When Jane Goodall first studied chimpanzees in the wild she learned that they are peaceful animals for the most part. The problem with her first study was that it was limited mainly to female chimps, including the very good mother, Flo.
As time went on and more data was collected it became evident that chimp behavior could be anything but peaceful. Especially among male chimps vying for power. I say male chimps because unlike bonobos the males are bigger , stronger and more aggressive than females. And unlike gorillas, our more distant relative, the common chimpanzees live in larger groups with multiple males.
The political power structure of chimps centers around groups of males, supporting each other. One male chimp stands above the others. He achieves this role through violence and intimidation. He makes the other male chimps cower before him. Then he uses that collective power to maintain control of the group.
In order to keep that power he must continually reassert his dominance. Once in a while a younger chimp may challenge him. At that point his gang comes to support him and fend off the challenger. At some point, however, when he starts to get old and vulnerable another chimp will successfully challenge him and become the new leader. Demanding the same allegiance from the group. Subserviant males would approach the ruler and hold out a hand in demonstrating their complete loyalty.
Of course there will be males who simply leave the group run by the bully. It was noted in the group that Goodall studied. A number of males left the original group and went to an adjoining territory. The original males , led by their boss, tracked down the other males. But they did not attack them as a group.
They waited until they found a male alone, then the entire gang systematically attacked and beat the ex-patriot to death. They did this to each male as they found him. Ambushed. Brutal gang attacks on lone males. Those murdered males had been part of their society and probably related to some of them. The attacks occurred for no apparent reason since the break off group was not threatening their territory.
As we now know, chimpanzees are our most closely related primate. (Some claim bonobos are just as close or closer). Some anthropologists have suggested that human beings are, in fact, a type of chimpanzee. But, since humans make the categories they decided they were unique.
Which brings me to Trump’s chimps.
Are there some genetic components in human beings that demand the type of leadership Trump provides? Violent. Vindictive. Allowing no deviation from the leader. Total humiliation of others, even his closest supporters.
Do human beings, at least many of them, welcome the bully as leader. The tough guy who manipulates others to do his dirty work. The man who governs by intimidation.
Are democracies doomed by human DNA?
Julius Caesar. Adlof Hitler. Napoleon Bonaparte. Idi Amin. Pol Pot. Josef Stalin. Mao Zedong. Saddam Hussein. Donald Trump. Henry VIII. Putin. The list goes on.
No strong man acts alone. He intimidates others who buckle under his will. He eliminates anyone who defies him, further intimidating those around him. A technique so old and so often used that it is hard to imagine there is not some genetic component.
Perhaps Trump’s chimps are normal and those of us who believe in democracy are the outliers, genetically. Perhaps democracies are doomed to eventually give way to authoritarianism. Perhaps there is an inherent need for humans to reject the idea of group decision making in deference to a strong man. After all, democracy demands responsibility. Isn’t it easier to give that responsibility to one man and unburden the individual from thinking and acting. Easier to give up responsibility for society. Empathy is hard.
A frightful idea. That Trump’s chimps are the inevitable end game of our democracy.The “normal” ones. Encoded in our DNA.