Michael KreponTrump’s Black Swan Song

Quote of the week:

“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.”
— Macbeth, Shakespeare (with thanks, once more, to Greg Govan)

Donald Trump leaves a trail of wreckage in his wide wake. The man is not well. His fear of loss has become our country’s loss. The danger he poses to our Constitutional Republic is so great that even Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have denied him access to their platforms. He nonetheless retains access to the nuclear codes. Just one person has the authority to authorize the use of nuclear weapons in the United States — even if that person demonstrates sociopathic traits.

Trump’s seizure of the Republican Party was a Black Swan event. It was enabled by two previous Black Swan events. One, the 9/11 attacks, caused the United States to lose its balance and fostered extreme impulses. Another, the Great Financial Recession of 2008, sharpened social and economic divisions. Trump’s last year as President was marked by the advent of yet another Black Swan event — the COVID pandemic.

Back Swan events used to appear once in a century.  Once-in-a-century environmental catastrophes now occur several times a year. Black Swan economic and public health upheavals may now occur every decade. They have changed the landscape of domestic politics in many countries, inviting strongman rule. The United States has not been exempt from the anti-democratic impulses generated from economic distress and social pathologies — even to the point of domestic insurrection.

Much now depends on whether we have witnessed the high-water mark of Trumpism in U.S. politics. I’m inclined to think so, but I’m an optimist by nature. None of the pretenders to Trump’s throne have his vile talents of mobilization. Those who again seek to coalesce hate groups and bring them center stage will be penalized more than celebrated.

This begins with arrests and prosecutions for those who desecrated the Capitol building. Hate groups will continue to lurk in the shadows and plague our Constitutional Republic. Most will retreat to chat rooms; others will make pipe bombs. They can be progressively marginalized by a President who exudes decency and who pursues sound domestic initiatives.

If we mean what we say about the rule of law, then another impeachment in the House of Representatives is warranted. A Senate trial of a President that has left office is a different matter. There is not one day to waste on impeachment that falls short of conviction in a new administration dedicated to national recovery.

Even so, conspiratorial thinking remains a political fact of life, with especially deep hooks in the Republican Party. If the Party of Lincoln is to find its moorings again, true Conservatives will have to mount primary and independent/third-party challenges to incumbents who have disregarded their oaths of office. If, as a result, some of those who have aided and abetted the mob are defeated, the Republican Party will be on the road to recovery.

Course corrections will likely be modest, but at least they will begin. The pace of defending Democracy will be slowed by talk radio, the Fox television empire and its spawn that continue to drip poison into the nation’s bloodstream. We can defend free speech and Democratic values by shunning corporations that advertise on shows trafficking in innuendo and lies.

The worst ramifications of social media are now beyond dispute. One essential corrective for the health of our Democracy is honest labelling. Trump’s tweets weren’t “disputed”; they were lies. Labelling them as such does no violence to the First Amendment; to the contrary, mob violence is abetted by falsehoods. The recovery of our Constitutional Republic also depends on the loss of social media platforms to those who incite violence.

There are democratic rituals for sorting out and addressing the grievances of those left behind and those fearing further loss, but these rituals depend on reason and fact. Our business – the business of arms control – also depends on reason and fact.

Great successes in our business have occurred during Republican administrations, but the Republican Party has lost its way. Comparisons between Trump and Richard Nixon are striking. Nixon produced the first strategic arms control accords, while Trump, with a strong assist from Vladimir Putin, has left arms control on a ventilator. Nixon awarded the Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, while shredding environmental regulations – even some that corporate giants urged him to keep.

Barack Obama recruited Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense by telling him, “What I know concerns me. What I don’t know concerns me even more. What people aren’t telling me worries me the most.” In stark contrast, Trump thought he knew everything. He was a stable genius whose neediness required constant reaffirmation. Trump knew very little about how to govern effectively and cared less. He skated blithely over foreign and domestic issues. He held an even more grandiose conception of executive authority than Nixon but was careless and bumbling about its exercise.

Joe Biden inherits the biggest mess since FDR switched places with Herbert Hoover. Our favored arms control agenda items will now compete for his time and attention. Like those working hard on other important issues, our preferred arms control agenda items will be affected by partisan divides. Absent significant Republican support, ambitious treaties are beyond reach. There are other ways to reduce nuclear danger.

No agenda item is more important in our line of work than changing the sole authority American Presidents have to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. After four years of Trump, the need for corrective action on this front has never been clearer. Many Republican office holders are likely to agree to the need for change. This can be accomplished after careful but expeditious consideration.

Many of us have offered good ideas about how to change the practice of sole authority. The Biden administration can do this by executive order, in consultation with Congressional leaders. I expect no less from the incoming President.


  1. Jonah Speaks (History)

    Peter Singer discusses the role of Trump and social media platforms in spreading lies, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. Their recent decisions to ban Trump from their platforms will impede future spreaders of toxic content. https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2021/01/superspreader-down-how-trumps-exile-social-media-alters-future-politics-security-and-public-health/171295/

  2. Michael Krepon (History)

    From Richard Hofstadter’s classic essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in Harper’s (1964):

    The modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high…

    Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes…

    The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it…

    We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.

  3. Cthippo (History)

    I think you are missing out on the event that truly enabled the rise of Trump.

    The direct cause was the election of Barack Obama. Suddenly millions of white people realized that they were not special, and that they could no longer count on the occupant of the White House always looking like them and having the same experiences as them. Being born white no longer gave them a place in the highest tier of American society. They were no longer the chosen ones.

    The election of Trump is fundamentally a scream into the void that “I matter because I’m a white American man”. For that administration to end is seen as an existential threat by millions who now fear that they will be treated the same way white men have historically treated minorities.

  4. NOYB (History)

    Krepon, your blog post belies your conceit and disdain for American liberty and the citizens who stand by it. While you look down your nose at everyone, such blatant bias discounts your credibility here and in all parts of your life. I now have ruler by which to measure your opinion. Ironically, the crazed POTUS as you depict him, who could launch Armageddon at any moment has given the world—in four years a more secure world through positions of practical strength and brokered real, historical progress in middle east peace. You, on the other hand have demonstrated your weakness of conviction in ethical and professional standards. Intentionally ignoring reality, while naively pretending that the increasing excitement over four years surrounding the election of a populace President in two elections is a farce. You have full confidence in a new President who, prior to election, refused to share a substantive plan for any part of American life or foreign policy. You and he are perfect for each other in your conceit and disdain for America and it’s citizens. Your career politician will give you what they do: corrupt, establishment cronyism at our expense (peruse his cabinet) He’s a liar. You are a fool. Wake up, Krepon! The censors are coming for you next.

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      Dear Readers & Sleuths: What’s your best guess about the derivation of this post?

  5. Bill (History)

    Another origins of Trumpism can be found in the way that the Obama administration handled the great recession and other economic problems. That none of the malefactors of great wealth who had some responsibility for what happened paid any legal penalty was a source of discontent as were the effects of growing economic inequality. and the continued loss of manufacturing jobs. And all the people whose mortgages put them under water. Some significant number of people who felt left behind economically would be attracted to someone like Trump. As good a president as Obama he did not have the mindset for taking on such problems, for example, his adherence to austerity policies made things worse. I think this is where Biden as president could be a significant contrast.

  6. iconstudio337 (History)

    “populace President” ? Maybe they should hire a native speaker to write these.

    Keep it up Michael.

    John Olsen

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