Donald Trump is not a stupid man. On that, Trumpkins and I agree. As to what Trump’s endgame is, neither I nor the Trumpkins know, regardless of how much blind faith they put in their Pied Piper. Some of my politically connected friends believe that Trump is in this to ensure Hillary’s ascension to the presidency. Many others, including the growing horde of Trumpkins, believe that Donald Trump does indeed have his eyes lustfully trained on the presidential pen.
Regardless of his end game, however, Donald Trump has a cognitive strategy. He knows what he’s doing; whether or not it works remains to be seen. As a showman, Trump understands the power of language. His inflammatory, violent, and racist rhetoric is calculated to stoke the anger of his followers and produce action. His latest piece of rhetorical chicanery is no different. When Trump warns that his followers might riot if he doesn’t secure the Republican nomination, he is directly and intentionally setting the stage for violence to occur.
On that stage, he has also brilliantly created room for those who are opposed to violence but are also beginning to buy into the false dichotomy that “if we don’t support Trump, Hillary will win.” In his statement to CNN, Trump added, “I think bad things will happen, I really do. I believe that. I wouldn’t lead it, but bad things would happen.”
Plausible deniability is an important tool for scam artists working the long game. And Trump is a master scam artist. Not only has he left a verifiable trail of broken morals, businesses, and people in his wake, he’s convinced his supporters that he is simply a hard-talking, straight-shooting success story who can be trusted to do the right thing when the time arrives. Although Trump is constantly retweeting known white supremacists, he’s convinced his supporters that he’s not a racist. Well, he’s convinced his supporters who aren’t explicitly racist themselves. Spewing violent and hate-mongering rhetoric, he’s convinced his supporters that he’s a victim. And, unfortunately, his latest act of rhetorical violence is already being excused by Trumpkin sycophants.
Very few people would argue that words don’t matter. Children instinctively recognize the falsehood that’s innate in the saying, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Language contains power; this is why we instinctively recognize the truth that’s innate in the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Politicians who are good at their craft wield the pen and language expertly. Most people have heard the example of a politician slinging mud at his opponent while not slinging mud at his opponent by claiming, “I do not believe that my opponent drowns puppies.”
The image of his or her opponent drowning puppies creates a visceral response in the listeners/readers. Even if a person recognizes it as untrue, that statement helps shape the narrative framework in which that individual views the non-puppy-drowning politician. Extend that out to non-absurd statements and claims, and it’s possible that irrevocable damage can be accomplished by rhetorically savvy politicians.
I like to play this game myself, but, hopefully, for fun. Every year or so, I post a Facebook status with the goal of seeing how many people will text my wife, “Congratulations!” I did that very thing this past week when I wrote, “My wife keeps eating my sweet baby gherkins. I don’t know what’s causing her to crave pickles all of sudden.”
Every word of that is true. What’s important is what I left out. I may not know what’s causing my wife’s craving, but I know what’s not causing it. When I posted that, I knew she was not pregnant. Of course, many people took my technically 100% truthful claim, and jumped to the logical conclusion that my wife was pregnant. And I have plausible deniability. It’s not my fault that people took my truthful statement the wrong way and jumped to an incorrect conclusion. Right? Except, wrong.
It is my fault. I knew exactly how my technically 100% truthful claim was going to bounce around inside people’s minds. I knew that my technically 100% truthful claim was going to induce many people to falsely conclude that my wife was pregnant. And Donald Trump is just as good, if not better, at playing the rhetorical shell game as I am. The difference is that the game he’s playing is for keeps and it’s serious.
With his statement that riots may break out if he’s denied the Republican nomination, Donald Trump has activated the desire for violence in many of his supporters. Worse, he’s given them the game plan for what to do if they don’t get their way. Regardless of his plausible deniability, whatever blood that is spilled by the Trumpkins will be on Donald Trump’s hands. Donald Trump is not fit to lead the United States of America. His total commitment to unbridled and immoral Machiavellianism and his showman’s skill at manipulating masses of people combine to make him extremely dangerous. I will never vote for Donald Trump. #NeverTrump