How to train your president
America, we’ve seen better days. The last year has dumped a lot of tough stuff on its citizens — the worst tax bill in history, the end of net neutrality, renewed threats against social security and medicare, immigrant families torn apart, and a resurgence of overt racism that would just blow the knickers off your grandma. But I have a plan.
Surely by now we know our president will never succumb to guilt, or even logic. We’ve tried to shame him, embarrass him, goad him into submission. Remember covfefe? We all thought the poor orange poof hovered on the ledge of a nervous breakdown. Didn’t happen. Sad.
The time bomb is still ticking.
Liberals and progressives have all done our fair share of hand-wringing. We just don’t know what to do anymore.
How do you deal with a president who can’t be shamed, intimidated, reasoned, or negotiated with?
BTW, Batman had to deal with this same dilemma in Dark Knight. Remember? Batman had to adapt. So shall we.
We don’t even know for sure if we can vote out the joker president come next election. Maybe we can. Maybe we can undo all the vote-hacking and gerrymandering that’s gone down in the last decade.
But maybe we can’t. Maybe we’re totally screwed.
We’ve described our president as a child for almost two years now. Sure, we meant that mostly as an insult.
But it’s actually good advice.
Think about what you do with a child. You see, I’ve been reading parenting books. I’ll be a parent soon.
Plus, I’m a teacher. I’ve been dealing with immature adolescents for a decade now. When you want to motivate a baby, there’s one great trick. It also works on pets, and circus animals.
It’s called positive reinforcement. Just one instrument in the handy tool bag offered to us by B.F. Skinner, long ago.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Our president is, like, 70 years old. Shouldn’t he know how to act like an adult? Yes, he should. But he doesn’t. You have to work with world you live in. Not the world you want.
Hashtag resist has worked fine. Sort of. I think it’s important to resist. On the other hand, I’m a realist. I hate to say it, folks, but there’s a reasonable chance we’ll KAG and see yet another term for the golden-haired stallion. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Mueller. I really hope he’s got some magic up his sleeve. But I think we need a solid plan C. One that doesn’t involve civil war. Because that would be bad. For, like, everybody. Including my kid.
So what does positive reinforcement really mean? Everyone, remember back to your Psych 101 class. It’s simple: when a child, or maybe a pet, does something good, you reward the positive behavior. You train your toddler to sleep, feed, and use the bathroom by this very method.
It takes effort, and patience, but the work pays off in the end.
Here’s an example. Sometimes, our president sends a decent tweet. Like the other day, he congratulated the new president of Mexico. There was absolutely nothing spiteful or racist in his message.
Bravo, el presidente! Why not respond with a compliment, even if inside you hate his guts. Even if you think it’s ordinary.
There’s no room for emotion or ethics in operant conditioning. You’re simply providing stimulus to get the outcome you want. Stop thinking about what the president did last week, or yesterday. I guarantee you he already has. We’re dealing with a creature who’s all short term memory.
Our current president only acts on instinct and impulse. His brain makes decisions based on stimuli. So reward the positive behaviors. It doesn’t matter what he does. Anything halfway presidential, or human, should receive a reward. A positive stimulus.
That’s all there is to it. Now, you can also use negative reinforcement. Careful now, that doesn’t equal punishment. People often confuse these two.
Here’s an example: Let’s say our president tweets something stupid. Not hard to imagine these days. Still, we can respond one of three ways:
- Shame him, and respond with something equally offensive.
- Kindly explain to him the problems you see in his tweet.
- Ignore him.
My recommendation is option 3. You see, our president thrives on attention. It doesn’t matter to him whether the attention is good or bad. He loves both. Maybe he doesn’t realize it, but he likes fighting with people. Plus, it actually seems to boost his polls.
If our current prez ever had a talent, it’s converting criticism into praise.
So stop rewarding him for his racist, offensive rhetoric. That means ignoring his horrific tweets. That’s hard, I know. We grew up in a democracy. Our parents told us to stand up to cruelty.
And you should. I mean, most of the time. But this case is special. I’m not talking about civility for its own sake. I’m talking about operant conditioning. For the next few years, we live in an alternate reality.
Our last president was all about democracy. He listened to dissent. Even the guy before him was an adult.
But we aren’t dealing with a grownup right now. We’re dealing with something different. This current guy has a wicked case of affluenza, complicated by the early signs of dementia.
Of course, positive reinforcement works in all directions. So if someone with influence says something like “Keep immigrant families together!” then reward them. Do it with gusto.
Reward every individual you see exhibiting kind behavior.
Hell, engage in positive behavior yourself. Send a tweet. Go to a protest. Make your views known. But phrase them in positive terms. I know, it’s fucked up. We shouldn’t have to nitpick diction when it comes to human rights. But we have to strategize. We live in weird times.
Right now, I’m going to be painstakingly honest. I’ll use any and every means to stop fascism except violence. We’re torn between two models of democracy. On the one hand, George Washington killed people to create our country. On the other, Martin Luther King followed the example of Ghandi to ensure change in the same country.
Which way is better? As long as we’re still the same country, I’ll be using King’s method. Nonviolent.
Lots of people think we’re dealing with a weird situation. Sure, we are. But there’s one age-old solution. You’re always better off outsmarting your adversaries.
It would be so nice if the perfectly-articulated argument in favor of human rights actually worked. On some people, it doesn’t.
Even Ghandi had an angle. Who knows? Maybe operant conditioning is the nonviolent protest of our age.
Ghandi’s legacy wasn’t just nonviolence. When you’re outmanned, outgunned, and outpowered, you’ve got no other choice but to use your head and your words.
Hard turn into Avengers: Infinity War. Let’s get real. Sure, Thanos is incredibly smart. Infinitely strong. And unstoppable.
Trump and Thanos share one of these traits: unstoppsable.
Whatever it takes to stop Trump, we haven’t thought of it quite yet. We’re going to have to think way outside the box this time. And maybe the solution is something so simple we’ve overlooked it the whole time.
I hate to keep throwing sci-fi references out there, but this one’s so great. Get ready for my War of the Worlds reference. Not only a great radio broadcast, but also a kickass TV series in the 80s.
See, some pop culture is good for you.
If it weren’t for that 80s series, I never would’ve researched the original. And I wouldn’t have learned that the aliens die of the common cold.
That comes up in the Tom Cruise reboot, too. Just sayin.
Anyway, we need to be looking for the common cold solution to Trump and his ilk. Maybe that’s protest, but maybe also something else?
Like operant conditioning?
That’s how we domesticated wolves, after all. My point — we need to think beyond the old methods. We need something so old that it’s new.
Logical, ethical reasoning never works on some people, and it never will. So we need to broaden our options. More or less, we’re literally in a game of chess. Moral reasoning doesn’t apply anymore. Except for the fact that we’re playing for those very stakes.
Operant conditioning isn’t the only solution. While we’re kissing his ass when he does things that aren’t terrible, we can also mobilize all sane humans in the U.S. to go out and vote. You see?
I’m still hopeful we can take control of congress in 2018. Meanwhile, we can at least stop feeding the beast. Let’s agitate and voice up among ourselves. Speak to potential voters. Mobilize our own base. Stop worrying about Trump’s base. Maybe some of them will turn. But not enough.
The deplorables aren’t worth our energy. Stop dancing with them. At the same time, we can use other tools to at least limit the damage.
You know what this means. You’re not gonna reason with our current president. Ever. His mind is half gone. But you can outsmart him. Easily. That includes operant conditioning. Other ways exist, of course. We are literally dealing with the mind of a child. Or a pet. Either way, he’ll respond a lot better to operant conditioning. If that doesn’t work, we need to concentrate on outsmarting him. The way you outsmart a clever dog.