Trump’s Shutdown Fight

Alan Zendell, January 15, 2019

Anyone who has ever sat through negotiation training knows that a successful resolution is one from which both sides come away thinking they’ve achieved something positive. When that happens, everyone can leave their differences behind and turn to more productive pursuits. When a negotiation ends with one party feeling coerced or beaten up, the well for future cooperation is poisoned, anger and resentment persist, and there’s little chance that whatever was finally agreed to will produce a fruitful outcome.

While no one expects the other side to completely lay their cards on the table, each side expects the other to bargain in good faith. Deliberate lies, contradictions, exaggerations, and misrepresentations are anathema to a successful result. Likewise hurling insults and disrespecting the opposition are almost guaranteed to lead to failure.

Above all, successful negotiators understand that flexibility is paramount. Each side lays out a set of initial demands knowing some points are softer than others, the ultimate goal being compromise: giving up some things in exchange for others.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the worst possible negotiation strategy is staking out a position that is non-negotiable. My way or the highway only works when one side holds all the cards and doesn’t care if everyone else walks away angry. Unfortunately, that’s the environment Donald Trump was schooled in, wealthy tough guys with large legal staffs and even larger egos throwing their weight around. It’s the only strategy he understands, the only one he uses.

The truth is that he’s a lousy negotiator. His narcissism makes it virtually impossible for him to compromise because in his world, compromise is equivalent to concession, and concession is viewed as weakness and defeat. If you’re the toughest kid on the block, that approach wins much of the time, until the rest of the block faces you down. Once your bravado is revealed as the empty shell it is, your days are numbered.

Trump understands that. He knows that every once in a while the irresistible force he believes he is runs into a truly immovable object. Thus, his long record of bankruptcies and court settlements. When it all hits the fan he walks away leaving others to clean up his mess.

The truest thing I ever heard Donald Trump say was, referring to Vladimir Putin, “He’s a much nicer guy than I am.” Think about that. Trump believes Vladimir Putin, the acknowledged spymaster and manipulator with no scruples who destroys and murders anyone who gets in his way, is a much nicer guy than he is. In that, he flatters himself. It makes him feel tough, but one on one with Putin, Trump doesn’t stand a chance.

In Nancy Pelosi and a Democrat-controlled House Trump has met his match, and his tactics of insulting and bullying his way through all resistance have been shown to be transparent and empty. Americans blame him for the government shutdown and the impasse over his specious border wall by nearly two to one. The talking heads love it. They’re convinced he has backed himself into a corner from which there’s no way out, but they’ve been wrong at every turn since Trump announced he was running for president. I’m afraid they’re wrong now too.

The media are hyping this as the end game of a classic fight or flight scenario, comparing him to a cornered animal. But a cornered animal will fight to the death and wreak havoc all around it until it’s brought down. As a president whose need to win dominates everything, Trump can do enormous harm to the country. What we’ve seen up to now is the tip of the iceberg.

If you still wonder why he’s pursuing a fight he can’t win, maybe that’s because you’re looking at the wrong fight. Trump wants the government closed for as long as possible. The longer it isn’t functioning, the longer it will take House Committees to staff up and hire the legal teams they need to investigate him. Every day that passes is a day on which no subpoenas have been issued, no one has been interviewed, and no one has been forced to answer questions. The longer that goes on, the more chaos and backfilling there will be when the shutdown inevitably ends.

Don’t think for a minute that Trump can’t win this fight. As dysfunctional as the Democrats are, as gridlocked as the various factions seem to be, we may be well into election season 2020 before they get their act together. Trump can win the way he always does, sowing distrust and discord everywhere so nothing can be accomplished. Chaos is his strongest ally.

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