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Machiavelli

What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness (2000) by Stanley Bing

I picked up this mercifully short (and cheap) book at a book sale recently, because I used to teach about Machiavelli and was curious how the author would deal with him. Since the cover quoted Entertainment Weekly (“The Ultimate Guide to Corporate Backstabbing”) I didn’t have high expectations. It was worse than I thought—and yet there was unexpected gold.

Turns out Stanley Bing is the pen name for Gil Schwartz, who is, according to Wikipedia, senior executive vice president and chief communications officer at CBS. He’s the author of several books of business humor, as well as novels. He’s probably been pretty busy lately trying to airbrush Les Moonves out of the corporate portraits. If he hasn’t been canned, himself.

But even when he’s not cited as an example, Trump really exemplifies many of these points, such as being unpredictable, paranoid, responding poorly to criticism, lying, never saying he’s sorry, having no conscience, screaming at people.

The basic thesis is that Machiavelli would stop at nothing and destroy anyone to get to the top—and stay there. I won’t get into a detailed exegesis (look it up, Stanley!) of Machiavelli. Suffice it to say that this is a highly selective and distorted picture. People still read Machiavelli because there is more to him than this book tells us.

The structure is a series of statements of what Machiavelli would do, illustrated with vignettes from the business world. For example:

  • He would be unpredictable, and thus gain the advantage
  • He would be, for the most part, a paranoid freak
  • He would fire his own mother, if necessary
  • He would make a virtue out of his obnoxiousness
  • He would say what he felt like saying
  • He wouldn’t exactly seek the company of ass-kissers and bimbos, but he wouldn’t reject them out of hand, either
  • He would respond poorly to criticism
  • He would lie when it was necessary
  • He would be proud of his cruelty and see it as strength
  • He would kick ass and take names
  • He would realize that loving yourself means never having to say you’re sorry
  • He would have no conscience to speak of
  • He would scream at people a lot
  • He would establish and maintain a psychotic level of control
  • He wouldn’t be afraid to sling that bullshit
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Now, this book was published eighteen years ago, in 2000, and yet the pattern of behavior is eerily familiar. Consider the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Back in 2000, Donald Trump was still not into politics. He hadn’t even gotten into his reality show, “The Apprentice.” But he was a very prominent businessman—and he shows up several times in Bing’s vignettes. On making a virtue of his own obnoxiousness, for example, we have this quotation: “Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is bad—it really is.” This was on Larry King Live, on CNN.

Or, on not being afraid to sling that bullshit: “Give them the old Trump bullshit. Tell them it’s going to be a million square feet, sixty-eight stories.” Indeed, Bing adds his own encomium: “In a world of bullshitters, Donald Trump stands above all like a colossus….To Mr. Trump, it comes naturally.”

But even when he’s not cited as an example, he really exemplifies many of these points, such as being unpredictable, paranoid, responding poorly to criticism, lying, never saying he’s sorry, having no conscience, screaming at people.

People like Bing who have known Trump for years recognize that he has a natural talent for being the sort of bastard that the book idealizes. Trump didn’t have to read this book to achieve it: that is who he is. And he’s been that way his whole life.

One thing that Bing doesn’t really emphasize is what happens when the Prince falters, when he becomes vulnerable. All those people he’s used and abused will be waiting for him. With daggers drawn.

impeachment unavoidable

John Peeler

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