Politics in America

“Trump’s innovation is to have mined a deeper vein of cynicism, exhausting the weary tropes of polite political discourse”

…Trump is pivoting constantly. Or perhaps more accurately, the man is so erratic that he has no baseline of behavior against which to pivot. For instance, Trump seemed to change his mind last month on the war in Afghanistan, adopting a very Obama-like policy of deploying more troops into the country. While he once presented himself as against nation-building, Trump as commander in chief has proved amenable to any number of military adventures placed in front of him. That he now approves of the extension of the 16-year war in Afghanistan can be explained by his taste for violence and his deep attention to how he is treated by the media, who have mostly lauded the move. If pivoting is a media phenomenon as much as any kind of grand strategy, then Trump owes credit to a credulous press that tends to grant the mantle of maturity to any president who decides to bomb another nation.

A cynical gesture for a cynical age, pivoting is designed for a public sphere where bad faith is a given and attention, of any kind, is the ultimate commodity. Trump knows how to profit from the attention economy, but he is not playing the multidimensional chess with which his enemies (and allies) occasionally credit him. Instead, he seems to be a creature of pure id, making impulsive, superficial decisions based on what he sees around himself. Trump sometimes changes his mind, but he rarely manages to act in any strategic sense. The mistake the media sometimes make is crediting Trump with strategic brilliance when he’s capable of nothing of the sort. But it can seem as if Trump’s behavior is so venal, so beyond pale and precedent, that it must reflect some kind of plan. Who would act this way otherwise?

Trump’s innovation is to have mined a deeper vein of cynicism, exhausting the weary tropes of polite political discourse. He is the ultimate pivoter, aimlessly following his own impulses as his administration is mired in daily absurdities. In Trump, the hopelessness and institutional gridlock of our system find their efflorescence; his nihilistic malleability lays bare the fact that all our poli­ticians’ supposedly canny pivots are, at root, pivots to nowhere.

Jacob Silverman, “Spin Cycle”, The New York Times Magazine (3 September 2017), 13.