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Updated 04 April 2016

How Trump is leading America by the nose (Part II)

CyberShrink explains how Donald Trump deliberately uses vague language to allow people to hear what they want to hear – like an audio version of the Rorschach test.

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Parlez-vous Trump? 

A number of pieces on The Nerdwriter and elsewhere have examined how Trump speaks. He’s a brilliant salesman, even when he has nothing to sell, which is clearly evident when you examine any of his interviews and responses to questions. (I suspect this is an instinctive rather than a learned skill.)

He tends not to finish his sentences, but repeats himself over and over again. He interrupts himself, like someone with ADHD or on speed, abandoning a sentence that looks as though it might be going somewhere, just to head off in another direction. His quickness of tongue deceives the hearing and his incoherence is deliberate, allowing him to be purposefully vague. 

Read: Understanding ADHD

His smoggy replies avoid a straight answer to anything, and provide an “audio version” of the Rorschach test (random inkblot patterns used by psychiatrists), allowing people to hear whatever they want to hear. Psychologists work on the principle that what you see in a random patterns reveals what’s going on in your mind – and Trump relies on the likelihood that what you hear in his almost random barrage of words will be what you’re looking for, and thus satisfy your needs. This works for him because he doesn’t actually need to commit himself to anything.

He structures his sentences so that they have an almost hypnotic effect, even distorting grammar to place key words in the precisely right place. He keeps everything simple, and tells you what to look at: “Look at what happened … and you’ll see …. “  His sentences are short and often unfinished and the vocabulary very limited. He likes superlatives like “huge”, “beautiful”, “terrible”, and repeats what he thinks is important: “I’m rich; I’m really rich!”; “We need tough people; we need to be tough.”

Much like a TV ad

He uses very simple language, at primary school level, preferring words of one syllable. There’s been a progressive decline in the level of presidential speeches from Washington to the present day.  We’re getting close to the comic-book level, but fortunately we have not yet been subjected to “POW! “, “WHAM!” and/or “ZAP!”  

Ben Carson, in contrast, uses words of a much higher educational level, but often seems on the verge of falling asleep. I shall never forget the moment in a debate – Trump and Cruz were given extra time because they felt they’d been attacked and wanted to respond – when  Carson’s plaintive little voice was heard saying, “Won’t someone please attack me.” He’s like the Dormouse at the tea party in Alice in Wonderland

As Goebbels realised and practiced, Trump knows that even a lie, if repeated loudly and often enough, is believed. He repeats himself routinely, much like a TV ad.  

Read: Celebrity food endorsements influence kids

The word he uses most often is “I”, and “Trump” is fourth on the list. Other favourites are: “amazing”, “classy”, “fantastic”, “guy”, “American”, “President”, “money”, “great”, and “very”. Famous people are “great” and “a good friend”.  Where others might say “um”, he says “great” or repeats his last sentence. He will be “very, very strong”, and anything he creates will be “something terrific, like you’ve never seen”.  Opponents receive a different vocabulary. They are “low energy”, “stupid”, “horrible” and “ugly”, “moronic”, “weak”, “disgraceful”, “catastrophic”, and “losers”. 

Hilary Clinton, by the way likes words like “systemic”, “children”, “family”, and “Europeans”. Bernie Sanders likes “handful”, “substantially”, “speculation” and “crumble”.

Trump often says insulting things in a sneaky way: “I hear so and so”, or “A lot of people are saying this and that.”  Thus he avoids taking responsibility for the nasty things he’s saying by pretending he’s merely repeating something he heard.

The American Mao, Kim Jong Trump

He avoids arguing ideas, preferring to attack the person he opposes. He also takes no responsibility for the predictable outcomes of his provocative speeches and especially not for his endorsement and encouragement of violence towards protestors who dare to disagree with him.

His body language is also interesting. He stands tense, both hands out, palms inwards and moves jerkily. This makes him look bigger and wider. (And, by the way, his hands are no smaller or fingers shorter, than those of any other candidate.)

Read: Understanding Body Language

He likes to talk about himself, and about what he says: “I’ve been saying this for a long time”; “I said this before and I’ll say it again”, trying to show himself as consistent. Yet, for someone who sounds so decisive, he loves saying, “Nobody knows”; “We don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”; “We don’t know what we’re doing.”

Trump avoids numbers and facts where possible. Yet he says: “When you’re really smart, when you’re really, really smart like I am – it’s true, it’s true, it’s always been true, it’s always been true.”

His campaign has been about building a cult of personality around himself, this American Mao, Kim Jong Trump. And what’s frightening is how many people are willing and eager to follow such a confident, boastful bully.

Read more:

How Trump is leading America by the nose (Part I)

The body language of power

6 body language mistakes to avoid

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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