Science says charisma is the combination of power and empathy.
That makes sense to me. Powerful people are great to have around, so long as they care about your wellbeing. The powerful can do all sorts of things for you. They can give you jobs, protect you from harm, pay most of the taxes, and lots of other good stuff. It is no wonder people like power and empathy as a package.
On the other hand, the worst person to have around is someone with power and no empathy. That person is nothing but dangerous to you. Criminals with weapons have power and no empathy. Dictators have power and no empathy. Mean-old-bankers on Wall Street have power and no empathy.
And that brings us to Donald Trump. We all see his power, but opinions are split on the empathy part. Some voters see a guy who is fighting for the things they care about, at great personal risk to his reputation and his personal safety. That’s probably why people go nuts at Trump events. They perceive charisma, and they see it operating on their behalf.
But if you don’t see any empathy in Trump, you only see his power, ego, and ambition. And that is why so many people are telling me they will kill themselves or leave the country when he’s elected. (I hope they are exaggerating.)
Interestingly, no one seems to doubt Trump’s ability to get things done. Even the haters are hating him for what they assume he will do. No one is accusing him of being ineffective.
So I think the power part of the charisma equation is solved for Trump. Everyone can see him dominating the Republican party, dominating the press, and annihilating his opponents one-by-one.
But empathy? That’s a tough sell if you don’t already see it. Even a Master Persuader can’t clear away the cloud of confirmation bias the media is spraying in our general direction. At least not quickly.
We all expect that Trump will move to a kinder, gentler outward personality if he gets a big lead in the general election. But that won’t convince the fearful. That group is scared to death of Trump, for what I gather are a dozen unrelated reasons. (By now you know that too many “reasons” is a tell for cognitive dissonance.)
So how can Trump overcome the charisma deficit that he has with a big part of the voting public?
He can do it with consistency.
Consistency is the only thing that makes people feel safe when they are unsure about a powerful person’s empathy. If you present a pattern that never waivers, people can take comfort from the pattern itself.
For example, if an alien robot lands in your front yard, displaying lots of apparent power and no empathy, you might be frightened, and for good reason. But if that same robot inexplicably does nothing but mow your lawn once a week for ten years, you would eventually see it as your lawnmower and not a potential overlord from another galaxy.
Consistency is a substitute for empathy. If you are consistent, folks don’t care about your internal thoughts. They only care what you do. And if what you do is not dangerous to anyone, that’s good enough.
Love him or hate him, Trump is one of the most consistent people you will ever meet. He changes his political opinions over time, which is normal, but his patterns of behavior rarely seem to waiver.
And that means people will adapt to his patterns over time.
If you knew nothing of Trump’s history, and your first exposure to him involved hearing his incendiary remarks about people who are coincidentally brown, that has to raise all kinds of alarms. And it should.
But over time, citizens will see that Trump’s policy statements consistently favor American citizens over non-citizens. That’s his pattern. It is also the job description of the President of the United States.
And obviously he favors the people he sees as helpful versus the people who are attacking him. And being the capitalist that he is, I assume he prefers people who work hard over those who do not. But that is all normal stuff.
Over time, more people will learn that Trump always makes a huge first ask in any negotiation, so he can control the conversation and protect his flexibility to negotiate. Most voters are still not aware of this pattern. And if you don’t know his pattern, it looks insane.
My hypothesis is that the more you know of Trump’s history, the less you worry about his empathy, because his patterns of behavior are consistent to the point of ridiculous. And in those patterns, over a history that stretches for decades, there are curiously few – if any – red flags.
I would like to see a poll that compares each voter’s knowledge of Trump’s history and patterns with people’s opinions of his worthiness as President. My hypothesis is people who understand the consistency of his patterns lose their concerns over his empathy.
If you wondered how I could see Trump’s rise so early (back in August), keep in mind how much I coincidentally know about him. Our thought processes are familiar because our backgrounds are weirdly similar.
- Both exposed to the same “positive thinking” influences of Norman Vincent Peale and the like.
- MBA from a top school
- Raised in NY (upstate in my case)
- Professional communicators
- Skilled persuaders (He is better)
- Brand managers
- Diversified business interests
- White male over 50
When I observe Trump, I can see the scaffolding of his thinking process because it is close enough to my own that the patterns are obvious. We had similar influences, and our brains got wired in similar ways.
Do you know what flaws people most often accuse me of?
Lack of empathy. And narcissism, obviously.
Internally, I know that isn’t true. I already made all the money I will ever need for myself. But I still work seven days a week because my unique skill set can produce an outsized benefit for the rest of you. That’s the point. I’m already done with me. The rest is for the world.
When I see Trump, I see a guy driven by ego, as you do. But I see that ego tied to how much he can improve the country. Just as my own ego is tied to what I can do for other people (at this stage of my life), I assume Trump is in the same place.
In my line of work, I meet a lot of billionaires and hundred-millionaires. So far, every one of them seems deeply interested in how they can be useful to the world, and not so interested in new toys. Sure, they like the toys, but I don’t see any of that as motivation. No one claws their way to billionaire status just to have better transportation options. The biggest motivator I see in the rich (after a certain age) is that they want to make the world better.
Obviously there are rich assholes and sociopaths in the world. But most of them run hedge funds so they are easy to avoid.
My prediction is this: You can flip a Trump hater into a Trump supporter (or at least a voter who does not fear him) by greater exposure to Trump’s history and patterns of behavior. I think you could run a test on ten Trump haters by exposing them to Trump’s background, and three-out-of-ten would flip within an hour.
This guy on Twitter still hates Trump, but he sees Trump differently now because I helped him see the patterns:
In the coming months, you will hear lots more about Trump’s patterns and his history. That knowledge will substitute for empathy, and Trump will win in a landslide.
For the benefit of new readers, I am not endorsing Trump or anyone else. I think all of the candidates are capable, and only one of the candidates thinks I am genetically inferior in terms of listening skills. But kidding aside, I am not psychic enough to know who would do the best job as president. That is well-beyond my powers of prediction. I do, however, care deeply that voters understand the richness of their choices this year. You might never see another candidate with Trump’s unique skillset.
I wrote a book to help people succeed at whatever they want to do. I also recommend the book you see in the #1 spot ahead of mine, Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek.