On Tuesday last week (21.03) it happened to me that I found in my snailmail an envelope A5 with my name on it (in a very artful script) but no sender’s name or address. It took me a while to arrive at a guess who the sender might be; a phonecall made clear that my guess had been correct, and it also indicated that the sender was hoping that I might write some type of comment on it to this blog (an expectation which may have been triggered by the fact that I was recently advertising my interest in political psychology – thus, some type of challenge?). Well, I shall try.
The book was by one Oliver Jones, titled “Donald Trump – The Rhetoric”. It was written at a time when Trump had not yet won the election, went into details of his ways of speaking in various different situations (and was luckily written in an easy language, also in big print on rather small pages, and not longer than 150 pages). And what I shall try to do is to figure out how helpful this book might be for political opinion making.
What the reader may like (same as me) is, e.g., a list on pp. 93-95 with 23 of Trump’s rather big claims which are simply not true. And there are also some other aspects which may still be helpful to know about, such as Trump’s obvious contempt for “losers” (which may, e.g., account for his present tendency to favour moneymakers in his policies, even at the expense of practically eveybody else). But it may be doubtful how helpful the reader may take it that Trump is analyzed from 18 different directions – this makes for short chapters (which make the book easy to read), but for very many readers it will be difficult to keep the results of 18 different approaches in mind. Thus, if one does not keep the book and goes every now and then back to it in order to look up special points, I think that the book will be of only limited help, simply because human brains have not developed for easily keeping 18 different approaches (and their results) in mind.
Instead of reporting the book’s content in detail, I shall, thus, try a diiferent way to give a helpful impression about Donald Trump: (a) Try to imagine a group of men (ONLY men, and not very highly educated ones) at a beer table, expressing (under the influence of several beers each) rather general viewa about politics, hoping for agreement (plus some encouragement and flattery) from the side of some opinion leader (who also has to be easy to indentify with, e.g. by being rather similar to those men). And try to imagine how one would have to talk in that situation and to that audience in order to become this opinion leader. Obviously at least NOT by “politically correct” talk: sexually insulting talk about women, negative claims about minorities of any type (that they ARE minorities means, after all, also that they are “deviant”, by that also easy targets for scapegoating), skillful nastinesses about perceived but unloved “elites”, colourful exaggerations which express and stress the prevailing mood, all this will be eagerly applauded. And Trump is the one to deliver this type of talk. To say that Trump is lying like a horse is trotting (a formulation which, I think, has sometimes been used in this blog) may be quite true, but Trump’s audience will take this just as a spoilsport’s petty nit-picking which will not change the fact that Trump’s exaggeration was expressing the mood of his audience in a bit more colourful (by that “better”) way – and certainly the audience will not like the spoilsport.
Of course there are fine points to this method. E.g. Trump is following Josef Goebbels’ recommendation that one should simply throw any amount of dirty claims at one’s opponent, relying that at least some of it will stick. And then it is of course “useful” to produce claims at such a speed that the opponent has no chance keeping up with disproving them – one just should avoid hesitating when being confronted with a counterclaim or a critical question (Trump’s habit in this situation is to deny the competence of the opponent but not to give reasons about the point in question – he just continues to smoothly produce claims). Also, it is “useful” not to be specific: to the idea to “make America great again” many may feel like agreeing, especially if the previous government seems to have somehow failed in this point, and if one avoids specifying how one intends to go about this “making great” one gives any group which has ANYthing against the previous government the possibility to join Trump’s enthusiastic audience (according to what comes to my mailbox, this includes gun enthusiasts, the Christian Right, white suprematists and other hate groups, people who believe that the pharmaceutical industry is out to poison them – especially in connivance with Hillary Clinton -, people who think that Obama has damaged the dollar so badly that one should hurry up buying gold, et cetera).
I do not intend to claim that there were no reasons to be dissatisfied with the US (and wider Western) system and its “elites” (for a very readable criticism of it I tend to recommend a reading of Ha-Joon Chang’s “23 Things …”) and I do understand that one of the present system’s products is a large audience for somebody like Trump. But one should of course try to make people see that this type of opinion leader does not easily have any good solutions to offer. This will be especially difficult in a two-party system like the USA (where the only convincing alternative to a bad government is ALWAYS just the other party – and what to do if they are both unconvincing?), while we have (hopefully) seen that in a multy-party system like the Finnish one there is the possibility of accepting a populist party into a coalition government and there let it demonstrate that it really does not have that much to offer. Still, considering the damage which can result also in this constellation, I should prefer that such parties simply would not get many votes. And to achieve that it may be of help to make the electorate aware of the methods which populists and demagogues are in the habit of using. I also hope that this piece may be a contribution to this noble task of enlightening the electorate.