Trumpeting Outrage

TrumpD 300Donald 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.”

And politics.

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.

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  1. Carey simon

    Trump has no tact. I honestly think his little outbursts of anger and rude remarks of others will blow up in his face in the end He is very smart, but knocking people down on the way to the top is not the way to win

  2. Vaughan Simpson

    Very peerceptive comments. Trump as president would be a horrible disaster for this country. I think too many voters haven’t taken him seriously and the ones that have are too numerous to ignore. He reminds me of Mussolini, stutting and posing on the political stage. But should he win, we will be in serious danger of losing any lasting influence in the world we still have.

    • Bookscrounger

      Believe or not, I am actually more worried about Cruz. Trump is a showman, but also a practical businessman. My suspicion — and it’s only a suspicion — is that, at the end of the day he will make pragmatic decisions. Cruz could be Torquemada; he believes every word he says, and I think he would crush anyone who disagrees with him. Cruz, IMHO, is poised to become a theocratic dictator.

      • Michael

        Agreed. Cruz is a “true believer,” exceptionally dangerous as Barry Goldwater so presciently predicted.

          • Michael

            Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.
            Said in November 1994, as quoted in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience (2006)

          • Bookscrounger

            I agree. I would add a couple of comments. First, not all Christians are like that; many of the foundational liberal ideas come out of Christianity, and the critical moderate sector, the one that controls most national elections, is mostly Christian. Those moderates are some of the people I hope to reach here.

            Second, I am very alarmed about the disarray in the Republican Party, even though I more often vote Democrat. The last thing we need is a one-party system; that has proved ruinous everywhere. Competition is the basis of democracy, the free market, and the flow of ideas under the First Amendment. A variety of competitors and viewpoints is critical to forging better ideas. Which is one of my other goals with this blog, to get all sides to stop squabbling and start collaborating.

            As if little ol’ Joe Abraham in the backwoods of Cajun Country could do that…

          • Terry Elwell

            Always enjoyed your insight on ‘magnet schools’ and their cognate ‘charter schools’. Read that the putative ‘Stormy Daniels’ attended such a school. She is ‘overtly’ more intelligent that the cretin DJT! Keep writing!!!

      • Boomer

        Better Cruz the the Theocratic Christian than the Islamic raised one we have now—-I think getting to Trump is a comparison to a great coach—-Knowledge of the game and psychology of his players—- Getting great assistant coaches—-Getting great players—the ability to lead—-He has command of the speaking delivery and probably the most important—HE WINS!!!

        • Bookscrounger

          The concept of a theocratic Christian, to my mind, presents a problem.
          God gives us free will, but a theocracy deprives us of it.

          • Bookscrounger

            Not that we know of, anyway. But modern physics has given us some weird paradoxes/apparent contradictions: Schroedinger’s cat is both alive, and dead…

  3. Durl

    On behalf of trumpet players worldwide, I strongly object to turning Donald Trump’s name into the verb “trumpeting” for a clever headline.

    • Terry Elwell

      Prefer ‘Trumptellian’ like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, claim to intelligence but slithers through the dirt and slime to hiss another self-serving prevarication. A scab on the sphincter of life (aka ‘sore asshole’)

  4. Durl

    I think that the popularity of Bernie Sanders is likewise associated with anger. Bernie has touched the nerve that people are worse off, it’s been going that way for a long time, and they don’t see any hope for things to get better in the current political environment. So, he promises what people want to hear: simpler healthcare system (single payer), free college, etc.

    Just as Trump’s ideas are not fully baked, neither are Bernie’s. He has not considered the total cost of single payer healthcare, including what to do with the thousands of insurance company employees who will be jobless, how the government as single payer will set coverage limits, et al.

    The current college situation is a result of freely available loan funds, which made it easy for colleges to raise tuition and other fees at a far faster rate than inflation. If the government is picking up the tuition tab, how will the government control costs, so that the taxpayers can afford to pay for the tuition bill.

    • Michael

      I do agree that Sander’s appeal is likewise rooted in anger and there’s much truth in the idea that freely available loans have escalated tuition costs.

      I disagree on Single Payer. All those “whacky” “socialist” countries are covering everyone — for less –sometimes much less–and generating better outcomes across the board. The evidence is in on that topic and pure American capitalism is a “fail” on healthcare–a great big one too.

      Laid off insurance company workers? We survived Detroit and the oil belt has survived countless lay off disasters. We’ll figure it out but it has to change.

      • Bookscrounger

        Hey Michael, those other countries don’t have a big problem we have.
        I hate to say this but we have created a system where doctors make big money, and because of enormous tuitions, and incomes delayed until the physician’s late twenties, we have to make a lot of money.
        And I’m no different than anyone else, I don’t want to lose my cash cow. *sigh*

    • Bookscrounger

      The college tuition problem is enormous (as are college tuitions!), I think you have touched on one aspect, but I worry that there are many.
      There is much truth to your observations about Sanders. My thought is, though, that the biggest problem facing our country today is that big money controls both parties, and to a large degree, controls what we can learn through the media. I don’t know that Bernie can do anything about it, but he’s the only one even talking about it.
      Other people will point to other threats, but I would simply point out that if the electorate cannot get the responses we need from our elected officials, then democracy becomes moot. America will still exist as an entity, but not as a concept nor a theory of governance.

      • Durl


        Getting elected takes a lot of money, so the politicians quickly become beholden to those who supported them financially. Once elected, these folks also seem to become millionaires at an astonishing rate. It’s hard to think that they know what the typical family struggles with when they have good salaries, unrivaled benefits, don’t have to use the same healthcare choices their constituents do, etc.

        When the FCC was looking into net neutrality, I learned that large companies like Comcast have dedicated service representatives for politicians, so that they never have to wait forever for a service call. Another example where the world they see is far different than the one the rest of us see.

  5. Terry Elwell

    Specifically a ‘Putinesque’ kleptocracy (rule by avarice and stupidity) much like we have now in this country!

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