It’s not about politics (the despot is the message)

Brand Despotism: a post-mortem of the Trump regime – Part 2

January 15, 2021

It’s not about politics (the despot is the message) 

Donald Trump rose to occupy America’s highest political office on the strength of not being a politician. This was one of the few honest statements he ever made. He had never held any political office. But why was this fact important to his brand?

In every other field experience matters. Would you have a medical procedure from a surgeon who had never performed it before? Or who wasn’t even trained as a surgeon? Would you get your car repaired by a carpenter? Of course not. Yet the word ‘politician’ has such a negative brand reputation itself, that criminals set themselves in opposition to it to obscure their own unfitness for the role.

This is a common brand tactic used by con-artists. It’s not something they deliberate about or study; it comes naturally to them. Like magicians, they understand how easy it is to manipulate people through deflection. The magician deflects our gaze in order to deceive us. The brand despot deflects our suspicion. The magician’s open palm makes us believe the coin vanished, when it is actually in the closed hand we are not looking at. The brand despot makes us believe corruption has vanished by shifting our focus onto the corrupt politicians who have been deposed, rather than looking at the far worse corruption within the candidate himself.

The virgin politician brand

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘virgin’? No snickering please. The word is so powerful Richard Branson decided to use it for his own brands. What it denotes, of course, is inexperience. But whereas inexperience at surgery or car repair is a bad thing, in marriage in traditional societies—at least for the woman—it is a requirement. Why? Because when it comes to sex, experience is equated with immorality, whereas virginity denotes purity.

It’s been a tragedy for the world that this metaphor crossed like a virus from sex into politics. The experienced politician, like the experienced lover, is damned by association with their favourite activity, while the crook who never before held high office is branded as pure.

This begs the question: How can a political virgin do the job without experience? Which begs a further question: What exactly is the job?

If brand despots wanted to be civil servants, they would have been civil servants. But in reality they want us to serve them. Politics is hard work, and requires many years or even decades of experience to do effectively. The fact that so many elected leaders with years or decades of experience fail to fulfill their public duties shouldn’t be an argument for electing candidates without experience, just as we shouldn’t license untrained people to perform surgery because some older surgeons drink in the operating theatre.

The brand despot is only interested in two things: Gaining power and maintaining power. Nearly all his work schedule is devoted to raising or stealing money, getting positive attention in the media, demonising or punishing rivals and rewarding friends. Look at all the hours Trump spent campaigning. Even after he won in 2016 he continued holding rallies. In a functioning democracy the leader is expendable. But for a brand despot it is everything else that is expendable.

That explains why Trump’s rallies were a key component of his success rather than a diversion from matters of state. For a brand despot there are no matters of state. There isn’t even really a state. What was Iraq under Saddam Hussein? What is Syria under Assad? Some brand despots control no more than a corner of their country. But administration isn’t what matters, power and the perception of power is.

Trump branded himself as an outsider who wanted to get into politics. But actually he was an outsider who wanted to abolish politics. This is evident in how he refashioned the Republican Party into a cult of personality focused solely on him. Parties in America have platforms and conventions. Trump’s convention was a family gathering. If he’d had a dog I’m sure the dog would have gotten air time. As for a platform, there wasn’t one. Trump, who had increased the deficit and sought help from Russia to defeat his domestic enemies, didn’t even make the pretence of belonging to a party that was greater than himself. Rather he made it clear the party belonged to him. The party and Republican supporters either joined the president as Trumpers, or were left out in the cold and rebranded as ‘RINOs’ (Republicans In Name Only). The Trump brand’s abrupt takeover of the Republican brand is a masterclass in brand sabotage.

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Darren Taylor

MD & Head of Strategy and Research

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