The Five Disguises of Leadership


Like all concerned global citizens, I have been observing the U.S. presidential election.  It is a brutal affair. This election cycle has had an electromagnetic effect: it attracts and repels simultaneously. Like an accident scene, you can't look and you can't look away.

With the candidates in a dead heat and amidst the vitriol of the campaign trail, a set of leadership distinctions is becoming clearer to me. I call these behaviors - displayed with great vigor by Donald Trump - the disguises of leadership.

It seems unbelievable that Trump has been able to defeat his rivals within the GOP and command so much public support through an almost Vaudevillian portrayal of a leader.

The media, struggling to hold its audience in the face of industry fragmentation, hasn't helped. Until recently, they covered Trump's antics with the glee of someone who has suddenly found an antidote for a terminal illness. That coverage has enabled Trump to accelerate the transformation of politics into reality television.

Despite assurances from Republican Party officials that Trump will adopt a more presidential tone over time, the Donald appears more resolved than ever to huff and puff and blow the house down.

What may be toppling, along with the house, is civil society in the United States.

For aspiring Donalds - and there are some in the wings - the Trump playbook is now indelibly carved into tree stumps at every whistle stop in America.

Those concerned for the future of governance need to recognize, and remain vigilant to, the disguises of leadership:

1. Bullying portrayed as Strength

Donald Trump behaves like a schoolyard bully. His supporters call it strong leadership. Candidate Trump has repeatedly threatened the media with libel. He has verbally assaulted a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University. He constantly makes fun of his political rivals, interrupts, and dismisses them.

Fox News commentator Megan Kelly was a target during the first GOP debate. So were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio throughout the nomination run. Now he is after the Clinton family, threatening to make Bill's extra-marital activities a campaign issue.

Even the National Review, a leading Conservative magazine, has taken issue with Trump's bullying. National affairs correspondent John Fund, suggests Trump is: "Someone who can't control his language and constantly belittles and bullies everyone he doesn't like by flinging insults such as "loser," "stupid,"  "worthless," "fat," and "slob".

Putting power in the hands of a bully is enablement. He or she will use it to intimidate, punish, control and shame.

2. Racism portrayed as Patriotism

Trump's racism is deepening the divide in American society. He attacks Muslim Gold Star parents, threatens to deport 11 million Mexican illegal immigrants, and leads a "birther" crusade against President Obama. He has called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and has re-tweeted white supremacist messages. He does all of this with seeming impunity, and wrapped in the flag.

Trump's position? He is defending America against attack by terrorists, rapists and drug dealers. He is the only one tough enough to get the job done.

Nicholas Kristoff, writing in the New York Times, suggests Trump has a long history of racism.

"Here we have a man who for more than four decades has been repeatedly associated with racial discrimination or bigoted comments about minorities, some of them made on television for all to see. While any one episode may be ambiguous, what emerges over more than four decades is a narrative arc, a consistent pattern - and I don't see what else to call it but racism."

Adolf Hitler employed similar xenophobic messages to "make Germany great again". History appears to be repeating itself.

3. Profiteering portrayed as Business Savvy

Donald Trump portrays himself as a savvy businessman, a billionaire. He brags that he does not pay taxes. "That makes me smart," he claims. And every law-abiding taxpayer stupid.

Trump has multiple bankruptcies to his name. He says he feels good about paying contractors less than what they're owed.  He has stated that he wished to profit from the real estate crisis in 2008 because according to the candidate, "That's called business by the way."

Currently, Trump University, which was set up "solely for philanthropic purposes," is being sued for defrauding students. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman estimates $5 million of the $40 million paid by students in tuition went directly into Trump's pockets.

Alex Mierjeski, writing for Salon Magazine, outlines the case:

"Schneiderman's lawsuit alleged that the school's real estate program, which was unlicensed as an actual university, was complicit in "persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct" towards its students, who were often saddled with debt from expensive seminars in lieu of brimming with the promised insider secrets from "Donald Trump's handpicked instructor[s]," most of whom turned out to have emerged from real estate-derived bankruptcy, or have little background in real estate at all."

Don't get me wrong. The world needs smart business people. It also needs business people who have a moral code. That's called ethics by the way.

4. Cruelty and Misogyny portrayed as Honesty

New York Times Reporter, Serge Kovaleski, has a congenital condition that limits his mobility.  It's called arthrogyrposis. Trump mocked him publicly then he claimed he hadn't.

John McCain, a prisoner of war and torture victim, was labeled "no hero" because the enemy captured him. Trump, who received several deferments during the Viet Nam War, claimed to prefer soldiers who hadn't been captured.

Gennifer Flowers, the former mistress of Bill Clinton, was allegedly invited by the Trump camp to sit in the front row at the first presidential debate to torture Hillary Clinton. Trump tweeted he was considering making the invitation, then later denied it.

Television personality and model, Heidi Klum, has been a recent target. "Sadly, she's no longer a 10," said Trump out of the blue. Klum, who has known Trump for many years, said she was bewildered by the public attack.

Similarly, Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe, was publicly humiliated by Trump who referred to her as "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Eating Machine". Trump's response was to push back at critics. "She was the winner, and, you know, she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem."

You might be asking yourself what kind of person does this again and again?

A leader who lacks empathy is a risk to everyone around him. For a President of the United States, it's a global circumference.

5. Lies portrayed as Facts

Donald Trump believes he is truthful to a fault. The fact checkers disagree. According to independent fact checking organization Pollifact, up to 70 per cent of Donald Trump's campaign statements they examined were deceptions. That's compared to Hillary Clinton's 27 per cent. Yet, Clinton is the one characterized as slippery and crooked and Trump is seen as the man who says it straight.

Nicholas Kristoff, The New York Times writer, points out that Trump has a tenuous grasp on the truth.  "In March, Politico chronicled a week of Trump remarks and found on average one misstatement every five minutes. The Huffington Post once chronicled 71 inaccuracies in an hour long town hall session - more than one a minute."

One is reminded of Richard Nixon's tenure in the Whitehouse.  The Watergate scandal and other legal and ethical violations of the rule of law, led to his resignation and public repudiation.  He was seen as perhaps the worst President in modern history. Should Donald Trump be elected, he may have competition for top spot on that list.

No matter what happens at the polling stations in November, the Trump brand of politics is here to stay.  Donald Trump is giving a master class on the five ways to fool the public into believing you are a great leader.  The only way to stop the spread of Trumpism is to stop Trump.

Posted on January 3, 2018 .