How, and Why, Not to be Triggered by Trump

January 4, 2018

Above, recent video on best approaches for climate communication in the age of fake news and the war on science.  Much of the insight we have from the last decade come from neuroscientists like George Lakoff, and climate comms practitioners like John Cook.

George Lakoff is a neuroscientist specializing in the study of how human beings are persuaded, or not, by factual discourse.
He had a significant twitter thread the other day with implications for climate communication, and general survival in the age of Toxic Trumpian Authoritarians.

George Lakoff on Twitter:

Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive. They mostly fall into one of these four categories.

The tweets either get his framing established first, knowing that whoever frames first tends to win. Or when things look bad for him, he diverts attention or attacks the messenger. And when he wants to test public opinion, he puts out an outrageous trial balloon.
Each tweet gets his message retweeted so he dominates social media. Reporters, social media influencers, and many others fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Every time. They retweet, share, and repeat his messages ad infinitum. This helps Trump tremendously.

They may think they’re negating or undermining him, but that’s not how human brains work. As a cognitive scientist, I can tell you: repeating his messages only helps him.

First, it focuses all attention on Trump’s antics. This makes his nonsense seem like the most important thing in the world. It’s called the “focusing illusion” – and it’s a large part of why he got elected in the first place. It makes him larger than life.

Second, constant repetition of his Trump’s messages embeds them deeply in the brains of millions of people. Whether it’s locking up his opponents or threatening nuclear war, he has the power to control tens of millions of brains via tweets. He focuses them on his chosen topics.

Third, the constant attacks and outrage increase his credibility with his base. He can portray himself as a victim of the “establishment” – under constant attacks (which he provokes with tweets). He acts, his opponents only react. He is in heroic control.

I understand the desire to portray Trump as childish or deranged. But do you deal with a child or a deranged person by sinking to their level? Do you mock and scorn them, or trumpet their ridiculousness on the front page? No.




10 Responses to “How, and Why, Not to be Triggered by Trump”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Maybe except Israel, the world isn’t any more taking the US leadership for real. The two below belong into the same sandbox:

  2. indy222 Says:

    I think the author gives too much credit to the intelligence of the media consumers. Yes, the real horror is the dismantling of civilized government and safety of the long term environment. But I can make the opposite case as the author – that the avg Joe out there may more be able to identify with the fact that Trump and his people are insane lunatics, screaming childish brats (which even the lowest of low class voters can identify with), and therefore not to be trusted, than they can with the intricacies of how much is too much business regulation, whacking those enviro-unwashed-wacko’s etc (I’m deliberately climbing inside their warped minds, so don’t attack ME for the characterizations).

    I think there’s definitely a place for spotlighting the lunacy of the Trumpster Fire that’s ongoing reality TV, as a way to turn the voter tide in ’18.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    “George Lakoff is a neuroscientist specializing in the study of how human beings are persuaded, or not, but factual discourse.”

    Should be “BY factual science”?

  4. redbbs Says:

    Peter I love your work but you really should give the wide angle close-ups a swerve. You probably do this so you can use the on-board microphone.

    Why not sit back on a 60mm and a lav mic? Your subjects will be grateful.

  5. botterd Says:

    This is actually an excellent article, marred only by the insertion of completely unfounded blind trust in the “intelligence community” who history proves to be paid liars and war-mongers as well as the oft-repeated “Russia hacked the DNC” story for which no technical or concrete evidence has been produced (despite the fact that the NSA certainly would be in possession of meta-data to confirm any such communication/connections), and for which there is contrary technical evidence that it was an insider leak.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      two guilty pleas and two indictments so far.
      intel community has actually been a good resource for decision makers that pay attention.
      one lesson of the Pentagon papers, for instance, is that intelligence from the field was ignored when deemed politically inexpedient.
      Same with build up to the Iraq war, the example frequently cited. CIA/Intel indicated much more caution advisable , and lawmakers who actually read that intel, rather than Bush Admin versions of it, tended to push back on the disastrous policy.
      Another example is the Reagan admin’s “Team B” approach. CIA was not producing scary enough estimates of Soviet capabilities, so admin officials lead by Cheney et al ginned up a secondary “review” group to create more frightening scenarios. Soviets subsequently collapsed of own weight.

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