I admit Donald Trump is a lot smarter than I thought he was. In fact, he’s quite cunning.
I also once thought that the U.S. president was very unpredictable. I just couldn’t make sense of what he was doing.
The guile of Trump came into clear focus in a statement by Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia, commenting on looters causing havoc as crowds try to express their grief and frustration in response to racist acts in the United States:
“There are people who want destruction. They want chaos. They want confusion. And they meld into some of these crowds. And the next thing you know, you have chaos.
“Now, Donald Trump likes chaos. And he likes this environment, because he can now play to his political base that he has to keep these people in control. This is a political game that he is playing. And we’re talking about life and death of people and the life and death of communities.”
In fact, this is Trump’s reality television show The Apprentice on steroids.
Any effective leader knows that running a business involves respect and teamwork. But that would make for boring reality television. Trump’s approach on TV was to spread seeds of mistrust among people, to get them arguing while he sat as judge over the chaos and then said, “You’re fired!”
Judging by the fact that he has had several bankruptcies and is involved in thousands of lawsuits, Trump likely runs his enterprises the same way.
That’s certainly not an effective way to run a country.
To a typical narcissist, the goal isn’t to be effective, it’s to be in control. I’m not saying that Trump is a narcissist but if we look at his actions from this perspective, they make perfect sense. Just as in his reality show, the need to crush opponents and win at all costs leads to chaos.
If Trump can maintain the loyalty of a few “flying monkeys” (drawing from the character of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz) to do his bidding, he can control the chaos, for a while at least.
Trump is smart enough to know that the greatest threat to his leadership is a morally justified, unified opposition.
Mohandas Gandhi, for example, was a great spiritual leader who inspired people to put aside their religious differences in opposition to the Machiavellian British Empire.
Martin Luther King Jr. also had great success using these methods.
Manila Archbishop Jaime Sin used passive resistance in forcing Ferdinand Marcos to abdicate as dictator of the Philippines.
Marcos insisted he had won a presidential election over Corazon Aquino and sent his military into the streets to quell the masses who disagreed with him. Soldiers were given flowers and were invited to walk and pray with the people. There was no violence and this became known as the People Power Revolution of 1986.
Knowing the power of religion, Trump recently created a photo-op, holding a Bible in front of a historic church near the White House. Interfaith leader Rabbi Jack Moline referred to it as “one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen.”
The next day, Trump tried to cause further division by posing at shrine of Pope John Paul II, an act Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said “violates our religious principles.”
What’s particularly ironic about this last act is that John Paul II borrowed from the playbook of leaders like Gandhi, King and Sin by uniting people despite the efforts of a communist dictatorship to divide and make them fear one another. He thus helped cause one of the most powerful empires of the 20th century to crumble.
Given that we understand the way Donald Trump thinks, we can easily predict he’s going to try to create further chaos. We also know how to respond effectively.
Fire whomever you like. We choose to walk together in peace.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.