Mahatma Gandhi. Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther King, Jr. Adolf Hitler. Napoleon Bonaparte. Abraham Lincoln. All of these names immediately evoke images of the great events and portions of history that they effectively personify. Hitler was the Holocaust. Martin Luther King Jr. was the Civil Rights Movement. These people, known for both great and terrible movements, can be classified as “great men” according to Thomas Carlyle, a 19th-century Scottish writer. He believed that “great men” — great leaders — are born with the traits to have an astronomically profound impact on society, and therefore have the ability to shape it. Herbert Spencer, a critic of this claim, argued that “great men” were products of society, rather than innately gifted.
Regardless of whether “great men” are products of nature or nurture, the most important thing to note is that they were great leaders of movements that have had a profound impact on much of global society. However, if we look at current movements like Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Movement, or the Tea Party, among others, there are no singular figureheads that can be said to be the true representative of a particular movement. In fact, it has been argued that movements will never again be led by “great men”, in large part because of the way we view the news. However, Donald Trump’s unique and loud relationship with modern media may present a model for the next “great men”.
Think about your news consumption — viral videos, YouTube, Facebook News. No matter what modern form or fashion of news you sample to learn about what’s going on in the world, it quickly goes away. Very few characters beyond A-list celebrities have had the ability to stay on the media’s radar for more than their “15 minutes of fame”. However, a “great man” is not someone who has attention only for a moment, but somebody who is remembered for many generations for their cause and leadership, great or devastating.
With the way that news is disseminated and forgotten today, will anyone be able to take the mantle and be a central figure for any recent peaceful movement? With the great polarization that we face, will our generation experience another Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is it even possible? I argue yes. Today, it is possible for someone to attract the attention of everyone, no matter how disagreeable what they say is. Why do I argue this?
President Donald Trump.
While I am certainly not a fan of him or his policies, there is something worth noting in the way he kept himself and his antics relevant in the minds of a worldwide audience for over two years. After his presidency, it is almost certain he will be remembered for his tactics and policy. While I would not categorize him as the next Mahatma Gandhi or Adolf Hitler, he is the case study to look at for the next person — man or woman — who takes the mantle and becomes more than a person, embodying a movement that brings us together.
President Trump, as foolish as he was when he began his campaign, did the impossible in the modern age, and something that we haven’t seen in awhile. Charismatic Leadership Theory argues that when someone is charismatic, they tend to create a polarization between individuals and create a devoted following. Many well-known presidents and prime ministers have been characterized as charismatic, such as Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama. Why do I mention this theory? President Trump displays classic traits of someone who is high in authoritarian and charismatic leadership characteristics, which creates this great polarization for anyone who listens to him. Either you dislike him intensely or you support him even when presented with evidence of behavior that is not presidential.
By looking at what President Trump did, including his inane speaking or distracting hand gestures during speeches, one can observe speaking tactics similar to those seen employed by previous leaders. The wide gesturing and emotive speaking drew in crowds that were almost manic, whether it was in opposition or support.
Leaving aside the details of President Trump’s message, he and his radically polarizing rhetoric prove that there can be another figure like Martin Luther King Jr. born in a modern movement. Our society has certainly created the stage for someone to step up and shout their name across the world. The first to do so has been President Donald Trump, but the real question is, who will be the second? I believe that within our generation, there will be someone who does more and leads a greater movement than Donald Trump, someone who will be considered a “great man” (or woman).