Are they feminine? Or do different societies and cultures have different definitions of masculinity and feminity?
Western (more specifically American toxic) masculinity is usually about physical powers and the willingness to use violence to solve every problem, you know, your typical macho man.
The entire idea of Chivalry was originally a kind of code of conduct for warriors, soldiers.
East Asians, and in particular, Chinese society value a different kind of masculinity.
I wrote about it here:What has the ideal Chinese man been like throughout history, and how have preferences changed?
Chinese concept for a gentleman is quite different from the west, what we called “君子”. “君子” is the “ideal man” in Confucius teaching, a standard for every literati or layman to achieve.
The flip side of 君子 is 小人, which literally translate into “little or petty man”. The ideal of “君子”, or a true gentleman was defined by Confucius as the following:
A true gentleman does not rush into action, every thing he does must have a good reason, or serve a higher purpose. This also implies that a gentleman will always evaluate the consequences of his action before he make a move.
A true gentleman does not speak empty words, he does not gossip, he does not lie, he does not curse. When he does speak, he will always speak out of reason, his words should carry weight, should come after consideration, should be graceful and merciful.
A true gentleman does not covet, may it be money, power or fame. When he does go out and pursue something, it must have a higher purpose, what he’s after should benefit his country and fellow men.
A true gentleman believes in justice and honor. Everything he does should follow his ideal. He will not do things that goes against his principle, and he will always consider the consequence before taking action. He should not go with his heart and do whatever he likes, this will damage his reputation and honor.
Other “gentlemenly” characteristics often mentioned are humble spirit, peaceful mind and tolerance. A true gentleman would not fuss over little things, they will not get angry over meaningless insults or being offended by careless mistakes. We often say ”君子坦荡荡，小人常戚戚” (A true gentleman has a magnanimous heart, while a little man always worr about every little thing).
So as you can see, the recurrent theme in Confucius “君子” is
Honor, caution, justice, and a higher purpose.
Bravery, defending the weak, and fighting the evil, martial prowess, these western chivalry values don’t really matter much for the Chinese. In fact, traditional Chinese value looks down on physically powerful fighters. 武夫 (martial person) is considered a derogatory term. Chinese ideal men are intellectuals who change the world for the better through policy and administration of a country. What we’re looking for in a Ideal Man is more spiritual than physical, more about honor, justice, every action should be for a higher purpose, for the greater good.
We don’t talk about 君子that much nowadays, but the concept has always been part of Chinese culture and our collective psyche as a people (if such thing exists). It’s not to say Chinese are not brave or don’t have passion, of course we do, but culture wise, we don’t encourage such passion. A true gentleman is a peaceful intellectual, a capable ruler who always cares for his people, and he writes beautiful poems, and play instruments. (probably have 3 wives, sleeping with the servant girl, and courts the most beautiful courtesan, funny the principle of a true gentleman mentions very little about being faithful…)
Originally written for: What are the archetypes of masculinity?
Although, I’d like to add that the ideal man, the concept of 君子, was surprisingly consistent through out Chinese history, with the exception of Yuan and Qing dynasty (both were non-Han Chinese dynasties). Since Confucius formalize the this concept of “gentlemen”, it had been promoted by all Han Chinese emperors afterwards regardless of which dynasty. Even Qing Dynasty with Manchu rulers who might have favored horseback riding and martial prowess more than Han Chinese culture, they don’t think martial arts was higher than intellectual pursuit, they just didn’t think it’s that lowly an activity.
Chinese culture traditionally values intellectual pursues more than physical ones. A real man, or in this case, a gentleman (君子) is defined by his character, his intelligence, and his willingness to build a better society for the lesser men (and women) using his pen (instead of his sword).
That is not to say that Chinese style masculinity is not toxic. We have our own toxic masculinity all the same. It’s just we don’t particularly value aggression in men.
I have had many comments (usually from men) talking about how toxic masculinity is BS. And I shouldn’t use that word.
Let’s talk about toxic masculinity.
The most common rhetoric is that while the idea of masculinity is fine, some aspects of masculinity can be toxic. For example, in the US, boys are allowed, sometimes even encouraged to resolve issues using violence. Men are not allowed to express or discuss their emotions, except anger. Men are expected to deal with their mental issues on their own, with alcohol. Pop media glorify the “alcoholic lone hero” stereotype.
I think we have progressed enough to realize that those stereotypes are damaging to men. But people would argue, what is wrong for men to be strong, brave, protecting the weak, stand up for what is right?
Well, nothing wrong with that. But none of those features should be “men only”. Everyone, regardless of their gender, can and should be strong (in character), brave, willing to stand up for what is right. It is not masculinity, it is being a decent human being.
Similarly, I don’t think any of the traditionally feminine characteristics such as “detail orientated”, “caring and loving”, “good with children”, should be women-only traits.
So if you ask me, the moment you assign a certain aspect of humanity to a certain gender, it becomes toxic.
The moment you start measuring men and women with traditional masculine or feminine features, the moment you start talking about people are not man enough or woman enough because they didn’t do this or that, the moment you assign a gender to a personality trait, it becomes toxic.
So yes, the entire idea of “masculinity”, that somehow you need to behave a certain way to be considered “man enough”, that entire idea is toxic.
People came to me saying “well, I play music and I read books, how dare you tell me I’m not man enough?”
I’m not telling you anything. If you get so triggered by the mere word of “toxic masculinity” and you have to write a 10-page essay telling an internet stranger how manly you are…
well, you’re an example of toxic masculinity.
The notes of this answer are longer than the answer itself… but I need to explain this shit.
I got quite a few of you “Chinese experts” telling me that recently Chinese government had been pushing this “against feminine men” propaganda movement.
And yes, from the surface, it seems that the Chinese government is promoting a certain type of masculinity that is compatible with the traditional western “macho man” stereotype.
But the propaganda movement is not about pushing men to be more macho. No. The movement is about pushing people (men and women) to get married and have children.
China is facing populating aging problem. And their 30 years of single-child policy made the situation a lot worse. They recently had loosened the policy and allowed families to have two children. However, contrary to what they must have expected, single women do not want to get married, mothers with one child do not want to have a second child.
And about the same time, social media and public opinion started to talk about Chinese men being “gigantic babies”. After all, all the marriage age people are from single-child families. Men are considered to be irresponsible, selfish, didn’t care about the family, “never growing up and take the responsibility”.
The government started to create public opinion against the popular “youth” culture, which was led primarily by Korean boybands.
Of course, the actual reason that a lot of women do not want to get married is that getting married means giving up their careers, having children even more so. Those who already have one child do not want to have a second child because raising one child is already hard/expensive enough.
But all of these are difficult social issues without simple solutions.
Now keep in mind that the Chinese government was dominated by economists and mathematicians. That’s why they’re very good with economic policies and very very… very bad with social progressive changes.
Remember that time when they banned game consoles for 15 years because they thought kids might get addicted to video games?
It’s this level of stupidity and ignorance of sociology that get us policies like this. They don’t understand large-scale misogyny is the real reason women don’t want to have children, but sure let’s write some sensational articles about how the younger generation lost their manhood. That will sure get men to become responsible adults.
And you lot reading translated articles from CNN or whatever, thinking you
Comments: Rational National
Social media accounts connected to Pentland showed that he has been stationed as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson since 2019, according to the Associated Press. Fort Jackson is the largest U.S. Army basic training base.
Video (detailed below) of the incident shows Pentland asking Deandre what he is doing in the neighborhood before repeatedly telling him to “go away.” The footage does not capture what prompted the altercation.
Two other reports were also made against Pentland that alleged incidents of assault against the victim, Richland County Sheriff’s Department told Newsweek. Those incidents are each being investigated independently.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott confirmed Pentland’s arrest on Wednesday, telling reporters, “The first time I saw the video, it was terrible. It was unnecessary.” He added: “We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community.”
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department described the video as “disturbing” in a tweet issued on Wednesday, promising they “have taken this incident seriously.”
Officials at Fort Jackson also said they were looking into the incident, adding that U.S. Department of Justice authorities were investigating as well.
“This type of behavior is not consistent with our Army Values and will not be condoned,” the official Fort Jackson Twitter account posted on Wednesday, noting that they are aware of the video and “will work closely with each law enforcement agency as investigations move forward.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a news conference Wednesday, “The first time I saw the video, it was terrible. It was unnecessary.” He added: “We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community.”
After watching the video, Fort Jackson Commanding General Brig. Gen. Beagle, Jr. said the actions were “by no means condoned by any service member.”
He later released a statement on Facebook, writing: “I remain deeply concerned for the members of our Army family, the young man and his family, and the tensions that activities like this amplify over time; please be patient as facts are determined.”
On Facebook, Johnson said she and a friend had been walking in the neighborhood on Monday when they saw what was happening. Another woman filmed the video, Johnson said, and she posted it with her permission.
“She saw the young man in distress and knew he didn’t do anything wrong so she started videoing for his safety!” Johnson wrote.
Johnson said the video did not capture the man slapping Deandre’s hand, prompting his phone to fall to the ground and crack.
She added that she waited at the scene until an officer arrived, and repeatedly told them that Deandre had been assaulted. “The officer told us that his supervisor told him that he could only charge the white guy with malicious injury to property and not assault!” Johnson wrote.
She said she and a friend “circled back to get him out of that situation bc we refused to see D go to jail or lying there dead simply bc he was black. The only thing he did was be black while walking!!!”
Newsweek has contacted Fort Jackson, Johnson, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office and the Columbia Police Department for comment.
In the video, Deandre tells Johnson to call the police, and a woman—identified by Pentland as his wife—says that they have already been called. Then, Pentland is seen shoving Deandre.
The couple accuse Deandre of “picking fights” with people in the neighborhood.
“What is it that you are doing here?” Pentland asks Deandre.
“Walking,” Deandre replies. “Then walk,” Pentland says.
“Well you’ve been here like 15 minutes now,” Pentland’s wife interjects.
Pentland continues: “Walk away. Walk away right now. You need help?.. I’m happy to help.”
He then denies hitting Deandre, adding that “there’s a difference between pushing you.”
He then accuses Deandre of “aggressing on the neighborhood” and, as Deandre moves a little closer to his wife, he shoves Deandre in the shoulder.
“You better walk away,” he says. Raising his voice, he ads: “You walk away. You’re talking to my wife right now.”
He continues: “Check it out, you either walk away or I’m going to carry your a** out of here.”
“You better not touch me,” Deandre tells him, remaining calm throughout the video.
“Or what?” Pentland replies. “What are you going to do? Let’s go, walk away… I’m about to do something to you. You better start walking… You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*****. Get out.”
“I live here, sir,” Deandre tells him.
“Where? Where’s your house? What’s your address?” Pentland asks.
When Pentland again accuses Deandre of “harassing” the neighborhood, Deandre replies: “I’m not harassing anyone, I’m walking through the neighborhood, I live here, sir.”
Pentland said that he lives in a “tight-knit community,” adding: “We take care of each other… I have never seen you before in my life.”
Getting up close to the Deandre’s face, he adds: “Check it out motherf*****, I ain’t playing with you. You either get your a** moving or I’m going to move you… I’m about to show you what I can do. You better walk away. Walk away.”
He refuses to identify himself when asked by Deandre. “Are you an officer of the law?” Deandre asks him.
“I’m about to throw you out… you wanna bet? I can do a hell of a lot more than you think I can,” the man responds.
This video answers the questions: What is a malignant narcissist? How doe malignant narcissism manifest in work settings? Malignant narcissism is a construct is not well studied, but in general refers to an individual has a combination of characteristics related to narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoia, and ecosyntonic sadism in aggression.
There are two types of psychopathy: Factor 1 (primary, interpersonal affective) and Factor 2 (lifestyle, antisocial) psychopathy. Factor 1 psychopathy has characteristics like grandiosity, pathological lying, manipulation, a superficial charm, callous, unemotional, low neuroticism and lack of guilt or remorse. Factor 2 psychopathy has a parasitic lifestyle, being prone to boredom, sensation seeking, impulsivity, irresponsibility, a failure to have long term goals, poor behavioral controls, and criminal versatility.
There are two types of narcissism: With grandiose narcissism we see characteristics like being extroverted, socially bold, self-confident, having a superficial charm, being resistant to criticism, and being callous and unemotional. Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by shame, anger, aggression, hypersensitivity, a tendency to be introverted, defensive, avoidant, anxious, depressed, socially awkward, and shy.
Kernberg OF: Severe Personality Disorders. New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1984.
Kernberg OF: Aggression in Personality Disorders and
Perversions. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Kernberg OF: Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-
Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Relationship.
Yale University Press, 2004.
Understand that, and you’ll understand what he’s doing in the White House.
On Sept. 1, with a Category 5 hurricane off the Atlantic coast, an angry wind was issuing from the direction of President Trump’s Twitter account. The apparent emergency: Debra Messing, the co-star of “Will & Grace,” had tweeted that “the public has a right to know” who is attending a Beverly Hills fund-raiser for Mr. Trump’s re-election.
“I have not forgotten that when it was announced that I was going to do The Apprentice, and when it then became a big hit, Helping NBC’s failed lineup greatly, @DebraMessing came up to me at an Upfront & profusely thanked me, even calling me ‘Sir,’ ” wrote the 45th president of the United States.
It was a classic Trumpian ragetweet: aggrieved over a minor slight, possibly prompted by a Fox News segment, unverifiable — he has a long history of questionable tales involving someone calling him “Sir” — and nostalgic for his primetime-TV heyday. (By Thursday he was lashing Ms. Messing again, as Hurricane Dorian was lashing the Carolinas.)
This is a futile effort. Try to understand Donald Trump as a person with psychology and strategy and motivation, and you will inevitably spiral into confusion and covfefe. The key is to remember that Donald Trump is not a person. He’s a TV character.
I mean, O.K., there is an actual person named Donald John Trump, with a human body and a childhood and formative experiences that theoretically a biographer or therapist might usefully delve into someday. (We can only speculate about the latter; Mr. Trump has boasted on Twitter of never having seen a psychiatrist, preferring the therapeutic effects of “hit[ting] ‘sleazebags’ back.”)
But that Donald Trump is of limited significance to America and the world. The “Donald Trump” who got elected president, who has strutted and fretted across the small screen since the 1980s, is a decades-long media performance. To understand him, you need to approach him less like a psychologist and more like a TV critic.
He was born in 1946, at the same time that American broadcast TV was being born. He grew up with it. His father, Fred, had one of the first color TV sets in Jamaica Estates. In “The Art of the Deal” Donald Trump recalls his mother, Mary Anne, spending a day in front of the tube, enraptured by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. (“For Christ’s sake, Mary,” he remembers his father saying, “Enough is enough, turn it off. They’re all a bunch of con artists.”)TV was his soul mate. It was like him. It was packed with the razzle-dazzle and action and violence that captivated him. He dreamed of going to Hollywood, then he shelved those dreams in favor of his father’s business and vowed, according to the book “TrumpNation” by Timothy O’Brien, to “put show business into real estate.”
As TV evolved from the homogeneous three-network mass medium of the mid-20th century to the polarized zillion-channel era of cable-news fisticuffs and reality shocker-tainment, he evolved with it. In the 1980s, he built a media profile as an insouciant, high-living apex predator. In 1990, he described his yacht and gilded buildings to Playboy as “Props for the show … The show is ‘Trump’ and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”
He syndicated that show to Oprah, Letterman, NBC, WrestleMania and Fox News. Everything he achieved, he achieved by using TV as a magnifying glass, to make himself appear bigger than he was.
He was able to do this because he thought like a TV camera. He knew what TV wanted, what stimulated its nerve endings. In his campaign rallies, he would tell The Washington Post, he knew just what to say “to keep the red light on”: that is, the light on a TV camera that showed that it was running, that you mattered. Bomb the [redacted] out of them! I’d like to punch him in the face! The red light radiated its approval. Cable news aired the rallies start to finish. For all practical purposes, he and the camera shared the same brain.
Even when he adopted social media, he used it like TV. First, he used it like a celebrity, to broadcast himself, his first tweet in 2009 promoting a “Late Show With David Letterman” appearance. Then he used it like an instigator, tweeting his birther conspiracies before he would talk about them on Fox News, road-testing his call for a border wall during the cable-news fueled Ebola and border panics of the 2014 midterms.
When he was a candidate, and especially when he was president, his tweets programmed TV and were amplified by it. On CNBC, a “BREAKING NEWS: TRUMP TWEET” graphic would spin out onscreen as soon as the words left his thumbs. He would watch Fox News, or Lou Dobbs, or CNN or “Morning Joe” or “Saturday Night Live” (“I don’t watch”), and get mad, and tweet. Then the tweets would become TV, and he would watch it, and tweet again.
If you want to understand what President Trump will do in any situation, then, it’s more helpful to ask: What would TV do? What does TV want?It wants conflict. It wants excitement. If there is something that can blow up, it should blow up. It wants a fight. It wants more. It is always eating and never full.
Some presidential figure-outers, trying to understand the celebrity president through a template that they were already familiar with, have compared him with Ronald Reagan: a “master showman” cannily playing a “role.”
The comparison is understandable, but it’s wrong. Presidents Reagan and Trump were both entertainers who applied their acts to politics. But there’s a crucial difference between what “playing a character” means in the movies and what it means on reality TV.
Ronald Reagan was an actor. Actors need to believe deeply in the authenticity and interiority of people besides themselves — so deeply that they can subordinate their personalities to “people” who are merely lines on a script. Acting, Reagan told his biographer Lou Cannon, had taught him “to understand the feelings and motivations of others.”
Being a reality star, on the other hand, as Donald Trump was on “The Apprentice,” is also a kind of performance, but one that’s antithetical to movie acting. Playing a character on reality TV means being yourself, but bigger and louder.
Reality TV, writ broadly, goes back to Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera,” the PBS documentary “An American Family,” and MTV’s “The Real World.” But the first mass-market reality TV star was Richard Hatch, the winner of the first season of “Survivor” — produced by Mark Burnett, the eventual impresario of “The Apprentice”— in the summer of 2000.
Mr. Hatch won that first season in much the way that Mr. Trump would run his 2016 campaign. He realized that the only rules were that there were no rules. He lied and backstabbed and took advantage of loopholes, and he argued — with a telegenic brashness — that this made him smart. This was a crooked game in a crooked world, he argued to a final jury of players he’d betrayed and deceived. But, hey: At least he was open about it!
While shooting that first season, the show’s crew was rooting for Rudy Boesch, a 72-year-old former Navy SEAL and model of hard work and fair play. “The only outcome nobody wanted was Richard Hatch winning,” the host, Jeff Probst, would say later. It “would be a disaster.” After all, decades of TV cop shows had taught executives the iron rule that the viewers needed the good guy to win.
But they didn’t. “Survivor” was addictively entertaining, and audiences loved-to-hate the wryly devious Richard the way they did Tony Soprano and, before him, J.R. Ewing. More than 50 million people watched the first-season finale, and “Survivor” has been on the air nearly two decades.
From Richard Hatch, we got a steady stream of Real Housewives, Kardashians, nasty judges, dating-show contestants who “didn’t come here to make friends” and, of course, Donald Trump.
Reality TV has often gotten a raw deal from critics. (Full disclosure: I still watch “Survivor.”) Its audiences, often dismissed as dupes, are just as capable of watching with a critical eye as the fans of prestige cable dramas. But when you apply its mind-set — the law of the TV jungle — to public life, things get ugly.
In reality TV — at least competition reality shows like “The Apprentice” — you do not attempt to understand other people, except as obstacles or objects. To try to imagine what it is like to be a person other than yourself (what, in ordinary, off-camera life, we call “empathy”) is a liability. It’s a distraction that you have to tune out in order to project your fullest you.
Reality TV instead encourages “getting real.” On MTV’s progressive, diverse “Real World,” the phrase implied that people in the show were more authentic than characters on scripted TV — or even than real people in your own life, who were socially conditioned to “be polite.” But “getting real” would also resonate with a rising conservative notion: that political correctness kept people from saying what was really on their minds.
Being real is not the same thing as being honest. To be real is to be the most entertaining, provocative form of yourself. It is to say what you want, without caring whether your words are kind or responsible — or true — but only whether you want to say them. It is to foreground the parts of your personality (aggression, cockiness, prejudice) that will focus the red light on you, and unleash them like weapons.
Maybe the best definition of being real came from the former “Apprentice” contestant and White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman in her memoir, “Unhinged.” Mr. Trump, she said, encouraged people in his entourage to “exaggerate the unique part of themselves.” When you’re being real, there is no difference between impulse and strategy, because the “strategy” is to do what feels good.
This is why it misses a key point to ask, as Vanity Fair recently did after Mr. Trump’s assault on Representative Elijah E. Cummings and the city of Baltimore in July, “Is the president a racist, or does he just play one on TV?” In reality TV, if you are a racist — and reality TV has had many racists, like Katie Hopkins, the far-right British “Apprentice” star the president frequently retweets — then you are a racist and you play one on TV.
So if you actually want a glimpse into the mind of Donald J. Trump, don’t look for a White House tell-all or some secret childhood heartbreak. Go to the streaming service Tubi, where his 14 seasonsof “The Apprentice” recently became accessible to the public.
You can fast-forward past the team challenges and the stagey visits to Trump-branded properties. They’re useful in their own way, as a picture of how Mr. Burnett buttressed the future president’s Potemkin-zillionaire image. But the unadulterated, 200-proof Donald Trump is found in the boardroom segments, at the end of each episode, in which he “fires” one contestant.
In theory, the boardroom is where the best performers in the week’s challenges are rewarded and the screw-ups punished. In reality, the boardroom is a new game, the real game, a free-for-all in which contestants compete to throw one another under the bus and beg Mr. Trump for mercy.
There is no morality in the boardroom. There is no fair and unfair in the boardroom. There is only the individual, trying to impress Mr. Trump, to flatter Mr. Trump, to commune with his mind and anticipate his whims and fits of pique. Candidates are fired for
- being too nice to their adversaries (weak), for
- giving credit to their teammates, for
- interrupting him.
The host’s decisions were often so mercurial, producers have said, that they would have to go back and edit the episodes to impose some appearance of logic on them.
What saves you in the boardroom? Fighting. Boardroom Trump loves to see people fight each other. He perks up at it like a cat hearing a can opener. He loves to watch people scrap for his favor (as they eventually would in his White House). He loves asking contestants to rat out their teammates and watching them squirm with conflict. The unity of the team gives way to disunity, which in the Trumpian worldview is the most productive state of being.
And America loved boardroom Trump — for a while. He delivered his catchphrase in TV cameos and slapped it on a reissue of his 1980s Monopoly knockoff Trump: The Game. (“I’m back and you’re fired!”) But after the first season, the ratings dropped; by season four they were nearly half what they were in season one.
He reacted to his declining numbers by ratcheting up what worked before: becoming a louder, more extreme, more abrasive version of himself. He gets more insulting in the boardroom — “You hang out with losers and you become a loser”— and executes double and quadruple firings.
It’s a pattern that we see as he advances toward his re-election campaign, with an eye not on the Nielsen ratings but on the polls: The only solution for any given problem was a Trumpier Trump.
Did it work for “The Apprentice”? Yes and no. His show hung on to a loyal base through 14 seasons, including the increasingly farcical celebrity version. But it never dominated its competition again, losing out, despite his denials, to the likes of the sitcom “Mike & Molly.”
Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” boardroom closed for business on Feb. 16, 2015, precisely four months before he announced his successful campaign for president. And also, it never closed. It expanded. It broke the fourth wall. We live inside it now.
Now, Mr. Trump re-creates the boardroom’s helter-skelter atmosphere every time he opens his mouth or his Twitter app. In place of the essentially dead White House press briefing, he walks out to the lawn in the morning and reporters gaggle around him like “Apprentice” contestants awaiting the day’s task. He rails and complains and establishes the plot points for that day’s episode:
- “I am the chosen one!”
Then cable news spends morning to midnight happily masticating the fresh batch of outrages before memory-wiping itself to prepare for tomorrow’s episode. Maybe this sounds like a TV critic’s overextended metaphor, but it’s also the president’s: As The Times has reported, before taking office, he told aides to think of every day as “an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”
Mr. Trump has been playing himself instinctually as a character since the 1980s; it’s allowed him to maintain a profile even through bankruptcies and humiliations. But it’s also why, on the rare occasions he’s had to publicly attempt a role contrary to his nature — calling for healing from a script after a mass shooting, for instance — he sounds as stagey and inauthentic as an unrehearsed amateur doing a sitcom cameo.
His character shorthand is “Donald Trump, Fighter Guy Who Wins.” Plop him in front of a camera with an infant orphaned in a mass murder, and he does not have it in his performer’s tool kit to do anything other than smile unnervingly and give a fat thumbs-up.
This is what was lost on commentators who kept hoping wanly that this State of the Union or that tragedy would be the moment he finally became “presidential.” It was lost on journalists who felt obligated to act as though every modulated speech from a teleprompter might, this time, be sincere.
The institution of the office is not changing Donald Trump, because he is already in the sway of another institution. He is governed not by the truisms of past politics but by the imperative of reality TV: never de-escalate and never turn the volume down.
This conveniently echoes the mantra he learned from his early mentor, Roy Cohn: Always attack and never apologize. He serves up one “most shocking episode ever” after another, mining uglier pieces of his core each time: progressing from profanity about Haiti and Africa in private to publicly telling four minority American congresswomen, only one of whom was born outside the United States, to “go back” to the countries they came from.
- The taunting.
- The insults.
- The dog whistles.
- The dog bullhorns.
- The “Lock her up” and “Send her back.”
All of it follows reality-TV rules. Every season has to top the last. Every fight is necessary, be it against Ilhan Omar or Debra Messing. Every twist must be more shocking, every conflict more vicious, lest the red light grow bored and wink off. The only difference: Now there’s no Mark Burnett to impose retroactive logic on the chaos, only press secretaries, pundits and Mike Pence.
To ask whether any of this is “instinct” or “strategy” is a parlor game. If you think like a TV camera — if thinking in those reflexive microbursts of adrenaline and testosterone has served you your whole life — then the instinct is the strategy.
And to ask who the “real” Donald Trump is, is to ignore the obvious. You already know who Donald Trump is. All the evidence you need is right there on your screen. He’s half-man, half-TV, with a camera for an eye that is constantly focused on itself. The red light is pulsing, 24/7, and it does not appear to have an off switch.
It’s natural to get defensive, but that only escalates the cycle of aggression.
A couple of years ago I was discussing a study of the habits of great musical composers when an audience member interrupted.
“That’s not true!” he shouted. “You’re totally ignorant — you don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Early in my career, I had let nasty people walk all over me. When a client berated me for my predecessor’s error on an ad, I gave in and offered him a full refund. When a boss threatened to fire me for defending a colleague who was treated poorly, I said nothing. But this time, I was prepared: I had trained as a conflict mediator, worked as a negotiator and become an organizational psychologist.
At some point in your work life, you’ve probably had to interact with a jerk. They’re the people who demean and disrespect you. They might steal credit for your successes, blame you for their failures, invade your privacy or break their promises, or bad-mouth you, scream at you and belittle you. As the organizational psychologist Bob Sutton puts it, they treat you like dirt, and either they don’t know it or they don’t care.
The natural response is to get defensive, but that only escalates the cycle of aggression. Take a classic study in which researchers recorded negotiators with different levels of skill. Average bargainers ended up in three times as many defend-attack spirals as expert negotiators. The experts escaped the heat of the moment and cooled the other person down, too. They calmly commented on their reactions to the other person’s behavior and tested their understanding of what the person was trying to convey.
I had been studying and teaching this evidence for years. Now it was time to practice it. I called a break, walked up to my heckler and said, “You’re welcome to disagree with the data, but I don’t think that’s a respectful way to express your opinion. It’s not how I was trained to have an intellectual debate. Were you?”
I was hoping to start a conversation about the conversation — to redirect the discussion away from the topic and toward some reflection on the tone of the discussion. To my surprise, it worked.
“Well, no …” he stammered, “I just think you’re wrong.” Later, I sent him the data and he sent me an apology.
My heckler was what Dr. Sutton calls a temporary jerk. We’re all capable of those behaviors, and we feel bad about them afterward. Onestudy showed that on days when leaders acted abusively, they ended up feeling less competent and less respected at work — and had more trouble relaxing at home.
But sometimes you’re stuck dealing with a certified jerk, someone who consistently demeans and disrespects others. A few years ago, I had a colleague who had a reputation for yelling at people during meetings. After witnessing it firsthand, I collected my thoughts and called to say I found it unprofessional. My colleague got defensive: “It was necessary to get my point across!”
Research on the psychology of certified jerks reveals that they have a habit of rationalizing aggression. They’ve convinced themselves that they have to act that way to get the results they want. I didn’t know how to respond until recently, when I interviewed Sheila Heen, a conflict mediation expert, for an episode of my WorkLife podcast on office jerks. She suggested finding a way to gently challenge the belief that aggression is necessary: “Really? It was my impression that you were smarter than that, and more creative than that — so I bet you could come up with some other ways to be just as clear without having to actually rip somebody else apart.”