The Uber President
Donald Trump’s first 100 days as the 45th president of the United States are fast approaching. He continues to fascinate, startle and amaze. He orders the bombing of Syrian aircraft, dines with the president of China and welcomes a new Supreme Court justice all in 24 hours. A whirlwind of activity by a true multitasker.
As a man of our times, Trump is able to make decisions in a twinkle of an eye - most often with no seeming rhyme or reason. The most recent example is that one day the Secretary of State says that the future of Syria is in the hands of its population. Soon after, President Trump orders the bombing of a military installation in Syria without consulting Congress or having United Nations approval. He is more impulsive than flexible. For those looking to define a Trump Doctrine, look at some of his recent “positions”:
One day Taiwan is important; soon after he announces no change in the United States’ One China Policy. For a while, Russian President Putin was a potential ally; soon after President Trump appoints advisers who are strongly anti-Russian and his UN Ambassador goes into the ring of the third round U.S vs. Soviet Union/Russia in the Security Council (Round one. Adlai Stevenson during the Cuban Missile crisis showing Soviet missiles in Cuba. Round two. Colin Powell showing “proof” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and Round three. Nikki Haley exhibiting the suffering of Syrians from the use of chemical weapons). One day Trump lauds his new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; soon after he diminishes his power by proposing cutting the State Department’s budget and rejecting Tillerson’s candidate to be no. 2 in the department.
Trump has also retreated from his position on NATO. In January he said that the military alliance was “obsolete,” but, in early March, Rex Tillerson wrote to the Senate majority leader to ask Congress to ratify Montenegro’s membership —a support for NATO’s continued expansion. A couple of weeks later, the White House confirmed that Trump will attend a NATO summit in May. During the campaign, Trump threatened import duties on China and on Mexico. He said that on his first day in office, he would designate China as a currency manipulator. These things didn’t happen. Recently, the White House has let it be known that it is seeking only modest changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The list could go on, but the point has been made. The question is whether it matters that the president of the United States is so inconsistent. One of the founding bases of diplomacy is pacta sund servanda - agreements must be kept – which is also a basis of civil, canon and international law. The president has transposed the modern business model of constant change into the political sphere, a unique adventure by the supposed leader of the free world. It is not only that President Trump has no political experience, it is that he is using the same methods he used while in private world in the public sphere.
To understand current U.S. strategy today is to recognize that Donald Trump comes from the private sector. He was a real estate developer who had no checks and balances on his actions - no Congress, courts, Federal Council, citizenship referendum or stock-holders to report to. His method was, in the words of Frank Sinatra, “I do it my way.”
His method, coming from the private sector, is similar to venture firms in Silicon Valley. His strategy is not only to emulate the private, something that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher also prioritized; it is a very specific type of private. Some quotations from his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, are revealing: “Your job is to move fast and break things. Figure out what needs doing, and then just do it. Don’t wait for permission.” Another, more profound, description of the philosophy behind the new administration also comes from Bannon: “We are out to deconstruct the administrative state.” “Regulatory rollback” is the order of the day. In this sense, Trump is the first genuine Silicon Valley start-up candidate and president. His method is one of disrupting the traditional order.
Is this a good thing? An advertisement by the Swiss bank Lombard Odier in the conservative Economist magazine advises “rethink everything,” If anything, Donald Trump has forced us in that direction, for better or worse.