Trump’s Profound ‘Zero Sum’ Fallacy

Perhaps we can take comfort, at least a pause in our 24-7 anxieties, from John Cassidy’s commentary in this week’s New Yorker, entitled, “Halfway Through the Trump Presidency, the Resistance is Winning.”

Cassidy points out that as much as Trump emulates that “Mayhem” character in Allstate commercials (my comparison), “From the beginning, it was clear that Trump’s narcissism, amorality, disregard for the truth and authoritarian tendencies presented a grave threat.” He said the question is “How much he would be reined in by the fabled checks and balances that the Founders erected to prevent the emergence of an overweening Presidency — the split between the executive and legislature, the independent judiciary, the free press, the regular elections to elicit the will of the people,” and concludes, “For the most part, the institutions of American democracy have withstood the assaults they have been subjected to, frustrating and infuriating Trump in equal measure.”

Granted, this is debatable, because the game isn’t over yet. Our culture’s penchant for dystopian outcomes in its art inclines us to be far more pessimistic about where we might wind up in another two years.

Apart from outcomes, however, the most pressing question facing us is simply how did we get ourselves into this predicament, to begin with. Many of Trump’s most ardent critics seem unwilling to face the ugly reality that, simply put, we actually are where we are. They so insist it’s all been a fluke, a fix, a foreign meddling that they hold onto the notion that if Robert Mueller’s investigation proves Trump collusion with a hostile foreign power, with downright treason, then the problem will be fixed with the help of more robust electoral outcomes.

We can all hope for that, but the problem runs deeper, and it’s not just that a certain percentage of the American electorate remains mired in the racist, sexist, male supremacist values of an era that gave way for most of us with the end of the Vietnam War.

No, the propagation of the worst values that account for a Trump in the White House came after that, from the late 1970s and since, giving rise to the so-called “moral majority,” politically-driven “Christian fundamentalism,” the cruel ideology behind the cultish “self empowerment” movements that corporate America paid millions to brainwash middle management employees over the course of a decade, the increasingly infantile potty-room humor of popular sitcoms, the grotesquely overblown legal violence of sanctioned professional sports and fake “news” networks that spew vile propaganda.

Author Mike D’Antonio hit the nail on the head in an interview by Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday night when he told the story of asking Trump his opinion of the classic approach to negotiating, to find a way for a “win-win” outcome that benefits both sides. He quoted Trump saying, “No, I prefer an ‘I win’ outcome.”

This is the key, people! Unless this “zero sum game” mentality of Trump is diminished, if not eradicated, in our culture, we will find ourselves with one Trump rising after another. In this way, Trump reflects American culture: not “win-win,” but “I win, you lose.”

The underappreciated 2016 film, “The Arrival,” about an encounter with space aliens, tackled this subject directly. Highly-advanced aliens were trying to communicate but we humans kept misunderstanding them, to the point of believing they were hostile.

A linguist grasped, at last, that using win-lose paradigms (a mahjongg game) to translate their messages was the error, and caused the earthlings to misinterpret a key word as “weapon” instead of “gift.”

They thought the aliens were challenging them to “use their weapons,” but they were asking them to “use their gifts” to solve a problem.

The linguist, played by actress Amy Adams, saved the day. The key code phrase she whispered to the military leader from his deceased wife was, “In war, there are no winners and losers, only widows.”

The mental illness that is producing the Trumps of our culture goes by many names, including loveless “postmodernism,” as it is fomented by our cruellist social engineers, and our nation depends on vanquishing it if we are to survive as a democracy.