AN ANALYSIS OF RECURRING TACTICS, INDIVIDUAL STRATEGIES, AND LONG GAME OBJECTIVES
We heard from the media it was mathematically impossible for Trump to win, yet after winning that "impossible" battle against establishment money, his victory was rationalized as anyone could have beaten Clinton. Now we hear that Trump is "unhinged" and clueless, while the same media outlets discuss "dumb luck" and whether Trump might be some kind of "idiot genius." All the while, whispers of "4D chess" circulate the darker corners of the internet
These assessments are inconsistent and irreconcilable. So what is really going on here?
WHO ARE "TEAM TRUMP"?
The following is an in-depth analysis of the general tactics and specific strategies of a group of related entities I will call "Team Trump."
This group includes, of course, President Donald Trump himself and his Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, along with hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his team of quants, the Breitbart conservative satirists, PSYOPS antagonist Milo, and a number of other players, which probably include public relations agents, legal staff, and consultants.
The members of Team Trump share a common basket of tactics that are quite peculiar and the appearance of which across such a large group can't be coincidental. The central strategic figure appears to be Bannon, who has held relationships with everyone mentioned above (through Mercer-funded conservative media). Keep in mind while reading this essay that I am not providing an analysis of Trump the individual. In fact, focusing on him too narrowly is how so many commentators have missed what is happening—which is a tactic in itself.
WHO IS THEIR ENEMY?
Team Trump's central target appears to be an ideology more than any particular group or institution: late-stage liberalism.
While scuffles between Democrats and Republicans are routine in American elections, there were signs early on that the antagonism between the two camps was something very different. Team Trump seemed to have its sights less on defeating the Democratic party and securing an electoral victory and more on attacking the underlying ideology that the party presently embodies. In doing so, they showed that they are playing the long game and aiming at a much more ambitious objective.
By waging an ideological war and attempting to discredit modern liberalism itself, a successful attack from Team Trump not only damages the Democratic party but all entities anchored to that ideology, including national media, Hollywood, universities, many corporations and government agencies, and even the (by their standards) far too centrist Republican party. With such wide range of targets, Team Trump's attacks are essentially assaults on the establishment itself.
We might call their enemy "entrenched liberalism." After decades of progressivism, starting in the 1960's, the pendulum has swung far enough that there is now a permanent, left-leaning ideology embedded in the system. Since ideologies largely operate as unconscious ideas and those that become entrenched as a societal belief system are taken to be common sense, that ideology has, until recently, remained unchallenged. This left-leaning ideology is so deeply rooted that it remains a central feature of public life, even after Republicans are voted into the White House.
Team Trump appear to be the first conservatives to strategically turn their sights away from winning individual elections against Democratic contenders and, instead, work on issuing challenges to basic liberal assumptions, fomenting social revolution, and building their own conservative institutions (or neutralizing liberal ones).
Before listing the individual tactics used by Team Trump in their ideological warfare, I want to note some shared characteristics. The most shocking commonality is that these are wartime tactics (adapted for the media age) employed within their own country. There is no question that the gloves are off and these guys are playing to win.
The other really striking feature of Team Trump's behavior is the willingness to draw fire and take self-inflicted damage for long-game wins. The team will happily sacrifice a pawn if it opens up the opportunity to take one piece each from four opponents. They will also patiently withstand months of abuse in order to emerge victorious in the end. This behavior is almost unheard of for Western politicians, who generally avoid reputational risk at all costs and do not have the willpower for this style of combat. Yet Team Trump actually seems to revel in it, and draw fortitude from it.
But the most important thing to understand is that many of these approaches are ancient Taoist tactics, used against a larger but more rigid opponent. The core techniques are straight out of Sun Tzu's 2,500 year old The Art of War (a poetic, military derivative of the original Tao Tzu writings), with some guerrilla warfare similarities, modernized to bring them into the age of technology and disinformation. It is surprising to see these tactics used in the Western developed world, and the ethereal nature of both ideological warfare and Taoist maneuvers has left everyone scratching their heads.
PART 1: RECURRING TACTICS
Tactics are, in essence, the art of using one's assets in battle with the enemy to achieve some strategic end (not to be confused with the strategies themselves, which will be the topic of Part 2 in this series). The following tactics are part of Team Trump's arsenal and have been used repeatedly.
A tactic we see over and over again is feigning madness. By playing into the media's own exaggerated image of Trump the individual, the team has used it to promote overconfidence in its opponents and to maneuver undetected while all eyes are on the president.
Bannon's brilliant strategies executed effectively by the erratic Trump is a winning tactic if there ever was one. It's so difficult for a rational mind to connect the dots when those dots are being placed in an apparently random order by a "mentally unhinged" and rather opaque personality. The more the media hypes the insanity narrative in an effort to attack Trump, the less commentators and the public suspect that there really is any order to the dots. And even when the Trump Team secures a victory, the narrative remains strong. Incredulous pundits chalk the successes up to "dumb luck" or speculate that Trump may be an "idiot genius."
"Feign madness but keep your balance. Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack." ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
This obfuscation allows Team Trump to keep their cards hidden until it's too late and their opponents are caught at a disadvantage. Of course, there is a built-in weakness to this tactic: after a sufficient number of wins, the opponents catch on and the ploy loses its effectiveness. So the trick is to win but without drawing too much suspicion. And the best way to do that is to play along with the narrative of chance and improbability. Don't linger too long on the victory; simply act surprised, shrug, and quickly change the topic—and if anyone tries to steer the conversation back to the victory, displaying more "clueless" behavior will usually detract attention from it.
We saw this a lot during the campaign. The seemingly erratic moves, the apparent loss of control—all giving opponents the impression that defeating Trump would be easy. After Trump won the election, we learned about his campaign's battle-hardened media combat strategist and the role Cambridge Analytica's sophisticated, big data strategies played. And the overconfident Democrats' shock was matched by Trump's feigned surprise at his own victory, commenting that "it happened, folks, out of nowhere."
The infamous "Obama tapped my phone" tweets are another example of the feigning madness tactic. These served multiple strategic purposes, such as gathering intelligence on enemy positions and sending warnings, but their presentation appeared to betray uncontrolled emotional outbursts and fits of delusion. The tweets drew overconfident enemies from all sides and lured them where Trump intended. After all comers insisted that no surveillance took place, we were hit with news of surveillance. His opponents discredited, Trump simply gave one of his signature coy responses: "Oh, you don't say?"
"Stomp the grass to scare the snake. Do something unaimed but spectacular to provoke a response of the enemy, thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy’s suspicion and disrupt his thinking." ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
But is Trump actually "unhinged" and prone to lose control? In a way it doesn't matter whether he has some psychological or behavioral disorder, so long as it is manageable in battle (as the first quotation above advises, "Feign madness but keep your balance"). In fact, if Trump did have some clinical condition, it could work to Team Trump's advantage by making the bait all the more convincing. There was probably some improvisation and adaptation as the campaign evolved—Trump's nature was a given and it was up to the strategists to figure out how to use it to their advantage. At this point, I would assume that most of his ostensibly erratic behavior is scripted or deployed tactically.
Assets: Trump himself—with his lifetime in the public eye delivering improvised speeches and perfecting his disorienting deal-making maneuvers—is the main asset used in this tactic.
FOG OF WAR
Nobody does Fog of War like these guys—welcome to the disinformation age! Team Trump put a lot of effort into keeping their position unknown.
"All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near." ― Sun Tzu
When asked for clarification on his actions, Trump frustratingly never provides any. After all, what purpose would those clarifications serve? His opponents accuse him of being a pathological liar, but the team seems quite deliberate when aiming tactical disinformation at their enemies—they're engaged in a war and are clear-eyed about it.
Team Trump use this tactic in a number of ways, and, in fact, there are reasons why they must use it.
First, the Fog of War already exists. The mainstream media (MSM) controls the primary communication channels and can impose a communication blackout on conservative figures and viewpoints. However Team Trump has found a way to make this silencing work to their advantage. They use alternative venues to send their real message directly to their target audiences, while letting the MSM do the work of keeping their plans hidden from the general public. As Trump has himself said, "[The media] get it, but they don’t write it."
“The media bubble ... it’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on. It’s a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information — and her confidence. That was our opening.” ― Steve Bannon
Second, since Bannon is a logical, long-game strategist, he must use the Fog of War to keep his enemies from connecting the dots. To counter his long game, opponents only have to pay attention to where he is going and find a way to block his path. Team Trump have curtailed this by spraying additional dots (i.e. noise) all over the battlefield. When you are assaulted by an ever-refreshing barrage of Tweets and random nonsense, it’s very difficult to tell which dots are significant data points, and which are irrelevant or planted as disinformation. This makes finding an advantageous position almost impossible—how can you block the enemy when you don't even know where they are headed?
"Create something from nothing. A plain lie. Make somebody believe there was something when there is in fact nothing. One method of using this strategy is to create an illusion of something's existence, while it does not exist. Another method is to create an illusion that something does not exist, while it does." ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
Trump's opponents grasp the first trick (from the quotation above), the plain lie. They don't, however, necessarily get the last part. After a year of running the Feigning Madness tactic with great success, one could mockingly state that their administration is "running like a well-oiled machine" and their cabinet has “by far the highest IQ of any ever assembled.” But those statements might have more than a grain of truth.
With time, the incessant assault of all these conflicting statements from various media players tends to erode the certainty and credibility of all information (which gets into the Scorched Earth tactic—more on that later). The buzzword for this state of affairs is "post-truth"—although I would call it "blurred truth"—and sometimes even "pre-truth" (a complicated idea that we'll also discuss later).
Assets: the weaponization of Twitter was brilliant, and is one of their most useful tools in spraying noise all over the battlefield. Now, from the highest political seats, Team Trump can spread noise (and truth) while signaling to allies with a "wink." Breitbart serves a similar purpose of disrupting MSM narratives by pelting them with noise and inconvenient truths. It is also a convenient testing site for new media weaponry.
PROJECTING MIRAGE IMAGES
Projecting Mirage Images (false targets) can be used to draw enemy fire, to intimidate and provoke with mock evil, and then to discredit the attacker as foolish once the illusion dissipates.
"Mask yourself. Either leave one's distinctive traits behind, thus becoming inconspicuous, or masquerade as something or someone else. This strategy is mainly used to escape from enemy of superior strength." ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
We see this tactic used a lot. One interesting variant is the conjuring of a false target in precisely the same form as the straw man their enemy has built of them. A number of extreme allegations and comparisons (starting with Hitler and working their way down from there) are launched at Trump and his closest associates. But rather than protest, Team Trump instead knows that if someone calls you a witch, there is power in grabbing a broom and pretending to practice witchcraft. By aping their caricatures, Team Trump triggers moral panic among those who are part of the establishment. This sends them into a quest to maintain the norm, but they merely end up exhausting themselves trying to put an end to the black magic that is being cast across their vast kingdom (and that may never have existed).
"Kill with a borrowed sword. Trick an ally into attacking him, or use the enemy's own strength against him." ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
Since the media and the tech industry's main weapons are the witch-hunt and character assassination, Trump, Bannon, Breitbart, and Milo have all taken to wrapping themselves in a cloak of faux evil. Phrases like "deconstruction of the administrative state" sound a lot more sinister than more palatable statements like "we believe in small government" (see also the "economic nationalist" play on words). In fact, the entire militarization of Breitbart post-2012 could be thought as luring the MSM's attention by dangling in front of them the possibility of wrong-doing or of viewpoints that are beyond the pale.
Drawing enemy fire can, in some cases, paradoxically increase the energy and toughness of the receiver, and this certainly seems to have been the case for Trump himself.
The main objective of Projecting Mirage Images is to hide, wear down a larger enemy, and to discredit them when they hit thin air, all while your allies have a good laugh.
DWELLING IN DARKNESS
There are times when it is best to remain unknown. This is especially so with strategists, who have a history of known moves from prior games. The strategist cannot be conspicuous; knowledge of the strategist's existence is counter-productive to success of the strategy.
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt" ― Sun Tzu
Steve Bannon used this tactic quite effectively during the presidential campaign to keep opponents from seeing patterns in Trump's seemingly random moves (personally, I would have figured out the game had their strategist been in the spotlight but, alas, he was kept firmly behind the curtain). Bannon, whose favorite book just so happens to be The Art of War, emerged from the shadows after the electoral victory to give a very telling interview with the Hollywood Reporter in order to taunt his opponents—then promptly tucked himself back into obscurity. That interview is worth studying—each word is tactical, nothing is random. Once a battle is won, it does not necessarily harm one's position to flaunt how it was won, so long as nothing is revealed that will help the enemy win the next battle.
"Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they (liberals and the media) get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing." ― Steve Bannon
Bannon seems to enjoy amplifying darkness by feeding mischaracterizations of himself by his opponents, as is evident from the quotation above as well as his gloating that he is “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors" (implying that he has exerts an evil influence over the king). Bannon's role is to arm Team Trump with strategies and support their tactics, so we can assume that his creation and amplification of these images of him are deliberate and of no benefit to the enemy. We see the same thing with Robert Mercer: it's no secret his resources are present, but there is also no reason for Team Trump to talk about him nor any reason to refute characterizations of him as a "reclusive, evil billionaire."
The main use of Dwelling in Darkness is to keep plans (and weaknesses) away from sight. But it also ensures that, once the darkness dissipates, the enemy finds that the target was not who they thought.
Assets: perhaps the main asset used in this tactic is the establishment's own "blue bubble."
Another tactic used by all members of the group is to let no attack go unanswered, and to deter future attacks by delivering disproportionately large responses. Revolutionaries know that they will always be outgunned by the establishment, but this tactic is about letting the enemy know every attack will come at a price. Do you really want to get into it with a porcupine, a skunk... or honey badger?
"If somebody hits you, you've got to hit 'em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You've got to get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important … it's not so much for the person ... but other people watch and you know they say, well, let's leave Trump alone ... they fight too hard." ― Donald Trump
Trump has a long history of counterpunching hard, especially with lawsuits and public attacks. We saw it during the campaign when he brought in Bill Clinton's accusers. We saw it with the "Obama tapped my phone" tweets, which were a 5X+ response to prior Trump-Russia stories and attacks on Jeff Sessions. The Breitbart guys seem to have it down to a science: any and all derogatory comments directed at conservatives are answered with a direct strike against the attacker's reputation (be it a politician, a celebrity, a professor, or a corporation). And former Breitbart associate Milo works this tactic constantly.
Team Trump also seems aware that the left-leaning establishment isn't used to such direct confrontation and, as such, isn't quite sure how to react. Team Trump fights back with mockery, pointing out hypocrisies, calling bluffs, and character assassinations and all their enemies can muster is "outrage" (this relates to the Triggering tactic discussed later) or laughing it off overconfidently.
Assets: the Breitbart media flamethrower, along with Twitter, are their main counterpunching assets. Trump himself is often used as a delivery mechanism.
The term "unthinkability bias" surfaced during Brexit. It means knowing that something is possible, but believing it so "unthinkable" (that is, unpleasant from the liberal point of view), that it couldn't possibly happen. In other words, outcomes deemed outrageous are assigned inappropriately low probabilities.
Team Trump can exploit this bias by attacking from "unthinkable" directions, giving them the element of surprise. We can split this tactic into two categories: 1) an attack from a known direction that is assigned too low a probability due to the opponent's biases, or 2) an attack from a direction the opponent never even thought of because "who in their right liberal mind would do such a thing?" This tactic catches the enemy unprepared but it differs from traditional diversion tactics. Unlike "making a sound in the east, then striking from the west," these attacks come from a direction thought nonexistent or off the table.
How can one guard against unthinkable moves? Who can know what a "madman" thinks? This is the strength of the tactic—even knowing that your opponent might do something unthinkable doesn't help you predict what it might be. After all, if your opponent is crazy enough they might just do anything! Just think of those "ObamaGate" tweets.
Assets: Team Trump's willingness to make unprecedented, bold moves and the enemy's own ideological biases, self-certainty, and complacency.
Memes rumoring "3D Chess" (sometimes "4D Chess") currently circulate the internet. Team Trump's supporters suspect there is something going on here and, as usual, his opponents laugh it off as "reading too much into too little." I contend that 4D Chess is real, but it has not yet been clearly defined.
A player of 3D Chess exploits media bubbles, since a single move can be seen differently when there are separate chess boards (multiple media realities corresponding to multiple games running simultaneously). From the blue board, a move can be made to look "unhinged" and used to foster overconfidence in opponents, while from the red board the same move can appear devious and inspire jokes about the other team not "getting it," which improves red team morale.
4D Chess adds a temporal element: a player of 4D Chess not only exploits alternate media realities, but different time spans. When a short-term thinker is confronted with long-game strategies, their opponent's early moves will make no sense and they will appear to be racking up losses—up until that horrifying moment when they realize that they have won battles only to lose the war. What's interesting about Team Trump is that they do appear to be engaging in a longer game than most politicians. Generally, presidents are only concerned with their term (and perhaps securing a second one) and avoiding embarrassment from short-term losses. Long-game strategies may also be less visible and thus more effective in the age of hyper-distraction and shrinking attention spans.
At some point, the multiple chess boards converge (as they did on November 8th) and the real game becomes visible. With more patient players concerned with longer time frames, however, this can take years or even decades.
Assets: the media bubbles (blue and alt-media); quants to analyze the response from within those bubbles; the opponent's overconfidence and short-term thinking; and, of course, having a long-game strategy.
Pre-Truth is a fun term that surfaced in a Washington Post article and was further mocked by Robert Reich. It's a good name for an array of disinformation age tactics. The important thing to understand is that rarity has value, and so in the midst of a media-disinformation war, the rarest and most valuable thing is the truth.
A player who is engaged in the long game and is able to successfully execute their long-range plan can make statements that end up being true (think forecasting and probabilities, not black magic). A player who has unexpectedly found themselves entangled in a war of disinformation and has no plan for how to win it (let alone any clue about what is happening) is just trying to survive, and through prior bad moves they may be less favorably positioned to make true statements and more vulnerable to being discredited by false statements.
"The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose." ― Sun Tzu
The mainstream media found itself exactly in this unfavorable position. Despite the gravitas and air of competence they try to project, they did not arrive at their current position by careful calculation—they did not dictate the conditions of the media war. Instead, they were baited into war by Bannon, who had already assessed the flaws in their position and prepared his own forces accordingly. Now, the MSM can't cover "Team Red" (who make up half of the country's population) in any honest fashion, since that would conflict with their communication blackout strategy to suppress the populist uprising. Nor can they cover Team Trump's craftiness, since that would conflict with their "clueless buffoon" narrative. And, on top of that, they can't cover a series of statistics that go against their left-leaning agenda.
Meanwhile, Team Trump have become the occupants of the White House and the drivers of change, appear to have superior quant guys and models, and possess a long-game strategy (which I will discuss in Part 3). These put them in a good position to make forecasts and issue them through their new communication channels. And every time they end up being right and the MSM is shown to be wrong, credibility shifts.
"I predicted a lot of things that took a little of bit of time.” ― Donald Trump
Bannon's public statements are a good example. He rarely speaks publicly and nearly all statements have ended up being more or less true (including some forecasts that seemed bold at the time but, in retrospect, were prescient). I suspect this is an attempt to methodically build trust while watching the reactive MSM keep getting things wrong and losing the public's trust (which is already at all time lows). Trump has also made bold statements that seem absurd but start looking true with time, although he is more hit-and-miss than Bannon (since, as the spreader of Fog of War, Trump must issue disinformation). Trump has now crossed over into eerie "crystal ball" type stuff (see the Sweden tweet). I'm not sure what to make of that, but they could use their access to the intelligence community in this tactic.
Getting a handle on this gets confusing, since war is deception, media bubbles add complexity, and truth is somewhat flexible. But I read their tactic as gaining trust through Pre-Truth while destroying the MSM's credibility by repeatedly baiting them into making predictions that end up being wrong (the Unthinkability Bias is also at play here). The end result is to drive the market for news and information away from the big five media corporations.
Assets: having a long-game model, Cambridge Analytica "reading the tea leaves" in social media, USG intelligence community, direct communication channels to offer forecasts (e.g. White House direct statements, Twitter, Breitbart).
I won't spend much time on the Distraction tactic; it has already discussed ad nauseum in the media.
"Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west. The idea here is to get the enemy to focus his forces in a location, and then attack elsewhere which would be weakly defended." ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
Team Trump use this to keep "the opposition party" (the media) busy. It is highly effective in the distracted and unfocused media age. Commentators are not wrong to identify this as a core tactic of Team Trump. Where they go wrong, however, is in simplistically reducing everything they do to this single tactic.
The media also loves to discuss Scorched Earth tactics. Like Distraction, this one is probably overstated. The tactic involves the widespread destruction of resources so they cannot be used by the enemy.
One of the more interesting uses of this tactic has been in the "deconstruction of the administrative state." The government can cut the budget of certain enemy installations (EPA, NEA, NPR), but that is of limited effectiveness—the stripped installation can still remain operational. Team Trump have taken the bolder move of appointing directors who lack knowledge of, or are the enemy of, the installations they are appointed to run. The installation remains operational but, given its new leadership, ceases to be functional.
Assets: the USG (which can be used to power down itself and government-funded entities), Breitbart (which can neutralize information), and Trump himself (calling democratic institutions into question by decrying "rigged elections").
Politicians have always used catchy slogans, and "Make America Great Again" is part of that lineage. But there seems to be a bit more going on here than there is in the usual political sloganeering, something which I will refer to as Weaponized Keywords.
The disinformation and tech age have made possible the deployment of more sophisticated methods of psychological warfare. The quants at Cambridge Analytica seem to be pioneering some of this weaponry, and there have been interesting articles written about it. I'm not a specialist on big data, but the story seems to be that data on social media activity (e.g. user "likes") can be used to build psychological profiles (the AI keeps leaning), which are then used to design carefully targeted ads and keywords to elicit particular emotional responses.
"There’s nothing accidental about Trump’s behavior. That press conference. It was absolutely brilliant. I could see exactly what he was doing. There’s feedback going on constantly. That’s what you can do with artificial intelligence. You can measure every reaction to every word. He has a word room. So with immigration, there are actually key words within that subject matter which people are concerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, it’s all about how can you use these trending words.” ― Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU
Knowing this, one has to wonder about Trump's peculiar speaking style, which sometimes sounds like a fragmented sequence of keywords—"rigged election, nasty woman, lock her up, drain the swamp," and on and on. One has to wonder whether this statement was yet another brilliant execution of the Feigning Madness tactic, calculated to elicit key emotional responses...
"I know words, I have the best words" ― Donald Trump
Assets: Robert Mercer and his associated data analysts, Breitbart as a social media testing ground for this weaponry, and Trump as the ultimate delivery system.
Netizens are calling it "triggering," a classic Taoist-like indirect attack method used against big, rigid opponents. Why exhaust yourself attacking a larger foe when, with little effort, you can trigger them into exhausting themselves, all while disconnecting your foe from their own assets?
"If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him." ― Sun Tzu
Lure the tiger off its mountain lair. Never directly attack an opponent whose advantage is derived from its position. Instead lure him away from his position thus separating him from his source of strength. ― Thirty-Six Stratagems
The tactic uses various combinations of satire, mockery, and provocation to goad the enemy into retaliating (see also Mirages Images). This attack is so effective because there is an endless supply of inexpensive arrows to shoot, and no clear way for the rigid establishment to stop the annoyance. Used most effectively, the attacker not only annoys, but lures their opponent (ideological in this case) into abandoning their own assets (discrediting liberalism). For example, if the establishment can be made to protest the free speech of other ideologies, it violates it's own ideal of liberal tolerance. Outrage over off-color jokes on the part of establishment actors reveals a lack of the stability required for leadership. To use tech companies (Google AI, FB flagging) to silence the opposition party's internet comments and alt-news reveals the establishment's readiness to claim and exercise fascist power. Remember, this ideological war is being fought on the public stage, so appearances matter.
Assets: Breitbart political satirists, Milo the provocateur, faceless internet trolls, and Trump himself. The lack of self-awareness in a specific target is also an asset to the provocateur.
Team Trump have entered American Politics with a rather awe-inspiring show of tactical and strategic force. Neither the left-leaning establishment nor old guard Republicans (who have witnessed hostile takeover of their party) seem to have any ready defense. And that's the thing: the disproportionate levels of awareness between the combatants is quite noticeable. It's evident that some have been caught unprepared.
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." ― Sun Tzu
At this point Bannon vs. the establishment is a lot like Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd. The left-leaning establishment knows neither the deeper recesses of its own ideology nor does it understand the ideology and thought process of its enemy. Bannon's tactical moves have shown him to have an astute understanding of both the enemy ideology's inherent flaws and the weaknesses of his own nature and strategies. The same can be said of Trump vs. Hillary and Milo's psychological combat against liberal universities. In each case, the establishment lacks awareness of who they are and of what they are fighting against. As a result, they have taken more than a few obvious and embarrassing missteps.
But this is far from over. While it lacks innovative tactics, the establishment has an advantage simply insofar as it is the establishment and, as such, powerful and difficult to dethrone. There are layers upon layers of bureaucracy and corporatism in place to stop troublemakers. Team Trump have invested in a significant and challenging undertaking—and they seem to know it.
"This is going to be a very nasty, long, protracted fight" ― Steve Bannon (2013)
This concludes my analysis of Trump Tactics (Part 1). We are still in the early stages of what may be a long war, but I expect to see these core tactics (with further refinements and innovations) used for the next 4 to 8 years. In Trump Strategies (Part 2), I will analyze how these tactics are used in the service of broader strategies. I will then conclude this series with Trump Long Game (Part 3), a discussion of how Team Trump's strategies might relate to long-game objectives.
In order to understand The Art of War, you really need to grasp the underlying Tao Te Ching. In fact, all of The Art of War's strategies can be derived from the Taoist philosophy found in the latter. The Thirty-Six Stratagems is a derivative of The Art of War, and thus a second derivative of the Tao Te Ching. I've not yet read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile and Trump's The Art of the Deal, but these texts seem relevant to current events.
- Giles, L. (1910). The Art of War.
- Unknown translation. Thirty Six Stratagems
- Wolff, M. (2016, November 18). Ringside With Steve Bannon at Trump Tower as the President-Elect's Strategist Plots "An Entirely New Political Movement". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Bond, P. (November 21 2016). Inside the "War Room" as Breitbart CEO Claims "Smear Campaign From Mainstream". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Cadwalladr, C. (2017, February 26). Robert Mercer: the Big Data Billionaire Waging War on Mainstream Media. The Guardian.
- Gold, M. (2017, March 17). How the Mercer Family's Partnership with Stephen Bannon Shaped the Populist Climate in 2016. Chicago Tribune.
- Lake, E. (2017, March 9). Trump's Run of Dumb Luck. Bloomberg View.
- Publius Decius Mus (2016, September 5). The Flight 93 Election. The Claremont Institute.
- Porter, B. (1996) Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching. Mercury House.
- Trump, D. (1987). The Art of the Deal. Random House.
- Taleb, N. (2012). Antifragile. Random House.
Originally published at Ptolemy3 Essays