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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 24-Feb-19


Sunday 24-February-19

The Trump in all of us (but which we don't let out)

Donald Trump is famous for his braggadocio. He boasts of his great intelligence, skill and success, not just to friends but on the world's stage. It's breathtaking, really. Most people wouldn't dare be as boastful, even at home. We'd be first laughed at, then criticized, and finally shunned. We know this, so we don't. Even as we naturally think a lot about ourselves, we act modestly and conversationally show more interest in others.

And yet, secretly, we may wish we could just say what we think without worrying what others might say.

Where Trump is fundamentally different to you or me is what he wants and what he is prepared to do to get it. To live in society, we mostly need to get get on with others, which means we need them to like and respect us. So we constantly seek social approval, and quickly change course if even a raised eyebrow appears on the horizon.

Trump, on the other hand, has been brought up in extreme privilege. He never had to worry much about what others think. Perhaps as a result of his upbringing, he seeks attention rather than approval. Rather like a naughty child who knows he will be scolded, but still acts out because attention is better than no attention. But Trump's attention is no longer from a grumpy parent -- it is now from a largely horrified world.

Perhaps closer to home, you may remember that cool kid in high school who said and did things you wish you could, but did not. The common factor with Trump is in the boldness, the willingness to be criticized. The confidence that he can survive social castigation.

A difference between Trump and the cool kid is that Trump gives voice to bias, criticizing people of colour, women and anyone else who stands in his way. He gives people unkind names and is known for his cruel vengeance. And his core audience love this, because, like the cool kid, Trump does what his followers would like to do.

For most of us, while we feel the evolutionary pressure of self-focus and out-group bias, we also fundamentally believe in equality. So we repress unkind speech not only to avoid the stick of disapproval but also for the carrot of feeling good about ourselves. A result of this is that we simultaneously feel the secret attraction to Trump for his cool kid rebellion and also conflicted disgust at his selfishness and bias.

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