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What Kind of Leader Is Donald Trump? a Political Philosophy Essay

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Question 7

We have read about many types of political figures. Which of these does Donald Trump most closely resemble?

There are two Donald Trumps. There’s the one you see on the stage, and there’s the one who (…) considers things very carefully.

- Ben Carson, March 11th, 2016

Carson’s statement, uttered in his endorsement of the GOP frontrunner, indeed seems to hold truth, be it in a different way than intended. Donald Trump has shown a remarkable capability of changing between opposite viewpoints on big issues such as the Iraq War, abortion, or the minimum wage (Borchers, 2016; Lotfi, 2015; OnTheIssues, 2015). On some matters, such as taxation and gun ownership, Trump takes a liberal stance, remarkably similar to Locke’s (Locke in Cahn, 2011; Trump, 2016). At other times, however, negative liberty seems forgotten in favour of ‘true’ American values against the ‘nefarious, politically-correct, left, liberal force’ (Comedy Central, March 15th, 2016). This makes it hard to pin Trump down and characterize him on content. However, rather than stemming from a fickle nature, Trump’s switching around might actually be deliberate, fueled by power play considerations. An eerie resemblance arises with a Machiavellian Prince, saying one thing and doing another whenever it may boost his power. Therefore, although Trump invokes Rousseauian and Lockean elements, he will primarily be shown to resemble a Machiavellian Prince.

When reading Trump’s campaign program, he seems a clear-cut Lockean executive/federative power. According to Locke, government holds no more power than the aggregate of all citizens’ (negative) rights in the state of nature. In other words, citizens have devolved their powers of private law enforcement upon the government, and no more than that. The government’s sole duty is to preserve the state and individuals’ property in a so-called nightwatchman state. Exercise of powers beyond this amounts to tyranny (Cahn, 2011). Much of Trump’s campaign program revolves around ‘repairing the damage’ the Obama Administration has done by enlarging the government beyond its duties (Trump, 2016). As such, he advocates repealing the Affordable Care Act, which made the American people ‘suffer under an incredible economic burden’, and radically reducing taxes. Indeed, as Locke shows, one should pay taxes only to the extent that one’s property is protected (Cahn, 2011). The government cannot devise policies beyond that duty, and definitely not make one pay for it.


The Trump in interviews and rallies, however, is an entirely different political figure. Protection of individuals’ natural rights of ‘life, health, liberty, and possession’ have made way for inciting violence through promises to pay any legal fees resulting from beating up anti-Trump protesters (Cahn, 2011, p. 316). Speeches revolve around the “I have people telling me, Donald, you got it right. That’s the way it is” theme. Based on his stage presence, several Rousseauian characteristics can be distinguished. The core message of Trump’s speeches is that he dares to tell what the people think, the truth. Through invoking anonymous friends from Venlo, Nürnberg, or Crawford, Trump aims to show that he indeed is the candidate proclaiming the General Will, and as such would be justified to enjoy nationwide support. Those who do not agree with him are portrayed as being wrong, Bernie Wackos, and dangerous to the greatness of the US. They may be made to agree by force, as illustrated in his responses to violence against protesters during his rallies. Another parallel to Rousseau’s philosophy is that Trump will not be refrained by the GOP party stances or interests, the corporate will, from proclaiming what he –and according to him, the people- deem to be the one true way to make America great again, the General Will.



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