Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, was among the few who predicted Donald Trump’s election. Now, for many, he’s become the go-to Trump explainer.
More aficianado than fanboy, he’s a lot more plausible than the insiders like campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Goebbels re-enactor Stephen Miller who are, for now, getting paid do the explaining. So let’s give him a listen.
Adams, in a February 16 blog post, places Trump in the same category as Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Virgin’s Richard Branson. Not company in which I would have instinctively placed The Donald, none seeming to contend with him for the title of world’s greatest flimflam artist.
What they and Trump do have in common, says the corporate organization man turned cartoonist, is that they are “systems” people rather than “goals” people. By that he means that none of them set out to be precisely where they are now but got there by systematically doing the things that made the journey and destination possible.
“Trump seems to be a systems thinker,” writes Adams. “I doubt he knew he would jump from real estate developer, to author, to reality TV star, to president. At least not in that order. Instead he systematically accumulated money, persuasion skills and personal connections until he had lots of options. Being president was one of them.”
Adams may be trying too hard to fit Trump into the template of his own how-to-succeed book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. But that would not have been a bad title for Trump’s Art of the Deal — or his many other ghosted works on the same theme. One of the things Trump is not is a writer. Nor is he a reader. But he has failed repeatedly and, to use his adverb, bigly. Airlines, casinos, professional sports teams all have gone belly up in his care, often because he did not know what he was doing. That doesn’t mean he didn’t learn anything in the process. Now he’s President.
Or, as Adams puts it, “now the world watches as as entrepreneurial systems-thinker with no government experience takes over the White House and tries to learn on the job. How did you expect that to go?”
Not well, to be honest. And Trump is living up, or down, to expectations. He claims to have achieved more in his first three weeks than any president before him. But more what? If the quantum is chaos, it would be hard to take issue with him.
To my eye, then untutored by Adams, the Trump who took questions from the press for 77 most unusual minutes last Thursday was no happy camper, as much as he seemed to enjoy the give and take even when caught in yet another misstatement of his margin of victory.
Braggadocio and confidence are not synonymous. The former often signals a serious deficit of the latter. Trump had the manic look a man who feared the wheels were coming off his presidency almost before it had begun
Permanent Washington was spewing leaks that depicted his White House in pandemonium and himself as wandering its halls wifeless and bewildered in a bathrobe, picking up the phone at 3 am to ask his national security adviser, General Mike Flynn, whether the dollar should be strong or weak.
An ill-conceived executive order to show he was serious about protecting the “homeland” from “radical Islamic terror” had blown up his face, blocked at least temporarily by the courts, at which he had reflexively lashed out, earning an open rebuke from his Supreme Count nominee Neil Gorsuch.
He had then had to give Flynn the heave-ho, nominally for lying to his vice president about conversations with Putin’s Washington ambassador. These touched on the sanctions President Obama had imposed to chastise the Kremlin for what US intelligence community had concluded was an effort to compromise Hillary Clinton’s chances of election. Would another shoe drop, proving collusion between Putin and the Trump campaign?
Be cool, says Adams. “If you are comparing the incoming Trump administration with the transfer of power that defines our modern history, that’s an irrational comparison. If the country wanted a smooth ride, it would have elected Hillary Clinton. Instead voters opted to “drain the swamp”. And you can’t drain the swamp without angering the alligators and getting some swamp water on your pants. That’s what we’re watching now.”
Trump has consistently surprised his detractors, the biggest surprise of all coming last November 8. Perhaps there will be another next Tuesday when he speaks to a joint session of Congress.
If the practice of his three most recent predecessors is any indicator, this should be the moment he transits from the theatre of being president to engaging with Congress on his specific priorities, how he wants to fund them and whether he is willing to fight his own party to get them. From his choices we should learn if and how he means to govern.