Alternate title: The Greatest Clickbait Headline of All Time
I’ve been thinking a lot about historical examples of people like Trump. In political leadership positions, I’ve been hard pressed to come up with any. I simply have never heard of kings, senators, presidents, or any other supreme ruler that has as little experience and as outsized a personality as Trump. Outside of the political world, though, I think we can find some people who resemble him. The business world seems to be where to start.
So there are a few people currently in the public eye that may fall into Trump’s category. Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs all might be similar people. They all try very large, ambitious projects that have a high chance of failure, but also high rewards if successful, and smaller benefits that they gain even in the case of abject failure. Steve Jobs may be the closest analogue. The original iPod wasn’t a great product. Sure, it had a great user interface, but it was expensive, limited in potential buyers, and was coming into a market with competitors that, on paper, would be hard to beat. You couldn’t even use one unless you had a Mac, and almost no one did. But he knew it was just a first generation product. He never intended it to be perfect, because he knew he would continue to upgrade it again and again. Each time it would get a little better. Trump’s business bare similarity to that. He’s declared bankruptcy more than a few times. What little we know about his taxes demonstrate a willingness to lose massive amounts of money. That’s because neither Trump nor Jobs is solely focussed in the immediate future. They both kept an eye on the long term. More than that, Jobs was known for distorting reality. His reality distortion field was legendary. Trump seems to have that too.
Most of Trump’s speeches and policies bare little resemblance to reality. He kicked off his campaign by saying Mexico was sending its criminals, therefore we need to build a wall. Never mind the net migration from Mexico is zero, never mind that crime rates for illegal immigrants is lower than average, a wall will stop exactly zero people from coming in. Why hike across a desert when you can just take a bus? Sure, some people might make such a trek, but building a wall will probably just mean more tourist visas that people overstay. However, by framing reality this way, he was able to get a lot of people onboard his campaign. He distorted reality to meet his own needs. Steve Jobs probably would have recognized those techniques.
Of course, that raises the question of whether or not Steve Jobs or other outsized entrepreneurs would make good presidents. I wouldn’t have voted for them, but at the same time I have to acknowledge that since we haven’t tried there’s a chance it could work out. People have been saying that Apple has been doomed every year for as long as I can remember, but so far they have enormous success to show for their efforts. A lot of failures, but they were great at casting aside the failures and improving on what succeeded. I don’t know a lot about Trump’s businesses. He lost a billion dollars in the mid-nineties, but other than that I only know the headlines. But his campaign certainly used the same techniques as Apple. Disregard the failures and improve the successes. Trump may or may not be a good president, but there are worse options than someone willing to change course in the case of it not working out.