Black Swan Watch: US Election Edition

A black swan, as defined by Nicolas Taleb, is “an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.” These events, like their namesake, which changed the first European settlers’ belief that all swans are white, rapidly change perceptions as to what is possible.

Jack Shafer (Politico Magazine) and Nate Silver ( have both identified a very real example of a black swan event happening in US politics right now, with the rise and ongoing political success of Donald Trump.  Of his candidacy, Shafer says the following: “Trump has never held public office, after all, never run a campaign. He isn't a war hero like Eisenhower. He is on his third marriage. His business reputation has—let's put it daintily—been challenged in many corners. Braggart, insult artist and vulgarian, Trump by all measures would seem a sloppy, underqualified candidate.”

Shafer and Silver both go on to describe the shock that the success of the candidacy has been to the Republican political party establishment, with the usual assumptions regarding electoral behaviour all proving to be wrong at this time.

Silver argues that this may represent a significant political realignment in the US. He observes that realignments have historically happened periodically, with significant consequences for entrenched political systems each time. The consequences of a Trump election, he argues, would “imply that the Republican Party has been weakened and is perhaps even on the brink of failure, unable to coordinate on a plan to stop Trump despite the existential threat he poses to it.”

From a distance it will be interesting to observe the ongoing fallout of Trump as a significant political discontinuity in the US.  The fragility of seemingly all powerful, entrenched systems is being tested—with no one really knowing the outcome.

Big Hairy Prediction:  Nope, not touching this one. No idea!