The Trumping Game

At the risk of making him sound relatable: most days, Trump's biggest goal is to make it through the day. This is how he's come so far and lasted so long.

 A quote-tweet exchange on Twitter today:



Greg Sargent opines that Trump's push to re-open the country isn't meant to actually save the economy but to create the appearance of action, while Nate Silver counters that this is actually a bad move as it pins his re-election hopes on something ephemeral and doomed to fail. 

I say Silver "counters" because in his mind that's what he's doing, but the conflict between what Sargent is saying and what he sees happening isn't actually there. Both things are true at the same time. It's true that Donald's goal isn't to produce actual results but to come up with things, true or false, that he can brag about. It's also true that the economy is likely to be deeper in the hole by November and that this will be bad for Trump. 

What Silver's missing, though, is that Donald's strategy at any given moment is concerned only with the moment, with winning the moment, whatever that means at the moment. It's why one day he can say he has the ultimate authority and the next day say it's up to the governors. It's why he can take no responsibility but demand all the credit. 

It's not that he's not thinking ahead to when this gambit fails. He has a plan for that eventuality. It's the same one he's following now, the same one he followed to get here. The plan is that whatever happens, he takes credit for the good things (real or imagined), blames others for the bad things (real or imagined) and says whatever pops into his mind as the thing that he needs to say in order to stay alive, stay afloat, stay ahead of the curve for one more day, one hour, one sentence, one second.

He has goals and when possible he steers the moment in the direction of those goals, because where that is possible that's what it means to win. But he also wins if he stays alive, if he stays in the game. When you play the way he plays, every turn you don't lose is a victory because it means you get another turn in which you have a chance to stuff your pockets with other people's money, enjoy a bit of the high life, and maybe accomplish one of your goals.

If Trump gets the credit for action now, it doesn't matter if the results don't pan out. That's a problem for the next round of play. Not even a problem - it's just the set-up for the next round. It's what he has to work. His raw materials. When he lands on that square, he'll know exactly what to do: say whatever he has to in order to make it to the next round.

This isn't to say that nothing matters, that he's invincible and it's inevitable that whatever happens he will just turn it to his advantage. 

He's very good at playing the game this way, helped considerably by the fact that few other people play it his way and that few of his opponents realize what he's doing. 

But in giving up any semblance of control over the situation in favor of being a master of chaos and destruction, he gives up most of his ability to control the circumstances in which he finds himself. He goes all in on controlling the narrative instead, which under normal circumstances is always the winning move for someone who only cares about hanging onto power. We're not in normal circumstances, and the difference between reality as it is and reality as a comforting narrative would have it is huge and growing daily. 

We shouldn't be complacent. The ability of fascist revisionism to make hay out of death and destruction is powerful. But neither should we surrender. We're in a situation that doesn't really have a historical precedent - any past pandemic, any past economic disaster, didn't happen in the information age. There's a lot of things happening that have historical parallels but never these exact things in this mix at this time and place.

The uncertainty of it all might seem frightening, but uncertainty is where hope lives. Uncertainty is where we can find space to plot, dream, and act. The only way the outcome of the election in November could be certain in May is if we were certain the fix were in.

We are fighting an opponent who has come further and lasted longer than most of his critics would ever have dreamed possible, and he’s done it not by 27th dimensional chess tactics or hatching elaborate schemes, but by being a nimble opportunist who always seizes the moment for whatever the moment brings him. In times of his trouble, he goes into survival mode while seizing whatever opportunities flash in front of his face.

If you feel overwhelmed by current and ongoing events and you’re not sure how to fight him, I say: take a leaf from his book. Focus on getting through the day, focus on surviving, and if you see an opportunity to do something more - take it.

That’s how we’re going to get through this.

That’s how we win.