I’ve heard it asked since he started running, and every time he says yet another ridiculous thing… “How can anyone like this guy?”
This election is almost here, and as inundated as we’ve all been with analysis of every little thing, I feel like I can offer some commentary that might make a little bit of sense in a time where that is an extremely limited and finite resource.
I highly suggest reading “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt, Ph. D from my school Penn, among many other credentials. Reading this book has put this election into a context where I think I understand everything that’s happened, and I’d never dream of not sharing that with you fine people. Keep in mind that this is not a review or commentary on Dr. Haidt’s book, but reading the material within has led me to my conclusion. It’s still recommended reading regardless.
I won’t bestow upon Donald Trump of doing this intentionally, nor will I say that he’s incredibly smart for doing it this way, but I will say that he has been very effective. No matter where you fall in regard to his campaign, it’s likely not one of low emotional responses, and that’s exactly the point I’m going to make here.
Most campaigns in the past have been rational, reasonable, and logical to some extent. Whether it’s smearing or debating, the forefront of the contest has been surrounding issues and the wants and needs of the general public. Not so here. Trump has run an emotional campaign, and that’s an important distinction. The reason that people have responded with love or vitriol to anything Trump says is because he’s tapped into the emotional capacity of our political landscape, and that’s a lot harder to rationalize.
Haidt would call this “intuitionism,” which in layman’s terms (no relation) means that we have a series of pre-programmed responses to certain words or ideas that we’re sure feel right regardless of evidence or being able to articulate why we feel them. We all have them, but some of us are more or less capable of changing them. There are some ideas, however, upon which none of us will bend, and that’s only normal. To be a complete relativist is to have no moral standing at all, and that’s inhuman.
Trump’s base are people who feel victimized, persecuted, and that everyone else is gaining rights while they’re losing them. I hear it all the time. “Everyone in this country is free except Christians.” “Black people have all the rights.” “Gay people can do whatever they want. They don’t want equality, they want superiority.” The people who truly feel that way have been captivated by this guy who not only justifies their emotions, but vindicates them by pointing the finger of blame at X. Whatever X is: Mexicans, Syrian refugees, LGBT people, non-Christians, feminists, women… The central narrative is that things are no longer great in this country, but it’s not your fault. You’re the good people. If only we got rid of X, everything would be like it used to be (rose-colored nostalgia notwithstanding).
When you’re arguing reason and logic, minds can be changed, and evidence can be effective. When you’re arguing emotion, however, it’s very difficult to consider other points of view. Trump has tapped into an angry group of people who feel like they aren’t being heard, and done the opposite to those who despise him. Love him or hate him, he provokes an emotional response from people, and that’s exactly my point. It’s a lot harder to argue against emotions than it is statistics or political ideology.
Have you ever been in a traffic jam, and you see the one guy riding on the shoulder to get around everyone else? Your natural response is to be angry, but part of that is because you secretly wish you could do that yourself, not to mention without consequence. Trump is that guy; doing things that would get anyone else permanently exiled, and certain kinds of people identify with that. They’re convinced that PC is the devil, and the antidote is Trump. Here’s a guy who says whatever he wants, never lets it affect him, and is still winning. So many people in this country want that privilege; to yell slurs at people without dealing with any recourse because freedom. That’s why nothing Trump says ever loses him support: Because that’s exactly why he has their support!
Consciously or subconsciously, when you tap into an emotional response over a logical one, it’s very hard to change your mind. You’re more likely to be mad at the guy running on the shoulder than you are the one patiently waiting with you. Sure, the one waiting patiently may be a better person, but you’re not going to notice that. You’re going to notice the one breaking the rules and not getting in trouble for it. Whether you hate that guy or want to be him, he’s still provoking that emotional feeling.
That’s Donald Trump: The guy running along the shoulder, completely skipping the traffic jam, and no cop will ever see it. Confronting him with arguments and logic will never touch him, because he doesn’t give a damn about those things. He cares about what he feels, not what he thinks, and so many people want to be that way that they’ll vote for him with hopes that they can act like that too.