The Trump administration is governing with a tactic often used by authoritarian regimes and now employed in new and extreme forms with the help of social media—the tactic of chaos. Banning travelers from seven (later six) Muslim majority countries, accusing the Obama administration of wiretapping Trump Tower during the election, denying reports of Russian contacts, building a wall, rounding up “illegal” immigrants, collecting the names of staff known to champion environmentalism and gender equality in the Department of Energy and the Department of State—these and many other stories, statements, and tweets are frequently reported in the media as examples of the “ineptness” of the Trump administration. There is another way to think about what we are witnessing: chaos as a mechanism of governance.

The use of chaos is not always accidental but can be a means of rule...

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