Mueller and managing expectations

The Mueller Report is in… but is the real crime collusion, or has the president been using it as a rhetorical decoy to hide other crimes? There is a case to be made that the Trump administration, with GOP collusion, has been preying on the wishful thinking of those who loudly despise the president.

From the jargondatabase: To a large extent, people declare that a project has either succeeded or failed based on whether it met their expectations. Few projects fail in an absolute sense — they simply fail to meet individual expectations.

A scenario: Johnny comes back from an exam and says: “I think I really failed that one….” For days, the kid goes on and on about the failure, … Mom and Dad console him”, his jealous little sister expects, with some glee, and F minus… The result arrives. It’s a D…. Parents scold the sister for being so negative. Johnny, who had revised for 10 minutes, escaped a real scolding for being such a lazy bone. Johnny is an expectations manager.

So: Has anyone wondered why Donald Trump keeps drawing attention to the collusion issue? He repeats the word over and over again, tweets it, rambles on about the “Russia thing” and the fake news business… Anyone with the most basic communication skills would try to change the subject, or just let the matter go… if it really was a thing. So, is he really that furious? Or is it merely grandstanding and throwing red meat for his base to mitigate an eventual bad report card from the Mueller team?

One of the rules of communication is not to call attention to flaws, deficiencies and other warts, and especially to do that vociferously. There are a thousand reasons to oppose this president. But there is not one reason to underestimate the effectiveness of his strange communication, which keeps his base riled up, the GOP terrified, and above all, the media enthralled by so much cheap and flashy raw material, which delivers great product margins.

I’ve had a theory since the beginning of the Mueller probe, and it is this: Trump and his handlers, like Conway, have been engaged in expectations management. In its simplest form, it is like a person going to play a game of chess and mentioning repeatedly that he hasn’t played in 20 years. It may or may not be true, but it either justifies and mitigates the eventuality of a loss, or exalts a win, especially against a strong opponent.The slogan is: promise less, deliver more. This can hide the warts and weaknesses, or downright deficiencies, once the results are in. Anyone who followed the USA-Iraq wars carefully will have noticed how during the run-up to the wars, Saddam’s army was always described in apocalyptic terms, even though in the first war(1991) it had just come off an eight-year battle with Iran and was quite degraded. In  2003, it had hardly been able to rebuild, but the media scoured Roget’s to find the most terrifying words to describe this Incredible Military Force.  When the “coalition of the willing went in,” it cut through the the Iraqi army like a hot wire through butter. That victory was followed by a barely suppressed gloat fest … which then  hit the real wall of guerilla resistance and the totally predictable, bloody quasi-civil war that then broke out. But it, the victory, was enough to satisfy a critical mass of Americans and the media, for a while at least, while the Bush clowns rejigged their rhetoric and fumbled around in the country they had just invaded until things sort of arranged themselves.

So Trump’s yelling about the Mueller report could be a deflection in that vein, negative expectations. The Resistance expects treason, even the base does (they know their Leader is a criminal, they like him for it). But the report may more or less exonerate Trump of the “collusion thing,” which he’s been drawing so much attention to. This will effectively dash the expectations of all those who have been wishfully and blissfully thinking that Trump is deeply involved in some evil traitorous plot — that his base wouldn’t even care about anyway, because Trump is their weapon against their feeling of inferiority so carefully crafted by Fox News and others. Whit collar stuff is almost trite next to treason, isn’t it?

The GOP, for their part, with the support of said base, will commence howling about Trump having been right all along… about the collusion thing, so obviously he must be totally innocent… Even if he is not entirely exonerated….  That’s the general scenario: On the one side, Congressional committees trying to parse all the white collar stuff dug up by Mueller & Co. that are part and parcel of the Trump repertoire anyway and will be added to the porn payoffs, but that don’t really count for his base, like his moral bankruptcy. On the other side, the base drunk on a kind of false schadenfreude trying to out-holler the  Resistance, which will still be pointing out myriad Trump crimes in 280-character bursts. And Trump heating them up, as usual, keeping the country deeply divided.

It’s a little complicated, perhaps, but being simplistic is not a solution, even with this immature and transparent president. A well-conducted campaign of expectations management would explain why Trump has been hollering about collusion, when it would/should have been the last thing to do if he were really guilty.

You see how it works?  I may be wrong, but I’ll risk it. Just remember one thing with Trump and his punditocracy: Criminal behavior is unimportant; being in the spotlight at all times is.

This article was updated with material I had gathered two weeks ago.

Chicago Jiu-Jitsu: Obama’s Olympic bid

The distinct sense of glee felt in some of the more vociferous conservative circles at Obama’s journey to Copenhagen to promote Chicago as an Olympic city must have come as a pleasant surprise to the president and his advisers. Just as a cat, once it has caught sight of a moving finger, will follow it almost idiotically, so the right-wing blogs and network started ranting before, during and after the trip.




©Tim Jackson,

There was talk of Chicago’s ghastly crime rate, as if Al Capone was still shifting his weight around the windy city. And when the IOC picked Rio de Janeiro,  Limbaugh whooped, Drudge gloated, and Lou Dobbs punned rather irrelevantly about the ego landing. As for Obama himself, he was no doubt sincere in his effort to promote his home city as the 2016 site of the Olympics. However, as any good strategist, he probably weighed the risk of failure and realized it could also be beneficial in some way. The grand and overpaid network poobahs started balancing the whole of his presidency on one silly trip to Copenhagen. They must have been kidding. Or they are truly underestimating him and his advisers.

The first point to make, of course, is that there was only a 25%  chance that Chicago would be it. Tokyo and Madrid were also in the offing, along with Rio. Secondly, the USA already hosted the Olympics, in fact several times: Atlanta, 1996, and Los Angeles, which had the honor twice already, in 1984 and 1932.  If memory serves me right, no artificially manufactured anti-Olympic brouhaha emerged prior to the decision to choose these two cities. Thirdly, Olympic Games are very costly, even if they do give some cities an opportunity to clean up their façades and maybe build a new stadium at exorbitant costs. Munich, in 1972, got itself a state-of-the-art subway, a great concert and events venue, a wonderful swimming pool and some esthetically dubious housing. It – and Israel above all — also endured a tragic terrorist attack.  Other cities are not such happy campers financially. Check here for some stats. And finally, it was time for South America to draw the crowds, and let’s face it, Rio is a great place to party … though I wonder what the conservative pundits have to say about the crime rate there.

Hoist with their own petard

The point is, though, the right-wingers once again turned up the heat and started firing with every loud but irrelevant argument they could find, encouraged, no doubt, by the usual crowd of publicity-seeking baggers and birthers. My suspicion is that the Olympic gambit was in fact a fairly obvious rhetorical trap for this pathologically angry crowd of naysayers. In chess, a gambit is the sacrifice of a pawn (or a piece) in the opening to attain an attack or a stronger position. It does not necessarily mean winning.  Obama, in fact, could not lose. By going to Denmark, he was showing a high degree of commitment not only to Chicago, but also to the USA, since, barring the financial burdens, being an Olympic host is an honor, apparently. The argument that he has better things to do in times of crisis is ridiculous. If the average Joe or Jane in the US can travel and work wirelessly these days, so can Obama in the comfort of Airforce One. As for results, had the president managed to convince the IOC, he would have effectively silenced  – at last for the space of a lunch break – those who obsessively and compulsively rave against anything he does…. Now that Chicago was nixed, these über-patriots are clapping and cheering and jeering. What they’re doing, actually, is approving of a US defeat, an absolute rhetorical no-no …  They could not approve or commiserate, owing to their previous stand. They were in a corner and Obama simply let them impale themselves on their own weapons. Though I am not sure whether these people realize this at all. “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill,” Sun Tzu dixit.

This might also explain Obama’s remarkable equanimity in the face of rather blatant and virulent attacks from the lunatic fringe-far right spectral range during the health care debate. It appears to be a tactic (I suppose there is really a will behind it) that he and his advisers often used during the campaign a year ago. For instance, every time Sarah Palin would start heating up the tin foil crowd with bizarre allegations that had nothing to do with the economy melting down, or when she allowed misfits to shout death threats against candidate Obama, support for the McCain-Palin ticket declined. She failed to see that most voters were not interested in conspiracy theory à la McCarthy. Obama would essentially wave it off as something fairly pedestrian. To see John McCain finally explain to some hysterical senior citizen that Obama is in fact an American citizen and an honorable man was almost poignant. Gradually, the opposition wound up on the fringe where it became highly identifiable. To this day, in those horrid forum comment fields, one can quickly identify those who are writing down the tinselly sounds in their heads fed by the far right, from Palin down to Savage. They keep repeating the same inHannities… Barack H. Obama, Acorn, socialism, etc… Tired old stuff that has about as much meaning as the muttering of some burnt-out preacher on Speaker’s Corner…

At the crossroads

After Chicago, the professional ranters will find themselves increasingly sidelined, I suspect, perhaps even where health care is concerned. Which will not deter them, just as the Palin fiasco did not deter them from just adopting the better part of valor and keeping a low profile for a while. Sure, the health insurance debate is far from over and given the millions spent by the insurance companies to produce scare-ads and convince senators,   Obama may well fail to get the entire package. But he will get something from it, and be that merely clarity about who is who. The American people, apparently, want reform, some 47 million are uninsured and that is shocking in a modern, industrialized country. But rather than engage in reasonable deliberation, the opposition has hitched its cart to fellows like Beck, who are cynically playing the lunatic fringe for all they can, because there is money to be made in them thar hills. It’s hardly astonishing that the Obama administration is now seeking support from the GOP, particularly the governors. Schwarzenegger is more or less on board. What this sounds like is a kind of methadone program for sections of the GOP that have become addicted to the simplistic, borderline rhetorical bilge being thrown daily at the US public by self-seeking radio hosts.  If the GOP wants to win presidentials again, it will have to change some of its political planks and above all unload all the loose cannons, professional peddlers of political hallucinations and sundry buffoons at the nearest port of call.


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