Belmont Club

The Catastrophe has been postponed

Democrats play Bingo as they watch Republican President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

CBS News reports that “three in four Americans who tuned in to President Trump’s State of the Union address tonight approved of the speech he gave.” This is news only because the Trump speech was supposed to be greeted by indignation rather than modest approval.  The script should have read: “tonight is America’s funeral”.  The mourners were there in force.

The only problem was the corpse was missing. While there’s plenty that is wrong with America, not everything is. The strategic weakness of Nooo! is that while there’s inevitably a modest amount of good news it remains trapped in some moment of grievance like a fly in amber. More than a year later, at SOTU 2018, its cry is still the same: Hillary lost.  Most people know that and are ready to go on with their lives.

In the matter of ascribing credit the present success must largely be due to America itself, not to politicians, one of whom at least had the wit to get out of the way. The comparative preference for one over the other may be because most know that someday Trump will be gone, perhaps in 2020 or at all events by 2024, but the mourners never will quit the scene.

An article in the New York Times argues that “Trump Can Sell an Improved Economy, but Not Himself”. Why Trump should sell himself is interesting to consider, as this may unconsciously reveal the view that politics is about selecting the smartest man on the planet or empowering the only adult in the room.

by some measures, he has managed to convince many Americans, especially corporate leaders, that the economy really is surging in a way it has not for years [but] he has not been able to sell himself … His success at passing tax cuts and the continued progress of the economy he inherited have not changed the dismal views that a sizable majority of Americans hold of their president.

Despite its seeming obviousness, that conventional wisdom may be fundamentally wrong.  The liberals think the product is a president.  By contrast, Trump seems to have concluded that the product is success.  He went to the SOTU to sell success.

That choice may be more pivotal than one would think.  The late Peter Drucker once wrote that most fundamental executive problem to solve was ‘what business are we in?’ In his 1960 classic, Marketing Myopia he described how the railroads declined because they didn’t know what business they were in.

The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented.

What business is Nooo! in?  Is it grievance or governance?  Perhaps for too many politicians the problem is how to sell another Kennedy rather than making America a success again.  That defines what they will do.

On election night 2016 Paul Krugman boldly predicted that 2017 would bring unmitigated economic disaster.  He wrote “if the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”  A year later Krugman had slightly changed his tune: Trump can’t take credit for the soaring stock market.  But again it’s not about taking credit.  It’s not even about being smart. It’s about the stock market.

The companion insight to Drucker’s observation about knowing what line of business you are in, is his equally famous adage that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Sometimes mindless is better.

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Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.


The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, In this book, bestselling historian Max Boot chronicles the life of legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale and reframes our understanding of the Vietnam War. Lansdale pioneered a “hearts and minds” diplomacy, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam, a visionary policy that was ultimately crushed by America’s giant military bureaucracy. With interviews and newly available documents, Boot rescues Lansdale from historical ignominy and suggests that Vietnam could have been different had we only listened.

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Retracing his own spiritual journey from atheism to faith, author Lee Strobel, former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, cross-examines a dozen experts who are recognized authorities in their own fields. He challenges them with questions like, How reliable is the New Testament? Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event? The book reads like a captivating, fast-paced novel but it’s not fiction. It’s a riveting quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure.

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides. On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March 30 rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March. This book vividly re-creates this daring raid, offering a minute-by-minute narration that unfolds alongside intimate portraits of the prisoners and their lives in the camp.

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, by Niall Ferguson. The 21st century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in this book, Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. Once we understand this, both the past and the future start to look very different indeed. Ferguson offers a whole new way of imagining the world.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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