In a recent article in Newsweek, Bill Powell writes that Donald Trump met with Rick Santorum before the presidential campaign season began. They discussed Santorum’s book, in which Rick outlined a Republican strategy for winning the White House. The strategy was to appeal to working class Whites in the industrial Midwest that Democrats were taking for granted. Trump apparently asked many good questions about Santorum’s book, trade, and economic policy. From this evidence alone, we may conclude that Trump is a master strategist, saying and doing what appealed to his target audience during the campaign. But we also know that even if he had a well-conceived plan to win from the very beginning, he made quite a few gaffes. Attacking a Gold Star family, for example, did not help him in any way with White voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, or most anywhere else for that matter. So, is he a master strategist or grand bungler?
In public, he has said many deplorable things (the list is too long to recount) but people report that in private, he is gracious. Which is he, xenophobic racist or personable celebrity?
As a deal maker, he has certainly made a lot of money, but he has declared bankruptcy six times. Savvy business person or incompetent boob?
As a leader, he has run a global business and built many hotels. He also selected people to serve on his campaign who fought constantly, and he had to fire many of them due to their foibles. Powerful leader or inept organizer?
As a politician, give him credit. He was victorious as a long shot. He knew how to manage the media. He got free airtime every week. Rival politicians had to play his game. But, on the other hand, he tweeted many things that were petty and off message. Brilliant political tactician or lucky media sensation?
Some people are hoping that the public Trump was just a character he created to get elected. They hope that he doesn’t really believe much of what he said. He’ll calm down once he becomes president, some think. Trump, they believe will be a moderate to conservative pro-business politician in the mold of Ronald Reagan. We can survive that, they conclude, since the country did it once before. There is a sliver of hope that this is true, but Trump’s cabinet nominations suggest that the sliver is thin indeed. What’s more likely?
The starting and ending point for understanding Donald Trump is his ego. He is not prejudiced in the conventional sense. He simply dislikes anyone or any group that he perceives does not acknowledge his greatness. Trump likes anyone who recognizes how brilliant he is. He also likes redeeming fallen angels who see the error in their ways and now show fealty to the great and powerful Oz-Trump. He attacks anyone who slights him and doesn’t care much about other people’s beliefs or ambitions as long as they are loyal to him alone. He’ll say anything if it helps him to achieve his goals or boosts his ego. Ethics do not matter. Neither do the facts.
What happens next? Trump won’t become the calm president whose behavior changes because of the enormous responsibility he now bears. The future is best predicted by the past. You don’t think he learned how to insult people after he began his run for president, do you? He’s been like this for years. In a weird way, he showed a talent for demeaning others while campaigning. This talent was undoubtedly honed when he talked behind closed doors about his business competition or when he was in the “locker room” insulting others for a laugh from his sycophants. Trump thrives in an environment where conflict exists as long as he is in control. It gives him the opportunity to show how much better he is than everyone else.
A good leader listens carefully to people. The leader gathers together talented, wise people to accomplish worthwhile goals. The leader creates a structure with clear lines of authority and provides channels for everyone to provide input. A good leader is fair. Accomplishing agreed upon goals is the focus of all the members of the team. Trump, however, has not shown himself to be this kind of leader. He likes his underlings to fight it out. This gives him greater authority since everyone has to appeal to him for decisions. He plays people off one another when he has the say so. He likes people one moment and dislikes them the next. The arbitrariness of it all is how he maintains his authority (it is not expertise, good judgement, negotiating skills, mentoring skills, or relationship development skills).
When his ego is challenged, he can’t help himself. He has to fight back. He desperately needs people’s attention and admiration. Accumulating wealth has been a substitute means of measuring his worth; he needed to be a celebrity to feel loved. Even at seventy, he is looking for approval. Like all bullies, he lashes out at others because he is not confident in his own sense of worth.
I was running yesterday on a cart path in Peachtree City. A cart going the other direction passed me by and a teenage male, after the cart had passed, shouted something like “What was that?” A few months ago while walking in my neighborhood wearing some new bargain priced hence oddly colored running shoes, a male teenage driver of a late-model car shouted “faggot” as he sped past. These were rich kids, undoubtedly showing off to their friends, trying to build their own egos by bringing down others. They are much like Donald Trump, a man who never had to grow up. Money can suppress maturity. He has been riding all these years while others walked. He is saying to those he passes, look at me. I have all this stuff. I am better than you. But he is really saying, “Please, love me. I feel nothing inside. I’m empty.”
As president, Donald will continue to need to be the focus of everyone’s attention. He won’t develop a broad plan or even a routine. He won’t want to run day-to-day operations (too important for that). But, he will want to maintain control. He needs approval. But he won’t only get love from the Congress and the America people, and he will not be powerful enough, even as president, to attack everyone who throws mud on his ego’s car. The best time of his life was standing in front of roaring crowds. Being president will be the worst. He will feel the strain from hate and opposition. He may come unhinged. The Republican party, which was unified only by its opposition to Obama and Clinton, will feel the strain as well. The seams will split as the fabric of the government is pulled in many different directions. What will happen to the Republicans is anyone’s guess. The Democrats will become more unified. We know pretty much what a Clinton administration would have looked like, but we will all find out, unfortunately, what a Trump presidency looks like…every single week.