Kissing the ring

by Henry Farrell on November 20, 2016

There are many theories of Trump out there – here’s another – Trump as Renaissance princeling. The New York Times:

As a parade of job seekers, TV talking heads and statesmen like Henry Kissinger paraded through the lobby of Trump Tower this past week, Mr. Trump ran his presidential transition from his triplex on the 58th floor much the way he ran his campaign and his business before that — schmoozing, rewarding loyalty, fomenting infighting among advisers and moving confidently forward through a series of fits and starts. … Yet Mr. Trump loves the tension and drama of a selection process, and has sought to stoke it. A senior adviser described the meeting, in part, as Mr. Romney simply coming to pay his respects to the president-elect and “kiss his ring.” … Mr. Trump also likes to surprise, and enjoys the worldwide speculation he sets off with his Twitter posts.

This reminds me weirdly of Padgett and Ansell’s description of how Cosimo de Medici used ‘robust action’ and constructive ambiguity about his ultimate goals to manipulate those around him.

We use the term “robust action” to refer to Cosimo’s style of control. The key to understanding Cosimo’s sphinxlike character … is multivocality – the fact that single actions can be interpreted coherently from multiple perspectives simultaneously, the fact that single actions can be moves in many games at once, and the fact that public and private motivations cannot be parsed. … The “only” point of this, from the perspective of ego, is flexible opportunism – maintaining discretionary options across unforseeable futures in the face of hostile attempts by others to narrow those options.

Crucial for maintaining discretion is not to pursue any specific goals. For in nasty strategic games, like Florence or like chess, positional play is the maneuvering of opponents into the forced clarification of their (but not your) tactical lines of action. Locked in commitment to lines of action, and thence to goals, is the product not of individual choice but at least as much of thers’ successful “ecological control” over you. Victory, in Florence, in chess, or in go means locking in others, but not yourself, to goal-oriented sequences of strategic play that become predictable thereby.

The crucial difference being of course, that Cosimo de Medici rarely spoke in public and Donald Trump, via Twitter feed, via softball interviews, and via any medium that isn’t going to present him with unfriendly and harsh questions does nothing else but talk.

However, multivocality can plausibly take a variety of different forms. The Renaissance form is to adopt a strategy of ‘whatever you say, say nothing,’ leaving it for others to interpret your ambiguous actions as they will, forcing them to commit while you remain unbounded. Another is to talk constantly, but not to allow what you say to be constrained by consistency, or logic, or anything other than the short term desire to badfoot your opponents in short term tactical games and the long term one to make everyone pay attention to you, and condition their actions on you, without you having to condition their actions on them. The two have somewhat similar long term consequences. In each, the successful practitioner dominates the public space and public argument as everyone tries to interpret what the hell you have done, paying attention to you and no-one else but you, so that you can continue to play center stage in the theater of politics while everyone else is reduced to Waldorf and Statler, carping from the critics’ box.

If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell’s Cosimo) about attaining specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter what consequences this has for the integrity of the web. This might not be authoritarianism in the sense of a well-honed bureaucratic regime dedicated to horrible ends, but authoritarianism in terms of the general break down of Weberian order and hierarchies in favor of a largely personalized politics in which one’s relationship with an erratic and unpredictable president counts for far more than one’s formal position and authority (of course, all politics do depend on personal relations more than one might like, but bureaucracy and rules still usually count).



nastywoman 11.20.16 at 7:19 pm

– as there is this very believable theory, that the only reason why Trump finally seriously ran for President was the awesome and beautiful roast he received from Obama – there is this other theory that ‘F…face von Clownstick’ -(as lovingly called by Jon Stewart) – is just one of these funny ‘Masochists’ who looks forward for four more years of SNL.

And the current Tweet:
‘I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?’
– proves it…


greg 11.20.16 at 7:33 pm

Trump is a prince, all right, a Prince of Mammon, the demon of wealth and greed, whom he has always served, with varying degrees of eptitute. Now that he is the President of the United States, and has Congress behind him, I predict a plunderfest.

Unfortunately, among the things of value which can be taken and sold, are the rights of the people, for which there are always buyers, especially among the wealthy.


nick j 11.20.16 at 9:31 pm

“This might not be authoritarianism in the sense of a well-honed bureaucratic regime dedicated to horrible ends” – maybe not, but I’m willing to bet his lackeys will be given a free rein.


Steve 11.20.16 at 9:42 pm

Strangely enough, this morning I read a news story (can’t remember where, sorry – maybe the Guardian) where Bannon compared himself to Thomas Cromwell at Henry VIII’s court. I suspect he has only read – or, more likely, seen the TV adaptataions of – Mantel’s novels so far. The ending isn’t going to be pretty!


JDG1980 11.20.16 at 10:02 pm

Interestingly, one of Trump’s own people – the much-maligned Steve Bannon – has made a similar analogy. In a post-election interview, Bannon described himself as “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors”. One wonders how carefully he’s thought that comparison through, considering Cromwell’s fate…

(And does he have a plan for the Dissolution of the Universities in his back pocket, along with his trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal?)


Hidari 11.20.16 at 10:18 pm

‘The business of America is business’.

There was always (or usually) an element of caprice when Marxists stated that bourgeois democracy was just a front for the capitalist class, but when you actually have a representative of the capitalist class (and one who has little or no experience of ‘conventional’ politics at that) in the White House you have crossed a Rubicon, and the fact that (some) other capitalists dislike him is irrelevant.

‘Mr. Trump ran his presidential transition from his triplex on the 58th floor much the way he ran his campaign and his business before that.

And Trump will run the country the way he ran his business, too.

It’s not just that Trump is a capitalist that’s important, it’s the kind of capitalism he comes from: the ultra sleazy world of real estate, gambling and ‘developing property’ where actually paying people a living wage to produce stuff that people want to buy is of less importance than using lawyers, influence, and propaganda to ‘get your way’.

Trump’s fan(atic)s who think that he wants to ‘drain the swamp’ will quickly discover how ‘fighting corruption’ as in Putin’s Russia, strangely tends to target opposing business interests to those who are doing the ‘fighting’.

I also notice that like so many people nowadays, the OP presumes that Trump will be a one term President. Why?


Jake Gibson 11.20.16 at 10:56 pm

Would the court of Lous XIV be an equally a propos comparison?


kidneystones 11.20.16 at 11:05 pm

This is pretty good as far as it goes, Henry. But you omit (I think) any mention of Trump’s basic tactic, and the fact that much of what appears in the media is fluff produced by hacks paid to carry water for the donor class.

1. make an over-the-top claim to lasso the media and cause ‘outrage,’
2. obliterate ‘borders’ set by the donor class to protect their interests aka ‘the public good.’
3. walk back outrageous claim to assume the pose of rational actor.

I’d also contend there’s nothing particular unique in Trump’s behavior. The Democratic candidate held one press interview forever, had nothing but softball questions, and took her cue from the current president who joked almost as often as Ben Rhodes about the servility and ignorance of the pliant press.

So, there’s that.


Yankee 11.20.16 at 11:42 pm

Plausible. … State Formation in medieval France? Trump will need to carve out duchies with which to reward the faithful for smiting the unfaithful. Probably there’s a lot of room for that sort of thing within the ‘States, for now, while Russia stretches its legs. I’m rather pessimistic that small-d democrats will be taking the country back any time soon.


harry b 11.20.16 at 11:47 pm

If Steve Bannon has read Hilary Mantel’s novels, I’m a monkeys’ uncle.
If Trump has….. then the world is infinitely more bizarre than the one in which I am a monkey’s uncle…


Suzanne 11.21.16 at 12:27 am

@1: I wonder if Obama has had any second thoughts about his role as President Don-Rickles-for-a-night. Looks like he took a few potshots at the wrong egomaniac.


Bill Benzon 11.21.16 at 1:03 am

What else can Trump do? He doesn’t really know anyone in Washington, though he’s worked with people in his campaign. His inner circle is his family and, I assume, his long-term business associates. How does he assemble a governing team consisting of individuals who aren’t trying to use him for all they’re worth? He simply can’t staff the White House and the Cabinet with family and long-term associates, though he may manage to get his son-in-law as an unpaid advisor. Everyone else will be a snake.

So, how good will he be at using these folks more expertly than he is being used?


oldster 11.21.16 at 2:16 am

Kevin Drum has some nice points today about Jared Kushner’s ascendance as the power behind the throne. And his larger point is: Trump is extremely needy, because of his own incompetence and stupidity. He needs advisors, who will gain power by telling him what to do, and directing his actions for their advantage.

But once more and more stories come out explaining that Trump is very stupid and cannot get through the day without Jared Kushner (or whoever the next Vizier is), then Trump’s own insecurities will force him to dump Kushner and find a new advisor. And the cycle will start anew.

He’s stupid, clueless, temperamental, and very very insecure. It’s going to be a rocky few years–or until Ryan decides that it’s time to impeach him and elevate Pence.


DavidtheK 11.21.16 at 2:34 am

Does anyone here realize that Trump has to run a modern state? de Medici had at least an idea of what Dukes, or Kings or Popes do to run their organizations – or so we believe. But running a modern state depends on knowledge, on expertise. I imagine we are about to find out that it can be run as a renaissance fiefdom, after all the USA is very large and there is a lot of inertia in running it. But that is probably not the best modus for preserving a rights based democracy.


Sandwichman 11.21.16 at 3:14 am

“Bannon described himself as Thomas Cromwell…”

Let’s hope he doesn’t let it go to his head, so to speak. Bannon has also described himself as a Leninist.

What I would like to know is whether Little Stevie has read The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon and whether he is aware that November 8, 2016 was the 18th Brumaire on the Jacobin calendar.


J-D 11.21.16 at 3:35 am


‘Mr. Trump ran his presidential transition from his triplex on the 58th floor much the way he ran his campaign and his business before that.‘

And Trump will run the country the way he ran his business, too.

So when do you expect the filing for bankruptcy? Do you think this projection of June is reasonable?


Omega Centauri 11.21.16 at 3:37 am

One concept we had in computers was MTTF (Mean Time To Fail). In Trump’s team we could use the same initials for mean time to be fired. From what we’ve seen of the campaign and early transition, its shockingly short. If this continues, he’s never going to have an experienced team, because its members keep changing. Another reason I think it will be very chaotic.


Niall 11.21.16 at 4:02 am

That description fits Arafat in 1990s Palestine to a T.


Alan White 11.21.16 at 4:43 am

Trump bluffed his way to a win and just enough of the electorate–a bare 110,000 between WI and PA–folded. But Trump knew it was a bluff–and didn’t really prepare for no one “seeing” him and making the call. He knows that he held no cards, but now he’s in a New Deal. So prepare for another bluff–he’ll never show his cards unless we see and raise–which we will do.


ZM 11.21.16 at 4:44 am

Even if Trump doesn’t have the greatest policies (I think some of them are loopy as well as horrible and he just made them up and couldn’t even implement if he tried like the wall thing and banning Islamic people from going to America which would violate the Constitution’s freedom of religion clause), this isn’t really the worst thing in the world for people who don’t vote Republican.

If he doesn’t have clear policy goals Trump will still want to create a legacy for himself, and he is a Republican outsider and a political outsider more generally so he is open to influence.

Our Prime Minister congratulated Trump on winning the election by getting his personal phone number from golfer Greg Norman rather than going through the usual political channels (well the Australian ambassador Joe Hockey called Greg Norman so it was through the ambassador at least even if via a sportsman).

The main things that I hope people influence Trump about are his loopy racist policies, and also his views on climate change.

Although if I was American I would probably hope people can come up with policies he might support about generating employment in the States that have low labour force participation rates, most of which voted Republican. He would probably have to work with the State and City governments on that, since macro federal policy settings can only do so much or else there wouldn’t be such variable labour force participation rates in the first place.

At the moment in Australia we have Prime Minister Turnbull and Labor MP Anthony Albanese both talking about wanting 30 minute cities as federal urban policy, so you never know what the major parties might both end up supporting as bipartisan policy commitments.


Collin Street 11.21.16 at 8:12 am

So, how good will he be at using these folks more expertly than he is being used?

I very strongly suspect that one of the things that Obama said to Trump included the exact words, “you got conned”.


mclaren 11.21.16 at 9:02 am

Your description sounds almost exactly like what Vladislav Surkov is doing in Russia. Surkov does things like pay fascists and anti-fascists to stage rallies…then he announces that he’s doing this. The result? Confusion among Putin’s enemies about what’s real and what’s not, about what’s actually happening and what’s just theater. It becomes impossible to enact a strategy against Putin’s policies when no one is sure what’s really going on.

“In 1999 [Surkov] was invited to join Yeltsin’s presidential administration and began carving out a central role for himself as the architect of Russia’s new `post-factual politics’, eventually becoming a special advisor to Putin. (..)

“According to Russian novelist Eduard Limonov, Surkov’s stage management of power struggles has `turned Russia into a wonderful postmodernist theatre, where he experiments with old and new political models.'”


reason 11.21.16 at 9:09 am

A 70 year old princeling?

I also assume he will be a one term (if that) president, but it has nothing to do with politics. Have you ever seen how presidents age? His body will give up.


Manta 11.21.16 at 11:33 am

15 Sandwichman 11.21.16 at 3:14 am

“What I would like to know is whether Little Stevie has read The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon and whether he is aware that November 8, 2016 was the 18th Brumaire on the Jacobin calendar.”

Trump comes after Berlusconi.
History repeats itself, first as farce, second as tragedy?


reason 11.21.16 at 1:29 pm

This take on Trump, I think is interesting – compare with kidneystones view:

Is Trump just in it for the attention and is ready to outsource everything else?


Lynne 11.21.16 at 2:09 pm

Michael Flynn, Trump’s newly-appointed national security advisor, once tweeted that “fear of Muslims is rational.” If I were a Muslim American I’d be looking into emigrating.


Jake Gibson 11.21.16 at 2:39 pm

@harry b
How about a monkey’s nephew? ;-)

Is there any reason to believe that Trump will apply more energy to running the country
than he did starring in a reality show or running an educational scam?

Trump Tower will be Trump’s Chateau de Versailles.


Glen Tomkins 11.21.16 at 3:01 pm

The careful avoidance of saying what you think is more like the messaging that is the current foundation of conventional political strategy. This is undoubtedly why the NYT reporter projected it onto Trump. This is just the latest hallucination of a Trump pivot towards acting like a conventional US politician. The reporter is confusing Trump with Obama and his 11th dimensional chess, because the reporter has to make some sense of the fact that his actions don’t look at all like what is expected of a politician, yet he just managed to politic his way into the most fought over political office in the known universe.

The reality is that the current Byzantine court intrigue surrounding the Trump transition isn’t Trump’s way of controlling events. It arises from his complete lack of interest in public policy. There’s a huge power vacuum at the center of the most powerful administration in US history.

This is the most powerful administration ever because it is the most free to do its will. It is powerful partly because their party has the trifecta, and partly because the US, trusting that the office will only ever be held by conventional politicians, has let it accrue vast unchecked power. But the Trump administration is free because it won by defying the conventional rules and the institutions of US politics. It owes nothing to anyone. It will not ever pivot to conventional behavior. It will not go conventionally down a no-drama path. It will end in either tragedy or farce, depending on how History is feeling that day.


LFC 11.21.16 at 3:33 pm

harry b @10

I didn’t enjoy Wolf Hall that much. I appreciated that some of the description and dialogue was very good, and Cromwell is a well-realized protagonist, but I found it all too choppy — as soon as I settled into one scene or one chapter, it was over. I tried to read the sequel Bring Up the Bodies and found it worse, abandoned it a quarter of the way through (if that) and gave away my copy. Since both books won the Booker Prize and were bestsellers, my opinion is evidently a minority one.


James Wimberley 11.21.16 at 3:44 pm

Nicolas Sarkozy, as President of France, had a strategy of keeping his opponents off balance by constantly announcing new policies and initiatives. This is not an exact match but at least a parallel to Trump’s manipulation of the media by a stream of novel outrageous statements and tweets.


James Wimberley 11.21.16 at 3:57 pm

Steve Bannon sees himself as Thomas Cromwell? This is reminiscent of Edith Cresson’s attempt to emulate Margaret Thatcher with the handbag-swinging without the hours spent reading up in the red despatch boxes. Cromwell was a hard piece of work even by the standards of the time, but a brilliant and farsighted administrator: and in the end he slid off the greasy pole on to the block.


Suzanne 11.21.16 at 5:38 pm

@20: His loopy racist policies are what got him into office. He may not be able to actually build a wall, but he can hardly give up his trump card, as it were.

There are also his loopy tax plans, his harsh take on abortion rights, his enthusiasm for torture and nuclear weaponry….

Not to mention his flouting of ethics and custom with regard to such matters as releasing his tax returns and putting assets into a blind trust. If he continues to get away with such stuff I wonder what’s going to be left. There will be no rules.


nastywoman 11.21.16 at 10:40 pm

– but I’m always amazed how grown up men -(and woman) are able to write these perfectly… ‘normalized’ articles which now appear everywhere -(and not only in th NYT anymore) – as if they wouldn’t be written about F…face von Clownstick?

It’s like if an idiot like me would start writing a book with the title:
Die Kritik der Reinen Vernunft?


likbez 11.21.16 at 10:41 pm

Trump first of and foremost is the symptom, not cause of crisis of neoliberalism in the USA. Ideology is dead, like Bolshevism was dead soon after the end of WWII in the USSR.

Trump has two major path of his governance. He might try relying on nationalist insurgence his election provoked and squeeze the “deep state” and neocon cabal in Washington, or he will be co-opted by Republican brass. He probably understand that his positioning during election campaign as a fighter against globalization and neoliberalism excesses in the USA is the key link that provides political support for his administration. And throwing a couple on neocons against the wall would be will received by American public.

The anger against outsourcing jobs is very real and very dangerous for current corrupt neocon/neolib elite in Washington with their dream of global dominance and global neoliberal empire spanning all countries on all continents much like Trotsky dreamed about global Communist empire.

My feeling is that a lot of people are really ready to fight for Trump and that creates for problem for “deep state”, if Trump “indoctrination” by Washington establishment fails.

Past revolts in some US cities are just the tip of the iceberg. Obama lost not only his legacy with Trump election. He lost his bid to keep all members of top 1% and first of all financial oligarchy that drives the vents on 2008 unaccountable.

So “accountability drive” which will be interpreted by neoliberals as “witch hunt” might well be in the cards. I encourage everybody in this blog to listen to his election advertisement.

Also I would not assume that he is a newcomer to political games. Real Estate business is very a political activity. So a more plausible hypothesis is that he is a gifted politician both by nature and due to on the job training received in his occupation.

His idea of creating a circle of advisors who compete with each other and thus allow him to be the final arbiter of major decisions is not new. He is not hostile to conflicts within his inner circle.

The key information about his real intention would be the candidate for the Secretary of State. But even here uncertainty will remain. For example, it is not completely clear to me that is Bolton would be appointed he will be able to pursue the policies of his neocon past. After all Trump has distinct authoritarian inclinations and Bolton is not stupid enough not to understand that.

Hopefully his foreign policy will be less jingoistic that Obama foreign policy. “Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war,” said Trump, “unlike other candidates, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.”


Manta 11.21.16 at 11:42 pm

likbez, why would someone pick Bolton as secretary of state if he didn’t want to pursue a neocon foreign policy?

Before the election, I thought that Trump foreign policy would be isolationist (with the good and bad things that such a choice would entail), but now I am worried that he will be quite aggressive.


ZM 11.22.16 at 12:21 am


“His idea of creating a circle of advisors who compete with each other and thus allow him to be the final arbiter of major decisions is not new. He is not hostile to conflicts within his inner circle.”

This is just like his show The Apprentice pretty much.

I was actually hoping this would be how Donald Trump would run the government if he won the election, my Mum liked to watch The Apprentice and he is pretty good at spotting hard workers and people who come up with good ideas. I thought some of his policies during the election were terrible or else he just made them up, but if he has some good advisors competing for him to support their ideas then he might pick out some good policies.

Now Trump has won the election may as well hope for the best.

China is apparently stepping into the trade gap in the Asian Pacific now America has scrapped the TPPP. I’ll be ineterested to see what happens.

I don’t think it’s free trade exactly that is responsible for America’s economic problems since I think Australia signed up to the same agreements and we don’t have the extent of economic problems as America. I suppose some people might say that’s because of the mining boom we had, but I think America has left a lot of States behind which Australia hasn’t. And in our two States that have lowest labour force participation the lack of jobs is regarded as a problem at the Federal level here. But there isn’t the same degree of intergenerational disadvantage you read about in articles about some American States.


ZM 11.22.16 at 12:24 am


“20: His loopy racist policies are what got him into office. He may not be able to actually build a wall, but he can hardly give up his trump card, as it were.”

Well I can’t see how he can run the country very well talking about the loopy racist policies all the time. I don’t think he can implement most of them anyhow since either they are impracticable or else unconstitutional. I presume he doesn’t run his businesses as visibly racist?


Barry 11.22.16 at 1:14 am

Suzanne 11.21.16 at 5:38 pm

” There will be no rules.”

This is actually the culmination of the fact that for two decades, there really have been no rules – for the GOP, at least. The ‘establishment’ and especially the ‘liberal MSM’ have given them totally free rein. The only surprise was that the rules-free zone was first taken advantage of by Trump, and not a GOP politician.


js. 11.22.16 at 1:36 am

Michael Flynn, Trump’s newly-appointed national security advisor, once tweeted that “fear of Muslims is rational.” If I were a Muslim American I’d be looking into emigrating.

Right? I need to start asking my Canadian cousins for some favors :)


Alan White 11.22.16 at 2:35 am

So Trump is prickly about how the Hamilton cast treated his VP?

Where’s his outrage about this:

????? Yeah, only 3 000s away from a Nuremberg rally, and a pathetic excuse for the pathetic excuse Adolph was, but. . .


Chet Murthy 11.22.16 at 5:08 am

@likbez I don’t mean this too harshly, but …. whaaa? There have been two constants in his campaign: “stomp the weaker” and “lovin’ Putin”. That’s it.

Everything else was ad-libbed. He’s not being canny about policy. He just doesn’t *care*.


Nearly Normal Frederick 11.22.16 at 6:49 am

Yes, ask the Irish Catholics what they think of Cromwell’s applied foreign policy. An original exercise in “draining the swamp”.
Meanwhile it seems to me that there is more or less a straight line between the
hard round-head puritanism of Cromwell, the hard-headed heartless applied politics of Cheney and Rumsfeld. All of which is also given almost unstoppable power by the hell-deep influence of Calvinism on the American body politic.


kidneystones 11.22.16 at 2:42 pm

Excellent discussion of Bannon


likbez 11.22.16 at 2:45 pm

Chet Murthy 11.22.16 at 5:08 am

There have been two constants in his campaign: “stomp the weaker” and “lovin’ Putin”. That’s it.

“lovin’ Putin” is a propaganda trick which enforces a certain judgment on the US-Russia relations. You should better stay above this level in this blog.

Putin was and remain an obstacle on building global neoliberal empire governed by the USA. So hate toward him by Washington establishment is quite natural. Nothing personal, just business. In other words, demonization of Putin and hysterical anti-Russian campaign (including Hillary attempt to convert Democratic Party into a War party) is just a sign of disapproval of Washington his lack of desire to convert Russian into yet another vassal state.

The key question here is not whether Trump will be able to pursue isolationist agenda and improve the US relationship with Russia. The key question is whether he will allowed to do that and resist strong attempts to co-opt him into standard set of neocon policies, which Washington pursued for several decades.

His “Contract with America” does not cover foreign policy issues except rejection of TPP, NAFTA and like.

Any idea that he will peruse isolationist agenda is undermined by the amount of Iran hawks in his close circle.

My impression is that his administration will try to bait Russia in order to prevent any strengthening of China-Russia alliance which was the main blowback of Obama policies toward Russia.

Also under Trump the USA might be more selective as running six concurrent conflicts (Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine) during Obama administration proved to be pretty expensive. Libya is now a failed state. In Ukraine the standard of living dropped to the level of $2 per day for the majority of population and the country became yet another debt slave, always balancing on the wedge of bankruptcy. And costs for the USA are continuing to mount in at least three of the six countries mentioned ( profits extracted in Ukraine and Iraq partially offset that). It is unclear whether Trump administration will continue this Obama policy of multiple unilateral engagements but I think is that during Trump administration the resistance to the USA unilateral interventionism will be stronger as neoliberalism itself became much less attractive ideology. Which is more difficult to “export”. Similar to the fact that “communism” was more difficult to export after 60th by the USSR. In a way, after 2008 it is a “damaged good” notwithstanding its recent victories in Brazil and Argentina. See for example discussion at:

The South has understood where the North has not: the selective nature of humanitarian interventions reflects their punitive nature; sanctions go to non-client regimes; interventions seem to be a new excuse for the hegemonic ambitions of the United States and its allies; they are a new rationale for NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union; they are a way to suppress Russia and deprive it of its zones of influence. (3)
What a far-sighted motion was that of the coalition of the countries of the Third World (G77) at the Havana Summit in 2000! It declared its rejection of any intervention, including humanitarian, which did not respect the sovereignty of the states concerned. (4) This was nothing other than a rejection of the Clinton Doctrine, announced in 1999, in the wake of the war of Kosovo, which made “humanitarian intervention” the new bedrock, or perhaps the new facade, of the foreign policy of the United States. It was the same policy followed and developed by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state. (5)

But, of course, we can only guess how Trump administration will behave.


Suzanne 11.23.16 at 12:14 am

@ 39: Yup.

@ 38: He was successfully sued for the most brazen kind of housing discrimination some years ago so perhaps that served as a helpful reminder that there are some laws, even for the Donald.

It is true that many of Trump’s stated goals are unconstitutional and/or impracticable. Strangely, I don’t find this reassuring. So maybe he doesn’t build a wall, but he got where he is by calling for one, which to me is disturbing and scary enough Trump has gotten where he is by throwing the rulebook out the window; perhaps the checks and balances will hold, perhaps not.

@29: I didn’t finish Wolf Hall and I was expecting to like it. I ended up doing a lot of skipping around. As you say, choppy, and I became increasingly irritated by Mantel’s little trick of changing perspectives within paragraphs. Too cute by half.

Re: Bannon as Cromwell. There may be a sense in which the comparison may be apropos, depending on how things develop. I saw “Anne of the Thousand Days” recently. Not a particularly good picture, but there’s a scene where More warns Cromwell to advise the king what he ought to do, not what he can do, otherwise there will be no holding him. Later on, he says something like, “I told you not to do that. Now look.” It doesn’t seem like Bannon has the smarts or the skills to show his idiot king the way to his will, but if he does it could be…….interesting.

The comparison is, of course, deeply insulting to Cromwell.


js. 11.23.16 at 1:23 am

I presume he doesn’t run his businesses as visibly racist?


Also pretty funny to see to people suddenly realizing that Trump may not be the peace-loving candidate after all! So many more exciting discoveries await you! I sincerely hope you enjoy them all.


kidneystones 11.23.16 at 2:51 am

The Trump Medici analogy works. As I explained to my students today (and explained to colleagues a year ago), the biggest/only problem with Trump has been staring us in the face the entire time.

Trump is primarily/only interested in amassing as much wealth, ‘prestige/bling’ and power as possible for himself and his family. And now he’s the most powerful man in the world.

Donald Trump wants to see a woman elected president of the US in his lifetime.
I’ll give you a hint of who that might be: she’s smart, well-spoken and Jewish.


Alan White 11.23.16 at 3:10 am

I’m beginning to wonder if campaigning Apprentice Trump is a different animal from unexpected “You’re Hired!” Trump. He’s very quickly backing off some extreme positions that he baited his constituency with. Might he move more toward the center with social positions as well? In some ways he seems to be more the “Art of the Deal” guy than a traditional ideologue right-winger. I suppose I’m looking for some reason to hope–my physical health has not been the best since 11/08, suffering my first panic attack that week. (Seriously, if you’ve never had one–it’s bad.)


Anarcissie 11.23.16 at 3:22 am

Trump doesn’t have to be a good administrator or a logical ideologue or a subtle policy schemer. He just has to be good at intuitively manipulating people who can do these things for him. Part of the act which gives him his power is his constant self-contradiction, wherein, by refusing to externalize his strategy, he keeps both his opponents and his underlings off-balance. As people did not see him coming as a candidate, so they do not see him coming as a leader, a ruler. Hence the difficulty of preparing resistance.

It is a very serious error to underestimate your enemy.


John 11.23.16 at 6:33 am

Gives a very real concrete meaning to Mark Latham’s phrase – a conga-line of suckholes.


Hidari 11.23.16 at 8:38 am

‘The key question here is not whether Trump will be able to pursue isolationist agenda and improve the US relationship with Russia. The key question is whether he will allowed to do that and resist strong attempts to co-opt him into standard set of neocon policies, which Washington pursued for several decades.’

The US Empire has been nice to the Russians before. It was called detente and caused almost (not quite) as much hysteria in war-mongering (proto-neoconservative) circles as Trump’s ‘neo-detente’ is causing now. However, the proviso is (and always was) that the warmongering could be ramped up again any time the Americans chose, and of course it was again under Reagan.

From the point of view of American imperialism, Trump’s plan to (temporarily) be nice to Russia makes a lot of strategic sense: as you point out, under Obama American imperial forces were becoming increasingly overstretched. In any case, for historical reasons, Russia (white, capitalist, Christian) doesn’t make as good an enemy as the mysterious dark forces of ‘Radical Islam’.

So I am guessing under Trump we will see temporary rapprochement with Russia in the East,and more concentration on command and control of the Middle East. I am also guessing Obama’s ‘Pivot to China’ will be allowed to quietly continue. It’s also likely the US’ policy of quietly picking off ‘weak links’ in the ‘pink tide’ in South American (cf Brazil, Honduras) will continue.

‘Trump: foreign policy continuity rather than change’ may well be a typical graduate thesis in 30 years’ time.


reason 11.23.16 at 9:00 am

I’m curious how Trump will deal with Erdogan. Erdogan seems to have all the tact and subtlety of an angry Bison and with Trump’s thin skin, there is bound to be a conflict at some stage. And Erdogan is not Christian.


kidneystones 11.23.16 at 10:05 am

@ 42 Thomas Cromwell’s interest in Ireland involved assessing the value of church property. There’s a crooked line linking Thomas Cromwell, the pragmatist’s, assessment to the policies of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan, via several Tudors and a couple of Stuarts.

Trump is about as far from a Calvinist as anyone in modern American political life.

@44 and @ 49 Agreed. @48 Most of Trump’s more contentious ‘positions’ disappeared from his website even before the primary. He’ll dedicate his first term to enriching himself-family-friends and allies; scattering largess; collecting fans; and largely avoiding conflicts.

This will make some people very, very angry.

Writing as someone who supported Trump over Clinton, its important to recall that Dubya ran on a similar platform of non-engagement and governed the same way, even to the point of allowing the Chinese to force down an AWACS much to the horror of many.
Two towers fell and blew that plan away.

For the moment I take great comfort in the hostility Trump displayed to Eliot Cohen and his ilk –

“After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming “you LOST!” Will be ugly.”


kidneystones 11.23.16 at 10:13 am

Should read ‘by the end of the primary.’


Paul 11.23.16 at 1:01 pm

Henry – thanks for the link to the Padgett and Ansall paper, it’s wonderful. But in terms of the relevance to the modern world, I’m more interested by the idea that intra-class marriage created an elite class of citizens (or in our case world-citizens) untied to neighbourhood and disconnected from those below them; and that this was the key to the downfall of the republic.

So I’m an academic, I don’t feel “elite”, like everyone else I know I’m baffled how people could vote for Brexit and Trump. But I socialise with people like me. My friends are all married to people like themselves – and of course it’s progress that smart men now (mostly) desire smart spouses and not just someone to look pretty and cook the dinner. And of course, moving in this circle is nicer for me than it was being in primary school, being bullied by the kids from the local estate who ridiculed me as a “fucking boffin” and who’d learnt all the latest National Front charts from their older brothers. The question is, is it sustainable? We might not feel “elite”, but the older I’ve got, the less there has been tying me to those outside my own layer in the social hierarchy (and moreover this has been to my own short-term benefit). The robustness of this model now appears very much in doubt.


Omega Centauri 11.23.16 at 7:52 pm

From what I’ve read of the WWC (White Working Class) that supposedly elected Trump, they
admire the rich, thinking they earned what they got. It is the poor, and the professional class -icluding their own doctors, that they despise. So if Trump follows this model, you/we are one of the out-groups.

I’m not so sure, he is moderating his views. The NYT overinterpreted his semi-concilatory tone.
For instance he admitted their *MIGHT* be a connection between human activity and climate change. But indicated he thought it was weak, too weak make make business pay for in any case.
And todays headline he wants to eliminate NASA climate research. And I would bet the rest of
the concilatory talk is similarly void of substance.


Chet Murthy 11.23.16 at 11:53 pm


“lovin’ Putin” is a propaganda trick which enforces a certain judgment on the US-Russia relations. You should better stay above this level in this blog.

Sorry, my friend, your statement is equally propagandistic. I didn’t say that I -liked- America’s foreign policies. But it’s clear that Trump has allied himself with Putin’s foreign policies, to the extent of disavowing his running-mate’s own attacks against Putin’s policies (VP debate).

I feel it’s important to say it again, and clearly: It isn’t a propaganda trick, to claim that Trump is “lovin’ Putin” unless the listener/reader actually thinks that that’s a bad thing (or worries that others will think so), and wants to distract attention from that bad thing. Whereas, I -simply- meant the statement to point out something stable about his positions, and that -perhaps- Americans ought to take note of.

That was all.


ZM 11.24.16 at 10:07 am


“”I presume he doesn’t run his businesses as visibly racist?”

That is pretty bad.

I am just hoping that Trump won’t be as bad as President compared to some of the things he said in the election, once he has staff and has to negotiate with other politicians. Its a bit too gloomy to think of the next 4 years without hoping for the best at the start at least.


Barry 11.24.16 at 2:26 pm

Alan White 11.23.16 at 3:10 am
“I’m beginning to wonder if campaigning Apprentice Trump is a different animal from unexpected “You’re Hired!” Trump. He’s very quickly backing off some extreme positions that he baited his constituency with. ”

Check his list of cabinet candidates. The fact that a bunch of lying pundits are reassuring us that All Is Normal means little. Note that the same NYT which has been on a witch hunt against alleged Clinton corruption since 1992 hasn’t expressed much interest in opening their files on Trump, who’s been a sleazy, corrupt, sloppy businessman in their city since the 1970’s.

“Might he move more toward the center with social positions as well? In some ways he seems to be more the “Art of the Deal” guy than a traditional ideologue right-winger. I suppose I’m looking for some reason to hope–my physical health has not been the best since 11/08, suffering my first panic attack that week. (Seriously, if you’ve never had one–it’s bad.)”

Since his (and the GOP’s) economic plan comes down to enriching the 1% (and the 1% of those) while f*cking the rest of us, I’d expect the opposite.
Racial/ethnic/gender/religious oppression is very useful, and the right’s main tactic for decades has been to leverage those for economic gains for the rich. Also, the ‘liberal’ MSM has been working hard to normalize/minimalize the rise of the fascist right, which makes this a low-risk tactic.


Anarcissie 11.24.16 at 5:48 pm

Chet Murthy 11.23.16 at 11:53 pm @ 57 —
Putin’s foreign policies seem to me to be largely responses to US/Western moves, for example in Georgia, Iran, Syria and Ukraine: the West does something — encourages invasion, foments a violent coup, starts a civil war against a Russian ally — then Putin counteracts it, usually pretty conservatively, and waits for the next move. That does not seem like much of a policy, although the Russians may think that time is on their side and all they have to do is outlast their opponent. In any case, how can Trump ‘ally’ himself with this kind of reactive conduct?


nick s 11.25.16 at 5:20 am

I think there is in any constitutional settlement a kind of “revert state”, the fall-back position when it breaks down, and for the US, it’s that of an 18th century monarchy: family first, the loyalest retainers second, the people with talent and capability if you’re very lucky.


Hidari 11.25.16 at 10:04 am

and how do we think Trump will react if there is a major Al Qaeda inspired attack on the homeland? Peace and love?


kidneystones 11.25.16 at 1:40 pm

I just finished reading the responses of the press to the Trump meetings – off the record with the TV bigwigs and on the record with the NYT. Pretty clearly the folks who got everything wrong from Iraq to Trump can’t possibly win have decided to cast themselves in the roll of ‘truth-tellers’ unafraid to hold the new administration ‘accountable.’

This effusion of utterly unfounded faith in their own ‘integrity’ spans the political spectrum from David Frum to the Nation. What these clowns see staring back at them from the mirror is very clearly different from what the public sees. Practically nobody believes a word they write, or spew, and sizeable numbers are convinced the media is actively working to suppress the news, not report it.

Long may this continue. I certainly do hope that the press scrutinizes every move the new administration makes. Had the media done the same with the same vigor a great many of the doofus moves over the last 20 years, at least, might have been avoided.

Had a chat finally with two close American colleagues about the election. Both are partisan Dems and both are pretty unhappy. I explained for my own part that as a Canadian I’m done supporting any of your candidates who regard no-fly zones, violent regime-change, and invasions as a ‘path towards peace.’ Canadians joined Americans in Iraq I, Afghanistan, and Libya (much to my shame). That’s a lot of wars and doesn’t include your ongoing ‘mission’ to bring democracy and peace to the lucky folks in Iraq.

At least, I see three wars in 25 years as a lot of wars. And certainly a lot more than I ever saw the need in fighting. So, I won’t be supporting any more attacks on ME nations by Europeans, or North Americans for any reason no matter what.

The second reason I support Trump is that he’s obliterated the discourse boundaries set by the donor class to protect anyone from seriously questioning globalization. I’ve very little expectation that much will change soon (ever?), but with Trump and Sanders banging that drum, and critics such as Blythe, Franks, and Piketty opening questioning the legitimacy of the current system I’m going to call that a big improvement over the current administration and more of the same only worse, and with a no-fly zone over Syria to usher in more peace through violence from the Democrats.

@ 62 Thanks, I think that’s the question I’m asking. I also think that I described Trump as a capitalist motivated largely by self-interest, twice, on another thread. So, we agree on that point, too. As one of my 18 year-old first-year students sagely observed: it’s too soon to tell what’s going to happen.

His is among the most thoughtful, mature observations I’ve read anywhere, and that’s what I told him.


Anarcissie 11.25.16 at 5:48 pm

Hidari 11.25.16 at 10:04 am @ 62 —
Terrorism is largely theatrical (as opposed to strategic) and can be responded to theatrically; for example, the response to 9/11 could have been a commando raid which succeeded or was alleged to succeed in killing Osama bin Laden or someone alleged to be Osama bin Laden, and a certain number of his followers, rather than two or more useless, expensive wars and many billions of dollars’ worth of useless security theater at home. But at the time the latter was more profitable financially or politically for those who had the power to manage things. A major terrorist attack during the reign of Trump would present Trump, or whoever was actually in charge, with similar choices, but possibly under different financial and political conditions. Trump does seem to understand theater, maybe better than some of his predecessors, so I think a theatrical response might be a possibility.


novakant 11.25.16 at 7:45 pm


Bill Benzon 11.25.16 at 8:07 pm

I can recommend the Runciman (novakant’s first link). It’s excellent. Haven’t read the other.


Layman 11.25.16 at 8:44 pm

Trump appears to be easily provoked, belligerent, and stupid. Now he’s surrounding himself with precisely the sort of unhinged militarists you might have expected from that. Yet the ‘maybe Trump is less dangerous militarily’ meme will apparently never die.

Comments on this entry are closed.