On December 5 of last year, the New York Times published its analysis of 95,000 words uttered by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during one week of campaigning. Among the most repeated words were stupid, horrible and weak.
Trump’s speeches are remarkable for a paucity of verbs (like “I plan to” or “I know that”) versus the number of adjectives like horrible or dopey – usually directed at opponents, the media, or even voters who express less than full support of him. He also favors visual descriptions – think Mexicans pouring over the border.
Yes, I am a bit obsessed with Trump, as my Twitter feed and daily conversations with friends and strangers demonstrate. Critics have accused the media of giving Trump too much air time, ink and bytes, and that’s valid, but as I have written before, we cannot ignore Trump. Quite the opposite: we should scrutinize his statements. Inexplicably, he is getting stronger. His high poll ratings have survived his illogical rants. Each Trump rally seems to activate and encourage the worst of American culture. White supremacist groups have endorsed him; enough said.
As the presidential election season begins, Americans must be vigilant of Trump’s words, especially when he speaks about Muslims in this time of increased anti-Muslim incidents.
He has already gone too close to the edge of what is acceptable in a democracy, even a flawed democracy. How far will he take it? How far will he lead his supporters?
The Iowa caucuses, the first state primary contest, will be held on February 1. Observers have predicted that Trump may fail in Iowa because of his minimal attention to training and recruiting the people who will actually attend caucuses the evening of February 1.
If he loses Iowa, if Trump becomes the loser, with all the “weak, stupid and horrible” traits of a loser, there’s no telling how he will react, with his narcissism in full gear and his value as a poll-leader vanished. No doubt he will, like the playground bully that he is, throw harder punches and double down on name-calling.
How might a wounded Trump translate his loss of face into public speech? Slogans and phrases have moved mechanisms of evil forward during times of political challenge.
As one of our outstanding historical figures once said, “When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be because of enemies from without but rather because of enemies from within.” The truth of this statement is becoming terrifyingly clear as we see this country each day losing on every front. – Senator Joseph McCarthy, architect of hearings that came to be known as a “Communist witch-hunt”
I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. – Alabama Governor George Wallace, supporter of racial segregation
Trump has, like most demagogues, replaced ideas with characteristics: race, religion, ethnicity, for example. As to the proposal for a halt to settling Syrian refugees in the US, other politicians have made statements along the general lines of: “For our safety, until we improve the vetting process, we can’t allow Syrian refugees into the country.” When Trump announced his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country, he called for the ban to continue “until we figure out what the hell is going on.” As with most of his statements, his announcement was shallow but heartfelt.
He doesn’t convey thoughts. He relies on propaganda, which does not address ideas but selectively shares words and phrases meant to appeal to emotions. High on the list of American’s emotions today is fear. His words are comforting to the fearful. He tells us he will save us from Mexicans and bomb the s*** out of ISIS.
And he will solve America’s “Muslim problem.”
How Donald Trump lies
Donald Trump does not value the truth and he does not speak the truth. We must learn from Trump so that no matter the election’s outcome, we recognize going forward when any leader taints his communication with the intention to deceive, overtly or covertly.
So let’s look at five propaganda techniques Trump relies on.
1) Ad hominem: This is a technique in which an argument is made against a person rather than his or her argument. This is classic Trump, used in debates and rallies. Ad hominem suits Trump’s insatiable narcissism. He often rebuts his opponents’ statements by pointing out their low polling numbers rather than responding to the topic at hand. Rather than answer questions, he has at times chastised the media from the podium. He wields his Twitter account as a powerful tool in his arsenal of childish barbs:
@JebBush is a low energy “stiff” who should focus his special interest money on the many people ahead of him in the polls. Has no chance!
2) Flag-waving: Make America Great Again! How? Build a wall. Ban a group. Hug a dictator (Putin). Flag-waving is a propaganda technique which makes people feel that an action leads to patriotism, even if it’s reasonable. As someone remarked to me on Twitter, Trump “just wants us to feel safe.” Yes, he said feel – not to be more safe, but to feel it.
Trump’s proposed wall between the Mexican and American border is an example of his use of flag-waving. The idea is so unworkable and so inhumane that to discuss it in rational terms would not benefit Trump at all. So he keeps saying build the wall, build a wall, a wall, a wall. Forget about what a real wall would look like or how it would be built. A true American simply wants that wall.
3) Loaded language: Trump is famous for saying huge, often spelled out “yyyuge” to mimic both his outrageous pronunciation and outrageous self-image. He often describes things as great. Things are great. Things will be great. The loaded language technique influences audiences by using words and phrases that cause an emotional response.
Politically correct is a phrase that has become symbolic of the change Trump purports to bring to America. Coming from Trump’s mouth it has become code; it makes people feel like they’re hitching their wagon to someone new and strong, the voice of the people.
4) Pensee unique: In French, this means “single thought.” It’s a propaganda technique that so simplifies discussion of an issue that it is reduced to singular phrases or ideas. Trump narrows down many subjects to single thoughts but the best example is his rationale behind banning entry of Muslims to the US: “We have to do it,” he announced, “We have…no choice.” And that, apparently, is enough for his supporters.
5) Name calling: There are too many examples of Trump engaging in this childish propaganda technique to list here. Dopey, dummy, weak, low energy, ugly, loser, hypocrite. Of special interest is that he calls out other candidates as physically weak. He is 69 years old and hasn’t been photographed jogging or going to the gym. Perhaps he is referring to ego, in which case he is the strongest of the field.
Here is a great review from the Washington Post of Trump’s insults throughout 2015. Happy new year to a demagogue following in the steps of politicians like George Wallace and Joe McCarthy.
~This is the first in a series of articles about propaganda, critical thinking and rhetoric.~