We all know the risk of being insensitive, rude and politically incorrect. We’ve felt the sting of crossing the line enough times to know it’s not socially acceptable.
How then to explain Donald Trump, who attributes his success to crossing that line? What is the Trump winning formula and is there anything about him to emulate?
Know your audience
Trump’s success is not due to some new charismatic elixir, or some unique power of persuasion, but rather to a proven winning formula for becoming liked and having people trust and follow you, and that is to simply know your audience and speak to their concerns, their hopes and fears.
The Trump formula
Every one of the Donald’s competitors in the Republican field was trying to use this formula. They failed because they were unwilling to go into the darkest, forbidden places where it turns out, most of the voters were. They thought people would be ashamed to admit their prejudices and irrationalities while the Donald knew his audience wanted someone to shout them from the rooftops.
Trump became the Pied Piper of the Republican Party by simply giving public voice to what his voters were saying in private.
The power of resonance
If you’re leading people, you can leverage this phenomenon yourself—for good I hope.
It’s the phenomenon of resonance where you say something that people agree with and they immediately lean forward with interest and attention.
You have them; and the harder it’s been for them to find kindred spirits the stronger the bond you’ll form. It’s a sense of relatedness, a magnetic closeness that Dick Cheney would feel if he learned a potential new hire secretly water boards hitchhikers for fun.
“ You do? Me too!!”
Friends for life if that assistant ever shot a friend in the face.
Finding unexpected things in common is the greatest relationship builder, and for many, the Donald’s inappropriate remarks leaves them with a kind of “He’s just like us” that made over fifty million people vote for George W.
Trump is not crossing the line
The thing to get about Trump is that he’s actually not crossing the line for millions of Americans; he’s simply acknowledging where their line is.
Trump’s success so far, and this is the scary part, is because millions of Americans agree with his routinely bigoted, hateful and divisive remarks. In an interview on “the Axe Files” Jon Stewart said this level of fear, prejudice and victimhood among millions of Americans simply reflects the diet American talk radio has fed those on the right for years.
Trump’s secret sauce
But Trump’s success is not just his willingness to amplify and broadcast the true and scary feelings of the apparent majority of the Republican electorate, but also his leverage of his audience’s (and apparently the media’s) unconcern for the truth. As Michael Lynch points out in “Trump, Truth and the power of Contradiction”, there is a design to Trump’s easy facility with contradicting himself from one speech to the next; and that is— WE have to decide what he really means.
Other “normal” politicians must explain their positions and any apparent contradictions, but the Donald doesn’t. The curious and beneficial Trump outcome of this is that people who should clearly be offended or threatened by his statements can ignore those statements because they can justify them as part of the political game; they take comfort in a more convenient “truth” in something else the Donald said.
His contradictions allow each Trump supporter to assemble his own idea of Donald Trump and accept all the other crazy Trumps as part of the show he needs to put on for the election. The real Donald will appear when he takes the Oath of office; and his supporters believe ‘that Donald‘ will be closer to the true Donald they’ve assembled in their minds. Gulp.
This explains why so many who should be bothered by many of his remarks still support him.
If that truly is by design, it is as brilliant as it is scary.
This by the way, is not worthy of emulation—unless of course you’re a demagogue.
What can you emulate?
In addition to knowing how to create resonance, there is much about the Donald worthy of emulation: his huge ambition, his unequivocal belief in his ability to win, his willingness to take bold and massive action to achieve his goals; and his willingness to rock the boat and destroy the status quo.
If you can emulate all that without the arrogance, bullying, pettiness, vindictiveness, divisiveness and the lying you might be on to something.
If you could leave out only one of those negatives, leave out the lying.
I think an allegiance to the truth would smooth out the rest. It’s what made us like Simon Cowell even when he was saying things no kind and decent person would; we knew he was telling us what he really thought, and we didn’t have to wonder.