Let me start by saying I’m very glad I had a lot of influence from our good friend alcohol the Saturday night before the Packer/Seahawk game. Typically, I try to stick to my guns (that’s a callback!) and do what I say I’m going to do, but being out with a bunch of green and gold fans really dissuaded me from putting any money on Richard Sherman. Besides, I’d already convinced myself that because we were currently in the middle of snowstorm Aaron that there was no way meme magic could fail us. Couple that with my friend Jeff having been at the Packer/Giant game in 2010 that we needed to win or go home, and I was drinking the kool-aid hard.
Several rounds of shots and several whiskey diets later, my guns had been thrown on the ground and replaced with a couple of Wyatt Earp inspired Green Bay Packer six shooters. And boy, did those babies fire away on Sunday night. That game was awesome. A win would’ve been great on its own, but blowing them out exceeded my expectations (another callback!).
Really though, I shouldn’t be surprised. As I briefly touched on at the end of the previous piece, Green Bay had a major advantage Seattle didn’t. They were planted firmly on death’s ground. They’ve known, for weeks, that a single loss would mean the end of their season. They had no choice after starting at 4-6 than to, as A-Rod so wonderfully stated, “run the table”. They had two options: victory or death.
Death is, to say the least, extremely unappealing. Victory is pretty much the exact opposite. Victory is great. Victory is the best. It’s the bees knees. When people are presented with the choice between those two options, they tend to choose the latter. Greene says it best:
You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory. Place yourself on “death ground,” where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive.
Really, this is the first time in the blog that I’m going to give you some homework and read this chapter of the book. You can do that right here. It’s probably my favorite one.
The fourth chapter of the book tells the tale of the conquistador Hernan Cortes, who deliberately sunk his ships off the coast of Mexico during their invasion of the Aztecs. By taking away their only route back to Cuba, his men were given a choice. They could either give up and die right their on the beach, or they could fight their way out. All of the problems of his men: greed, homesickness, mutinous plotting, they dissipated when they were compared with being six feet underground. If you passed your tenth grade history course, you’ll know that this strategy was a rousing success.
In leadership in politics, this works as well. If you can get your followers to believe that they’re staring death in the eye, they’ll fight for you. Hell, sometimes, they’ll do it all the way to the grave. I’m not sure if that’s ironic or not, but I’m leaning towards yes. I’m sure that a lot of the people that read this that aren’t Trump supporters probably believe that’s the fate for everyone in the country, including the people who voted for him in this election.
Either way, it shouldn’t surprise you that an incredible two thirds of Trump’s supporters saw this as America’s last chance to stop its decline. The voters that seemed to draw the scorn of my social media feeds: uneducated whites, baby boomers, and evangelicals all had rates of belief between 49 and 53 percent. Roughly half the people in those groups thought there was no coming back if Trump lost. It was his victory or their death.
Trump hammered messages that spoke to these groups, individually: he told the working white class jobs were going away, he sold the moral decay of political correctness to the evangelicals, and he painted a picture of America that was no longer great and was very different from the way the 50+ voters remembered it. His rhetoric had to be precise; when you’re not taking a war-based doomsday approach, it’s very difficult to really convince people they’re at the end of their rope.
Trump, as he’d done so many times through the election, kept it simple and broke it down into two words: winning and losing. Right now, he said, we’re losing. We’re losing in trade, we’re losing to ISIS, we’re losing on the world’s stage. It’s not like this was necessarily a new message, we all remember that scene from the newsroom. The meme of a weak, hated America was pretty damn strong. Trump understood this. Constantly referring to us as losing paints a very strong picture. To most humans, loss is twice as psychologically strong as a gain. People hate losing. If Packer fans are any representation, that’s definitely true. I see twice as many complaints after a string of losses than after a few wins in a row. On the other side of the coin, using the word “winners” allows all three of the previously aforementioned groups to paint a mental picture of how they’re going to win. One is the carrot, one is the stick.
You could also that the process of the primary process put Trump himself on death’s ground. If he didn’t win the Presidency, his legacy would be ripped apart for basically no reason. The only way he could legitimize his character would be to win the white house and take it from there. He’d have to fight his way through or die trying. I imagine that probably made it a lot easier for him to sleep four hours a night and hold up to five rallies in one day in the weeks heading up to the election. Even during the summer, he was holding several in person rallies a week. It’s the classic Jay Cutler strategy, really. Anyone can look good when you’re in Denver and you’re throwing it 500 times a year, but when you’re forced to only throw it 30 times, you suddenly don’t have the volume stats to make you look good. If you get to throw 500 darts at the board, you’re going to hit a few bullseyes.
Fortunately for Trump, he could throw as many passes as he wanted, as long as he had the energy. Specifically, he could toss more darts than originally anticipated at a few states that seemed like real long shots. And what had been seen as a strategy that was very desperate to some, ended up being a very crucial factor in his ability to win these states. Having that many personal appearances likely caused his message of a dying America to sink in more firmly there. In states like Wisconsin and Minnesota where the difference was thin enough to warrant a recount, this probably made all the difference.
Hillary apparently didn’t do a good a job convincing her voters that this was America’s last chance to save itself, which is pretty interesting, because I thought her late game advertising was very effective. The image of an insane Trump nuking a third world country over a tweet was one of the strongest parts of her campaign. It might be anecdotal, but I heard this as a major concern from a lot of people leading up to the election. Maybe it wasn’t strong enough to settle in once people got in the booth, who knows?
I also don’t think Hillary herself was every really on death’s ground. She obviously wanted to win the Presidency very badly, but at the end of the day, she’d be just fine if she lost. She has other career opportunities, she’s still the sweetheart of a large part of the country, and she can continue her work with the Clinton foundation. I mean, she’d already had an unsuccessful run for President previously, and she came out just fine. She had to know the consequences of losing wouldn’t really be all that big a deal for her.
This is going to sound grim, but it’s something I always try to remember: we’re all on death’s ground if you think about it. Everyone is going to eat it eventually, so it’s best to make hay while the sun’s shining. If I’m too tired to go to the gym or I’d rather procrastinate than write this blog, sometimes it helps to remember that I’ve only got so many miles on the odometer before the car stops running. If you’re realizing that I’m using a lot of weird metaphors here, it’s because this isn’t really all that pleasant of a topic to think about it. I try not to dwell on it, but, occasionally, it’s a kick in the ass that I need. Try it sometime. You might be amazed by the results.
And speaking of death’s ground, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are firmly planted on it this weekend. A loss this weekend puts them into complicated tie-breaker scenarios for next weekend and essentially all but ends their season. We’ll see if they have the experience to understand the situation they’re in. I’m betting they don’t, and that the savvy veteran Drew Brees sticks the dagger in their throat to make this another playoff miss. Tampa Bay at -170 is my SCLPLOTCOTW.
Next time, we’ll dig into the concept of building and managing a team. For now, Happy Holidays. And let’s hope we can run out the clock on 2016 without something else crazy happening.