Trump and Post-Truth Discourse


[I am republishing this because it was an early warning about Trump and violence. The video tells the story of how Trump does not understand what he is responsible for.]

Trump is dangerous and worse yet he’s unaware of how dangerous he is or doesn’t care. Even at the risk of a little hyperbole we are seeing the consequences of a “post-truth” society where information is distorted, low quality, and attached to a cultish individual full of shibboleths rather than data or reasoning. The post-truth society no longer observes and gathers data in the service of a defensible conclusion; rather, one’s established beliefs and group identity seek confirmation and discourse becomes characterized by a series of cognitive shortcuts designed to confirm what you already believe. Below are three qualities of Trump’s discourse.

But first listen to Trump tell an audience that a heckler from the audience should be “punched in the face.” This is a man running for President of the United States encouraging the audience to start a fistfight. Trump does not even have a rudimentary understanding of his own behavior and the likelihood he could start a riot and hurt someone. His own social and political development is so stunted that he does not understand the tinderbox nature of the situation.

Here is Trump telling us he must be smart because he knows a lot of words.

Then again, this is the same presidential candidate who said the only way to defeat ISIS is to kill their family members. This is a candidate for president who is advocating for a war crime and instructing the military to break the law.

Trump is an essentialist. His rhetoric is filled with references to groups of people and their “essential” qualities. He refers to those who are “stupid” and “not the best.” He regularly makes references to a family member who is a professor at an elite university and to his own elite university attendance. He believes himself and his family are of superior descent. In the video Trump embarrassingly tries to perpetrate this myth by referring to how many words he knows.

Trump demonizes the other side. He refers to Hillary Clinton in extreme terms including name-calling, polarizing language, and blame. By creating the opposition as the “devil” incarnate then it becomes easier to scapegoat them and attach blame. He also has no qualms about dehumanizing others also referring to his opposition as “criminal” or “the most incompetent.” This demonization is simply a substitute for his own inadequacies. Trump essentially knows nothing about policy and hasn’t even taken the time to prepare. Moreover, his followers don’t want to hear policy they just want to hear tough talk and demonization.

Third, and more characteristic of Trump than any other candidate, is a strategy that says attack, blame, and accuse and don’t worry about accuracy or justification because the blame and the accusation is what will be remembered and not the explanation or the truth. Hillary Clinton is bombarded with accusations regarding Benghazi, or emails, or accusations about trustworthiness none of which have much merit but are all designed to do damage first and not worry about the truth. These are all tactics associated with authoritarians trying to damage in opposition rather than engage them argumentatively.

A more shocking and deeper question concerns the explanation for why so many people support Trump. He is not so difficult to explain but the collective delusion of the populace is far more troubling.

About Donald Ellis

Professor emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on March 12, 2016, in Communication and Conflict Resolution and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Trump is actually one of the least dangerous canidates. Everything he does is with intention that may look like floundering to the average person, but for those who know what to look for, Trump is masterful.

    If you like that video, you may like Scott Adams blog. He has a (master pursuader) series about Trump that he has been writing since August. His accuracy is astounding.

  2. Don,

    Insightful and on target. I’m stunned at the number of people (some of whom I actually know) who think he’s a savior figure who will unlock the gridlock we have.

  3. Jerry Brown Jr

    Why does Trump appeal to people? He’s authoritarian and ridiculously self praising and egotistical. But- he constantly, constantly flatters his intended audience, which is very large , while denigrating his opponents and blaming most of our problems on members of only a few groups. As long as you are not one of those groups (illegal immigrant, politician, Moslem), it is easier to agree with him, and join that group being flattered, than it is to remain one of those who is subject to scorn. And Trump is clear that he is quite happy to have you join. So why not- its easy.

    Most people, even most of his supporters, probably do question the factual basis of many of his assertions. But some of the things he says are things that ring true and that no other Republican will say. Things like the Iraq war was a mistake or worse. That 9-11 happened while George W. was president. That trade deals have screwed American workers. That campaign donations corrupt other politicians but not him because he doesn’t need them. These all have appeal to many Democrats.

    And the rest of his campaign caters to most Republicans, if not the Romney types. Even many of the so called fundamentalist Christian types seem to vote for him- only God knows why. I guess that’s why he’s running as a Republican.

    He is a dangerous man. I used to think it would be great if he won the Republican nomination because he would be stand no chance in the general election. I don’t think that now.

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