The revenge that drives Trump

This election is going to be analyzed for decades to come for what it says about Donald Trump, the Republican party, and the large numbers of people who support him. There have already been numerous attempts to understand what the hell is happening. Much of this speculation right now is in the media but later we will see more academic studies, trying to tease out such things as the root causes of the Trump phenomenon, whether this is something transient or a long-lasting trend, who really are the people who responded to Trump’s message, and whether they were drawn to him because of economic concerns and a sense that the system was rigged against ordinary people or by more ugly xenophobic and racist feelings.

In the case of Trump the person, there will be attempts to understand why he decided to run in the first place, whether he really thought he could get this far let alone win, and what motivates his behavior. David Corn says that there is plenty of evidence that Trump is driven by the desire to exact revenge on his enemies. Trump has said repeatedly that it is main part of his business strategy. But anyone who engages in it to the extent that Trump does cannot be doing it in a totally cynical fashion. He must find it deeply satisfying emotionally as well.

Corn gives example after example of Trump’s obsession with revenge.

In speeches and public talks, Trump has repeatedly expressed his fondness for retribution. In 2011, he addressed the National Achievers Congress in Sydney, Australia, to explain how he had achieved his success. He noted there were a couple of lessons not taught in business school that successful people must know. At the top of the list was this piece of advice: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

For decades, Trump has been an advocate of revenge. And now his revenge fantasies are running wild on a grand stage. Clinton assails him? He will pronounce her a criminal (and in league with a global conspiracy involving international bankers) and throw her into the slammer. Iranian sailors make rude gestures at US vessels? He will shoot them “out of the water.” His favorite form of revenge is escalation—upping the ante, screwing ’em more than they screwed you. And he clearly has been taking his own advice during this presidential race. These days, Trump is lashing out at his antagonists and the media. At this point—with Trump falling in the polls—it does not seems like a strategy for success. But given how revenge seems to be embedded in his DNA, Trump may not be able to help himself. Revenge as an ubertactic might work for him in business, but constantly behaving vengefully is hardly a positive attribute for a presidential candidate or a commander in chief.

Businessman Richard Branson lends support to Corn’s suggestion that Trump is consumed by the desire to get revenge on his perceived enemies.

Some years ago, Mr Trump invited me to lunch for a one-to-one meeting at his apartment in Manhattan. We had not met before and I accepted. Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help. He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people.

He didn’t speak about anything else and I found it very bizarre. I told him I didn’t think it was the best way of spending his life. I said it was going to eat him up, and do more damage to him than them. There must be more constructive ways to spend the rest of your life. (Hopefully my advice didn’t lead to him running for President!)

I left the lunch feeling disturbed and saddened by what I’d heard. There are a lot of frightening things about this election; not least that policy has been pushed so far down the agenda. What concerns me most, based upon my personal experiences with Donald Trump, is his vindictive streak, which could be so dangerous if he got into the White House. For somebody who is running to be the leader of the free world to be so wrapped up in himself, rather than concerned with global issues, is very worrying.

Later, I remember contrasting the lunch with a one-to-one lunch I shared with Hillary Clinton. Here we talked about education reform, the war on drugs, women’s rights, conflicts around the globe and the death penalty. She was a good listener as well as an eloquent speaker. As she understands well, the President of the United States needs to understand and be engaged with wider world issues, rather than be consumed by petty personal quarrels.

There has been speculation that the reason for Trump choosing to run for president was because he smarted at being skewered by president Obama and Seth Meyers at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, though he denies it. Recall that at the time, Trump was leading the birther movement and was thus was a prime target for ridicule by Obama. What better way to get revenge than to become president and then ridicule all those who laughed at you?

Where will this all end? As Corn says, “One can only imagine how Trump’s profound desire for vengeance will play out, should he find himself a big loser on Election Day.”


  1. raven says

    …whether this is something transient or a long-lasting trend,

    It’s this.
    Trump is a symptom, not a cause.
    If he loses on November 08, his supporters will still be there on November 09. Just a little angrier.

    The drivers are 46 years of rising economic inequality with no signs of that stopping. And the ongoing demographic shift to a nonwhite majority, a slow process at 0.5% a year.

    As long as the underlying causes are there, this will keep happening.

  2. raven says

    I read that Cracked article.

    It’s not wrong. I grew up in the boondocks with a bunch of drunk Scandinavians. They are still there and still drunk. Except now they’ve added meth.

    But it overstates their importance and numbers.
    The USA is one of the most urbanized countries on the planet. It’s 84% metro.

    Many but by no means all rural areas have become sinks of poverty, crime, drugs, alcohol abuse, social problems, and general hopelessness.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    “One can only imagine how Trump’s profound desire for vengeance will play out, should he find himself a big loser on Election Day.”

    Uh, that wouldn’t be a blip compared to how it may play out if Trump finds himself any kind of winner on that day.

    Should we luck out (meaning: the grass-roots pro-vote workers outdo the top-down vote-suppression schemers), Trump’s personal vengeances won’t add up to the well-known hill of beans compared to the mass tantrums thrown by the Trump Chump™ collective. All the racist poop-flinging driven by Obama hatred will spread (further) into all-out xenophobia, homophobia, and jaw-dropping sexism, ramped up to 11 even not counting those who flip into violence.

    And that’s the best-case scenario…

  4. Matt G says

    Trump and his followers, driven by the same set of emotions. Just what we need. I saw an article several years ago which coined the term fundaresentmentalism.

  5. lorn says

    I suspect that Trump’s run for the presidency is, at least in part, a revenge plot against the nation, and the capitalist system. Trump has made money but has failed at every enterprise he has put his hand to. Most capitalists understand that the goal of business, no matter what business it may be, is to show a profit. Builders don’t build to build. They build as a means to the end of showing a profit. If they could be a builder and build nothing, and still show an equal or better profit, they could still be happy as a builder.

    In my experience your hard-core capitalists are happy to simply show a profit and leave it at that. Trump is not a hard-core capitalist. He is, in fact, a frustrated romantic. He is frustrated that he has failed and been systematically shut out of every enterprise he has undertaken. He was a developer but, in time his unscrupulous ways caused him to be rejected by real estate investors, contractors, and regulators. So he shifted to casinos, where his behavior alienated everyone around him and this time the bankers had had enough. He tried selling liqueur, steaks and high end water but the market was crowded, he had lousy products and nobody was going to let the petty schoolyard bully in. So he went to TV as a celebrity. Of course The Apprentice started out with good ratings but has declines every years since. Come to find out a show dedicated to an asshole being a dick to people onand off camera had a short shelf life. Who knew?

    Trump has money. Likely he isn’t a billionaire but he has more money than most. What he doesn’t have is success. Or friends. Or anyone outside of his family or hirings who will say that they like him as a person. He is a chronic failure. He failed as a developer, a casino builder, an entrepreneur, a TV celebrity and a friend. He has been rejected by the real estate community, contractors, bankers, casino owners, politicians, his family, and his wives.

    Is it any wonder he is hell bent on wrecking the system to the point of imperiling the US as a sovereign nation? Facing rejection at every possible level why wouldn’t he want to burn it all down?

  6. EigenSprocketUK says

    If Trump gets revenge on people, then there will be fewer people left on his shit-list. He will be diminished.
    Only by becoming president can he transform his list into the world’s most bigly YUGE intercontinental thermonuclear shit-list.

  7. lorn says

    For Trump it is a choice of perpetual escalation, doubling-down and excusing his own weakness by blaming others, or facing his failure as a human being. A failure so profound that all of his money serves to merely highlight the hole.

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