After President Donald Trump delivered an upbeat State of the Union address, the people were clear in their verdict. A CBS poll showed that 76% of those who watched the speech approved. As expected, the legacy media types were not impressed. More surprisingly, some of the critique was reasoned, verging on actual arguments.
Trump’s actions speak louder than words.
Most notably, CNN ran an op-ed by their two national security analysts, John Kirby and Samantha Vinograd, titled “Trump needs to think before he speaks.” Both authors worked in the Obama administration. It is, therefore, no great shock that their piece is partisan, reflecting opinions held by the Democratic Party, but of such a quality that it is worth addressing.
Trump Lacks a Strategy?
Their thesis, coming from a knowledgeable position, is that Trump’s speech was inconsistent in its messaging and, perhaps more damning, lacking a coherent strategy. They argue that he invents crises, such as the one at the border, to rally his base, while remaining silent on other security issues. He did not mention China’s encroachment in the South China Sea, Russia’s dubious behavior in its neighbor states, or the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia. Trump raised the importance of standing with the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom from the tyrannical Maduro regime, but also bragged about his good relationship with North-Korean dictator Chairman Kim Jong-Un.
From their perspective, Trump’s speech was an incoherent hodgepodge of cherry-picked issues to suit as nifty punchlines rather than a serious foreign policy.
A Different Paradigm
Their comments are highly illuminating, in part because they are reasonable from the paradigm within which they and many establishment politicians and bureaucrats operate, but also in part because they seem genuinely perplexed and in the dark about the way Trump thinks and acts.
The model that best fits the president’s behavior is that he thinks like a street fighter, not like a politician on the world stage. He sees enemies on all sides who try to use every dirty trick in the book to sabotage him. From his perspective, the world is deeply unpredictable, and he, therefore, cannot openly make plans that the enemy can easily interpret and anticipate.
To win in such a dog-eat-dog world, Trump constantly tries to be adaptive and unpredictable. In management theory, this is known as lean management. It emphasizes creating a good learning process of trial and error rather than a lengthy business plan that will be outdated in a few months.
Let’s use this backdrop to analyze some of the things Trump chose to emphasize in his speech. Why did he address Venezuela? Primarily to tell the U.S. what will happen if they choose to go down the path of socialism, as many within the Democratic Party want. From his perspective, socialism is a far greater threat to national security than any other issue in the world. His focus is to protect America, including from enemies within.
Why does he speak so nicely about the North-Korean dictator? His primary focus is to denuclearize, with the sweet side effect of boosting his stance as a negotiator and peacemaker, both at home and abroad. Behind the scenes, the United States has heavy trade sanctions against North-Korea, far more than President Barack Obama did during his reign. Trump displays an excellent understanding of Asian culture when he comprehends the importance of saving face. North-Korea will only denuclearize if Kim comes out of it alive and as a hero to his people.
Why didn’t he talk about China? Again, behind the scenes, he is negotiating and making real-world actions and threats that count far more than anything he could have said in his speech. Bullies listen to fists, not words. As a street fighter, Trump knows this. That’s why under the eloquent speaker Obama, the United States became the laughingstock of the world, while under Trump, the land of the free has regained its respect.
To read the president, we must do more than merely listen to what he says. Trump’s actions speak louder than words.