Donald Trump and the Rise of Reality TV Governance and Lessons for Other Leaders

Donald Trump - The Reality TV Show Host who Became the President

The election of President Trump surprised most people and some would say, Trump himself. Indeed, when he entered the presidential fray, he was considered an Outlier and a Failed Businessman who was no better than a Reality TV Show Host which was true since he was famous for such shows.

However, what his election heralded was an entirely new dimension of leadership and governance, shunning the Professorial approach which was traditionally the norm and more so, with President Obama, who was widely seen as a Cerebral, yet committed leader who could both hold his own in Intellectual Discussions as well relate to the multitudes of Underprivileged Americans.

Trump, in contrast, appealed to them as well and especially the so-called Angry White and Poor Voters who felt cheated by the way American elites cornered all the benefits of globalization and outsourcing to themselves leaving them poorer.

The Addictive Nature of the Trump Presidency and Whether This is a Good Thing

Thus, here was a President who spoke directly to them without any Presidential Trappings and understood their grievances, legitimate or otherwise, and who reveled in the TV induced glow and the adulation of Twitter and 24/7 News Cycles.

In other words, Trump was a President just like them and neither did he talk down to them, nor, did he preach high sounded sermons about the many issues that presidents grapples with.

He conducted his administration much like a Reality TV show where there were no middlepersons between him and his followers or the Base, as some would say.

Having said that, while Trump might have been a successful campaign winner, governance and especially in a Global leader such as the United States is too serious to be conducted in the manner in which he does.

Longer Term Durability and Sustainability of Institutions

Of course, this is again playing into his hands since he was elected primarily because he promised not to sound condescending and supercilious.

However, the fact remains that Trump is doing serious damage to the Institutions of governance and is riding roughshod over widely accepted and time tested norms of governance.

Indeed, while his actions might make for good TRPs (Television Rating Points) and serve as entertainment, leadership and governance are expected to have more nuance than sound or noise and more narrative than a 140 Character Limit Tweets.

Thus, the danger is that other leaders worldwide including business leaders might be tempted or even forced to run their countries and businesses like Trump, which would have repercussions for longer term health and stability as well as credibility of the fabric of democracy and business.

After all, leaders come and go and what are durable and lasting are the institutions that serve as the continuity of nations and businesses.

Lessons for Other Leaders

On the other hand, some experts are arguing that what Trump has done is to disrupt the patterns of leadership and governance and his savvy use of Twitter and Televised meetings with fellow politicians and business leaders means that he is the product of the Digital Age style of leadership that can, with some success, herald a New Era of Leadership for the Internet and Smartphone age.

Indeed, already other leaders including PM Modi have begun to follow Trump’s style and as we see politics being reduced to spectacle and governance being relegated to a distraction, one cannot but wonder where this is leading us all.

Further, change in any sense is glacial and takes time and it is certainly not through pandering to 24/7 Breaking News Cycles where the instant is more important than the slow and grinding route to forming cohesive and coherent policies that are the bedrock of future prosperity.

Will the Show Go On?

However, Trump has been blessed with a Strong Economy which is the result of many years of sound policies and which has been helped by his pro business approach. This is what is keeping him in power and while he might or might be the cause of the boom, he is certainly a beneficiary.

Of course, the fact that governance has taken a hit due to him means that once the business world and the real world catches up with his Shenanigans, it might be too late to undo the damage that he has done and is doing.

Indeed, in recent years, even normally staid and relatively inconspicuous business leaders have adopted a Reality TV Approach to corporate governance as was seen during the spat between the ex-founders of Infosys and the then CEO (Chief Executive Officer).

As Nandan Nilekani who was one of the co-founders remarked, the way the whole saga unfolded and was managed looked like it was some sort of Surreal Soap Opera on TV and he also mentioned that business leaders should follow the maxim of less talk and more action.

Whichever way one might look at it, Trump’s unorthodox leadership style might be entertaining but is definitely not recommended for others to copy and emulate.

Why Millennials Should Take Notice

Indeed, already the upcoming Millennials have shorter attention spans and if all that they do is to Tweet and have the Cameras rolling each moment of their waking hours, long established norms and principles of business and politics would continue to be shredded.

Thus, it is the case that whiles the Digital Age is all about Disruption, at the same time; it should also not be disrupting age old fundamentals which are the basis of the modern business and political edifices.

To conclude, we have to decide whether we want to be entertained or we want to be educated and herein lay the decision that can have a bearing on our collective future.

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