Goodman: A survival guide in the Age of Trump

Published March 14 2018
Updated March 14 2018

Kim Jong Un is on. Rex Tillerson is out. The CIA is hot. The Justice Department is not. Trump’s disapproval is down, cable news ratings are up and the entire world is stunned by the frightening speed of it all.

"We live in interesting times" is a Chinese adage describing the kind of chaos that only mankind is capable of creating at the expense of mankind. Robert Kennedy once invoked it during the tumult of the turbulent ’60s to suggest that the nation should perhaps endeavor to become just a little less "interesting."

Today, the wisdom of one-line Chinese sages is taking a back seat to a self-proclaimed philosopher-president who governs by the tweet and rules in the moment. He doesn’t shy from controversy, he fuels it. He doesn’t apologize for what’s not working but assures us despite evidence to the contrary all is working according to plan.

Welcome to the Age of Trump, a period of uncertainty where shock is the new normal, outrage the constant reaction and forecasting what’s next America’s newest parlor game.

Yet is it possible such chaos has an upside as it shatters norms that for too long have kept too many in a position of controlling too little in their lives? Could throwing out the old playbook soften positions hardened by habit and defended with hubris?

After all, the 2016 election was a repudiation of the status quo, where Americans opted to throw a wrench into the system by the name of Trump to see if maybe, just maybe, things could change for the better.

Many were mesmerized by America’s new play caller, as he was beholden to no party, no special interest, no one. We also knew the risks. Now, more than half a world away, we’re about to find out if the rewards were worth the risks.

North Korea is a place where dissent is rebuked and missiles are nuked, where 65 years of diplomacy, patience and 23,000 American troops on the border have yielded little more than stalemate and a defiant foe.

For months, saber-rattling on both sides escalated fears that we may be facing another Cuban missile-like crisis, which once drove Americans to build fallout shelters. Back then, the world assessed the moods of two leaders (Kennedy and Khrushchev) to gauge whether we were looking at disarmament or a world where America was staring down a nuclear barrel.

Today, we’re using the same prism to decipher what might happen when "The Donald" meets Kim Jong Krazy in a made-for-TV summit in May. Will it be serious statesmanship, or senseless showmanship?

Is it impossible that in the Age of Trump a major foreign policy breakthrough could be ignited by two word-warring leaders who chose spontaneity over diplomacy? That the failed forays of the past could be rectified in the present by a twosome whose perceived instability helped feed world instability?

What’s wrong with conversation versus confrontation, even if the price of that is for naysayers to confess that the president, purposely or not, by design or pure accident, may be on to something here?

Which brings us to the role that we, as Americans, should play. When it comes to nuclear disarmament, or the fight against terrorism and tyranny, we’ve got to find a way to fight together, not against each other.

I know for some this is a tall order at a time of hyped-up ideologues and partisanship; that when battle lines are drawn, it can be read as treasonous to cross them.

Yet when it comes to stopping missile-borne plutonium raining over Chicago and New York, aren’t we all on the same team, even if it means giving the president at times a little less stick? What sense does it make to use blind resentment against Trump as the only reason to discount his every word and action?

To survive in the Age of Trump, we sometimes have to force a smile when it hurts, or find reason for hope when the only constant seems to be chaos. It’s a painful gut check that asks that we balance what we wholly don’t like with what we fully must have.

Like it or not, we are all in this together, especially when failure means we all could be out of it forever.

Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.