Every poker player knows that sometimes a good bluff is better than a good hand. But the poker player also knows that, if his bluff is called and he cannot back it up, there will be a price to pay. And some hands just should never be played at all.
Outside of card playing, one needs leverage to back up a bluff. A few years ago, I was negotiating the price of a car. When the salesman said, “My boss won’t let me do that,” I had a choice. I could give in or walk away. I walked away. I got all the way to my car when the salesman rushed up and said, “Let me talk to him one more time.” In the end, we made a deal and I bought the car. But I wasn’t bluffing. I really was walking away. The salesman was bluffing. He didn’t have enough leverage and wound up caving in.
This, I believe, is what happened to President Trump. Trump took a hard-line on a government shutdown and even said that he would take the credit/blame if it happened. The problem was that he didn’t have enough leverage to carry out the bluff. Nancy Pelosi had the leverage in the form of a Democratic controlled House of Representatives. After a month, it was obvious that the country was, for the most part, eager for the shutdown to end and it was also clear that a majority gave Trump the credit/blame. The President, in the end, caved.
One commentator said, “The message is this: if you stand up to Trump, you will win.” Well, maybe. But here’s the problem as I see it. I believe that is the message that America’s adversaries will take from this incident.
Heretofore, North Korea, China, and even Iran, had to assume that the President was not a normal politician and, as such, was unpredictable. When he threatened North Korea with disaster that nation’s leaders had to decide if Trump was bluffing or not. Certainly Trump has leverage. He has at his disposal the most powerful military in the history of the world and an oversupply of nuclear weapons, if they became necessary. But is it a bluff?
China had to face that same question on the trade/tariff war. Again, the leverage is there, but is the president willing to pull the trigger for the long haul? Is Trump willing for the U. S. economy to suffer if it means that the trade imbalance is corrected? And Iran is always a wild card. They thrive on being unpredictable and radical sponsors of all that is evil. If they sense weakness, I suspect that they would be willing to call the bluff, if they think the President is, indeed, bluffing.
The government shutdown is over, at least for a few more days. Everyone hopes that both sides will come to some sort of agreement that solves problems instead of causing them. If not, then we go back to where we were earlier. But, as bad as that would be, it pales in comparison to what steps America’s enemies might take.
North Korea, China, Iran, and a host of other adversaries, both great and small, are, I would wager, considering their options. Is Trump bluffing? Is he prepared to enforce what he said? If so, how long will he fight the fight? Will pressure from the citizens or other politicians force him to capitulate? He does have leverage but dare he use it? The whole game may now have changed on the global scene.
This, the threat of a government shutdown, was a hand that should never have been played. The President’s bluff was called and he didn’t have a winning hand. If there is no compromise with the Democrats and conservative Republicans, the only hand left to play is the President’s threat to declare a national emergency and fund the border wall with others sources of funding. This won’t be a bluff and it will be called with the result that the matter will come before the Supreme Court – eventually.
But that is now not the only consideration. Others are at the table playing this game. They sense a weakness and they are playing for keeps. When I played cards, I learned that, sometimes, the hand is just so weak that not even a bluff is advised. The cost of losing is just too high. I saw too many people lose their whole paycheck on a bad hand or a called bluff. In politics, as in poker, some hands should just never be played.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]