Sunday, December 6, 2015

Demagoguery 2015: Trump and Why Education Matters

If you've not read this story on today's New York Times in which they do a rhetorical analysis of over 95000 words spoken by Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during his campaign, you ought to.  It's a long article, but it's well worth the investment of time as it clearly indicates the rhetorical patterns and choices Trump makes which ally him with a long history of American Demagogues like Joseph McCarthy, Barry Goldwater, and the like.

I'm not going to review the article.  It's something everyone should read but which, of course, those who most need to read it won't because it doesn't jive with what they "feel" is right.  And it is that, more than anything else, that is telling about Trump.  His policies...they're non-existent, little more than soundbites about building really tall walls and bombing the hell out of people.  But those soundbites are powerful as they are really at the heart of the NYTimes' analysis.  Those words, whether carefully chosen due to some deep understanding of the neuroscience of how the brain processes language, or, more likely, because Trump knows something about neurolinguistic programing and the art of negotiating (the latter he certainly does), speak to the emotional centers of the brain.  It is those centers, below the conscious, higher-order thinking layers of the brain, that actually drive most human decision making.   (And this one, for a more in-depth look.)

Unless, of course, we know better and are practiced at truly listening and questioning the words and intent of speakers like Trump.  But that's hard work, and requires a good deal of training, neither of which seem in plenty supply in America anymore.

This is not to paint Trump's supporters as idiots or puppets.  Rather it is to point out that Trump knows what he's doing when it comes to speaking and presenting himself in order to manipulate, and it's not only akin to those people I mentioned in paragraph #1, you can link his propaganda techniques straight to the even more sinister people who stepped into the limelight during periods of great social upheaval (which I would argue we are in right now) and came to manipulate the masses.

It would not be wrong to say that Trump will "buy" this election, should he win it, because what he's done is nothing different than plying the manipulative language and propaganda techniques that mark American marketing and advertising.  He packages his ideas in easily digested emotionally fortified bits and allows the unsuspecting to swallow them, turning their hearts black and smoldering with fear and hatred.

Read the article.  The intent is clear, the patterns undeniable, the impact...chilling.  We must be ever vigilant against demagoguery, but far too many of us don't smell it when its BS approaches.