17th November 2020
The ongoing refusal by Donald Trump to concede that he has lost the presidency election is dangerous and profoundly undemocratic.
It threatens the prospect of a peaceful transition of power, and it is delaying the incoming administration from being able to prepare for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and other problems.
There is nothing to be said for this refusal from any sensible and decent person.
From Trump’s perspective, and adopting his assumptions, the refusal is a perfectly rational course of action.
Currently, Trump has within his power a thing that is valuable, a power that many would many want him to exercise.
He has a thing that many people want.
But if he exercises that power, he is left with little or nothing.
He would at a stroke become a lame duck president, easily disregarded.
And so he is going to hold on to that thing as long as he can.
If Trump concedes, he personally gains nothing – even if the United States polity gains an immense relief.
And so this is a grand exercise of political game theory: as long as Trump holds on he has the possibility of something in exchange for the valuable concession.
From a personal, selfish perspective what possible incentive is there for him to concede this valuable thing for nothing in return?
There is none.
Of course, sensible and decent people would want Trump to act with public spirit, for the good of democracy and political stability, and for the benefit of public health and social peace.
But for Trump, these considerations are alien, as his considerations are alien to us.
His assumptions are entirely selfish and self-serving, and on those assumptions, what he is doing is what a rational actor would do in his predicament.
And this is the key to understanding Trump: the constant pursuit of leverage.
Trump is, in effect, like a video game character forever leaping from seesaw to seesaw.
Of course, he has only until 20 January 2021 to play this game.
For unless something extraordinary happens, his term ends by automatic operation of law.
But the potential disruption of two months without concession is immense and he knows it, and so he is playing it for all its worth.
This is perhaps a perfect example of a thing being illustrated by the manner of its departure.
For while Trump does not concede, he retains power, attention and money; he can generate income; he can promote possibility of running again; he keeps a hold over Republicans in Congress; and he can even seek a deal in return for the concession.
From his perspective it would be irrational for him to concede.
Trump may be better understood as a supposed business person, going from – and then reneging on – deal after deal, than as a politician.
Again, the constant pursuit of leverage.
Will he concede before 20 January 2021?
Maybe, though only if it suits him.
But it may also suit him to maintain and promote an ‘undefeated’ brand.
In any case, we should always be careful about dismissing unpleasant politics as ‘weird’, ‘bizarre’ or ‘mad’ – you may instead be dealing with perfectly rational behaviour but on very different assumptions.
The surprise is not that Trump is refusing to concede when defeated, but that any of us ever thought he would.
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