You see the title “Trump and Othello” and you immediately think, Ah yes, an analogy to the self-serving antagonist Iago, from Shakespeare’s “Othello,” who makes speeches appealing to racism and sexism as scapegoats for his insecurities. Iago, who surrounds himself with dupes who praise him for being “profane” because he “speaks his mind.”
And you’re thinking, Yes, Iago, who is obsessed with, and plots the downfall of Othello, the lofty, aloof, dark-skinned protagonist who is suspected of being a closet Muslim born in Africa. That’s obviously where Ted is going with this.
Well, congratulations: You’re an English major. But that’s not where I’m going with this.
My obsession with Othello
I got pretty good too. I developed a few reliable strategies, and I could win most of the time without trying too hard. I thought I was hot shit (as they say) and wanted more validation.
So I bought an Othello app for my tablet so I could play even when I’m offline. I bought a version that supposedly uses an Artificial Intelligence (AI) engine.
For my first game against this app, I was feeling cocky. I set it at the most difficult level: 10.
And I won.
In subsequent games, the moves the AI made seemed freakishly smart. My strategies and instincts failed me.
I could not win again at this level. There would be games where I had a substantial numeric advantage which would be suddenly and dramatically overturned in the final two or three moves. There would be times when the game seemed to bait me to seize my favorite strategic squares—bait I would always take—only to learn that the game had set me up to be steamrolled.
But I persisted in playing by my instincts—even after it became clear that what I needed at this level was a change in strategy, and probably better smarts.
Now maybe you see where I’m going with this:
I play Othello the way Trump would play Othello
Rather: I play Othello the way Trump plays the presidency; instinctively, poorly, impulsively. I play while I’m distracted by the news, failing to think deeply about the consequences of each move, with my smartphone in my hand, and often on the toilet.
I ascended to level-10 Artificial-Intelligence Othello the same way Trump ascended to the presidency; with hubris, luck, and bolstered by dozens of non-American computer coders.
Once I started losing so relentlessly, I missed winning. I missed believing that I was super smart; a natural.
I imagine that after being on the buying side of influence peddling for so long (“When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do“), he thought he could make the jump to the selling side of pay-to-play politics. And he thought that he’d be great at it.
A minute to learn, but a lifetime to master™️
But Trump sucks at it. He sucks at concealing it, I should say.
Playing any strategy game against a computer at the highest level is subjecting yourself to the full power of the game’s algorithm.
Likewise: Playing at any level less than the most difficult is asking the game’s algorithm to make stupid mistakes in your favor—on purpose (a.k.a. rigging the game). The lower the level, the more flawed you are asking the game to play.
I experimented with different levels until I found a rigged game that I liked (level 8). At this level I still lose more often than I win, but at least I have a chance of winning without straining my brain much.
Trump wants to play President at a level less than 10. He doesn’t want to contend with the full power of the algorithm: oversight, checks on Executive power, and the spotlight of a free press. He doesn’t want investigations into the aforementioned garden-variety rich-man crime that escaped scrutiny back when he was merely a garden-variety rich man.
He can’t just change the game settings (the way I did), instead he tries to change the game in his favor by obstructing justice, lying incessantly, and rage tweeting about “fake news,” “losers,” conspiracies against him, and obsessing still, after all this time, about Othello, er, Obama.
Image Credit: ItsLassieTime (PD-US)