This is the second installment of our series examining Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for President of the United States through the lens of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. The first part can be found here.
Law 7: Get Others to do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit:
Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause. Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed. In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered. Never do yourself what others can do for you.
As Robert Greene himself notes, this is a cornerstone of politics, and therefore of power. Politicians never write their own speeches anymore. They sound eloquent, but they are doing so because of the labor of others below them.
Donald Trump has turned this on its head somewhat, as he has prided himself on not using teleprompters and goes off the cuff.
But Donald Trump has also made it clear that this is what he intends to do once in power. Our modern idea of the president casts him as a god figure – someone who knows everything and has a plan for things 30 years in advance. Trump has correctly said that it doesn’t work that way, and that it’s largely about management.
You hire the best people and you put them to work. Then Donald Trump would take the credit. The Donald relays this power play in Crippled America:
So here’s the way I work: I find the people who are the best in the world at what needs to be done, then I hire them to do it, and then I let them do it…but I always watch over them. (pg. 16)
Law 8: Make Other People Come to You – Use Bait if Necessary:
When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process. Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack. You hold the cards.
Donald Trump has shown himself a master of this power play as well.
He says outrageous things that seem the height of stupidity.
Then he waits.
His opponents attack. They have come to him, losing their own power in the process.
Then he moves on their vulnerabilities and crushes them.
It’s worked wonders most notably with Jeb(!). Now, John Kasich is getting in on the act, going full blast with negative attack ads in New Hampshire and petitioning Saturday Night Live to give him equal airtime. His attacks have been followed with a drop in support while Donald Trump’s has strengthened.
Trump humorously remarked that he would like to attack Kasich in New Hampshire, but he’s not worth the money.
Those are the words of a man with power, and a man who obeys the laws of power.
Donald Trump also does this with the issues themselves. His pattern is as follows – say or do something seemingly outrageous, which provokes the guaranteed outrage it was meant to. Trump then, with his detractors frothing at the mouth, gets to frame the issue to his own advantage and dominate it.
He did this with illegal immigration. His seemingly outrageous comments drew attention, got people to talk about the issue, and now he gets to dominate discourse on the solutions and build credibility. Donald Trump’s lead in the polls on that issue is more than many of his competitors combined.
His most recent outrage was a retweet of a chart designed no doubt to damage the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Although the statistics on black-on-white murders are glaringly wrong, two obvious truths are colored for emphasis – a paltry number of blacks are killed by police, and the overwhelming majority of blacks that are killed are murdered by other blacks. Also embedded is the truth that interracial crimes are dominated by black-on-white incidents, though nowhere near the numbers outlined.
The predictable outrage came within hours. Now, Donald Trump gets to dominate the discourse, because behind the bombast there is the obvious truth – the central premise of “Black Lives Matter” is a sham, and the movement has become a Stand Alone Complex of greivance mongering based on nothing but manufactured outrage, as seen in the “Mizzou” incident.
In fact, Black Lives Matter and all victim politics are a play on another law that Robert Greene outlines in The 48 Laws of Power, but we’ll get to that later.
The media now has no choice but to talk about the issue, and Donald Trump can come in and clean up, dominating the narrative for his own benefit.
Trump gets to the truth behind the bombast, and then dominates the discussion on that truth, thanks to the bait he lays, and the “social justice” left is oh-so-easy to bait.
Law 9: Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument:
Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.
Donald Trump is a master of this.
We all acknowledge that he is not the best debater, but what he does better than anyone else is maintain the initiative by not arguing with those who want to tear him down. He dismisses, he insults, he skirts around, he does not waste energy on those he knows aren’t worth his time. He then focuses his energy on his actions. As a result, he seems godlike and they seem petty. This contest is then perceived as a man of power versus a bunch of crybabies.
Seriously, people need to start doing this when it comes to the left. Arguing usually does not enhance your power, and the left makes a power play of weakness, so it usually feeds them.
I fall into that category of “arguer” that Robert Greene discusses in The 48 Laws of Power, but I’ve been doing my best to mitigate these tendencies, and to be more like Donald Trump.
Law 10: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky:
You can die from someone else’s misery – emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.
This is in my opinion one of the two most important laws in The 48 Laws of Power, and it is also one of the easiest to implement. We may say that it makes sense, but in actuality, most people willingly associate with toxic influences for whatever misguided reason. Perhaps they are too charitable or naive. Indeed, this easily describes the current “migration crisis.” Whatever the reason, make sure you are not a sucker.
Robert Greene also makes a point in law 10 of associating with the happy and fortunate to make yourself a better person, and this part of the law seems more applicable to Donald Trump at first glance. He constantly makes mention of how he associates with winners, and you can see a legitimate happiness in his own family that seems too well done to be an act.
You can also tell that Donald Trump does not associate with losers, as he disparages them constantly.
Law 11: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You:
To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so they can do without you.
Donald Trump has outlined his usage of this law of power in Crippled America, with the media:
I don’t mind being attacked. I use the media the way the media uses me – to attract attention. Once I have that attention, it’s up to me to use it to my advantage. I learned a long time ago that if you’re not afraid to be outspoken, the will write about you or beg you to come on their shows. If you do things a little differently, if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you. So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want – viewers and readers – in order to make a point.
The cost of a full-page ad in The New York Times can be more than $100,000. But when they write a story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me a cent, and I get more important publicity. I have a mutually profitable two-way relationship with the media – we give each other what we need. And now I am using that relationship to talk about the future of America. (pg. 11)
Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim:
One sincere and honest move will cover dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift-a Trojan horse-will serve the same purpose.
This somewhat ties into the example outlined in law 8. When Donald Trump retweeted that image of black crime and victimization figures, it was in a sense an act of selective honesty. The black-on-white statistic was false, but the police and black-on-black statistics were largely true. The furor puts his enemies off balance and gives Trump time to weave his next moves.
All politicians stretch the truth. They use selective honesty so they can spin more of their stratagems. Gift giving is common as well, and has been since ancient times.
Trump’s selective honesty is bombastic, as typical, and yet, his honest quoting of certain facts, comingled with dishonest ones, gets his opponents to act rashly, and thus disarm themselves.
Yet however, I think Donald Trump might be better represented by the reversal of this law of power than the proper interpretation. Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power gives the case of Talleyrand, the great French diplomat of Napoleonic times, who had a reputation for deceit so well-known that he exaggerated even his own dishonesty so he could continue to weave his stratagems.
Trump is a bit different from this, because we truly live in an age where, to quote Quintus Curtius, unreality is now mandatory reality, and Donald Trump’s questioning of this orthodoxy drives people insane. However, he is far from always being truthful. Yet, he uses this law of power to his advantage – bringing out a politically incorrect truth, saying an outright falsehood, or whatever it takes.
When your opponents are driven only by outrage, you don’t need to use clever honesty to disarm them, because they always disarm themselves. They thus disobey the central premise of the laws of power that Robert Greene lays out – mastering your emotions.
By disobeying this central premise, they make themselves powerful only because thus far, people have been afraid of challenging them. That is beginning to end.
This concludes part 2 of our series. For part 3, click here.
Or, you can read Stumped to dive deeper into Trump’s power plays and more easily learn to use them yourself.