Trump and the Organ Grinder’s Monkey

Last week, Congressmember Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said he believed President Donald Trump is casting doubt about the presidential election results primarily to raise money for future personal use.…

Last week, Congressmember Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said he believed President Donald Trump is casting doubt about the presidential election results primarily to raise money for future personal use. This idea resonates, given Trump’s sketchy financial position and possible legal jeopardy.

For weeks, the Trump campaign has belched emails and texts complaining about the election result and linking to a website raising money for an “election defense fund.” Instead, funds went to pay down campaign debt and replenish Republican National Committee coffers. 

Today the term “organ grinder’s monkey” means one is doing only what a powerful person wants them to do. 

Money was also funneled to a “leadership PAC” Trump founded which, among other things, allows funds to be used for personal expenses. The Trump campaign announced in December that it had raised more than $200 million since election day. 

This baseline commitment to greed and self-interest was ratified Jan. 6 when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), in the midst of the siege on the U.S. Capitol that he helped foment, had the presence of mind Wednesday to send a fundraising appeal. 

Research shows that leadership is a relationship between the leader and those being led, and their situational and environmental context. The truth is one can’t be a leader without followers. 

In the modern age, notes Andrew J. DuBrin, a professor of management emeritus at the E. Philip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the way that leaders build relationships with followers has changed as social media usage has increased.   

We have seen Trump and his followers exhibit behaviors that DuBrin and others associate with unethical leaders. These include: 

Trump’s mad efforts, supported by fellow Republicans, to gain power through means other than merit. 

Trump’s bent toward leading by a “divide and conquer” philosophy and his urge to embrace or demolish whatever norms or laws that do not serve his personal interests at the time. 

The continual baseless assertions by Trump and some congressional Republicans — who are both devotees and leaders themselves — to create and resolve false catastrophes. 

Further insight can be gleaned — and will be part of what I teach my students in future leadership classes — by observing the example of the organ grinder.

About 300 years ago in Europe, men began playing mechanical, hand-crank organs to earn a living. Organs were often untuned and limited in their ability to play songs, yet people gave the organ grinder coins to show their gratitude. To grow their revenue, grinders began using animals to perform tricks and draw attention. 

After trying canaries, cats and dogs, grinders frequently settled on the Capuchin monkey for the role, since they had opposable thumbs which enabled them to hold and rattle a cup to collect coins. Today the term “organ grinder’s monkey” means one is doing only what a powerful person wants them to do. 

In the future, Trump’s minions, Hawley included, will act predictably by doing what their political environment demands. They will continue to flatter Trump endlessly and display fealty as much as possible. Each will remember their expectation of a payback. 

This column was edited by the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.


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