First presidential debate
Source: Snapshot taken by the author from the online video of the debate
Everybody could agree about the first presidential debate for 2020 election: it was different, and it was exhausting. And everybody knew the cause was the dynamics Trump creates in his interactions with others. In this piece which was written before the first debate, I have discussed how human instinctual behaviors that subtly affect politics, overlap with the politics of these days, and are in play in these debates.
Fear, Anger, and Tribal Politics
I have previously written about how politicians manipulate our most primitive tribal instincts to their advantage. Humans are inherently tribal with strong affinity to their perceived affiliated group. This is not only visible in nationalism, racism, and religious prejudice, but also in more adaptive forms such as devotion to a sports team, or cultural and religious affiliations. Like it or not, it is very hard to convince someone to change their religious or political affiliation, switch from one cable news to another, or change the football team they root for.
Tribalism can be intensified during times of fear and uncertainty, perceived, induced, or real. This is an evolutionary advantage that strengthens group cohesion and within group trust to help fend off threat whether it is another tribe, predators, or a natural disaster. Fear is a fundamental, deeply wired response, evolved over millions of years to assure our best chance of survival. Fear is fast, and it functions separately from the slower logical and objective brain. That is because we cannot wait for an intellectual analysis of an approaching predator, we should just run or fight fast. Fear often presents in the form of anger: both prepare us mentally and physically to escape or fight the threat.
Trump’s genius of manipulating the tribal instincts: Bully alpha
Republican primaries in 2016 were a shock to many: someone with minimal understanding of the simplest issues of value in domestic and foreign policy, slaughtered those with tens of years of political experience and deep knowledge of the issues one after another. His messages were extremely simple and not longer than highly exaggerated, short uneducated sentences about the immigrants, a wall, economy, and foreign policy. He even brought that perspective to addressing his opponents (Lock her up, little Marco, low energy Jeb). Some related his success to the base’s anger at the “establishment”, and some to being a popular TV character. There is also an evolutionary perspective: Trump acted as an “alpha” who used fear and anger very skillfully: he banked on terrifying people of a variety of doomsday scenarios, and then presented himself as the alpha they needed to save them.
Being a lifelong veteran in bullying and humiliation of others, Trump is capable of utilizing human deepest primitive reactions to his advantage: he triggers fear (Mexicans are coming for you), anger (they have taken things away from you), and tribalism. His MO is “us” vs. “them”, whether them is the Mexicans, the Chinese, the