Appealing to Instinct
Donald Trump has refused to condemn the violent acts of some of his supporters against protestors at some of his rallies. There was wide spread condemnation by the political establishment, both left and right. It appears that the Trump political movement is spinning wildly out of control. But is this reality or only an illusion?
I do not think Mr. Trump is losing control of his rabid supporters, but rather, he is using well tested psychological techniques to manipulate behavior and to appeal to targeted voters. Psychologist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics Professor Daniel Kahneman, in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, describes a bifurcated brain, a rational thinking brain and a reactive instinctual brain, existing side-by-side in our crowded cranium. Professor Kahneman also posits that the rational brain is lazy, only going to work when it has to and leaving the instinctual brain in control most of the time.
The instinctual brain does not make reasoned thoughtful decisions. It makes snap decisions reacting quickly to changes in its environment. Natural selection favored the prehistoric human that reacted quickly to a rustle in nearby bushes. No time to think whether the sound was made by a fellow tribesman or a lion. If that human reacted quickly by climbing up a tree and the sound was made by a fellow tribesman, he would look foolish. But if he reasoned that it was probably a fellow tribesman and it was actually a lion, he would be dead.
So the instinctual brain serves not only a valid function but a vital one. But the quick unreasoned thought processes of the instinctual brain are not well suited when reasoned thought is needed. The instinctual brain fears change and is suspicious of strangers. It stereotypes people and things and classifies them according previous experience.
Our democratic system is based periodic elections where voters are assumed to make relatively rational decisions about who runs the government. Political parties come up with platforms of proposed policies that they think will appeal to voters. The Democratic Party won the 2012 election because they were able to deflect the Republicans economy based platform from the minds of voters and substitute their own social policy platform.
Mr. Trump is not a policy wonk. He does not worry if he does not know the head of state of some obscure country. He does not cram before debates to understand the nuances of trade policy or healthcare insurance. His policies are rough-hewn and seemingly thought up off-the–cuff. A rational voter would wonder why anyone would vote for such a candidate. But Mr. Trump is not trying to appeal to the rational voters across America. He is focusing on instinctual voters. Don’t think – react.
The violence at political rallies helps reinforce the reliance on the instinctual brain. It reinforces the us vs. them mentality. The agents provocateurs of the left that try to disrupt the rallies are playing into Mr. Trump’s hand by building a sense of community among his supporters. It is a progression from football fan, to soccer thug to brown shirt. Mr. Trump is cultivating a potentially very dangerous garden. He is doing it purposefully. His motive seems clear. We cannot let this happen. Principled Policy is based on rational thought and enlightenment philosophy.