The Cult of Personality in Politics

This is not an article about politics. Its an exploration about how a luxury personal brand  became a political one and failed. Our love affair with the cult of celebrity has led us to this point. Trump the “TV STAR” in reality tv world was a huge money maker with his slogan “your fired” that is forever be cemented in the minds of the US TV audience.  He decided after being humiliated by President Barak Obama (at that now infamous Press Dinner) that he would run for President.  After all, how hard could it be?

What did Donald Trump have that the other Republican candidates didn’t have? From a branding standpoint he created an illusion of success with his billions of dollars, a luxury lifestyle that included the model wife and a story of being a self-made man. He was also willing to be a beacon of light for the darker side of politics. Other Republicans had political pedigree or a political inside track as members of the party.  Not very appealing to a public that was tired of feeling that their voices were not being heard.  Washington was a ‘swamp’ where the typical politicians lived and his ‘outsider’ or ‘businessman’ brand appeal seemed like a good idea to voters. He made sure they all felt like they were part of a greater vision to “Make America Great Again’.  This is heady stuff for someone who has never thought he could even be close to a guy like Donald.

What his brand stood for when he promoted the idea that “Barack Obama” was not “an American” and had no birth certificate, was a position that cemented his racist ideas that kicked off the “Trump Train”. The politics of Donald Trump had nothing in common with what was considered a Republican or conservative agenda. He confounded the pundits who declared that anyone running on his platform could not become a President.  “He simply does not have the brand of a president” they all declared.  He proved them wrong.  It could be said that this brand of politics based on a “Populist” philosophy was part of a movement that is now sweeping the world in fits and starts and rising from the ashes of disappointment.

The transposition of a personal luxury brand into a traditional political brand is fraught with difficulties.  As we reflect on how businessman and a ‘so-called’ luxury brand became a President we need to understand the story that was created. Like all old school corporate brands the story is not about authenticity, transparency or empowering to the common man or woman (and especially not to women). Trump’s brand is about luxury and exclusivity which translates into politics as “exclusion”. Politicians need to be inclusive like one of the crowd and people-friendly.  How did Mr. Trump create audience connections? He promised that from his business expertise he would fix stuff that the basic guy didn’t really understand. He reached out from a position that he could create an economy that everyone could participate.  His deal would be the best ever. This is a heady promise to his audience of people who have not felt they are “in the swim” with a vastly changing world of technology or a higher education that might be beyond them. The Trump Brand is one of luxury and is best expressed by the 14k gold chairs he and his family sit on in this magazine photo.  Like an illusion of American Royalty, they sit on their golden thrones as a total re-write of Donal’d’s previous family and children. An entire “brand revision” if you will.

But tonight is a historic night. The American presidency is not just about personality or sheer force of will. It’s a night when the personal brand of Donald Trump could not weather the series of self-inflicted wounds that a successful personal brand wants to avoid.  The unraveling of the brand and its promise began on his first official day in office.  With the murmur of conflicts of interest or secret Russian connections in the background his brand story changed in subtle ways  damaging to his main story.  The force of a brand or a personality does not make a democracy nor does it guarantee anything except the hope that a certain personality can succeed in the given challenges that are the presidency.

If there are flaws in the personality there is trouble in paradise for a personal brand. In public service our nation is not a nation of personalities but of laws.  Tonight we will see how the institutions of our government step forward and act with the full faith and promise of our constitution.  It is going to be the undoing of a personal brand we predict.

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