NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 96

THE RISE OF THE TYRANNICAL BOSS
FROM COLD WAR SMEAR I NG TO ENTREPRENEURIAL BULLYING
Long before Trump ’ s candidacy burst upon the national political stage , the u . s . business press and workplace had been teeming with intimidating and bullying ceos since the early 1980s . The return in force of finance capital in the u . s . during the Volcker recession ( 1980-82 ) accelerated a managerial revolution begun in the 1970s that radicalized the old militarized command-and-control autocratic management model inherited from the Second World War . The new obsession with stock prices and short-term profits ( the 20 % return ) that sought to match new unheralded high returns on certificates of deposit offered by banks and the awarding of exorbitant executive pay lay the foundation for a surge in abusive behavior by managers and employees in the workplace . These new practices opened the door to what business columnist Stanley Bing in Crazy Bosses termed “ management by terror ” and put in place a system of “ short-term greed and long-term insecurity .” 1
For two decades running , Fortune and Business Week featured awe-struck , admiring articles such as “ America ’ s Toughest Bosses ” or “ Tough Times , Tough Bosses ” that promoted this new figure christening him the “ bullying boss ”: one who was aloof yet mercurial , manipulative , abusive , arbitrary , and vindictive , and , to the delight of the press , often colorful and quirky . Media exposés followed with admiring nicknames such as “ Chainsaw ,” “ Old Blood and Guts ,” “ Rambo in pinstripes ,” “ Jack the Ripper ,” and “ Prince of Darkness . 2 ( Less impressed by this male personality type , female employees offered one of their own , “ bsd ” or “ Big Swinging Dick .”)
Thus a new American folk hero was born who was afforded every indulgence and every reprieve . His management tools of choice ? Fear and suffering . As one chief executive summarized his management philosophy in the original 1980 Fortune article , “ Leadership is demonstrated when the ability to inflict pain is confirmed .” 3 The earliest names included Donald Rumsfeld ( ceo of g . d . Searle Pharmaceuticals ), Steve Jobs ( next Computing ), Andrew Grove ( Intel ), Jack Welch ( General Electric ), Carl Icahn ( twa ), and Harvey and Robert Weinstein ( Miramax Films ). Thirty years later many of these names are still with us .
Meanwhile the new over-the-top management ethos became an intimidating spectacle in its own right : first in the u . s . workplace where the public theater of firing employees quickly became a well-rehearsed one in offices ; then in the media . Trump ’ s brilliant coup was to make firing the stuff of tv melodrama in creating the global reality tv show The Apprentice ( 2004 - ) starring Trump , who plays the role of a boss much feared and admired by his young staffers who compete to be retained by him . Trump quickly secured his status as a global household word and embodiment of the new abusive management style . The way was cleared to translate his successful brand into enormous political capital that he has now been cashing in .
Bad behavior is nothing new but what is singular in the current reign of the public bully is the interplay of economic and non-economic humiliations and indignities encountered in daily life under globalized market economies and the endless War on Terror . Arguably , this is what lends contemporary bullying and intimidation its widespread reach and edge from the school and the workplace to the media and political spheres to cyberspace . This is the culture in which Donald Trump can thrive . 4 By virtue of his outsized persona , like no other , he has been successful in articulating a sense of personal grievance as a collective one .
Trump is perfectly aware of this . Educated in the Cold War art of the political smear by his mentor and lawyer Roy Cohn , Trump expertly engages in stigmatizing the identity of opponents . Had we thought that the stake had been driven into the heart of the Cold War culture of fear and intimidation once and for all , the War on Terror should already have disabused us of that illusion . But overlooked by pundits and reporters is the peculiarly entrepreneurial twist Trump lends to the older bullying enterprise : he introduces an aggressive timeline in which the future is everything and the present and past exist only to be overcome . Trump successfully combines as perhaps no other before him the entrepreneur ’ s and the politician ’ s respective obsessions with the short-term in which the future is pure promise of change and transformation of which he , Trump , is the sole broker . This is the sales pitch of most every u . s . politician , businessman , and confidence man .
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