Trump is behaving like a 'maniac' alright, but it's not because he has some master plan

President Donald Trump congratulates Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump congratulates Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.

In the past seven days Donald Trump created a global backlash with his Muslim Ban, escalated the tension between the United States and Mexico, snubbed Australia, selected a Supreme Court nominee who would have been nominated by the other 17 Republican presidential candidates Trump's working class base rejected, and asked attendees of the National Prayer Breakfast to pray for the ratings of Celebrity Apprentice.

One theory to explain the seemingly disconnected nature and impulsiveness of Trump's actions is that it's a form of planned chaos. The planned chaos theory says that Trump—aided by Stephen Bannon—is behaving like a maniac to divert attention from some sort of master plan.

The idea that there is a plan can provide comfort, even if the plan is really disturbing. Or, in the words of Heath Ledger's The Joker in The Dark Knight, "Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying."

If that's the case, it might provide some odd measure of comfort to view Bannon as some sort of diabolical genius, and his plan as a blueprint for the next four years. It might be a crazy plan—one that is seemingly egging on a war with China, Muslims, Mexicans, and maybe even Australians—but, like The Joker says, at least it's a plan.

But if the first two weeks are an indication of how Bannon's master plan will work, it doesn't look like the work of a diabolical genius. It looks more like the work of someone who is learning on the fly, and not doing a very good job of it.

It looks like actual chaos, rather than brilliantly orchestrated, planned chaos.

Under the theory of planned chaos, a shocking, headline-grabbing event (like a Muslim Ban) would be used to distract from a more structural change (like the appointment of a truly radical Supreme Court justice).

Instead, the Trump administration used the appointment of a relatively standard-issue conservative Supreme Court justice to bring an already-fraying Republican coalition back together, and divert the media conversation away from an Executive Order that sparked global backlash. Then Trump followed that up with hanging up on the Australian Prime Minister, tweeting about Berkeley, and trash-talking Arnold Schwarzenegger (again).

For all that misdirection, what has come of it? Trump got to nominate a Justice his arch-nemesis Lindsay Graham (and even some Democrats) think highly of, and he has an Executive Order on refugees and immigration that he's already having to soften.

The first two weeks of the Trump administration remind me of that one guy you play pick-up basketball with who dribbles around in circles, does three head fakes, a spin move, and then misses wildly—while telling you the whole time how great he is.

But if what we are observing is actual chaos, and not a Master Plan—how does that end?

The pessimistic view is that by the Fourth of July, America will look like Dawn of the Planet Apes: streets choked with rolling trashcans of fire, apes on horseback with machine guns, humanity on the brink of extinction.

There is, however, a more optimistic view.

Contrary to how we learn about history, the past isn't written by presidents.

Though they are usually ghostwriters, "ordinary" people are the true authors of history.

Franklin Roosevelt didn't lead the charge for Social Security. An elderly, unemployed physician from California named Francis Townsend started a movement supporting public pensions for older Americans. Townsend became an activist in 1933—and two years later the Social Security Act of 1935 was passed, despite FDR's opposition to the concept.

Richard Nixon didn't establish the EPA because beneath all of his insecurity and lying he was actually a tree-hugging hippie. He was responding to public pressure that began when a biologist and writer named Rachel Carson published Silent Spring.

In politics, chaos often results from the absence of leadership. And when leaders abdicate their role (maybe because they're too busy picking fights with celebrities), what happens?

Sometimes things get real crazy.

But often, true leaders—like Francis Townsend and Rachel Carson—step in to fill the void.

After Trump's ban, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sent a message about American compassion when he committed to hiring refugees. After Trump hung up on the Prime Minister, John McCain let the Australian ambassador know that we still think of one of our most loyal allies as a friend.

But you don't need to be a Senator or a CEO to step into the leadership vacuum created by chaos.

In fact, surviving true chaos will depend far more on ordinary people than it will on Senators and CEOs.

If what we are looking at is a government with no one at the wheel, then this is an opportunity for each of us to step up and take our places as the real authors of history.

Commentary by Dustin McKissen, the founder and CEO of McKissen + Company, a strategy, marketing, and public relations firm based in St. Charles, Missouri. He was named one of LinkedIn's "Top Voices" in 2015 and 2016, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational and Industrial Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @DMcKissen.

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