Friday, February 03, 2017

Understanding and countering the appeal of Donald Trump

The psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam discussed the appeal of Donald Trump to his supporters for the Scientific American:
A Trump rally involved much more than just a Trump speech. Important though his words were (and we will look at them in some detail), it is even more essential to look at the event as a performance of a particular worldview. 
Once again, the charge of irrationalism can serve to obscure; for if we view Trump crowds as mindless mobs led by primitive urges and stirred up by a narcissistic demagogue, it impairs our ability to appreciate what his events tell us about how those who attended them see the world. 
In simple terms, a Trump rally was a dramatic enactment of a particular vision of America. More particularly, it enacted how Trump and his followers would like America to be. In a phrase, it was an identity festival that embodied a politics of hope.
Leadership is about individuals as group members—whose success necessarily hinges on their capacity to create, represent, advance and embed a shared sense of “us.” 
Reflecting on the implications of this analysis for the specifics of this election, we can see that Trump’s followers knew full well that their man was a reprobate, that they deplored his crudities, and that they saw him as a risky choice. 
As one supporter interviewed by an Australian reporter put it: “He may be an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”
The whole article is worth reading - and note that it was written when most commentators expected Hillary Clinton to win the election.

What do we liberals do about all this?

I have blogged before about the need to use language that appeals to conservative voters if you seek to convert them. That post was picked up by Alan Martin for Wired in a wider piece on the psychology of changing people's political views.

The other days I came across another essay on this them. Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic:
Rather than emphasizing concern over the harm that might come to refugees, says Matt Feinberg, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, to truly persuade Trump supporters on the matter it would have been be better to go with something like this: 
“These refugees and immigrants are just like our family members who came to America in years past to seek a better life. All our ancestors wanted was to live the American dream, and that’s why today’s immigrants and refugees have chosen to come to America, so they too can live that same American dream that brought our families here. That dream is what our nation was founded on, it is what brought our grandparents and great-grandparents to this great land, and it is the great success story that these immigrants want to be a part of.” It’s a message high on patriotism and loyalty—two “moral frames” 
that research shows are more important to conservatives than are traditionally more liberal values, like reciprocity and caring.
All of which shows, if nothing else, that Emma Thompson had it all wrong.

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