No, it’s not his perfect hair, his chiseled physique, his oratory skill, his superior intellect, his hot daughter, his massive wealth, his golf game, his big hands, his closet of sleek, modern fitting suits, his business acumen, his leadership, his tanned skin, his benevolence, especially towards minority groups, or his ability to turn a small loan from his father into generational wealth never before seen in the Trump family.
I dislike Donald Trump. I’m not going to bother burying the lede here. Apart from my disapproval of much of his political agenda, I also believe him to be a bad person and probably a criminal.
But like Trump, I also have a pompous arrogance. I also think I’m really smart. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald thinks I’m smart too —
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
I’m not the biggest fan of Trump or his abilities. However, I am more than happy to admit that, in spite of my negative feelings about his intellect and skillset, I do believe he has one major, redeeming quality. A quality that I am particularly envious of, and that I believe everyone else — from the alt right to the antifa — should seek out.
Donald Trump is antifragile.
The term antifragile was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his eponymous 2012 book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.
Antifragile does not mean not fragile. Rather, it means the opposite of fragile.
If fragility is something breaking when pressure is applied, then antifragile is not merely something that doesn’t break when pressure is applied. That’s called robust.
Antifragile is something that strengthens when pressure is applied.
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.
There are many antifragile systems around us.
The process of building muscle mass requires one to breakdown muscles which, upon recovery, build up greater mass and strength.
Vaccines involve injecting someone with just enough of a toxin for the body to build up a tolerance and become immune to it.
Drugs, alcohol and other vices become more desirable the more taboo they become, or the greater the prohibition efforts.
And Donald Trump — and his administration — is certainly an antifragile system that gains from disorder.
In the six short years since the book’s publishing, many disciplines are attempting to design for antifragility.
What about antifragile politics?
Trump’s ascension to the Presidency has been built on chaos — his unconventional manner, his expressive contempt for “PC culture”, his self-aggrandizing campaign rallies.
When the media covered the “spectacle”, especially in attempts to discredit it; when his opponents ridicule him or his followers; when pundits lament about the erosion of norms, it only strengthens his legitimacy and popularity.
The left likes to criticize Trump for his chaos, and his administration’s lack of decorum and adherence to political norms.
Trump likes to respond that his administration is a finely tuned machine — which it most definitely is not.
But the question is, whether its chaotic by design, or chaotic due to amateurism.
Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but for Trump, it’s definitely not an issue or something in need of fixing.
Additionally, antifragility does not merely mean resilient. Resiliency is robust. Acknowledging that there will be hurdles, to facilitate an ability to overcome, is not enough to be antifragile.
Bill Clinton was merely resilient. Most “regular”, battle tested politicians are, as well.
Trump’s antifragility is born out of the chaos itself, and emboldened by his ability to claim that he is unfairly and relentlessly being attacked by his opposition. To those whose bias leans right, those claims appear true, and therefore further strengthen the support amongst his base.
There are two threats to antifragility — too much stress or not enough recovery.
Part of Trump’s success is his ability to create so much chaos, so much news, that it’s nearly impossible to focus a “required” amount on one particular item.
Just as in weight lifting, the changing news cycle has allowed Trump’s “body” to recover from one issue — Russia, immigration, healthcare, gun control, and so on — while another “body part” is exercised.
However, as the pressure with the Russia investigation continues to mount, it may be that too much stress and not enough recovery time for the Russian issue specifically leads to his undoing.
I admire Trump’s antifragility. I want to be antifragile.
However, I don’t desire Trump’s brand of antifragility.
How can one become antifragile without being like Donald Trump?
I think that much of Trump’s disdain comes from the fact that the chaos is his own making. Whether by strategic design or by accident, Trump has thrived in a disorderly presidency.
However, with so much chaos around us, it is possible to become antifragile, or design antifragile systems, without having to create more chaos.
And to achieve Trump levels of success — he is the President after all — perhaps it is vital to embrace the chaos, and strive not just for resiliency, but antifragility.