Malcolm Gladwell: "Trump Will Be in Jail Within a Year"

Malcolm Gladwell does a post-mortem of the U.S. presidential election, speaking to issues of sexism and moral licensing, and makes a bold prediction. 


President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

This election was one for the record books. Donald Trump became the president of the United States with a solid electoral victory despite a loss in the popular vote. The statistical data is still coming in, but interpretations of it exist already.

Two days before the election, English-Canadian thinker Malcolm Gladwell discussed his interpretation of the election up to that point, and offered his shocking prediction of what will become of President Trump. Mr. Gladwell is a well known author, with works on crime, psychology, and the viewpoints of dogs.

He suggests that this election is going to be recalled as strange in every way. One in which the “elite” candidate was born in the middle class and the populist was born a millionaire. "One guy is the child of privilege who grew up in a multi-million-dollar household, and has every advantage handed to him on a silver platter," Gladwell says. "The other is a woman who came from the most ordinary of circumstances." One in which pending lawsuits were given less airtime on major networks than criminal investigations which never materialized. Where coverage of those lawsuits earned more time than discussion of issues. One in which the winning candidatecaught ten different breaks.An election so odd, he feels the confidence to sayThis is not going to happen again."

The boldest statement he made, however, is his prediction that Trump “will be in jail within a year”. Citing the various lawsuits for fraud in cases such as the Trump University suit that the President Elect finds himself dealing with, Gladwell supposes there will be “criminal charges” forthcoming as well. Such a situation would be nearly unprecedented; the only comparison would be to Watergate, which did not occur to an incoming president but to one that was re-elected in a landslide two years prior.

[Before the election results were in, Harvard psychologist Susan David came to the Big Think studio and questioned the media's role in normalizing Donald Trump's hate rhetoric. Should journalistic ethics override human ethics?]

He suggests a reason that this election has been going as it has: the idea that our election of a black president has given many of us a blank moral check. This idea is called “Moral Licensing”. Having taken a positive action, we grant ourselves the freedom to act in a less moral fashion at a later time.

In this case, Gladwell suggests: “Having taken the extraordinary step of electing a black man as president… Americans feel free to indulge every dark impulse inside their hearts, because they think they have proven to the world how open minded they are... I think there is something to that theory.

He also sees this election as a frank statement on the condition of our views of women in power in the United States. To an outside observer, it demonstrated that Americans would not vote for a woman of a particular description. In this case, one who was honest in her desire for power, who was more aggressive and less modest in her disposition than seems becoming for a woman in politics. "To me, the most disturbing lesson about this election is that the United States is a good deal less open to women in positions of power than it would like to pretend that it is," he says.

Mr Gladwell offers us an interesting view of what the election says about Americans, not all of it is good. He suggests that the only way to explain the number of breaks that Donald Trump has seemed to have in this election is by way of sexism. A sexism that reflects on Americans in general. It shows to him that the American media is more concerned with story than substance, and that the nature of this election will be recalled for years to come.

Watch the full interview here.


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