Trump is unique for two interlinked reasons. Firstly, his raw communication ability. Whether it (was) through his Twitter feed or call ins to Fox and Friends, or whether it was through buying advert space implicitly calling for the death penalty for the Central Park 5, he connected to a group of people, who, often by their own admission, had sat on the side lines of politics for decades. In a recent article for the Times newspaper, Joe Scarborough sums it up, simply saying “It’s so hard to match the Donald”. If you believe Michael Cohen (and several others), though, this is all an act. Or, what you could call a skill.
The skill is supplemented by a willingness and an ease to lie, which I don’t believe to be a skill, rather a natural disposition. Not to spin, not to polish over, but to lie. To someone with Trump’s communication skills, adding lies is like injecting anabolic steroids. He is no longer inhibited by normal feelings of human restraint.
The second unique thing about Trump is that no one with his blend of skill, temperament and worldview has ever risen as high in contemporary politics. Finally, however, his uniqueness has allowed some to breath a sign of relief. There is simply no one like him, the argument goes, so there is no chance someone like him can be elected again.
Yet, that hides the overarching truth: that Trump’s pattern of behaviour is far from unique. In fact, it is all too common. In business, sports, politics, and even day-to-day life, systems fail all the time.
Trump’s abilities — or skills — are but one of the reasons why this mistake was able to happen. The point is, that unless both parties (and I hate to commit both-side-ism) have a culture that encourages redemption where necessary, but also data-driven correction, then there is of course every chance someone like Trump could be elected again.
To get an idea of just how difficult this crucial course correction might be, think of the stories still being told across the country of families being torn apart; one half supporting Trump and his worldview, the other, not supporting it. At some point, it could be days, months, or years from now, the supporters of Trump’s worldview will want to re-entre reality. While the material consequences of admitting this mistake might be relatively low — admitting this mistake doesn’t put anyone’s life at danger, for example — but the emotional task of reconciliation is enormous. It is made even more so if those with whom the former Trump supporter seeks to reconcile, are hostile to their efforts.
If so far you don’t buy the argument that Trump represents a failure. If, for example, you’re a Republican who voted for him. Keep your partisan hat on and think about what he has done to the party. Lost the popular vote, twice, impeached, twice, lost the House, lost the Senate. Lost Arizona and Georgia. He goes down as the most unpopular President in history. In the words of Don Jnr, “this isn’t their party anymore…this is Donald Trump’s party”. And it’s a party that loses.
In my vaccine to the aforementioned both-side-ism, think too about how Democrats responded to their political failure in 2016. Their mistake had been to lose an election. They nominated Joe Biden, who for all his policy, which you can agree or disagree with, was there to correct their mistake. To, in other words, win the election. Much is said about the GOP’s political savvy, spearheaded by Mitch McConnell, but there is every chance that they elect another version of Trump -albeit without his exceptional traits — to run in 2024, even when evidence suggests that would be another mistake, if only for the reason that it would split their own party. In this regard, Democrats represented a much healthier approach to mistake making than I suspect the GOP has.
Matthew Syed, in his book ‘Black Box Thinking’ says “accidents in aviation, while tragic… bolster the safety of future flights”, while this is an imperfect comparison, it offers a silver lining for the Trump years. It shows that there is a problem with the market — in this instance, the market being electoral politics. The current ‘products’ are insufficient and have failed. They nearly, but not quite, brought down the entire jumbo jet. But that is not inherently a bad thing, because, as is suggested, failures make for better futures. However, Syed also says “the greatest difficulty many people face is admitting to their own failures”. Facing those mistakes, and forging a better future won’t be easy. For anyone.