How Donald Trump Answers a Question

I’m skeptical of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, hypnosis, and other tricks of mental manipulation involving triggers, rythms, repeating phrases, rhymes, etc. But I enjoy watching Derren Brown’s performances because I wonder how much is stage “magic” and how much is mentalist tricks. My guess is, it’s mostly stage magic.

So, when I saw this I thought it was very interesting because it’s somewhat similar to the kind of treatment Brown supposedly uses on his subjects.

Now, here’s Brown:


I have some experience with hypnosis, and have been able to drop a few of my friends into trances, as well as attempting to install trigger-words of various types (always with consent, and I had a camera capturing the entire session in case my subject later wanted to see what I told them while they were under).  The whole thing is …. interesting. In spite of seeing it work on several people, I’m still skeptical because I can’t tell if there’s an actual mechanism of hypnosis or if it’s a matter of social expectations and the subject not wanting to embarrass the hypnotist.*

The analysis of Trump-speak is thought-provoking. I’m interested in your reactions to it. But mine was [SPOILER BELOW**]

I’ve known a couple of powerful verbal manipulators, and Trump has all the same techniques: confidence, repeating catchphrases, and masterful use of verbal aggression as I understand strategies of verbal abuse. Trump also has the high school debater’s trick of interrupting the opponent’s thought-flow when they are pausing for breath. Have someone do this to you as an experiment and closely analyze your response. You may be surprised by how high-impact it is. Trump is also very good at filling the air with sound without pause, to make it harder for an opponent to get a word in edgewise.

He’s not a good speaker at all, but very manipulative and appears to be completely unhindered by any concern for truth. More interestingly, he appears to be completely happy to appear to be trying to communicate when he is, in fact, not.


In Walter Jon Williams’ “Aristoi” there is a hypothetical cultural advance in which experienced speakers and politicians have learned the fundamental body postures that influence the attitudes and behaviors of their listeners (the aristoi call them “mudras”)  It’s pretty cool and he weaves it in to his story as the hero might be telling someone to do something while adopting the Mudra of Command to subtly increase influence.

(* I was also beautifully trolled by one of my subjects, who actually pretended that the suggestions were working, then, when I tried to invoke a suggestion to drop into a light trance burst out laughing. It was an impressive performance because they had to be hyper-vigilant for my “trigger words” and immediately act on them without indicating that they were thinking about it.)




  1. jaxkayaker says

    Despite Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert fame) many demerits, he made basically the same observation a few weeks ago when he appeared on Bill Maher’s show: Trump uses language designed to persuade by manipulation of unconscious, irrational reactions.

  2. says

    Trump uses language designed to persuade by manipulation of unconscious, irrational reactions.

    “Design” is the interesting word there. Is it deliberate or is Trump just a natural huckster?

    I’m not entirely comfortable with the analysis in that video. Perhaps there are people who don’t think about what they are hearing, and hear Trump as saying “bad” “scary” and so forth, but when I listen to him I hear arglebargle (and his body language is not very good)

  3. jaxkayaker says

    It’s probably designed the way features of organisms are designed by natural selection. He learned his style from his salesman father, and it works for him, so he continues using it. If it didn’t work, he’d try something else or fail. Like selection, it’s dependent on the environmental context he finds himself in. If he were penniless Joe Schmoe from Peoria, it likely wouldn’t work. It works on some fraction of people, but not everyone. I guess that sounds tautological. Still, tautologies can be descriptive, even if they’re not explanatory.

  4. jaxkayaker says

    Re: mudras

    Surprised you didn’t mention voice used by the Bene Gesserit in Dune . Same idea, better known story.

  5. says

    Surprised you didn’t mention voice used by the Bene Gesserit in Dune

    Bloody hell, it’s not like I haven’t read that book a few dozen times, too!!
    You are completely right.
    Perhaps Trump has The Voice.