In ancient Greece—the genesis of Western civilization and thinking—the Greek goddess Athena was known to be the securer of “victory.” She also awarded the dealmakers that brought forth victory. In Oresteia, the Greek goddess Athena proclaims, “I admire…the eyes of persuasion.”
Viewed from an apolitical lens, the Greek goddess would have certainly admired the persuasion, tactics and strategy underlying Donald Trump’s US presidential bid that brought forth a stunning victory.
To Trump’s supporters, comprised of a diverse voting group including both rich and poor, his victory was an affirmation of Trump’s call to arms against political elites and the perception that America could be great again. To Trump’s critics, his victory was a complete and utter shock that seemed to defy all odds.
To some political pundits and so-called political experts—many who belittled, criticized and grossly underestimated Trump at every turn--it became clear that their expertise needed an update. Their confident predictions of a Trump defeat were based on outdated working assumptions that this year’s election should mirror elections of years past in terms of tone and rhetoric.
But meanwhile, while these so-called experts were pontificating, the world became flat and hyper-connected due to vast technological tectonic shifts. In the advent of today’s “super-social” era--in which social media communication is dominated by 140 crafted characters through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook—such weathered expert experience ultimately translated into a net liability, rather than an asset.
So how did Trump win the US presidency? By thinking like a negotiator.
This then begs the question: What exactly is a “negotiation”? According to the Harvard Negotiation Project, a negotiation is defined as “Getting what you want.”
Trump is a self-proclaimed negotiator and dealmaker. He has authored bestseller books such as The Art of the Deal, while proclaiming in a recent interview that, “Everything’s negotiable.”
During Trump’s campaign, he was in constant negotiations—with the Republican Party, Democratic Party, the media, and the voting public—to get what he wanted. At each level, Trump was waging a “David versus Goliath” negotiation war, from his purview, in which each and all of these “negotiation opponents” were, at one point or another, against him.
Think for a moment what Trump’s victory, a high-stakes negotiation game, entailed. Since 1988, apart from the current president, the political landscape was dominated by just two family names: Clinton and Bush.
Trump—a political upstart, but not one with negotiation naiveté--slayed both political dragons in the swoop of a single election cycle.
Should you be worried or concerned that Trump is now President-elect Trump, given his tone and rhetoric on the campaign trail?
Again, some so-called experts will provide a simple binary analysis for simple minds—a flat yes, that he is the precipice to a new era of an isolated America (rather than a continued era of Pax Americana)—or a flat no, that he will be the savior that America needs in a dangerous world.
But a third, more nuanced and honest answer exists. We simply do not yet have enough information to give a credible answer. What type of information should we be waiting for then? Actual “evidence” in the form of tangible policy action once Trump is sworn in as the forty-fifth US president. Maybe Trump will be great, maybe not. But much like a courtroom, you would not want a judgment about you made against you before the evidence has been thoughtfully and impartially adjudicated.
And what about all of Trump’s seemingly fiery campaign statements? As savvy negotiators know, first statements are often mere first offers.
Jasper Kim is a tenured full professor at the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), Director for the Center for Conflict Management, and a former visiting scholar at Harvard University and Stanford University. He is an international lawyer licensed in Washington, DC. His books include American Law 101, 24 Hours with 24 Lawyers, and Korean Business Law. He teaches graduate and undergraduate negotiation and law courses at Ewha Womans University.