Let's face it—you need thick skin to hold any job. Whether you're working an entry level position as a server at a restaurant or are managing a Fortune 500 company, having thick skin pays off in the workplace. Most of us want to be liked by others, but being able to ignore hurtful criticism allows us to avoid distraction and reach our goals. Withstanding harsh criticism also enabled us to show others our inner strength and resolve.
Since this is a notion that most people can get behind—and is by no means a radical idea—it seems likely that any sensible person would want their political leaders to have thick skin. This is why I find it interesting that our newly elected President Donald Trump seems have the thinnest skin of all.
He started it!
Whether he's being criticized by a politician, TV commentator, journalist, Hollywood actress, or just about anyone, Trump's constant state of being on the defensive is perplexing and alarming.
Prior to November's election, then candidate Trump constantly justified his outlandish statements (most often Tweets) by essentially saying, "He or she started it." Like others, I incorrectly assumed that Trump’s insecurity would improve after his election win. I wanted to think that the President of the United States would find it beneath him to call out Saturday Night Live like he did in the primaries, yet he continues to do.
It’s like a game now trying to predict how fast Trump will respond via Twitter to a public slight. I remember checking Trump’s Twitter immediately after actress Meryl Streep delivered her politically-driven speech at this year’s Golden Globes to see how he would respond. I admit, some Streep’s words were out of touch with the average American, but does the leader of the free world need to call her “overrated” at 3:27 a.m.?
But I digress, because Trump’s behavior is nothing new and should serve as a surprise to no one.
Long before Trump entered the world of politics, his reactive personality was set in stone. In the 1970s, Trump's mentor New York City attorney Roy Cohn instilled in Trump a simple philosophy: "If someone hits you, you hit back twice as hard." Trump has been living up to this sentiment for the last five decades. Whether he's battling Rosie O'Donnell or Hillary Clinton, it doesn't matter to Trump. A criticism is a criticism, no matter how big or small, and it must be handled with great force.
The Trump Approach
Not being able to handle even the minutest criticism is a dangerous thing. In a January interview with Rolling Stone, former President Barack Obama was asked what it takes to be President to which he replied, "thick skin helps." He later added that stamina also helps. Trump appears to have the stamina as evidenced by his strenuous campaigning for the presidency, but what about thick skin?
To be fair, Obama did not always handle criticism well--especially when it came at the hands of Fox News. In fact, President Obama once called the cable news network "destructive." That being said, Obama did not wage a war in an attempt to discredit the media. Some of you may say that the press skews to the left and that Obama may have had an easier go with the media than Trump has had, which is fair, but is it really wise to declare the media public enemy number one?
Media coverage aside, what accounts for Trump's behavior? On the surface, Trump appears have insecurities and is constantly trying to prove himself. From debating crowd sizes to television ratings, Trump has to be the victor in every single circumstance. Is this new? Of course not. As is true with his Cohn-esque philosophy, Trump's desire to be better than everyone has been evident for years. And what's more, we have been rewarding him for years.
We created this monster
Do you remember watching the first season of his hit reality show The Apprentice way back in January 2004? It was the same Trump? Surrounded by sycophants constantly proclaiming "you made the right decision Mr. Trump," his entire shtick was "I'm better than all of you and I want you to know it." Everyone knew Trump was obnoxious and being braggadocios (to steal one of his favorite words), yet we continued to tune in. And tune in we did. The Apprentice was one of NBC's top reality shows for 14 seasons with Trump at the helm and garnered nine Emmy nominations.
Once Trump became a reality star, his profile rose and we positively reinforced his behavior. When he called Rosie O'Donnell a "degenerate," a "pig," and a "loser" most people laughed. I'm not a fan of O'Donnell by any means, or most of her beliefs, but you don't have to get into the gutter with everyone that critiques you as Trump does. It may be hard to believe, but Trump's feud with O'Donnell originated 11 years ago.
Fast forward to March 2017 and he's feuding with Hollywood heavyweight Arnold Schwarzenegger. And why? Schwarzenegger backed Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primary. Due to that slight, Trump waged war on the Terminator star months ago and is still at it. Rather than focusing on Healthcare or the myriad of legislative issues facing our nation, Trump decided to Tweet about Schwarzenegger leaving The New Celebrity Apprentice on March 4, writing, "Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show."
Really? I'm not saying I disagree with the "If someone hits you, you hit back twice as hard" line in every circumstance, but Trump seems to have turned this mantra into, "If someone nudges you, you must repeatedly pummel them indefinitely."
The dangers of insecurity
I'm not here to psychoanalyze Trump or to question his mental stability as some critics have. I do not think it's productive to label Trump a "sociopath" or anything like that, but what I am saying is that, like most human beings, Trump is probably insecure. We all deal with various insecurities and attempt to mask them in certain ways. Some of us slightly embellish our successes and some of us flat out lie about everything. Trump appears to do a little of both.
Although insecurity comes with being human, most people address it in more healthily (or at least try to). I myself have insecurities, but luckily these insecurities do not lead me to be untruthful or lash out at people. Also, like many others, I face criticism on a daily basis. My job day job is stressful, but I certainly don't face the rigors or responsibilities of the presidency.
No matter if you're the boss man or the low man of the totem pole, power does not make you immune to criticism. Thick skin is not just a nice trait to have, it is essential for living in the real world. Since it is a necessity working at even McDonald's, I would argue that it's paramount when serving as the leader of the free world.
Hope for change?
Trump has shown himself to be Presidential. During Trump's first joint address to Congress earlier this month, he was measured, funny, somewhat inclusive, and even warm at times. I believe these positive traits are buried under the surface (however deep they may be), but we may never see them. For decades, Trump has not only survived, but thrived, by being pompous and a bully. Notwithstanding some failed business ventures, Trump is on top and surrounds himself with "yes men."
Trump has never had to grow thicker skin, because he hasn't been penalized for being reactionary and overly sensitive. Conversely, it has earned him fame, fortune, 26.4 million Twitter followers, and the presidency. So we, the consumer of Trump's goods and services, have helped foster his thin-skinned mentality. His reactionary approach may have worked thus far, but I am concerned with how long it can be sustained over the next four years.
President Abraham Lincoln or as Trump affectionately calls him, "The late, great Abraham Lincoln," once said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
What happens when a man can't stand adversity? Or more specifically, criticism of any kind. And what if this same man is given the power of influence on the world's stage? How will Trump handle it?
So far, the results have not been encouraging.
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