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Emotion Trumps Reason

As the new president settles into his job, he must recognize the realities that he faces as Commander-in-chief.  He must realize that everything cannot be controlled.

In the real world, presidents, like ship captains, face immutable forces. Both operate in a swirl of colliding forces, and abrupt and severe movement is problematic.

From what I’ve witnessed, it seems that President Trump does not understand the dynamics of power centers led by self-regarding people. Sure there are people with big titles who will be subservient, but at the end of the day no one that will count.

He has let the press bruise his ego and has responded with impulsive outbursts and insults. He can declare the news media the opposition but he cannot take them out of the game. Mark Twain famously said, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Today in a world of many voices, you can take on the media if the counter move is skillful and used selectively, which he certainly hasn’t done.

He has also ridiculed members of the other Party, acting like he’s invincible while forgetting that the rules of the United States Senate make him vulnerable to losing power. Trump, recall that your side has only 52 votes and that Senator John McCain is one of those 52 and has equally fearless allies.

He has also surrounded himself with people like him; those who act on their emotions instead of what’s best for productive governing. If Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, had his back, he would have turned down inclusion on the National Security Council. He knew that nothing would anger McCain and his allies more.

Finally, Trump has let his emotions and his campaign promises lead him to take unwarranted and at times extreme actions, instead of thoughtful ones. His travel ban is the most recent example. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt rounded up Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the country’s population was largely European in origin. Note that German-Americans were not rounded up, just a small number of German nationals. Today’s America is many hued ethnically and religiously. Blunt bans, not tempered by careful discretion, should and have created a backlash.

I could go on but will stop there. Emotion can be a useful source of energy but when it is detached from reason it becomes toxic. The only long-term strategy that makes any sense is one that uses emotion to aid reason.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

*Update: A previous version of this article stated there are 51 Republican Senators, instead of 52.* 

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