Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time, offered his opinion on Donald Trump the other day. He called the Donald ‘a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator,’ and said he had no explanation on why the man is so popular.
Thankfully, Spin Doctor does, and it’s surprisingly simple. Donald Trump is tapping into fear, which is a prime motivator, especially among the masses.
Trump is an expert manipulator of people’s emotions
Trump is an expert manipulator of people’s emotions, saying whatever people want to hear. He knows how TV works, creating soundbites that resonate long after he has moved on. More importantly, and this is the clincher, he is addressing a large part of the population as if they were a persecuted minority, rallying them to battle against those they deem their oppressors.
That’s the key ingredient. Addressing people as if the bell tolls for them, pointing at that bell and crying, Don’t worry, I won’t let them take you. You will no longer be hunted down, mistreated, misrepresented or vilified. I will restore you to greatness. I will save you. I will reassign you your rightful position, making sure no one messes with you ever again.
Trump is saying these things to white Americans — and not only — and he is doing so with genial prowess. He is talking to them as if they were second class citizens, and it’s working, because that’s how they feel. Those who support him, they feel targeted by forces they can’t control, and Trump tells them not to worry, he’ll help them fend off the oppression, he’ll deliver them from evil, and they love him for it. They cherish his stance and respond enthusiastically to him.
The question is, Is there any merit to what Trump says, to his followers’ feelings of persecution?
To answer the question in a meaningful way, we have to approach the issue in terms of momentum. Forget privilege for a moment, we know all about that. Momentum is the key ingredient, and one that hardly gets any mention these days, at least not in terms of cultural politics. The position a group occupies in the grand scheme of things is as important as where it’s headed — in fact, where it’s headed defines a group’s position. If you’re at the top of the game and heading up, that’s great. If you’re peaking, well, you might have something to worry about down the line. And if you’re past your prime, still at the top but on your way down, fast, then you’re not a happy camper. You’re a shooting star, a future fatality. A sad story in the making.
No one wants to become a sad story, or compost in a culture’s field.
Donald Trump has acknowledged in his sick genius that a certain part of the population is privileged but not as privileged as they used to be, losing their traditional authority, and on their way down. Getting the compost jitters. Prone to anxiety, fear, persecution mania, anger, delusion, victim mentality, you name it, a large part of the population feels threatened by the way things are going, and Donald Trump is addressing their insecurities, giving credence to their emotions.
No one wants to become a sad story
Trump does what he does with surprising ease, showing how methodical he is. He has taken a leaf out of the great social movements of the day and turned it on its head, appealing not to the persecuted minority but to the privileged but downward-spiraling majority. He reminds them that they will not be a majority forever, that others will soon surpass them in numbers and clout, and that they will not write history anymore, or make policy, and it makes them anxious to hear such things. They want to retain their authority and special status. He tells them that their angst is genuine. People throughout history have experienced the same feelings, back when they were being bossed around by the powers that be. Don’t give in to the pressure, he shouts, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re no good, that you’re the bad guys. If you want to retain your advantage and be in command of your lives, fight back.
So says Trump, and his supporters cheer him on, taking up the cause.
It’s a page out of every radical social movement in history, and it works, not just because it’s a classic rallying cry, but because it addresses people who still have authority.
The irony isn’t lost on the rational observer. The privileged are being called to fight off their ‘oppressors’ ahead of time.
It would be funny, if it were not so effective.
From your inconveniently rational Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
Watch this space for Part 2