The dangerous, vote-grubbing comedy of Donald Trump
Our improv class just played a game that rocked my world. The exercise, which involved acting out scenes as either a ‘high’ or a ‘low’ status individual, demonstrated that authority is not based on social rank but on behaviour. A janitor can possess a CEO-like confidence and poise. A hotshot lawyer can crumble in the face of her child’s tantrum. Status is about how you carry yourself and treat others.
When it comes to using the principles of Status to muscle your way to the top, Trump is the master. Like many politicians, Trump uses ‘high status’ body language – big expressions, physical stillness, and parallel hand gestures - to look confident and capable. But Trump is using status play in a way no politician has ever done before: to redefine the campaign process and turn it into a game he can win.
My improv instructor Chris Gibbs of Bad Dog Theatre explains it like this: “Instead of demonstrating he can do the job he is ostensibly competing for, Trump turns every debate into a status exercise where the object is to beat the other person’s status.”
One misconception about high status individuals is they always play to win. Part of Trump’s appeal is that he knows how to go low, often uttering phrases like “you’re right, you’re right” to interviewers and opponents. This sets him up as affable and draws people in. But then comes the judo. He dismisses the point conceded as unimportant and moves the conversation to a topic of his choice. Check the technique:
Status is the difference between behaving like you are being interviewed for a job and behaving like you are winning it. While other candidates deliberate complicated, nuanced policy points to prove their mettle,Trump uses provocation and showmanship to feed the energy of voters in a position to hire him. As Chris puts it: “A candidate who is focused on the issues will never win the room against a candidate whose number one priority is winning the room.”
In improv, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to pull off a skit about rocket science. The key is connecting in the moment, behaving like you know exactly what you’re talking about, and trusting the scene will work out. Trump campaigns with the same fluidity. While everyone else is playing chess, Trump is playing chicken.