Trump’s charisma

Donald Trump’s rise shows a nation woefully descending into a “cult-of-personality” politics that prefers “charisma” over “policy substance.” So says Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens (8/31/15). It is true that a good chunk of the electorate, especially in the GOP, fed up with politicians and unacquainted with policy nuance, finds Trump’s brash style and showy disregard for political correctness sufficient grounds for support. I don’t know if that counts as “charisma,” but if it does, Stephens shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve always put charisma over ideas. That’s why we can flip-flop from Reagan to Clinton to Geo. W. Bush to Obama. The common thread is clearly not ideology. But Obama had charisma over McCain and Romney, Bush looked charismatic with his guy-next-door grin beside the wooden Gore or feckless Kerry. Reagan had charisma in spades over his much smarter opponents. And Clinton’s “aw shucks” swagger could charm the pants off … well, you get the point. This charisma fetish may apply to any democracy without a universally educated populace but is perhaps increasingly acute in the America of reality TV and radio demagoguery, where a good education (if you can still afford it) will get you scarlet lettered as “cultural elite” and cost you that one big break you might have had on the Jerry Springer show.

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13 thoughts on “Trump’s charisma

  1. Charisma is part of his allure. The most attractive part of Trump is that he is a political outsider who stands up for what he believes in, right or wrong. People are tired of politicans misleading them. (You can keep your current insurance plan if you like it)

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    • Thanks, Charlie. We agree — for the most part — on whence the Trump attraction (although we could have a robust but good-natured argument sometime about our differing evaluations of Obama).

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  2. The top 3 in the polls (out of 17 or so) hold 56% of the approval. And all 3 of them are not politicians. I think that there is more going on here than charisma for sure. Funny that the Republicans have finally figured out that their politicians SUCK. “Close down the government if we can’t have it our way” is a pitiful and infantile way to govern, and the founding fathers would have puked.

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  3. I’m pretty certain that charisma is the number-one qualification for any leader, and always has been. According to an article on Forbes, the qualities required for leadership are: Honesty, Ability to delegate, Ability to communicate, Confidence, Commitment, Positive Attitude, Creativity, Intuition, and Ability to inspire. These characteristics are all intrinsic to the leader – political policies are secondary.

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    • Agreed, Steve. Whether inspiring voters in today’s democracies or gaining the loyalty of the big dogs around you (the days of Napoleon and back through feudalism to the Homeric ages), charisma is key. I’d make this distinction, though. Charisma (and the Forbes list) is key to gaining power and leadership positions. Actually performing as a leader involves much more (charisma is necessary but not sufficient) – e.g., competence, work ethic, deep knowledge of the political system (yours and others), nuanced understanding of current problems and how to write policies to address them effectively – none of these presuppose a charismatic personality. I say this because one could argue that charisma in TV-age democracies is becoming increasingly important to the exclusion of these other traits (i.e., looking admirable in your TV clips may be sufficient to get you elected nowadays, but it won’t make you a good leader once you’re on the job).

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        • It does happen sometimes. I can think of a couple of presidents that I believe had both. But charisma is all it takes to get your foot in the door. The candidates who are top-heavy on charisma will get most of the media attention, at least early on in the campaign cycle. And you Brits may underestimate the level of incompetence we Americans are willing to tolerate in public officials, so long as they entertain us in their TV clips.

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    • True, Mike. They’re always fed up to some extent, but this cycle it seems to have reached a critical mass. The difference, of course, is that Sanders has built up a core constituency over many years of being the most progressive-left voice on Capitol Hill. But he remains an “outsider,” as much a gadfly to the ruling elite as Trump. We’ll see if the “critical mass” holds, as outsiders like Bernie and Trump have a media edge early, but insiders with rock-solid infrastructures in all 50 states have an edge later.

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  4. That Donald Trump could be running for the most powerful position in global politics is a situation beyond my comprehension. He seems to have a similar background as GWB. I can only assume that this is not in fact a powerful position but a front for the real power that requires few qualifications besides a bit of charisma and a decent smile. It’s terrifying.

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    • Another good topic PeterJ: Does the U.S. president have real power or is he just the guy who smiles and stamps the policies written by the truly powerful corporations that run the economies of the world? Based on your assessment of Trump, I’m not sure which side of this either/or leaves you more terrified 🙂

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