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Is Donald Trump destined to fail?

By Keith Suter - posted Thursday, 30 January 2020

Donald Trump's impeachment crisis has revived memories of previous presidents who underwent the impeachment process, such as Richard Nixon. The crisis has also revived interest in a style of predicting presidential careers based on their personalities and character.

James David Barber (1930-2004) was an American political scientist who pioneered the application of psychology to presidential leadership styles. His book argued that it was possible to gauge how a person would operate as president based on that person's character. His The Presidential Character (first published in 1972) foreshadowed Richard Nixon's presidential career ending in tragedy.

Barber argued that there were four presidential styles (which I think could be applied to leadership in any line of business and any organization). The four categories are derived from a person being either "active" or "passive" and from being either "positive" or "negative".


An Active/ Positive president enjoys his job and the challenges, is good at adapting to new situations, is willing to learn and take advice, and has high self-confidence. Examples include Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy.

An Active/ Negative president works hard but does not gain much pleasure from it; the president feels insecure and inadequate to the task. Examples include: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W Bush.

A Passive / Positive president is genial, relaxed, easy going and avoids conflicts among close colleagues. Example would be Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama.

A Passive / Negative president feels unsuited to the high office, is uncomfortable about it and has agreed to do it out of a sense of duty to the country. Examples include George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower (both previously military heroes who were uncomfortable about the rough and tumble of politics but served as president out of a sense of patriotic duty).

Obama as a Passive/ Positive was willing to build coalitions among colleagues to avoid infighting. But this meant agreeing to policies with which he was uncomfortable, such as the failure to close the Guantanamo prison camp, and the 2011 attack on Libya (which he considered later a failure and yet Mrs Clinton then Secretary of State considered a success).

Donald Trump is an Active/ Negative president. His "activity" can be gauged from his Twitter account, which suggest he survives on little sleep. Twitter enables him to say exactly what is on his mind at that very moment. The tweets suggest he is impulsive and inconsistent (such as his comments of all types about the North Korean leader over the last three years).


His "negative" outlook on life come from his lack of humour, and his Twitter statements (all of which are official US government documents) are full of complaints. His enjoys his job via all the attention he receives and the scope for building the Trump financial empire (such as his Washington DC hotel which is now a mecca for lobbyists). But he does not convey any enjoyment in the role.

Active/ Negative presidents are impulsive and have problems managing their aggressive feelings. They see themselves living in a world of enemies out to get them. They also thrive on conflict.

Barber warned that Active/ Negative presidents have careers that end in one form of tragedy or another. His first edition simply predicted that Nixon would have problems in his second term, rather than specifically predicting resignation to avoid impeachment.

The book appeared a few years after Lyndon Johnson's surprise March 1968 statement that he would not seek re-election as president because of the ill-fated Vietnam war (thereby paving the way for another Active/ Negative president, Richard Nixon, to be elected in November 1968).

Barber warned about Active/ Negative presidents. They are highly-driven, compulsive and have difficulty managing their own aggressions.

Trump will survive the trial in the Senate. He will be even more emboldened by his success and possibly even more reckless. We will have to see where that recklessness takes the world – such as towards conflict with North Korea or China. 2020 will be a bumpy year.

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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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