Donald Trump’s belief that there are some bad dudes out there affects all of his policy decisions, which allows a mental bias to create domestic and international conflict and aids the very thing he is trying to fight. The only way of preventing bad outcomes is to abandon the world view behind the idea.
Why is it dangerous to see bad dudes everywhere?
“There are some bad dudes out there.” Donald Trump
When we filter all policy issues through the idea of having to fight bad dudes, we arrive at a dangerous world view that leaves no room for constructive solutions, respect, and peace.
The idea that there are some bad dudes out there fulfills all three criteria of a destructive idea:
- It divides the world into irreconcilable groups. There is us and them, and both groups are inherently opposed to each other. The conflict can last forever and will go on until one side wins. To protect everything that is important to us, we must win, regardless of the cost.
- It forces a binary argument. There are no nuances between us and them. You are either completely with us, or you are against us. Criticizing us means helping them win, we can only accept complete obedience.
- It appeals to higher wisdom. If we are the good guys and they are the bad dudes, we own the higher wisdom of goodness. They might disagree with us, but who could ever expect them to understand? Nothing we do can be wrong, and there is no advantage in compromising. We must ignore their hopes, wishes, and motivations. We must dominate them.
Because of these three characteristics, the idea creates an infinitely evil threat – the bad dudes – and the white knights who must fight them – us. Nothing the white knights do in their fight against the infinitely evil threat can be wrong, because allowing the infinitely evil threat to win would be the worst possible outcome. In the process, we surrender our values and become the very thing we claim to fight – ideologically blinded zealots with little or no respect for life.
We see the effects of this thought process in many of Trump’s policies and actions:
- Travel ban. Muslims are the infinitely evil threat, Trump the white knight. All Muslims are dangerous. The fight against the threat justifies even separating mothers from their children at the airport.
- Lock her up. Hillary Clinton represents the infinitely evil threat of “the establishment”, Donald Trump is the white knight. In the fight against Clinton, the end justifies all means, even if it means putting her in prison.
- Border wall. All Mexicans are the infinitely evil threat, Trump the white knight. Nothing Trump says or does in the fight against Mexicans can be wrong, even such ridiculous statements as having to make the wall transparent to avoid being hit in the head by 60-pound bags of drugs are legitimate.
- Foreign and economic policy. Everyone is the infinitely evil threat and Trump is the white knight who must defend America against imminent attack. This applies to economics, but also to international conflicts, when Trump famously asked an General why America doesn’t use its nuclear arsenal since we have it. This statement reveals how much Trump has bought into the idea that his ends justify all means.
- Climate change. All people who want to limit climate change are the infinitely evil threat, Trump is the white knight who must defend goodness and economic stability against the attacks of deluded and misled idiots.
The biggest danger of this world view is that it is difficult to renounce. Once you see an infinitely evil threat and a white knight, everyone who opposes or even criticizes the white knight becomes part of the infinitely evil threat. They must be fought at all costs, which explains the violence at Trump rallies and the hostility against critics, reporters, and anyone with a different opinion.
How can we deal with bad dudes in more constructive ways?
To deal with the bad dudes in the world, we have to remind ourselves that there is no single characteristic that identifies bad dudes and that no group is by definition completely bad or inherently in conflict with another group. We have to avoid the three characteristics of a destructive idea.
Bad dudes fight against others because they consider those other guys bad dudes. When we make the same mistake, we become bad dudes, too. To remain good dudes, we must hold on to our values.
Donald Trump’s world view sees every aspect of life and politics as a zero-sum game, which is a dangerous world view for a politician because it leaves the other party no choice but to fight back. In zero-sum games, one party has to lose for the other party to win.
When we force other people or countries into a zero-sum game, we announce that our goal is our complete victory and their complete loss. This tells them that there is no use in responding benignly to the challenge – it would lead to their complete loss. They have to meet our challenge by playing a zero-sum game, too, aiming for complete victory and intensifying the conflict.
Destructive political ideas always lead to zero-sum games because they define an us and a them — a binary argument.
Undoubtedly, there are some bad dudes in the world, and sometimes, dealing with them is a zero-sum game. To master this challenge constructively, we should respect two key points:
- If someone forces a zero-sum game on us, we must meet their challenge. But we should avoid creating zero-sum games of our own.
- We must avoid seeing every conflict through the lens of a zero-sum game. To constructively solve conflicts, we must find solutions that improve the positions of both partners, that create synergy — where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.
Solutions that are impossible to achieve within these limitations are not worth achieving at all. They will only create resistance and eventually fail due to irreconcilable differences.
Correctly identifying zero-sum games requires us to make nuanced decisions and keep a level head. Destructive ideas rob us of this ability, and Donald Trump combines so many destructive ideas in one person that he is completely incapable of performing this essential task.
- Seeing every conflict through the lens of a white knight fighting an infinitely evil threat erodes our values and causes us to become just as bad as the problem we are trying to solve.
- Donald Trump understands politics as the process of identifying bad dudes and beating them. This thought process distorts his view of reality, leads to bad decisions, and hurts American interests by creating opponents that are forced to fight back.
- To deal with conflicts more constructively, we must avoid creating zero-sum games that force the other party to meet our challenge with ever increasing cycles of intensity. Finding solutions that work for all involved parties means finding the best solution for ourselves, too.