Not My President (1/3)

Surya,

You won’t be surprised to learn that I think protesting is a waste of time, an exercise in self-indulgence that gives people a way to feel good about themselves for ‘doing something’ without actually accomplishing much of anything. While it may be therapeutic for the person with the sign, shouting about what (or who) you hate at the top of your lungs seems unlikely to effect change. It’s more likely to be treated like a temper tantrum: You may get placated, but you’ll never get respect.

Since the election of President Trump, we’ve seen one tantrum — er, protest — after another. One of the latest was the “Not My President’s Day” protest, which stimulated a thesis I’d like to discuss with you.

Let’s take the protesters at their word: Trump is NOT(!) their president. That is, he does not fit any of the criteria they had for a post-Obama president They wanted:

  • A woman
  • A Beta
  • A Talker
  • A Leftist
  • A modern socialist

They got:

  • A man
  • An Alpha
  • A Doer
  • A Rightist
  • A classic individualist

There is obvious bias in these lists, but I tried to avoid going too far with it. For instance, I don’t mean “socialist” to be invective. I mean it to represent a legitimate form of government that is practiced by much of Europe. I think there is a rational case to be made for why America should be moving in that direction, and I would argue that President Obama governed like a European socialist in many ways. (Bernie Sanders is a self-described “Democratic socialist.” Etc.)

I should also define some of the terms to avoid confrontation by implication. For example, I use the term “Beta” in a neutral sense, recognizing it has positive and negative connotations. It can mean ‘weak follower,’ but it can also mean ‘considerate, polite and compassionate.’ Similarly, “Alpha” can mean something negative (the word also starts with “a”) or it can mean ‘tough, direct, resolute.’ Alpha leadership is considered by many to be a legitimate leadership style.

I see the same dichotomy in the terms “Talker” and “Doer.” To show you I am aware of this, I’ll make two statements that add nuance to my meaning. One, the Talker is much better at building coalitions and earning the respect of her peers, which can be critical to getting things done. Two, I think the Doer is accurately described by behavioral economist Richard Thaler* as having a “devil-may-care” attitude. The point is that there are pros and cons to each approach.

Finally, I should also mention that these lists represent what the people in question wanted in their president. They don’t necessarily represent what those people actually are. I can’t tell from what I know, but I suspect Hillary Clinton is an Alpha Female who emphasized her positive Beta qualities so people would like/vote for her. I suspect that if we got a few of her subordinates drunk, she would sound a lot more like an Alpha than a Beta. Of course, it’s also true that a woman doesn’t get to be a presidential candidate without having Alpha qualities.

So with all of that in mind, what do you think of my thesis? More to the point, what does it say about the possibility of bringing the country together, healing the divide and all of that other Kumbaya crap everyone becomes obsessed with during times like these? I mean, it sucks that the two sides in this conflict can’t find common ground, but I think lists such as the above make it clear why that is. Could any one president satisfy enough of both sets of criteria (he asked, rhetorically)? Before you think “Obama,” keep in mind that his approval ratings were in the 40s for much of his presidency.

Another point I want to make: I think people (including you) need to stop blaming President Trump for the country being divided. In the anti-Trump echo chamber, the idea that his attitude and style created this problem must sound really good, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The core problem goes back to at least the (Bill) Clinton years when half the country tried to impeach the other half (anti-Trumpers are already talking about this). The Democrats have all but admitted their plan is to keep the wounds fresh for their future political gain (see, for example, this recent NYT article). And when you look at the lists above, it becomes clear that President Trump could never satisfy the criteria the protesters have for ‘their president’ — which means they are really just protesting the fact that they lost a fair and democratic election.

Jordan

  • Thaler used the term “Doer” to describe our impulsive selves. The opposite in his metaphor is the forward-looking “Planner.” These do not map well (or at all) onto my Talker/Doer labels here. However, I think his criticism of the Doer is valid in this context. He may ‘get sh*t done,’ but he is often not sensitive enough to the potential ramifications of his actions. (Witness Trump’s travel ban.)

Read Surya’s response.

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