This is the fifth installment in our series analyzing Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016 through the lens of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. Part four can be found here.
Law 25: Re-create Yourself:
Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.
I’m not sure I can describe Donald Trump and his campaign better than that paragraph, as he has followed all of those things to the letter. In running for president, Donald Trump successfully recreated himself from a businessman and reality TV star into a leading political figure, one who always maintains the initiative, never cedes his frame, and certainly has a flair for the dramatic. Thus, he seems larger than life. Here is a recent video showcasing this:
I have never seen this much energy around a campaign before. Never. I’ve never seen this much excitement. This is power.
Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean:
You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to disguise your involvement.
There are two parts to this law of power:
Part I: Conceal Your Mistakes – Have a Scapegoat Around to Take the Blame:
Our good name and reputation depends more on what we conceal than what we reveal. Everyone makes mistakes, but those who are truly clever manage to hide them, and to make sure someone else is blamed. A convenient scapegoat should always be kept around for such moments.
Donald Trump certainly has a favorite scapegoat that he can use to conveniently conceal what appear to be his gaffes – the liberal media. For instance, when he recently seemed to call for all Muslims in the US to register with the government, (he didn’t, but it can be selectively heard that he did and he did not answer the question well) a few days later he rightly said that the reporter made the suggestion, not him.
However, not only did this serve as a refutation, it gave the impetus of the blame to the reporter for the gaffe instead of him, and it was just one of many examples.
It is even better given the fact that the people hate the liberal media and distrust it, so it serves as an almost perfect scapegoat. Donald Trump realizes this while his opponents, so eager to apologize and virtue signal, do not.
Part II: Make Use of the Cat’s-Paw:
In the fable, the Monkey grabs the paw of his friend, the Cat, and uses it to fish chestnuts out of the fire, thus getting the nuts he craves, without hurting himself. If there is something unpleasant or unpopular that needs to be done, it is far too risky for you to do the work yourself. You need a cat’s-paw – someone who does the dirty, dangerous work for you. The cat’s-paw grabs what you need, hurts whom you need to hurt, and keeps people from noticing you are the one responsible. Let someone else be the executioner, or the bearer of bad news, while you bring only joy and good tidings.
This extensive portion of the chapter tells us that it’s better to get others to do the dirty work for you and shield yourself from the blame. This has not seemed to be applicable to Donald Trump in this campaign, as he seems to relish doing the dirty work himself. His recent statement about banning all Muslim immigration to the US seems to go against the ploy to use a cat’s-paw, which he could have used once in power. Perhaps he calculates that the disgust with the present politically correct atmosphere is so high that he need not resort to such indirect methods. Whether he’s proven right or not remains to be seen.
Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following:
People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. In the absence of organized religion and grand causes, your new belief system will bring you untold power.
This one is vintage Trump. It almost perfectly describes his entire campaign. One reason Trump is surging is because all of his opponents are simply boring. They’re more of the same old crap. Donald Trump offers something new. That makes a world of difference.
There are five different parts Robert Greene highlights with this law of power:
Step 1: Keep it Vague, Keep it Simple:
Easy. “Make America Great Again.”
The slogan follows Robert Greene’s outline of this part of the law so well that it seems almost custom-made for a reader of The 48 Laws of Power. While slogans like Jeb’s “Jeb Can Fix It,” Scott Walker’s “Reform. Growth. Safety.,” and Lindsey Graham’s “Ready to be Commander-in-Chief on Day One” just sound so goddamned boring, and Marco Rubio’s “A New American Century” would have been good in more upbeat times, “Make America Great Again” encapsulates the uncertainty of the times and the promise of a turnaround to something better. It’s simple and bold, and appropriately vague.
Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and Sensual Over the Intellectual:
Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group:
While, as a campaign, Donald Trump does not organize his followers into hierarchies, he does engage in ritualistic practices. The hats are a symbol of the campaign that create a sense of belonging. He gets his followers to chant “Make America Great Again” along with him. He talks to individual members of the audience in his rallies, even as he’s onstage in front of thousands, to make them feel like they belong.
Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income:
This one is not as applicable. In fact, it’s less applicable to the Trump campaign than it is for the other campaigns because Donald Trump is not using SuperPACs or “dark money” and prides himself on it. So his income is not disguised. However, he does convey, perfectly, the image of a man of wealth and means, which subtly tells his followers that they can experience the same results by giving him power.
Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic:
Donald Trump does this. All political campaigns do. No, the dynamic is not related to Mexicans or Muslims. The “us-versus-them dynamic” relates instead to the real villain – the traitorous political, academic, and media elites that the people at large despise. Because distrust in these elites and their institutions is at an all time high, they are particularly liable to be seen as enemies, and anyone exploiting this will do well. It at once insulates Trump’s campaign from criticism – because those criticizing him invariably belong to the elite group that is hated.
Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness:
If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one admires the timid.
Again, the above paragraph almost perfectly describes the Trump campaign. It also signifies the Trump campaign’s difference from those of other politicians – they are so timid and scared of saying anything politically incorrect that they execute their campaigns horribly. Donald Trump outshines them all because he is so bold.
There are a few subsets that Robert Greene mentions in his 28th law of power:
1. The Bolder the Lie, the Better:
We all have weaknesses, and our efforts are never perfect. But enticing action with boldness has the magical effect of hiding our deficiencies. Con artists know that the bolder the lie, the more convincing it becomes. The sheer audacity of the story makes it more credible, distracting attention from its inconsistencies. When putting together a con or entering any kind of negotiation, go further than you planned. Ask for the moon and you will be surprised how often you get it.
“Thousands and thousands of Muslims.”
It goes on.
Though I haven’t read The Art of the Deal (yet), I do know that Donald Trump has said similar things in it. I would not be at all surprised if some, if not all, of his most “outrageous” comments (and yes, this includes his recent “Muslim ban”) are just ploys for negotiation and attention. By dragging things further than he planned and asking for the moon, he’s in more of a position to get what he really wants later on. It also acts as a convenient smokescreen in line with law three.
2. Lions Circle the Hesitant Prey:
People have a sixth sense for the weaknesses of others. If, in a first encounter, you demonstrate your willingness to compromise, back down, and retreat, you bring out the lion in people who are not necessarily bloodthirsty. Everything depends on perception, and once you are seen as the kind of person who quickly goes on the defensive, who is willing to negotiate and be amenable, you will be pushed around without mercy.
All of those words describe Donald Trump perfectly, and they also describe most of his opponents, particularly Jeb(!). Donald Trump uses this very language to effect in his campaign as a selling point – he does not back down, and our country is not respected because we do back down. Obama exemplifies the warnings of this part of the law.
3. Going Halfway with a Half a Heart Digs the Deeper Grave:
If you enter an action with less than total confidence, you set up obstacles in your own path. When a problem arises you will grow confused, seeing options where there are none and creating more problems still. Retreating from the hunter, the timid hare scurries more easily into his snares.
Donald Trump has this quality in spades, where so few other politicians, particularly on the “conservative” side of the spectrum do. This is why the term “cuckservative” has arisen, as they are too timid to actually take on the left, unlike Trump.
4. Hesitation Creates Gaps, Boldness Eliminates Them:
When you take time to think, to hem and haw, you create a gap that allows others time to think as well. Your timidity infects people with awkward energy, elicits embarrassment. Doubt springs up on all sides. Boldness destroys such gaps. The swiftness of the move and the energy of the action leave others no space to doubt and worry. In seduction, hesitation is fatal – it makes your victim conscious of your intentions. The bold move crowns seduction with triumph: It leaves no time for reflection.
Sometimes I wonder if Donald Trump just looks for the most controversial thing to say so that he can engage in a political blitzkrieg against his opponents. It’s made him an almost godlike candidate.
5. Audacity Separates You From the Herd:
Boldness gives you presence and makes you seem larger than life. The timid fade into the wallpaper, the bold draw attention, and what draws attention draws power. We cannot keep our eyes off the audacious – we cannot wait to see their next bold move.
Self-explanatory. It’s helped Donald Trump even more given not only the absolute disgust with the establishment in the air, but because he’s in such a crowded field.
Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End:
The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the glory to others. By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.
While some might wonder if Donald Trump follows this law with his frequent controversies, it all makes sense. He famously said on Oprah in 1988 that he has never gone in to lose anything in his life. He certainly realized that what he would do would engender great controversy. Yet Donald Trump probably guessed that anti-political correctness would be a clear path to power, as “the silent majority” was fed up with it.
All of his moves seem carefully scripted. He puts his opponents off balance in the biggest way possible. He has sucked out all of the oxygen from everyone else on both sides of the race. How he swings forth to a general election, should he get the nomination, is anyone’s guess, but he definitely has a plan for a general election run.
Law 30: Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless:
Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work – it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.
The best, most concrete example we can see of this law’s application in the campaign is money:
Donald Trump likes to pride himself on spending the least money and having the best result. The chart (despite coming from leftist rag Vox) proves it – by far. Donald Trump projects an effortless veneer of power – his body language, the spectacles around him, the massive crowds doing his work for him. All combine to make him look invincible.
Contrast this to people like Rubio, Bush, and Kasich. Bush and Kasich in particular come across as so unlikeable and…faggoty…particularly because they look like they try so hard. You can see it in their mannerisms and hear it in their speech. When Donald Trump appeared on Saturday Night Live last month it was cool and edgy. When John Kasich and George Pataki applied for equal airtime it looked dull and contrived. Rubio also looks like he tries too hard – he’s pre-scripted and it shows. Donald Trump cleverly used this to attack Rubio’s reputation by talking about how much he sweats.
Donald Trump no doubt selects his language carefully (yes, really) and always plans ahead, but all of his behaviors look effortless, and that is a huge part of his popular appeal.
This concludes the fifth part of this series. Part six can be found here.
Or, you can read Stumped to dive deeper into Trump’s power plays and more easily learn to use them yourself.