Comment - The secret of Trump’s tactics

WHEN I was suffering through advanced infantry training in the US Army many, many moons ago, I learned the Trump negotiating system.

Our dreaded first sergeant, Delmar Creech, would terrorise us, inflict push-ups or latrine detail, and then restrict us to barracks over weekends for some minor infraction.

We hated him with a passion. But then one Friday he strode into the barracks and, with a big smile, said "you boys have been good. I'm granting you PX privileges!"

A cheer erupted. We were being allowed to go to the base store to buy cigarettes, candy and magazines. Suddenly, everyone said, "Sarge ain't such a bad guy after all."

This is the secret to Donald Trump's negotiating tactics: a storm of invective and abuse, followed by some minor concessions. "Trump ain't such a bad guy after all."

We witnessed last week how this technique was used on our old ally, Australia. Trump threw a telephone tantrum over the prospect of a modest number of mainly South Asian Muslim refugees held on Australia's Devil's Island entering the US.

This nasty little spat came on the heels of the previous week's refusal to accept Middle East refugees from seven nations, supposedly to keep America safe. However, there has not been a single attack against the US from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria or Yemen – even though all have been bombed (26,171 times) or had their governments overthrown by the US and its allies.

President Trump is doing precisely what he promised voters, something very rare in politics. One of the last presidents to do so was Democrat James K. Polk in the mid-1800s who stormed into office on the promise of conquering northern Mexico, lowering tariffs, and bluffing the British out of Oregon.

Polk accomplished his goals, then refused to run for a second term so he would not be compelled to make political compromises. He died in 1849. His legacy was the new American states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other western regions.

This writer had hoped that when Trump felt the full weight of office he would make good on his vow to press for a real Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. Instead, Trump welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, packed his cabinet with neo-cons and far right zanies and has just about proclaimed a new crusade.

Was all this real or a political ploy? We must remember that nearly half of all Republican voters – Trump's base – describe themselves as practising born-again Christians. The Christian fundamentalist right played a key role in George Bush's two victories. Some 78% of born-again Christians voted for Bush.

These religious right voters come from the Bible Belt South and Midwest, a vast expanse routinely ignored by East and West coast pundits and political operatives. The Trump campaign was clever in analysing this political geography and focusing efforts on the evangelical empty spaces between New York and Los Angeles – the same region that brought Prohibition in 1919.

One of the key tenets of Republican theological voters is the hatred of Islam as the "new" Communism and the fear that Islam's growth is far outpacing Christianity.

Few of these confused Republican core voters have any sense of geography or history. After the 9/11 attacks, surveys showed that 78% or more were convinced that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. This was a glaring example of what expert Kevin Phillips terms "the American Disenlightenment".

Trump benefited from this accrued ignorance in his startling electoral victory. East and West coast media were astounded because they had never attended a Pentecostal Church or listened to the poisonous sermons of "Rev" John Hagee or Christian radio from whose bizarre ravings many Christian fundamentalists receive all their news.

I witnessed the birth of the strange alliance between America's Christian far right and Israel in the early 1980s during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Two radio stations from the Bible Belt USA rushed in to begin broadcasting their fundamentalist creed to Lebanon and Syria.

We laughed at these Christian broadcasters but the Israelis were smart enough to understand how their new born-again fundamentalist allies could be used as the first step to win over America's Christian far right. The fundamentalists believe that Biblical Israel must be re-created (never mind Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) before Christ can return.

Armageddon, the ultimate battle between good and evil, would ensue, bringing destruction of the Earth. Born-agains will zip up to heaven while the rest of us burn in hellfire.

Three decades later, Christian Conservatives are one of America's leading political forces. Trump has called for the ban on churches preaching politics and fundraising be lifted.

Let's hope Trump uses some of his great energy to arm twist Israelis and Palestinians into a decent peace deal. This, alas, seems unlikely.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, syndicated columnist, writing mainly about the Middle East and South Asia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com