To Understand Trump, We Must Understand Ourselves

I’ve seen it all before. Really, I have.

It’s about Donald Trump and the type of person he represents, which I’ll call Personality D.

I know firsthand because, if you believe in personality archetypes, I’ve worked alongside someone who, eerily, is exactly like Trump and the first days of the new president’s administration brings me right back to those tumultuous times.

Not dissimilar to how the world is reacting to Trump, I, too, reacted the same way until I figured out that reactionary responses are futile and just playing into his game. Interestingly, Personality D’s unpredictability is not deliberate but, rather, it’s symptomatic and tends to be effective against others not by design but by default. Basically, Personality D sees the world entirely differently. But he doesn’t choose this, it chooses him.

Probably the most important lesson to impart to you is that trying to understand Personality D, and his view of the world, is more about understanding ourselves. Encountering a personality like Trump’s is highly unusual. People like him can’t rationally exist, we tell ourselves. He possesses a multitude of confounding characteristics that defy his office and position in life. But, with his combination of skills and deficiencies, he did win the presidency, didn’t he? Yet we remain incredulous and struggle to come to terms with how this happened.

The desire to make sense of unpredictability and randomness is natural. We seek to understand and when we cannot, we fret and obsess. We speak with others to try and make sense of what is so nonsensical hoping that others have an answer we haven’t thought of. We obsess some more and obsessively check the news more often than normal to see if answers arrive.

If you don’t understand someone, you don’t know what you’re saying no to.

It’s no wonder that news sites such as New York Times and Washington Post have reported significant increases in subscribers.

In addition to supporting media that we believe are truthful, the number of times we visit those sites and exhaust our ‘free articles’ quota obligates us to become paid subscribers. (Supporting responsible media is good though!)

So what’s happening to us? Donald Trump has made gamblers out of us, but instead of casting the dice at the roulette table we seek salvation by dialing into our news feeds. The bad news becomes our losing streak and, on occasion, when a sliver lining appears (such as the striking down of the Muslim travel ban) we have a small win.

This win, however, is ascribed disproportionately more significance than it deserves, like a gambler who has a small win — which doesn’t wipe out previous losses — it’s encouraging enough to continue gambling since the big one must just be around the corner. Such is our obsession with Trump. Through the media, we’ve become addicts watching and waiting for the information jackpot that satisfies our sense of how the world should be.

The inscrutable nature of my experience with Personality D defied logic and rational expectations. Because he made no sense, no one understood how to deal with him giving him a pass in business and life that provided success on many levels. If you don’t understand someone, you don’t know what you’re saying no to.

Lies? Yes, there were many. Ethics? They were there for optics but thrown out when they got in the way of personal gain. One key fundamental of Personality D: Everything is a sale, everything is a negotiation to pursue a personal agenda. This is a key insight to understanding this rare personality. As a result, lies are not lies but key selling points to persuade the uninitiated.

The second insight: Don’t get emotional. Personality D generally operates with his lizard brain — the primitive part of the brain that deals with raw emotions such as fear and aggression (remind you of Trump supporters?). Our limbic brain, or intellectual side, where modern people spend most of their time, doesn’t know how to deal with this reducing it with the notion that it’s beneath us.

But time and time again, this lowest common denominator is where the conversation gravitates because it’s the only area of mutual understanding. By being drawn into this realm we lose objectivity because emotion is bereft of it. Yet this is the genius of Personality D — he’s become so good at managing his lizard brain that he’s mastered the ability to use it to control situations and for personal gain. By confounding our rational brain with an emotional appeal, it’s typically the emotive signals that override our ability to think. Shopping works the same way.

So what’s next? The bad news is it will continue to be a rollercoaster eventually ending only having run its course. Personality D generally has disdain for authority and can only stopped only by those he perceives as equally or stronger than him, or from whom he wants to extract a benefit. As president of the United States, no one challenges Trump (except maybe Putin) so there’s no deus ex machina waiting in the wings. While Personality D is like Teflon — nothing sticks to him– here are the possible scenarios:

  • Physical: He’s physically unable to continue whether through illness or some other physical ailment
  • Financial: He bankrupts the enterprise which in the case of Trump is the economy of the United States
  • Regulatory: He breaks the law and is caught.

None of the above situations are ideal, but I’m betting the regulatory and legal challenges will catch up with Trump, and not because he set out to break the law but rather because he thinks he’s above the law. I’ve studied Personality D for a long time and there’s still much to reveal but for sure, it’s a fascinating examination that I’m seeing repeated if only on a much larger scale. Now, back to those news feeds.

(View published article on the Huffington Post here.)

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