How Presidential Candidates Talk to Us Matters
By Jacalyn S Burke
On the night when Senator Cruz suspended his campaign and Donald Trump assumed the role of presumptive Republican nominee I noticed something. And it’s not just me. It’s how Donald Trump talks to us – everyone.
The other candidates Clinton and Sanders talk to us differently too. It reminds me of how parents talk to their kids. They choose different ways to talk to a young child or a teenager or a new adult. Right?
People who attempt to dismiss Donald Trump as a political buffoon are equally amazed at his massive popularity. Only there isn’t a contradiction. Trump is a wizard with his message. Whether you agree with his ideas or not you must admit that he is engaging. It’s deliberate. This Daddy makes big promises. His repetitive mantra to “Make America Great Again” isn’t an empty chant. It anchors deeply into our subconscious dream of a return to America’s glory days. It needn’t be defined or even explained – because it’s a genuine wish.
Trump also appeals to our raw emotions. He lashes out at opponents in ways that are more akin to the bad days of Tammany Hall than to a pathway to the White House. Trump expertly knows that some mud sticks even if it isn’t true. If a suggestion is delivered along with a strong emotion it can find a home. Trump talks about bringing back saying “Merry Christmas” in public as opposed to saying “Happy Holidays” which is a thinly-disguised attack on political correctness. For some, being politically correct or culturally sensitive to others can feel bossy and restrictive and way too grown-up. I mean why not say “Happy Christmas”! Why not break those silly rules? This reasoning appeals to the small child in all of us.
But it’s also another tug at our child’s yearning for happier times. In effect Trump is promising to bring back the gifts of our childhood and like the ones from Santa that mysteriously appeared at the foot of our beds on Christmas morning – we needn’t know where they came from.
This type of persuasion is powerful. We are predominantly emotional thinkers not rational analytical types as the advertisers of Madison Avenue well understood. Speaking directly to our infantile desires from a position of paternal authority is how some of the greatest politicians in history secured their positions. Trump therefore is like our very own big Daddy. Someone that we think is omnipotent and who will deliver all of our needs if only we will trust him. That isn’t to say that Trump operates purely on a subconscious level or that his supporters are all childish. It’s just to say that his way of speaking to the electorate triggers both our primal fears and our deep-seated desires for safety and happier care-free times. It’s why we are all drawn to his speeches.
This race has another Daddy figure but this one at least attempts to sit down and talk rationally to our young teen mind. Bernie Sanders likes to draw our attention to what’s not fair and a lot in our adult life doesn’t feel fair, does it? Sanders needn’t frighten us because we are already frightened enough. Our young teen mind is full of hope and promise and terrible grudges of not getting what we deserve. Why can’t the rest of the world line up? This approach is clearly popular with voters under the age of 40 but it also appeals to the revolutionary in all of us. It’s powerful magic too. Daddy Sanders is in the trenches with us rooting for us and arguing with the Coach if we don’t get a pass. Sanders is also a repeater. He constantly points attention to some very legitimate flaws in our society. He gives us the confidence to fight for a fair shot at the goal. He also implies that Big Mommy aka Hillary Clinton kind of likes to side with the other unfair grown-ups. This too is a hypnotic pull and explains how galvanized his base is.
Hillary Clinton is of course the Mommy in the race. She likes to sit down with us and explain over and over again why we have to work harder and apply ourselves. She also annoyingly wants to use facts and logic to make her case. Big Mommy isn’t really that big. It’s just how we perceive her from our teeny fetal mind.
All she wants to do is to steady us on our feet and make sure that we see the world as it really is. Yes it can be unfair – but that’s what makes us tougher. She believes that it’s important that we know how things really are and that hard work is all we need to fix things!
Then again … wait up!
Both Daddies say that Mommy is not very honest and might in fact be an evil witch. So back we go again – swinging in all of our respective minds as to which candidate best represents us. Us with our unresolved dreams and terrible fears. Us with our emotional mind and our rational mind. Us with our conscious mind and our unconscious mind. Us in all of our shapes and ages.
Politics is a stage onto which we project our wishes. It is as fascinating as a magic show where we look forward to being mesmerized but we want someone else to be hypnotized and bark like a dog. But in this election and with these candidates I suspect quite a few of us will be left barking.
(Jacalyn S Burke is a bipartisan by-stander of election 2016 and the above post is just her idea of fun. Please vote!)