This is the seventh installment of our series examining Donald Trump’s campaign for president through the lens of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. Part six can be found here.
Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles:
Striking imaginary and symbolic gestures create the aura of power – everyone responds to them. Stage spectacles for those around you, then, full of arresting visuals and radiant symbols that heighten your presence. Dazzled by appearances, no one will notice what you are really doing.
Law 38: Think As You Like But Behave Like Others:
If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.
This dynamic of power would at first appear to not apply to Donald Trump, who behaves as he pleases. Indeed, in the reversal of this law, Robert Greene notes that the only time you can really ignore this law is when you are in an unshakable position of power, and Trump certainly occupies such a spot. Even should his campaign sink, he’d still go home to his business and his billions.
Yet, Donald Trump also affects what Greene calls “a common touch.” Despite his elevated position high above the masses, he shows that he shares their values. Challenging the politically correct orthodoxy is in effect championing another kind of orthodoxy – arising out of tradition rather than something ugly imposed from the top-down.
By challenging the orthodoxy that people are getting tired of, Donald Trump champions those people, sharing their views. Many a famous remark has been uttered since the start of the campaign that “Donald Trump says what I want to say but am too afraid to.”
Law 39: Stir up Waters to Catch Fish:
Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself, you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies off-balance: Find a chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.
Though some would say that Donald Trump disobeys this law with his apparent outbursts, look deeper and you’ll see he’s using them selectively. What Donald Trump is actually doing is getting his opponents to flail about out of the water, like fish on a hook. It happened with Jeb(!), it happened with Bobby Jindal, it happened with Rick Perry, it happened with Lindsey Graham (who dropped out of the race this past week), it happened with John Kasich, it happened with Carly Fiorina, most of all it’s happened with the liberal media, who in their frequent responses to Trump’s seemingly outrageous comments, make themselves vulnerable because they, not him, are the ones unhinged.
Donald Trump has recently gone after the Evil Queen Bitch of DC herself, saying that she got “schlonged” in 2008. The media response was quick. Her own response was somewhat more measured. Sadly, I don’t think she’ll be unhinged like many of Trump’s GOP opponents were, but I’m sure he’ll attempt everything he can to get under her skin.
It is telling that the ones who did not respond so rashly to Trump’s attacks – Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio, are still in the race, whereas everyone else who did now have no chance of winning.
Law 40: Despise the Free Lunch:
What is offered for free is dangerous – it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price – there is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet for power.
Easy. This is one of the centerpieces of Donald Trump’s entire campaign. He is not taking money from any third parties – big donors, SuperPACs, or what is known as “dark money” – money spent on electioneering by “social welfare” organizations that don’t have to legally disclose their donors (this is indeed how Marco Rubio is running his campaign).
Donald Trump has made it a point that taking such money means that you are owned. He is right.
By funding himself, he remains in ultimate control.
Law 41: Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes:
What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after. If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making: Establish your own name and identity by changing course. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.
This one is easy to apply. For decades now, the Republican Party has been caught in the shadow of Ronald Reagan. Despite him being elected 35 years ago, Republicans cite his name at every turn and promise a return of sorts to the optimism of the 80’s if simply they could be in power – as they would bring Reagan back!
Meanwhile, the Democrats continued to forge new paths, first with Bill Clinton, a young president who brought a coolness of his own and a new way of doing left-wing politics to the White House, and then with Barack Obama, another young president, who, simply by the color of his skin, represented a new direction – and the ascent of another new iteration of left-wing politics. While the Republicans looked like old fools lusting for a bygone era, the Democrats actually filled a void that brought them power.
While Donald Trump pays lip service to Reagan, he nonetheless goes on his own bold new path. He does not promise a return to the Reagan years, but a new beginning with the Trump years, where the ghosts of administrations-past and all their baggage can be washed away. This is indeed a Reagan-esque strategy, but Donald Trump is putting his own stamp on it with his own policies and his own charisma and fame.
The result is that it is now the Democrats that look old and stale, with Hillary Clinton, the lingering ghost of many administrations-past, and a disliked one at that, haphazardly leading the charge. While I have not seen the right-wing base this excited about a candidate in my lifetime, Hillary Clinton is so dull and lame that she can’t even energize her own base. Her latest hilarious attempt to relate to young SJW Latino voters was thoroughly mocked and disparaged with the #NotMyAbuela campaign. Instead, those voters Clinton so desperately panders to all want Bernie Sanders as their nominee.
Donald Trump has energized the Republican party in a way not seen since Reagan – by essentially disparaging his legacy and moving on his own path. The GOP elite, having so long worshiped the ghost of Reagan, has no idea how to handle it, because they are intellectually dead.
By following this law, Donald Trump has sparked the GOP to life.
Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter:
Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual – the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoner of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them – they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.
Donald Trump uses this strategically against his opponents. When he sees that someone is forming a center of power around himself with factions in the party that may ordinarily be opposed to him, such as Jeb Bush or Ben Carson, he goes after them, tanking their numbers and leaving their supporters confused, looking for a new champion. The confusion gives Trump time to consolidate his position and dominate more space.
This concludes part seven of this series. The eighth and final part 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.