Viewing Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election through the lens of Social Rank Theory.


07 Jan
07Jan

Jason Brien. Picture courtesy of BBC news.

          Donald Trump needs no introduction so I will get straight to the point. Trump’s mindset is very primitive. Primitive in the sense that he looks at people in terms of “winners” and “losers”. Trump favours those who are loyal to him and casts away those who are disloyal or betray him. Trump likes to play the ‘alpha’ dog role. Have you seen the video clip where he pushes past world leaders, assumes the front position and pulls on his jacket and puffs up his chest? The alpha dog role is why Trump enjoys being chairman of his company, flaunts the fact that he was the fictitious chairman in the popular reality show ‘The Apprentice’ and now revels in his role as president of the United States. The alpha dog role is why Trump must have a ‘pack’ of loyal supporters and fans surrounding him at all times. Trump is no lone wolf. Trump runs in a pack of which he is the clear and decisive leader. The majority of Donald Trump’s public behaviours strongly suggests that social rank is very important to him.

          Researchers studying the ranking behaviours of primates, suggested that the primates adhere to two main forms of group living – agonic mode and hedonic mode. In agonic mode, group members concentrate on defending against threats to status (think of Trump suggesting that there was a conspiracy to ‘rob’ him of the election, think of Trump’s attacks on mainstream media and the Democrats and think of Donald Trump’s loyal supporters and fans who actively protest against his election defeat). Agnostic competition is when animals (humans included) display certain sets of power signals which are collectively called ritualistic agnostic behaviours (RAB). These power signals may include standing tall, puffing out the chest or maintaining eye contact. RAB is the means by which one assesses the strength, fighting abilities and resource holding potential of an adversary. If one believes that their RAB is stronger than that of their opponent, they will stand their ground and fight. If they perceive their RAB as weaker than their opponent, then they will submit and be subsequently reduced to a lower rank.

          In Hedonic mode, the other form of group living, status is achieved through highlighting qualities such as beauty (Melania and Ivanka Trump who make up Trumps property portfolio), Intelligence (trumps assertions that he is a genius) and talents and special abilities (“no one could have achieved this but me”- Trump). Social approval of these qualities raises self-esteem whereas social disapproval lowers self-esteem and reduces social rank. Status is also achieved through attracting conspecifics (flying monkeys). Conspecifics give the dominant individual greater access to resources, form more alliances and affirm the alpha position through subordinance. The dominant individual can then internalise their estimates of rank and social attractiveness which protects them against experiencing anxiety and depression.

          Donald Trump may very well see his ritualistic agnostic behaviour (RAB) as being higher than that of Joe Biden which is contributing to Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election. Trump may believe that Biden is weak and incapable of holding the office of president of the United States. After all, he does refer to Biden as ‘sleepy Joe’ and accuses him of being “dumb” and having dementia. Trump has also referred to Biden in the past as old and frail.

          Trump also sits atop of the Republican party so again to admit defeat and lower his social rank, would open the doors for potential Republican competitors to oppose Trump come the 2024 election. Trump knows that his position within the Republican party remains strong only if he is the most popular candidate amongst Republican voters and only if donations directed towards him keep rolling in. Trump can enter the 2024 election race on the basis of the ‘I never lost the 2020 election’ claim. He could also run with the “lets regain the presidency after the election was rigged last time”.

          If Trump admitted public defeat and lost his ‘alpha’ dog status, he may lose the support of his loyal fanbase who provide him with money (donations), self-esteem (loyal fanbase who agree with his assertions, protest on his behalf), group membership, and security and comfort similar to that of a regular family or unit of friends. I personally don’t believe that Trump is delusion in the sense that he doesn’t truly believe he has lost the election. I think that within his own mind he accepts defeat however he has a public persona that he must uphold at all costs. Trump understands the importance of social rank and he will fight tooth and nail to not lose his current position.

Resources

Chance, Michael R.A. (1988). Social fabrics of the mind. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd. OCLC 911386423.

Gilbert, Paul (2016). Depression: the evolution of powerlessness. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-1317189428. OCLC 956521476.

Parker, G. A. (September 1974). "Assessment strategy and the evolution of fighting behaviour". Journal of Theoretical Biology. 47 (1): 223–243. doi:10.1016/0022-5193(74)90111-8. ISSN 0022-5193. PMID 4477626.

Stevens, A. & Price, J. (2016). Evolutionary psychiatry: a new beginning (Classic ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781138824638. OCLC 935679992.

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