Trump, Manipulation, and Situationism

Trump, Manipulation, and Situationism*.

by Peggy Browning

I find it hard to believe that I'm seeing live experiments on human behavior when I watch the news. stockimages/

I find it hard to believe that I’m seeing live experiments on human behavior when I watch the news.

Trump, manipulation, and situationism. Months ago I swore I would not watch anything associated with Donald Trump again. I would eschew all cable news and watch only PBS news with Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill. I would hear all the other things that were happening in the world besides an over-grown bully polluting the air with his 4th grade level taunts.
But…Friday evening I was at my news-watching, MSNBC loving friend’s house and she was watching the 6:00 p.m. edition of all things Trump. We ate pizza and watched as Chris Matthews narrated the debacle at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
My friend saw a “riot” created by D. Trump. I saw the beginning of the consequences of a long experiment in social psychology that could have been conducted by Stanley Milgram or Philip Zimbardo.
Trump could easily be using the transcripts from Milgram’s or Zimbardo’s experiments. He is using the techniques administered during their experiments.
I hope all the people who were used as guineas pigs in Trump’s mass manipulation of human response were properly debriefed after the big experiment was conducted on them. Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s participants were de-briefed, and even then they suffered some lingering effects from professionally monitored experiments.
Trump probably never intended to have a rally in Chicago. He was merely performing another experiment in how to make a Good American. He had lots of willing subjects. He used them stage his own little private coup d’etat.

Manipulation and Situationism*

Here’s how the manipulation works:

Make people afraid.
• the world is a terrible place,
• there has never been unemployment this high
• we are assaulted by terrorists on every side.

Make other people scapegoats. Belittle and demonize everyone and everything not attached to you.
• the Latinos are taking our jobs,
• the blacks are lazy,
• the Muslims hate us and will kill us,
• the gay people will kill marriage as we know it,
• the women will expect equal pay.
Create cognitive dissonance.
• I am a good person.
• I fear Latinos, blacks, Muslims, gays, and women.
• Therefore there must be something wrong with them or else I would not fear them.
• I’m OK; they’re NOT OK.
Put value on allegiance to the proposed program or person. Research shows that anything we give up something for, we place a higher value on.
• Call people, programs, political parties winners and losers.
• Claim to be a winner.
• Cultivate a culture where only the people who agree with you are winners.
• Issue more tickets to a rally than the venue holds; make people wait hours to get in; have them pledge support to the candidate to get in.
• When someone actually gets in to a rally, that makes them one of the “lucky ones, a winner”.

Put people in a situation where they gave up something to be there.
• Maybe they waited in line for hours, scored a seat in the over-crowded auditorium, traveled a long distance to attend.
• Pretend to have a problem in the highly controlled environment.
• Allow some people from the scapegoat category to come in.
• Create an atmosphere of “situationism.”

Make yourself appear even more valuable and wise so followers identify with you and

Dump Trump and Cable News

Image: ikpro/

build allegiance to you.
• Cancel the rally due to concerns of safety. Lie about your contact with city officials.
• Say “go in peace.”
• Accuse the demonstrators you allowed in of being paid agitators.
• Encourage people who want to be “winners” to go ahead and beat the shit out of anyone they think are “losers.”
• Say “I don’t know what happened. I like people. These people must be bad and they have something against me. I don’t know why they don’t like me, I am just a successful billionaire trying to make America great again.”
Apply technique and repeat.

Each time, more good people follow blindly along, believing they are right and others are wrong, denying their wrong-doing and wrong-thinking, and proving they are “winners.”
That’s how good Germans, good soldiers at Abu Ghraib, good Isis suicide bombers and “good Americans” are made.

*Situationism: Though the term didn’t exist at the time, Milgram was a proponent of what today’s social psychologists call situationism: the idea that people’s behavior is determined largely by what’s happening around them. “They’re not psychopaths, and they’re not hostile, and they’re not aggressive or deranged. They’re just people, like you and me,” Miller said. “If you put us in certain situations, we’re more likely to be racist or sexist, or we may lie, or we may cheat. There are studies that show this, thousands and thousands of studies that document the many unsavory aspects of most people.”
But continued to its logical extreme, situationism “has an exonerating effect,” he said. “In the minds of a lot of people, it tends to excuse the bad behavior … it’s not the person’s fault for doing the bad thing, it’s the situation they were put in.” Milgram’s studies were famous because their implications were also devastating: If the Nazis were just following orders, then he had proved that anyone at all could be a Nazi. If the guards at Abu Ghraib were just following orders, then anyone was capable of torture.
The latter, Reicher said, is part of why interest in Milgram’s work has seen a resurgence in recent years. “If you look at acts of human atrocity, they’ve hardly diminished over time,” he said, and news of the abuse at Abu Ghraib was surfacing around the same time that Yale’s archival material was digitized, a perfect storm of encouragement for scholars to turn their attention once again to the question of what causes evil.

4 thoughts on “Trump, Manipulation, and Situationism

  1. Hi Peg,

    Thank you for a voice of reason in the midst of unbelievable hooha.

    As an Australian I am horrified that the people of the USA cannot see through this man and that he has advanced as far as he has in the Presidential race The ability to make a lot of money seems to impress people worldwide as does the adulation of celebrity, but it does not produce a person in whom you would entrust your country, your future, or your family. To have a President as uncouth, self aggrandising and bigoted as Trump can only harm your country and it’s people. I can understand your frustration and anger. Here’s hoping for a sane and intelligent outcome. Take care, Penny Boyle

  2. I agree! It is humiliating to say the least. It proves one thing to me.. The majority of Americans are concerned with money above all else. I hope that his money is buying the media rather than the voters. Remember, Fox news reported right up to the last minute with false information on the last election results.

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