As Donald Trump continues along the campaign trail, what he says may reveal less about him than what it reveals about us. Here are some of the ingredients of his appeal.
1. Standing for Something: This involves vigorously standing up for something and vigorously standing against those who oppose it. This builds trust and confidence (even if people disagree) because it causes people to feel you don’t have a hidden agenda (even when you do). Too often politicians seem to win their first election by doing this, but if they go on to become a career politician, it appears that they are doing whatever it takes to survive. That means playing to your base whether or not you agree with them. In addition, much of the public seems frustrated by politicians’ flip flopping and appearing to be more concerned with polls than with standing for something and backing that with words and actions. Trump’s aggressive tone gives the appearance of standing for something and implies that he will get things done whereas the politicians he decries won’t.
2. (Lack of) Disappointment: The public might be offended or even enraged by some of Trump’s incendiary comments, but having not yet served in public office and having not been accountable to a constituency (other than his TV ratings), he hasn’t yet disappointed anyone. The more disappointed people are with politicians in office and with congressional gridlock the more appealing Trump appears.
3. Judgment: Increasing impatience, focus on the short term and intolerance has caused more Americans to become judgmental than to give people the benefit of the doubt or much less, to even hear them out. In fact, people who listen and consider opposing views are increasingly seen as weak. Being more judgmental also causes people to identify and resonate with how judgmental Trump comes across because he then seems like you.
4. Object Constancy: This is one of the more awkward terms in psychology, but its meaning is so relevant, that it’s worth understanding and noting. Object constancy in the context of thinking about a candidate/politician is the ability to hold onto a positive regard towards them even in the face of their disappointing you. It goes back to a child’s ability to believe a parent will come back if they leave as opposed to believing they will never return and throwing that child into a tailspin. The less object constancy with regard to a politician, the less ability to maintain a positive regard in the face of disappointment which most politicians appear to do regularly. Fewer voters have a high level of object constancy which again makes flipping over to Trump’s camp the more appealing.
5. Mirror neuron gap: In my book, Just Listen,(link is external) I coined this term to talk about mirror neurons and the gap that is created when we care more about the world than it appears the world cares about us. Mirror neurons were first identified in Macaque monkeys and originally called “monkey see, monkey do” neurons because they appear to be involved in imitation. They were later identified in humans and believed to be involved in imitation, learning and empathy and when defective in autism (because autistic individuals can’t “mirror” other people and pick up social cues).
In my book I discussed my empirical observations and beliefs that when you “mirror,” empathize with and care about other people and the outside world, it causes a reciprocal hunger to be empathized with and cared about in return by others. And when you care more than you are cared about in return, that causes a mirror neuron gap. Disappointment in and frustration with politicians and the political system for not taking a stand (and therefore be someone you can trust, have confidence in and respect) or following through on things widen the mirror neuron gap.
In the iconic movie, Network(link is external), the character played by Peter Finch united the world around him by proclaiming he was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!”(link is external) Such a cry rallied people by appearing to understand, express what many people felt and by doing that, closing the mirror neuron gap in them.
Trump is doing the same.