"Diversity of ideas makes us all wiser.
True leadership is embracing those who disagree with you, as well."
- "President" Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Donald Trump should take a tip from fictional president Frank Underwood in the Netflix hit show House of Cards. Although ruthless, Underwood is pretty savvy about culture and messages and the impact of both on the American character. He may have quietly embraced murder and extortion to get to the presidency, but he never would condone ugly and mean behavior out in the public eye, if for no other reason that it would make him look bad.
Not so with Trump. So far in this ugly, primary season, Trump has ruthlessly ejected protesters, advocating or implying (depending on whom you believe) that they be "punched," "taken out on a stretcher," or openly ridiculed (as Trump himself did to a disabled reporter). Trump obviously doesn't tolerate diversity of opinion. In addition, predictably, some Trump supporters and Trump rallies in South Carolina, Chicago, Dayton and Kansas City, have turned violent.
According to "President" Underwood, Trump is not a true leader.
Over the past 22 years, Project Love, the non-profit, schools-based, character-building program I co-founded, has asked thousands of teens to define leadership. One such group defined leadership as follows:
"Being responsible, setting a personal example, being dedicated, being independent, taking charge, understanding, being motivated, being devoted, being kind, being a role model and a good influence, taking initiative, being a good communicator, being yourself, stating your opinion, taking a stand, working for others, helping not yelling, being open minded, being there for a friend, and having a positive attitude."
Trump has many of these leadership traits. He is dedicated, takes charge, takes initiative, is a good communicator, has strong opinions, has been a friend (especially to politicians whose favor he has been able to buy), and is dedicated. He has also been responsible by employing thousands of employees and has built a mega-company.
Because of these characteristics, several thoughtful friends of mine support Trump. One such friend sent me and others an email the other day urging us to support Trump in the Ohio primary because, according to him, "This is the last chance 'We the People' have to turn this country around." He and other Trump supporters are impressed with Trump's take charge, no-holds-barred approach and attitude, as opposed to gridlock and political correctness. I understand the lure of supporting someone who will get things done.
However, according to the students' definition, Trump fails as a leader. The Project Love students added leadership traits such as positivity, helping not yelling, being kind and setting a personal example because they realized that, with the other attributes alone, Hitler would have been called a leader.
They also realized the significance of a force as powerful as the laws of physics: Positivity creates more positivity while negativity creates more negativity.
Students see these polar opposite forces in their high schools every day. One fight in the hallway draws cheering crowds and sanctions other fights in school.
Bullying encourages other bullying; making fun of disabled or disadvantaged students gives rise to similar behavior; meanness results in more meanness. This is precisely the chain reaction of negativity that we have seen with Trump's campaign and its effect on some of his supporters.
I have seen countless schools transformed by the power of kindness. Project Love students who have created a culture in which their peers are recognized for acts of kindness have created an ever-growing abundance of kindness. Kindness in this respect is indeed "power" and not weakness.
But negativity has an equally powerful chain reaction. Biblical scholars have explained this force by questioning why the Angel of Death, charged with killing the first born sons of Egypt, had to see lamb's blood on the doorposts of Jewish homes to "pass over" and not kill the inhabitants. Their answer is that, once you unleash the power of negativity, it is hard to stop. Even the Angel of Death needed a sign in order to refrain from killing.
Donald Trump has unleashed a chain reaction of negativity. Unless he goes out of his way to become a responsible leader, embracing diverse opinions, the rights of free speech and peaceful protest -- along with tangible displays of kindness, love and respect -- his minions may become as dangerous as the deadly brown shirts of Nazi Germany. Many scholars have documented that Hitler's atrocities were committed by "ordinary people." These people were not just following orders; they were following the popular culture and absorbing the popular negativity of the day.
That's why culture is so important. America can be a kind, inclusive and caring place or a mean, negative and repulsive place. Much depends on how leaders and authority figures authorize or sanction the behavior of ordinary people.
Authority and negativity gone awry was demonstrated in the 1961 Milgram Shock Experiment at Yale University. In the experiment, social psychologist Dr. Stanley Milgram asked ordinary Americans to participate in an alleged learning experiment.
During the sessions, Milgram's recruited "teachers" were asked to administer electric shocks on "learners" (really actors) who gave wrong answers to routine questions. Two-thirds of the "teachers" increased the shocks to lethal levels because the authorities leading the experiment ordered them to do so.
Social psychology and history have shown us that those who support Trump are flirting with the dangerous power of negativity. If Trump becomes president, his anything-goes style will potentially do damage to our values, culture and behaviors.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, a prominent psychologist and Holocaust survivor who saw the full spectrum of human behaviors from kindness to carnage, said that there are two races of mankind -- the decent and the indecent.
Donald Trump's confrontative, obnoxious and mean behavior has set loose a negative force that has and will continue to give rise to an indecent race of mankind. Once this force is embedded in our culture, America will no longer be the land of the free. We all will be captive to negativity, meanness, disrespect and fear.
Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us. Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org