A few weeks ago I read a blog post written by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, that prompted me to take a much closer look at Donald Trump. Scott has been blogging frequently regarding something he calls the Master Wizard Hypothesis, which is essentially the premise that Trump is far, far more than he appears, and that his success in this race shouldn’t be surprising. Seriously, whether you love Trump or hate him, those blog posts are worth reading.
After digging in to Scott’s posts, and doing a ton of research of my own, I felt like I’d seen and heard enough to buy into the theory, so I wrote a post for Entrepreneur exploring some of the psychological tactics that Trump seems to be using to get ahead.
Thanks to that post, I was invited to hop on the radio this afternoon with Dr. Drew to talk a bit more about Trump and his tactics (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view). You can listen to that conversation below, or download it here (my bit starts at 1m 55s).
After chatting with Dr. Drew and his guest Dr. Ramani Durvasula, I noodled a bit more on some of the topics covered on the call, and wanted to dive into those thoughts in more depth.
One of the things that came up on the call, and that has been discussed ad nauseam by the media, is narcissism. To be frank, I hate that word. It’s loaded with negative connotations, and it’s a big fat bucket for a wide variety of sub-factors (authority, exhibitionism, superiority, entitlement, exploitativeness, self-sufficiency, vanity). Dr. Drew actually co-authored a great research paper on the subject, which you can read here.
So, does Trump exhibit some of these narcissistic elements? Absolutely! He’s a freaking billionaire, so I’d expect him to be sky high in regards to authority, self-sufficiency, and superiority. But how much of the other elements of narcissism are just part of his act, vs. real and deeply ingrained personality traits? I doubt anyone truly knows the answer to that except for Trump…and maybe his psychiatrist, if he has one.
And quite frankly, to what degree is it a bad thing? Is there really a magical “Goldilocks Zone” for one’s opinion of one’s self? Seems like a highly subjective line to me.
Not all elements of narcissism are inherently bad; in fact, society worships a number of them. They can be very useful traits for a CEO, or a President. Of course, narcissism is often at odds with empathy, which IS a problem for someone in public office, because they need to think of and represent the needs of people. It’s very difficult to be diplomatic if you aren’t aware of, or don’t care about, the people on the other side of the table. As Stuart Diamond points out in his book Getting More, you need to be able to “expand the pie”, rather than trying to gobble up the whole pie all by yourself.
But does this apply to Trump? He doesn’t seem like he cares about just himself, though he is very clear that he cares about one group of people above all others, Americans, and he doesn’t hesitate to offend people who fall outside of that designation.
So is he narcissistic? Yes. Does it matter? Probably not as much as the media would like it to. Many of the most famous and revered people in our nation are narcissistic to one degree or another…such is life. I don’t much care what he thinks of himself, so long as he doesn’t put his personal wants and needs above those of the people once he is in office.
Moving on, another topic that was addressed, and that I wanted to dive deeper into, is the concept of manipulation (another term I really hate). Just like narcissism, it has negative connotations, but it’s a very complex thing. In the case of Trump, I think he really does believe most of what he says, and while he is absolutely using manipulative techniques, they aren’t really malicious (except where intended to undermine his opponents). I’ll give you a few examples from his recent speech in Dallas:
- He talked about not using teleprompters, about how most politicians put you to sleep with their scripted lies, etc. In one fell swoop he created some common ground with his audience, took a jab at his opponents, and simultaneously challenged his opponents to try to play at his level (un (or maybe less) scripted, while still remaining persuasive).
- He makes sure to compliment people, especially important people in the area he is visiting, and mentions which of them he knows (name drops). This is a social proof tactic, designed to provide people with a sense of trust and familiarity.
- He makes sure to use negative statements that are really, really hard to disagree with. He says what lots of people think. People want to have a voice, and for many, Trump sounds like their voice.
- Trump talked a fair bit about what he’s sacrificing to run for President, while making fun of himself in the process, being self-deprecating. With this, he is playing for reciprocity…when you do a favor for someone (like give up a shit ton of money for them), they automatically feel the need to give back to you, to balance the scales.
- He points out all the commonly accepted negative facets of politics; taking money from corrupt people, “blood money” he called it, being controlled by those who give you money, etc. Smart, because while such allegations are hard to prove, they are equally hard to disprove, and negative facts stand out in the mind FAR more than positive ones. (Negativity bias.)
There were a TON of other things, but these are just a few that stood out.
So is Trump being manipulative? Of course, as is every other politician out there. But is Trump being manipulative in a malicious way? I don’t think so.
Honestly, in many ways, I think Trump is brilliant. Hell, his slogan alone, “Make America Great Again”, is probably the best slogan since Reagan used it in 1980 🙂 Who can run against “Make America Great Again”? If you’re not for making America great, what sort of American are you?? Exactly! Which is why Trump picked it. If you’re not for that, then you must be against it…right? 😉
But, all of this said…would Trump make a great President? Yes, no, and maybe. Here’s my thinking:
1. First and foremost, you need to understand the power the President actually wields. On paper, it is impressive, but the full extent of the President’s powers are infrequently exercised by the President himself. Here’s a solid outline on Quora. Thankfully, that power is functionally spread out over a large group of people, with checks and balances in place to prevent really stupid things from occurring. Trumps’ power would be distributed, and in some ways blunted, by the network of checks and balances, and he’d have more than enough advisers on hand to balance things out.
2. A huge part of politics (whether we like it or not) is about favors. Who you know, what you can do for each other, etc. Trump gets this. Yes, he’ll bully if he can, but he’s a freaking real estate magnate…he can wheel and deal with the best of them when needed. He is well connected, and certainly has a book of favors tucked away. While not perfect, in terms of domestic policy, I think he’d be just fine.
3. Foreign Policy is a different matter entirely. Trump is not a diplomat. He’s loud, and brash, and not the sort of envoy I’d want to see representing America to a world full of people who perhaps already see America as a land of spoiled children. We’re not really, but we do act like it sometimes, and if Trump is our poster boy (large, loud, arrogant)…well, I can’t see that being good for global policy and diplomacy.
4. While not really for or against, I think it’s worth pointing out that a huge chunk of every President’s tenure (especially in the first term) is composed of the national equivalent of “tech debt”, or an inherited mess from his predecessors. Beyond that, we really can’t predict the future worth a damn, so who knows what the world will look like, or what sorts of things might happen, during his tenure? We have a tendency to praise or blame Presidents for things that they really had nothing to do with, and in some cases that were entirely outside their power to influence even had they wanted to. This is hindsight bias at its worst. Only our future history could truly tell you what Trump’s presidency will look like.
There’s probably more I could poke at, but I think I’ll call it good here.
To be honest, I don’t truly trust any of our Presidential candidates.