What’s Your Poker Face?

Season 4s House of Cards finale sees Frank and Claire Underwood losing the battle for the White House. With the progress bar quickly counting down, Frank and Claire realise that by working together and employing a terror campaign, this could help them secure the keys to that venerable palace. It’s uncanny that a TV show seems to be a preacher of real-world realities.

The ending of season 4 and September 11 both share the same lowest common factor, to borrow an analogy from mathematics. One predicates the use of terror to win an election bid; the other actually preached that the West was the victim of terror – specifically the Islamic variety. Moreover, we were told, vitriolically at times, that this terror network was part of a much more sinister group of schoolyard bullies, the Axis of Evil. As the former presidential jester, George W. Bush often reminded us.

Yet, recent events in the West have seen Britain opt to leave the EU (so-called Brexit) and on the other side of the pond, Americans have voted as their next Commander-in-Chief, a red “Donald” herring. Both campaigns and camps (Remain and Leave in the UK; Hillary vs. Trump in the States) were based around terror. This time, they pulled economic terrorism out of the magician’s hat, along with that old institution favourite: Islamic terror.

…And David Cameron announces the date of the UK’s referendum vote to Remain or Leave the EU.

Mr Cameron went into this campaign half-hearted, like most of the other Remainers. Brexiteers on the other hand, lead by the old fox, Mr Nigel Farage, went full speed ahead. Tory HQ had obviously embraced the founding principles of the late Mrs Thatcher by outsourcing the vitriolic elements of the Leave campaign. I want to focus on a few key examples from Leave, in particular.

Leave won the referendum because of how cleverly they played on people’s emotions and fears. As Robert Greene writes in The 33 Strategies of War,

Law 33: Terror is the ultimate way to paralyse people

Nigel Farage clearly knows a thing or two about this – and his entire team. Take the claim about taking back our sovereignty from Brussels. What we’re learning on an almost daily basis is: there is no plan for “Brexit means Brexit”, moreover it turns out that actually taking back sovereignty is the ultimate gordian knot. British sovereignty has been interwoven with Brussels for nearly 40 years. What exactly is sovereign anymore?

Secondly, and this relate more to economic terror, the outlandish claims made by Farage and Co about the cost to the UK taxpayer to be part of the 28 bloc club and the weekly tranche of cash paid to the kingpins of the BelleLux countries, a sum magically plucked out of thin air (£350 million p/week). This economic terror was exceptionally well executed and more than backed up the claims to retake “our” sovereignty.

And, to top it all off, they [Brexiteers] used the migrant card. The ultimate Ace in any discerning terror campaign. What’s interesting, however, is the UK’s campaigning never picked out Islam – instead, it just focused on the bloody foreigners that are stealing low-skilled jobs, predominantly. All in all, in the words of Greene, this created maximum chaos. It paralysed the electorate, upset investors, and created chaos (on June 23rd) for the markets.

…the rank outsider, Donald Trump, wins the US 2016 election. The Democrats, country, allies, world, are stunned.

Contrast this to how Trump used power to steal the victory away from hawkish Hillary. However, it’s pertinent to view the success of Trump in terms of ‘grand strategy‘ and like in the UK, in terms of terror.

Whether or not the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner actually galvanised Donald Trump, is neither here nor there. However, the fact that Mitt Romney lost the 2011 election clearly upset the grand wizards of the GOP. It’s pure serendipity that President-elect Trump was a member of the audience. But these two parties, the GOP and Trump obviously saw a common alliance as a means to secure their own objectives. Trump to beat Obama and the Republicans to have their candidate in the Oval Office. Grand Strategy was fully utilised to achieve their aims.

Grand Strategy

  • combine diplomatic, cultural, economic, and military tools of interest to accomplish national goals
  • [a states] deliberate effort to advance its national interest

Now, where state appears, replace this with the GOP, and there you have grand strategy for an election success.

Taking the first bullet point, Trump effectively reframed everything internally:

  • Diplomatic – our allies will pay their way (on NATO in particular)
  • Cultural – Donald J Trump will ban all Muslims from entering the United States, immediately
  • Economic – We’re going to build a wall, a big, beautiful wall [to keep the Mexicans out]
  • Economic – Bring jobs back to the US and tear up free trade deals (TTIP, TPP, and NAFTA)
  • Military – [he’s] against US forces being deployed overseas, whilst he wants to increase the size of the States’ capabilities in all spheres of war

The US administration seems to have a love affair with fear and terror. Throughout the 20th century, different presidents have seen fear differently. FDR, saw it as paralysis; preventing the nation from achieving action. Later presidents, notably Bush, see fear as necessary to move the country forward to action. Yet, Trump combines fear (and terror) with anger, and he has American’s running scared. Trump vocalised the party’s grand strategy and simultaneously, brick by brick, encapsulated his supporters in fear. Whether it was terror from abroad, mass shootings at home, or protests that were paralysing cities, Trump seized every opportunity. Like Rick Wilson points out,

fear is the simplest emotion to tweak…

Again, as Greene has written in the 33 Strategies of War,

…Terror is the ultimate way to paralyse a people, [using] sporadic acts of violence… chaos is part of the strategy…

What’s remarkable is just how effective Trump and Farage’s campaigns were. Each focused on different aspects of terror. Although, with so much to play for [in the US election], Trump needed to up the ante. He appealed to many constituents, across both class and racial boundaries, because of his understanding of fear and terror. In the same article in The Atlantic, Shana Gadarian raises a salutary point,

How do you overcome the threat of terror, of crime, of immigration? You say, “we will protect the country by building a wall”.

The difference between Leave winning and a Trump administration is the use of grand strategy to achieve their campaign’s individual goals. Farage never intended to win, he just wanted to upset the establishment and, like the charge of the Light Brigade, have a last gallant hurrah! And, looking back over the past 12 months, you can clearly see the ramshackle nature of the Leave (and Remain) campaign. In short, a hotchpotch campaign with no grand strategy won, but peculiarly in a very British way. Trump, on the other hand, and the nature of everything stateside; everything always being bigger, needed grand strategy and precise road signs to direct his constituents towards the Republican checkbox whilst voting. Which funnily enough is usually in a walled area. Perhaps the right to vote, it’s secretive nature, is a portent of things to come in the Anglo-Saxon liberal democracy’s world? And saying that, perhaps Frank and Claire will win the fictional 2016 US election? Season 5 starts later this coming year in February, one month before Brexit negotiations are meant to start. Perhaps Frank could help Mrs May out?

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