"Men, it has been well said, think in herds ... they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." Has the world learned anything since this was written in 1841? Apparently not. That's why Charles MacKay's classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is disturbingly relevant 175 years later.
My company is headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, a state that's set to hold its Republican caucuses this weekend. Earlier in the week, alleged billionaire Donald Trump touched down briefly in Louisville, where he promised to restore greatness to the state's collapsed coal industry. His message was greeted with cheers from the packed crowd--the protesters at the back were thrown out. At least there were protesters. It's some reassurance that the entire country hasn't become delusional, yet.
Still, it's extraordinary how crowds have been deluded into supporting The Donald. They've bought into the idea that he is a successful entrepreneur, businessman and developer, and have lumped all those categories together as if they're somehow the same. As a manufacturer and a businessman, I find this egregiously offensive. Developer? Yes. Salesman? Absolutely. Entrepreneur or even businessman? No way.
First of all, Trump's no entrepreneur, because an entrepreneur has ideas. The only idea Trump has ever had is to see his name writ large on garish buildings, ideally in gold.
And it's almost sacrilegious to call him a businessman. A business is a sacred thing, and for Trump, nothing is sacred except his ego. He's a businessman if and only if it's acknowledged that the Trump name is his sole business, like Kardashian or Paris Hilton.
A developer, however, is a different category altogether.
When I think of the current GOP front-runner, my mind immediately goes to a huge 40-foot-deep hole that takes up a downtown block--and has for years--here in Lexington. The local real estate developers responsible for the hole, Donald and Dudley Webb, once promised a glorious "mixed use" edifice with hotel rooms, office space--even a steakhouse--that would bring tax revenue and new pride to the city. It would make Lexington great again! And it was to be financed by--get this--a "secret investor," whose privacy they were "obliged" to protect, like The Donald's tax returns. They christened their glittering vision CentrePointe, adding what they imagined was a touch of class with the British spelling, the capital 'P' and extra 'e.' Instead, they inspired only derision among the populace.
On that score, at least, they were hugely successful. People held a funeral procession around the vanquished city block. "New York has The Donald, Lexington has The Dud" was how one bumper sticker put it, referring to Dudley Webb. Where the developers failed, abysmally, was in making any progress on the project in the nearly eight years since they hurriedly demolished the 14 buildings on the block. The project's Wikipedia page puts its completion date as "20XX." Even putting it in this century could be considered a sign of optimism. New investors with actual names and faces have come and gone, and meanwhile all the city has is a gaping eyesore in the "centre" of town reminding everyone how easy it is to get fleeced by developers.
That's why the giant hole reminds me of Trump. Trump is unquestionably a developer, because a developer is an expert in deluding others into believing his or her "vision" and lying when necessary to muscle a project through or get ahead of the pack. A developer knows how to weave a tangled web while preying on people's hopes. And a developer's only Golden Rule is "do unto others before someone else gets the chance."
Trump is no entrepreneur, and he's hardly a businessman, but he's most certainly a developer. Unfortunately, he's now deluding not just city boards and investors, but huge crowds of the American people. Hopefully they'll be able to recover their senses before it's too late.