The Alpha Male Of The Animal Kingdom Isn't The Bully You Think He Is

Photo Credit: UPI/Getty/Guardian Design


Today's U.S. political climate is overtly partisan and at times seems controlled solely by primordial bully tactics. Donald Trump's intimidation of his rivals during the 2016 Republican primaries was so animated, it had more similarities to fiction than reality. According to the Guardian correspondent Frans de Waal, Trump "defeated all his fellow candidates by puffing himself up . . . [and by] strutting like a male chimp . . . the Donald turned the (season) into a hyper-masculine body language contest."

Differing from the animal kingdom . . .

However when Trump was forced to deal with a female foe, he was visibly frustrated. He couldn't use the same forceful tactics he did with male opponents. While he was critiqued by the media during his debates with Hillary Clinton, as a chest-beating "silverback gorilla," he differed from a true alpha male leader.

In the chimp universe, males are not necessarily the biggest, "baddest man in the whole damned town." Differing from Jim Croce's 'Bad Bad Leroy Brown' song, who saw himself as "badder" than old King Kong, alpha males are much more nuanced that the common junkyard dog.

In fact, typical alphas are not necessarily the biggest or the strongest. In fact, many rise to the top of their food chain, by choosing the right supporters who may protect them when situations get a little testy. According to de Waal, "as soon as a fight erupts . . . everyone turns to him to see how he's going to handle" a crisis or critical problem.

"He is the final arbiter, intent on restoring harmony. He will stand impressively between screaming parties, with his arms raised, until things calm down," adds de Waal.  

Differing from Tyrant

However the role of alpha male in the animal kingdom differs markedly from leader of a tyrant. Trump's style is Machiavellian in nature. He strives for "results-only" no matter what it takes to get there. There is no empathy, no moral role of character. He will turn on his own if it doesn't get to his goal. And it's important to emphasize it's his goal, not the goal of others. [e.g.Trump's headstrong push for a southern-border wall, even when members of his own party are not in support.]

In the wild, male bullies can be expelled or killed when his decision-making loses majority-support . Popular leaders, on the other hand stay in power when they maintain the support of their followers, over time. If a reputable leader loses his position, he is rarely expelled or killed. He may drop a few pegs on the totem pole, but he still may retain the position of influencer. Think of grandfathers, for instance. These are men who may lose some of their power because physically, they have lost some of their strength. But their family members will still look up to him for advice and guidance, because he has proven himself a wise leader over time.

Primates are made up of emotion. We can't escape it. It's how we manage and corral that emotion that makes us leaders. According to de Waal, "civilization does all sorts of great things for us, but does so by co-opting natural abilities, not by inventing anything new. It works with what we have to offer, including an age-old capacity for peaceful coexistence."

Leaders like Trump don't have the staying power of a true alpha male in the animal kingdom. They are the flavor of the month [a presidential term.] Trump intrigued us because he was a disruptor, and we were drawn to him because of how he gave America [what some saw as a necessary] blow to its status quo. But over time, he won't be able to retain his popularity, because he doesn't believe in co-opting. He strives on satisfying his own personal need and that goes against the grain of human need . . . animal need too!

Primary Source: The Guardian