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Stephen White
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A BBC reporter recently went to the Island of Lewis, part of the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, to gauge reaction to the increasing likelihood that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential candidate. Donald Trump’s mother comes from Lewis; he is so to speak one of theirs.

The journalist found that the islanders were less than enthusiastic about him. You can see the report here. What seemed to irk them more than anything else is his immodesty. Trump is a master of braggadocio; in English bragging – talking up a situation or a personality (himself) to make it look much bigger, more important and more successful than it really is. His mantra on the stump is to tell his audiences how clever, rich, well endowed, brilliant in business, tough, and wise he is; in summary that he has always been a winner and he is going to keep on winning. Even when he isn’t.  After dozens of bragging speeches he made in advance of the primaries he then promptly lost the first one in Iowa at the beginning of February. Trump however was unfazed, bizarrely claiming that coming second was a victory.

The down-to-earth islanders of Lewis have an aversion to this style, an aversion which is shared by many Americans who are outraged by it, and appalled to think that they might end this year with a President whose best known competence is self-aggrandizement.

So it is puzzling that Donald Trump and many other alpha-males adopt this behaviour. Scotworkers regularly see it at the negotiating table – the noisy preconditioning, their certainty in the strength of their position, the raised voices, the threats, the dramatic walkouts, the bull***ting – all of it is game playing to build themselves up and intimidate counterparties. In one example I was involved in, our client was facing a claim for damages from a counterparty which was convinced it was in the right. In fact, we had uncovered information which demonstrated the opposite. The leader of the counterparty was an intimidating hulk of a man, as wide as he was tall. His opening statement in the meeting – ‘I hope you’ve brought your f***ing cheque book with you’  set the tone. As we revealed the facts we expected him to calm down but he did not moderate his behaviour. He became more and more aggressively demanding and obnoxious.

We are all aware of the truisms about empty vessels making most noise, and that people who wield real power usually put their iron fist in a velvet glove. One theory which suggests otherwise uses the analogy of the Peacock’s Tail, which if you think about it is the bird form of bragging.

However beautiful it might be, the tail of a peacock is a handicap to the bird because it is heavy and cumbersome. It makes the bird slower and therefore more susceptible to predators. So under selection-of-the-fittest criteria the tail should have disappeared. In fact it is because the tails are a handicap that they have survived. The theory is that only the fittest and healthiest birds can overcome the mobility problems which these enormous tails cause. So potential peahen mates are attracted to the peacocks not because of the gaudy colours and the in-your-face display of the tail, but because of what the tail represents – health, strength and strong genes.  

Perhaps Trump’s popularity comes from this same logic. Making his audacious bragging claims should be so unappealing to audiences he should stop, but instead he ramps it up. His devotees should be turned off by the bragging, but they reason that unless he had real power underneath the bluster he wouldn’t get away with it. Q.E.D he must have real power.

It’s an interesting theory. I must admit it doesn’t do it for me. I just think WYSIWYG.

Stephen White

Stephen White
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