Political Chicken

As a preliminary, a little XS background, which I’ll aim not to repeat.

The take on Trump’s advantage that seems under-emphasized: He credibly signals a refusal to swerve. I’m not arguing here that it’s realistic to trust that. The point is only, the Trump candidacy looks to a substantial swathe of the electorate — at least comparatively — like the strategic choice for not losing at chicken games. As noted in the linked post, when democratic party politics becomes highly polarized, that’s the game being played.

Anyone playing chicken through an agent prioritizes certain definite virtues. Trump’s rhetoric reflects these uncannily. “Winning” — for instance — is a word to watch.

To see what it is to be a chicken game loser, there’s no better model than recent GOP presidential candidates. John McCain appeared to positively delight in the honor of being defeated by Barack Obama in 2008, and Mitt Romney followed quite faithfully in his footsteps. In both cases, which can be extended to the GOP establishment generally, respectability is defined by the sentiment: “Sure, winning would be nice, but we’re not going to be crazy about it.” If there’s a single key to winning at chicken, however, ‘crazy’ is it.

The greater the media onslaught against Trump, given only that he doesn’t flinch, the stronger the signal that he’s not a swerve kind of guy. In this respect, the specific content of the attacks is almost irrelevant. The nastier the better. Best of all, if the message gets communicated that this maniac would take us over the cliff, he’s already won. From the perspective of this analysis, there’s simply nothing else he has to get across. It translates to: With Trump we either win, or at least don’t lose. (Objection: “But ‘everyone dies’ is losing isn’t it?” — Thanks GOPe, but you’re not getting this at all.)

Cruz and (to a parodic extent) Rubio look flexible next to Trump. It’s not that people think they might swerve — it’s what they firmly expect. They seem bendy, and specifically prone to compromise, concessions to media-fabricated realities, back-downs, apologies, and pre-emptive cringe.

Never, ever, even for a moment back-down, laugh at demands for ‘disavowal’, double-down on offense, concede nothing, and never swerve. Regardless of what one thinks about this orientation, it’s the one hungered for by the Trump constituency right now. Trump’s instincts, if not perfect in this regard, are impressively sound. We’ll know within 24-hours or so how it’s working out.

ADDED: It’s chicken all the way down.

ADDED: Trump poker.

March 1, 2016admin 27 Comments »


27 Responses to this entry

  • William M Briggs Says:

    He wavered slightly with the David Duke nonsense. Instead of saying, “What does that have to do with me?” he insisted on his previous “disavowals.” Of course, this minor retreat may only be him turning his thinking toward the general election.


    admin Reply:

    Yes, for sure. It’s partly because everyone with a sliver of a clue sees the strategic error there that I was prompted to (loosely) formalize it.


    Hurlock Reply:

    On the contrary, I think he handled the David Duke issue brilliantly. (Scott Adams also has a post about this titled “Strategic Ambiguity” from today and I agree with his points, but with some additional clarifications)

    When David Duke endorses you what can you do? You know that the media will 100% try to use this against you by painting you as a racist and they will demand that you fall down on your knees, absolutely condemn Duke and everything that he stands for, and try to apologetically explain how you are actually not a racist (and we also know how well this works – it doesn’t the character assassination is unavoidable if you do this).
    The big problem is that this is a lose-lose scenario for Trump. No matter what he does, whether he complies with the media request or not, he looks worse.

    If he complies with the leftist media and establishment (Anti-Defamation League) he looks weak.
    But on the other hand if he wont disavow Duke he looks like an obvious racist and this will hurt his minority support and therefore his prospects in the eventual general election. Not to mention it would be used as a bat by the media to smear him and destroy his persona over and over again till the end of times.
    So how can he get out of this dilemma? How can he avoid the seemingly inevitable negative consequences of disavowing Duke and of not disavowing Duke?
    By doing both (lemme explain).

    When in such a situation you want to both disavow the guy while at the same time not complying with the demands of the media – this is your goal, this is how you do not look weaker afterwards. You do not endorse the KKK, but you are also not the media’s bitch.
    It might seem that the two goals are contradictory, but this is not necessarily so.

    Let’s look at the particular instances of the original disavowal and the subsequent refusal to disavow when requested. What is crucially important here is the specific phrasing of the questions that Trump was asked.

    At the press conference the journalist asked: “How do you feel about the recent endorsement by David Duke?”
    And this is what the interviewer asked in the CNN interview: “I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League” which this week called on you to publicly condemn, unequivocally, the racism of David Duke, etc., etc. Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you do not want his vote or that of other white supremacists?”

    The crucial difference between these two questions should be obvious.
    The first question is completely neutral, no baggage to it, it is simply a question of how Trump feels about X. There really is nothing to really analyze here because the question is so straightforward and most importantly – makes no demands, neither explicit, nor implicit.
    The CNN question however has a lot of baggage to it. In fact, it is not even a question, it is a request, a straightforward demand even! The CNN is asking Trump not how he feels about Duke’s endorsement, but “will he unequivocally condemn he and all white supremacists” as the Anti-Defamation League requested – this is crucial. This question is not just about how Trump himself feels about the issue, it is about whether Trump is willing to comply with the demands of the leftist establishment.
    If Trump complies with the request he looks weak. Leftists ask Trump to do/say X and he promptly does so. Hmm, doesn’t seem alpha at all, doesn’t seem independent at all, it actually looks no different than what someone like Rubio would do in the same situation. Obviously bad.

    However, if Trump denies to comply with the request, this signals strength and independence of thought (“yeah, but doesn’t he look racist?” – I will get to this in a paragraph). Note what Trump said in that interview – he essentially argued that he will not condemn a group simply because the Anti-Defamation League requests him to, without first researching the group himself. A presidential candidate refusing to condemn those groups which the Anti-Defamation League condemns? Talk about unprecedented! In short, Trump signals agency to everyone this way.

    And here is the kicker. Because Trump already disavowed David Duke (and 6 months ago he actually even said he doesn’t need his support to win) he has an “out” of the bad rep that refusing to disavow a white supremacist endorsement otherwise gets him. The media absolutely cannot claim that Trump didn’t disavow Duke – he did! We have it on camera! Stop lying CNN!

    It absolutely doesn’t matter that Trump’s actions seem contradictory at first – this is only so on a superficial level. On a more fundamental level Trump does what was supposed to be impossible – disavowing white supremacist support without looking as if he is sucking up to the media and leftist establishment bureaucrats like the ADL in the process!

    The apparent contradiction is actually a bonus and part of the whole plan, as Scott Adams points out in his post. The “strategic ambiguity” of Trump’s actions give an excuse for all of his existing minority and white nationalist supporters to continue supporting him! And Trump’s polarized support is seemingly one of his biggest weaknesses and a contradiction which many thought would one day sabotage his whole campaign. But Trump is smarter than that, he knows how to talk and how to act and how and what to signal so that he doesn’t lose a single vote. On the contrary, not only will this “incident” not discourage anyone already planning to vote for Trump from voting for him, but it might even win him some more support, because this is another big instance in which Trump signals independence, courage and willingness to give the media and establishment leftists the finger.

    At first I also thought that all of this was a misstep from Trump, but I was taken aback by the contradiction – why would he refuse to disavow someone he already disavowed? Looking at the issue in this simple (to borrow Adam’s terminology) 2D realm didn’t make sense. But when I thought about it more, analyzed the whole thing in much more detail I realized that in the 3D world this made perfect sense. The devil is in the details, as always.
    Far from this David Duke story being one of Trump’s weakest showings, I actually think it is one of his strongest. This was a media shit-test of nuclear proportions and Trump, in my view, passed it with flying colors.


    JRM Reply:

    @Hurlock- very thoughtful post. The interesting difference between an “apology” (aka the usual swerve) and simply courting a degree of ambiguity may be the best that can be expected of anyone, candidate or not.

    If you look at the past history of those who have gotten themselves into this particular spot (Mel Gibson is the first to come to mind, but there are plenty of others) the lesson heretofore has been: the transgressor ALWAYS apologizes; it may be swiftly, or it may be after 48 hours to a week, but the ADL always gets its apology.

    If we see one person on the public stage survive without the all-important apology being given, we have a new precedent and a new paradigm.

    The ADL, et al, may someday even find themselves at the point where they have to ask themselves whether to demand the apology/obeisance publicly, because there is a possibility the demand will be ignored. At that point we are all in new (popular) culture territory. Imagine the ADL considering remaining silent on a political point, because they can’t afford the risk of their moral capital in an uncertain public outcome.

    Tiberius Reply:

    Well said. I think it should also be noted that Duke did not endorse Trump, that Duke is not a member of any KKK group, and that the “KKK” is not some single centralized organization, but rather a bunch of small, ineffectual, and mostly infiltrated sects.

    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 4:48 pm Reply | Quote
  • foam Says:

    A vote for Trump is a vote for vaporwave. Extreme aesthetic drift has occurred.

    ‘changes remain under the radar of the policing agencies regulating the spatial and temporal order and thus might have the implicit power to sculpt a very different subject. When extreme aesthetic drift occurs, paradigm shifts also occur. is process comes to a point, when in fact the governing bodies do recognize a change and send out an alarm that reverberates throughout the institutional networks. But it’s too late and the population is now different. It has been transformed by an alternative system of individuation.’


    HexenAught Reply:

    A vote for Vaporwave in the left accelerationist sense or in the blissfully reveling as liquid capital washes over ‘you’ sense? Both? Neither? Read the text quoted and I’ll know?


    foam Reply:


    I do not know what is meany by ‘left accelerationist sense’. If by this you mean, as Peter Sunde of Pirate Bay says: ‘I’m hoping Donald Trump wins this year’s election. For the reason that it will fuck up that country so much faster’ then no, this is not what is meant by a vote for Trump is a vote for vaporwave.

    Comment was not meant to be structured in the sense that a vote for Trump is an endorsement of vaporwave. Voting against trump does nothing to cancel the fact that vaporwave is upon us.

    The idea that there is a proper realm for politics to place, such as the presidential office/election is a convenient myth

    Trump embodies the extreme aesthetic drift that has occurred the past decade, especially the 80s corporate cheese lingering over him, the most literal relation to the genre of vaporwave.

    “the population is now different. It has been transformed by an alternative system of individuation.”

    For most, this looks like fed-up populism

    for a minority, there quite a bit brewing in the shadows.


    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 4:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • Paul Ennis Says:

    For anyone with even a passing concern or interest in the West this has been where we are going for quite a long time. I would place a huge amount of his success on the Syrian refugee crisis which acts, more or less, like the ultimate signal for either side. To the left it is literally impossible to condemn something like Cologne (or to question how Fortress Europe applies to Calais…which is in Europe) and to the right it’s evidence of a mass displacement, a pretty clear demographic challengs and all the things the right cares about. But, even more so, it speaks to the *norms* who are thinking not about being looked after in a German hospital by Syrian doctors, but what will it be like to send my children to a school that has complicated demographic politics baked in. The norms are the realists. They don’t care if you think it will all work out. They don’t even care about what happened in the North of England with the sophisticated rape gangs all that much. That’s too specific. But they do care about what it means to have people who don’t care about the basics running the show. They are the people in the trucks at Calais, middle-aged, watching with bemusement as a young British student helps some guys from Somalia jump on the back of his truck. From where he is sitting all is disintegration, fracture, and not even their mundane allies of old, the police, seem to be doing much.

    What has occured is, I think, the normification of these once side-matters. It used to be only the hard left and right were interested in these edge topics outside taximen and pub-chatter. Trump has synthetised much of this into impenetrable ‘common sense.’ The left don’t understand that they have more in common these days with empty corporate diversity sloganeers than anything resembling a proletariat (of all stripes, the refugees, once they get in, will often become norms or businessmen, lamenting when their children go full leftist retard). The Rubio-style right, Cruz at least wears his callous moralism on his sleeve, has veered dangerously into vapid territory. It’s hard to get excited by someone making centrist claims, plain and simple. The left centre of Hilary is always weird enough to maybe win. Bernie is for, as one would expect, for the young energy that is shocked to discover nobody actually cares about corporate greed. Or for people so naive they actually expected black people to vote for him because they think they have an insight into the black mind or soul or whatever they peddle on the behalf of black people in the virtue signalling games.

    In the early 2000s you had murmurs on obscure sites about a kind of resolute, ‘do not bend’ attitude to decline, but no audience. By the mid-2000s we were beginning to see events (‘dear boy, events…’) such as the murder of Theo van Gogh – in fact, the Netherlands was the original site of things being askew, now Sweden has taken on the role – and you began to see it in literature. Now, by this I do not mean in academia or the likes, but in subtle, not well-known texts in the Buchanan ‘Death of the West’ vein, but transported to Europe. For instance, Bruce Bawer’s ‘While Europe Slept’ was a kind of Milo does Islam in as much as he was a quasi-untouchable writer due to his sexuality. These were not great sellars, say in the same way Ali’s books used to line rows and rows in Amsterdam, but if you were paying attention you saw the titles sneak in (and terms: Londonistan, Islamification). None of these would have really mattered too much, even Calais, except for the sheer pace that the Syrian crisis occurred. Since the numbers are geniunely significant it seems to have a burst a collective cognitive bubble. I’m certain it’s why all this coincides with the Milo-esque turn against third-wave feminism in college campuses (a proxy war, of course, against the leftism of the university tout court).

    In a manner then Trump arrived at the perfect moment of collective urgency on behalf of the norms and it’s why nothing he does or can do will ever sway people. To a majority of people this is last chance saloon stuff. Here in Ireland I wear young people discussing Trump like he’s already our slightly dystopian corporate overlord and they sound interested, excited, fascinated. And why not? If you belong to a group that is essentially considered at fault, directly or directly, for pretty much everything at some point people are going to descend into what the PUA types venerate: the person who intentionally sticks to their guns, invites chaos, and refuses to bend. And what that looks like is precisely Trump: calling out people on banalities like anchor-babies and throwing caution to the wind with groups or stats and so on with very little interest in whether they stick or not. The amazing thing has been watching liberals actually believe that they can gotcha someone *after* gaining popularity by demonstrating you don’t have to play by a game *nobody wants to play anyway.* In the end I do think the left have a right to fear him. But so many people have spent so long suffocated by their miserabilism than they’ll gleefully go along with the descent. Because descent trumps decline…


    4candles Reply:

    Great comment (apologies for cheapening it):

    It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

    I’d say see you on the other side, but I’m envisaging a botched job, with still a few tragic scenes left to go. 2016 is adhering disconcertingly to the prophetic plan.


    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 5:35 pm Reply | Quote
  • Paul Ennis Says:

    @Paul Ennis

    Sorry for the typos. The black layout makes my eyes go funny.


    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 5:39 pm Reply | Quote
  • JRM Says:

    @William M Briggs

    But compare this most recent “waver” event with the apparent waver of his ridicule of Fiorina where “look at that face” became a diplomatic debate assessment that she was “lovely”.

    Trump supporters realize that any apparent wavering is a temporary acceding to proper media-mandated rules. What they are counting on is that any apologies or quasi-apologies are insincere.

    Much like Obama’s supporters who certainly hope he is lying when he cites the Constitution as a hindrance and insurmountable obstacle to doing what he knows they want him to do.

    The Republican establishment hasn’t realized that hatred for them is deep enough among some that they will support a candidate because the establishment opposes him. Would be interesting to know what Trump’s vote count today would be if the National Review had published a “For Trump” issue.


    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 6:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • Brett Stevens Says:

    Romney reached his peak of popularity after he mentioned the obvious: half of America, whether their condition is pitiable or not, is a parasite on the rest. Then he cucked and vanished down the toilet bowl of history.


    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 7:05 pm Reply | Quote
  • Paul Ennis Says:

    I do agree that it will be a bit of botched job. The West will not want to hand over the reigns. It’s an implicitly war-headed cultural universe. But the cognitive breakdown that it has undergone does not suggest scorched earth so much as a scattered manic breakdown. Fracture, really, is what we are seeing. Exits to the right and left…did someone say ‘Fire!’


    Posted on March 1st, 2016 at 8:16 pm Reply | Quote
  • Izak Says:

    Excellent, excellent post. Although Hurlock has made a noble attempt at rationalizing his decision, I also think Trump made a misstep with the David Duke thing. He should have openly mocked the demand for a disavowal. Although to be fair, he kinda looked annoyed when doing it, as if the very request was a sign of the American media’s idiocy. But still.

    He appears to be moving into “general election” mode. Here’s to hoping he won’t be so boring as to put me to sleep. Although, in fairness, that might be a blessing in disguise, since I’d be less distracted and get more work done.


    Posted on March 2nd, 2016 at 1:24 am Reply | Quote
  • NRx_N00B Says:

    Re. John Oliver; desperate times in Wei’Murka when the controlled media pulls out all the stops:



    Posted on March 2nd, 2016 at 1:35 am Reply | Quote
  • vxxc2014 Says:

    If Trump wins Admin is moving to Canada.


    Posted on March 2nd, 2016 at 4:19 am Reply | Quote
  • James S. W. Says:

    Brett Stevens, funny, the 47% would BE net donors of income tax moneys were they paid more! It ain’t that they’re sitting on their asses!


    Posted on March 2nd, 2016 at 6:21 am Reply | Quote
  • Grotesque Body Says:

    That Trump Poker article: 20 paragraphs of the ludic fallacy. Not impressed.


    Posted on March 2nd, 2016 at 10:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • VKR Says:

    Seems to me this refusal to swerve is exactly what Trump abandoned last night. Under pressure from Kelly he gave up his position on immigration “I’m changing”.


    admin Reply:

    Here’s Mickey Kaus on the subject.


    VKR Reply:

    Yes, I’ve read that, even commented over there. I don’t see what voter group Trump tries to court with softening his H1-B position. He’s losing credibility with American tech workers and immigration opponents in general, and gains whom?

    The only explanation I can come up with, he’s courting tech CEOs, so that they don’t antagonize his campaign with censorship on Twitter, Facebook, and in search results. This seems pretty “out there” as an explanation though.

    In this sentence:

    > Unskilled immigration is more damaging than skilled immigration, because it lowers the wages of American workers at the very bottom.

    … Kaus is flat our wrong in my opinion. Depressing skilled wages and favoring unskilled is the same dysgenic pressure that is already greatly damaging western societies. If anything soft eugenics should support the reproduction of more intelligent locals.

    One could argue that importing skilled workers imports quality genes, but it also imports potentially incompatible other genetic traits and culture. Supporting local high IQ groups is a better option.


    Hurlock Reply:

    Come the general election he intended to soften his position anyways.


    Posted on March 4th, 2016 at 10:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alan J. Perrick Says:

    Mr Trump is self-funding his campaign, and it’s something that makes sense for others to do as well. I would expect that, with the first estate degraded, and the second estate firmly under sway of the degraded first estate where its been weakened as well, that the best leadership would be coming from the third estate also called the merchant class. Money and negotiating skill does give a degree of independence from the establishment in this case.



    Posted on March 7th, 2016 at 12:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • the left can’t govern – Antinomia Imediata Says:

    […] good myth to get through the last 8 years), so now the enraged populace are interested in playing political chicken – the american dream is dead anyway, so why not a better […]

    Posted on April 12th, 2016 at 6:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • This Week In Reaction (2016/03/06) - Social Matter Says:

    […] Land has Anne Applebaum’s sentence. Also a bit of analysis in the prelude to Super Tuesday: Political Chicken—how Trump’s playing it, and so long as he keeps playing it, he’s bound to win. And a […]

    Posted on February 4th, 2017 at 10:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Wagner Says:

    Morning reading



    Posted on August 10th, 2019 at 2:50 pm Reply | Quote

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