The Secret Beneath President Trump’s Teflon Personality

a.k.a. Why a-holes finish first and nice guys (and gals) finish last

One of the most unfair truths about human nature is that people will root for a reformed jerk or a-hole more than someone who has been nice all along.

Why is that?

Largely due to the social media led by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we live in an adrenaline driven world where the main emotions that people — especially teens and Millennials — feel are: excitement, boredom, fear and anger.

Adrenaline rushes trigger excitement; adrenaline crashes trigger boredom (listlessness and restlessness), fear and anger.

Nice people trigger boredom. Talking about policy that requires listening, consideration and thinking trigger boredom. Democrats — up until the recent debates — trigger boredom.

Say what you will about President Trump, but most would agree that he doesn’t trigger boredom and that he does trigger excitement, fear and anger.

That is how and why his M.O. works for him and fuels his teflon personality in which whatever outrage he triggers, doesn’t stick.

The excitement part is largely due to his unpredictability (or from his POV his being predictably unpredictable so that people are always primed to be on the edge of their seat excited, frightened or angered). This results in keeping his supporters and detractors, friends and enemies always in a state of hypervigilance. Hypervigilance keeps people’s adrenaline high.

High adrenaline is also the body’s natural Adderall. It keeps people who are distractible and who have ADD, alert and focused.

On the other hand, Democrats and moderate Republicans by comparison are “yawn, yawn” boring. When our collective minds are primed to run on adrenaline and we are met with people who by comparison we find boring, we begin to crash off the adrenaline and have trouble listening, concentrating or caring about what those people are saying. And God forbid they give us a “pop quiz” to even remember what they have said.

There is an additional reason why having an outrageous and outraging M.O. works. It also explains what we started this piece with, i.e. that one of the most unfair truths about human nature is that people will root for a reformed jerk or a-hole more than someone who has been nice all along.

When someone who triggers such fear and anger in others suddenly backs off or throws us a crumb of civility and decency, the instant relief from having to feel that fear and anger can border on feeling ecstatic.

That may explain why hope — and naivete — spring eternal in the liberal press whenever President Trump says or does something that actually seems “presidential.”

And the hope?

The hope is that we can collectively turn a corner and stop feeling fear and anger.

Sadly the hope is never fully fulfilled or sustained and even more sadly the deeper abiding ache to have a leader we can have respect and esteem for and feel proud of is never realized.

BTW here is a list of 12 reasons a-holes win and you don’t (as if you’re not feeling lousy enough for being a nice guy or gal already):

1. They’re not afraid to go first — so they’ll take something first while you’re being polite.

2. They’re not neurotic about hurting your feelings — they figure if you’re foolish enough to be thin skinned, it’s your fault if you get hurt.

3. They’re compelling — they will keep you awake and alert which feels better than feeling bored.

4. They’re watchable — you will keep your eye on them which will keep you focused which also feels better than feeling distracted.

5. They keep you on your toes — and then still manage to step on them.

6. You’ll go out of your way to get respect, love or liking from them — because doing so is a real coup compared to getting the not-so-special respect, love and liking from a giver who gives it to everyone.

7. You know where they’re coming from — they are clear about what they want and don’t want as opposed to nice people who can be so vague that they exasperate you when you just want them to “spit it out.”

8. You’re afraid of what you want to do to them as much as of what they will do to you — they frustrate and infuriate you so much that you will do anything to not have to deal with them, including appeasing them and giving them what they want.

9. They’re arrogant because they’re confident — you think they are assured about what they’re doing which makes you all the more vulnerable if you have self doubts.

10. They use their aggression to their advantage — and your disadvantage if you’re busy trying to not come off that way.

11. They feel both entitled and deserving of whatever they get and take — and so they have no compunction about going after it.

12. They’re not afraid of — and in fact enjoy — being an a-hole — and to some extent, you’re jealous of their brazenness.



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Mark Goulston

Mark Goulston

Dr. Goulston is co-founder of Michelangelo Mindset, a speaker, MG100 Coach & the author of "Just Listen,” the top book on listening in the world.