Trump, the Antifragile

The man is simply an enigma.

Donald Trump has routinely embarrassed, flustered, demeaned, and humiliated his GOP opponents in such a dominating manner that no remaining viable candidate will even attempt to retaliate out of pure fear of the backlash. He has demonstrated to a demoralized and philosophically lost Conservative party that simply being a 20 year late Democrat is not a winning position, and that standing for the wishes of Middle America and blue-collar/lower white-collar workers is every bit as necessary as schmoozing with the Republican donor elite. He is even starting to shift what it means to be Conservative, as demonstrated by his January 10th campaign speech in Reno, during which he stated

“I’ve become more and more of a Nationalist.”

This shift in his self-identification aligns more with his core constituency, and provides what I see as the impetus for the reformation of the GOP into an Alternative Right (AltRight). A shift towards a more Nationalistic ideology and worldview is sorely needed, as the challenges we face today demonstrate that traditional Conservatism is unable to adequately protect our interests.

Thrusting himself into the position of Leader in the GOP primaries and providing the impetus for a Conservative reformation are not the only things that Donald Trump has shown himself capable of. One of his major strengths is his tendency to state his opinion strongly and wholly without apology. He has shown himself unafraid to hit back at his opponents, using some of the best imagery and subliminal messaging that modern politics has ever seen. Simply fighting back is seen as a radical political technique in today’s Conservative party, a testament to how soft the Right has become. One way he fights back is with his linguistic kill shots, which have the force and ingenuity behind them to radically change how the public views his opponents, trapping them under the baggage of the terms he (aptly) applies to them. He’s completely unafraid to engage with the propaganda arm of the Liberal establishment, the professional media class, and at times goes after Cuckservative GOP opponents even harder than his Leftist opposition. This willingness to attempt to reform the so-called “Conservative” party into something that actually attempts to conserve the Nation is one of the most important things Donald Trump has accomplished since he announced his candidacy. His straight-spoken, unapologetic, sharp wit has allowed him to capture the imaginations and hopes of millions of Americans.

Because of his role in the reformation of the Conservative party, Donald Trump has been forced to fight a political war on two fronts. Lambasted by both Liberals and a Conservative party which often appears to be nothing more than controlled opposition, Donald Trump has weathered a media and political onslaught as both sides launched campaigns to discredit him and his followers. With every strike, Trump would parry their thrust with a counter of his own. He would use the force of his social media presence to degrade the status of the organization and specific activist (or should I say, “journalist”) responsible for the article in the eyes of the public. He showed a willingness to fight for the ignored wishes of the Conservative American base, something that hasn’t been done in politics for decades. Activism and top-down directives from the Executive branch, Judicial branch, and Congress have dictated to the American people for years how we should think. Donald Trump is the base’s reaction to this elitist form of political activism.

Trump’s unique ability to not only weather the attacks on him, but to fight a successful war on two fronts, shows that he has a different quality to him than populist, nationalistic candidates of the past. Other candidates would have submitted and their campaigns would have fractured and acquiesced, exposing the fragility of Right wing political leadership. Yet Donald Trump has shown himself to be completely the opposite; what is the opposite of fragile?

What is Anti-Fragility?

Most of you likely thought of “Strong” or “Resilient” in response to my question. While those are decent guesses, they aren’t true opposites of fragility. If fragility makes something easier to break, the opposite of this is something that becomes harder to break as more pressure and stress is applied. Enter the Antifragile.

The Lebanese-American philosopher Nassim Taleb developed the concept of Antifragility in his book “Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder“, an examination of how to handle and even benefit from upheavals to the normal order and even during Black Swan events.

Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.

What does this actually mean, in layman’s terms?

Antifragility is the ability to grow stronger and thrive in situations of uncertainty, risk, and stress.

To be merely resilient is to handle shocks and maintain your position through them. It is the maintenance of your status quo, the holding of the metaphorical battle line. Success in most fields depends not on remaining resilient in the wake of adversity, but from gaining strength despite it. Both Trump and his campaign fit neatly into Taleb’s descriptions of the Antifragile.

One characteristic of an organization that is fragile is existing a large entity relative to your natural competitors. As an organization grows, it slows and becomes threatened by both tempestuous conditions and the slow decay of stagnation. By running a lean campaign, Trump has reduced that risk  and remained lean and agile, a necessary condition in this year’s hectic and vicious election cycle.

Another characteristic of fragility is the need to depend on external help and resources. Contrast the campaigns of the various GOP opponents and their need for donor cash. This presents a strategic weakness, and makes them dependent upon external factors for the perpetuation of their campaign. In contrast, Trump is self-funding his campaign, relying on the capital of no one. Without external dependencies, his campaign is in a much stronger position than those of his opponents, unphased by the whims of those who purchase politicians and government influence.

Lastly, fragile people and organizations seek to manage the risk, noise, and chaos they find themselves in. They have over-optimized themselves under the assumption that risk and variation are the exception, rather than the rule. Trying to manage the environment you find yourself in is a fool’s errand; the answer lies in how you “Ride The Tiger”, how you react to the stress and how you handle the changing circumstances of your world. Being fragile is the state most people and organizations exist within. Jeb Bush’s campaign exemplifies the consequences of remaining fragile. Once the feared leader of the pack with a $100 million war chest to beat, Donald Trump has relentlessly and mercilessly destroyed the Jeb’s image and the public’s reception to his milquetoast, Democrat-lite policies and ideology.

Being resilient is a better state of existence than being merely fragile, but even that is merely an intermediary step in learning to handle and manage stress, risk, and chaotic circumstances. When one remains calm, collected, and engaged within the OODA loop in order to remain vigilant to threats on the horizon, one can remain resilient. An example of resiliency would be Ted Cruz’s campaign, through which both the candidate and his campaign leadership stayed calm and collected while the media was first reporting and speculating on his “natural born citizen” question. He has since slowly emerged from that initial firestorm relatively unscathed, but he is no stronger for having endured it. Another example of resiliency can be found in Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi committee and its ineffective head, Trey Gowdy. After this perilous time for her was over, she appeared on the other side, unscathed, but hardly stronger for having made it through. The association with the death of American ambassadors and marines remains with her to this day. Resilience is a more desirable state of affairs than fragility, but it is not the most advantageous nor desirable form for individuals or organizations. In order to be truly effective and dominant in your circumstances, you must move beyond mere resilience, beyond maintaining ground, towards growth and pushing forward with your goals and message. You must channel your inner Petyr Baelish, and seek to use “chaos as a ladder”.

As we described before, Antifragility is “the ability to grow and thrive in situations of uncertainty, risk, and stress”. Taleb anthropomorphizes this concept by invoking imagery of the Greek mythological creature “Hydra”, who gains strength and power from being attacked. As we all know, the Hydra gains two heads for every head that is chopped off – a scary prospect for those who would attempt to slay it. It is this type of response that we ourselves should attempt to foster, and it is this type of a campaign and personality that Trump has forged for himself. After every media blitz and attack from both the Left and the Right, Donald Trump has seen a rise in the polls due to the methods he has used in response. Going on the offensive, rather than reacting defensively, has been demonstrated by Mr. Trump to be the winning tactic to use when an opponent strikes. Attempting to explain or clarify your statement is a signal of weakness, a display of your fragility on the matter; attacking back on your own terms is a show of strength and force. In an increasingly chaotic world, Americans are yearning for a strong, masculine candidate to take the reigns and lead us through it. Trump is demonstrably proving time and time again that he can do this, and he appears to be the only candidate capable of doing so.

Let’s look at a few points on antifragility and examine how Trump has incorporated this into his campaign:

Being small and agile aids Antifragility

Trump has spent far, far less on advertisements, campaign staff, and a national election infrastructure than any other candidate in the race. He has brilliantly utilized free social media platforms such as his powerful Twitter and Facebook accounts to drive the national media to cover his campaign. If he can make the media pay for his election media coverage, do you really doubt he’ll be able to find ways to make Mexico pay for the wall? Additionally, he has focused his campaign infrastructure on hiring and maintaining only a small number of core, tough, and smart individuals such as Dan Scavino and Katrina Pierson (who, I might add, has shown herself to possess a rapier wit and a strong personality, allowing her to serve as a media pitbull for Trump and as a buffer against claims of sexism). By keeping his campaign staff small but highly specialized and focused, he’s trimmed costs yet retained quality, a testament to the business acumen he has accumulated throughout his long and successful career. Cost savings and organizational efficiency gains are qualities that Conservatives yearn to see in Presidential candidates, and Trump is showing himself to embody them more than any other candidate in the race.

Redundancies are necessary

With many organizations, efficiency and maximization of certain features of their operations can be one of their top priorities. Yet this over-engineering, tightly-managed style of operation is a highly fragile one; in a world of chaos, risk, and randomness, problems are abound to arise. Organizations without slack in the line and without redundant fail-safes are opening themselves up to disaster, particularly in the key areas they choose to over-engineer. Trump has added redundancies to his media coverage by employing multiple fronts for him to reach viewers (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and it was even shown that he has utilized the video platform “Vine”). Additionally, he has re-tweeted and echoed memes that fans have created of his, creating a pull factor for an engaged fan base to create new, user-driven Trump-based media. In addition to media redundancies, Trump’s long business career has helped him to rub shoulders and form relationships with the world’s largest movers and shakers. Even if some of his first choices for cabinet members and appointees do not work out, the Trump bench of talent runs deep. Compared to the quality and quantity of candidates the anemic campaigns of Trump’s competitors can be expected to generate, Trump has once again shown the value of his deep business ties amongst the world’s Makers and Shakers.

Antifragility removes external dependencies

As we discussed earlier, one of the signs of being fragile is having external dependencies for yourself or your organization to function as intended. Trump has worked hard to eliminate those external dependencies. He’s completely cut out the professional media outlets, circumventing their natural hold over the public’s opinions and views by going directly to the people with his message. In matter of finance, he has stated time and time again that he will accept no campaign contributions nor SuperPAC assistance during his bid for the White House. In fact, he’s ordered SuperPAC’s that have formed without his assistance to return the donated funds and to disband, as well as has turned down cash offers from notable GOP donors. Recently, he told a group of Jewish businessmen that he’d love to have their vote, but he doesn’t want their money. This is in strict juxtaposition with the opponents he has and is expected to face; while Trump has from the onset sought to minimize and remove all foreign and external influence over him and his campaign, nearly every other candidate has been clearly bought and paid for through SuperPAC funding. While corruption and bribery abound within Washington, it has yet to find a home at Trump Tower.

Tradition is Antifragile

Tradition, patriarchy, and the natural hierarchies that have formed both within and without our society throughout history is a form of humans crafting their societies to be Antifragile in a world where not being so means decay and death. Taleb discusses traditions and the societal conditions that formed as “time-tested heuristics that make living in a random and volatile world manageable”. It’s no wonder that Trump is making appeals to “Make America Great Again”, allowing you to fill in your own imagery of when you believe that America was most great. He’s running on a campaign of “We’ve made mistakes, and we’ve taken the hits from it. Let’s look to the past when we hadn’t yet made those mistakes for advice about the future.” It’s also no coincidence that Trump has hit hard during the holiday season on a theme of “Christmas”. As silly as it may seem to some, the retainment of identification with traditions and holidays that we have celebrated for hundreds, even thousands of years (stretching back into Pagan times) is important to the cultural zeitgeist of the nation’s people. Trump knows the importance that tradition plays in the human experience, particularly in uncertain times, and embraces it with that in mind.

Donald Trump is Antifragile

At this point, it is easy to see that Trump has proven that he understands the need to be Antifragile and the strategic advantages it confers over his competition. An examination of his campaign strategy and a look at his poll numbers after every major controversial issue he has shows the value found in becoming Antifragile; not only has he weathered the storm, he’s gained popularity and voters from both the Conservative and the working-class Democrat base, with recent polls showing 20% of Democrat voters planning to defect to Trump. His understanding of negotiation tactics (he literally wrote the book on them) has also positioned him well to deal with Congress once he assumes the Presidency, as he has anchored the negotiations high in order to achieve the things that he actually wishes to accomplish. Trump has masterfully positioned himself in the race to be the next President of the United States, and currently stands a head above the rest (no matter how hard Jeb tries to stand on his tippy-toes). Donald Trump has demonstrated time and time again that he is fierce, unapologetically masculine, the agent of change for developing an Alternative Right, and above all else, spectacularly, beautifully, Antifragile.