People long have hailed Donald Trump as a business success, and now, having secured enough delegates to win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, Trump has risen to the top in politics as well. By consciously or subconsciously applying a handful of psychological tricks, he proves (for better or worse) his ability to successfully marketing himself and his political ideas to millions of typical Americans.
Degradation and Name Calling
Trump is notorious for making fun of those who oppose him, especially women. For example, he has criticized TV personality Rosie O’Donnell and politician Carly Fiorina for their appearances, poked fun at Ohio Governor John Kasich for his eating habits, and mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for his physical disability. His tactic grows his following for the same reason people don’t stop bullies on the school playground and fear public speaking. Human beings are hardwired to be social creatures and don’t like to do anything that would increase the risk of being ostracized from the larger group. By siding with Trump, individuals convince themselves that he dumps only on outsiders. By believing they are insiders, Trump’s supporters satisfy their need to feel included and secure.
Speaking as the People Speak
Not only does Trump echo beliefs many conservatives hold (e.g., “I hate everything [abortion] stands for,” “the right to keep and bear arms protects all our other rights”), but he also speaks colloquially. He uses everyday phrases such as “give me a break,” occasionally dropping a choice expletive and even making crude references to his anatomy el guarantee you there is no problem [with my penis]”). This type of language puts Trump’s supporters at ease, making them feel he is one of them, that he understands, and that he’ll put the voice of the “real” America back in the White House. This strategy is well known in the business world, where workers research companies’ language to come off positively to hiring managers, and where executives target the jargon of particular audiences for sales and presentations. Alan Martin of wired.co.uk notes that proponents of various issues have used language important to their target groups in the past: LGBT groups who wanted to win the conservative vote for marriage equality rights used words conservatives would associate with their own marriages.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post hypothesized additional psychological reasons Trump’s supporters might believe he “tells it like it is”. Trump might be tapping into the anxieties people have related to the degree of change in America. Many people fear change because they think the way they’ve always behaved and believed is correct and, therefore, moral, as Heidi Halvorson of the Huffington Post points out. His promises to “make America great again” might touch on their desire to return to older ideologies. In return for that peace of mind, supporters might be willing to turn a blind eye when Trump doesn’t give them the whole truth or have all his fads straight. Sargent further hypothesized that Trump is manipulating conservatives’ frustration with a broken political system, getting across the idea that he, as a businessman, can’t be bought like previous politicians, and that he can overcome the methods and standards currently in place.
As Michael Gerson of the Washington Post asserts the majority of people adhere to a morality that forbids them to harm others seriously. This morality is emotionally centered rather than logic centered. Research from Emile Bruneau of the University of Pennsylvania shows that dehumanization is based in the cortex, the area of the brain associated with reasoning and decision making, not in the limbic system. In other words, people choose to accept someone as not human, thereby making it OK to hurt others without feeling as though they have violated any moral code.
Trump stops short of calling particular groups animals but dehumanizing language is easy to find in his speeches and interviews. He has labeled Mexicans as criminals, for example, and referred to America’s “Muslim problem.” This type of rhetoric gets people to view certain groups not as different or in need of support and understanding, but rather as a plague in need of eradication. According to Bruneau, hearing a leader (Trump) exhort such a derogatory ideology can normalize that ideology and make those who otherwise wouldn’t have expressed themselves speak up. What’s more, Trump then plays into the natural desire people have to feel safe, proposing “fixes” such as a wall on Mexico’s border and a ban on Muslims entering the United States. All the while, he suggests that those currently in Washington are endangering Americans through failed foreign and national security policies.
Donald Trump doesn’t have the political experience of many of the people serving in Washington. What he does have, however, is the ability to get inside the minds of the American people. The only question remaining then is how far can Trump’s political marketing talents take him?
· Antle III, W. (2016). Trump Tries to Speak Conservatives’ Language.
· BBC News (2015). Donald Trump Under Fire for Mocking Disabled Reporter.
· Beckman, M. (2016). These Are the Phrases Each GOP Candidate Repeats Most.
· Conan, N. (2010). In Politics Sometimes Fads Don’t Matter.
· Croston, G. (zon). The Thing We Fear More Than Death.
· Estepa, J. (2015). Donald Trump on Carly Fiorina: ‘Look at That Face!’
· Gass, N. (2016). O’Reilly to Trump: Quit Swearing.
· Gerson, M. (2016). Trump’s Ugly Speech Threatens Our Ideals and Our Safety.
· Halvorson, H. (2012). Explained: Why We Don’t Like Change.
· Johnson, J. (2016). Trumps Rhetoric on Muslims Plays Well With Fans But Horrifies Others
· Martin, A (n.d.). The Psychology of Changing Political Viewpoints.
· Real Clear Politics (2015). Trump: Mexico Not Sending Us Their Best; Criminals, Drug Dealers and Rapists Are Crossing Border.
· Sargent, G. (2015). Morning Plum: No, Donald Trump Isn’t Really ‘Telling It Like It Is’.
· Serendip Studio (1994-2016). Brain Structures and Their Functions
· Smith, A. (2016). Donald Trump Guarantees America That There Is’ No Problem’ With His Anatomy.
· The Political Insider (2015). Video Resurfaces Donald Trump’s Views on the ‘Muslim Problem’—WOAH!