Donald Trump has become quite the phenomenon in the presidential race, and has the Republican establishment very worried (the Dems have their own concerns). There has certainly been a lot of discussion about his extreme positions and statements. To my mind there are three aspects to consider about Trump.
First are his outspoken views on various topics: immigrants, women, Islam, and well, anyone who disagrees with him. Although I find some of his views regrettable, they are hardly unusual, and as Mark Twain said, “It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races.”
In fact, one of Trump’s attractions appears to be that he has dispensed with a lot of political correctness, which is appealing to many people. I certainly have my concerns with political correctness, and may take that up in the future.
Second is the practicability of his ideas. This one, to my mind, is where Trump’s experience with media comes through. He doesn’t like illegal immigrants which is hardly unusual. That’s not the point. Look at his solution: build a wall to guard a 2,000 mile-long border, at an estimated $16M per mile.
I think Trump is playing to the crowd here. Trump’s a very wealthy business man who has made a lot of money off of various investments. Savvy investment strategy requires a standard approach: look at all available options, balance costs against benefits for each, and pick the most attractive given your current situation. So where is Trump’s cost analysis on different methods for removing illegal aliens and keeping them out? Is a wall the most cost effective? What other options has he considered, and what are the cost/benefit estimations for each? Trump has never said, and I strongly suspect that’s because he has never considered other options. At this point he’s not interested in practicable solutions, he’s interested in votes. He discovered early on that a wall was enthusiastically received by some voters.
And so the third aspect of Trump, one that is present in the outrageous comments and the outrageous proposals is. well, outrage. Outrage is what Donald Trump’s surging candidacy is largely built upon. We have covered the idea that anger sells. When people are angry they stop thinking. Many of the Trump supporters do not appear to be thinking things through, as evidenced by the fact that his fans do not react to the contradictions in his xenophobia vs his foreign employees and foreign wives; his professed Christian passion vs his his divorces and his ignorance of the Bible; his insistence that he is a staunch conservative vs his record of being a political chameleon; etc.
This blog looks at behavior, biology, and education. There are those (including, surprisingly enough some of my colleagues in biology) who argue that genetics does not influence human behavior. I simply give them the topic at hand, and ask them if they are proud of how they behave when they are angry. If not, then how can they claim their words and actions when angry are the result of logic and careful thinking?
The only tool we have for overcoming our biology is education, learning. Here we are trapped in a bad place: when people are angry, they won’t learn. They can’t learn, because like all of us, when we’re angry we can’t think straight.
And in anger, a particularly pernicious illusion emerges: angry people believe that their angry thoughts represent an intelligent, prudent course of action. I could give examples, but we each of us carry an encyclopedia of personal examples, of all the times we have acted out of anger or other passion, and have made decisions we regret. Sometimes the results of those decisions are irrecoverable, and we have permanently injured ourselves or the people and things we care about.
I have to believe that the angry people who support Trump care about our country. If I could get them to listen, I would ask them if they believe anger and outrage will really solve any problems. Would it solve our domestic problems? ‘Domestic’ means ‘home’, and I think most of us have learned that anger does not solve problems in our personal lives; in fact, it makes our homes and our families worse. So I can’t imagine that anger would work in Congress, with the substantial egos and scattershot ideologies. Even if one of the parties sweeps to power in all branches, the anger and bullying still won’t work. You might be able to raise hell as the CEO of your own company, but it won’t work with elected bodies.
And the anger and divisiveness, even within one party, will quickly grow and subdivide the group. That’s exactly what the Trump and Cruz phenomena are showing us: the divisiveness of anger, and the anger of divisiveness, only escalate.
Most concerning, as we saw with the Spartans, one way way to overcome internal anger is to find an external enemy to be even angrier with, which may irrupt in war. That is the other consideration, the impact that anger and outrage would have on international relations. Throwing our anger around within the country won’t work, and doing so on the international stage could be worse, and create some scary scenarios. For instance, some historians argue that WWII was simply an extension of WWI, carried along by the anger over the persecution, perceived and real, against the German people, and a period of extreme strife and stress that allowed a particularly exciting anger monger to sweep to power.
I have no recommendations for dealing with unrestrained outrage, except to let it run its course, and hope it does not escalate further. Having said that, I am looking at the presidential election and thinking we may be dealing with a powderkeg. If the Democrats win, it will definitely get worse, but even if the Republicans win, that may only give us a longer fuse.
We need to recognize that when we play with anger, we play with fire. And right now, I am worried that even a small spark could set things off.
Picture of Donald Trump courtesy of Wikimedia.