“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Before I begin, I want to make sure my readers are aware my writing is unbiased — I am neither for or against President Donald Trump — my interest in politics is very limited. This shouldn’t come off controversial, I am simply recognizing patterns. Political power is an approach taken mostly by machiavellians. An approach to gain power by demonstrating deceptive, manipulative, and sociopathic behavior. Nonetheless, the parallels I draw between Trump and his use of Game theory are spot on — I want the reader to understand how powerful these methods are.
Whether you like or hate Donald Trump, one can better understand how he conducts his presidency by understanding two principles of game theory: there are necessary reasons to be ambiguous, and necessary reasons to be confrontational.
Most people understand his ignorance in policy issues so naturally we are exposed to his ambiguity — the anticipation of his maneuvers are daunting. Game theory suggests that this is a useful and leveraged stance when negotiating deals. He further combines ambiguity with confrontation by all opponents and developing strategies thinking he can win. Trump epitomizes cunning in the art of negotiation.
Game Theory can be useful if one understands the circumstances and the opponent. If not, the potential for you to lose grows with every move.
1 – Being Unpredictable
Unpredictability (or randomization) is a rational maneuver in games if you and your opponent have opposing interests, and both of your best choices depend on which strategy chosen. When choices happen to be co-dependent this way, each side may intentionally wait for the other to make a move to have the best counter. If each side waits until the other person commits, game theory suggests that one should behave in a way that prevents an opponent from foreseeing your next move. One does this by aimlessly acting — behaving randomly. If your behavior is actually random, you cannot predict your own tactics. Your opponent cannot either.
Say you leave your choice to chance. Being unaware and uncertain may force your opponent to move in your direction. This applies in war, business, and politics. By exercising uncertainty, this may hinder a deal in the long-run. Trump’s approach is to appear unpredictable — attempting to see what his opponent will reveal before attacking.
2 – Being Irrational
This ties into law 21 from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power that states “play a sucker to catch a sucker” — meaning it may be rational to be willing to display irrational or outrageous behavior for personal benefit. Firstly, Trump is known for being shrewd in all negotiations, making his presence known and instilling fear into his opponents. This strategy is related to the madman theory: appearing to be mad, one strikes fear in the opponent forcing him or her to think twice about their actions. Secondly, this strategy reflects another principle of game theory. Sometimes it’s best to be anything but ambiguous — taking a position and forcing someone to respond may be necessary.
Now Trump’s recent example of this was preposterous. He proposed evicting millions of Mexicans who are in the US illegally. Being that this is very impractical, it won’t happen — still, insisting on doing so worries many people.
Game theory is definitely exercised in all types of situations. It is deemed more prevalent in war, business, sports, and politics solely because of the nature of the game — there is an end goal. The above strategies don’t always work though, Trump is a very extreme individual. It is beneficial to arm yourself with these tactics to defend yourself against others that utilize them.
To get a sense of how this all works, I recommend playing chess and understanding the game. There are parallels between the above theories and strategizing against your opponent in chess.