Reining in the Reptile

I consider myself to be a a kind of connoisseur of communication style. I observe others, almost pathologically at times, to learn more about how we express ourselves to and with one another. I’m actually eavesdropping on a conversation right now at a local coffee shop where I hang out. I can’t seem to help myself. Don’t worry – I rarely ever follow anyone home.

What I am specifically curious about today is how we come to choose whom to put our faith in, whose ideas to subscribe to, in this case, in regards to choosing a candidate for president of the United States. How are our hearts and minds won over so that we will want to invest ourselves more fully into a given candidate’s way of thinking?

One significant conclusion I’ve come to is that it is not so often what they say or claim (the content), but how they express it (rhetorical style) that determines the extent to which prospective constituents will engage. To be clear, a candidate can know the subject matter backwards and forwards, but if he or she cannot effectively express that same subject matter, then the message may fall upon deaf ears – they will have effectively lost our interest.

Can this be said of the reverse? What if they express themselves masterfully, eloquently, with much bravado, yet lack any real substance or evidence to support their claims? Do they fail as orators? Interestingly enough, not necessarily.

As an example I offer Donald Trump, the current frontrunner among GOP candidates for president of the United States. He is a charismatic speaker, to say the least, who has indeed mastered the art of the deal. Take a look at some of the claims he has made in his bid for the presidency, all of which are false, and yet he continues to win caucus after caucus and dominate his fellow candidates in the polls.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 in a victory speech after the New Hampshire primary: “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 in an ABC Republican debate in New Hampshire: “Right now we’re the highest taxed country in the world.”

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 in a Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., regarding the Iraq War: “I was the one that said, ‘Don’t go, don’t do it, you’re going to destabilize the Middle East.’ “

Click here for Politifact’s Donald Trump file which provides clear evidence to the fact that 41% of what he has claimed on various subjects is false, worse yet, that only 1% of what he has claimed is verifiably true.

Is Trump the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, currently fabricating nonsense to win votes? Of course not. Spend some time on politifact.com, or any other such fact-finding site, and it will become clear that this kind of thing is endemic in the political arena. I choose to use him as an example for this exposition because I feel he is the most dangerous of all candidates running for president. He is the most dangerous not necessarily because of who he is, but because his supporters fail to consider his claims from a place of critical thinking.

I have to go back to my claim that Donald Trump is charismatic. I take issue with that statement now. In my opinion he is a repugnant, self-serving, opportunist. Why did I consider him to be charismatic?

charismatic – having great charm or appeal : filled with charisma

He is neither charming nor appealing to me, yet he is adored by a large population of people who would seem ready and willing to follow him into hell. And herein lies the crux of the problem. Whether or not a person is appealing is a subjective thing. And thus we are all free to let ourselves be charmed or not by whomever we please. Either way, we make a choice. But, what is so different about me that I should not be likewise charmed?

For whatever reasons, the political decisions I make are based on my ability to think critically, an ability to bypass the impulsive reptilian part of my brain that thrives in fear, anger, paranoia and mental rigidity. My decisions are not the results of knee-jerk reactions to a narcissist’s emotionally triggering propaganda.

Am I saying that supporters of Trump are reacting to being emotionally triggered, that they are not thinking deeply about what he is saying? Vehemently, yes! Is there any other answer? For if they were to actually think, to engage in some fact checking as I have done above, then they would not be so spastically casting their votes for him.

Now, do I judge them? I’m sure it sounds as if I do, and honestly, it’s hard not to, but I try my best to not react to them from my own reptilian brain. I am very much trying to have compassion for them, to understand that they feel disenfranchised and somehow not a part of the political process. When we suffer so, we go into survival mode – this is the rightful job of that reptilian brain, to find the quickest, most accessible escape route. But without some critical thinking, some analysis to rein in the impulsive nature of our snake minds, we allow ourselves to forgo reason for the absurd. I guess it comes down to whether or not we want to govern our lives from a place of reason or from a place of absurdity. Maybe there is an argument for the latter that I am missing. If there is one, I’d love to hear about it.

I guess I write this piece as a plea to those of us who will be voting soon. When it comes to choosing the next leader of the free world, the what of a candidate’s political stance really does matter, regardless of whether or not he or she is a master of the how.  I urge everyone to be mindful of the fact that we are all human beings and being thus we are all susceptible to making those reptilian, knee-jerk, emotionally motivated decisions of which I spoke earlier. Hopefully, being mindful of this will help us rein in our respective reptiles so that we can make a reasonable, wise decision come November.

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