Writing in The Time of Trump by Kenneth Weene


For the past year, I’ve been co-writing the memoir of one of the “Lost Boys” of South Sudan. Fleeing from Arab marauders at only seven years of age, Deng found his way to the refugee camps in Ethiopia. Later, fleeing again—this time from the revolution which had taken place in Ethiopia—he returned to Sudan for a brief stint before, again in flight, he found his way to Kenya. Finally, under the auspices of Catholic Charities, he came to the United States where he finished high school and college and obtained a master’s degree. Now holding dual citizenship in his homeland of South Sudan and the United States, Deng hopes to help build bridges between his two countries.

With the recent election, Deng asked me to assist him with a new writing project. “Just a short paper to help the leadership in Juba and in the South Sudanese diaspora around the world to understand how to work with this new administration,” was his request. He followed this with an additional recognition of what might make this such a difficult task. “But Trump’s so unpredictable, I don’t know what to say.”

We met to work on this “short paper,” something my friend and writing colleague could publish in Juba and share on the social media.


Before that meeting, I spent some time thinking about Mr. Trump and his unpredictability. Of course, I was also focusing on what I knew of South Sudan. As I thought, I reached a few conclusions. I share them here.

First, unpredictability is in the eye of the beholder. I learned that a long time ago working with the mentally ill. The behavior of even the most erratic seeming patient in the asylum could be predicted a good portion of the time if one merely started with the assumption that behavior makes sense to the individual. I might not see the reason why the severely schizophrenic youngster stuffed crepe paper in his mouth, but knowing that it made sense to him to do so immediately implied that he might stuff other bright things in as well. “Put coloring in his food and he’ll be more willing to eat,” was one obvious suggestion.

I do not suggest here that Mr. Trump is mentally ill. I’ve seen many posts and articles offering diagnoses of him. Some have even been well argued. However, I don’t necessarily think diagnoses of public figures help much. Were I to assign one to the President-Elect, it would be oppositional defiant personality. By the way, that tendency to reject anyone telling him what to do was found in another American leader, a fellow named Teddy Roosevelt, who was incredibly successful in the job.

That diagnoses leads to my first bit of advice to Deng and to the other South Sudanese who want to improve relations with the U.S. under this new regime: Don’t try to tell Mr. Trump what he has to do. Don’t try to appeal to higher principles and notions of good. That will only antagonize this new POTUS.

So, what will work? Appealing to the motivations that he exhibits as being important to him. Back to that bright colored food. What does Mr. Trump attend to? Certainly, not to advice. Certainly, not to reasoned arguments and position papers.

I came up with a list of things that appear to interest this new POTUS.

Top of my list is business and making money. Can South Sudan offer him and American business, which he sees himself as part and head of, ways to make money, significant amounts of money?

Second, what does he want to seem in the eyes of the world and especially his followers? This is a man who takes offense at Saturday Night Live. He’s thin-skinned. He needs to feel that others see him as the tough guy, the hero, fighting off the enemy. Who is that enemy? Perhaps sadly, he and the Republican party have defined the enemy as radical Islam and Sharia law. Can South Sudan help him look tough on those two branches of the Muslim tree?

Third, underneath, of whom is he most afraid? Under such bluster has to be a core of inadequacy and fear of failure. To feel safer is something we all crave, but especially this new President. As a businessman—which is his main self-identification—Mr. Trump has had many failures. In the end, the biggest threat to that identity comes from the burgeoning economy of China. To make China even more of a threat in his eyes, Trump has been forced to turn to China for both products and financing for his various businesses. This is a man who hates those to whom he feels beholden. That’s one reason why—to keep his own head from exploding with the ambivalence he feels towards his father—he understates the degree to which his success has depended on family assistance. Can South Sudan help him diminish China in a meaningful way? Can that fledgling nation help him to feel that he has done successful battle with the dragon and protected himself? That he has made the world safe for Donald Trump?

There it is, my three-pronged approach for the South Sudanese government to follow in communicating with this new American President: Offer business opportunities to make him and his peers richer; Offer a stand against radical Islam to make him appear tough; Offer a way to act against China to make him feel safer, like he is more in control. Three prongs are enough. More and the resulting approach would be too long, too complex, and require too much reading to affect a man who has little use for complexities and academia.

Were we able to put together that action plan, something that Deng could offer to the government in Juba and to South Sudanese leaders throughout the world? Yes, in just over 600 words. Deng and I put together a position paper that may well allow South Sudan’s diplomats to make a major breakthrough. That plan says nothing about the genocidal civil war that has been tearing their country apart. It says nothing about the need for American assistance to help their people.

Just three things: Make money; Stop radical Islam and Sharia; Push back China.

Now, of course, the big question: Will the leaders in Juba take time to read those carefully chosen words? That I can’t say, but what I can say with some certitude is that crafted documents such as that paper can make a difference in the world. That’s just one more reason why I will keep writing in The Time of Trump.


In addition to the recently completed and not yet published memoir, A Journey Between Worlds, which he co-authored with Deng M. Atem, Ken Weene has published a number of books, stories, poems, and essays. To buy a book.

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9 thoughts on “Writing in The Time of Trump by Kenneth Weene

  1. Delinda Mccann

    Bravo! This analysis represents the things we needed to hear. I’d love to share this with my state reps who have to work this this man. Thank you for sharing your ideas on how to make this presidency work.

  2. Micki Peluso

    Ken, I am in agreement with your three things:

    “Just three things: Make money; Stop radical Islam and Sharia; Push back China.

    I believe that President-elect Donald Trump has these three things on his long list of things to do to correct the flaws of past government, regardless of political parties. Much like the successful President Teddy Roosevelt, I feel that President-elect Donald Trump’s unpredictability will prove to be his strongest asset.

    While you claim not to suggest that President-elect Donald Trump is mentally deficient, you make the statement–without a doctor’s degree and based on words by those whom you say even you do not trust–that he has oppositionally defiant personality.

    I believe that there is more to our new president than meets the eye. Since we have seen what eight years of predictability has brought us, including thousands of deaths by terrorism and lack of respect from both enemies and friends throughout the world, a failing economy, etc. ad nauseum,
    keeping the world on its toes by our new unpredictable leader may result in safety for all Americans. The presidency should not be about personality but performance. Time will tell if President-elect Donald Trump can achieve significant change. If not, we will be no worse than we were before.

    1. Kenneth Weene

      Just to clarify for Micki, I do have a PhD in psychology so I am qualified to diagnose. As for the diagnoses I think applicable, I make a point that it in no way would stop him from being a great POTUS as was TR.

      1. Micki Peluso

        Ken I am aware of your degree but was not aware of your license to practice. Sorry about that. But you did link this disorder to mental illness which would make me nervous having a mentally impaired president–although it is questionable as to whether we have had them before.

  3. John Rosenman

    Just three things: Make money; Stop radical Islam and Sharia; Push back China.

    Yes, this is astute and pares Trump down to some of his basic traits. He IS a businessman and wants to turn a profit; he wants to stop radical Islam and Sharia law; and he wants to slap down China for various reasons. He also wants to build that wall and stop illegal immigrants from entering this country from south of the border. But hell, he’s willing to compromise on this.

    You are correct that he doesn’t want to be told what to do and that someone trying to convince Trump shouldn’t be too intelligent or complex. The man doesn’t like to read, and doesn’t like to listen to briefs. Why? Because (1) he’s intellectually lazy, (2) he’s won the election and briefs won’t help him turn a dollar; (3) briefs imply that the briefer is more knowledgable and superior in some way than the briefee. Perhaps other reasons, too.

    As to whether or not Trump is mentally ill. Well, I’m no doctor either, but I think many of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser extent. To take just one trait, Trump is so thin-skinned, he will rise at three or four in the morning to post tweets savaging ordinary and defenseless Americans. It reminds me of Nixon who reportedly felt threatened by a solitary protester with a sign he saw far away from the White House.

    One thing’s for sure. If the man isn’t impeached, the next four years (or more) should prove fascinating. I especially want to see if Trump, despite or because of his massive faults, can be a good president after all.

  4. Steve Lindahl

    I love the way you broke down what Trump wants to…

    “…three things: Make money; Stop radical Islam and Sharia; Push back China.”

    I agree that these three goals are among his top priorities, but since the election he’s made a couple of moves that indicate he’s more concerned with the appearance of achieving goals than he is with actually achieving them.

    At first he reacted to losing the popular vote by saying, if the way to win the election was to get the most popular votes, he would have run a different campaign. That made sense, but didn’t catch on. So he put out a statement that there were millions of illegal votes cast against him, a claim that had no substance. That one seemed to catch on, at least among his hardcore supporters.

    Then there was the Carrier deal. He pushed it as a major accomplishment in keeping with his campaign promise, but after looking at the details it became apparent that Trump paid off the company by having Mike Pence triple the incentives and that the deal hadn’t saved as many jobs as he claimed.

    Trump won’t be the first president to whom appearances seem more important that actual accomplishments, but I think it’s a valid difference. So far indications are he will value job creation and lower gas prices over a clean environment and fighting climate change. This short term thinking offers the appearance of success over lasting success.

  5. Bryan Murphy

    Well, the South Sudanese have a lot of souls to sell, but they really need to ask themselves whether they want to do that just to appease the new leader of a country which does not have a good track record on their continent. I suspect they are already doing precisely that.

  6. James L. Secor

    Pushing back China is not a good thing, esp as the Chinese keep their noses out of others’ business. Besides, sooner or later someone will let The Donald in to the fact that China holds billion dollar debt and it should be clear what would happen to the US if China simply called in that debt. The rest? In re-reading Chalmers Johnson, I see him as a symptom of dysfunction gone wild and running an Anarchistic Revolution, one of Johnson’s 6 revolution types. (An essay is burgeoning on this.) I don’t think he’s so very unpredictable; but he does disguise the horror he’s done with misleading language. Deng’s “telling” might come via, “Could you. . .” type linguistic structures. A pleasant way to guide someone.
    I want to return to my girls in China but if the dollar becomes worthless, my retirement won’t exist and I’ll be a burden long before I actually need to be.
    Americans will never figure The Donald out, for all they do it spend time bitching about him. We have a do-nothing Congress as well. Eh bien!


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