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Cognitive neuroscientist explains what chimpanzees teach us about Trump's leadership

President Donald J. Trump speaks with members of the press along the South Lawn driveway of the White House Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, prior to boarding Marine One to begin his trip to South Carolina. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

In this time of global pandemic, when life and livelihoods are under threat and our normal routines are on pause, it seems useful to stop and consider what kind of leadership America has, circa 2020.


When I reflect on leadership, what first comes to mind is the clang and bang of a stick in hand smashing against a metal garbage-can lid. It's the story of a chimpanzee in the wild who gets his hands on that cymbal-like object — something not of his world, but belonging to the humans observing him — to create a sound-spectacle that led to his artificial rise in the group's dominance hierarchy. In a sense, he was a fake "alpha animal." He made a ruckus and harassed other chimps, but didn't do anything in the service of the group.

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