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Reading between Trump’s lines –– Jurisdictional arbitrage at it’s most comical

November 10, 2017

The on-going political theater – a real-world House of Cards – brings to mind the old Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” Some are happy to sit back and enjoy the show, but it’s even better entertainment if you can apply filters to understand what’s happening beneath the surface of the statements coming out of Trump’s White House.

The latest episode is “The Meeting With Native American Leaders,” [The unfiltered version of Trump’s meeting with Native American leaders,] in which Trump can’t stop calling the tribal leaders “Chief,” and makes creative use of the Nike slogan to imply that regulators won’t go after tribes for using aggressive drilling techniques on their lands.


“Chief, chief,” Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, “what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it’s out of the ground it can’t go back in there. You’ve just got to do it. I’m telling you, chief, you’ve just got to do it.”

Trump’s opponents will seize on this episode as more evidence of his simultaneous brilliant criminality and sheer idiocy. I’m neither a Trump supporter, nor a fracking enthusiast, but this analysis is lazy (it’s also not very funny). Fracking may be the least bad solution to America’s dependence on the Middle East, in spite of the big unknowns, like the effects on the water supply (not to mention those weird Oklahoman earthquakes).

Scott Adams has proposed the “persuasion filter” for understanding Trump’s methods: speaking directly in simple words, repeating himself, starting a negotiation with an outrageous first bid to frame a more sensible middle ground, pacing and leading, and on and on. That’s not my specialty. I’m exploring a new filter for the hip/woke/based reader in 2017. The Straussian filter helps you read “between the lines” to grasp Trump’s sometimes hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden meaning.

Political theorist Leo Strauss suggested that this way of reading has been out of fashion in the West for many years (centuries?) because we’re used to an atmosphere of free expression. Historically, the consequence of speaking truth to power was death, so the best writers/orators learned to conceal their esoteric message within a harmless coating. A Straussian might embed a single line “in a terse and lively style,” which contradicts the rest of a writing that otherwise promotes the established narrative. Shakespeare used villains and fools to deliver the bitterest truths about humanity because it placed a layer of plausible deniability between him and the message.

Imagine the “unfiltered version of Trump’s meeting” if he had explicitly stated, “You don’t need to follow the EPA regulations. They’re a paper tiger, and besides– you guys are the left’s favorite historical victim group. EPA v. Cherokee Nation is never going to happen.” A lot of people would have to feign outrage, and Cherokee Nation would probably get fleeced again. Instead, we end up with another funny article about “Trump acting crazy.”

Trump appears to be playing both the fool and His Royal Highness. Although he’s ostensibly the most powerful man in the world, Trump still needs to use jester tactics to advance his agenda. The previous administrations installed a new governmental operating system called the administrative state that keeps their technocratic worldview crunching away in their absence. In a sense, Bush/Clinton/W. Bush/Obama are still in office.

Trump may be king, but secretly he is a weak king. More than legislation, his main instrument is his voice, which cuts through red tape by its implicit message: “I am stronger than the shadow state. I am a real person; I speak in words you understand. The faceless bureaucrat who you think is breathing down your neck is not going to be around forever.”

The Obama administration passed over 3,000 rules and 30,000 pages of environmental regulations. There are too many rules for bureaucrats to be expected to enforce them all. However, a business person in a regulated industry like energy won’t know which laws will be enforced, leading to paralysis. That’s why the native Americans are knocking on Trump’s door, why the U.S. still exports its pollution to the third world, and why you and I still have to fund radical brainwashing every time we fill up our gas tanks.

Trump’s esoteric, or hidden message is one of jurisdictional arbitrage. By calling the leaders “chief,” he is affirming that native American lands are a sort of special economic zone in which new technology can be tried. If it works, the tribes will get more revenue, the U.S. will lessen its dependence on foreign powers, and this meme will be more appropriate than ever:

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This is also a great opportunity to create funds and zones for testing renewable energy. Much like Saudi Arabia has started to plan for its own post-oil future, the native peoples of America could dedicate a portion of the windfall to developing clean energy alternatives.

Let 1,000 reservations bloom.

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