Trump’s High-Low Bargaining Strategy is Hurting America

New Orleans   Maybe once or twice bluff and bluster will achieve a marginal advantage, but the odds are slim, especially when negotiating with a serious folks with equal or even greater power or advantage sitting on the other side of the table. It goes without saying there has to be enough credibility behind the bluff that it has weight, largely because you’ve proven your muscle in the past and present and are willing – win or lose – to inflict pain even in the face of risk in order to win your point.

These are lessons learned the hard way from decades of experience negotiating for poorer and more powerless people against richer and more powerful companies and governments. Whether with ACORN or our unions, we were only at the table because we had won the right by forcing our opponents to be there. No matter the hue and cry, the threats and posturing on the other side of the table, we only could get an agreement by accurately understanding both our situation and the bottom lines and those of our adversaries. If not, it was back to the fight or holding an empty bag.

After the preliminaries though, among the first things we would say would be that we didn’t practice “high-low” bargaining. We would certainly bargain in good faith and were prepared to negotiate, but we were always clear: the proposal we made would be very close to whatever final agreement we were prepared to make. We didn’t go “high-low,” asking for the moon and believing foolishly that we would all end up in the middle. That’s a fool’s errand.

Somehow President Trump in decades of commercial transactions seems never to have learned this. To him a deal was a deal and there was always another transaction coming and if a bad one was made, there were lawyers and bankruptcy courts that would clean up the mess. If you weren’t a fan of bluff and bluster, then you didn’t do business with him which kind of explains why his standing on Wall Street and among major banks was so low.

This doesn’t work in government. Other countries have sovereignty, and don’t believe that America is first. Congress, courts, and tons of elected officials think they have a base, and don’t have to stand down, but can push back. There’s no joy in being taught domestically and internationally that Trump is a bad negotiator, because he’s weakening the country and making any possible agreements more difficult.

The list is getting too long: Russia, NAFTA, healthcare, taxes, and on and on. If he can just sign an order without negotiations, he’s king. If he has to negotiate, he’s the dunce. Maybe this is good for all of us in some ways, but we need to be very afraid on the international level how we can make agreements when the world is not as simple as firing off Tomahawk missiles. On the domestic level this kind of unhinged, transactionalism devoid of both politics and principle, guarantees increased polarization.

Someone has to get the President to buy a clue or no matter what any of us think about him, we’re in deep trouble!