Chaos theory pioneer: Trump is actually hyperchaos

Donald Trump promised, again, that, no matter what it feels like from the outside, his White House is NOT in chaos, i...

Posted: Mar. 6, 2018 10:07 AM
Updated: Mar. 6, 2018 10:07 AM

Donald Trump promised, again, that, no matter what it feels like from the outside, his White House is NOT in chaos, in a tweet Tuesday morning.

At the same time, he admitted he has some staffing changes to make (not sure who!) so that seems like it falls short of any sort of equilibrium.

Here's that full Presidential tweet, for the record:

"The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!"

Trump was referring to staff changes, but the idea of chaos could be applied generally to the unpredictability he breeds.

Here's the Merriam-Webster definition:

Definition of chaos: noun cha-os \ -k----s \

1 a : a state of utter confusion - the blackout caused chaos throughout the city

b : a confused mass or mixture - a chaos of television antennas

2 a often capitalized : a state of things in which chance is supreme; especially : the confused unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms - compare cosmos

b : the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system (such as the atmosphere, boiling water, or the beating heart)

1a or 2b of that definition would seem to apply best here. In that, nobody is every really sure what the President is going to do next (2b) and it creates a state of confusion (1a).

Strictly speaking, Americans, for the most part, are getting up every day and going to work and the lights turn on and their paychecks clear and there's food in the supermarket. From that perspective, there is no chaos. But there is, without doubt, something completely different about the Trump era, in which a reality TV star and flamboyant billionaire was set loose by voters to change government. And you have no idea what he'll do next. On anything.

That's not chaos, according to James A. Yorke, Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Yorke, by they way, coined "chaos" as a mathematical term along with T.Y. Li in their 1975 paper "Period Three Implies Chaos." He's also no fan of Trump.

He describes chaos as like striking billiard balls.

"Chaos is bounded in some sense. You know the billiard balls are going to stay on the table, but they careen around on the table," he said, adding that it seems different with Trump.

"With Trump, the chaos is in many different directions. It might be better to call it hyperchaos. Seriously."

Yorke tried to distinguish between something random -- like the stock market, which will either go up or down -- and the weather, which is truly hyperchaotic and can be predicted, using many variables, to some degree of efficiency in the short term, but much worse in the long term.

A lot of what people do is try to cut down on chaos, said Yorke.

"Everything about our lives tend to be a bit chaotic. But we work hard to constrain the chaos so that we know what can happen," he said. "Like airbags are constraining the chaos in cars."

Yorke, who, again, is no fan of Trump, is most worked up this week about the idea of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which Trump proposed seemingly on a whim last week, shocking members of his own party. He has since seemed to modulate that proposal as a NAFTA bargaining tool.

"When he does things which hurt the US, that really doesn't fit the example of purposeful chaos," he argued.

Chaos Theory or Madman Theory

Trump's erratic behavior has already drawn many comparisons to a different and totally unrelated theory: the "Madman Theory," which used by Richard Nixon as a geopolitical chess move against the Soviets and the Chinese. Nixon, according to lore, consciously tried to portray himself as unstable to give himself a hand-up over US adversaries in the Cold War.

Trump, consciously or not, has been applying this madman principle in ways Nixon would never have dreamed. And that's helped create the feeling of chaos.

On foreign policy -- Throw out decades of US foreign policy to engage North Korea, but don't engage diplomatically. Rather, treat the young despot running that nuclear-ambitious country as a shoolyard rival and bring out the bravado. Is that why North Korea and South Korea are suddenly in talks? Who knows.

Trump tweeted on North Korea today, too, by the way, saying the US would equally pursue either diplomacy or confrontation.

"Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!"

On domestic policy -- Seem to advocate one day for a liberal or middle-of-the-road position on immigration or guns and revise that to a hard line days later. Neither immigration nor guns bills have passed Congress, so ...

"He canceled the program for the 'Dreamers' and he said, 'Well, we'll fix it.' But he can't fix it," Yorke pointed out.

On the other hand, Trump's willingness to change sides and work with Democrats did shock the heck out of Republicans and yield one short-term government funding bill last year.

That didn't help him play a huge role in talks over a longer-term budget bill that passed early in 2018, but it did add to the impression that he has no specific agenda on most issues.

"The next thing he's likely to do is something completely unrelated to what he's done in the past," said Yorke. "The uncertainty is mult-dimensional."

Hyperchaos. Get used to it.

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