Trump has confounded everyone. How could such a sexist, racist boor become a leading contender for the greatest political job on the planet – the supposed ‘leader’ of the free world?
The answer to that question may be more mundane than we think. I would contend, and have contended, that the cult of ‘Leadership’ has brought us to the edge of this abyss. I have argued elsewhere that the cult of‘Leadership’ led to the financial crisis in 2008. I witnessed that one, was guiltily involved in pumping up that cult through Leadership training to several major banks, especially RBS.
This time, however, the effect of the cult of business Leadership is more obvious. This is my argument:
1. The Apprentice is the bastard child of reality TV and the cult of ‘Business Leadership’.
2. The Apprentice would not exist without the cult of ‘Business Leadership’.
3. Trump was cast as an archetypical hire ‘em and fire’em ‘Business Leader’.
4. Trump would not be running for President if he had not been the star of The Apprentice.
5. Trumps primary card is his anti-Establishment Business Leader persona.
We know when and how this happened. First we had the motivational speakers, Robbins and others fostered the cult, then a slew of bad business books on Leadership, then an global army of Leadership consultants, training courses, mentors and coaches who pumped up the bubble.
This is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I was first involved in business over three decades, there was no ‘Leadership’ cult. There was good old training on competences and how to be a good manager. Along came the speakers (I saw them one and all), then the awful books, then the courses and the TV shows. The whole sorry tale is outlined in Professor Pfeffer’s excellentLeadership is BS.
The business ‘leader’ has become a caricature, a monster, a false God. We created the runway, that allowed these monsters to take to the air, with TV shows like The Apprentice, awful conference keynotes who bigged it all up, bad books and then delivered it to everyone in the workplace as Leadership training. We fetishized Leadership, encouraged everyone to aspire to be one, rendering the word meaningless, and bigged up idiots like Trump.“We are goingto win Bigley… Believe me… We’re going to build a big wall... We’re going to make America great again.” said Trump.
Before The Apprentice Trump was just another New York big-mouth in the property business. It was TV that catapulted him into the national consciousness. This is what allowed him to run for President, not politics. Trump had see-sawed on the Democrat-Republican axis for along time, mainly because he didn’t care much for actual politics, only the connections it brought him. The Clintons were at his bloody wedding. Along came The Apprentice, interestingly created by U.S.-based, Democrat supporter and British producer, Mark Burnett, and is now a global franchise. It first appeared in the US but has since appeared in almost every major territory around the world. Did you know that the BBCs first choice was not the hideous Alan Sugar but the even more hideous Philip Green? Just like Trump, Sugar and Green are an old-school money-obsessed boors, with the morals of a pick-pocket. Full of that hire ‘em, fir ‘em bravado. That’s the essence of this show. Old male asshole selects from similar bunch of assholes to see who can be the biggest asshole of them all. Tragically, that’s become the campaign strategy for the American Presidency.
Mark Burnett has a pile of vile video evidence that could scupper Trump. So why, as a Democrat, has he not released it? Well. He doesn’t want to destroy the franchise. If Trump wind the show would be dead. If Hilary wind much of his audience would hate him and the show. They’ve slapped injunctions on any leaks and there will ne none. That’s show business folks.
You have to remember how The Apprentice shapes its ‘Leader’. He (it’s always a he) is the tough guy, the money maker (theme song for the show is "For the Love of Money"), the guy with the power to hire and fire. He is a little God with power over his chosen people. He doesn’t have any moral, intellectual or political qualities. He’s an operator. He gets things done. Note that Trump is not even a great business person, not a Silicon valley CEO, not a contemporary figure. He’s an old-school, lecherous bankrupt in a bad suit. This is the old business narrative of the Leader as a powerful, patriarchal money-maker. That’s Trump’s narrative for President.
Trumps secret sauce
It is no accident that trump’s supporters are the older, TV goggling folks who get their sustenance from combative TV. It’s The Apprentice, Survivor, The Voice, Fox News. It’s a fight till the end and winner takes all. The US has always admired this individualistic, frontier spirit and is rightly suspicious of the old networks and dynasties. They want to buy the myth that anyone can become President. In fact, US Presidents have often been related to each other – two have been sons, one a grandson, and many cousins or related by marriage. Never has the Presidential race been so nepotistic than in the modern age. Dynasties such as the Kennedys, Bushes and now Clintons have emerged to put to rest the idea that this is a meritocratic process. For the last 50 years or so you needed two things – connections and money.
Obama was, for two terms, a wonderful aberration but he redefined US politics by tapping into connections made through TV and social media. One could argue that we’re back to business as usual. Or are we? Trump has found a new winning formula – he has millions of connections, like Obama, this time through popular TV, and he has his own money. That has proven to be a new and interesting combination, as it allows him to attack his opponents, Democrats and competitor and dissenting Republicans with the charge of being the Establishment. Who can deny that it has worked. He’s neck and neck with Hilary Clinton the Democratic heir apparent?
Trump has played a card he learnt on The Apprentice. He instinctively know what Baudrillard has been telling us for decades, that we increasingly live in a virtual world that is now more important cognitively and culturally, that its supposed referents to the real world. The virtual has cleaved away from this assumed real world and Trump plays the Baudrillard game perfectly, recognising that these signs need not be grounded in reality. His soundbites and Tweets are virtual, in a self-contained world of cage fighting with other media messages. These are virtual bombardments that promote ideas, with historical events and fixed viewpoints playing a minor role. This is a game and the point of the game is to win.
I dearly hope that he doesn’t win on 8th November but I fear he will. I will be there, in Washington, and will take no pleasure in either of them winning. Why? One is a dangerous demagogue, the other is a dynastic democrat – neither are there on merit nor suitable for the challenges ahead.