Donald Trump - Potent Language & Pseudo Logic
He's turned things upside down. Yes, this is HUGE.
OK, it's not as H-U-G-E as in Scientist's discovering gravitational waves recently, but for us citizens living on planet Earth the performance and run-a-away success of Donald Trump's campaign to win the Republican nominee for US president is impressive and a great lesson in the power of mass influence and unconventional tactics.
For starters, he has broken many keystone activities of traditional campaigning:
* He didn't want to be 'bought' by the super packs and big party donors so he using his own money
* He has insulted several different groups of people and many have loved him for it
* He is a maverick, not owned by Republican elite (at least in appearances, at this stage)
* He isn't chasing endorsements or spending anything like his rivals on campaign ads
But yet he is drawing crowds of 20,000 to his talks and decisively beating his closest rivals.
One of the big questions is how?
There are many elements at play; including his celebrity and reality TV persona, discontentment among many Americans at the elite, and Washington politics.
He also knows how to leverage the disruptive impact of the web and social media so much better than his rivals. But underpinning all of this, Donald is a master at potent, evocative language and saying things that generate immediate attention-grabbing headlines.
Traditional media - tv spots and ads cost big money.
An estimated $4.4 billion is likely to be spent on it in 2016 race.
But Donald won't be footing the bill for most of that; it will be his rivals.
So what's all this got to do with NLP?
The presidential campaign race is a great time to watch how a small group of people try to control the thoughts of 300 million people. That's a lot of minds.
So when there is so much 'noise' and so many ads by competitors, how does Donald get attention?
Through shock and awe statements and re-tweets like this:
That's going to grab attention and be a talking point, whether or not you like him as a candidate.
To be fair, this retweet was blamed on a staffer, but the effect was the same - it caught all the headlines.
So after Donald gets attention, how does it direct it?
He relies on crowd-pleasers, taps into our fears and makes promises to protect us from nightmares.
This is all modern political propaganda 101 and brilliantly captured in Adam Curtis's powerful documentary.
For generations masters of the black art - aka. spin and public propaganda have known one thing:
"If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it."
- Edward Bernays, the father of public relations.
Crowds are influenced primary by images.
Enter the storyteller and use of evocative, scary-sounding language…
"Something bad is happening"… "there is something really dangerous going on," says Donald, talking about Muslims.
Without scope or temporal markers, the threat is unbounded. Imminent. Everywhere. It's happening right now.
He tells an audience:
"We have to be more vigilant. We have to be much tougher. We have to be much smarter, or it's never, ever going to end."
When people feel afraid - the brain and body short-circuit rational processing.
The body releases hormones to help us prepare for an attack.
People often look to others for leadership. They become docile. They want someone to take the pain away to give them certainty.
Donald does a masterful job of tapping into the fears, powerlessness and anxieties or ordinary struggling voters.
He promises to "bomb the hell" out of our enemies. Hitting them "ten times as hard."
Using fiery, vivid language like attack, kill, destroy, he intensifies and reinforces the idea of being under constant threat. He stirs up anxiety and targets the fears of his audience.
When the body feels uncertain or fearful, it imprints on to that which it believes will relieve the perceived threat or pain and alleviate its fears.
Donald is that symbol.
He has done a very good job creating us vs. them. Where 'them' is everything evil, everything that is different and not us.
When a young girl at a rally tells him she is scared and asks - "What are you going to do to protect the country?"
"You know what, darling? You're not going to be scared anymore. They're going to be scared. You're not going to be scared."
A powerful orator with a laid-back no b.s. style, The Donald is worth watching… to see how crowded influence occurs.
The process is worth studying.
I don't know if Donald knows about George Polya, a brilliant mathematician who was interested in how inferences work to persuade.
He wrote two great books on it, called Patterns of Plausibility where he expresses the patterns about how inference and causal reasoning works (or how people come to believe things).
One of his most basic patterns is if something happens once and it happens again, we believe it is more likely to happen a third time.
The more examples we have of an event, the more likely it will happen again until we no longer notice the pattern but just believe such a thing is fact.
Events can be brought to our attention, and through the use of anecdotes and stories, an orator can create inference and logical chains, that appears to be true and create new beliefs.
For example, a speaker makes three statements regarding recent events.
Event 1: We have too many (illegal) people coming across our borders.
Event 2: Drugs come across our borders, and create addictions in our young people
Event 3: Crimes follow drugs and drugs takes lives
Therefore (false conclusion): All the people coming across our borders must be criminals and dangerous.
This may sound ridiculous when laid out this clearly, yet this is the same pseudo logic The Donald uses in his speeches:
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists… And some, I assume, are good people."
This evocative use of language creates imagery that the Mexican's (government?) is collecting up and sending its people (note - no scope clarification offered at this point, it includes all Mexican people, at least that is how the brain will process it and run it through your neurology to make sense of it, initially.)
Next Donald plays to the ego of the crowd "they're not sending you" (i.e. America's best - feeding to the sense of national patriotism etc.)
He continues the visual imagery with the idea of these less than desirable people, "bringing those problems" to "us".
And then in case your brain hasn't got a clear image of what he'd like you to see in this fearful movie, like a director instructing his camera crew were to zoom in on, he says:
"They're bringing drugs."
"They're bringing crime."
And then adds something more visceral to the scene.
He's using potent language and powerful imagery, amplified with the crowd dynamics to play on the fears and anxiety and evoke a strong "us" and "them" problem.
So he can then solve it (if you'll just help him become president.)
There is much more that could be said about Donald's use of language and how he crafts his message.
The key role of non-verbal behaviour, the frequency, intensity and simplicity of his messages and the role of group dynamics in large crowds are worth paying attention to.
Interestingly all modern politicians use the tools of mass influence and persuasion.
This isn't just a Donald phenomenon.
Obama did it brilliantly with his "Yes we can" campaign. Unfortunately many are now disillusioned with the fruits of that slogan.
At the end of the day, crowds are crowds… Republican or Democrat followers follow crowd mind patterns (even if they espouse different beliefs, collectively or individually.)
And according to Gustave Le Bon, who wrote one of the best books on crowd behaviour is ever written:
"The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."
- The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.
So next times you watch a presidential candidate speak or a 'talking head' comment - keep your eyes wide open and your senses up and out.
For magical spells are being cast…
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