Dear Donald Trump, How Machiavellian Of You
Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian politician, philosopher, and writer during the late 15th century into the early 16th century, responsible for the world-famous pamphlet The Prince. The term “Machiavellian” is commonly associated with several attributes such as evil, corrupt, or conniving. While these terms may be seen as interpretive, they have appeared as applicable in arguments of modern politics revolving around Donald Trump. Washington Post writer David Ignatius, a regional edition editorial reporter, comments that “Trump's hunger for public affirmation might have worried Machiavelli. Leaders inevitably want to be both feared and loved, but Machiavelli famously warned that if they have to choose, ‘it is far safer to be feared.’” (Ignatius). The theory that Machiavelli deems being fear greater than being loved is a common misconception of the text, however, Ignatius understandably notes that Machiavelli told leaders to be both feared and love if possible. Thus, while it is arguable that Trump is taking the feared route to power, Ignatius’ depiction of Machiavelli’s text is accurate in it’s simplest form.
Chapter XVII of The Prince is where Machiavelli decides to guide the Leader to whether or not it is better to be feared or loved; as Ignatius quotes Machiavelli “It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” (Machiavelli 43). Trump’s “hunger for public affirmation” as Ignatius notes, would have concerned Machiavelli in that he believed “being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends on himself” (Machiavelli 45), therefore, the safest route for Trump would be to continue down the road of fear. However, Machiavelli also warns that a leader “should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he do not win love he may escape hate” (Machiavelli 44) and this in turn means that the desire for the public approval may have also been deemed as respectable in Machiavelli’s eyes on Trump’s political techniques for the sake of avoiding hatred of his people. The independence between fear and hate is the line that Machiavelli draws in order to insinuate a lasting leadership, primarily one that could possibly rule with the exclusion of love if need be.
In conclusion, Ignatius’ depiction of Trump comparatively being Machiavellian has nothing to do with the often synonymous description of being evil, corrupt, or conniving. Rather, the notion that Trump’s coveted opinion of the public eye on himself may be seen as a Machiavellian tactic to be loved, it can be argued that Trump’s strategies for political control fall in line with Machiavelli’s theory that it is “safer to be feared” (Machiavelli 43). Similarly, Machiavelli supports this notion with the fact that “men are less careful how they offend him who makes himself loved than who makes himself feared” (Machiavelli 44) which may be why Ignatius imagines Machiavelli would be wary of Trump’s methods.
Ignatius, David. “The American Macchiavelli”. The Washington Post, 11 Nov. 2016, regional
ed., p. A29.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Translated by N.H. Thomson. Dover Thrift Edition, 1992.