When you don’t have actual answers, exaggerate the problems with fear & hatred in order to blind people with emotion.
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth with falsehood
For the good or evil side.
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong
James R. Lowell
“We’re not going to make good decisions based on fears that don’t have a basis in fact, and that, I think, is something I hope all Americans pay attention to.”
<The Contrast: Pocketful of Fear song>
Let me be clear.
Fear will be on center stage at both podiums on Monday night.
Let me explain.
The president recently suggested that this year’s ballot is fear versus hope. I may haggle with him a little over his choice of words which followed that thought but I do agree that one candidate is clearly encouraging fear as a motivating force to vote for him <Trump>.
But I also believe the other candidate <Clinton> is clearly encouraging fear as a motivating force to vote against him <Trump>.
Therefore, fear resides at the foundation of this election. Well. At least until now.
The fear Trump should have is that of he drives his dystopian view of who and what America is so far down into some wretched dark hole that people will only see darkness … and enough people will sit up, look around or out the window and say “shit, it isn’t that bad or dark.”
The fear Clinton should have is that by creating such a clownish caricature of her opponent everyone forgets she is not simply trying to become the ringleader of a circus.
Using fear is short term effective but long term stupid. Management people, coaches and generals have debated this topic forever – fear as a motivator.
It is not. At least as a sustainable motivator. Fear does not inspire loyalty or genuine commitment. It simply inspires a burst of action. And both candidates have been playing the fear card for so long that it has almost reached its ‘sell by’ date.
But. It worked short term. I say that because PewResearch suggests something like 65+% of Americans feel, in some degree, that America is not going in the right direction. This can vary from a subtle sense to an uneasy feeling to outright ‘sense of disaster. And while I pointed out not too long ago that this % isn’t as far off what we normally feel I will agree that America is not running on all cylinders and I believe that this creates an underlying sense of discomfort with the status quo.
But I will argue, again and again, it is not a disaster … we are not on some steady decline … and that the people of the country are not divided by some hatred for each other.
It doesn’t become true fear unless someone comes along and encourages discomfort to blossom into full outright anger <or fear of what is happening in the present>.
That discomfort is what Trump has been poking and prodding at encouraging everyone to think of mild discomfort as symptoms of a mortal disease.
It creates fear. And then the fear becomes … well … real. And more often than not … it is as intangibly tangible as hope.
Trump trumpets his version of fear by describing in concrete terms the threats, real & perceived, Americans face. But his true fear ‘play’ resides in something vague and not the concrete.
He plays into that underlying sense of discomfort I mentioned with concrete <if not actually true> examples and then immediately disassociates any blame or responsibility from the people <it ain’t you … it cannot be because you are hardworking common sense people> but rather flings the blame toward some vague ‘anyone and everyone else’ <media, democrats, establishment, institutions, foreigners, immigrants, government – including republicans, basically anyone but him>.
He dials up fear with regard to Muslim terrorism <although research shows that 80% of domestic terrorism is non Muslim>.
He dials up fear of violent crime <although research shows that crime & violence is at an all time low>.
He dials up such a vague fear that … well … people cannot even name their fear:
What, exactly, was she afraid of? She couldn’t say, and that was perhaps the most frightening thing of all.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said a Trump supporter.
Trump channels all this rampant fear into his vague protective blanket promise of protection, toughness, solutions and strength.
Basically he raises people’s fear and then offers himself as the only solution to their fear.
Frightened people come to Trump for reassurance, and he promises to make them feel safe. “I’m scared,” a 12-year-old girl told the candidate at a rally in North Carolina in December. “What are you going to do to protect this country?”
“You know what, darling?” Trump replied. “You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared.”
I watched him do it at the Republican convention … but I just cannot see how it works on a national debate stage.
Regardless, simplistically, Trump is a master … okay … his whole gestalt … is all about building up the whole belief in fear by also preying on this morbid dystopian view of the current state of America:
Donald Trump states “our African-American communities are in the worst shape they’ve ever been … Ever. Ever. Ever.”
Donald Trump has told white people they have never had it worse.
Donald Trump has told Christians they have never had it worse.
Donald Trump has told the nation we are in a national crisis of “poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad.”
What the hell … he has told everyone they have never had it worse <scratching my chin … and , yet, but it doesn’t seem like he has had it worse … hmmmmmmmmmmm>.
I just do not see how his works on a national debate stage.
To be clear.
There is a significant if not exponential difference between “not doing as well as we could be” and … well … what Trump outlines … “a shithole.”
He has creatively crafted a dark vision of the current America so much so that … well … I wouldn’t want to live in it if I believed it was true.
And he is doing this strategically and with such bombast and absurd depth & breadth that reality and facts proving he is so far off base … well … look off base themselves.
And that is where I believe the core of the debate resides.
Dystopian shithole versus work in progress.
You have a choice.
- Tap into the fear <and even exaggerate it to a sense of semi-hysteria> to motivate desired behavior. Find the bad … exaggerate its depth & breadth … and make the problem so big that anyone offering a solution looks attractive. Point out the worst version of reality.
Oddly <and interestingly> … or maybe better said … contradictorily … exaggerating the depth & breadth of what is bad actually shrinks us mentally.
What I mean by this is that research shows that fear drives us to focus on our Reptilian brain . This means survival mode kicks in and fear encourages us to believe the Reptilian aspect of how we think is all that matters <to the exclusion of everything else>. Everyone should note the Reptilian brain eventually is overshadowed by the rest of the brain.
- Tap into hope <for something better>. Find the good … explain its depth & breadth. Acknowledge, be realistic and provide perspective of existing problems. Point out the best version of reality, ourselves and emphasize ‘what can be in the future’ is attainable.
Hope actually expands us. Instead of hardening us it firmly places us in a more ‘possibilities’
Hope focuses on possibilities. This translates into not just ‘new ways of doing things’ behavior but actual ‘doing’ behavior.
I do not believe you can terrify anyone into supporting you.
And this cuts both ways.
I don’t believe Clinton can create enough terror in … well … Trump … to get enough people to support her.
At some point someone has to articulate a better vision for America … with some concreteness for people to stand firm upon and pull the level for that better America.
If Clinton plays that card well … she wins. And wins big.
2/3rds of Hillary Clinton supporters think the next generation will be in better shape than we are today, or least the same, according to Pew Research. The reverse is true for Trump supporters. 70% of Clinton voters are voting for her because they believe she is the most qualified competent candidate. Almost 50% of Trump voters are voting for him because they dislike Clinton <this came from one of the 1000 polls you can find>.
Almost 70% of Trump supporters think the next generation will be worse off.
In addition … a significant majority of Trump supporters say life is worse today for people like them than it was 50 years ago.
As for undecideds? They are hesitant to follow status quo but are optimistic for a better America if given the right leader.
I say all this to come back to fear. To me … it is just another example of why I question Trump’s business acumen. Any business manager or leader worth half a shit knows that fear is unsustainable. When it wears off there is … well … nothing. Fear heightens a sense of urgency and a sense of ‘doing’ <maybe not the smartest doing but lots of doing> but all the ‘doing’ urges diminish once the urgency is over.
Trump is playing for the win and not worrying about what happens afterwards.
That is a multidimensional sign of a shitty business leader.
One would think, at least I would, that if Trump truly believed in this dystopian America he describes day in and day out that he would have a clear and detailed solution.
But he does not. He is empty but for words of fear <and I just do not see that playing well in a debate>.
On the other hand.
Hope is sustained by the successes gained. It fills not diminishes behavior.
“Despair is anger with no place to go.”
The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960
And even Trump supporters would prefer to be filled with something other than fear & anger.
Think about this carefully. Most people do want to turn back the clock … but not the way we sometimes think and discuss it.
They want to go back to having good-paying jobs.
They want to go back to being proud of themselves and proud of their community and proud of their country.
They want to go back to producing something that is the standard of the world and be productive.
And, mostly, they want to go back to a “we” mentality rather than feeling like it is always ‘me against everybody.’
They want hope and they want someone to be a flag bearer for their hope.
The podium on the debate stage that offers that wins big.
“It is of small importance to any of us whether we get liberty; but of the greatest that we deserve it.
Whether we can win it, fate must determine; but that we will be worthy of it we may ourselves determine; and the sorrowfullest fate of all that we can suffer is to have it without deserving it.”
<1905 Evolution of Expression>
And this is where numbers and facts do not really matter.
The reality of the United States today is that it has emerged from the great recession of 2009 better than any of the world’s major economies.
It has produced more than 14 million jobs since 2010 which is more than the 35 other advanced economies combined.
Auto sales when Barack Obama took office were 9.6 million on an annualized basis. Last month, they reached 16.6 million.
Over the last eight years, America has become the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Unemployment is now below 5%.
People want the hope.
They want the pride <of self and country>.
They want some optimism that the future will be better.
Whoever can shed the fear … will win.
As Obama said … “Well, we do have challenges, but we’re not stupid.”
Fear will not win because it is not sustainable … and we are not stupid. We all want freedom to be who we are, be what we are capable of and do what we are capable of. And nowhere in freedom … and I mean nowhere … is fear.
Fear will step up to both podiums on debate night but the winner will walk away having shed fear and waving a flag of hope.
I just think we all want a better America … and we do not need fear to convince us of that.
“… what we call freedom … it is necessary to determine the justice or injustice of this phrase.
Try to draw a circle with the ‘free’ hand, and with a single line. You cannot do it of your hand trembles, nor if it hesitates, nor if it is unmanageable, nor if it is in the common sense of the word ‘free.’ So far from being free, it must be under control as absolute and accurate as if it were fastened to an inflexible bar of steel.
And yet it must move, under this necessary control, with perfect, untormented serenity of ease.”
<1905 Evolution of Expression>