Trump’s Value-free Presidency

Good news (sort of)!  There will be something for everyone to like in the Trump presidency, decisions that comport with your own particular political disposition or interests.  Bad news: there will also be many things to dislike, and many more things—perhaps greatest in number—that will be just plain mystifying.  President Trump promises to be a one man wrecking ball who will dramatically expand the effects contemplated in Edward Lorenz’ chaos theory. (Butterflies beware!)  How can this be?  Why?  The answer resides in Trump’s cognetic profile[1] that is, by my assessment, completely devoid of a value system that assures coherent decision-making.

From weird, to weirder, to weirdest, off we go!  As columnist Gerald Seib suggested in his recent Wall Street Journal column,

It’s nearly impossible to identify a clear ideological bent in the incoming president’s early moves … the definitions of left and right, liberal and conservative, are being scrambled right before our eyes.[2]

Similarly, Christopher Buckley was asked to explain whether or not his father, the late William F. Buckley, would have considered Trump a conservative.  The son demurred, observing that

it’s difficult to discern any identifiable ideology, philosophy, or politics behind his curtain; instead, only an insistent, clamant narcissism that one hopes will come to an inflection point and re-purpose itself in the service of those who have installed him at the center of our democracy.[3]

Yes, “one hopes,” but my expectations follow a different maxim: take him at his word and plan accordingly.

So what are values and why are they important?  Values are the principles we embrace that are essentially our interpretations of concepts, norms, and ideas that allow us to simplify the world and make decisions.  In my development of cognetics, they act like a box of filters and impellers that sort out the myriad of variables we must consider to make decisions; some information is blocked while other information is sent forward for further consideration.  I further argue that without this set of values that allow us to reconcile dissonance in our world—too simplify it and make decisions—we would go insane.  It is unlikely Trump is insane (at least not in the clinical sense), but his many inconsistent incoherent statements and behaviors are precursors of insanity.  He is definitely on the spectrum, somewhere right of delusion and left of insanity.  The inherent pressure of the presidency—the volume and velocity of decision-making—will most certainly exacerbate this condition, pushing him further toward insanity and potentially even physical, emotional, and psychological collapse.

To be fair, many, including Trump himself, have suggested that he has clear values.  Suggestions include values like winning, money, his children, and especially himself.  However, these are not values.  Winning is an outcome, money is a means, and the others are, well, people.  They are not values; they are not durable interpretations that provide fundamental beliefs and convictions that predict future behaviors and decisions, which is why Trump can be confounding and appear reckless.  None of which is particularly concerning in his role as real estate developer and reality TV star, but when combined with the power of the presidency disaster is a near certainty.

Presently, Trump is best described as a conundrum.  Many have already recognized his recent decisions are a product of whom he spoke with last.  This presents problems in domestic affairs, but the most dangerous effects are in foreign affairs since other world leaders must (nearly always) consider what the United States, the world’s lone superpower, will do on an array of issues.  Trump’s value-free presidency increases risk in foreign affairs exponentially.  He has already declared his foreign policy will be “unpredictable starting now.”[4]  Misinterpreting what one state or another may do in an anarchic international system is profoundly dangerous, as we saw in the outbreak of violence that escalated into World War I.

Recently, Trump decided it was best to blow up our forty year-old “One China” policy by engaging directly with Taiwan.  Although as an isolated issue this may not appear to be dangerous (his supporters view it as enlightened and powerful), policies like One China comprise the foundation of stability in a unipolar, one-superpower, world.  Trump may never launch a weapon first, and his bluster may be confined by other realities, but other world leaders may act first, and violently, in anticipation of what he promises to be “unpredictable” behavior.

Sugar-free and gluten-free may be good for you, but buckle up, value-free is going to be one hell of a ride.

[1] See my explanation of cognetics in William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy:  Jimmy Carter the Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), p.3.
[2] Gerald F. Seib, “Trump Shuffles the Ideological Deck” in “Capital Journal” section,, 5 December 2016.
[3] Christopher Buckley, “What Would William F. Buckley Have Made of Donald Trump?,” Vanity Fair, 5 December 2016.
[4] See, Nick Wadhams, “Trump’s ‘Unpredictable Starting Now’ Foreign Policy,” Bloomberg, 5 December 2016.


By |2017-06-05T21:51:01+00:00December 6th, 2016|General|0 Comments

The New Realities Part IV: It’s All About the IBCs.

Human progress is marked by the transition from one socio-economic modality to the next, each reflecting man’s principal means of satisfaction.  Historians and anthropologists call them ‘ages.’  The Stone Age was followed by the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Agrarian Age, Industrial Age, Technology Age and most recently the so-called Information Age.  Over the last century or so, during the industrial, technology, and information ages, science and engineering dominated allowing massive industrialization and gains in productivity and wealth.  During this period epistemological activity was marked by the scientification of everything.  Wealth defined success.  The framework of the prevalent modality during any given ‘age’ is manifested in all aspects of human interaction.  For example, to wage a credible argument and earn the respect of peers in the academic world since the early twentieth century, one had to be able to identify independent and dependent variables and replicate results, ceteris paribus.  This gave rise to a number of new ‘sciences’ including political science, economics, and sociology, which have worn their scientific wardrobe with neither consistent appeal nor comfortable fit.

Today, we are realizing the limits of our science-centric modality, especially as we attempt to navigate our way through current crises.  It appears economists have had it mostly wrong most of the time.  Political scientists and sociologists are having equal difficulty explaining observed phenomena.  The result is that Ideas, Beliefs, and Convictions – the IBCs – are on the rise as a locus of analysis.  Not since the period of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, when we moved away from the mystical to the rational, has the swing of the pendulum toward empiricism been arrested. This shift back toward IBCs signals a subtle but critical transition in our socio-economic modality from the information age to the cognetic[1] age.  What and how are being replaced by why as the central question.[2]  Scientific method is being rebalanced with a reconsideration of the arts, philosophy, religion, and history as we attempt to make critical decisions – hopefully in time to save our fragile social order.

As we have both benefited from and endured the scientification of everything, the time has come to rebalance our analytics with an equal or greater consideration of why things are the way they are, not just what and how we do what we do.  In my doctoral research, I study why presidents do what they do in foreign policy.  I search for the threads of influence and thought that result in decisions that affect millions of lives.  In the process, I build cognetic profiles that include the intellectual capital and cognitive disposition of presidents drawn from an historical examination of their education, experiences, socializations, and indoctrinations.  What I have found is not earth shattering, but is also nearly universally ignored by scholars in this period of scientific preference.  The principal driver in presidential decision-making is not empirical data, logic, or even politics; it is the intellectual capital and cognitive disposition that form a president’s cognetic functionalities.  ‘Facts’ only become so by permission—granted by IBCs.  Asking why allows us to both explain and predict decisions.  It gives us a sense of meaning that empirical data never does, which produces a more coherent model to understand and explain our world.

Shifting our search to why—toward a cognetic age where IBCs matter again—will also impact how we measure success.  Wealth, or net worth, may be replaced by net well being as we shift our preferences toward things that have meaning, not just utility. This has profound implications for how we live our lives and form relationships toward people and their organizations.  If you have a company focused on what and/or how, you better start thinking about why.  If you counsel people about their investments, well being may be a more appropriate framework for quarterly reviews than net worth.  If you are charged with the task of defeating terrorism, IBCs may be much more important than economic aid or nation building, and much more effective than frisking grandma at the airport.  If you are a teacher, make sure your students also search for meaning while they are identifying, articulating, and calculating the whats and hows.  And, if you are President Obama, you had better stick to your why—“Hope & Change”—even in the face of sophomoric ridicule and partisan intransigence.  That’s why you were elected.

IBCs matter, perhaps more now than they have in many decades, and may just unlock some powerful solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges.

[1] Cognetic is used here as simply meaning ‘thought into motion’ or the operationalization of IBCs where IBCs are as meaningful, if not more, than empirical/scientific data.  It is borrowed from the definition provided by Lt. Colonel Bruce K. Johnson, USAF, on “Dawn of the Cognetic Age: Fighting Ideological War by Putting Thought into Motion with Impact” accessed at Johnson serves as Air Force Reserve chief of strategic communication plans at the Pentagon.
[2] Marketing consultant Simon Sinek explains the connection between why and inspired leadership – and its importance over what and how at You can also see his TED presentation at
By |2017-05-25T21:12:37+00:00May 9th, 2010|The New Realities|0 Comments
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