The Presidency Of Exhaustion

More than a decade ago, Donald Trump revealed one of his secrets to success. Exhaust your enemies. It explains much of what has happened since he took office.

John Paul Rollert, a Professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business argues that the secret to Donald Trump’s success notwithstanding his rather obvious incompetence and ignorance comes from what appears to be a conscious strategy of exhausting his opponents:

I’ve always told students at the very beginning of class that the chief misconception of those who aspire to positions of authority is the belief that leadership is an exercise akin to primal displays of male dominance. This is a fallacy that is most seductive to teenage boys and those who are developmentally indistinguishable from them. Unfortunately, it is also embraced by the president with all the enthusiasm of ungainly adolescence. Whether it is the superlatives that have become a mainstay of presidential rhetoric — everything inevitably has to be the best, the most, the biggest ever — or the greetings that look like an aggressive child learning to shake hands, our president’s leadership style has all the subtlety of a silverback gorilla threatening beta-males.

And this is by design. Trump has explained his approach to power and authority in one of the most neglected entries in his literary catalog, Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life, a slightly sanitized title (and, therein, somewhat incomplete) relative to the original, Think Big and Kick Ass: In Business and Life.

The book was originally published in 2007, when Trump enjoyed the hubris of his billions and a hit reality TV show, without the occupational headaches of propriety and good taste. It portrays life as a series of roadblocks that must be bulldozed rather than bypassed, and applies this logic to the art of negotiations and dealmaking. “You hear lots of people say that a great deal is when both sides win,” he observes. “That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal, you win — not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better for yourself.”

Ever since the beginning of his presidency, we have watched Trump vainly endeavor to apply this approach, especially to global affairs. In his efforts to strong-arm other countries, Trump has often petulantly walked away from the negotiating table or struggled to sit down in the first place. The consequences for US foreign policy have been alarming. On the one hand, with the abandonment of global agreements like the Paris Accords, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, many of our closest allies have become skeptical that they can work in good faith with the administration. At the same time, hardliners and autocrats from the Philippines to Abu Dhabi have seen in Trump a leader whose brutal instincts they immediately recognize (and very much appreciate).

As the president insists in the pages of Think Big, human affairs offer two types of interaction: submission and dominance. Other people can either be cowed or crushed. In turn, despite living in gilded mansions and indulging every carnal desire, Trump’s view of the world is remarkably bleak. There is no possibility of reliable allies. Faithful employees are a fiction (“My motto is ‘hire the best people and don’t trust them'”). And even close friends pose an ever-present danger. “They want your jobs, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife, and they even want your dog,” Trump warns. “Those are your friends; your enemies are even worse!”

Dave Schuler makes note of a related phenomenon in the form of a new Pew Research Poll showing that most Americans are “by the amount of news they’re being bombarded with:”

If you feel like there is too much news and you can’t keep up, you are not alone. A sizable portion of Americans are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of news there is, though the sentiment is more common on the right side of the political spectrum, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from Feb. 22 to March 4, 2018.

Almost seven-in-ten Americans (68%) feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days, compared with only three-in-ten who say they like the amount of news they get. The portion expressing feelings of information overload is in line with how Americans felt during the 2016 presidential election, when a majority expressed feelings of exhaustion from election coverage.

While majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express news fatigue, Republicans are feeling it more. Roughly three-quarters (77%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents feel worn out over how much news there is, compared with about six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (61%). This elevated fatigue among Republicans tracks with them having less enthusiasm than Democrats for the 2018 elections.

Feeling overwhelmed by the news is more common among those who follow the news less closely than among those who are avid consumers. While a majority of those who follow the news most of the time (62%) are feeling worn out by the news, a substantially higher portion (78%) of those who less frequently get news say they are fatigued by the amount of it that they see. (Most Americans – 65% – say they follow the news most of time, whereas 34% say they follow only when something important is happening.)

In the Politico piece quoted above, Rollert goes on to apply the logic that Trump put forward in Think Big to the area of international affairs, and that section is worthy of a read, and perhaps its own post, in its own right. However, it’s worth noting that exhaustion appears to be the approach that this entire Administration has taken and that, in some sense, it appears to be working. While the political news cycle has been a maelstrom for some time now thanks to the rise of talk radio, cable news, the Internet, and social media, it certainly seems like things have been moving much, much faster in the roughly year and a half that Donald Trump has been faster than they have in the recent past. Over just the course of the last month, for example, there’s hardly a day goes by where we’ve had anything that can be described as a “slow news day” except, perhaps, on the weekends, and over holidays. On an average day, though, it certainly seems as though there are at least two or three major news stories involving the Administration competing for attention. These news items can come from the Administration itself, from the President’s tweets, or from reports based on leaks coming from the Administration. Whatever the source, though, keeping up with the news dealing with this Administration on a daily basis can indeed be exhausting. If that’s the President’s strategy, then he’s accomplishing what he set out to do.

Assuming all of this is part of an explicit strategy, the question is what to do about it. One answer, of course, is to just give up and go do something like watch sports and only pay attention to politics when elections roll around. That certainly seems to be what most Americans tend to do based on my experience and my conservations with “real people.” For those of us who are either news and politics junkies, or who are involved in fields where tuning out political developments simply isn’t an option, though there’s got to be another way. One thing I have learned over the years, for example, is to stop paying so much attention to the latest “Outrage of the Day” story being pushed by partisans on the left or the right or by a media that is concerned mostly with ratings and filling content. More often than not, these outrages are silly affairs that aren’t relevant at all to the important issues facing the nation. More broadly, though, I suppose the best way to fight what seems like an obvious effort by the President and the Administration to exhaust critics and opponents is to focus on the important things about this Administration such as the Russia investigation, foreign policy, economic policy, and the extent to which this President is eroding civility and the political culture and do whatever one can to fight back against it. Giving up isn’t an option unless that is we want to see the country become even more Trumpidian than it already is.

 

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I’m focusing on writing a novel: Antiope of Troy (A Science Fiction Myth) Book One: Apotheosis.

    In the ninth year of the siege of Troy, conditions within the city had reached a crisis. Reluctantly, Prince Hector, the facto King of Troy, ordered the gates open and led his troops out on the plain to meet the Greek host in battle.

    If the gods were willing, the war would be over today.

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    More to be exhausted about:
    The School Safety Commission, set up after Parkland, will not examine the role of guns in school shootings.
    And the idiocy just keeps on coming……………

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  3. CSK says:

    “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”
    — Donald J. Trump, Playboy interview, 1990

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  4. JKB says:

    All the media people have to do is not take the bait. But they can’t not take the bait.

    The Obama years were marked with Obama’s DC minions, academics, Hollywood-types, constantly screwing with average people. They even said there would be no rest for their victims. Trump draws energy from screwing with those very people and letting average Americans get on with living their lives. Added bonus, screwing with the DemProgs, academics, DC denizens, Hollywood-types often means undoing all they afflicted the people with.

    I hear popcorn sales are up.

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  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    letting average Americans get on with living their lives

    The price average Americans pay for gas is up.
    The cost of insurance for average Americans is going way up.
    Average Americans are less safe at work.
    The air and water of average Americans is more polluted.
    Financial institutions are free to take advantage of average Americans again.
    The life expectancies of Medicaid and SS, which average Americans count on for retirement, are going back down again… reversing the trend set under Obamacare.
    So yeah…getting happily on with their lives….you know, from how terrible it was under the black tyrant.
    You’re dumb.

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  6. Just nutha... says:

    “…many of our closest allies have become skeptical that they can work in good faith with the administration. ” Many of our closest allies are very wise to realize that there is no such thing as a “good faith” working relationship under the current circumstances.

    As to how to go on, I’ve decided that until I see evidence to the contrary, I’m going to expect continued failure from an electorate that is too angry to think straight and will continue to dither. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” But it’s all part and parcel of a guiding ethos that sees politics and policy as a zero sum game, and, after all, who wants to be a loser?

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  7. MBunge says:

    notwithstanding his rather obvious incompetence and ignorance

    I know this attitude makes people like you feel better about yourselves but indulging in fantasy never ends well in the adult world. I’m genuinely curious as to how far this self-deception can go. What if the GOP holds onto Congress in 2018? What if Trump is re-elected in 2020? Another round of Republican mid-term victories in 2022? Pence getting elected President in 2024?

    Or are you just going to keep pluckin’ that chicken no matter what?

    Mike

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  8. Modulo Myself says:

    If Hillary Clinton were president and acting like this, it would be due to her being a neurotic harpy and shrew, just another woman acting so irrationally. Trump is this woman: he’s a divorcee who watches television and talks to an astrologist while binging on ice cream. His dramas are the dramas of somebody who has to deal with new star signs and configurations every day. But because he’s a man, he’s completely unaware of this, and his base loves that type man in relationship to how much they hate the theoretically neurotic woman.

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:

    rather obvious incompetence and ignorance

    I know you won’t respond…because you are, in fact, a coward…but the fact that you choose to ignore his manifest incompetence and ignorance doesn’t mean that it isn’t a reality.
    The fvcking guy can’t even remember the words to patriotic songs…that’s some pretty basic shit.
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/06/trump-forgets-words-to-god-bless-america-at-fake-fan-rally.html

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  10. george says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    His dramas are the dramas of somebody who has to deal with new star signs and configurations every day. But because he’s a man, he’s completely unaware of this, and his base loves that type man in relationship to how much they hate the theoretically neurotic woman.

    Plenty of men are aware of their self-dramas, and plenty of women (though I don’t include Clinton in that number) are unaware of their self-dramas. Trump is a walking disaster, but a unique one. To paraphrase Tolstoy, “sane people are all alike, every crazy person is crazy in their own way.” Trump is a one of a kind nut case.

    His base loves anyone who goes after Democrats, and the more they go after them, the more they’re loved. If Sanders had won the Democrat nomination Trump’s base would have hated him just as much as they hate Clinton, (despite what some Sanders supporters have said about him winning R votes that Clinton lost). Its the team uniform they hate, they don’t care who’s wearing it (think how Red Sox fans think about the Yankees and you get the idea).

    Obama, Bill Clinton, and Carter got the same level of hatred as Hillary Clinton, and for the same insane reason – wrong team. Because the team is no longer Team America, but Team Conservative (American version, conservatives in most of the world are left of even the Democrats on things like military spending, public health, war on drugs etc).

    Its a mistake to think this is about Trump and Clinton; long after they’re gone the same things are going to come up; they’re just place holders.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    “Pruitt enlisted EPA aide to help his wife inquire about opening a Chick-fil-A”

    They’re just trolling us now, aren’t they?

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  12. al Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    The Obama years were marked with Obama’s DC minions, academics, Hollywood-types, constantly screwing with average people.

    ‘Screwing with average people’ as in: preventing the economy from a collapse into a full blown second Great Depression, or bailing out Detroit and preventing the loss of at least a million more jobs in the auto industry?

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    I don’t regard Trump as a particularly good example of success, given that he took over his father’s successful company in the ’70s. And that his biggest accomplishment as President* is exposing himself, his family, and his associates to a lot of potential legal liability. However, maybe he can help us grow out of the simplistic Calvinist idea that wealth flows from virtue. Being smart and working hard are important. But often self absorption, greed, and in Trump’s case sociopathy, are sometimes more important factors. To pick an example, by most standards Marco Rubio is a great success, but it seems moderately obvious he’s not terribly bright.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    @al Ameda: Probably best to let it lie. Just another example of Trumpskyites saying we need to be rescued from some horrible Obama induced horror and oppression that they don’t seem able to specify.

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  15. JKB says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Aren’t you the Debbie Downer. Here’s some more bad news for you:

    More significantly from the Harvard-Harris survey is how voters view the economy. More (45 percent) believe that the U.S. economy is headed in the right direction than those who see it going in the wrong direction (40 percent). Here is where the cross-tabulations by demographics get really intriguing. In addition to stronger numbers within the president’s base – 53 percent of those 65 and older, 75 percent of Trump voters, 70 percent of conservatives, and 69 percent of Republicans – the view is rosier than one might believe among young voters 43 percent of 18-34-year olds and 45 percent among 35-49 year olds), Hispanics and African Americans (32 percent each), and independents (43 percent).

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  16. Hal_10000 says:

    You hear lots of people say that a great deal is when both sides win,” he observes. “That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal, you win — not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better for yourself.”

    Note: this is not the philosophy of a business man, or at least not one who is worth anything. I’ve known businessmen like this, who can only talk about how much they hosed everyone else to make themselves rich. But it is fundamentally a Marxist-esque point of view: one that sees the world as zero sum.

    This is how Trump has acted from the beginning. NAFTA, TPP, Iran, etc. — he thinks these are terrible deals because the other side isn’t getting shafted. And he keeps thinking of his business experience of hosing everyone else to make himself rich (forgetting that he’d be even richer if his ‘deals’ has been cooperative ones; think about they money he’d make from a functioning casino instead of the money he made looting the corpse of one).

    The problem that Trump is encountering is that politics is not like business. The US is the first among equals. Other nations are not going to give in just because they want to. And his temper tantrums to wreck the international order that has taken decades to build. And before you say “good riddance” remember that that order has produced the most peaceful and prosperous era in human history.

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  17. An Interested Party says:

    The School Safety Commission, set up after Parkland, will not examine the role of guns in school shootings.

    Well of course, because as we all know, guns have nothing to do with gun violence…

    Or are you just going to keep pluckin’ that chicken no matter what?

    That is certainly better than you–someone who can’t stop polishing that knob…

    More (45 percent) believe that the U.S. economy is headed in the right direction than those who see it going in the wrong direction (40 percent).

    Hmm…with such rosy confidence in the economy, one would think that this president would be more popular than he is…I wonder why he isn’t…what could it possibly be…

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    More (45 percent) believe that the U.S. economy is headed in the right direction than those who see it going in the wrong direction

    The economy has been going in the same direction for 7 years or so. Look at the trend lines. No change since Dennison took over. Nada. Zilch. In fact there were more jobs created in Obama’s last 16 months than in Dennisons First 16.
    But that’s just like your dear leader. He inherited a fortune from his father but thinks he’s a self-made man. He inherited a growing economy from Obama and thinks he’s working a miracle.
    AND YOURE DUMB ENOUGH TO BUY IT!!!
    Did you graduate from Dennison University?

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  19. One American says:

    There is a ton of great news out there, maybe just open your eyes and put your hero worship aside. It’s not a popularity contest. I DO know how long 8 years can be!

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  20. TM01 says:

    Important things?

    But the lead story here according to Feedly, is still “Trump unblocks twitter followers.”

    Wow.

    Meanwhile, McCabe is reportedly requesting criminal immunity in exchange for his Congressional testimony. But, meh.

    I LOLed here tho:

    important things about this Administration such as the Russia investigation,

    Or like Mueller indicting a ham sandwich.

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  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Look at the trend lines. No change since Dennison took over.

    That’s not entirely true. The stock market’s been flat since shortly after the tax cut.

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  22. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @TM01:

    Or like Mueller indicting a ham sandwich.

    I guess…if by ham sandwich you mean the Chairman of Dennison’s campaign, the campaign chair’s right hand man, Dennison’s National Security Advisor, and another foreign policy advisor described by Dennison as

    “…an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.”

    And then there is the guy that actually went to jail; he is a direct link between the campaign chair, and the Russian Oligarch who was mentioned in the Steele Dossier and subsequently put a million dollars into Dennison’s porn star payout fund, which was managed by his personal attorney/fixer.
    Can I get that ham sandwich with swiss?

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  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @al Ameda: Yes, but remember the words of the famed pundit and sage, Lars Larsen, on a CNN panel about the auto industry going bust:

    Well, at least we’d be able to get rid of all those high paying [i.e. blue collar?] jobs.

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  24. CSK says:

    “I am a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win.”

    — Donald J.Trump

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  25. James Pearce says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    If Hillary Clinton were president and acting like this,

    I’ve heard this utterly pathetic nonsense repeated so many times over the last few months and I’m sick of it. Republicans take their role as the opposition seriously and even appear to enjoy it. They know their voters will be mad if they make an attempt and fail.

    Dems, on the other hand, consider their oppositional role to be basically ceremonial. They wear the costume and maintain the pose, but they know their voters will honor the attempt and will greet the failure with some “First they beat you, then you win” mysticism.

    That’s why Trump can do whatever he wants, and even hypothetical Dems can’t do shit.

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  26. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: Even if Trump is re-elected, or the Republicans maintain power, that means absolutely nothing about the truth value of their claims. It may simply mean that we have a lot of very stupid Americans.

    I’ve been tracking certain areas of scientific equipment purchasing recently, and let me tell you, the Chinese are going all out to develop head leads in area of science that the U.S. used to be in the forefront of–like nanotechnology, solar cells, and energy storage. Purchasing of certain equipment world-wide has been 50% by the Chinese, 50% everywhere else. Which gives one furiously to think.

    If you idiots want to continue playing insider baseball about the Republicans and the Democrats and Who Holds Power, be my guest. But the real war is being fought and won on a battlefield far away from here–and the US is totally ignoring what is going on.

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