Originally published January 27, 2017 on the Huffington Post
By virtue of his endless stream of hateful tirades, constant campaigning, pettiness, deep character flaws, repeated refusals to share his tax returns, and to separate himself clearly from his countless businesses, President Trump has earned the dubious distinction of being The Crisis Prone President. And, this is only his first week in office! The major question is, “What we can do to protect ourselves from the never-ending crises he’s capable of fomenting?”
Damage Control Mechanisms are generally acknowledged as one of the most important parts of Crisis Management. Nevertheless, a great deal of misunderstanding surrounds them, the prime one being that they exist primarily to contain the damage after a major crisis has occurred. While it’s certainly true that damage containment is one of their main purposes, more importantly, Damage Control Mechanisms basically exist to prevent major crises from occurring in the first place. This is precisely why they must be invented far in advance. It’s also why creating them in the heat of battle is self-defeating.
The classic example is BP’s oil spill in the Gulf. Millions of gallons of crude spewed before the well was finally capped. Sadly, the environment continued to suffer damage long afterwards. The disaster revealed the folly of not having well-tested and maintained Damage Control Mechanisms prior to being allowed to operate in highly sensitive areas of the world.
Given their extreme importance, how do President Trump and his advisors fare with respect to Damage Control? Are they acting in accordance with best principles, or are they instead in violation of them?
Physical Containment is one of the major forms of Damage Control. One creates an actual physical barrier that walls off and thus keeps a crisis such as a massive uncontrolled fire or oil spill from spreading and doing damage to other unaffected parts of an organization, sensitive regions, and even whole societies. In President Trump’s case, his repeated failures to “build a wall” between his far flung business interests and the Presidency is not only in direct violation of the whole idea of Physical Containment, but it actually increases the chances of a major crisis due to direct conflicts of interest. What’s particularly onerous is that the particular type of crisis is already well known. There is thus no excuse for not preparing well in advance.
Another major form of Damage Control is Dilution or Dispersion. In this case, one deliberately takes steps to decrease the concentration of a toxic chemical, or more generally, neutralize a potentially dangerous situation. It also includes Deflecting a crisis onto another part of the environment or party. Trump constantly uses this tactic. He is constantly shifting blame for his own self-created problems (berating the intelligence agencies, treating women and minorities with derision, etc.) onto others such as the “crooked news media.”
One of the more important and positive forms of Damage Control is Openness and Transparency. It preempts a crisis before it takes root. In Trump’s case, he would have to reveal his tax returns, which he adamantly refuses to do, thus adding to the perception that he has serious issues to hide.
Finally, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Blame, and Responsibility are also critical. They are key in establishing and restoring trust. But then Trump rarely if ever apologizes for anything. And of course, his base doesn’t want him to apologize for that would mean that he’s not the all-powerful superman they need him to be.
In short, the best Damage Control is preventative, proactive in the best sense. It is not reactive, or after the fact.
Against this, what does Trump consistently do? First, he’s heavily (“bigly”) into denial. Instead of acknowledging facts, he constantly makes up whatever suits him, never mind that it conflicts what he just said a moment ago. Denial thus leaves no room for Openness and Transparency, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Responsibility, etc. He also constantly attacks, bullies, demonizes, insults, mocks, and threatens his enemies real and imagined. He thereby constantly makes crises for himself and others. To protect his overly fragile ego, he uses the most primitive defense mechanisms such as sharply dividing the world into good and bad guys. And, God help you if you’re a bad guy.
In sum, Trump is a living, breathing veritable “swamp” of crises. Our only protection is to engage in pre-emptive Damage Control.
Of course The Constitution is our ultimate safeguard and form of Damage Control. But as always, it’s people who enforce The Constitution. That’s why the women’s marches across America are only a beginning. There need to be mass protests every day. For instance, ordinary citizens who are in serious danger of losing health care need to make their faces and bodies known. They need to besiege the halls of Congress wearing signs, “Without Health Care, I am certain to die! Is that what you want to do to me?”
And yes, the Democratic Party must relearn how to reach out to a broader base with a more inclusive message. It must demonstrate sincerely that it not only cares about the harsh lives of those who voted for Trump, but that it can truly help them.
In short, we have to do everything in our power to Neutralize Trump.