Donald Trump’s penchant for threats, bluffing and intimidation is the cornerstone of his political persona, one the president has honed for decades—first as a real estate developer then as a reality TV star.
Those tactics no-doubt helped elevate Trump to his current role as leader of the free world. And according to the Guardian, the president’s go-to mechanisms are the mark of alpha leaders in another type of world: chimpanzee colonies.
As the psychologist Dan P. McAdams writes in the Guardian, chimpanzees bestow power on the “biggest, strongest, most outgoing male” in their colony, who in turn dominates his subordinates through “threat, intimidation, bluffing” and “pragmatic coalitions.”
According to McAdams, alpha chimpanzees demonstrate dominance through “the charging display,” where they essentially “scream, hoot and gesticulate” wildly. Afterwards, the alpha male’s subjects “visit … groom … and express various forms of submission” towards the top chimp.
McAdams relates the “charging display” to the president’s Twitter feed. It could also apply to his free-wheeling rallies and press conferences. During each of these events, Trump—either virtually or physically—will “scream, hoot and gesticulate” to get his point across as his crowd—or Twitter feed—goes wild. After a period of chaos, Trump’s submissive base (including GOP leaders) will bow to the president’s will.
Trump’s dominance is in sharp contrast to the other “primal expression of leadership,” referred to as prestige leadership. McAdams notes that, evolutionarily speaking, prestige is younger. Were the president to mimic that form of leadership, “the president’s cabinet would be viewed as a body of experts charged with running government agencies and providing the president with critical advice.” Instead, Trump filled his cabinet with members who, during their first meeting, went around in a circle and heaped praise on the newly-elected commander-in-chief.
Another important element to the power paradigm is the formation of temporary coalitions. With Trump, as with alpha chimpanzees, “the goal for each moment is to win the moment,” meaning there’s little interest in long-term loyalty.
Trump has demonstrated this ad infinitum, himself noting he’s “loyal to people who’ve done good work for me”—and even then, only when it suit him.
Jeremy Shapiro, a former state department official, described Trump’s short-term deal making as such: “He’ll promise you the world, and 48 hours later, he’ll betray you without a thought. He won’t even know that he’ll be betraying you.”