I have been watching the soap opera that is the US elections over the last week or so. I’ve found it enthralling. However, as things now more forwards in a sadly predictable direction, I’ve found myself reflecting on my Process of Transition curve and how the defeated President appears to be slot rattling between two elements potentially as a result of the implications of a third!
What do I mean by this? Well, the three areas of the curve I want to focus on are those of “Denial”, “Hostility” and “Threat”. Because of the implications to the President’s strongly held beliefs about his personal power the failure to win either the popular vote or the Electoral College vote has some serious implications driving his behaviour.
I see Threat as the growing realisation of a massive change in what they believe to be their core identity or sense of self. The realisation that the change will have a fundamental impact on who they are, how they see themselves and what they see as key personality traits are wrong! This is the shock of suddenly discovering you’re not who you thought you were!
So from this perspective the President appears to see himself as a “winner”; successful in everything he does (with a track record to support that notion). However, the thought of becoming one of less than a handful of one-term Presidents totally contradicts that. He has failed – and failed in a very public way.
To counteract this contradiction between inner and outer experience the President appears to be operating in a way consistent with a Passive/Aggressive style of acting. For me, the key difference between Denial and Hostility (which are two sides of the same coin) is energy investment. In the former little or no energy is invested in the new norm, whereas in the latter a lot of energy is invested in fighting the new norm.
From a passive, or low energy, perspective I define Denial as being a refusal to accept the change, thus doing nothing apart from ignoring it. This then minimises the size and scale of any impact on the person’s self image.
Here people keep acting as if the change has not happened, using their old habits and behaviours and ignoring evidence or information contrary. In many ways when we are faced with a problem, or situation, we don’t want, or one that we believe is too challenging to our sense of self we “constrict” or narrow our viewpoint and act as if nothing has happened. In this way we eliminate the problem from our awareness.
This is the “head in the sand” syndrome – if I can’t see it, or I don’t acknowledge it then it doesn’t exist! This was evident in two elements of the Presidents behaviour. First in the sudden, initial, decline in tweets as the result became more and more obvious and then the deliberate physical distancing himself by playing golf on the days around the declaration of the result for the President Elect and confirmation the race had been lost.
What may be perceived as ironic is the stated goal of “Making America Great Again” and by implication “Americans” feeling/being great. Yet by metaphorically turning his back when America speaks and distancing himself he is really saying “it is not about making America great but showing how great I am!”
Lastly here, Hostility, is the continued and determined effort to prove the old ways are right and that nothing should change. The problem here is that people continue to actively wok in ways that undermine and sabotage the new way reality.
I saw this brought to life with the tweets and public appearances declaring himself the winner and then accusing the electorate of cheating. The resulting lawsuits reflect an attempt to prove the electorate wrong and deny their voice. Interestingly in some States, the President is even accusing his own party of malpractice and cheating! This behaviour is reminiscent of the British King Canute who (to prove his un-god like status) tried to command the waves to stop rolling ashore.
The refusal to even consider giving access to the President Elect’s team represents both denial and hostility in behaviour. Sadly for the outgoing President the medium to long term implications do not auger well.
Once reality sets in there may be severe psychological repercussions for his sense of identity. For someone who “does not lose well” and who prides himself on being a good communicator and deal maker but who has lost the biggest prize (and deal) the impact could be enormous.
Published 20th Nov 2020 on LinkedIn