American News

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: It’s Not “Assertiveness”

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© Michael Candelori

May 24, 2018 09:58 EDT

President Donald Trump has crossed the line from assertiveness to outright bullying.

Donald Trump sometimes appears locked in a chess game that he believes is governed by the rules of poker. If you don’t like the hand you were dealt, you can simply fold and sacrifice your ante. In chess, you can’t make a risky move and stop the game when the adversary doesn’t respond in the way you expected.

In response to Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran deal, The Independent reports the countermove by Europe, whose own president Donald — Donald Tusk, president of the European Council — has pushed through a law to protect European companies from the effect of American sanctions. As The Independent reports, Tusk called the US president “a bad friend,” thanks to whom “we are witnessing today a new phenomenon: the capricious assertiveness of the American administration.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


A form of selfish but cosmetically disguised aggressive behavior that ranks as an essential virtue for citizens in the United States and, at best, as a somewhat forgivable tactical necessity used by salesmen in every other culture in the world

Contextual note

In US culture, assertiveness provides individuals with the key to escaping poverty and deprivation. The poor and marginal have only themselves to blame for failing to understand that assertiveness will enable them to realize the American dream.

Americans distinguish assertiveness from self-centered aggression — bullying and harassment — by assuming that its purpose is to accomplish a socially acceptable goal, affirming oneself as a leader. Nearly half the nation seems to think of Donald Trump as a successful assertive individual with the talents of a leader, whereas the other half sees him as a bully, guilty of being excessively assertive. The rest of the world appears to agree.

Al Jazeera describes the dilemma Europe faces as it attempts to save its relations with Iran, defend its multilateral diplomacy and stabilize economic relationships across the globe. It describes “some steps taken by Europe to defend the deal” but also cites the fact that some European companies — such as French oil giant Total or the Danish market leader for shipping containers, Maersk — are considering pulling out of Iran because of the threat of US sanctions. With reduced ambitions, Europeans are hoping to salvage “at least a limited degree of trade and investments with Iran.”

Historical note

The rest of the world has long understood that US culture attributes a particularly high value to assertiveness, and that this has been the key to much of its economic and political accomplishments over the past century. However, when the pressure of US assertiveness reaches the tipping point that leads to bullying, Americans and their media — who pay little attention to the what the rest of the world thinks — remain blissfully unaware of the dangerous level of irritation this may provoke even among its allies, who feel, at least for the moment, helplessly tied to the power of the US economy. For the man in the street, the “ugly American” has become, to a serious degree, uglier.

Donald Trump’s vaunted, self-proclaimed brilliant negotiating strategy rarely if ever rises above a superficial logic of rapport de force or power positioning and bluff. The US has the power to inflict damage practically anywhere in the world. President Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” has always been visible from a great distance, but Teddy made it clear that speaking softly was the key to success. The far more assertive Trump has replaced “speak softly” with “push hard” and attempts to put every other party — friend and enemy alike — off balance. But shoving and shouting leaves traces in the psyches of those who are pushed around.

Trump and the world believed for a moment that his tactics had paid a dividend with projected talks between the US and North Korea. But Kim Jong-un appears to know something about poker as well, and Trump’s bluff may soon be called as the talks will be delayed, if not cancelled.

The Al Jazeera article on the Iran sanctions cited above concludes with a quote from Tehran-based journalist Neda Monem, suggesting a shift in geopolitics that will further weaken the rapport de force of the US with the rest of the world: “I’d say there is a higher probability of Iran turning, once again, to India and China to sustain its waning economy.” Monem points out that the trend, aggravated by the presence of John Bolton as Trump’s chief adviser, is “towards maximum confrontation and maximum containment.”

This could mean that, once again, the US will choose war (with Iran) as a means, not of achieving regime change, but of imposing military confrontation as the standard for international diplomacy. It’s good for the highly socialized but privately profitable military-industrial economy, and the US can be certain of remaining number one in military capacity — at least for a decade or two — as its standing as the global model of a modern democratic society irretrievably wanes.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Michael Candelori /

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