Populism and Extraverted Sensation
Cash Keahey, October 4, 2018
Extraverted sensation (Se), which we all have to varying degrees, is particularly suited to the rough-and-tumble world of politics. When political leaders bring out this function-attitude, we see a pragmatic, energizing facilitator of movements. Adept at sensing where the ‘heat’ is, these types pick up on what the masses are feeling and leverage that energy towards an end. When the function is dominant in a politician’s type, a populist mentality often emerges. Just as extraverted sensation seeks to experience and connect with its environment, populism in its purest form is like a dance between a politician and the masses: a symbiosis born of intense interaction with the political landscape as dance floor. When operating in a partisan milieu, political leaders would be well advised to draw on their extraverted sensing function.
Extraverted sensors naturally attune themselves to their externals. They notice the lay of the land. They are especially aware of their immediate surroundings, perceiving threats and opportunities in the moment—typically reacting almost without thinking. In leadership, these types (ESTP, ESFP) are most characterized by bold, proactive moves. They seek quick wins. They act with agility and speed in a crisis. If there is no crisis, they may create one just to deal with it. Theirs is a constant state of readiness. In scans of the brain when engaged in extraverted sensing activity, Dario Nardi’s research revealed a “tennis hop” pattern: continuous low-level activity, the way a tennis player lightly bounces foot-to-foot, indicating an alacrity for anything that comes along. In short, extraverted sensing leaders value action, variety, urgency, spontaneity, resourcefulness, experimentation, adaptation, empowerment, and efficiency.
That’s extraverted sensation at its best. Extraverted sensors at their worst, in the grip of their inferior function, miss the deeper meaning of their actions and long-term consequences. As leaders they struggle with the long view. They prioritize the urgent over the important. They discount the value of a strategic vision or plan, and they disdain any rigorous planning process. Their impatience with detailed policies or procedures can cause them to miss critical steps on a checklist, for example. Another typical weakness is a lack of self-awareness—especially not grasping their own life’s purpose—as their conscious energy is directed to what’s outside them. In extreme cases this external attention can lead to materialism, hedonism, and dependence on external stimulation. Finally, extraverted sensors seem to be especially susceptible to emotional triggers, such as status (sensitivity to personal slights), autonomy (resistance to being managed), and relatedness (a tribal loyalty).
Populism and Presidents
Eight former U.S. Presidents with a preference for extraverted sensation share a distinct leadership style:
Populism is particularly prevalent among Proactive (Se) LeaderTypes in the political domain with good reason. They are constantly surveying the situation to see where threats and opportunities lie—in this case, among the body politic. Once having sensed the political landscape they are amazingly adept and agile in responding—some would say reacting—to their environment. In (Andrew) Jackson’s case, riding the wave of popular will. (Keahey, 2018)
Populism has acquired a negative reputation, and this is especially true now with the presidency of Donald Trump, but many other political leaders have used extraverted sensing tactics and policies to rally the cause of the common man. This is true not only of Andrew Jackson—in whom extraverted sensation (Se) seems to be dominant—but also of Lyndon B. Johnson and Theodore Roosevelt. Both LBJ and Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated a penchant for populist causes in their policies and programs. Andrew Jackson, the “People’s President,” facilitated the United States becoming a true democracy. Theodore Roosevelt brokered a “Square Deal” between management and labor, essentially lifting the factory worker’s status vis-à-vis the corporate baron. LBJ had a natural affinity for the poor from growing up in rural Texas, and his experiences informed his War on Poverty, resulting in his Great Society legislation. Nevertheless, populism does not always have noble aims and often has unintended consequences.
Populism has been defined in a number of ways. Some see it as a political strategy in which a charismatic leader appeals to the masses while sweeping aside institutions, but not all populist movements have such a leader. Jan-Werner Müller, a political scientist at Princeton University, thinks populists are defined by their claim that they alone represent the people, and that all others are illegitimate (The Economist, 2016). Müller made important distinctions among populists, such as inclusive and exclusive varieties. While exclusive populism focuses on defining and shutting out stigmatized groups such as refugees, inclusive populism demands that stigmatized groups like the poor and minorities be included in the political process and that policies reflect their needs and issues. Another political scientist at the University of Georgia, Cas Mudde (2015) offered a definition that has been increasingly accepted: he views populism as a “thin ideology” that merely sets up a framework of a pure people versus a corrupt elite. He contrasts it with pluralism, which accepts the legitimacy of many different groups. This thin ideology can be attached to all sorts of “thick” ideologies (e.g., socialism, nationalism, anti-imperialism, libertarianism, or even racism). In a democracy, populism as the ‘will of the people’ can trump all other movements.
Some think populism began with the Populist Party of the 1890s, but that is only when it gained a capital letter and a political platform. The American Revolution, specifically the Boston Tea Party, could be viewed as a populist uprising leveraging the collective power of the people against the British crown to protest taxation without representation. The Antifederalist movement of the 1780s is another early example of populism, rallying against the perceived threat of the United States becoming a monarchy, leading to the Bill of Rights. The Jacksonian period saw citizens fighting the perceived tyranny of banks and landholders over common farmers.
Obviously, populism is not new, but the 2016 presidential election saw a tsunami wave of populist sentiment from both directions, left and right: Bernie Sanders, a self-described ‘Democratic socialist,’ or inclusive populist per Müller’s framework, and Donald Trump, an exclusive populist running as a Republican. These candidates show how different populists can be: although both were anti-establishment, the only similarity in their campaigns was criticism of free trade deals. Former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) said, “In truth, the ‘populist anger’ fueling Trump’s coalition is fundamentally different from Sanders’ ‘progressive populism.’ The superficial similarities between the two end when they talk about solutions.” Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson (2018) went even further:
The idea of Donald Trump as some sort of Man of the People was laughable from the start—a boastful plutocrat who lives in a gold-plated aerie above Fifth Avenue, claiming lunch-bucket solidarity with factory workers and coal miners. He sold it, though, largely by cementing a racial and cultural kinship and shamelessly misrepresenting his intentions.
What Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Have in Common
Journalist Michael Kazin (2016) questioned how a term—populism—could describe both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and still have meaning: “Trump’s ‘populism’ is a brilliant piece of performance art but one that bears little resemblance, even in style, to the capital-P kind.” Personality type can provide an answer. Populism, in its purest form, means engaging and facilitating the popular will of the masses. If the external environment is the body politic, and the goal of the movement is power to the masses, then populism can be viewed typologically as an expression of the extraverted sensing (Se) function in politics. Jung (1971/1921) described the type governed by extraverted sensation as follows:
No other human type can equal the extraverted sensation type in realism. Since one is inclined to regard a highly developed reality-sense as a sign of rationality, such people will be esteemed as very rational. But in actual fact this is not the case, since they are just as much at the mercy of their sensations in the face of irrational (emphasis added), chance happenings as they are in the face of rational ones. This type … naturally does not think he is at the mercy of sensation. His whole aim is concrete enjoyment, and his morality is oriented accordingly. (¶ 606)
Populism shares this irrational aspect with the Se function: populist movements are characterized by enjoyment and social interaction, and populists are good at perceiving the environment around them. They are aware of how they are triggered emotionally and are typically adept at triggering others in terms of status, autonomy, relatedness, and/or fairness. These are the ‘sensations’ to which populists appeal and by which they rally the masses.
In politics, the extraverted sensing type’s natural strength is being attuned to the will of the people. These types (ESTP, ESFP) tend to be restless, opportunistic, and expansive in dealing with the political landscape. They sense where power lies—in the masses—and typically perceive this in a vertical dimension: haves versus have-nots, whether privilege, wealth, power, status, etc. The judging function of this type, if developed, reveals its populist rallying cry: either a defining idea (Thinking) or a shared value (Feeling). When the dominant extraverted sensation of a populist movement is combined with the values and morals of introverted feeling (Fi), the movement takes a decidedly moralistic tone and may focus on income inequality or class issues. When combined with the ideas and principles of introverted thinking (Ti), it takes on a more libertarian, autonomous tone. The exclusive populist has an affiliation with ESTP preferences, and the inclusive populist with ESFP preferences. Subsets of populism include libertarianism, in which the organizing principles (Ti) are autonomy and minimalism, and socialism, in which the organizing values (Fi) are egalitarianism and fairness. Both argue for power to be distributed to the masses.
The inferior function of the dominant Se type is introverted intuition (Ni), and the same could be said of populist movements. In his Memoirs, David Rockefeller (2009) made this insightful comment: “’Populists’ believe in conspiracies and one of the most enduring is that a secret group of international bankers and capitalists, and their minions, control the world’s economy” (p. 405). Their belief that power is concentrated in a few and that these few have a nefarious intent reveals how the shadow of extraverted sensing types can manifest in politics. Michael Kazin (2016) described how paranoia emerged in earlier populist movements: “To explain society’s ills, they invoked ‘a vast conspiracy against mankind,’ engineered by a plutocratic cabal.” In this way an ESFP movement (inclusive populism) can project its unconscious fears onto an INTJ-like nemesis.
By contrast, when Introverted Intuition (Ni) is the dominant function for a movement, e.g., in progressive parties or environmental/green parties, it can provide an idyllic vision of the future. The political power to secure and protect that visionary ideal becomes paramount, so an extraverted judging function is needed to balance it: if thinking (Te) is the auxiliary, it manifests in institutional structures, systems, or bureaucracies which protect those in power and control the masses; if feeling (Fe) is the auxiliary, it manifests as political parties and/or religious or social organizations where group norms and values are upheld as the ‘rule’ (i.e., establishment). If the visionary ideal remains the core of the political movement, the corresponding shadow (Se) will always lurk in the deep as an image of restless masses ready to rise up in irresponsible self-gratification and chaos, representing the Ni type’s nemesis. This resistance to extraverted sensation can lead to elitism.
Subset examples of elitism include nationalism and fascism where the judging function based on the vision (Ni) sorts people into categories and establishes structures/systems/plans to implement that vision (Te); or democratic idealism where political parties debate and reach consensus on the premises of deliberation, pluralism, and reciprocity (Fe). The latter represents the United States’ realization of democracy. It also helps explain why Andrew Jackson (with preferences for ESTP) was so successful in his populist pursuits as president, and much of why Jefferson called him “a dangerous man”: Jackson represented the kind of leader who could empower the masses and encourage their worst impulses. Jung (1953/1968) himself said: ” … for the masses are blind brutes, as we know to our cost” (¶ 563).
Andrew Jackson, an Extraverted Sensing Populist
Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) emerged from his youth not only a fighter, but a survivor. Barely a teenager in the Revolutionary War, Jackson’s survival depended on a keen awareness of his surroundings. He was particularly gifted at interpreting Native American communication and movements in the wilderness. The necessity to act in emergent situations with speed and agility naturally developed his Se function. Jackson was the epitome of energetic action, often overstepping boundaries—literally. He fought 138 duels before becoming president, probably more than any other president, which won him a bad reputation among his peers. His sedate, boring plantation life precipitated a midlife crisis and the need to remake himself and his reputation. He brought himself out of ‘early retirement’ and into military service with the War of 1812, forging a persona as a war hero. He pushed the Seminole people back into Florida (then owned by Spain), and went so far as to capture Pensacola, completely without any authorization.
Jackson had many starts but not a lot of finishes: he was the first U.S. senator from Tennessee but only lasted six months, and the first governor of Florida, in which office he lasted only a few months. Governing bored him. Running for president did not bore him. After losing a bitter, hotly contested race to John Quincy Adams in 1824 via the House of Representatives in what became known as the “Corrupt Bargain,” he almost immediately began campaigning for the next election, which he won. As president, Jackson led what was essentially America’s second revolution. His bold, experiential, and immediate leadership style triggered a reconsideration of what constituted the United States. He urged a return to a simpler, more frugal, minimalist government. His political instincts were honed to an extraordinary level as he stoked populist flames with a fervor.
Jackson’s is often called the first modern presidency because of his belief that the president is not just an executive but a representative of the people, much like a congressman but for all the people rather than those of a specific district, earning him the nickname “the People’s President.” He sensed a oneness with the body politic: he embodied their desires. This strong connection was reflected in a constant feedback loop. He listened to their concerns and believed he reflected their wishes. He stoked their passions and was himself energized by them. This is the nature of the extraverted sensing politician: being so connected with the populace, he or she experiences a solidarity with the people, a belief that “I am them” and “they are me.”
Donald Trump, A Jacksonian President?
Many political leaders have imitated Jackson’s strongly populist philosophy—especially when stoking us-versus-them sentiments among the downtrodden against the rich and powerful. Countless candidates since Jackson have claimed rags-to-riches stories, promised reform, or vowed to make the will of the people an end justifying any means. Whatever their desired result, every president after Jackson, thanks to his example, exerted the full power of a democracy: expressing—and when authentic, personifying—the unambiguous will of the people (Keahey, 2018). The similarities with President Donald Trump are striking. The difference between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump is type development.
Jackson developed many more functions than his dominant function of extraverted sensation (Se):
- Te-6th, extraverted thinking: Jackson, as a soldier and later as a commander, was given to swift, sure execution of plans.
- Ti-2nd, introverted thinking: Jackson served as a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court, where he defined and articulated his principles, among them his strong belief in individual liberty. His judicial appointments clarified many of his ideas and beliefs.
- Si-5th, introverted sensation: Jackson was a fiscal conservative. He reorganized the banking system and is the only president to completely pay off the national debt.
- Ne-8th, extraverted intuition: During his presidency, he lived through and facilitated many changes—wars, geographic expansion, and a variety of anti-corruption policies, including “rotation of office” to prevent nepotism and dynastic succession.
- Fi-7th, introverted feeling: He strictly adhered to his own moral code, and he took personal offense at any questioning of his morality or behavior. His authenticity and self-sacrifice built a tremendous loyalty among his troops and political cronies.
- Ni-4th, introverted intuition: His 1837 Farewell Address prophetically warned of the dangers of sectional fanaticism between the North and the South. Toward the end of his life, he could envision where things would lead.
President Trump shows less evidence of development than Jackson. What is visible is one-sided extraverted sensation: a dominant function without an auxiliary; considerable extraversion without much reflection; in short, a type without balance.
Frank Bruni (2016) of The New York Times wrote several articles proclaiming Trump to be a ‘pretend populist.’ Donald Trump’s one-sided expression of extraverted sensation in excess is what Mr. Bruni perceives as populist pretense: Trump shows the Se dominant type’s desire to make an impact, enjoyment of sensory pleasures, and focus on the present moment. When these attributes are used constructively, they enable an Se individual to develop quick reflexes, take jobs that would frighten others, read the public mind, and provide a realistic perspective. But without the balance of judgment, such attributes become toxic. Lack of judgment has enabled the president to glam onto whatever idea (Ti) or value (Fi) reflects the ideas or values of his base and to promote his agenda, his brand, and himself at the expense of the people he leads. The British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux (2016) said, “I think Donald Trump’s had a pattern of leaping on the bandwagon of anything that he feels will further his candidacy, and if that means sowing more fear and paranoia and playing into a kind of xenophobic populist strain, then that’s what he will do.” The ascendancy of Donald Trump was nothing short of a political marvel. According to an op-ed in The New York Times, Donald Trump’s presidency “represent[s] a stunning moment in American politics—the triumph of a raw populism, embodied by a shameless demagogue, over both the official establishment and the official ideology of a major political party” (Douthat, 2016).
From Populism to Mob Mentality
How did this happen? Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us suggests that a populist ‘tribe’ is perennially taking applications. And should the person the tribe chooses have a developed Se without an auxiliary judging function to provide principles or morals, then he/she, will perceive the public’s pain or fear, latch onto it, and attempt to steer it. Pure populist leaders find a tribe of angry or passionate people and ride that wave to its crest. They are surfing the body politic for the ‘next big one.’ Extraverted sensing types are adventurous thrill-seekers: they want to be where the action is, engaging and interacting with others, stirring movement. Probably one of the best explanations of how this is done comes from the film The American President in which fictional President Andrew Shepherd describes how to foment the passion and prejudices of a crowd: “[By] making you afraid of [something], and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections” (Sorkin & Reiner, 1995). Once the masses become activated in their passions, little can be done to inform them, as Jung (1959/1969) pointed out:
No doubts can exist in the herd: the bigger the crowd the better the truth—and the catastrophe. … The psychology of a large crowd inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology. If, therefore, I have a so-called collective experience as a member of a group, it takes place on a lower level of consciousness than if I had the experience by myself alone. (¶ 225)
That Donald Trump relishes the political give-and-take and the jousting-and-jabbing invective of Twitter is obvious. The immediacy, the attention, the emotionalism, and the large reach of social media give him concrete enjoyment—the raison d’etre of an extraverted sensing type. Variety is the spice of life for an Se dominant type. “There is no standard operating practice with this administration,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). “Every day is a new adventure for us” (Paletta & Dawsey, 2018). The White House is in a permanent state of flux because the Se type loves being in motion and being in the moment, unconstrained by past policies or future concerns. “Trump is a self-proclaimed dealmaker who has struggled to close critical deals as president—an unreliable negotiator who seems to promise one thing only to renege days, or even hours, later” (Paletta & Dawsey, 2018).
When a populist leader lets the adoration of the masses consume his ego and thinks himself (or herself) invincible, it can lead to authoritarianism. Jung (1953/1993) spoke to this inflation:
An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead. (¶ 563)
Perhaps the lesson for politicians is this: Before the shadow of your political movement arises in inopportune, messy ways, consider embracing the opposition and holding the tension of opposing views. May we all do our individual work with respect to our political views, in attempting to truly understand the interests and needs of our opposition.
Note: Readers can get a 25% discount on Cash Keahey’s Eight LeaderTypes in the White House: Discover and Leverage Your Oval Office Leadership Style at the Itasca Books website through the end of the year.
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