What Donald Trump Taught Me About Criticism and Outrage

Gage Skidmore, CC 3.0
Gage Skidmore, CC 3.0

Let’s get this out of the way: This post in no way endorses Donald Trump as a candidate. I don’t support his horrible biases. I certainly don’t want him to be the next President of America.

Still, Trump’s candidacy is quite fascinating: His comments keep him in the media spotlight and may have given him a seven point lead in the crowded Republican race. He sticks by his comments and doesn’t back down, even when there’s nothing to support them. For most of us that’s not just amazing, it’s sheer insanity.

Yet, if you are creative, you too have probably faced huge amounts of criticism. The Impressionists were thought to be unable to finish a proper painting. J.K. Rowling sent the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to 12 different publishers before being accepted (boy are those editors sorry now!) Creative people create new and different things. Because they are different and can challenge others, our work opens us to criticism or outrage.

Yet, Trump is able to ignore all criticism. He’s even turned outrage into success. It’s natural to think there might be something to learn from him, whether he knows it or not.

The Difference Between Criticism and Outrage

Trump faces both outrage and criticism. These two phenomenon are similar, but very different. Criticism, for example, is a necessary part of the creative life. When it’s constructive, it will make you better at what you do. An outsider can help you get perspective in catching grammar issues, plot inconsistencies, and other issues you don’t see when you’ve been working on a piece. Or they’ll point out how the hand in your portrait is way too big. It can be hard at first, but embrace it! People are trying to help you improve. That can only be a good thing.

Outrage, on the other hand, is when someone is offended. Think of anything Donald Trump has said in the past few weeks, whether it’s about illegal immigrants or breastfeeding. His comments incite people to feel hurt, upset, or angry. This gets him in the news, gets people talking about him, and keeps him in the race for president.

Now, there can be a fine line between criticism and outrage. Criticism can come up for work you do and how people feel about it. Your mom may not love a photo you do of her because she doesn’t look ten pounds lighter and ten years younger. She could become outraged if you publish that photo without letting her know.

Yes, sometimes creative work can horrify people. A Russian ballet’s combination of modern music, pigeon toe stomping, and human sacrifice moved audiences to riot in the 19th century. For many creative people, imagining so much vitriol aimed at us is terrifying. We yearn for connection, to be understood, not to face hatred. The possibility of outrage at our work can make us scared, fearful of any sort of negative response, even constructive criticism.

Trump’s Lessons

Watching Trump in the news, there are repeated patterns in his behavior. Here’s what I noticed:

You are not going to be liked by everyone.attitude, dog, wet dog, labrador, sunglasses, cool dog, funny dog. dog wearing sunglasses, dog portrait in black and white, portrait, black and white, photography

Trump knows his audience. It’s not immigrants. It’s certainly not breast feeding mothers. He’s not backing down, because he’s not trying to please everyone. He’s trying to galvanize a very specific group in the Republican Party.

You aren’t as polarizing as Trump, but there will always be people that won’t like you or your work. To this day, I still can’t get into a Stephen King horror novel. Does that make him a bad writer? No, it just means I’m not his audience.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I spent years trying to please everyone. In the end, I pleased some of them. It was never everyone. It almost never included myself. To be authentic in your creativity, you need to be honest to who you are. You have to claim your voice, your experience, and your beliefs. There will always be someone that won’t like it. That’s not only ok, it’s normal.

You are your first and last audience. Make sure your work is true to you, and you will find your supporters and audience for the long run.

Never listen, never change

While Trump’s ability to ignore any and all criticism can seem enviable, he takes it to new extremes. How long did he doubt Obama’s birth certificate? To this day, I haven’t heard him admit he was wrong about that.

While many of us may be too easily swayed by others, Trump is never swayed. He never learns, never compromises. Not only is there no room to negotiate, there’s no place for him to grow as a person. This is especially dangerous for creative people: our work will always be evolving and changing. If we are never willing to change our perspective, our work will stagnate.

As creative people, we need to understand the difference between standing up for our beliefs and acknowledging others. If we listen only to others, we lose our voice. If we listen to no one, we will never grow into our own potential.

Outrage gets you in the news…for now

The news cycle is always hungry for the next shocking story. Trump’s ridiculous comments work because people talk about them. They are meant to rile people up. They are meant to keep people talking about him. They are a tool for political gain.

It’s not just in politics either. Daniel Radcliffe has done numerous works after Harry Potter. But what do most people remember? That he was naked on stage for the play Equus. It seemed outrageous that Harry Potter, the boy so many grew up with, was going to show off his birthday suit. Yet, I’d bet a large chunk of the ticket sales were people hoping for a glance of his magic wand.

But did he do that play to outrage people? My guess is that he chose it to be seen as an adult, not just Harry Potter. He wanted to move his career forward in the arts. He needed a radical break.

Here’s where an important distinction arises in outrage. Are you using outrage to get your work noticed? Or is outrage a byproduct of where your work takes you? Does your work dehumanize others? Or does it challenge our notions about the status quo?

Trump’s comments with no figures to back it up, are only hot air. He is outrageous for the sake of notoriety. But this scheme only disconnects him from others and prevents any room for personal growth.

Trump is a controversial figure who is trying to incite outrage. Yet, his comments over the past few weeks show the difference between criticism and outrage. They are a helpful reminder that we can’t please everyone. He shows what it means to listen to no one, for better or for worse.  You can stand your ground, but at the extreme, you will never leave that space. He’s no one to emulate, but we can learn both from his successes and his mistakes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *