March 13, 2016

Trump's escalating rhetoric resembles the methods dictators use

In this post from 2012 I wrote that people may create fear in order to control other people. I explained that creating fear is an effective way of gaining people's attention, creating hyper-vigilance, suppressing their rationality, and legitimizing violence in order to fight the (supposed) threats and to enforce loyalty. People doing this set in motion a vicious cycle. In other words, a process of escalation seems to be inevitable. In order to keep their followers' fears sustained, and their rationality suppressed, they have to keep feeding them with new information about the (supposed) threat. By creating more fear they get more attention, suppress more people's rationality, legitimize greater violence and acquire greater control. These are the methods dictators use.

About half a year ago Donald Trump, during a rally, mentioned that the US would need a different type of negotiators to deal with foreign negotiators (such as the Chinese). He said he already knew who those negotiators were and admitted that these people were horrible people. He created fear by saying that there was a threat, being that weak and incompetent US leaders make bad deals with smart and tough foreign leaders thereby undermining the power and economy of the US. This is a telling example of legitimizing something bad (putting horrible people in power) in order to defend against threats.

As, perhaps, could have been be expected it did not end there. Now, the create fear to gain control cycle is more clearly recognizable in Trump's rhetoric. In interviews with CNN Trump created fear by painting a vivid picture of how ISIS kills people and then laugh at the weakness of the US. Then he argued that we have to become much tougher and that we have to expand the laws to get at an "at least somewhat equal footing." In the CNN interviews he does not explicitly say what kind of measures he thinks but he previously argued (on Fox news) for waterboarding and killing family members of terrorists. Trump's logic: our enemies are bad, we have to become bad, too. Another example of Trump legitimizing violence is what has he has said during his rally's. As this video shows there is an escalation in Trump's rhetoric. This silencing of American protestors, by the way, is an example of how fear is not only created for external threats but also for internal threats.

It is not surprising that Trump is being compared to and called a fascist. Now, I am not necessarily saying that people using these methods, like Trump, have deliberate bad intentions. While that is certainly one credible explanation, an alternative explanation which may also be valid is that they themselves are prisoners of their own fear. Anyone can fall prey to the idea that "we" are threatened by bad people and therefore have to become bad ourselves. But I think this idea is primitive and will never work in the long term. Instead it will set in motion a process of increasing tensions. Don't buy it. Choose rationality.


  1. The funny thing is that you might accuse Bernie Saunders of doing the same thing. He's making people fearful by attacking the wealthy, bankers, politicians, trade agreements, etc., (sounds like Trump). They both tap into the sense of loss – grieving for their declining economic status - that many American's feel. Trump also incites racism, hatred, and now violence. Trump supporters are blind to his transparent hypocrisy – he promises things that can’t be delivered and he’s one of the wealthy people who has exploited America. Older, white, under-educated Americans now have a totally irrational voice for their quite rational fears.

  2. Hi Alan, Interesting. Thanks!.

    Perhaps you are right that Bernie Sanders also to some extent exploits fear. To some degree I think you may be right. I'll think more about it.

    Personally, I think what Bernie says reasonable. Trumps fears are more fabricated and irrational, I think. Many of his statements have been proven to be untrue. But what Bernie is pointing to, has, as far as I know been proven to be largely true. A Princeton study has shown that the US has become a de facto oligarchy. Also, Scientists like Krugman, Stigliz, Frank, Reich and many others have shown how objectively detrimental the high degree of economic inequality is that is currently happening in the US.

    In addition to remaining rational (instead of exploiting suppressed rationality) he does not legitimize violence in the way Trump does. He is not talking about expanding laws, he does not call himself the most militaristic person there is, he is not in favor of further building up the army, etc. He never invites civilians to commit acts of violence.

    Some people perceive Sanders as a radical. But is he really? Isn't his fear reasonable. What he is arguing for would not sound too radical in some of the most progressive and developed societies on earth. Or am I wrong in thinking this?

  3. Father of Fascism Studies: Donald Trump Shows Alarming Willingness to Use Fascist Terms & Styles

  4. Donald Trump’s message is violent to its core


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