Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Donald Trump And The Psychology Of Demagoguery

I'm going to play amateur psychologist here.

In November, a Black Lives Matter protester was attacked at a Donald Trump rally. The Young Turks, an uanbashedly liberal/progressive online news outlet, filed this report, with commentary by anchor Cenk Ungyar:

Last week, The Young Turks filed this report on a Trump rally in Vermont: 

The first thing we hear Mr. Trump say is this absolutely priceless line:

"We'll get more and more angry as we go along."

So, this is a man for whom anger is a virtue to be cultivated. And he appeals to people for whom anger is a virtue.

I believe his audience's anger is rooted in fear, a fear evoked by the realization that America's demographics are changing. Being white, male, straight and (nominally) Christian doesn't mean what it used to in terms of ensuring that you will be treated better than people who lack those identifiers.

Further, I believe that the fear these people feel is rooted in a self-doubt that runs so deep that they can't articulate it. But if they could, they would say something like, "I am afraid that without advantages being conferred by possessing at least three of these four qualities - whiteness, maleness, straightness and Christianity - I can't compete. If the playing field were ever truly level, I'd be done. I don't have enough of what it takes to win in a truly fair fight."

The real power of a demagogue lies not in their ability to tap into their audience's hatred for others; it lies in their ability to tap into their audience's doubts about themselves. Which is why my all-time favorite demagogue can tell his audience point-blank, "If I had my way, I'd have all of you shot!" And have them go wild.

Mr. Trump may never be that blatant, but if I were following his activity, I would listen for hints of contempt for his audience. I would also ask, "How does Donald Trump, through his companies, treat his employees, especially the lower-level ones?" Because the people in Mr. Trump's audiences are not his peers. If they were in his companies, they would be his underlings. His way-underlings.
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