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Trumping isn’t about winning, but trumping becomes everything, when you start to do it.


The notion of ‘trumping’ carries a lot of connotations; it’s origin is as an 'offensive play' in a game of ‘500’ (to play a trump card is to use a card of the suit deemed most powerful). No matter the cards that preceded it, a trump card, if played, will win the round. This card promises (if you manage your suits well) to save the day, as it were - and, stop your opponents dead in their tracks.


The second definition of ‘trumping’ offered up by Miriam Webster is ‘a decisive overriding factor or final resource - also called ‘trump card’. Similar to the first, this definition suggests an element of surprise and, more interestingly, a sense of powerlessness to those who do not possess the trump.


We’re starting now to get into darker territory, aren’t we? The first definition belies a sense of power; trumping makes us feel as if we are winning. However, the second does not: if the trump card appears on the scene, all previous efforts are rendered ineffectual. The third definition is a noun: a Trump is a ‘dependable and exemplary person’ (also from Miriam Webster). But the words (or, name) Trump and dependable or exemplary hardly seem fit to co-exist in a sentence. This, of course, leads us to the fourth (albeit informal) definition - that is, to be an ageing, arrogant man who resembles a Cheezel with a toupe more than a human being. 


The constant across these varying applications of the word seems to be a sense of ‘gain’: When we trump someone, we are changing the outcome of a situation, supposedly for our own benefit. But, there also seems to be an aggression inside this word, something that distinguishes it from ‘winning’ or even ‘beating’ someone. If we consider a succession of words when describing a single person’s power in relation to creating outcomes, we propose the following:


Being the best —> winning —> beating —> Trumping.


Both 'being the best' and 'winning' may not be at the expense of others: If you win a competition, you aren’t necessarily stripping the other competitors of anything, even if they themselves aren’t also winners. 'Beating' takes a different, more spiteful tone - that of the deliberate assertion of dominance over others - and thus delivers us to the word ‘trumping’, which (as in the game 500) is not so much about our own winning as it is about defeating someone else.


It suggests that 'gaining' may not just mean positive outcomes for yourself. Rather, it’s about ensuring the demise of someone else, even if it’s at your own expense. The contradictions of trumping don’t stop there: For something self-serving, it’s remarkably not self-focused. In order to adequately trump the situation, you have to understand your opponent and what their weaknesses are in order to exploit them, to ‘play the card’ that will render them ineffectual. In this way it requires, remarkably, a great degree of focus on the external rather than the internal, as other self-important traits might infer. 


All of this suggests that trumping is an aggressive, decisive act… but is it possible to accidentally trump someone? Perhaps. The impulse for siblings and family members to undermine  each other can sometimes seem almost instinctual, like a reflex intended to protect the individual’s spot in the pecking order. A childlike quality, trumping carries with it the connotation of some impish glee derived from the failure of others as a component of the joy of your own success. 


The question of why people trump… well, that’s difficult to say, of course. Why does anyone enjoy possessing power over others or their environment? An inflated sense of self-importance? A need to address a perceived lack of power, thus actively attempting to re-balance the scales? A significant lack of self-esteem requiring constant external validation of your own value? Insidious in its playfulness and casual-ity, trumping - upon closer inspection - takes on a kind of sinisterness when we consider how much calculation (however subconscious) is actually involved. It can hide in the forms of competition, collaboration and caring... but beware: being unaware of the underlying motivation of others' actions can leave you vulnerable to the spears of judgement and inadequacy that come with being trumped.


Maybe we should all give trumping a go:



  1. Identify an opponent’s weaknesses (including government spying) just so you can exploit them!

  2. Hoard something in the hopes that one day you will be able to use it to irreparably change a situation... FOREVER.

  3. Participate in a contest (e.g. a presidency) you have no desire to win, simply for the pleasure of watching others lose.

  4. Disorient your opponent with nonsense (and lies), rendering logic ineffectual by imposing a logic of your own making.

  5. Have no attachment to morals (they'll only hold you back) so you can adopt the necessary ‘dominant’ values to suit every occasion.

  6. Drop bombs on Syria, uninvited and un-checked. 



...Or maybe not.

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