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Opinion Article:

Is Trump a ‘natural born’ mediator?


Let me first of all make one thing quite clear: I am neither an apologist nor a champion of Donald Trump. As a person and leader, he is a moral eunuch, with contemptible values, living in an ethical vacuum. There is little doubt that he will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history.


The Wider Picture


However, I wish to focus upon a wider picture:  at a person who is taking a wholly fresh initiative in international relations; who is building relationships with his adversaries.  This is a critical feature in any oriental-based negotiations, particularly with the Chinese, where the critical element permeating throughout Chinese society is guanxi – the concept of building personal relationships with those whom they expect (and who expect in return) special services or assistances. He is one who is prepared to attempt an outgoing approach to his enemies rather than continue ancient hostility and enduring antagonism; who is opening up lines of communication to ease tensions; and who is attempting to prove that the policy of diplomatic confrontation over the past 70 or years, has failed and demands urgent wholesale review.  His motives and agenda may be entirely self-serving, and his words and actions empty and disingenuous, aimed purely at his domestic supporters.  Indeed, it is unlikely that he has any defined strategy.


Tangible Results


Many are clamouring for ‘tangible results’, whilst pointing to the absence of any concrete outcomes as proof of failure. It may be too early to expect results in the form of visible reciprocation: this may be a lengthy process, and a suspension of judgment may be necessary and appropriate. We have long been prepared to suspend condemnation by separating people from their work:  for example, Wagner, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Mel Gibson, even Charles Dickens and Churchill were all known, alleged or admitted to be racist or anti-Semitic, yet we continue to admire their work.


The Evidence,


So, in answering the initial question: is Trump a ‘natural born’ mediator? I propose to briefly analyse two pieces of ‘evidence’: 1) Trump’s invitation to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a bilateral talk; and 2) Trump’s press conference with Juncker.



1. Trump’s invitation to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for talks.


It is necessary to bear in mind the context in which this invitation was made. Rouhani is Trump’s arch enemy – a state leader who has threatened to annihilate Trump and his entire country. The invitation was also accepted by Rouhani following a highly vitriolic exchange of explosive tweets, where Trump promised to make Iran suffer “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before”, and Rouhani threatened a "mother of all wars" to annihilate the US.  Yet there were NO PRECONDITIONS laid down. ! This is virtually unheard of in the world of mediation/negotiation. Mediators and negotiators spend much of their time persuading reluctant and highly suspicious parties to come to the negotiating table talk to each other - and to talk without first setting out an entire raft of almost impossible preconditions.  For example: “We will only come to the table if they drop their demand for (A, B, or C, etc).” – or “Are they going to apologise?  Without the promise of an apology, there is little point in mediating.”  These preconditions invariably involve a complete capitulation on the part of one or other of the parties, making it impossible to have a realistic dialogue.


Mediation Qualities


Few parties would contemplate, let alone agree to, entering into talks under such circumstances; for Trump to do so, I suggest, displays a number of remarkably worthy mediation/negotiation qualities:

  • a willingness to put aside past insults and swallow pride in order to facilitate a meaningful dialogue
  • an openness towards moving forward without dwelling on the past
  • a preparedness to be flexible
  • and a readiness to deal with preconditions at the mediation table rather making negative stipulations before coming to it.



2.  Trump’s Press Conference with Juncker.


The content and wording used in the press conference at the White House by both Donald Trump and Juncker are worthy of closer analysis.  It is valuable to listen to the entire press conference. Click on the link below.



















It may well have been a great deal of hot air on the part of both parties and aimed purely at their respective domestic audiences. Nevertheless, analysing some of the words used is encouraging.


The Words


Trump identified reciprocity as a favourite concept of his. It is a fundamental and vital tool to have in any negotiator’s tool box: it encourages ‘give and take’, whilst stimulating an incentive for mutual obligations. It stems from ancestral times when communities relied on each other for their survival. Without reciprocity they would almost inevitably have been driven to violent conflict. Furthermore, reciprocity is closely aligned to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Ubuntu concept of humanity :  “belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity"

To a TFUK mediator, the entire press conference was heart-warming model of a collaborative approach to mediation.  There were over 10 mentions of future ‘working together’, or ‘working jointly’, ‘with joint agendas’, ‘breaking down barriers and obstacles’.  Any mediator hearing such language during or at the end of a mediation could be forgiven for believing he or she had facilitated a successful process.  It would be naïve to believe that such sentiments were entirely without a hidden agenda, or not in any way contrived for a purpose. Nevertheless, both parties repeatedly committed themselves to working together jointly and to set up lines of communication to continue a dialogue. That cannot be a bad thing or overly criticised. Again, we must suspend judgment and see the effect of such initiatives in the coming months – or years.




There is new man on the block, with a revolutionary approach closely correlated to the principles as taught to mediators – especially at the Mediation Skills Courses at the Regents School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, at Regents University London, in Regents Park.  The approach is also closely allied to the spirit of Ubuntu, as espoused by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We are living in a brave new world.  Is it time to the temper our cynicism with a tinge of (healthy) scepticism?  Replace negative despair with more positive hope?  In the anniversary year of Nelson Mandela’s death, it would be rewarding to think that we have learnt from Mandela and Archbishop Tutu something of the art of peace-building.


Paul Randolph


Paul can be reached at





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