How to be a Winner: Comparing Trump to your Favorite Television Characters
“I don’t worry, I just win.” — Ari Gold
“I’m not about caring, I’m about winning.” — Harvey Specter
“America doesn’t win anymore… I’m good at winning.” — Donald J. Trump
How many times has the Entourage fan watched Ari Gold walk into a negotiation in a complete state of unease, knowing nothing about what is about to happen, other than the fact that he was going to walk out with a deal for Vinnie Chase?
How often has the Suits enthusiast watched Harvey Specter walk into a deposition for a case that he seems to have no chance of salvaging? And when Mike Ross asks what he is going to do, he responds by saying that he's going to mend the problem without any indication of how he's going to do it, yet manages to walk out the victor every time. In the first five episodes of season one, Harvey actually refers to himself as a “winner” at least once per episode, cementing that attribute into his fictional DNA.
The way these two characters develop throughout their respective shows portrays them as natural-born winners, who exemplify what it means to manipulate any situation in their favor through their impressive intelligence and limitless charisma.
The skeptic will say that it is easy for Harvey and Ari to win in every scenario because they are fictional. Further, as beloved characters, one could argue that the writers have sculpted these characters to induce affection from the audience strictly for ratings. It’s a good point. But how come the viewers never question the realistic nature of these shows? Why are these shows so popular if you already “know” the outcome--namely, that Harvey and Ari are the inevitable winners?
The reason is because even though Ari and Harvey are fake, there are people in the world that are just like them. In fact, there are those that say that Ari Gold is meant to depict famous talent representative Ari Emmanuel, in which case many of these stories are not fictional at all. These people who self-identify as winners, and continuously win, assured by their own self-confidence. Donald Trump is one of those people.
You see, Specter, Gold, and Trump succeed by bending reality. The most famous scenario in which one's psychology bends reality is the “Placebo Effect.” This is a famous phenomenon which occurs when an individual takes a fake medication and feels better due to a fallacy where he believes he is taking a real drug, and begins to feel better as a result even though he has not taken any actual medication. But it seems to me, that the Placebo Effect is the baseline of this concept, and we see people bend reality around us every day. These people possess a very special set of skills.
When you declare yourself a winner, and truly believe it to be the case, your confidence becomes top notch and you win more often. Confidence puts you at the doorstep of success even prior to any engagement in the endeavor you are about to embark upon. When the wins begin to tally up, you develop a reputation for being a winner. When you become famous to others as being a winner, your opposition will become less confident when they face off against you, increasing your success rate geometrically.
This phenomenon plays on the old adage about telling a lie enough times that people start believing it. That is what is happening here. Just as the lie spreads through recognition of the masses, so too, does one’s esteem as a winner.
That is why, the American voters felt that it was vote Trump and win or vote Hillary and lose. Because Trump was already known nationwide as the winner. And like many of his other endeavors, he won the election too.
I would note that in his most recent book “Great Again,” the very first chapter is titled “Winning Again” and he goes on to discuss the topic of winning at length for the next chapter and a half. It is the same strategy used by Specter and Gold. And it works for Trump as well.
While reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I was often amazed by Jobs’ unwillingness to ever concede to his colleagues. This was especially astounding in instances when it seemed as though his colleagues were right, such as, Apple’s long lasting tradition to have different hardware than other companies so Apple users must purchase collaborative Apple products. Continuously, people would support Jobs’ ideas while he was presenting them, and once he left the room condemn him for those very same ideas.
But despite his stubbornness and headstrong attitude, you still have an iPhone in your pocket. And the reason you do is because Steve Jobs, perhaps better than anyone else was a master of reality manipulation. He manipulated people into thinking that his “bad” ideas were good ones and manipulated consumers into buying those same ideas. Steve Jobs told himself he was a winner in even the most difficult times, and as a result, Steve Jobs died a winner.
This phenomenon was called, by people close to Jobs, Steve’s “reality distortion field,” wherein lied a mechanism to deflect his naysayers despite their valuable points. He created his own reality and pushed it so far down their throats that they themselves began to believe what he was saying. The truth is that with a strong presentation and the ambitious look in his eyes, he could have had them believing anything. The interesting connection between Jobs and Trump in this regard, is that when they bent reality, they bent it into one where rules didn’t apply to them. They were successful, despite some of their egregious actions or comments, because the reality they created allowed them to be.
Perhaps this is what Jobs meant when he stated that “people don’t know what they want until I give it to them.” I venture to say that he was suggesting a situation where he knew what the people would want because he was going to force them to want what he was providing.
Pulitzer prize winning journalist Gareth Cook interviewed Chris Berdik, author of Mind over Mind, and he wrote about their discussion in a 2012 article in the Scientific American. In it, Berdik gives the example of wine to describe how expectation can bend a person’s perception of reality. “Brain scans reveal that expectations about a wine's quality (based on price or a critic's review) actually change the level of activity in the brain's reward centers when a person takes a sip.” If we apply this to our characters, it tells us that their expectations of winning will change a similar level of activity in the brain to help them develop qualities that will increase their performances in negotiations, deals, and even elections.
What I am describing here, in a way, is that “lucky pair of socks,” or the “hot hand” in a basketball game. While a sock can’t help you in anything other than keeping your feet warm, and even though some of the best psychologists in the world have disproven the hot hand, people still swear by these concepts. Similarly, by labelling himself the winner, a politician can create his own “hot hand” both in terms of his public perception and at the polls.
Because a person’s expectation of socks will bend their reality to one where their performance is better. And if done well enough, when one bends his own reality, he will bend that of those around him. That is to say, that if your entire industry knows that you do not lose when you are wearing a certain pair of socks, then they will cower when they see you wearing them.
Of course, this only works to a certain extent, and eventually if one’s expectations are unrealistic then the reality they are trying to form will come tumbling down upon them. Berdik describes as much in the interview, when he notes that the wine can only taste so bad before the expectation of a quality product will turn into to the realization that is isn’t as high quality as the price indicated.
In an effort to stick to the theme of celebrities, I’d like to include the example of Charlie Sheen. Two and a Half Men fans can remember when Charlie Sheen was a legend. He played a savage on the screen and took that savagery into his daily life. At this writing, Sheen’s twitter bio self proclaims him as a “#Winner” but I assume that even the most diehard of Sheen’s fans would admit that he is not an “all circumstance winner” like he used to be. Because when Charlie got in a fight with his cable television series, had women coming out against his every action, and became very addicted to drugs, the winning persona disappeared. Sheen’s wine was high priced until it was finally opened and tasted sour.
This really makes one wonder how Trump,unlike Sheen, has not lost his ability to bend reality. His statements throughout the campaign trail certainly seemed to have been inflammatory enough to do so. But I would suggest the following conjecture, as I suggested in a previous article for The Commentator, titled Breaking Rules and a Successful Brand: How Trump Won the Presidency, Trump won because of his “Halo Effect” and even though he made himself a despised individual on the campaign trail he didn’t do anything to damage his brand. And as a result, people still flocked to his persona and presentation.
The most closely related Trumpian character in this regard is Frank Underwood from House Of Cards. This is, of course, because they are both politicians that used this persona to help them win the presidency. The difference is that as opposed to the characters and entrepreneurs we analyzed previously, Frank uses his reality distortion ability to manipulate others to progress his will as oppose to making them bend to his personal desires, as Trump does. But the theme remains the same, namely, that they got the presidency as they wanted because they are winners. Interestingly, in an interview, actor Kevin Spacey made the comparison between his character and Trump.
By labeling himself a winner, Trump enters every situation that he does with a certain standard of excellence. And when he begins reciting that speech or starts negotiating that deal, both his and his oppositions’ brains already know the outcome and now they just have to play it out as the puppets.
Perhaps, with all of this in mind, we can now understand why Aaron Korsch has Specter refer to himself as a winner in all of the first 5 episodes and why he continues to label himself as one through all six seasons of Suits to date. Furthermore, we can also understand why Mark Wahlberg and the creators of Entourage do the same.
While on the topics of these entertainment personalities, I would also add that I think since people overestimate how realistic these shows are in comparison to real life. When they see someone who reminds them of one of these characters, they actually believe they are as perfect as the TV show character. This is obviously absurd, given that humans don’t follow scripts or get re-takes when they mess up.
But the absurdity will fade if the individual has already used your perception of reality and your perception of his abilities to take an immediate advantage over you. Season after season they talk about winning. Speech after speech he talks about winning. And both the character and the real person always seem to.
The last factor I want to discuss is the fact that in addition to their constant deliverance of confidence and their incessant discussion of winning is the fact that at some point or another in their respective shows, the characters have let their guards down and revealed that they are all soft, caring people. When the facade drops, they go from winners, egotists, and narcissists to genuine people who care about their friends and loved ones.
Can we assume that the same applies to Trump? For sure we have seen that like all of these characters, Trump has shown tremendous loyalty which is another trait they all seem to have in common. Ari went to great lengths to get Vinny movies even after being fired, Harvey’s yearbook quote was about loyalty (he was also willing to go to jail for Mike,) and Trump has been criticized for giving cabinet positions to his “billionaire buddies” instead of people who the left considers “qualified.”
Trump continues to tell us: America needs to win again. And maybe, just maybe, Trump will bring his aura of winning past his campaign and start bringing it into his administration.