Trump’s speech as emotion rather than ideas; and need for attention

I am afraid that Trump’s speech is no longer looked at as carrying actual content. Instead, it has become pure gesture, merely indicating moods and relationships rather than explicit ideas.

A Trump rally in some ways resembles a rock concert, where the crowd cheers at one point in the program for the angry song, later for the big ballad, and goes crazy at the end when the singer does his biggest hit (in Trump’s case, the Mexican Wall bit). His rhetoric is so transparently pure rhetoric, so layered with dog whistles and emotional words that modify no actual nouns or verbs, that his listeners are not looking for meaning. Instead, they are thrilled by the emotion of his speeches, which are only possible because has liberated himself from the usual quotidian purposes of language.

.. the entire Trump campaign to date makes more sense if you look at Trump as if he were a drug addict, only instead of being addicted to drugs, he’s addicted to attention.

Donald Trump, Über-American

In this post, though, I want to focus on a particular aspect of the study: the thorough emotivism of that generation.

Smith et al. found that most of the emerging adults (EAs) they studied have no way to think through moral and ethical dilemmas. None. They go with their gut. They are terrified of proclaiming moral rules that everyone should follow, lest they seem judgmental. Broadly speaking, they believe that if an action makes you happy, then it is good, for you — even if they themselves could not imagine doing the same thing. “Moral individualism” is the rock upon which their inner lives are built, with “moral relativism” a significant additional source for many of them. If they feel something is true or right, then it must be so.

This is emotivism, and it is impossible to reason with. As MacIntyre has said, you cannot have a cohesive society built around emotivism. Public rationality and deliberation become impossible.

.. Trump knows psychology. He knows facts don’t matter. He knows people are irrational. So while his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks – Trump knows that is a waste of time. No one ever voted for a president based on his or her ability to name heads of state. People vote based on emotion. Period.

.. Trump is the Uber-American, a man of his time. When you look at him, America, you see yourself in the mirror. We made him. He is us. Crass, passion-driven, materialistic, vain — this is who we have become.

‘Reality Is Socially Constructed’

Well, I listened to the entire Radiolab episode, and it’s worse than the reader thinks. The black teams learn that they can win debates by ignoring the topic and forcing the debate to be about how racist debates are. A black woman interviewed on the show — I believe she was the debate adviser for the team — says that any attempt at objectivity (i.e., debating the issue at hand, leaving the subjectivity of the debater out of it) is “anti-black.” In other words, the persuasiveness of your argument is inextricably linked to your race, your gender, and so forth. And any objection to this approach to debate is racist.

.. Eventually, a two-man team from Emporia, Kansas — both of them black and gay, according to the story — go to the national debate tournament, and get all the way to the finals with this approach. In their matches, they would approach debate as a performance, and would be profane and emotional, emphasizing their blackness and their queerness. Their entire strategy was to make every debate about themselves, about race, and about exclusion.

.. If I argue that a vote for me is a vote for my ability to express my Quare identity it by definition constructs a reality that a vote against me is a rejection of my identity. The nature of arguments centered in identity puts the other team in a fairly precarious position in debates and places the judges in uncomfortable positions as well.

.. What has happened in America — and you see this in the Radiolab episode, as well as in the phenomenon Jen Senko describes — is the exaltation of emotivism, and the weaponization of grievance. How can we hope to have a peaceful, orderly society if the concept of truth is up for grabs? If an educated man says that “reality is socially constructed,” and acts accordingly, and teaches others to do the same.

.. True story: I got into an argument some years back with a Fox News devotee at a social event. She refused to accept facts that contradicted the opinion she preferred. “Look, I’m a conservative too,” I said. “But this is not a matter of opinion. It’s about facts.”

“Well,” she said frostily, “you have your opinions and I have mine.”

“It’s not a matter of opinion!” I said. “We are talking about facts, not the interpretation of facts.”

“You have your opinions, and I have mine.”

There is no difference between that white conservative woman and the black liberal debaters in the Radiolab story. We literally could not have a discussion about the issue, that woman and I, because the very structure of normal debate (not forensics, but just ordinary give-and-take) she took to be entirely subjective. In the end, she took my disagreement with her as a rejection of her identity.