Why do people support negative leaders? Is it simple resentment?

In late October 2022 the 50-year-old man some outlets claim is “the richest man in the world” purchased the social media platform Twitter for an astonishing amount of money: roughly 44 billion US dollars.

Over the last 4 weeks this man has proceeded to publicly attack, insult, harangue, badmouth, and belittle his newly acquired employees in a breathtaking display of toxic leadership.

He has revelled in publicly overseeing the firing, legal and illegal, of nearly 75% of his newly acquired employees (now, mostly ex-employees) in a breathtaking display of cruel ownership.

He has publicly attacked his newly acquired company’s advertisers, customers, regulators, providers, and partners in a breathtaking display of poor business sense.

It has been astonishing.

This rich middle-aged man having a very public mid-life crisis of some sort and melting down with the emotional maturity of an over-indulged insecure 12-year-old boy.

While before, rumors of his poor form, nasty behavior to employees, and unsavory dealings were just that, now they burst open onto the world stage.

Now, a rich man behaving like a naughty boy, that’s nothing so special.

However, this spectacle has fascinated me for three reasons.

First, because I experienced two toxic bosses while working at the Swiss tech company SpotMe, the spectacle of the toxic leadership style of the emerald heir is particularly resonant. I say from experience: there is no excusing this kind of vile behavior.

Second, because I use the Twitter platform, I have a vested interest in it as a well-moderated forum without the excesses of 4chan. If it becomes a toxic $8chan, it becomes useless to me and my brand.

Third, because, much as with Trump, a large cohort has materialized that is actively cheering for the decaying rocket man’s toxic behavior. This cohort, that supports and encourages a vicious bully, is fascinating to me. What motivates people to choose the big bad boss over … well, ordinary mundane respectable folks.

I’m not going to write about the first point. I’ve talked about it before, and suffice to say: an abusive boss is one of the worst experiences a person can have. Nobody deserves it, and abusive bosses are objectively bad people.

I’m not going to dwell on the second point. It’s self evident. As an artist and writer, I won’t publish or share my work in a cesspit, because it looks bad.

I am going to touch on the third point a bit more, however. After all, what triggered this post was an unusually vehement interaction on Twitter earlier today.

I shared a post by Gergely Orosz documenting yet another in a long line of abusive and hostile events at Twitter.

Whereupon an online acquaintance went to surprisingly great lengths to point out that they have no sympathy for Twitter’s “lazy techbro clerisy latte-sipping six-figure-earning employees”. I’m paraphrasing.

They kept asking me for “proof” and “evidence” of abusive behavior by the new owner of that platform, while continually redirecting attention to how the employees were allegedly entitled and privileged and deserved what they got.

I found this both perplexing and interesting.

Perplexing, because I wasn’t talking about the employees at all. I was talking about the boss.

I hold that it doesn’t matter whether an employee is admirable or deplorable, a star or a thief. They are, at the end of the day, a human person and should be treated with humanity and respect.

Interesting, because it suggests a direction of enquiry.

Is it possible that the reason people support asshole bosses because they act on their hidden resentments?

I envy the popular and successful employees at the company, so I’m going to secretly cheer for the toxic boss as they abuse and harass them out of the company.

I envy the six-figure earning coastal elite programmers, so I’m going to quietly gloat as the toxic new owner of the software platform abuses and harasses them out of their jobs.

I envy the young people with their different ways and funny-colored hair and whole lives ahead of them, so I’m going to be smugly satisfied when my aged god-emperor brings down the ban hammer of conservative revolution on their heads.

I’m not at all saying that it’s always the same people supporting the same toxic leaders and role models.

Kanye West, Emperor Palpatine, Elon Musk, for example, are obviously not the same and don’t have the same supporters.

However, is it possible that the emotion behind the human tendency to support negative leaders is simple envy?

As the Slovenian proverb says, “May the neighbor’s cow die.”

Thank you for reading this far! With the holiday season upon us, you can help Ukrainians in their struggle against Russia’s genocidal invasion. Even a small donation can go a long way.

The Shahed Hunter fundraiser is raising money to buy anti-drone systems to defend Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure against Russia’s drone terror attacks.

Slava Ukrajini.

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