2016

30 March 2016: Defeating Trump takes reason, not emotion

The popular storyline correlates the Trump Phenomenon to anger over the current intractable state of our national discourse and processes as well as bitterness over stagnant wages and increasing economic disparity.

To understand it fully, however, one needs to go deeper. Donald Trump’s domination of the Republican presidential field and the national political news exposes something fundamental about those who flock to him, something latent that now, like a dormant insect egg laid in an old piece of wood, is hatching.

In his piece “Why Trump?” George Lakoff delves into the disparate ways conservatives and progressives see causation, the reasons events unfold as they do.

Simply put, direct causation is if A, therefore B. It is direct, immediate, and easily understood. Every language has grammar to explain it, says Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Systemic causation, on the other hand, “is more complex and is not represented in the grammar of any language,” he explains. “It just has to be learned.”

Lakoff points to empirical research that gives evidence to conservatives tending to reason with direct causation with progressives tending to reason with systemic causation. He says the evidence indicates in the strict father model (conservative), “the father expects the child or spouse to respond directly to an order and that refusal should be punished as swiftly and directly as possible.”

Operating more from the perspective of the nurturing parent who takes time to work with the child to help him/her make a good decision, progressives understand the world cannot be divided between good v. evil, the West v. ISIS dichotomy. For us, it’s not only simplistic, it’s also fruitless if one wants to understand the problem and then resolve it. In international terms, it’s the difference between carpet bombing and methodical approaches to terrorism and terrorists.

Operating within the direct causation construct has allowed for bigotry that has been taboo for decades to become acceptable. It is the antithesis of the so-called political correctness Trump has set up as a strawman and then attacks. Note the thunderous approval from his followers when he rails about political correctness. It erupts from bigots in need of an inferior human to make them feel greater or to scapegoat.

The last concept Lakoff explores is the biconceptual, the conservative-progressive divide. Bear in mind there is no moderate ideology or philosophy, but there are infinite shades of conservative and progressive thought.

Trump appeals not only to hardcore conservatives, Lakoff notes, but also to moderate progressives, primarily men who are economically progressive—unionized, anti-free trade, who favor Social Security and other government-run social welfare programs—but socially conservative. They tend to be strict fathers, against same-sex marriage, and misogynist. They believe in the superiority of men over women, so perhaps reticent about making Hillary Clinton commander-in-chief.

At the end, Lakoff urges the rest of us to avoid doing what Republican leaders, including every presidential candidate that has dropped by the wayside, did from the moment Trump announced his candidacy: take him seriously. He might be a buffoon and deserves our collective contempt and disdain, but he commands a following. And his message is infectious to less-than in-depth thinkers.

Rebuffing and defeating Trump will require setting aside emotions he evokes within you. When you find yourself saying, “He makes me angry,” you are essentially giving up your power to him. One has to ask him/herself, “Do I control my emotions or do they rule me?”

In the case of Trump and other evocative candidates who rail about problems but offer little if any solutions for them, emotions due rule their disciples. Anger is not a solution, and cannot bring about resolution.

I am not suggesting writing off current Trump supporters or being resigned to the idea that he will eventually prevail. Far from it.

But what is requisite is continued, sustained thoughtful dialogue about him, his appeal, his lack of depth on understanding of issues, and his inability to offer coherent, thoughtful solutions to complex and dangerous issues. Emotive reactions simply add gasoline to the fire.

A Trump presidency is not inevitable. Women understand that more than men. And one woman in particular will be the cause of his undoing. But she will need our help.

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