Analysis

The Toxic Leader: Trump Has Turned Into a One-man Demolition Crew

It may take years for American society to cure itself of the viruses that the GOP candidate is injecting into the election campaign.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a Bollywood-themed charity concert put on by the Republican Hindu Coalition in Edison, New Jersey, U.S. October 15, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

The term “toxic leader” was coined in 1996 by Marcia Whicker of Virginia Commonwealth University and popularized by Professor Jean Lipman-Blumen from California’s Claremont University. Her 2004 book is entitled “”The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians - and How We Can Survive Them.” It’s probably a must-read for Republican leaders who may be pondering how they will survive the toxic leadership of Donald Trump.

Lipman-Blumen’s theoretical model of what makes a toxic leader sounds as if it was written for Donald Trump. Such toxic rulers - in business, in the army and in politics - achieve power by recognizing “basic needs and basic fears," feeding on them and then fostering them among their followers. They are motivated by “ambition, arrogance, avarice, desire for power and narcissism.” And they are characterized by their “destructive behavior, dysfunctional personality and the serious and enduring harm” they create - and leave behind them.

The Allure of Toxic Leaders

Trump, who apparently cannot cope with the increasingly likely prospect of defeat, is already sowing desolation and destruction. Instead of trying to overcome the damage caused by the incriminating recording uncovered by the Washington Post and the ensuing testimonies of his female victims, Trump is torching American politics and setting a light to U.S. democracy. He hypnotized white Republicans by pouring fuel on their simmering feelings of neglect, resentment, hate, racism and widespread belief in conspiracy theories and now he is egging them on to burn down the house altogether, if he doesn’t get his way.

Trump, whose initial attraction stemmed from his non-conformism, has turned into a one-man demolition derby of accepted norms and practices in politics. Instead of treating his rival Hillary Clinton, as is customary, with a minimum of decorum and respect - or at least pretending to - he is describing her as old and ugly, terminally ill, mentally incapacitated, fundamentally corrupt, inherently criminal and his latest hit - addicted to performance enhancing drugs. It took him only an hour to pin the blame for the firebombing of a GOP office in North Carolina on her “animals," because facts are such a nuisance for him.

Instead of sticking to the issues and trying to engage Clinton with alternative policies - as he tried, rather successfully, until the tape scandal erupted - Trump is accusing her, her party, the media, the U.S. government, state administrations and all the bodies connected to overseeing the elections with the greatest conspiracy ever told, aimed at denying him what is rightfully his. He is almost openly prodding his followers, some of whom have been waiting for years for the politician who would finally cross that red line, to consider taking matters into their own hands and their own guns to subvert the scheme to deprive them of their rights and to prevent an ISIS takeover of America, which is what a Clinton victory would mean.

A normal politician would try to placate offended women, if such a thing is possible after his various self-incriminating confessions and numerous accounts of his gross behavior, but Trump only makes matters worse by insulting and berating his accusers, in particular, and all females, in general. A rational candidate would try to pacify Republican leaders who have criticized him, but he insists on taking things from bad to worse by belittling and defaming them. A balanced contender would try to instill hope among voters and encourage them to strive for the “shining city upon a hill," as Ronald Reagan did, but Trump’s America is hopelessly corrupt, irreparably weak, universally despised, irredeemably violent, and almost irrevocably unfixable. It is being controlled by dark forces belonging to a global financial cabal through its puppet, Clinton, in ways that seem to have been inspired, if not taken directly, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Trump is employing a scorched earth policy that appears to be aimed at destroying not only his Democratic rivals but the GOP he claims to command as well. He could very well lead the GOP not only to a sound trouncing on November 8 but to a potentially catastrophic schism between the establishment and his die hard supporters that could last for years. He is persuading millions of Americans that nothing and no one can be trusted, including the outcome of the elections, and plainly prodding them to take up arms if necessary. He is infecting American politics as no previous mainstream candidate ever has, and it is far from clear whether and when American society will be able to rid itself of the deadly viruses Trump has been maliciously injecting in recent days.

Many senior Republicans are well aware of the danger. They know they have created a Frankenstein who is now tearing their home apart. About a quarter of the GOP’s candidates have done the right thing and dissociated themselves from Trump, though they may pay a steep price in the polls when his fans punish them for their transgression. Others are sitting on the fence, damned if they do and damned if they don’t, worried about the growing groups of Americans - women, minorities, college educated whites - that Trump has alienated but scared even more of his committed, enthused and often hot-headed supporters.

The U.S. Army has devoted several researches into “toxic leaders” in its ranks. In a paper submitted in 2005 by Colonel Denise Williams, the personal characteristics of toxic leaders are detailed: they include incompetence, malfunctionality, maladjustedness, sense of inadequacy, malcontentedness, irresponsibility, amorality, cowardice, insatiable ambition, egotism, arrogance, selfish values, avarice and greed, lack of integrity, deception, malevolence, maliciousness and malfeasance. Check off the ones that you identify in Trump, and reach your own conclusions.

Colonel Williams presents the reasons why toxic leadership might be more prevalent in the army than in civil society, including the military’s reliance on chain of command, duty to obey, stake in charismatic leadership and dedication of performance of missions. She places the burden of identifying and eradicating toxic leaders mainly on the top brass itself.

Lipman-Blumen, however, does not absolve the public itself of responsibility. The leader’s followers, who select and elect toxic leaders and then suffer the consequences, must step forward to rid itself of its dangerous captains. She recoils when asked about the importance of charisma, which seems to be the chief prerequisite for leadership these days. Don’t talk to me about charisma, she says. Talk to me about character, about honesty, about integrity, about putting the needs of the group in front of the leader’s. True words, even if they sound naive and anachronistic, in America as well as Israel.