Empire cycles and leadership: the Ugly & the Great Part I: The Ugly

“Breaking the code of History” defines five distinct stages within every empire or human system cycle. The first three stages represent positive expansion and the last two negative contraction.

The expansion phase is defined by the concept of service to the empire as a critical element in the cohesive nature of the organisation that gives it a competitive advantage. This stage would be characterised by leadership that generally served the people it lead. Then during maturity a phase of stagnation follows before the empire rolls over into decline. During this phase of decline the core value of service to the empire is increasingly replaced with service to self, with a consequential loss of social cohesion and effectiveness. The result is an acceleration in the contraction of the empire. Upon entering the declining phase of the empire these new self-orientated values are socially widespread to the point where the leadership of the empire reflects this ethos of self-interest, rather than one of service.

Widespread self-interest within society then opens the door to narcissistic behaviour at the highest levels of leadership, which has been very evident in America in recent years. Whilst it is obvious that Trump is highly narcissistic, it may come as a surprise that Obama in all probability was equally so. Recently leaked comments by advisors to David Cameron are very revealing as he described Obama as the most self-centred and narcissistic person Cameron had ever met. This was something that we picked up on years ago evidenced by three of his actions:

  1. Accepting a Nobel peace prize before he earned it. 
  2. Claiming credit for operation Neptune spear immediately after Bin Laden’s death, rather than waiting 48 hours for all the intelligence to be used to close down the terrorist network in one go.
  3. Obama’s response to Putin’s letter in the New Times about the Syria chemical red line. Putin’s letter enraged Obama so much that his misjudged response was to order the instigation of the Ukrainian resolution which ultimately confirmed Russia as the west’s strategic competitor. Previously this was not a foregone conclusion. 

Having recognised that both Obama and Trump are top end narcissists, there are some key differences between them. The first is that Obama’s communication skills allowed him to cloak his traits. Consequently much of the damage he inflicted took time to be recognised. This left Obama’s actions unconstrained. Trump meanwhile is at the opposite end of the spectrum, in that his style of communication means that his every action is scrutinised for negative implications. This acts as a constraint, and interestingly his positive actions seem to be quickly discounted. The net effect is that the practical impact of his narcissism is largely constrained.

However, the second most damming element in the previous administration was that Obama thought he was smarter than everyone else (like Carter did), and disregarded his advisors input. At times this led to disastrous consequences for the American Empire. In contrast, Trump knows that he does not know many things and is terrified of looking bad. Thus he actually listens to his military advisors whom he respects. This is attested by the very sophisticated US geopolitical policy’s and actions we have seen over the past year.

On balance, neither would have ‘cut the mustard’ as The President when America was expanding, and we all wish America had better leadership. However, surprisingly, in time Trump will probably be judged by history as the better leader as his policies are the right ones to attempt to make America great again after the imploded mess caused as America lost power under Obama’s policies. The seeds of his recent 2018 Davos appearance and his interview with Piers Morgan, if nurtured, will also give Trump a less grating and more presidential aspect to his image.

However the greatest damage to the American empire, and any system at a similar stage, derives from the self-serving tones that are created when the men at the top are self-centred narcissists. These negative values then cascade down through the halls of power. The result is a political class who serve themselves and not those they lead and who are self-deceiving in the extent of their own capabilities. The result is that they do not follow the policies most needed to reverse the decline of empire.