Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Donald Trump and Joe Biden – Would You Believe Two Peas in a Pod?

Todd L. Pittinsky, Barbara Kellerman

The two men could hardly seem any more different. Yes, they are both male and white and Christian and heterosexual and American. They are even approximately the same age. But in that which matters most – character, temperament, personality, and the policies with which they now identify – they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  In fact, Biden is being sold as the anti-Trump – the candidate for whom Americans should vote in November if they deem the president too unethical, too incompetent, too authoritarian, too much of a real and present danger to what many believe America has stood for since the beginning of the Republic.  

We, however, look at them from a different angle. From an angle that enables us to see the two men as in one highly significant way … essentially identical. As described in our book, Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy, our findings on exceptional leaders are counterintuitive. Though leadership educators, trainers, coaches, and consultants teach that leaders should be moderate, that moderation in a leader is a virtue, sometimes, in the real world, it is just the opposite. Sometimes, in the real world it is immoderation that matters more, far more. Immoderation as in the bottomless need and insatiable drive that distinguishes the great leaders, the leaders who stand out, from their more moderate counterparts. It is lust that is the determinant.    

We define lust as a “psychological drive that produces intense wanting, even desperately needing to obtain an object, or to secure a circumstance. When the object has been obtained, or the circumstance secured, there is relief, but only briefly, only temporarily.” Leaders who lust, then, have this in common: enough is never enough.

Joe Biden has lusted for success all his adult life. He wanted to be President of the United States of America, nothing less would do. Nothing less would do even as his successes mounted; even as he aged (he is now 77); even as he endured the loss of a second child, this one a son aged 46; even as his running will (already has) expose him and his family, especially his surviving son, Hunter, to scathing scrutiny; and even as earlier this year it seemed that all was lost, that his now somewhat desperate attempt to get to the White House was destined again to fail. But still Joe Biden persisted – and now, if all else was equal, he would succeed, become president next January.

But all else is not equal – he is running against Donald Trump. Like Biden, Trump cannot rest, cannot hang it up. The object of Trump’s lust? Money. Trump never stopped trying to acquire more of what he already had piles of – money. Trump said of himself, “My whole life I have been “greedy, greedy, greedy” – he meant for money. Curiously – counterintuitively – Trump has never lusted for power. He does not like to govern, to rule from his roost at the White House. Moreover, he has never lusted for achievement, especially political achievement. He has nearly no interest in policy or in accomplishing anything of substance. Trump never even thought he would be president – he ran to enhance his brand. He ran to make money – and he is running again to hold on to the money he already has. To protect himself from prosecution for alleged wrongdoings, for example, fraud. Bottom line: follow the money and you will get to why Trump was driven to do what he did and is doing even now.   In one all-important way, then, Trump and Biden are two peas in a pod. For all the differences between them, they share an unquenchable thirst – an satiable lust that leads them again to quest for the White House.

About The Authors

Todd L. Pittinsky

Todd L. Pittinsky is Professor at Stony Brook University (SUNY), USA, and Faculty Director of its College of Leadership and Service. He is also Associate Faculty Fellow of the Hann...

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Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman is James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, USA, and Founding Executive Director of the school's Center for Public Leade...

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