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.