The US president uses reverse psychology to convince us that propositions such as universal healthcare and education are radical, even treasonous, propositions.
Access to education is not a radical idea. Access to healthcare is also not a radical, socialist, far-left idea.
However, greater access to both,for more and more people, has led to radically positive consequences for social mobility and economic change.
And in Ireland, aren’t we all more than aware of the impact of free second-level education, from 1967 on? And the effect of the abolition of third-level fees, from 1996 on?
In America, however, if you’re a proponent of greater access to healthcare or education, you’re almost an enemy of the state. You’re labelled a radical, a socialist, or, at worst, a communist.
Nowadays, labels and ideological divisions abound. With a 24-hour news cycle, labels matter more than ever. Labels play into soundbites and headlines that reverberate around the world, landing in the psyches of busy people.
And, before you know it, you hear Donald Trump-style rhetoric being repeated back to you at your local post office or in one of your WhatsApp groups.
This week was a busy one for Donald Trump and his cynical, abusive, racist rhetoric. He loved the divisive, ideological sparring it helped to generate world-wide. In fact, he told reporters that he was “enjoying it”.
As American communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio said this week, “what we fight, we feed”, so with that in mind, no more space will be given to Donald Trump’s latest, headline-grabbing tirade.
What is worrying, though, is when his rhetoric seeps into everyday conversations in Ireland.
You begin to notice your fellow citizens using the term ‘far left’ to deride people who support greater access to education and health. You see ‘jokes’ circulating on your messaging apps, ridiculing people who lobby and organise for better standards of living. Those troublemakers.
Trump has a two-step communications strategy that ensures he’s top of the global news agenda every day, and that his message spreads like wildfire, especially to his voting base, as 2020 fast approaches.
His first step involves manipulating you.
This is what Trump has discovered: Humans’ brains are hardwired with multiple, unconscious biases, beliefs so strongly held that any evidence to the contrary falls on deaf ears.
When you trigger those ancient biases, people will agree almost instantly with the sentiment of your statement and get their back up against anyone who has an alternative view.
Trump regularly triggers the most common of our unconscious biases with his pithy soundbites, communicated in black-and-white, easy-to-understand language.
Some of these untrue biases include: People who look different to me cannot be trusted; rape victims lie; members of other religions are radical extremists; people don’t want to work for a living and will sponge off the state every chance they can; and anyone seeking change to create a fairer society is a trouble-making radical.
His first step is to trigger these biases. Then there is his second step.
He flips victimhood. If he speaks in a racist/homophobic/sexist or otherwise discriminatory manner to a specific person or group of people, there will be a reaction. The person who responds to his latest bait then becomes the persecutor. “Look at what they did, do you hear what they are saying to me?” he reacts.
We’ve seen him do this countless times. In the Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and several others were injured, Trump didn’t solely condemn those who rode into a peaceful, diverse university town with their lit torches and firearms and who took a person’s life.
Instead, he had a go at those who stood up to the hooded hooligans, but it is those hooligans who are now serving lengthy prison sentences for their abhorrent crimes.
When women in their droves claimed to be victims of sexual assault and rape, accusing powerful men, he flipped the victimhood, hammering home and reaffirming the age-old narrative of “the poor accused”.
Trump triggers our most basic biases and then flips victimhood as his master communications strategy, because both are almost impervious to evidence and rationale. Almost, but not fully.
This week, the most up-to-date Bloomberg Billionaire Index lists IT entrepreneur Bill Gates in third place, with $107bn, and investment guru Warren Buffet in fourth, with $81.9bn.
These are two white men that even the most conservative amongst us would not only listen to, but also respect, and perhaps even idolise.
Aside from the fact that they both put their money where their mouth is, in giving away huge amounts of their money, they are very targeted and informed in their approach to global wealth creation.
In 2015, Buffet was asked to name the best thing that could be done to reduce poverty on a global scale.
He didn’t talk about reducing social welfare benefits, clamping down on immigration, deporting people, charging for healthcare, or increasing college fees. Quite the contrary.
“Health is probably the number one thing,” he said. “If you don’t have access to vaccines, and other aids to better health, you don’t really have anything going for you.”
The billionaire was then asked what could be done to reduce global poverty.
“Major things can be done in terms of health, family planning, and education; you simply try to improve the lot of humans wherever they may be, just like they’re your own children,” answered Buffet.
This is from a billionaire who spends several hours a day reading, so one assumes he’s done a tremendous amount of research before he parts with a penny.
Access to education and healthcare are the real tides that lift many boats. We have firsthand experience of this in Ireland. In terms of healthcare, ask any medical student, doctor, nurse, midwife, or consultant who they want to treat first and they will say: “The sickest person in the room, not the one with the deepest pocket.”
Just because Trump’s cheap, lazy, hateful rhetoric appears to be gaining in popularity (it isn’t, but his administration’s strategy is to make you believe it is) doesn’t mean we have to embrace it here in Ireland.
Should you find yourself repeating, or agreeing with, any of Trump’s 280-character tweets, do a mental inventory and check your brain for biases, first, and search out facts, second.
No-one benefits from greater poverty or division.
But we all benefit from greater access to education, health, and unbiased information; the boring stuff that would never make a tweet go viral.