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Friday, May 24, 2024

Opinion | Donald Trump Is His Own Chaos Whisperer

BusinessOpinion | Donald Trump Is His Own Chaos Whisperer


But on Saturday night, these hypotheticals ended someplace else. When talking about the world being ablaze, Mr. Trump told the crowd about something Viktor Orban, the illiberal prime minister of Hungary, had said: “Bring Donald Trump back as president and it’ll all stop.” As Mr. Trump put it, “He said something else, and I wouldn’t say it, I wouldn’t really like the word. ‘China was afraid of Donald Trump, Russia was afraid of Donald Trump, everybody was afraid of Donald Trump’ — I don’t want to say that. I want to say they respected me.”

Quantifying chaos is hard to do, but the last eight years have been some of the most chaotic in decades in American politics. And for the last year, Mr. Trump has talked a lot about ending all this chaos simply through his resumption of the presidency — a kind of leviathan, superman thing. Before the rally, the Trump campaign played a movie-trailer-esque video that warned of nuclear annihilation.

There is a theory advanced by some Republicans that Mr. Trump’s chaos and unpredictability deters others’ impulsive behavior — that other leaders could not quite read how the United States might respond, so the anxiety provoked by that uncertainty stalled out otherwise bigger and more drastic shifts in the world. After she left the administration, Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, framed her and Mr. Trump’s approaches to diplomats in the manner of a good-cop-bad-cop routine. “He would, like, ratchet up the rhetoric,” she said in 2018, “and then I would go back to the ambassadors and say, ‘You know, he is pretty upset. I can’t promise you what he is going to do. I’ll tell you, if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far.’”

Mr. Trump himself will allude to his own chaos as preventative. Onstage, he sometimes claims he prevented Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine earlier on the strength of personal negotiation in which Mr. Trump threatened a wild action. “‘Vladimir, don’t do it, don’t do it — if you do it, this is what’s going to happen.’ Someday I’ll tell you what I said,” Mr. Trump said at an Iowa rally on Oct. 7. “He said, ‘No way you’ll do that.’ I said, ‘I will. I will; I’ll do it.’ And he didn’t believe me.”

Then, in a possibly telling insight into how Mr. Trump views politics, he added: “But, he believed me 10 percent! That’s all you needed!” He said the same was true of Xi Jinping and Taiwan — Mr. Xi had believed him 10 percent and “that’s enough.” The idea of Mr. Trump injecting just enough creeping doubt or pain into the equation of how a person perceives what he’s saying explains a lot about American politics over the last eight years.



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