As I was listening to the news, with all the drama of this strange presidential election and the Russian hacking, I was transported back to my college days. Specifically, I recall those all-night games of Risk we would play on weekend nights, and I remember the winning strategy. I’m starting to wonder if Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are employing it in the U.S. today.
The best way I found to win at Risk – and years later, at Starcraft – was to build strong defenses and let your opponents weaken each other in battle to the point of vulnerability. Then your greatly superior force could leave your base and wipe out all opponents. In a way, that is what the United States did in both World Wars because we joined the fight after years of conflict. The difference from the game of Risk is that we picked a side; otherwise, we might have taken over most of Europe, North Africa and more territory in the Pacific.
No, we chose a side; we fought with the British and French, and when we had to, the Russians. Alright, it was the Soviets at that time, but most of them were Russian, and they had suffered greatly – and we didn’t trust them very much. They didn’t trust us either, of course. Both countries were right to be wary. The U.S. and the Soviet Union invented impressive ways to wipe each other off the face of the earth, and both came awfully close to launching those nuclear weapons. From the experience I gained playing Risk, I can assure you that whichever inhabitants of the world remain after such a cataclysmic event, they would have absolutely no problem taking over the wastelands formally known as the United States and the Soviet Union.
And now we have Trump and Putin, and I wonder about their plans. Let’s start with Putin. Along with most analysts, I assumed that Russia was hacking Democratic Party institutions and local and state voter databases as a kind of “Screw You!” The Russian economy is suffering under the combined effect of low oil prices and U.S.-led sanctions, but Putin’s popularity is very high with the Russian people. That popularity spikes any time Putin acts aggressive, especially with the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Eastern Ukraine.
Because of the Russian Air Force’s apparent indifference to the suffering and death of Syrian civilians of all ages, Putin can become more popular at home by reporting to his people that mighty Russia is saving the world from terrorism, while the U.S. looks weak with their precision bombing. U.S. ordinance doesn’t destroy whole multi-story buildings like the Russian bombs do, so the people back home in Moscow and St. Petersburg, conclude that Russia is great and Putin is amazing. You might say he’s Huuuuuuge at home!
Of course, the Russian people only see the news Putin and the military want them to see. Russia is a country with a very poor score in the press freedom department – on a scale of 0 (best) to 100 (worst), the country gets an 83 from www.freedomhouse.org. It is not safe to be a journalist in Russia, and that may mean harassment, threats, imprisonment, or murder. Putin can tell his story and he can keep others from telling theirs.
And that brings us to Mr. Trump. Is it any wonder he is so enamored with Putin?
Russia’s gross domestic product dropped 35% from 2014 to 2015, and it’s only 7.4% of the U.S. GDP. In fact, the states of California, Texas and New York each have higher gross domestic product than the entire country of Russia. This economically diminished country, however, has a leader who can do anything he wants, and has very high approval ratings. He can imprison and kill journalists who write unflattering things about him. He can take over territory in a neighboring country for the heck of it. He can order troops into Ukraine, shoot down a civilian airliner, and lie about it in the face of overwhelming evidence. He can bomb the hell out of Aleppo without worrying about the civilians on the ground. Of course he’s Trump’s hero.
Donald Trump wants that same power in the U.S. – and he may think it comes with the job as president – but this week’s polls make that victory look out of reach. But that’s where Putin can help. It is widely known that the Russian military/government is responsible for the hacked emails from Hilary Clinton’s campaign manager, the head of the DNC, and other Democratic Party entities. Wikileaks is releasing some of these Russian-provided emails each day in order to harm Clinton’s chances of winning in November, and the Russian-Wikileaks releases will probably continue all the way to election day. Not only that, Russia could create explosive fake emails that could have a significant impact in lowering voter turnout or depressing Clinton’s totals. I think the public will swallow the lies hook, line and sinker because we’re being conditioned by these regular Wikileaks dumps.
So, Putin could possibly sway the American voter to choose Donald Trump with this targeted campaign, but even if that does not work, Trump may have an additional upside from the Russian interference. Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that the election may be stolen from him. Every unflattering news story about him is portrayed as an attack on Trump by Clinton and her surrogates, the mainstream media.
It doesn’t appear to matter what Donald Trump says or does, his core followers will stick with him. That is approximately 43% of the electorate, or roughly 56-60 million voters. A good portion of those voters are choosing Trump for economic reasons. The rich would get richer under Trump’s proposed tax cuts and regulation reform, but many – perhaps 10-15 million followers – may consider armed revolt against a federal government led by Hilary Clinton. That is a very scary scenario.
And we now should ask why would Trump and Putin want an armed revolt in the United States? Well, the answer for Putin is easy – it’s the game of Risk strategy. There’s no better way to weaken a country than to have it fall into a bloody civil war. If the U.S. were to attack itself from within, Russia would be in a much better position in the world.
But why would Trump want such conflict, and his words seemed designed to drive his followers in that direction? Money. Just as Donald Trump cheered the housing crisis eight years ago so he could buy discounted real estate, major armed combat between Americans would certainly have a depressing impact on housing prices, so he would again be able to find bargains. He also has enough money to keep himself and his family safe during the turmoil, just as I once parked myself in my heavily fortified Australia on the Risk board.
There’s another way to lose at Risk of course. That is to piss off your friends so much with your strategy that they form an alliance at the beginning of the next game and wipe you out in 15 minutes. And that may be a lesson for Mr. Trump. Be careful of how you inflame the mob, if any forms. You may find after a while that they return to attack the mouth that formed them.