No, I have not gone off my rockers, but notwithstanding everything that is wrong about him, we do have three very important points to thank Donald Trump for.
1. Firstly, we must thank him for standing up to be counted. I don’t think he ever dreamed about running for president of the country, even right up to 2005 when he had other things he wanted to grope. Just tracing his comments from the 2008 elections, he was determined to make his choice count and had quite happily supported a number of candidates before throwing in his lot out of frustration.
Then when he was in the rink, he did not expect to get so far. I think he would have been quite happy if he had just silenced a few of those he disliked in his own party and made his point. But he surprised even himself when he made it round after round and into the finals.
The lesson here is for the many talented men and women amongst us who are too comfortable in our own careers, families and lives to stand up to be counted. Yes, the price of scrutiny is excruciating and it takes either a fool or a person of considerable substance to take that strain. To do what one thinks is right is a thankless job and Trump was told that every step of the way.
The fact that a country with incredible talent could only throw up the two most deplorable candidates it has says something about the process itself, but also of the really talented ones who chose to stand on the sideline where the money is better and the life easier.
2. As Donald Trump kept winning each primary, he was riding a new wave, and we should be paying deep attention to what this new wave is made of. No, America is not going backwards. It is moving forward into the networked world where the degree of individualisation in society is at the highest, where truth is at its most relative and where the people want to see something about themselves on the stage.
It is a world that is making many in the “thinking middle class” squeamish because it appears to stand against everything that we thought had been institutionalised today.
The Americans were not the first to discover this. The Filipinos already have Rodrigo Dutertea, a foul-mouth president loved by the masses, who won fair and square. The Austrians have all but confirmed Norbert Hofer, a politician with similar sounding calls such as “Austria First” and no trade pacts.
Clearly many societies are moving in the same direction, intoxicated by the same cocktail of economic malaise, technological advances, changing demographics, trade, nationalism and personal identity. Similar leaders exist in France and other non-English speaking countries, and we are surprised only when the phenomenon reaches America.
3. There are a number of important trends in leadership that I detect from all this that they probably will not be teaching you at Harvard Business School yet:
i. People desire greater simplicity – I saw this in the debate between George W Bush and John Kerry in the 2004 re-elections. Both were asked what they thought about abortion. John Kerry said something to the effect that “I am a catholic, but….” and then started waffling how he understood why abortion was a choice made by some people and so on. Bush on the other hand said a simple “no, I am against it.”
A liberal would have appreciated Kerry’s reply, but people in general demonstrated that they wanted leaders who spoke straight and to hell if you disagree with me. They will figure out for themselves if they want to like you, but you have to be clear yourself what you’re about.
Now, to be sure, Trump brought simplicity to the level of nonsense, but that is actually what nearly 40 percent of voters in the US want to see. They want someone who carries their own simplicity on the global stage. “I don’t like people who are different from me.” They can handle that.
Now, what is going to happen after this is yet to be seen, but here is where we are in virgin territory at the moment. The entrenched media and politicians are determined to take us back to the world they are familiar with. The mavericks are making this up as they go. It is not promising, but it’s going to be a painful journey before we get to the next phase. Whatever it is, there’s nothing worth going back to.
ii. Leaders must increasingly be able to pull together and manage or at least appeal to diversity. Elections and choices are becoming increasingly fragmented. Even in America.
The fact that supporters of Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz are still smarting publicly from their defeats is an indication that the US elections would look very fragmented if it was not a first-past-the-post system.
In Austria, it is still difficult to get consensus after one year of voting. In the UK, the old divide between Labour and Conservatives has now a spectrum of other valid choices in between them.
Part of the reason for militant diversity comes from the fact that the networked world enables more micro-communities to exist in a commercially viable manner. So, if in the past, I was a motorcycle loving, hippie, Republican, living in Seattle, today, I would have enough people like me to make a difference if we wanted to even if Seattle was mainstream, gentrified Democrat.
An effective leader today tends to be one who finds the lowest common denominator, but the lowest common denominator is getting lower and lower because of the level of fragmentation possible today.
iii. In an age where truth is becoming increasingly relative, we are firmly heading into era of the narcissist leader. We are not there yet. Trump is nowhere narcissist enough. He is a crude prototype of the one to come. First there was Sarah Palin, then Trump and we were hoping that the trend would go away.
The real narcissist will be an act to follow, and we don’t know what he will look like yet, but in all likelihood we will like him very much. The narcissist leader is someone who turns the weakness of a society on itself to achieve his own goals.
All politicians are narcissist in this definition, and we have seen some of this in totalitarian states in the past. But in a democratic state, the people willfully submit to such a leader to give their own lives a sorely needed reference point.
Also we now live in a world where all of us are becoming little narcissists, living several realities at the same time because of travel, the mobile phone and TV-on-demand, that truth is whatever we want it to mean. The mainstream media works very hard to tell us that this is not the case, while someone like Donald Trump is so seductive even before he opens his mouth.
There is a momentum in the way that society decides on its leaders that does not even come from anything an aspiring leader says or does, but by what society imagines for itself. We saw this in the election of Barack #Obama, the unknown senator who was elected because he stood for change for change’s sake. Society is on a march, election after election the trend is building on itself, and the doors are wide open here and we just refuse to believe it.
For the moment, we can just be grateful that Donald Trump would be the kind of leader who will make enough bungling mistakes to be thrown out of office sooner than he can sing the Star Spangled Banner. But mass civilisation has tasted blood, and is now preparing for the main act. We can only pray that enough men and women of moral fibre and who know how to play this game will offer themselves to public service who will save us from ourselves and define history for the benefit of good.
There is a message in this election for all of us who are being educated in best Ivy league schools and mainstream institutions on leadership. Roll up your sleeves, open your eyes and throw out all the nonsense you thought you have learnt about leadership from the fake professors protecting their gentrified incomes.
The pathetic defeat of Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush against the foul mouthed Trump was theater enough for all to see that carrying values and beliefs into the 21st century is now a blood sport. All that society is asking now from any leader is to “be real”, and the stage is now set for leaders who understand this.