Donald Trumps Twitter tirades and demands for fealty display he subscribes to an ape-like strategy for success
From early 1974 through most of 1976, a male chimp named Yeroen held the position of alpha leader in the large, open-air chimpanzee colony at Burgers zoo in Arnhem in the Netherlands. His reign was approximately coterminous with the presidential administration of Gerald R Ford in the United States.
Yeroen became famous( among Homo sapiens ) when the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal showcased his leadership style in a classic 1982 book, Chimpanzee Politics. In their Machiavellian machinations and power games, De Waal argued, chimps turn out to be a lot like human beings.
The curious case of Donald Trump, however , now shows that human beings turn out to be a lot like chimps.
In the wild and in captivity, chimpanzee colonies organize themselves into tightly structured hierarchies. Power is vested in the biggest, strongest, and most outgoing males in the group, with the alpha male on top. The alpha leader predominates all others through tactics of menace, intimidation, bluffing, and outright aggression- and importantly, by forming short-term, pragmatic alliances( let us call them “deals”) with other high-status males.
Chimpanzee politics can be intricate, but they always obey the rules of social dominance. Because chimps and humans evolved from a common ancestor going back 5-7m years, we humans know deep in our brains what social dominance is all about. Our expectation that social status can be seized through physical power and menace- that the strongest, most important and boldest may indeed lord it over the rest of us- is very old, awesomely intuitive, and deeply ingrained.
Social psychologists today distinguish between the social predominance kind of human leadership, on the one hand, and leadership through prestige on the other. Both are grounded in human evolution, but the prestige form is younger, tracing back a mere million years or so to the time when our hominid ancestors began to form culture. In the prestige paradigm, leaders attain their authority in the group by demonstrating culturally valued expertise- as, for example, in cooking, defending the tribe, healing, peacemaking, or( in the modern world) science, education, technology, the arts, business, statute, medicine, communication, and so on .
For human being today, dominance and prestige compete with one another as the two primal express of leadership.
When it comes to US presidents, we expect to see a bit of both.
For Trump, however, it is dominance all the way through.
An especially effective predominance mechanism for the alpha chimp is the charging showing. The top male essentially runs berserk and starts calling, hooting, and gesticulating wildly as he charges toward other males nearby. Pandemonium ensues as rival males cower in anxiety and females grab their little ones and run for cover.
Once the chaos ends, there is a period of peace and order, wherein rival males pay homage to the alpha, visiting him, grooming him, conveying various forms of submission.
Trump’s incendiary tweets are the human equivalent of a charge display. Designed to intimidate his foes and rally his submissive base, these verbal outbursts reinforce the president’s dominance by reminding everybody of his fury and his force. When the alpha chimp charges, you cannot assistance but take note- with your ears and with your eyes.
Look at Mr Trump. What do you assure? He is physically big and dynamic. His face gives the impression of a volcano about to explosion. And explosion he does, with regularity. Trump is more overtly aggressive than any political figure in the United States today, so aggressive, so insulting, so egregiously disparaging that you thought he might not be bluffing when, for example, he threatened to” lock Hillary up”, or when he alerted North Korea that it” will be met with flame and fury like the world has never seen “.
Throughout primate evolution, bluffing appears prominently on every syllabus further written for predominance psychology 101( including The Art of the Deal ). It was a standard tactic for Yeroen. But is Trump bluffing? What if he isn’t?
One of the most bizarre( and psychologically telling) events in the Trump administration so far was the president’s first full cabinet session, on 12 June 2017.
With the cameras rolling, each cabinet official in turn extol how honored or blessed he( or she) was to serve the primal leader. The vice-president, Mike Pence, began the submission fest with these terms:” Thank you, Mr President, and this is the greatest privilege of my life, to serve as vice-president to a chairperson who is keeping his term to the American people and assembling a squad that is bringing real change, real prosperity, and real strength back to our nation .”
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