Donald Trump and Political Hypnosis
Donald Trump continues to sound a lot like community organizer Saul Alinsky.
Also comes Dilbert creator Scott Adams plausibly claiming that Trump literally is a “Master Wizard” using hypnosis on us. As one of “us” I considered this theory worth examining. The evidence shows that Trump is, in fact, using technique indistinguishable from hypnosis.
First: Trump as Alinsky. Byron York recently presented A brief theory of Trump’s outrageousness:
Then Trump got to the heart of the matter. “The word compromise is absolutely fine. But if you are going to compromise, ask for about three times more than you want. You understand? So when you compromise, you get what you want.”
The identical sentiment was shared in Rules for Radicals wherein Saul Alinksy wrote:
But to the organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word. It is always present in the pragmatics of operation. It is making the deal, getting that vital breather, usually the victory. If you start with nothing, demand 100 percent, then compromise for 30 per cent, you’re 30 per cent ahead.
I recently pointed out here that Trump actively employs 12 of Alinsky’s 13 tactical rules. This almost surely is a matter of “great minds working alike” rather than Trump being directly influenced by Alinsky’s teachings (as indeed were the young Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton).
Now something even more interesting than Trump emulating Alinsky has come to light. In a recent interview with Reason TV, Scott Adams, “prolific author, blogger, and creator of the massively popular comic strip Dilbert:
[T]he media are being trolled by a skilled manipulator, or in Adams’s parlance, a Master Wizard. …
“What I [see] in Trump,” says Adams, is “someone who was highly trained. A lot of the things that the media were reporting as sort of random insults and bluster and just Trump being Trump, looked to me like a lot of deep technique that I recognized from the fields of hypnosis and persuasion.”
One such technique is what Adams describes as a “linguistic kill shot,” in which Trump uses an engineered set of words that changes or ends an argument decisively. According to Adams, when Trump describes Jeb Bush as low energy, Carly Fiorina as robotic, or Ben Carson as nice, he’s imprinting a label you already feel about these people. They’re not random insults, but linguistic kill shots that you can never get out of your mind.
Similarly, where the media see random insults, Adams sees Trump creating a significant polling gap between those who attack him and those who compliment him, resulting in chilled aggression from his opponents. Trump, says Adams, uses “anchors,” which are big, visual thoughts that drown out any other argument.
Trump may not be alone in employing political hypnosis. The Journal Sentinel Online reports that a New ad portrays Feingold as hypnotist:
A group targeting former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold has a new ad out portraying him as hypnotist trying to make the public forget his past votes.
The ad by the anti-Feingold Wisconsin Alliance for Reform shows him dangling a stopwatch as if he were hypnotizing viewers to forget his votes for tax hikes, immigration reform and … Obamacare.
There is no hard evidence that Donald Trump (or Russ Feingold) received training in hypnosis. Pace Adams, it is far more likely that Trump, especially, has a natural gift, developed by his work in reality television. As the Washington Post’s Frances Stead Sellers recorded in What Trump Learned On The Apprentice:
“I’ve never had lessons,” Trump said. “I’ve always felt comfortable in front of a camera. Either you’re good at it or you’re not good at it.”
The show’s climatic boardroom meetings, he said, in characteristically boastful form, were a reflection of his natural talents.
“It was 100 percent ad lib,” he said. “Directly from me.”
Some who got to know Trump through the show say they have not been surprised in recent months to watch him perform in similar fashion on different stages. Trump, for instance, regularly holds forth before packed auditoriums with seemingly stream-of-consciousness speeches that captivate his audiences.
Just how does Trump “captivate his audiences”? Hypnosis would explain it to perfection.
Hypnosis has absolutely nothing to do with a swinging pocket watch. The swinging watch is an obsolete device — and cultural cliché — for inducing a hypnotic state. Hypnosis simply involves gently inducing a reverie, a state like a daydream: deep relaxation coupled with heightened alertness, while engaging the faculty of the imagination and softened analytic faculty, coupled with the power of suggestion. First rate politicians routinely employ this technique.
Hypnosis is a lot like yoga and meditation. In fact it historically is related to these, the word itself having been coined by 19th century Scottish surgeon James Braid, the father of modern hypnosis, whose work clearly demonstrates his close study of both. Like yoga and meditation, hypnosis is moving through the “Rogers production adoption curve.”
Hypnosis, like sushi, is moving out of “fringe” or “risky” into “new” and even “hot.” Hypnotism was placed under a dark cloud in popular imagination by George du Maurier, in his 1894 novel Trilby. This book now is long forgotten but was an international sensation, a Harry Potter of its era.
You may never have heard of Trilby. You have heard of its anti-hero, the sinister hypnotist Svengali, a fictional character devised by du Maurier. “Svengali” entered, and still haunts, the popular imagination.
Hypnosis’ sinister characterization was perpetuated by Hollywood as a fantastic trope. Consider such classic films as The Manchurian Candidate. (Happy 100th, Ol’ Blue Eyes!)
Believing in Hollywood myths of hypnotism is akin to believing in Dracula, werewolves, and zombies. These make for a great pulp entertainment. As often is the case with Hollywood (as in Washington) dramatic license trumps facts.
So? Are Trump (and Feingold) really using hypnosis?
What is hypnosis? What’s its relevance to politics?
Short answers: Trump is using something indistinguishable from hypnosis. Feingold, perhaps, too. Understanding hypnosis is relevant if it is being used, in this political campaign, on us.
What is hypnosis? Dilbert creator Scott Adams blogged about hypnosis, in which he was thoroughly trained, a decade ago in his Dilbert Blog:
I describe the state of hypnosis as acquiring a power. The subject has all of his regular faculties operating plus he gains some more, if he has no objection to those new powers. For example, a subject under hypnosis would get a little extra power in one or more of these areas:
- Extra relaxation
- Extra imagination
- Extra focus
Those extra powers don’t sound like much, but they are. …
About one person in five can experience what hypnotists call “the phenomena.” For those people, their powers of imagination become so strong it is almost indistinguishable from reality.
Key word: Imagination.
Ben Franklin, long ago, was made a royal commissioner in France. He, among other leading savants, was appointed by King Louis XVI to a royal commission to investigate a precursor to hypnosis, Mesmerism. The Commission’s report disposed of the claim that it was based in an invisible force called “animal magnetism.”
The Commission concluded that “the chief causes of the affects are contact, imagination, and imitation.”
Key word: Imagination.
We need not go back to the 18th century. One of the most esteemed psychologists of the 20th century was Stanford professor Ernest Hilgard. Hilgard and his wife founded, and directed for over 20 years, the Laboratory of Hypnosis Research at Stanford.
The American Psychological Association named its Lifetime Achievement Award for Hilgard. This rather neatly offsets hypnosis’s sinister reputation. Hilgard once succinctly defined hypnosis as “believed-in imagination” (personal communication to Michael Yapko, PhD).
Key word: Imagination.
When a political figure appeals to our imagination that is indistinguishable from hypnosis.
Returning specifically to political hypnosis, consider Napoleon. He observed:
What a thing is imagination! Here are men who don’t know me, who have never seen me, but who only knew of me, and they are moved by my presence, they would do anything for me! And this same incident arises in all centuries and in all countries! Such is fanaticism! Yes, imagination rules the world. The defect of our modern institutions is that they do not speak to the imagination. By that alone can man be governed; without it he is but a brute.
Donald Trump, in his presidential (and perhaps Russ Feingold in his senatorial) race speaks directly to the voters’ imagination. This is nothing more, or less, than political hypnosis. The “hypnosis hypothesis,” even better than Byron York’s “brief theory of Trump’s outrageousness,” may explain Trump’s persistence as the Republican front runner.
Imagination is powerful. That said hypnosis may not be sufficient to carry Donald Trump all the way nomination or to election.“Believed-in-imagination” — hypnosis — can be used to great political effect. Still, political hypnosis has limits with which Napoleon ultimately failed, and with which Donald Trump may yet have, to reckon.
Still, hypnosis is a force very much to be reckoned with. As Napoleon said, more than once, “Imagination rules the world.”
Consider the “hypnosis hypothesis.”
Originally posted on Forbes.com.