Category Archives: Politics

Diehard Trumpites Have “Special Needs”

 

At a campaign rally in January, 2016, in reference to the blind loyalty of his followers, Trump said, “I could go out on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and I would not lose any votes.” The media (even Fox News) scoffed at his exaggeration, but it turns out that Trump was not that far off. After a tempestuous campaign, an erratic transition period and two months of an administration that could best be compared to bareback bull riding, Trump followers are, if anything, even more hypnotic in their support for him. Even when Trump makes things up from the vapors of his own peripatetic mind, his followers accept them as gospel.

Before we go further, let me acknowledge that I voted for Trump. I did so out of the belief that the establishment status quo was in need of some uncomfortable disruption and Trump was the only “disrupter” in the field of candidates. What I did not vote for was what Trump’s alter ego, Steve Bannon, described as the “deconstruction” of the pillars and institutions of the American government. You make a sick patient better by curing him, not killing him.

Even the most casual observer can see that the early days of the Trump administration have been a full-frontal assault on the fundamental institutions of government – the judicial, legislative and executive branches. At the same time, there has been a concerted effort to consolidate the levers and power of government within the walls of the White House (via Executive Order); much like role model Putin has done in the Kremlin. This attitude was vividly postulated by the wannabe Nazi Youth Leader Steve Miller, the White House advisor and Bannon buddy, who said in a television interview, “that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

And now of course, there is the broken promise to “replace and repeal” Obamacare. After seven years of repeated blood-promises by Republican Congressional leaders and multiple campaign pledges by Trump that if elected, Obamacare would be immediately “repealed and replaced,” that has not happened. After a cartoonish effort failed to fulfill the promise, we are now told, “Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.” A lot of excuses have been offered up to explain the failure of the Republican AHC plan, but the bottom line is that this is a failure of leadership and inability to “make a deal.” Leadership and deal making starts at the top.

Then there is the blinding sandstorm of the “Trump-Russian affair.” There may be nothing to the suspected improper contacts – and maybe even collusion – between the Trump campaign and elements of the Russian government, but the circumstantial evidence that has emerged, combined with Watergate-like actions to obfuscate this activity, raises high suspicion. When was the last time so many American officials had so many behind the scenes contact with so many Russian officials?

Under normal circumstances this type of stumbling, bumbling, incoherent start to leadership, would spell doom for any leader at any level, let alone one who is president of the United States, but these are not normal times. The reality is that while Trump’s already low approval rating has declined further, his popularity among the vast majority of those who voted for him is even higher. Indeed, Trump backers want to believe that all of these issues are nothing but a wide conspiracy launched by those in the “deep government” that is intended to besmirch Trump and his agenda.

So what is it that blinds Trump’s die-hard followers to any of his foibles, fabrications and failures? The reality is that Trump followers have “special needs” and he is the only one who has promised to respond to them.

The Lost Generation

The core backers of Trump are part of what could be called the “lost generation.” For virtually their entire lives they have experienced a steady erosion of what has been generically referred to as the “American Dream.” The ideal of the American Dream was that everyone had an equal opportunity to achieve success and financial security through hard work, determination and individual initiative.

From the perspective of the Trump voter they have seen and felt the impact of the American Dream being dismantled step by step. They have seen “globalization” siphon jobs overseas; jobs being lost to immigrants (legal and illegal), their own wages have stagnated or even declined. They have witnessed vast amounts of wealth concentrated in the hands of the few and have suffered from the destruction of the great American middle-class. Not only has the core Trump supporter felt the loss of opportunity, but, even more important, they feel powerless and voiceless against a government that seems designed to work against them and the elite wealthy who do not care about them. Is it any wonder they are frustrated and distrustful of the establishment?

Then along comes Trump      

Give Donald Trump credit. Of the 20-plus individuals who ran for president in 2016, Trump was the only one to recognize, understand, enumerate and connect with the frustration, pain and special needs of millions of Americans. He not only promised to give these individuals a voice, but that he would, “Make America Great Again.” That was a “code phrase” signaling that he would take the country back to the way things were when the American Dream was alive and well. It was, for these people, an irresistible clarion call.  

This was like someone who had never been loved, being told that someone loved them. When someone is starved for love and believes they have found it, little else matters. The one being offered love is willing to blindly ignore any flaws, foibles, fabrications or even the insincerity of the one offering love. This is the case with the die-hard Trump supports.

Unapologetic Trump supporters do not care if he is impulsive, off-the-cuff, an admitted misogynist or one who plays fast and loose with facts and the truth. Trump’s core supporters couldn’t care less if Russia attempted to influence the election or if members of his staff (most likely with his knowledge) colluded with the Russians to fix the election. Even when Trump blames the Democrats for blocking the repeal of Obamacare – even though they had no power to do so – his followers believe him. The bottom line is that Trump has promised those who are frustrated and disenfranchised from the establishment that he will make right the wrongs they have suffered; and that is all they care about. And you really can’t blame them.

If Love is Lost

This is all well and good. It is easy to empathize with those who have been left behind by a rapidly changing economy and world order. One can understand why they would gravitate to the promises of Trump. But what if he ultimately fails to deliver? In the end, even more serious problems and frustrations could arise if, for whatever reason, Trump is unable to deliver on the promises he has made to “Make America Great Again.”

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Trump’s Actions Show that Change is Messy

 

The election of 2016 was billed as a “change election.” It is clear now that a large portion of the electorate had reached such a level of frustration and feeling of disconnect with the status quo that they were willing to vote for change – any change. Even though they came from different sides of the political spectrum, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the only presidential candidates to recognize and tap into this powerful undercurrent of the desire for change.

Unfortunately for Sanders, his message of change was blunted by the Democratic National Committee that had effectively rigged the party nomination in favor of an establishment status quo candidate. On the other hand, Trump benefited from the fact that, while the Republican National Committee favored establishment candidates, a gaggle of 15 other candidates diffused the establishment support. This allowed disaffected Republican voters to coalesce around Trump’s message of change. Even though Trump never received a majority of Republican primary votes, the concentration of voters driven by the desire for change pushed him to the nomination.

The same phenomenon (plus a little help from Russia) also impacted the general election. Even though Trump and his message of change failed to garner a majority of the popular vote, he was able to cobble together enough disaffected voters to flip a number of traditionally establishment Democratic states in order to win the majority of Electoral College votes (the votes that really count) and win the presidency. Much to the chagrin of the bulwarks of the government establishment status quo – the mainstream Democratic and Republican parties and the national media.

Learning the Lessons of Change Management

As president, Trump is now challenged to live up to his promise to be a change agent. He is quickly learning the lesson that any person in a position of leadership who seeks to bring about change must understand: Change is not something that is simply announced, it has to be created.

Change has two natural enemies: Those who resist change and those are frustrated by the status quo, but fear what change will bring. Those who are comfortable with the way things are and view change as a threat to be resisted. For them, change is the answer to a question they never asked. Ironically, those who most vociferously call for real change can become fearful of change when the answer to what change means is not clearly answered. As a result, change, no matter how beneficial it may ultimately be, is always difficult to implement and accept. And change becomes downright messy and chaotic when what is to replace the status quo is muddled or nonexistent.

Real change is about being positive, not negative …

For a leader to be a successful change agent, it is critical for them to shift the focus off the desire for change itself and focus on the benefits that will be derived from change. In other words, for followers to accept change, the debate should not center on what they are losing, but on what they can gain from the change. If that does not happen, change will be stillborn.

A good example of this change dynamic at work is the current debate over Obamacare. From its inception, the majority of Americans have had a negative opinion of the program. The Republicans seized on the unpopularity of Obamacare to promise that if given the power to act, they would “repeal and replace” it. Likewise, during the campaign Trump railed against Obamacare and promised that his first act as president (right after tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement) would be to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But now with the Republicans in full control of the government, the effort to deliver on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare has become, at best, messy and chaotic. Even the Republicans are fighting among themselves as to how to implement this change. There is no clear, coordinated plan being offered by Trump or the Republicans; despite the fact that they have had years to develop one.

As a result of this befuddling Republican approach to change, even those who disapprove of Obamacare have begun to have second thoughts. For the first time in years, public opinion polls have shifted and more people approve of Obamacare, than oppose it.  

Why is it that even those who were demanding change (and voted for it) are now uneasy with change? The problem is – and this is a great lesson for any leader to learn – that by simply announcing the intent to repeal Obamacare and not coupling it with a clear plan for going forward, Trump and the Republican leaders have allowed people to focus on what they will be losing (as bad as it may be) rather than on what they will gain by a new approach to healthcare. 

What Trump and the Republican leaders are missing in their effort to implement the promised change (not only for Obamacare, but other issues as well) is the understanding that while people may be frustrated with the status quo and claim to want change, they are even more fearful of an uncertain future. As a result, there is nothing but confusion, frustration and fear of what the change will bring.

Again, the key to effective change management is for the leader to focus on where they are going, rather than where they have been. No matter how much people may protest against the status quo, unless they clearly understand the benefits of the proposed change, they will resist the change.

For example, Trump and the Republican leaders could have said something like, “We are going to repeal Obama care and replace it with an expanded Medicare system that would be available and cover all Americans.” By offering an alternative to the status quo, rather than simply attacking it, leaders can marshal support needed to make change positive.

Living with change …

There is a good lesson here for anyone who seeks to implement change in an organization. No matter how passionate people may be about seeking change and especially for those who do not recognize the need for change, the best approach for gaining acceptance of change is to debate the future, not the past. It is the duty of the leader to paint that future and explain the benefits to those who will live it. Only that way will real change come about.

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Trump Tries to Triumph in the Tumult of a Vuja De World

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

 

Soon, Trump will formally inherit the titles of the office of the president such as “leader of the free world,” “the most powerful man in the world,” and “commander in chief.” But there is one title he will bring to the office with him. It is a title no occupant of the White House has been entitled to for over a century; and that is the moniker of “disrupter in chief.” Not since Teddy Roosevelt was elevated to the office of president by the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 has an individual assumed the presidency more determined to disrupt the status quo as is Trump.

It is apparent that no longer will there be a feeling of “Déjà vu” as Trump settles into the routine of being president. Instead, Trump will bring to reality the concept of “Vuja de” coined by the late comedian and insightful urban philosopher George Carlin.

We are all familiar with the term Déjà vu which literally means “already seen” or the general vernacular of “been there, done that.” On the other hand, as Carlin explained it, Vuja de is the uneasy feeling people have when the status quo is being disrupted and they are in a place they have never been before; not knowing how the rules will change. That uncertainly is the uneasy feeling now being experienced by the political establishment, the mainstream media and a majority of American voters as the era of Trump begins.

Trump is not the first disrupter. Just the first disrupter to lead government

Disrupters in business – those who change the way the game is played – are, when successful, legendary and revered as visionaries. Some of these historical business disrupters would include Henry Ford, Bill Gates at Microsoft, Steve Jobs at Apple, Phil Knight at Nike, Fred Smith of FedEx and Richard Branson of Virgin Group. All of these individuals thrived in the world of Vuja de by being comfortable doing what others had not already seen to do.   

While naturally resistant and comfortable with the status quo, the business world has been susceptible to a Vuja de approach because of the power vested in the leader. But government has never been exposed to a true Vuja de type leader, because by its very structure – the constitution – our government is based on the concept of defused power that is intended to assure the consistent continuity of the status quo. Power is passed from one president to another, while the Republican and Democratic Parties rotate supremacy within the confines of government, the slow flow of the status quo remains. The players may change, but the way the game is played does not change; the rules remain constant. At least they have up to this point.

The intriguing aspect of a Trump presidency is that he will be the first person to bring a Vuja de business leadership style to the highest level of the government. It is an axiom that successful business leaders seek to do what has not been done to create the future, while the establishment that populates the government seek the repetition of what has been done to preserve the past. For many (in both business and government) the feeling of Vuja de is intimidating, while for others it is exhilarating. It will be beyond interesting to see how this conflict between Déjà vu and Vuja de will play out in government over the next four years.

It could well be that this conflict of diametrically opposed approaches to governing will create even more polarization and dysfunction in government. On the other hand, it may open our eyes to the idea that government, just as in business, can function more effectively if it is not shackled to the practice of doing the same thing, the same way it has always been done, because that’s the way it has always been.

A peek at a Vuja de world

We are already privy to a glimpse at how this clash of attitudes may play out in a Trump presidency. Trump has been roundly criticized in the media for being publicly skeptical of the “intelligence community” reporting that the Russian government sanctioned – indeed sponsored – cyber hacking efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election. It is true that there are other factors at work here, but Vuja de leaders naturally challenge the conclusions of those in the status quo; especially when their conclusions are offered with no dissent. Even if the conclusions of the intelligence community are accurate, that does not mean the process of reaching them can’t be challenged. Trump has not denied the conclusions of the intelligence community, but he has challenged them to prove their point. I have no doubt that the intelligence leaders who presented their case to Trump last week had done much more work and were better prepared to present their case, than if they had not been challenged by Trump.

And history proves the point. In early 1961, John Kennedy, a new president in the continuum of the status quo, accepted, without challenge, the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence community that Castro was a weak leader and the people would rise up against him if America supported an invasion of Cuba. If Kennedy had been more of a Vuja de leader who was willing to challenge the establishment, the Bay of Pigs fiasco may never have happened.     

There may be valid reasons to oppose or even fear a Trump presidency, but unfortunately many of those in the establishment of government and the media are dreading a Trump presidency simply because his style of leadership is so foreign to their traditional thinking. Trump’s style will force them to step out of their comfort zone and this engenders a queasy feeling of uncertainty and loss of power that comes with the surmised safety of the status quo.

The Vuja de style of leadership may fail miserably when applied to managing a government, but on the other hand, it just may be a new way to effectively manage government and make it work. One thing we know for sure is that Trump will not be a Déjà vu president.

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