From spygate to fake news, Trump has turned terms into weapons. The press must do more to dull their power
Donald Trump has been a salesman for nearly half a century. He is now selling himself, his worldview and his self-serving views of the law and the truth. His principal tools are speech and the media. By faithfully transmitting Trump’s words and minds, the press helps him to attack, and thereby control, the press itself.
Trump knows the press has a strong instinct to repeat his most outrageous claims, and this allows him put the press to work as a marketing organization for his ideas. His lies reach millions of people through constant repeat in the press and social media. This poses an existential menace to democracy.
Language works by activating brain arrangements called ” frame-circuits” used to understand experience. They get stronger where reference is hear the activating language. Enough repeat can induce them permanent, changing how we view the world.
Even disproving a frame-circuit activates and strengthens it, as when Nixon told ” I am not a crook” and people thought of him as a crook.
Scientists, marketers, advertisers and salespeople understand these principles. So do Russian and Islamic State hackers. But most reporters and editors clearly don’t. So the press is at a disadvantage when dealing with a super salesman with an instinctive they are able to manipulate believed by 1) framing first 2) recurring often, and 3) leading others to echoed his terms by get people to assault him within his own frame.
Language can shape the style we suppose. Trump knows this. Here are some of his favorite manipulation techniques.
First, he weaponizes words. The modifier “crooked” convicted Hillary Clinton without a trial. The media’s constant repeat sealed the judgment. “Fake news” proclaims that the news is fake. The employ of “fake” is designed to delegitimize the press itself. Trump likewise use strategic name-calling to undermine the Russia investigation, labelling it as a” witch-hunt” by the” deep government” in an attempt to shifting blame. It’s false, but when the press echoes it, his narrative wins.
The media perpetuated a Trump lie by repeating” spygate“, which falsely characterized the FBI informant as a snoop. Once constructed, such a mistake by the press is hard to correct.
A possible immediate correction might have been to use “RussianSpyGate,” repeatedly focusing on the Russian contacts of Trump’s campaign aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, with the FBI informant checking on Russian spy in the Trump campaign. This would have had to be done over and over, with reporters bring it up whenever “spygate” was employed. Not an easy fix.
Then there are what cognitive scientists call” salient exemplars”- well-publicized individual cases, where wide publicity leads the public to take them as having a high probability and typifying a whole class. Trump becomes them into weaponized stereotypes. He is a master at maligning entire an organization of people as liars, rapists, terrorists- or in the case of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies- agents of corruption.
He knows how to avoid taking responsibility for specific claims. “Maybe.” ” I don’t know .”” We’ll discover .” Yet the claim has been made and stands, with no persons responsible for it.
In The Art of the Deal, Trump discusses utilizing” truthful exaggeration”- exaggerated allegations indicating a significant true. His exaggeration can be either positive (” great “, ” terrific “, ” the best “) for what he likes or negative (” a disaster ,”” the worst ever “) for what he dislikes.” The worst trade bargain ever” frames trade agreements as “deals”, where “deals” are seen as zero-sum games that you either win or lose- and winning is the only good outcome.” Doesn’t it feel good to win !”” You’ll win so much, you’ll feel tired of winning !”
“Deal” and “winning” are not just terms. They are central to his worldview. Those who win deserve to win; the individuals who lose deserve to lose. Those who don’t win are “losers”. This is a version of individual responsibility, a cornerstone of conservative thought. There is a moral hierarchy. Those who win are better than those who lose.
” America first” means that America is better than non-eu countries, as shown by its wealth and power. And that wealth and power should be used to win- to acquire more wealth and power in all its “deals”- even with our allies. Power includes the power to bully or penalise- for example, to impose tariffs or pull out of treaty– or at the least threaten if others don’t go along with him.
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