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Three Soft Landings, Not One

October 4th, 2022 by dk

Policy professionals inside the U.S. government are attempting to engineer what we’ve learned to call “soft landings” in three separate arenas. A sudden collapse of the economy would be painful, but the consequences for abrupt change in the geopolitical or cultural realms could be catastrophic.

We’ve all heard about the concerns of the financial sector. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates three times in the last three months, aiming to slow inflation without causing a spike in unemployment. Rising prices on groceries and gas hurt everyone a little. Losing a job hurts only some people but it hurts them a lot.

The Fed is trying to slow the economy without throwing it into reverse — a soft landing. The same objectives apply to policies regarding Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Putin gave western democracies a gift when he paraded into Ukraine and exposed Russia’s military as suitable mostly for parades. The show of force was more show than force. We understand better now, thanks to Putin’s face-plant, that open societies display their weaknesses and hide their strengths. Ukraine stands tall and Putin loses stature.

Diplomats and State Department strategists are trying to nudge Russian forces back. President Biden has asked Congress for just enough weaponry to keep Ukraine’s momentum. The unstated goal: avoid chemical or nuclear warfare from a humiliated Putin. Putin’s gradual defeat can strengthen and clarify the world order — another soft landing.

Federal and state agencies are also hoping for a gradual defeat of Donald Trump, his business interests, and his most rabid followers. We’ve watched the painfully slow pace of Merrick Garland at the Justice Department, Letitia James in New York, and Fani Willis in Georgia. Why not bring down the hammer quickly?

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman may have uncovered an important clue. Trump is often asked whether he would have run for president if he knew all the trouble the scrutiny would invite. His answer: “Yeah, I think so. Because here’s the way I look at it. I have so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are.”

Over Trump’s career, one lesson came clearly into focus. Fame can make you money, but money can’t make you famous. Money is the water Trump drinks. Fame is the air he breathes.

Trump (and his alter-ego publicist John Miller) have crafted three very different personas of Trump. During his real estate career, he was a womanizing cad. On television, he became a ruthless tycoon. On the campaign trail, his populist appeal turned him into an aggrieved victim, targeted by elites.

Stay with me here, because I’m following this trajectory beyond the land of common sense. Here we have someone who wants to be well known more than anything else. His throngs don’t validate him unless they teem. And nothing riles them more than tales of victimhood. 

Why did Trump refuse to return the documents he took with him from the White House, especially after several urgent but quiet demands? Because there’s no such thing as bad publicity. It’s a short step from victimhood to martyrdom.

Surely no narcissist would sacrifice his freedom for the sake of an ideal. But famous people often lose everything in an attempt to become just a little more famous. If Trump gets rebuked by government authorities too quickly, martyrdom and the movement it could spawn must be a real concern.

Authorities must enforce the rule of law without making Trump into a martyr. They must work slowly, carefully, and with great transparency. It’s tricky having as much power as the U.S. government does, especially when greedy stock market investors, wounded world leaders, and petulant former presidents are looking for any advantage.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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