grifter, a charlatan, a snake oil salesman, an autocrat wannabe, a racist, misogynistic (or even anti-feminism), and a liar. He has no ideology other than himself. He is a small person, mentally and intellectually weak, insecure, angry with a lust for vengeance and retribution. He is the worst of 70’s business mentality – the same mentality which put business into an amoral shithole and is aiming to put the USA into an amoral shithole. Ponder.

Written by Bruce