Winning in the Time of Trump

It seems to me that we Americans deserve a lot of what we get. That includes President Donald Trump. Trump’s popularity is the beneficiary of several social movements of the last half-century: our American obsessions with winning and with wealth, as well as the distillation of all points of view into yes or no. This essay deals with one of our favorite things: winning.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Winning is important. Life is a competition for scarce resources, for the pursuit of personal fulfillment, and a struggle against harsh environments and physical and mental limitations. It is essential to find success in these challenges: to win! However, there are ways of winning that can help others to be successful or, at least, not degrade those others. When winning is the sole and overriding goal, it can lead to harmful behavior.

Donald Trump is a winner. He tells us that nearly every day. He can’t bear to lose. He can’t admit it when he does lose and, if things don’t work out the way he likes (which isn’t the same as losing, mind you), it is always someone else’s fault. We like winners in America. We like John Wayne. We like Hannibal Lechter (who not only gets away with murder, but takes the very attractive FBI agent who has been his long-term nemesis and turns her to his elegant, homicidal lifestyle). I suspect that we even like Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gecko better than the sniveling fellow traveler who engineers his downfall (What was his character’s name – does anyone remember?).

We like Donald Trump. He’s made millions! He’s won and lost more money than most of us will see in a lifetime. If it turns out that creditors and banks weren’t paid, we secretly think, “Ha, serves them right! They’ve been screwing everybody else for years.” If sub-contractors weren’t paid, “Well, that ought to be a lesson to them — structure your paydays better or know your partners better or know who to avoid as a client – that’s how business rolls in this country.” Nowhere do we say we expect our business heroes to act in an upright and ethical manner. We expect them to win at all costs – even the cost to their soul and their humanity.

Results count. If Jim Rockford had to do a little breaking and entering to get the needed evidence, so what? If the movie hero had to kiss the girl against her will to make her understand how good they were together, then so be it. If you feel you need to deflate the game ball so you have more control and can win the game, big whiff! If you get information that is embarrassing or debilitating to your opponent, regardless of its questionable source or questionable truthfulness, you must use it! This is how you get the desired result. This is how you win!

On his television show, “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump reminded us that the result is paramount every week. No matter how trumped up or unfair the task, there was always a winner and a loser. And there was only one measurement of success – how much money the team made. It didn’t matter if the winning team prostituted themselves by using overt sexuality to sell their product or if they misled (aka “lied to”) potential buyers, or betrayed fellow team members or ambushed their opponents. Oh, they might get scolded, but overall it didn’t matter, they were the winners. Even if the second-place team was only a penny behind, they were the losers.

We don’t like losers. In my lifetime, we Americans have devised a hand signal for losers.   We take our thumb and forefinger and form an “L” and hold it up to our foreheads. This has become so ingrained in our culture that it hardly even registers anymore. We hate to be losers. We hate to lose. We hate to vote for losers.   To be American is to be a winner. Winning is what America is all about.

Trump is about winning. He is reflecting our cultural choices back to us. Do we want Trump to be what America is all about?

 

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