The President-elect may be the most successful practitioner of chaos theory to his personal advantage in modern history. Prior to entering politics, his success in business was predicated on chaos. No other businessman has used serial bankruptcies, constant litigation, and refusal honor contracts to such great success. Traditional politicians, pundits, and the public at large were simply unprepared for the most chaotic political campaign in American history, and that lack of preparedness helped to catapult Donald Trump to victory.
It is hard to know whether Trump intentionally creates chaos, or is merely successful at navigating it. After all, he did not cause 16 other Republicans to run for the nomination. But, he did successfully navigate the chaos of an unprecedented number of candidates to emerge with the nomination. It remains unclear whether he colluded directly with Vladimir Putin to obtain his electoral college victory or whether he is “Putin’s Perfect Agent of Chaos,” as Russia’s pro-democracy leader Garry Kasparov describes him.
His cabinet nominees are further indication of intentional chaos, as many of his nominees directly oppose the very purpose of the agency they are nominated to oversee. As recently reported,
Former Texas governor Rick Perry has advocated shuttering the Department of Energy he’s slated to lead. Betsy DeVos, who would head the Education Department, is a leading proponent of voucher programs that divert taxpayer funds from public schools. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency and, in his official biography, describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Ben Carson has criticized Housing and Urban Development rules designed to combat segregation in housing. Puzder has fought labor rules intended to protect workers.
In foreign affairs, even before taking office, Trump’s tweets and interviews are wreaking havoc with world order and threaten stability in a manner we have not witnessed since World War 2. He has similarly used tweets and one line pronouncements to create chaos in the stock market threatening economic disorder to provide both he and his billionaire cronies with further financial gains.
As millions of reasonable people struggle to figure out how to combat Trumpian chaos, perhaps due to his unique approach, there are simply no easy guideposts for the battles ahead. Certainly, traditional political protest, political activism and civic engagement are all important. Protecting those who are vulnerable and creating community at the local level are definitely critical.
But we must be honest. Trumpian chaos will hurt many people both domestically and around the world. We must figure out how to make sure his reign is as short as possible. Given his novel political approach, it will likely take a novel approach to end his reign.
Examining chaos theory may be the key to unraveling the political chaos which Trump is wreaking. A few years ago, an analysis of extreme events occurring in complex systems – known as dragon king events – determined that they can be predicted and prevented. Although discussed outside the context of politics, this study may provide clues to how to deal with Trumpian chaos.
In order to use chaos theory to predict and prevent catastrophic dragon king events, it is important to understand that,
Chaotic systems are often very simple. They can be characterized by just a few parameters…but they also exhibit random and unpredictable behavior….[I]n the last few years, scientists in many fields have been looking closely at the behavior of extreme events – very large fluctuations in a system that often leads to catastrophic results. These occur in many complex, chaotic systems: enormous rogue waves in the ocean, extreme weather in the climate, or global stock market crashes.
One particular class of these extreme events is known as a dragon king event. This is a catastrophic occurrence that falls far outside a normal expected probability. The name comes from looking at the wealth distribution in a medieval society. If you plot the number of people who have a particular amount of wealth, you would see many, many poor farmers and a smaller number of wealthier landowners and noblemen. Plotting the number of people versus a given amount of wealth would give you a straight line.
Now the medieval king, who typically has an enormous amount of wealth, would be outside this plot, far above the rest. Think of someone like Bill Gates or Carlos Slim whose wealth dwarfs even that of a modern one-percenter. While the rest of the population is described by the simple line plot, these people are outliers.
So why dragon kings? Because, like dragons, certain extreme events are entirely outside the normal classification scheme.
Just as chaos theory cannot always predict or prevent dragon king events, it is only one tool in the political arsenal to shorten Trump’s reign. However, just as medical research requires understanding the cause and roots of a given disease before it can discover a cure, understanding that the President-elect is taking full advantage of chaos to expand his power may be the key to removing chaos from his toolbox and salvaging whatever survives his chaotic reign.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.