Here's a thought: Trump knows what he's doing

President-elect's transition has been unconventional, but that's not necessarily a bad thing

Here's a thought: Trump knows what he's doing

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and musician Kanye West pose for media at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Trump's preparations for taking over the White House have been unconventional. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

We're a month on from November's shock election result and the incoming Trump administration is finally taking shape. It hasn't been a traditional transition, and whether you think the nascent administration has gone pear-shaped depends on how closely you subscribe to the conventional wisdom of how an incoming president should behave.

As the campaign demonstrated almost every day, Donald J. Trump rubs many people the wrong way. Irredeemably wrong, if the pundit class was to be believed. But Trump's election victory can't be denied, comrades, which is one reason to argue for a more measured analysis of his strategy for government.  

Despite what his many critics say, the biggest plus in the Trump approach to date has been its unpredictability. The Apprentice-style auditions for cabinet, corporate diktats via Twitter and the unconventional approach to foreign policy are just some of the ways Trump is going his own way.

Trump and Mitt Romney dine at Jean Georges restaurant in New York City. Romney criticized Trump during the campaign but was later considered for the secretary of state post. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Trump has humiliated a potential Team of Rivals that includes Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie by parading them through the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan only to appoint others to their supposed places.

He has bullied Carrier and shocked the stock of companies like Boeing through public spankings.

And he has set diplomatic tongues wagging by taking a phone call from an American ally (Taiwan) who can't be publicly declared an ally lest it upset the U.S.'s frequent rival (China).

If you peek through your fingers at the horror, you will see there is method in his madness. He's now reduced any further criticism from his rivals to sour grapes, he's given companies considering outsourcing jobs reason to pause and he's set allies and enemies on edge. The world — both business and government — has grown very comfortable on the American teat; keeping them guessing is one way to get allies to put up or shut up.

As the pundit army in think-tanks around the world will gladly tell you, "keeping them guessing" isn't the preferred approach to foreign policy, but is anyone willing to argue Barack Obama's "Don't do stupid shit" doctrine has left the world any more secure or predictable than George W. Bush's bull-in-a-china-shop routine?

The denizens of the swamp Trump's supporters want drained have reacted to these moves in precisely the way the Apprentice president would like. The moans of the discredited Washington professionals are, to Trump's supporters, proof of his virtue.

Take NATO. Trump implied the security blanket America provides will be conditional on member countries boosting their commitments to the organization — namely, spending two per cent of their GDP on the military. Cue the outrage on behalf of NATO's eastern flank.

But Obama delivered the same message to Canadians from the floor of our Parliament. It's our fault we didn't get past the "world needs more Canada" bromantic bit to the "NATO needs more Canada" part. What do people think that meant, other than "Take out your wallets, you maple syrup-swilling freeloaders"? He just said it with a smile, not a sneer.

Obama Parliament 20160629
In June, U.S. President Barack Obama told Parliament the world needs more Canada — and so does NATO. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The foreign affairs departments of the world are stuffed to the gills with folks who can craft exquisitely nuanced language that produces no change to the status quo. Who's to say a more blunt approach isn't worth a spin? China's (so far) muted response to Trump's supposed history-ending blunder suggests it might be.

Different is possible

The doyens shouldn't be so quick to say "You can't do that" or "You can't say that," and instead try asking "Why can't you do or say that?" And, if there's no good reason, accept that different is possible, even if it might not, in the end, be preferable.

Yes, appointing someone like ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson secretary of state could be interpreted as a sop to Putin. But perhaps it's also good to have someone in the post who understands, as much as anyone can, the mind of the world's most threatening dictator. Perhaps it's wise to have someone who has a lifetime of experience dealing with the sheiks and despots who preside over so much of the world's mess.

One thing is certain: To howl indiscriminately is to play Trump's game.

Donald Trump will require the outrage of his supposed betters to keep up momentum with his supporters. Hysteria over every breach of conventional wisdom threatens to lessen the impact of greater errors like dismissive responses to reports of Russians monkeying around in elections.

The hardest part of opposition is learning when to lose your rag. It's a fine line between being Chicken Little and a potent critic. The stakes of the U.S. presidency are undeniably high, and so it's important the leader is held properly to account.

This begins by accepting that not everything Donald Trump will do is stupid.

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