I have just finished reading Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and first year in Office. Irrespective of how accurate the author’s account is, Donald Trump clearly comes across as a shallow dictatorial character who demands respect, loyalty, and even love without feeling the need to reciprocate such qualities towards others.
I came across business leaders who displayed such traits, demanding so much of others with reward to those who follow them blindly and severe punishment to others who waver from giving 100% commitment. So much has been written and said about the ‘psychopathic’ business leaders, there is little for me to add to the topic.
However, I am fascinated by the lesser characters who are attracted to and orbit the world of the psychopathic boss, knowing that it is a matter of time before they are subjected to intolerable levels of abuse, public humiliation, punishment, and ultimate rejection. Why would seemingly intelligent adults, with distinguished capabilities and talents, put themselves through such purgatory?
Based on Michael Wolff’s account, this covers highly intelligent, industry leaders, independently rich, well-connected people who do not need Mr. Trump and the humiliation that comes with being around him. This often applies to people in the commercial world who can easily get a job elsewhere but choose to remain in the employ or connected to such despotic leaders. The simple, even naïve, question is: why do it?
The answer to such a simple question is far from simple or clear. Michael Wolff’s account is certainly relatable to pretty much all of us whether we are involved in politics or not as it has echoes in other fields we are familiar with. As I thought about my own career, I recalled intolerable bosses who were tolerated by a small group of cronies who took abuse almost on daily basis and kept on coming back for more. What is fascinating is that this small group of people were under no illusion that they were working for an obnoxious and hateful individual for whom they had little or no respect.
Whatever we think of Donald Trump and his type, there is no doubting that people like him are compelling and fascinating to the rest of us. Long before Mr. Trump made it to the most power office on earth, he was the type of person who made most of us stop and read about him in the papers, watch him on TV or listen to his anecdotes. Yes, many people made fun of him (hair, ties, small hands, utterances and so on) and he never came across as a likeable and warm person but still, we consumed his many outputs, thus giving him the very oxygen he lived on, public recognition.
I worked for an organisation that had a senior executive director who was just about the most unpleasant person I ever came across. He was fat, ugly, dishevelled, abusive and displayed no attractive human or professional traits except for his other-worldly talent of being able to strike big deals better than anyone else in the company. Thankfully, I did not work for him directly but, my first encounter was to go and meet him for an hour so as part of my induction programme, carefully designed by Human Resources. My first exchange with him as I walked into his office went like this:
Him: What do you want?
Me: Hello, my name is Mufid Sukkar, I am here for my induction
Him: Fuck off!
I promptly turned around and left his office. He called me back and although I hesitated, I still walked back in and we had a tense three minutes exchange before we agreed that neither of us really wanted to go through with the induction session. I reported my experience to Human Resources and they laughed and said: That’s typical David! David survived me and many other more-worthy people at that company and only left because he actually died on the job.
That last remark by HR probably gives a clue as to how such characters survive and thrive amongst the majority of us who behave like civilised human beings. Yes, some individuals tolerate such behaviour but the more insidious problem is that there is an institutional tolerance of these individuals so responses like: ‘That’s typical David’ or ‘Oh, everyone knows about Jimmy, ignore him’ are delivered by the very people who are supposed to provide the necessary checks and balances in organisations.
When you go through the recent long list of famous sexual predators in the work place, their behaviour was very well known by individuals and organisations who turned a blind eye and urged those who suffered at the abusers’ hands to do the same because they were perceived to bring value bigger and more important than their indulgences at the expense of others.
So, until and unless the institutional tolerance is removed, this type of behaviour by politicians, industry leaders and all those in positions of power will continue unabated.
You know, there is nothing new under the sun. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, etc. all found themselves holding the highest office in their respective lands but, they all achieved power through dubious means. It was a matter of time before the character depicted in ‘Fire and Fury’ found itself in the Oval Office through legitimate and democratic means.