When I was a kid, I played a lot of sports. The one coach I hated was my freshman football coach, whose name I no longer remember. He was the classic Type-A personality, at least what popular culture has come to think of it. The guy was always on edge, ready to explode into a purple faced rage, which meant everyone around him was always on edge too. The guy found a way to get under everyone’s skin. He had some way to needle every player on the roster, often with some sort of nickname that stung a little bit.
The thing is though, the guy managed to squeeze out more from the roster than logic said was possible. In my case, I was always just at the point of wanting to bash his skull in with my helmet, but I channeled those pleasant thoughts into execution. I was not giving that prick the satisfaction of making a mistake. Even though I hated the guy, he did make me and my teammates better players. That meant we had more success on the field. I still recall the joy of winning with my teammates, but I don’t remember the coach’s name.
My guess is everyone who played sports growing up had at least one of these types of coaches. Bill Parcels was famous for playing head games with his players. He was big on keeping every player on edge, even his stars. At the NFL level, the psychological aspects of coaching are more complex, but the underlying strategy is the same. You make the players doubt themselves in a way that results in their natural hyper-competitiveness kicking in, so they push themselves to the edge of their potential.
I’ve been thinking about this watching Trump torment Congress, especially the Democrats, over immigration. He’s not just making the open borders people nervous with his rhetoric. He is getting under the skin of his allies and his own staff. The blockheads in the gentry media are calling it the Jell-O strategy, but it is a safe bet that none of them ever went outside as kids, much less played competitive contact sports. In the world of high-pay, low-work professions, the hard driving boss does not exist.
What Trump is doing with his comments about DACA, in particular, but immigration in general, is keeping the issue boiling. That is Trump’s natural style of negotiating, but it has the benefit of keeping immigration patriots slightly ticked off and highly engaged in every aspect of the process. Congress has seen their e-mail flooded with messages opposing amnesty. Their voicemail boxes are constantly full. This puts pressure on Congress to do a deal and get the issue off the agenda for the midterms in ten months.
Steve Sailer compares Trump to George Steinbrenner. It is a good comparison as they both have a similar style. Both men understood that pressure reveals character. The great players, the great deal makers, rise to the occasion when under pressure. On the other hand, the fakers and losers crack under pressure. If you read Trump’s book or listen to people with whom he has done deals, you see that he is always looking to bring things to a boiling point, where everyone is under the gun to get something done.
That’s what Trump is doing with DACA. He’s cleverly made this the goal of the Democrats, thinking they will push themselves to the breaking point to get it. At the same time, the laundry list of immigration reforms has become the all or nothing end game for immigration patriots. Trump’s public statements are keeping the good guys fired up and willing to hammer Congress on the finer points of immigration. Every time Trump says something positive about DACA, the phone lines melt in Washington.
There is no question that this style of managing people does get the most from those willing to give their all. It also boils off the people who like to talk about maximizing their opportunities, but unwilling to do what it takes to accomplish it. In the realm of sports, this result in better teams. Bill Parcells was a wildly successful coach because his style gets the maximum from the roster. Trump’s success as a businessman and media personality is largely built on getting the most from top people in their respective fields.
Whether this will translate to politics is hard to know. One constant that comes through from people who have done business with Trump is that he is exhausting. The never ending competition and wrangling over details wears people down. In business, you can always get new people when the old ones wear out. In politics, you can’t easily get new supporters. His style could end up exhausting his base. How many times can someone call their Congressman, enraged about immigration or trade policy?
That’s a question often asked of sportsball coaches. How long before they wear out their players? How long before the team stops responding? The great ones seem to get that and they make sure to reward their players so they keep wanting more. Trump’s zingers on twitter or when speaking in front of a crowd may serve that function. He has an uncanny way to saying the obvious in a way that outrages the enemy and amuses his supporters. Perhaps that’s enough for President Coach to get us over the goal line.