On January 6, 2021, fueled by unsubstantiated claims and fiery rhetoric, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the heart of the nation’s legislative process, the United States Capitol. This tragic incident exposes fragility of democratic institutions and serves as a stark reminder of the need of emotional intelligence in politics.
Why should you care about leader’s emotional intelligence?
“I need you, the American people, I need you, I need every American to do their part. And that’s not hyperbole. I need you.” I’m sipping hot, bittersweet Yuja tea, watching Joe Biden deliver his first speech after his first fifty days in office. Usually, I prefer to drink my tea iced, but climate change has done strange things to Californian weather, and the warm mug around my icy fingers is welcoming, though I digress. Listening to Joe say every adult in the country will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine by May and some form of normalcy by the end of the summer feels a little surreal. I don’t know if this is the case for you, but I planned for another year of social distancing, and as an introvert, I’m a little conflicted that my excuse not to socialize might be gone. Hearing Joe’s words gets me thinking about the disparaging difference between his message and Trump’s speech from January 6. Joe’s is full of hope, optimism, inclusivity, and empathy. Everything about his address, all he does, is calculated, but the motive behind his forethought is not for his constituents’ betterment; it’s for those who voted for Trump. He’s metaphorically holding out a hand for them, a life vest, hoping they’ll decide to take it.
Do you remember what you were doing or how you felt on January 6th, watching Trump’s mob attack the capitol after his ‘Save America’ speech? I do. Sadly, none of it fazed me. Four years of vitriol and fear-mongering leadership left me apathetic to anything he or his base says and does. So, when Trump uttered the angry words, “We fight like Hell, and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” I admit all I felt was a mix of annoyance and indifference. But this is not the reaction I should have; his words should scare me. They should scare everyone. The president of the United States inciting violence on our elected officials is outside of our norm. His words live worldwide for all to witness the destruction of our democracy. And, when notifications with images of his followers wreaking havoc flooded my phone, my annoyance became the rage. Like Joe Biden, Trump calculated his message to his base. He intended for rioters to disrupt the counting process of the electoral college. The difference between Joe’s and Trump’s reasons is that the latter was purely selfish. He did not have the lives of his faithful followers in mind when he sent some of them to their death. All he’s ever concerned himself with is his best interest. Not once, during his speech or afterward when the insurrectionists invaded the Capitol, did he tweet or comment about the wellbeing of our elected congressmen and women, let alone his vice president, Mike Pence. Instead, after fueling his base with hostile rhetoric about Pence’s duty as President of the Senate, of the consequences should he fail to stop the certification of the vote, and Pence’s subsequent close call with the rioters, Trump didn’t reach out to him. Donald Trump’s lack of empathy for the events of January 6th made it strikingly clear that he lacks the ability to lead because of his complete absence of emotional intelligence.
You might be asking yourself, why should I care about Trump? He’s not the president anymore. He has so many legal issues that there’s no way Trump will run again, and he’s seventy-four. Can he physically and mentally run for president again? The short answer is yes. Joe Biden just turned seventy-eight, and if nothing else, Trump is persistent. Most importantly, his ego drives his dangerous hedonistic decision-making. Conversations about Donald Trump’s psychology began long before becoming the United States’ forty-fifth president. In fact, in a profile interview for the New Yorker, from 1997, after having spent months interviewing and researching the self-proclaimed elusive Donald Trump, Mark Singer surmised that Trump“-aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Not exactly a quality you look for in a president, is it?
In 2017, one year into his presidency, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump ” was published by Thomas Dunne Books. A book as thick as “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” encompasses thirty-seven dense essays written by psychiatrists and mental health experts on Trump’s psyche. Not a book I would recommend for light reading. They do a comprehensive evaluation of his pathology and make a strong case for his negative effect on the American mind. If you’re wondering about the relevance of his psyche on the United States’ mentality, remember that Adolf Hitler was directly responsible for over 6 million deaths of European Jews between 1941 through 1945. Beyond the murder of innocent people, Hitler brainwashed a generation of Germans. Taught through indoctrination that their race was superior to all others, Hitler reinforced their antisemitic beliefs and encouraged Germans to hate, harass and even kill Jews simply because of their race. Let me guess, how can I compare him to a murderous dictator, Trump hasn’t killed anyone. Easy, where was Adolf Hitler’s empathy for the lives he took? Where was his social awareness for the millions of lives he was affecting?
Throughout the thirty-seven essays, there’s one unifying theme, Trump’s lack of empathy, impulsivity, and inability to self-regulate his own emotions in connection with his decision-making. All of which are the traits of an individual deficient in emotional intelligence. Now again, you might be asking at this point, what is emotional intelligence, and why should we care if Donald Trump has it? Simply put, emotional intelligence as defined by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer is, “A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.” Salovey and Mayer go a step further and break down the four characteristics of someone competent in emotional intelligence; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill. We should care about all our elected leaders’ emotional intelligence because these characteristics help them deal with complex issues and look at problems from multiple perspectives. It allows them to place themselves in others’ shoes and use that judgment to make difficult decisions. Politics are not always black and white and require a nuanced thought process. But does Trump lack emotional intelligence? Can it be proved, or are these mere assertions? For that, let’s take a closer look at the four characteristics of emotional intelligence and see precisely where Trump lands in each one. Is Trump self-aware? While there have been brief and fleeting moments where he has exhibited acknowledgment of an ‘inner self,’ the history of Trump’s self-awareness can be condensed into one single quote from a 2016 interview with MSNBC. When asked who he looked to for counsel, Trump stated, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things…My primary consultant is myself.”To cite himself as a primary source of knowledge is to say he knows more than any expert who went to school and spent years studying. More than that, he’s refusing to accept that others may know more than him, directly identifying that Trump lacks self-awareness.
Bringing to question his lack of self-awareness directly triggers his poor self-management. A prime example is during a debate in the 2016 primaries when a camera panned to Carly Fiorina about Trump’s momentum in the polls. Trump, unable to contain himself, exploded and said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine the face of our next president?… I mean, she’s a woman and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on, Are we serious?” His misogynistic response was to preclude Fiorina from saying anything negative about him. Instead of using facts and substantive reasoning to short-circuit her answers, he instinctively chose her physical appearance to ridicule. Bullying her was his only form of defense. A brief look at all of his debates will affirm that Donald Trump uses bullying as a primary response instead of facts. His bullying has a two-fold effect as it shows his lack of self-management and social awareness. Meaning, he didn’t stop and think about how his words might make her feel. Even afterward, when publicly scrutinized for the way he spoke to her, Trump only apologized because of the negative press it got him, not because he realized his words’ error.
A good example of Trump’s lack of emotional intelligence is how he handled a speech given by Humayun Khan’s parents. Khan was a soldier stationed in Iraq, awarded the purple heart after dying as a result of an explosion when he went to inspect a car carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives. His parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) in response to Trump’s Muslim-ban plan. When asked about Khizr Khan’s suggestion that Trump had never sacrificed or lost anything, Trump suggested he’d sacrificed plenty as a businessman and went on to say, “I’d like to hear his wife say something.” Insinuating that as a Muslim woman, Ghazala was not allowed to speak her mind. In fact, Ghazala opted not to speak at the DNC because she feared she would become emotional at the thought of her dead son.
Let me guess, you’re thinking, but why does any of this matter? Maybe he really won’t run again. He may just give up. You’re right. He may not run in 2024. But in the meantime, Donald Trump is expanding his base of ‘American patriots’ capitalizing on what he believes was an illegitimate election. He’s fueling and setting the stage for his faithful allies to symbolically storm the Capitol in elected positions. His ex-press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has already started a nationwide campaign to run for Governor of Arkansas. Lara Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, whose home state is North Carolina is eyeing a Senate seat opening up in 2022, and the idea of Ivanka running for office has long since been publicly known. All three women proudly support his brand and would use his base of extreme politics to get them elected and renegade the progress we need to make as a country to get past an era of divisive rhetoric. This is why it matters and why you should care.