“No one could have expected this… perhaps the biggest political upset in American History.” ~ABC news anchor George Stephanapoulos on realizing that Donald Trump was the president elect of the United States.

Flash back nine months ago, I’m standing in Dr. Chuck Pezeshki‘s woodshop, who’s handle is “Reality Based Lefty,” in bewilderment as he’s telling me, “You don’t want Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton for President. Here’s why…”

Before I go into how design theory explains this election, one that nearly every analyst drastically predicted wrong, allow me to assert that I’m an Independent out of principle. My qualitative analysis here is not a political endorsement, simply presentation of a societal design theory that explains what “no one could have expected”. But first we need some theoretical context.

Spiral v-Memes and our Two-Party System

If you’ve read this blog, you know that I utilize a knowledge aggregation theory that lumps common societal value groupings and structures into “spiral” v-Memes. An introductory piece on design theory in education is here. I’ve used this to explain everything from personal fitness routines, to the historical progression of offense schemes in college football, and our societial future with Artificial Intelligence. Full texts on Spiral v-Memes are available: Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, The Never Ending Quest: Clare Graves Explores Human Nature.

Let’s provide some context of how this relates to our political system. First the v-Meme taxonomy:


Brief definitions of the v-meme value progression are here. Quickly:

Survival: Think the homeless or someone immediately in danger. People worried about survival are atomized and barely coherent. Tribal: The Native Americans and gangs. Almost all of their knowledge is contained in relics, passed on verbally, and the number one value is survival of those in your band. You also believe in magic. Authoritarian: The power driven gods and kings that takeover the tribes with sufficient resources. It’s all about their arbitrary opinions. Yes, contrary to common belief, the rise of Donald Trump Authoritarianism was very predictable. Many fear-based religions fall into this category. Legalistic: Rule by laws that are untouchable by even the worst authoritarians. Government, the legal system, some rule based religions. Still dichotomous right vs. wrong thought processes. Performance: Mastery of the rules to perform and improvise beyond the rules. Self-aware individuals including Business Tycoons and Elite athletes.  Communitarian: Realization that performance is not the end, but the beginning and sustainability is essential for a long life with friends. The green movement. Systemic: All of these memes are essential for a thriving ecosystem and the challenge is to enlighten as many individuals as possible. Examples include Game preserve managers, very good CEOs, etc.

And the system is opened ended to handle whatever comes next in society. It’s not a right or wrong kind of thing. It’s simply a single system of thought that is multifaceted enough to handle just about any situation society could present.

What’s important to note for political context:

  1. The Darwinian progression from individual values (left side of taxonomy) and collective values (right side). It’s no coincidence that although our society allows more than two political parties, nearly all races come down to two. Conservatives tend to fall on the individual (introvert) side and liberals tend towards the collective (extrovert) side. Note the structure diagrams on the individual side begin with actions of an individual, the collective side begins with a cohort.
  2. Women tend to fall on the collective side of the spectrum, likely due to historical patriarchy and the need for multi-threaded problem solving with family duties. Men tend to fall on the individual side of the spectrum. It’s not a rule, simply how our ancestral beginnings started things. Many examples of polygamy out there. Not many examples of male communities dominated by a single women.
  3. Rural communities are more atomized, individualistic, and of course tend to be conservative. Urban communities more connected, communal, and of course tend to be liberal.
  4. As we go up the Spiral, the accessible solutions, empathy, and # of ways a society can solve a problem increase considerably (exponentially?). Both sides of the spiral lead to globalization at the systemic level and above. But higher v-Memes/levels require more resources (space, time, energy, information) to fully access, if these resources are not available we collapse to the lowest level that can be fully populated.
  5. The v-Meme and associated structure generally becomes awakened/accessible when the corresponding communication medium/technology is utilized by society, in accordance with Conway’s Law. As society continues to evolve, the Legal and Authoritarian memes will continue to become more foreign to our needs, yet remain always a part of us.
  6. No coincidence that a healthy society tends to be a 50-50 split on the spiral. No coincidence we’re becoming more entrenched in our opinions. The # of ways we can get the message we want to hear has increased incredibly. Think the other side seams crazy? They are looking back thinking the exact same thing.
  7. Finally, realize that each level has fundamentally different values. These collective vs. individual value sets are not necessarily opposed, but rather orthogonal (90°) to eachother. Veering strongly towards the individual side doesn’t necessarily mean a step back, just a step in another direction.

So as you can see, our two-party political system was an ingenious move by the founding fathers, one that matched Darwinian evolution and allows us to continue to evolve into the future. So how does this explain our election last night?

How the pollsters got Trump vs. Clinton wrong

All of the hateful rhetoric, lies, the potential for the first women president, and the inexperience of one candidate compared to the other didn’t matter because of #6 above.

The most important factor was change. Trump was the change candidate. Clinton was the establishment candidate. Change has won the presidency for my entire life now.


Why does the electoral college seem like an antiquated system that is no longer current? Why is congress politically gridlocked from accomplishing anything? Why have the laws they’ve passed slipped further and further into insignificance over the last 50 years? Why do these governance processes seem so alien and silly, yet essential?

#5 above. Society is moving away from the Legalistic/Authoritarian memes with technology. While the memes are nested and always there, we simply act, communicate, and share in more efficient structures and ways now that technology allows us to. Since we’re immersed and a part of this change everyday, and we know that the legal process is required at some level, awareness is hard. We know, deep down, that change is happening, the system is changing, and so must we. It’s terrifying for many of us and essential.

Why is an authoritarian like Trump the likely driver of change? When you’re scared but know that you must act, you’re not using your full brain and are just hoping for someone, a captain, firemen, policemen, someone who knows what to do, will start issuing orders. He sold fear in his campaign because fear is what drives arbitrary authoritarians like him into power. That’s not an opinion, it’s the way the system works.

What does this mean for the future?

One of the things my thermodynamics treatment of empathy and v-Memes has shown me is that it may be easy to know that change is happening, but it’s still very difficult to know which way you’re headed with what we currently know about psychology and sociology (figuring out the state functions for social problems is the holy grail of sociology).

If my thermodynamics theory of societal phase change does have merit, what is key right now is our positive economy and a conservative congress and supreme court behind Trump. Why would I EVER say this as an independent? It’s in the thermodynamics of mixing.

Divisive individuals like Trump push in-group/out-group dynamics that reduce empathy (a.k.a. social entropy) that drive dissolution of society and precipitates to form (that’s bad, when riots or civil war happens). The key driver of solution is the Temperature (resources) of society that provide enough energetics to keep everything working together. Our economy is in a good (yet still precarious place), so for at least a little while there are enough resources to keep everything working and no dire Pressures on our society to stress immediate change.

The other factor is the internal energy (or perceived values) of society. Trump’s success will likely hinge on how much he tries to shift these values away from mainstream and whether the resources justify the shift. One thing I know about insecure, divisive individuals like Trump is that they tend to be benevolent when they do not feel threatened. Having a supportive cast behind him will actually likely minimize his perceived need to justify himself by trying to stir the pot.

His policies? Generally not supported by the party behind him or economic principles. Mostly a show to get elected, which is what I’ve been saying from the beginning. He’s a business man, that requires a certain level of self-awareness (the awareness threshold comes right above the legalistic level) and knows that he has to be a team player (to a degree) for success. It’s likely safe to say that the “success” bar has never been lower for an incoming president.

Nationalism in opposition to globalism as the Spiral above says? It may be a step back. Sometimes stepping back and looking inward is required to step forward, especially during metamorphosis times like societal phase changes. Just like I recommended in my drive-to-25 comments.

The bigger issue than a Trump presidency going forward is how to adapt our legal system and societal values to allow people to move forward and onward in a positive fashion. While the Founding Fathers created an incredible system that matched human nature to allow consistent progression into the future, the needs and values of society in the 1700’s are very different from those of today. They didn’t–couldn’t get everything right.

The question becomes whether we need to rely on our Legalistic governance to institute a structural change or whether the culture shifts will drive the structure. I have yet to see a legalistic organization in business or academia institute the structural change allowing communitarian-systemic values. I’ve only seen organizations succeed with those values imbued ab initio. Tree-like structures tend to die and be replaced rather than evolve wheels to change the circumstances. Trump is actually driving the collective shift from the legalistic to communal/tribal memes just by his ostensible values. The question is whether the thermodynamics are there, in the right ways, to allow us to continue to move forward long term.