The Appeal of the Primal Leader: Human Evolution and Donald J. Trump

Dan P. McAdams
Northwestern University

ABSTRACT: Drawing on the distinction between dominance and prestige as two evolutionarily grounded strategies for attaining status in human groups, this essay examines an underappreciated feature of Donald Trump’s appeal to the millions of American voters who elected him president in 2016—his uncanny ability to channel primal dominance. Like the alpha male of a chimpanzee colony, Trump leads (and inspires) through intimidation, bluster, and threat, and through the establishment of short-term, opportunistic relationships with other high-status agents. Whereas domain-specific expertise confers status in the prestige paradigm, dominant leaders derogate expertise in order to establish a direct, authoritarian connection to their constituency. Trump’s leadership style derives readily from his personality makeup, which entails a combustible temperament mixture of high extraversion and low agreeableness, a motivational agenda centered on extreme narcissism, and an internalized life story that tracks the exploits of an intrepid warrior who must forever fight to win in a Hobbesian world of carnage. Read Full Article on JSTOR →