It happened. Not only did Trump take the side of his ally Vladimir Putin over the American government he himself heads, but he made it clear that he did not fear the consequences of doing so. Now media members and elected officials alike are openly using the word “treason”—you know, the crime punishable by death—to describe his behavior.
Richard Nixon wasn’t accused of treason. Bill Clinton wasn’t accused of treason. Impeachment no longer seems like the worst thing that could happen to Trump this year. How could this of all strategies be the right one for Trump?
Surprise! It’s absolutely the right strategy. Good on ya, Trumpy.
The Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Special Counsel Mueller may or may not have proof of it, but it happened. Vladimir Putin confirmed it. Michael Cohen’s tapes show Trump greenlit the Trump Tower meeting in advance. GOP lawmakers aren’t even trying to defend him any more. They are just accepting that Trump lied and will continue to lie about it.
And he’s absolutely colluding with Russia right now. We all have proof of that. There he is, cozying up to Putin, accepting a soccer ball, denying that Russia meddled in our elections. He’s giving Putin everything he wants: Syria, the Ukraine, the fracturing of NATO, freedom from reprisals for his treacheries. This, it would seem, is highly dangerous for a sitting president who wants to stay in the Oval Office and out of federal prison.
But it might be the only winning strategy. That’s because of a game theory strategy called “gambling for resurrection.” Gambling for resurrection is a strategy that involves continuing to fight a war which looks like a lost cause. The logic goes like this:
The consequences for loss have been defined. There is nothing worse than losing. If you admit you’ve lost, you lose. So you try to win. You may not have a very good chance of winning. It might be incredibly remote. But if you do win, you don’t lose. So you stay committed to the path regardless of how much damage you inflict on yourself and others.
There’s an element in gambling for resurrection called the information gap. The citizens under a leader’s authority don’t know what the leader knows. They don’t know why the leader might pursue a policy; they only know the outcome that they can see. They may not know the good outcomes of success, but they can definitely see how it hurts them while it’s failing. So even if the leader believes he should stop whatever he is doing, if he conveys that the policy is going well, then the citizens have to reconcile what they see (things aren’t going well) with what they hear (the leader says things are going well).
When this occurs, the citizens don’t know if the leader was right to pursue the policy or if the leader is incompetent or self-serving. Since they don’t know this, the citizens assume the worst. If the policy leads to an actual loss, the citizens will kick the leader out at the first opportunity. Giving up creates the loss. But if the policy somehow leads to a win, it doesn’t matter whether the leader was right in the first place. He didn’t lose, and he has a chance of being rewarded for not losing.
In Trump’s case, he can win in the following ways:
- America comes to believe, as he does, that the investigation of him is a witch hunt. In this case, his collusion with Russia to get elected is nullified by traitors attempting to overthrow the presidency, and his continuing collusion with Russia gives him resources to fight it.
- America comes to believe, as he does, that Russia is awesome. In this case, his collusion with Russia to get elected was a brilliant move (despite betraying our election system), and his continuing collusion with Russia is even more brilliant, as it solidifies our relationship with our new best ally.
- America’s election system is so compromised that future elections are cancelled. In this case, his collusion with Russia to get elected is a mere symptom of a much more serious failure on our part, and his continuing collusion with Russia succeeds in prolonging the time he is in office.
- America is invaded by Russia. In this case, Trump is installed as the governor of a puppet regime in direct subservience to the country that helped him get elected.
OK, I put the last one in mostly to see if I could get you to shout “Wolverines!” I don’t actually think Putin plans to run tanks down Wall Street. But if he did, I could see President-for-Life Trump riding one of them.
Anyway, whatever the positive outcome for Trump, all those outcomes are terrible for America. We’ve either suspended the rule of law, allied with murderous dictators, ended our democracy, or marched the United States of America into the dustbin of history. We should be smart enough to stop those from occurring.
Brett Kavanaugh sits ready to become the next terrible Supreme Court justice. Mike Pence salivates at the idea of the Trump court overturning Roe v. Wade. The Republicans in Congress are preparing tax cut for the rich number two. We may actually give John Bolton the war with Iran he lusts for in his dreams.
Other than this whole giving-away-our-democracy-to-the-Russians problem, the worst Americans are getting the worst things for America done. Supporting the traitor until he hangs from the Senate rotunda is probably the right move for them as long as they are in power.
The obvious thing that must happen is that we need more non-treasonous people in power. America has one shot to vote for Democrats in such overwhelming numbers that it swamps the election hacking that Russia is doing right now. It needs to overrun the gerrymandered barriers that keep the GOP in office despite its corruption. All concept of protest voting (or protest non-voting) must be left at the roadside. We need to vote in massive numbers for candidates that can beat Trump’s allies.
Trump is gambling for resurrection. Let’s make sure he leaves the table a loser.
This is the twentieth installment of a series on politics and game theory. It has covered impeachment, Russian collusion, white supremacy, abortion, guns, nuclear war, debt, the NFL, sexual harassment, the Mueller probe, taxes, Trump’s first year, the Clinton Foundation, immigration, parades, the Democrats, hope, separation of migrant families, and trade wars. These essays are in my book Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, which you can order by clicking the link.