Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Authoritarian Trump Formula: Is "Presidential" Just Too Politically Correct?


Has Donald Trump offended you yet? Give him time. Question him and chances are you will be considered nothing but a dolt. It seems that the Donald calls everyone who doesn't worship him a “dummy,” a “loser,” or a “stupid moron.” It amazes me that he has somehow “earned” the presidential candidacy of the Republican Party. It's worth a look at how this has happened.

“He’s (Trump) always talking about threatening images and threatening forces operating behind the scenes or overseas or south of the border,” Matt Motyl, political psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says. “By fostering a sense of perceived threat, people become fearful. They want someone who can alleviate that fear.” Motyl claims in times of anxiety people also seek out simple solutions instead of detailed plans.

Trump's simplicity is evident in his limited vocabulary and his repetitive off the cuff remarks that do little to reveal how he plans to accomplish his goals. Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political discourse at Texas A&M University, believes Trump's campaign employs simple rhetoric to create division – a tactic of intimidation and war.

“One of the things I found so fascinating was that so much of what he said was…’I'm winning. I’m the winner. I had the number one TV show. I had the number one book. I’m winning. I’m winning. I won. I’m great. They’re dummies. They’re dumb. They’re stupid. They’re vicious. They’re dumb,’” Mercieca says. “He divides the world that way.”

(Emily Sohn. “Why Trump's Negativity Is Working.” December 09, 2015.)

It is troubling to me that this bombastic, contemptuous man could become so popular. Donald Trump has tapped into the fears of very bitter and angry people to incite their prejudices – prejudices about politicians, immigrants, foreign leaders, and any other perceived opponent. He does not care about mutual and dignity, and he dismisses his lack of civility by claiming he's sick of being politically correct.

Dr. Robert L. Leahy, the Honorary Life-time President of the New York City Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Association and author of many books, explains the “Trump Formula” with these steps:

1. Create an Enemy

This is important in propaganda wars to incite emotionalism. “If Trump is able to convince people that the enemy lies within---including immigrants, politicians, and weak leaders— he can play on anxiety and target others for attack."

2. Play on Fear

Trump plays on the fears that America is “being invaded by dangerous people, being threatened by highly sophisticated enemies abroad, and experiencing a monumental economic collapse.”

3. Emphasize Humiliation

When people are humiliated they get angry and when they get angry they attack, so Trump stirs up people who believe “the antidote to humiliation is a strong leader who will humiliate others.”

4. Talk About Strength

Trump claims we don't have a tough leader, so acting like a bully is justified.

5. Describe Catastrophes

Trump claims present leaders have put us “at the end of days.”

6. Take Everything Personally

Trump is egocentric and “all about himself.” He personalizes views any disagreements as insults that require attacks and humiliations.

7. Don't Offer Details, Just Generalities

Trump says “he will fix everything, he promises, you have to believe him.” Details are
an after-thought, “only used by those who lack flexibility in leadership.”

(Robert L. Leahy. “Why Trump Appeals to People.” Psychology Today. August 12, 2015.)

Ask the average American why he or she supports Trump and the answer usually involves likeness for Trump's unabashed candor, his distaste for politicians, and his business negotiations. Yet, with this man as the GOP candidate, America is faced with lending leadership to a celebrity known for inflammatory tactics, emotional outbursts, and a very unproven level of competency. In short, electing Trump as president is synonymous with taking a potentially volatile risk on a very unstable business deal.

To affirm that Donald Trump is entertaining is a no-brainer. No one doubts that his shtick draws immediate attention; however, his claims of not being political and not being “all about Donald” are laughable. He enjoys disparaging others, no matter the arena. If Trump is a “truth teller” as he claims, he is honest under the guise of his own interpretation of veracity. Question the man and you too will become the victim of his maligning nature and likely be labeled a “loser.”

For those who love authoritarianism and visions of a simple, strong man at the controls of absolute power, Trump is the supreme leader. To me, that is a frightening vision.

Howard Lavine, a University of Minnesota scholar of political psychology, agrees that understanding authoritarianism must be part of understanding Trump’s appeal. 

Lavine says when you have voters who describe themselves as Evangelicals, but who prefer the non-Evangelical Trump over Evangelical candidates like Ted Cruz (who was deemed to be the hot candidate this year for Evangelical voters), you have to ask yourself what is the underlying appeal of Trump to these voters. “It has to be the authoritarianism,” Lavine said.

Here’s how Lavine defines the term:

“Authoritarianism is essentially a personality trait, partially heritable, that describes a basic way by which people differ from one another,” Lavine said. The substance of this trait “revolves around one’s propensity and ability to comfortably deal with differences and diversity of people, of ideas and of behaviors. Authoritarian voters are low in this ability….

“Authoritarians also tend to be aggressive toward groups that society has deemed outside of the mainstream on the basis of race, religion and people with unconventional ideas. So, in the presence of unconventional people, ideas or behaviors, authoritarians tend to become intolerant.”

(Eric Black. “Why Donald Trump appeals to ‘authoritarian voters.’” MinnPost. April 05, 2016.)

Adjectives that fairly describe Donald Trump – “authoritative, aggressive, intolerant, egotistical, and vindictive” – all fit the man. Perhaps in the role of business tycoon, this description is less abrasive than in the role of Leader of the Free World. Essential presidential descriptors must surely include “integrity, compassion, and patience.”

In the next several months before the election, I'm sure Trump will attempt to convince America that he is really a “nice guy” with “a pure heart” who has simply "appeared" to be abrasive and outspoken for the good of his country. And this view will come from a man who claims he is not a politician. I expect to see Donald using every dirty trick in the political book to attempt to defeat Hillary Clinton.

But ...

Now Trump has to put on a good show. And, Mr. Trump, you've got a lot of 'splainin' to do. I wonder if you will fess up and give yourself one of the unattractive labels you are accustomed to giving to your competitors -- May I suggest "Dogmatic Donald"? I think it fits you well.

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