It makes a lot of sense when you ask a simple question. What does Donald Trump want?
What does Donald Trump want?
He’s a bottomless pit of attention, power and cheeseburgers.
There’s a black hole inside our president that can never be filled.
He’s on a life-long quest to prove to himself that he is the smartest, richest and best man that has ever lived, and he will cut every corner he can to get there.
Trump’s been a business leader, a television star and now a president, but other men have done those things too.
But no one has ever ruled the entire world, so you can be sure Trump has at least thought about it since accidentally finding himself president.
Assessing Trump with The Dictator’s Handbook:
It’s increasingly difficult to see Trump as anything but a charlatan and a buffoon, but it’s important to ask if Trump plans to leave power at the end of his term because it could shed light on his actions and motivations.
To do that, let’s look at the framework for maintaining power that was laid out by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith in their book “The Dictator’s Handbook”.
They argue that as much as we celebrate our western democracies and denounce authoritarian regimes, the rules for keeping power are pretty similar, no matter what sort of government you’re in charge of.
Rulers don’t rule alone. They have to follow a specific formula if they want to stay in power.
In order to keep power, leaders must manage 3 groups of people.
- Interchangeables: The group of all available supporters. In this case, it’s all US voters.
- Influentials: The group of people who actually choose the leader. In the US that’s probably business leaders and the media.
- Essentials: The winning coalition! The people that keep the leader in power. For Trump, this is a subset of business leaders, particularly those with ties to the military and the fossil fuel lobby. And probably Putin.
The 5 Rules for Maintaining Power
All leaders observe these 5 rules. Most US presidents have operated, more or less within the confines of the constitution.
What makes Trump different is that he’s shown a consistent disregard (and ignorance) for the rule of law and the constitution.
It’s a scathing indictment of our system of government that he’s been able to fail forward for 40+ years, from slum lord, to major real estate developer, to money launderer, to reality star to the president.
Perhaps our constitution and rule of law aren’t as strong as we like to think.
RULE 1: Depend on as few people as possible.
Leaders have to feed and empower the people who keep them in power, so you want to keep that number as small as possible.
Trump has gutted the federal government.
- Hundreds of positions are still unfilled in most cabinet-level departments.
- He fired 48 US attorneys on masse and has kept the justice department in chaos.
- He’s eviscerated the state department.
Maybe Trump is doing all this because he truly thinks the government is too big.
Maybe it’s just because smaller companies are what he knows.
Or maybe he’s doing it because he wants to consolidate power.
“A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.” — J.P. Morgan
RULE 2: Keep a large pool of “interchangeables” so you aren’t dependent upon anybody.
Notice how Trump keeps shuffling his cabinet?
He wants everybody to know that they’re replaceable, so they’ll stay loyal.
Trump has alienated a majority of the country, but he doesn’t need us. His base still consists of roughly 30% of the country. This is more than enough to maintain power.
- Saddam Hussein’s natural base of Sunni Arabs made up just 20% of Iraq’s population.
- Only 7% of Germans were Nazis.
- In North Korea, everyone votes for Kim Jong-un, but it’s likely that far less actually support him.
If Trump is trying to get re-elected, he’s in big trouble. But if he’s planning to take us into a war, declare martial law and suspend the elections, he’s doing just fine.
He’s got more than enough people to draw upon to help him execute his plans.
Rule 3: Tax people as much as you can so you can enrich yourself and your winning coalition.
Rulers need to collect as much tax as they can without causing a revolt. This money then flows into their pockets, and into the pockets of the small group of people who keep them in power.
The recent tax hike for millions of Americans might look like a massive mistake on the part of Trump and the GOP, but it’s actually a brilliant move towards consolidating power.
By redistributing the tax burden onto the people, Trump is telling his essentials that he’s going to take care of them.
“You’ve all just got a lot richer.” — Donald Trump
Rule 4: Only pay your essentials just enough to keep them loyal
The idea here is to keep your essentials just happy enough to keep working for you, but not rich enough to threaten you on your own.
If you look at the way he’s treated Bannon, we know this is a game he knows how to play.
He’s consistently kept his ‘essentials’ off-kilter. He rewards them, but no more than absolutely necessary, and keeps the focus on himself.
Trump secured the tax cut for the country’s elite, but it comes with pressure to support him by showing how they’re bringing money back into the country.
In short, many companies, individuals and members of Congress are playing Trump’s game. This is a worrying sign for our democracy.
Rule 5: Don’t take resources away from your winning coalition to give to the people.
Trump’s been completely consistent with this.
- The tax bill benefits the rich at the expense of the rest of us
- Net neutrality helps big companies and screws internet users
- Opening up public lands to resource extraction enriches his winning coalition
He’s directing money into the Military Industrial Complex and the closely allied fossil fuels lobby and going to war against “liberal” media and technology companies.
Trump has done nothing for the people of the US, but a tremendous amount for his winning coalition.
It’s nothing new for US presidents to funnel money to their friends.
What is new is Trump’s public support for dictatorial regimes, ability to lie even in the face of evidence to the contrary and his absolute disregard for the conventions of government and the laws of the land.
Trump and his essentials have already broken so many laws and moral conventions it’s not even worth recounting.
Hopefully, this is because Trump has always gotten away with it in the past, and he’s too stupid to realize he’s about to hit a brick wall.
But we have to consider the other option as well. Trump doesn’t care if he gets caught because he’s never planning to leave office.
Trump is consistent in taking actions that restrict the number of decision-makers, and enriches those same decision-makers.
These are the actions of a despot.
I hope I’m wrong, but we need to realize that American democracy isn’t as unassailable as we think it is.
Almost nobody thought Trump had a chance of winning the election, but he did. He may or may not be planning a coup, but he’s a lot more likely to pull it off if we all dismiss the idea as an impossibility.
Hypnosis for Writers + Artists
Morgan Oxley is a hypnotist who helps writers and artists strengthen their confidence, get clarity and build strong creative habits. If you want to find more flow, please subscribe at habitualwriter.com.