In Praise of Chaos Theory
The first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have been exciting, to say the least. Veteran Senator John McCain described the White House as being a place where “nobody knows who’s in charge and nobody knows who’s setting policy.” The head of the military’s Special Operations Command said publicly: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out because we’re a nation at war.”
Returning from ten days snorkeling on an island where none of the fish wanted to talk about Donald Trump’s latest scandal, I am trying to take some distance from the daily testimonies of outrage and justified concern to have a better perspective on where we are. While all new administrations have gone through initial shakedowns, the current situation is unprecedented. Experts are either expressing disbelief at the incoming administration’s incompetence or giving lessons in how to resist, if not revolt. (We’re not talking about revolutionaries like Chris Hedges but conservative columnists such as David Brooks of the New York Times. You know Washington insiders are worried when Brooks writes about various forms of resistance.)
While not supporting Donald Trump or those in his administration, I note that he has so far not done anything radically different from what he promised during his campaign. And he was elected. He won. (I almost said fair and square but hold off on that until the Mike Flynn dealings with Russia are properly investigated.)
His style follows those radical changes he promised. Yes he has hired former Goldman Sachs officials. But he has often gone beyond those with “perfect résumés.” Much like many in the business world he admires, Trump has brought disruption to the highest levels of government and international diplomacy. While scientists praise chaos theory and business executives are effusive about the value added of disruption, Trump has obviously upset the applecart of order.
When we are told that technology revolution 4.0 is upon us, and that nothing in the future will be like the past, why are we so upset about witnessing constant change in our elected official? If we idolize entrepreneurs who “think and act outside the box,” why are we terrified of someone who doesn’t even understand what the box contains?
To be clear: Donald Trump has brought a 21st century’s entrepreneur’s mentality to the White House. You want background papers and bureaucratic red tape? I’ll give you instant reactions and policy decisions by Twitter. You want a clear organigram of who is in charge? I’ll give you flexible decision-making that has little established structure and no clear lines of authority. You want me to understand the entire history/sociology of every area and conflict in the world? I’ll give you my instantaneous gut reactions that feed off the latest news bulletins. And don’t ask me to be consistent. Just like the stock market, I react to how the winds are blowing in real time. You want me to steer a bulky ship of state? I’m driving a new jet surf motorized board that can turn on a dime when and how I want. You want order and stability. Why?
If everyone admits that change and time are accelerating, why should we continue to look for order and the past? Hasn’t chaos theory been accepted? Haven’t we acknowledged how quantum mechanics has thrown all of our previous theories of order into question?
You want to have order and stability at the same time technology is upsetting our previous routines. Driverless cars? New generations of phones every six months? Advances in biotechnology prolonging our life expectancies. All that progress is fine. We just don’t want that accelerated change to be reflected in politics and diplomacy. Somehow those two fields are outside radical change.
Donald Trump said he would drain the swamp. What he has done is to call into question many of our traditional beliefs about public politics and diplomacy. Even if I disagree with almost everything he has done, I do admire how he has brought about radical change, just as he promised. The ride has been dizzying, but so have all the technological changes we are living through for someone who remembers the family’s first large black and white television. Trump may be wrong, dead wrong, about many things, but give him credit; he is truly a man of our times.