We can be angry for all the right reasons

An interesting take on the psychology of Trump:

Donald Trump is an anger troll. Rage is the one thing he capably nurtures and grows. He stoked anger in people horrified by Kavanaugh’s confirmation and is now turning it against them. This is an old tactic: drive people crazy, then call them so. As projects of government go, this one is as familiar as it is contemptible. He wants to make his followers feel threatened. To achieve this, he needs his opponents to seem irrational. So he sets about making them angry.

He insults them, railroads them, calls people protesting for justice liars and profit-seekers even as he openly enriches his friends. He gives them offensive nicknames and mocks their pain for fun, and to get them to lose control. He’s doing this in plain sight—it’s pretty obvious why people are angry—but his goal is to make their reaction look inexplicable, beyond the pale. After leading angry crowds to yell abuse at anyone he points to, he turns around and marvels at how irrational and dangerous his targets are.

As tactics go, this one is dumb and transparent, but it’s worth describing it because it works. It works a lot. Trump is not a genius. But he instinctively understands the dynamic of provoking and then delegitimizing someone else’s pain. As Adam Serwer wrote, he’s energized by the suffering he causes others and—secondarily—by the bond that ritualized cruelty forges with his base, which has been connected by fear of others. From Trump’s perspective, it’s kind of fun that people feel compassion for the families he separated. It’s delightful that women are worried about rights he has expressly said he wanted to take from them. And, after insulting and belittling people he’s supposed to be governing, he enjoys acting surprised that they mind.

It’s a silly and ugly game, but it’s the only true rule of Trumpism: be the sorest winner imaginable. Aspire to nothing but power and status. Hold no principle sacred. Withhold justice and insult those who object. Yes, the effects of this are predictable. It doesn’t take a genius of social engineering to be the “why are you hitting yourself?” guy. All it takes is a willingness to be him.

Yeah, that’s the man. But it’s only half the problem: the other half is an electorate that falls for it every time, that fails to recognize that a lack of principle and a narcissistic need for power are bad things, and not a sufficient reason to give the narcissist the power he craves. Slightly more than half the population sees right through him and is really pissed that the orange troll has gotten what he was after — they are righteously angry — and the remainder have completely fallen for the lies and are in a mad race to hurt themselves even more.

We need to own our anger, because that’s the alternative. Our rage is aimed at a deserving target, their rage seems to be self-inflicted.


  1. Oggie. says

    This is such a standard bully tactic: insult, abuse, taunt, and hurt until your victim loses their shit and then mock them for losing their shit and, if your victim lashes out, claim to be the victim. And it works. And it ain’t just Trump. Kavanaugh fits the mould. So does Zinke. Huckabee Sanders does it.

    Actually, I am having a hard time thinking of anyone in any leadership position, elected or not, who does not use this tactic in order to avoid discussion of policy, morality or legal issues.

    We are being led by the absolute worst people from our high school days.

  2. Oggie. says

    And I just thought of this.

    Remember Carcer from Pratchett’s Night Watch? The guy who could stand there with a bloody knife, surrounded by dead bodies, and laugh with a ‘who, me?’ look on his face? Same kind of people.

  3. Chris J says

    Does this tactic work? Because it sure ain’t working on the left.

    I don’t think it matters what Trump or the rest do so much as what excuse they offer their followers. The basic stoking of resentment and hatred towards liberals is the true culprit here, playing victim and provoking people only “works” because republican voters have bought into the “us vs them” mentality so hard that they’ll take literally any excuse to shit on the other. Trump could basically say anything (and he does say anything at different times) and it’d still “work” on them.

    Trump isn’t a genius, nor does he have any special intuitive sense for how to manipulate sentiment. He’s a petty blowhard in a time where his base have been conditioned to accept petty blowhards as long as they say the right things. Trump is pretty decent at saying those right things though, but it’s not from any particular intelligence. It’s from practice as an entertainer and a long, long history of bullshitting authorities and sleazy business practices.

    He’s evolutionary “fit” for the political environmental niche that Republicans have been cultivating so they could have a more fanatical and reliable base.

  4. willj says

    Trump is president because because a substantial portion of the world is like him. They’re bullies with no real conscience, not well educated, and with no empathy. Power, money, and corruption. Nice is bad. They despise nice people like Obama, in spite of their vaunted “Christianity”. Politics is like an MMA cage match – as long as their guy wins. So what do you do? We have no choice but to fight them tooth and nail. Vote like your life depends on it. Let them mock. We mock too.

  5. says

    The way to deal with it is “why do you want to upset me? I’m on your side!” Then proceed to explain that you just disagree about a few little points, and quagmire them.

  6. Curious Digressions says

    You’re giving his supporters too much credit. They’re not “falling for it”. They see what he’s doing and they like it. They wish that they could be him. He’s the ugly face of what 40% of Merika wants to be.

    @#5 Marcus – not sure what you mean. By just a few little points, do you mean “everything”?

  7. F.O. says

    To achieve this, he needs his opponents to seem irrational. So he sets about making them angry.

    No he doesn’t.
    His base doesn’t give a fuck about reality.
    That mentality and the media holding to “balance” rather than “reality” is all he needs.

  8. rpjohnston says

    When I was, oh, around third grade I think, my special interest was astronomy. I just learned that the Earth was 93 million miles from the Sun, and of course I had to share it with EVERYBODY.

    Well, of course, nobody gives a shit about that nerdy crap so almost everybody ignored me. There was this one kid though – Carl. He started saying “No it isn’t”. I tried to argue with him – I’d say yes it was; I’d show the college level astronomy book my mom got me; I’d say “the scientists” had figured it out; I tried to ask him why he thought that, you know the works. All that I’d get was that shit-eating grin and “No it isn’t!”

    He started running up to me and yelling it on the playground, too. I’d tell the teachers, but it’s not like they gave a damn about some trouble Special Ed brat’s problems. Hell, they blamed me – told me to stop trying to force my views on him, that how far the Earth is from the Sun doesn’t matter, etc. Fat lotta help huh.

    Then one day he did it again, running up, yelling his thing and dashing off with a smirk. So I chased him down and beat his little ass into the ground (as much as a third grader can, anyway). He left me alone after that.

    Stupid little games like that work only as long as you play by them. Trumpists think they’re safe – if they win, they get to pwn the libs. If we win, they get coddled – us Nurturing Parent types will forgive them, treat them as valued constituents with “bipartisanship” and “serving all [state]ians”, etc – all while they rage at us. Nothing, NOTHING ever hurts them, so what do they have to lose?

    Unfortunately, we on the Left can’t be political suicide bombers – we’re not going to fuck ourselves over just to hurt them, the way they do for us. Politically, it’s impossible to have policies that benefit only us or hurt only them. Which is why we must focus on the social aspect – opprobrium, shame them out of society, and when they get violent, be prepared to repel them. We can only get back to the “civility” status quo by establishing consequences for breaking it.

  9. consciousness razor says

    I don’t think it’s correct to say he “drove us crazy,” that he’s made us “seem irrational,” that we have “lost control,” and so forth. That’s not evident and only belongs in Republican fairy tales.

    It’s the same crap conservatives have been doing for a very long time. Their sycophants want a tough guy who will destroy the baddies for them, at (nearly?) any cost — they basically think they’re getting Negan, maybe that they’re all Negan. The ceaseless insulting and gloating, even if it’s absurd or unintelligible, help to paint the desired picture of a ruthless authority figure. I guess in a way the transparent lies and bullshit help too, as a form of costly signalling: the truth (when they can even recognize it) is one thing they’ll happily disregard, as long as the bad guys suffer. It looks like it’s primarily driven by an old-fashioned lust for vengeance. That’s what they think politics and government are for, and they presumably believe Republicans will hurt someone other than them. But they have somehow gotten the impression that people who are trying to make the world a better place are the bad guys.

  10. angela78 says

    Well, this is more or less what I was trying to say in another post: getting angry is fine, showing to the opponents your emotional rage exposes you to attacks. They don’t play fair, they are lying assholes, they want you to scream at them so they can “aha!!” you. Best strategy is: stay calm, fight them on your ground, not on their own.
    And use sarcasm and humour, this is something they cannot bear. Mock them in a clever and funny way, use your intelligence instead of your guts, and they’ll end up being the fools.