It is a truly scary current situation with President Donald Trump facing an election just over the next hill of condemnation, criticism, and chaos awaiting him. It’s a frightening time because when all options seem lost in a battle then the doomsday scenario to a madman actually seems to make sense.
There’s a weird old saying in crisis management that “if you can’t manage this crisis then create a bigger one that you can.” It’s actually not funny. And it’s real. I’ve seen it used close up in certain organizations and watched it unfurl from afar.
Simple examples: Nurses or teachers or firefighters are bargaining for better wages and benefits in order to keep you alive, safe, and educated. Politcians see they will lose the agenda and public support by fighting them on those issues. So the focus is quickly shifted to “a bigger crisis” with the narrative now about deficits, the need to keep home and personal taxes down, and affordability for hard-working folks not lucky enough to be civil servants with fat and guanteed pensions.
Bait and switch. Magicians are experts at this as you can’t keep your eyes off the amazing distraction while they fast-finger the trick.
Sun Tzu, the brilliant Chinese military strategist (500 BC) said something akin to “Those who design the battlefield win the battle.” And of course the bait and switch crisis management approach absolutely must follow Niccolo Machiavell’s 16th century advice that states “For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearnaces, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”
Today the tactic of baiting and switching has left few options for Trump. Hoping to divert attention from over 200,000 American lives lost due to COVID-19 by stoking the flames of “law and order” and civil unrest and hooligans on the street coming to harm you ended up with more spin than traction. Balancing smoke and mirrors and a magicians diversionary tales of a quick end to the pandemic has simply appeared to audience as a fumbling, incompetent, and desperate act.
So we are left with Trump needing to create an even bigger crisis (although hardly possible) than the pandemic to elevate him to statesman and leader. With little time left we enter the simple equation of the closer you get to a deadline (the election) the more desperate and panic-stricken you become if the odor of defeat fills your nostrils.
So what’s left on the battle-scarred magician’s table? The options are desperate and annihilistic. They include creating the threat of outright war with Iran; backing out of negotiations of a nuclear arms control treaty with Moscow while condeming Putin’s aggressiveness; exploding with a thunder and lightning attack of rhetoric and a sabre-rattling show of military strength against China; and at home, once again making Trump the only person with the power, the determination, and the fortitude to bring much-needed law and order to American cities burning with increasing violent protests and vigilante-militia actions.
Perhaps the only thing Trump really needs now is a loud fiddle that he can play as his self-delusional Rome burns to the ground.